Friday, January 11, 2013

President Obama, here's a climate plan!

President Obama, now is the time to act on climate change! Climate change won't wait. There are encouraging signs indicating that a summit is being organized, to be hosted at the White House, to launch a comprehensive climate action plan with broad-based and bipartisan support.

What plan? Well, here's a climate plan!

The first line of action of most climate plans is to cut emissions. Two types of feebates, working separately, yet complimentary, can cut emissions most effectively and can be implemented locally in a budget-neutral way, without requiring complicated international agreements:
  1. energy feebates (pictured above) in sectors such as electricity, heating and transport, and 
  2. feebates in sectors such as agriculture, land use, waste management and construction (pictured below).
Pictured on the left are feebates that impose fees on sales of Portland cement, nitrogen fertilizers and livestock products. This will make further cuts in emissions.

The revenues are then used to fund rebates on clean construction and on soil supplements containing biochar and olive sand, which will remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in buildings, soil, river banks, roads and pavement.

Working seperately, yet complimentary, energy feebates and feebates in agriculture and other sectors can dramatically bring down carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and oceans; as a result, atmospheric carbon dioxide could be brought back to pre-industral levels of around 280ppm by the end of the century.

For further discussion, also see Towards a Sustainable Economy
Thus, these two feebates will be effective on two lines of action, i.e. on cutting emissions and on reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and oceans.

Even with these measures, temperatures will keep rising for some time, as excess ocean heat will get transferred to the atmosphere over the years and as aerosols (particularly sulfur) fall away that are currently emitted when fuel is burned and thus mask the full wrath of global warming.

Continued warming comes with numerous feedbacks. Combined, these feedbacks threaten to trigger runaway global warming, i.e. warming that will cause mass death, destruction and extinction.

How to avoid mass-scale death, destruction and extinction
This means that, in addition to the first two lines of action, further lines of action will be necessary, i.e. Solar radiation management, and Methane management and further action. Further action includes regulatory measures such as ending commercial flights over the Arctic and support for pyrolysis to avoid burning of biomass. The image below pictures several methods of Arctic methane management that should get high priority, given the threat of hydrate destabilization in the Arctic.
Arctic Methane Management

Fees imposed on commercial flights could fund solar radiation management, while the feebates described above will also be most effective in further lines of action, i.e. in Arctic methane management and further action.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Dark Snow Project - Research into soot on Greenland

Fossil fuel combustion creates carbon emissions that increase atmospheric thickness, warming climate. The occurrence of wildfire increases with climate warming, increasing soot loading of the atmosphere. Some of this soot is transported through the atmosphere and is deposited on glaciers, lowering their reflectivity, increasing solar energy absorption, increasing melt rates.
image from

In parts of Greenland where winter snow loss during each melt season exposes impurity-rich bare ice, the surface reflectivity drops from 85% to 30%. Consequently, most of the 24-hour sunlight goes into ice melt. In this Dark Zone, the impact of soot manifests strongest in a self-reinforcing feedback loop that research by Jason Box has shown to have doubled melt rates in the past decade.

High on the inland ice sheet where melting is rare, satellite data show surface darkening making the researchers suspect that wildfire and industrial soot are to blame. Darkening here promotes snowpack heating, bringing earlier melt, keeping melt going longer. Here is where this feedback is changing the ice sheet in surprising ways, leading to complete surface melting in year 2012.

To measure the extent to which soot particles enhance melting, Jason Box is organizing a Greenland ice sheet expedition for 2013. The Dark Snow Project expedition is to be the first of its kind, made possible by crowd-source funding.


Fire and Ice: Wildfires Darkening Greenland Snowpack, Increasing Melting (News Release from Byrd Polar Center)

- The DarkSnowProject

-Video: Sampling Greenland, the Dark Snow Project, by Peter Sinclair, produced at Greenman Studio, Midland, MI.

- Where there’s fire there’s smoke - Blog by Jason Box, the

Further reading

- Greenland is melting at incredible rate

Anthropogenic Arctic Volcano can calm climate

by Paul Beckwith
Paul Beckwith, B.Eng, M.Sc. (Physics),
Ph.D. student (Climatology) and
Part-time Professor, University of Ottawa

Rational decision making requires realistic risk assessments of alternatives. Humanity is now choosing default door A, which is no change in behavior with fossil fuel energy sourcing and a continuance of rapidly rising anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

Abrupt collapse of Arctic albedo due to collapsing terrestrial snow cover (area dropping 17.6% per decade for past three decades) and collapse of sea ice cover (area dropping 49% below 1979 to 2000 long term average) is occurring (NOAA 2012 Arctic Report Card from last week).

The destination is an ice free condition within a few years (by 2015 with PIOMAS volume projections); well before the 30 to 60 year timeframe of the most sophisticated climate change models which are a big FAIL on sea ice. The risk (= probability of occurrence x significance of occurrence) is enormous through door A. Probability of occurrence is 50% within 3 years and significance to human farming, water availability, temperatures and weather extremes is clearly massive.

A recent widely-respected DARA report states that Today climate change is directly/indirectly reducing global GDP by 1.6% and attributing to 400,000 human deaths globally (to increase to 2.6% and 500,000 in about 20 years). A recent UN report is warning of global food shortages in 2013. There is no end in sight to the U.S. drought (climate models predict such droughts can last 20 or 30 years, hopefully they are wrong as they are with sea ice).

I prefer door B - create an Anthropogenic Arctic volcano to calm the climate. Give me two large airplanes with pilots, some sulfur in solution, and a few large nozzles from your local ski hill; they are not needed anyway since the ski industry has estimated losses of $1 Billion over the last decade (about 8% of total revenues); adaptation to zip lining and water parks is possible. With this equipment I will fly into the stratosphere (above the weather) near the North Pole and spread sulfur dust/aerosols to reflect incoming sunlight and rapidly cool the Arctic for several years. This will restore sea ice, straighten the jet streams, and restore a “normal” climate.

Very little sulfur is needed relative to huge emissions from smokestacks into the lower atmosphere from coal burning power plants. It will work; powerful erupting volcanoes that aim upwards (like Pinatubo in 1991) and not sideways (like Mt. St. Helens in 1980) have cooled the climate by a degree or more for 2 to 3 years. They do this by injecting sulfur up into the upper atmosphere, like our aircraft will do.

Door B has two important sub-doors, B-Bad and B-Good. Door B-B is using the sulfur injections to calm climate and continuing the fossil-fuel energy sourcing with rapidly accelerating GHGs. This door will be a false reprieve since the GHGs will continue to rapidly acidify the ocean and destroy the base of the food chain; by the way, ocean phytoplankton levels have dropped 40% since 1950.

Wikipedia image: UN jet with humanitarian relief supplies
Luckily for us, Door B-G exists. Door B-G is using the sulfur injections to calm climate and rapidly slashing fossil-fuel energy sourcing by ramping up conservation, efficiency renewables as fast as is humanly possible; I am talking about retooling on the scale of the Manhattan Project or Apollo Programs. Or even having a U.S. president (or a Chinese one) getting all the CEOs of car manufacturers together in a room and telling them they will produce no cars for 3 years, only wind turbines, geothermal heat exchangers, and solar panels. Is this possible? In WWII the meeting occurred and for the next 3 years only war materials were produced. And keep in mind the industrial revolution of World War Two ushered in one of longest eras of prosperity humanity has known.

Of course there is a caveat with Door B-G. We must start the sulfur injections when the sun rises in the Arctic in the spring in early 2013. Waiting for more sea ice collapse will decrease the odds of success at obtaining Arctic snow cover and sea ice regrowth. Give me a plane, pilot, nozzle, and sulfur and I can calm the climate.

Originally posted January 10, 2013, at Sierra Club Canada; posted here with author's permission

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Turning forest waste into biochar

Too much biomass waste in tundra and boreal forests makes them prone to wildfires, especially when heatwaves strike. Furthermore, leaving biomass waste in the forest can cause a lot of methane emisions from decomposition.

In order to reduce such methane emissions and the risk of wildfires, it makes sense to reduce excess biomass waste in fields and forests. Until now, this was typically done by controlled burning of biomass, which also causes emissions, but far less than wildfires do. Avoiding wildfires is particularly important for the Arctic, which is vulnerable to soot deposits originating from wildfires in tundra and boreal forest. Such soot deposits cause more sunlight to be absorbed, accelerating the decline of snow and ice in the Arctic.

A team of scientists at University of Washington, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, has developed a way to remove woody biomass waste from forests without burning it in the traditional way. The team has developed a portable kiln that can be assembled around a heap of waste wood and convert it to biochar on the spot, while the biochar can also be burried in the soil on the spot.

Demonstration in Kerby, Oregon,
Nov. 6, 2012, 
 by Carbon Cultures
Marcus Kauffman at Flickr
The team initially started testing the effectiveness of a heat-resistant blanket thrown over woody debris.  The team then developed portable panels that are assembled in a kiln around a slash pile.

Students have set up a company, Carbon Cultures, to promote the technology and to sell biochar. CEO of Carbon Cultures is Jenny Knoth, also a Ph.D. candidate in environmental and forest sciences.

The kiln restricts the amount of oxygen that can reach the biomass, which is transformed by pyrolysis into biochar. The woody waste is heated up to temperatures of about 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (600 Celsius), as the kiln transforms some 800 pounds of wood into 200 pounds of biochar in less than two hours. “We also extinguish with water because it helps keep oxygen out and also activates the charcoal [making it more fertile in soil].”

Currently, the total costs of disposing of forest slash heaps (the collections of wood waste) approximate a billion dollars a year in the United States, according to Knoth.

And of course, adding biochar to the soil is a great way to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. “Biochar is proven to fix carbon for hundreds of thousands of years,” Knoth said.
Demonstration in Kerby, Oregon, November 6, 2012, organized by Carbon Cultures Credit: Marcus Kauffman at Flickr

As said, when biomass waste is left in the open air, methane emissions are produced during its decomposition. Moreover, such waste will fuel wildfires, which produce huge amounts of emissions. The traditional response therefore is to burn such waste. Pyrolyzing biomass produces even less greenhouse gases and less soot, compared to such controlled burning.

Biochar is produced in the process, which can be added to the soil on the spot. This will help soil retain moisture, nutrients and soil microbes, making forests more healthy, preventing erosion and thus reduces the risk of wildfires even further, in addition to the reduction already achieved by removal of surplus waste.

A healthy forest will retain more moist in its soil, in the air under its canopy, and in the air above the forest through expiration, resulting in more clouds that act as sunshades to keep the forest cool and return the moist to the forest through rainfall. Forests reinforce patterns of air pressure and humidity that result in long-distance air currents that bring moist air from the sea inland to be deposited onto the forest in the form of rain. Finally, clouds can reflect more sunlight back into space, thus reducing the chance of heatwaves.


Recycling wood waste - The Daily of the University of Washington
Helping Landowners with Waste Wood While Improving Agribusiness and Energy - National Science Foundation


- Biochar
- CU-Boulder gets into biochar