Blog Archive

Monday, December 31, 2012

A. Siegel: Stunning Think Progress Climate Silence

by A. Siegel, "Get Energy Smart! NOW!" blog, December 31, 2012

The Center for American Progress’ Think Progress website is home for one of the strongest and most widely read climate science / clean energy blogs.  Led by Joe Romm, Climate Progress/Think Progress Green wades forcefully into climate science discussions and provides excellent material about clean energy progress.  For anyone (especially Americans) concerned about fostering the conditions for a prosperous and secure climate-friendly future, Think Progress Green is on a must read list.
With that it mind, an end of year Think Progress post providedrather stunning reading — not due to its contents but due to what it didn’t contain. As the calendar year winds to a close and we look to a ‘fresh start’ into another year, ‘lists’ are on many minds and appear in many publications.
This morning, 31 December 2012, Think Progress provided 12 Progressive Resolutions for 2013.  From better drug policy to immigration reform to enacting gun safety laws, many interesting (if not outright good) items in this list.  Again, however, the telling thing is the absence of a critical set of issues.
Amid these 12, no (zero, nada, nilch) reference to climate change, the climate cliff, environment, clean energy, green jobs, energy efficiency, fossil fuel impacts on the political system, … Clearly, whoever put together this post doesn’t pay attention to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
Considering the year the United States had re climate change(heat waves, droughts, Derecho, wild fires, Hurricane Sandy, warmest year on record, …), the massive gap between the political parties on climate science and clean energy, the risks of the climate cliff (or, as Toles has it, the climate fissure), and the fact that unchecked climate disruption puts at risk every single element of a “progressive” agenda, the absence of climate and clean energy issues from (and total Climate Silence) a ‘top 12 Progressive Resolutions” seems beyond stunning.
PS:  Considering that he truly does seem to ‘get it’ on climate change and clean energy (try actually listening to one of his speeches/talks in this arena), it seems reasonable to wonder what the Chair of the Center for American Progress John Podesta’s list of “12 Progressive Resolutions” might look like

Shell rig Kulluk adrift then reconnected to tugs Aiviq and Nanuq

Read more here:
A Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Kodiak overflies the tugs Aiviq and Nanuq tandem towing the mobile drilling unit Kulluk 116 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. The tug Alert from Prince William Sound and the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley from Kodiak are en route to assist. Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Usher — U.S. Coast Guard

Read more here:

Update, 6:40 a.m.:
Tow lines were reconnected overnight from the Shell drill rig Kulluk to two support vessels in the Gulf of Alaska, according to Shell and the U.S. Coast Guard. The vessels are 19 miles southeast of Kodiak Island, according to a joint statement issued Monday morning by Shell, the Coast Guard and others.
The Kulluck is again under tow by the vessel Aiviq and another vessel, the tug Alert, said the statement, issued at 6:06 a.m.
Around 12:45 a.m., the statement said, the Alert "was able to secure the 400-foot line that was previously the tow line used by the Aiviq. The Alert successfully added tension to the line to test its ability to hold." The Aivik then reconnected its line to the Kulluk later in the morning, the statement said.
"Difficult weather conditions are anticipated to continue over the next several days. Unified Command is evaluating all potential options to further secure the vessel until the weather clears," the statement said.

Read more here:

Earlier story:
An unmanned mobile oil drilling rig owned by Royal Dutch Shell is adrift -- again -- south of Kodiak Island after it lost towlines Sunday afternoon from two vessels trying to hold it in place against what have been pummeling winds and high seas, according to incident management leaders.
A team of 250 people from the Coast Guard, the state of Alaska, Shell, and one of its contractors was hunkered down Sunday, mainly in Midtown Anchorage's Frontier Building, trying to resolve the ongoing crisis with Shell's drilling rig, the Kulluk.
Before the latest turn for the worse, representatives of Shell, the Coast Guard and the state Department of Environmental Conservation told reporters in a briefing early Sunday afternoon that the situation was critical, but under control.
Then towlines from two Shell-contracted support vessels, the Aiviq and the Nanuq, "separated," the joint command team said in a statement sent out at about 4:30 p.m. The setback happened sometime after 1 p.m., just as commanders were briefing news media on what appeared at that point to be a successful response after a series of failures. They didn't yet know the towlines had broken free, said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith, who is part of the unified incident command team.
A third vessel, the tug Alert, which is usually stationed in Prince William Sound as part of an emergency response system, has arrived on the scene. And another Shell-contracted support ship, the Guardsman, is on location.
"The crew is evaluating all options for reconnecting with the Kulluk," the command team said. Towlines are still attached to the Kulluk and conceivably could be reattached to nearby ships, Smith said. Shell crews use 10-inch steel cables or synthetic lines that attach to vessels with hardware, he said.
With the Kulluk crew evacuated for safety reasons, there's no one on board to tend the winches or maneuver equipment, Sean Churchfield, Shell's incident commander and the company's operations manager for Alaska, told reporters earlier on Sunday.
All decisions, including the evacuation, are being made by the group as a whole, said Capt. Paul Mehler, the Coast Guard's Anchorage-based commander.

Crews are waiting for a break in the weather to secure the towline, Smith said.
The Gulf of Alaska storm has been fierce, with near-hurricane winds on Saturday night, Mehler said. Only a small lull is predicted for Monday morning, according to the National Weather Service. The forecast for Sunday night was 28-foot seas and winds in the range of 50 mph or more, about what it was on Saturday, said meteorologist Bob Clay. Seas and winds are expected to diminish early Monday morning, then pick back up later in the day as another storm moves in, he said.
With no towlines securing it in place, the crewless Kulluk was drifting about 25 miles south of Kodiak, Smith said Sunday evening. He didn't have an estimate on how many hours it would take the Kulluk to reach shore if it continued adrift. A number of variables, including currents and wind speed, would affect when and where it hit, if it came to that, he noted.
The incident team also must find a safe harbor for the Aiviq, as well as the Kulluk, to undergo inspections and possible repairs before heading south to Everett, Wash., where the Kulluk had been headed for off-season maintenance before the troubles began.
The $290 million, 266-foot diameter Kulluk is a conical-shaped mobile rig that began drilling a single exploratory well in the Beaufort Sea this year. But it cannot propel itself, and a series of failures involving it began on Thursday during a stormy Gulf of Alaska crossing.
The 360-foot, $200 million Aiviq is a new ship commissioned by Shell for its Arctic work, built and owned by Louisiana-based maritime company Edison Chouest Offshore. It has 24 crew members on board, Smith said.
The Kulluk lost its towline from the Aiviq on Thursday. A second towline was attached for a time, but then early Friday all four engines on the Aiviq failed. The Coast Guard sent the Alex Haley, a 282-foot cutter. It delivered a towline to the Aiviq, which was still attached to the Kulluk, but the sheer mass of the ship and the drilling rig, combined with 40 mph winds and building 35-foot seas, broke the connection and the line became tangled in the cutter's propeller and damaged it. The Alex Haley turned back to Kodiak for repair, but now is back at the Kulluk scene.

On Saturday, the Kulluk's 18-person crew was safely evacuated to Kodiak in two Coast Guard helicopters. A Coast Guard video shows the Kulluk bobbing in rolling seas as a helicopter approaches to lower a basket and lift the crew members out, one by one.
The Aiviq's engines were repaired with new fuel injectors, and the Nanuq put a towline on the Kulluk for a time. The Aiviq then was running with two engines at a time, as a precaution, officials said Sunday.
The towline mishaps and the engine failures are under investigation, Churchfield said. Initial reports suggested that contaminated fuel might have caused the engines to malfunction, but that hasn't been confirmed through fuel analysis, he said.
"I don't really want to speculate as to the causes of the propulsion failure on the Aiviq," Churchfield said. "We are looking for the solutions and we will have a full investigation. At this stage, I don't have any firm information to pass onto you."
However, the fuel now being used is from a different tank than that in use when the engines failed, said Shell's Smith.
The plan to use just a single ship to tow the Kulluk was reasonable, given the Aiviq's features, said the Coast Guard's Mehler.
"This type of operation is very normal. With the vessel the size of the Aiviq, with the capabilities of the Aiviq, with four engines, it was above and beyond what would be required to be able to tow, even in very extreme conditions," the commander said.
Shell did not have to get Coast Guard approval of its towing plan, because the maritime operation was so routine. But the oil company did consult with the agency about the journey, Mehler said.
At the start of Shell's 2012 drilling season, the Aiviq towed the Kulluk from a shipyard in Washington state to Dutch Harbor though eventually two tugs took over its handling in the Beaufort Sea, Churchfield said.

Two crew members on the Aiviq suffered minor injuries at some point, but both are back at work, Churchfield said.
No oil has been spilled during the incident, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Shell has had a difficult experience as it tries to drill offshore in the Alaska Arctic, its first attempt in two decades. It couldn't drill to oil-rich zones because its novel oil spill containment dome was damaged during testing. Its other drilling rig, a converted log carrier called the Noble Discoverer, recently was cited by the Coast Guard for problems with safety and pollution discharge equipment. Mehler ordered it held in Seward while the most serious issues were addressed. While the ship now is free to leave for Seattle, it remains docked in Seward because it is waiting for escort vessels working on the Kulluk situation, Smith said.
In October 1980, in a situation eerily similar to what is happening now, 18 crew members were evacuated off a jack-up drilling rig named the Dan Prince as rough seas in the North Pacific 650 miles south of Kodiak threatened to destroy the unit, according to news reports at the time. Crews couldn't attach a towline. The rig then sank, according to an online listing of rig disasters.
Read more here:

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012 really was impressive

The storm helped break up sea ice, causing a new record low.

The Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012 churns its way towards the North Pole.
This summer saw a new record low in the ice covering the Arctic Ocean, with levels bottoming out well below those seen in 2007, the previous low year. A major contributor to that drop was an unusual summer cyclone, which parked over the pole for several days in the course of its nearly two-week long existence. Researchers from Australia have now run the numbers on the storm, and found that it really does deserve the moniker "Great Arctic Cyclone." But they also conclude that the storm wasn't fueled by the unusually open ocean beneath it.
The storm was hard to miss in satellite imagery such as the example shown above, but its full history wasn't necessarily obvious. So, the authors of the new study downloaded atmospheric data and plugged it into an atmospheric model that specializes in identifying cyclonic systems. They were able to detect the first indication of the storm over Siberia on the 2nd of August. But it really got going once it entered the Arctic basin on the 4th; by the 6th, the eye of the storm had reached its lowest pressure. The very next day, it took a slight detour and hovered over the Pole for several days before heading south over Canada and finally dissipating on the 14th.
A notable thing about the storm is that it did not seem to involve a large redistribution of atmospheric heat content. Storms like hurricanes famously take the energy from warm surface waters and redistribute it to the atmosphere. But readings from the Arctic Cyclone showed that the heat flux was small for most of its history. This suggests that the storm wasn't powered by the ocean below it, which in turn indicates that the loss of ice wasn't a factor in driving the storm's unusual strength. As the authors put it, "This leads to the view that it was the enhanced influence of the cyclone which contributed to the reduction in ice area, rather than low sea ice area being responsible for releasing energy to maintain the system."
One potential influence on the storm that came out of the analysis was a link to a vortex at the lower boundary of the stratosphere. A tropopause polar vortex had developed a few weeks earlier and had spent time north of Europe before heading east. By the 6th of August, the vortex was near the center of the storm. The two remained associated from that point onward.
How unusual was the 2012 storm? The authors pulled up records of 1,618 Arctic cyclones that struck during August, dating back to 1979. By one measure, the 2012 storm is the strongest on record: it reached the lowest pressure at the center of the storm. But, when you include other cyclonic properties such as size and duration, the storm dropped to third on the overall list.
Arctic cyclones tend to be more common and severe in winter months, so the authors expanded their analysis to include over 19,500 storms that have struck at any time of the year. In this list, the 2012 storm ranked 13th. As far as they're concerned, the storm earned the title Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012.
Climate change is thought to strengthen storms that move over the ocean because it warms the ocean waters, providing the storms with more heat and moisture. Since that doesn't appear to have been the case here, the existence of an extreme storm appears to have been a fluke weather event. Its impact on the ice, however, was shaped by climate, which had left the August ice very thin. As a NASA staff member said when the storm was first spotted, “Decades ago, a storm of the same magnitude would have been less likely to have as large an impact on the sea ice, because at that time the ice cover was thicker and more expansive.”
Geophysical Research Letters, 2012. DOI: 10.1029/2012GL054259 

Shell's Kullik rig evacuated, another storm coming

User Picture
Coast Guard Helicopter Rescues Crew From Imperiled Shell Arctic Drilling Rig – Updated

by EdwardTeller, FireDogLake, December 30, 2012
Here is a short video released late Saturday by the U.S. Coast Guard, showing part of the helicopter rescue of crewmen from the drilling platform Kulluk. The rig has been imperiled by multiple simultaneous engine failures aboard the oceangoing tug Aiviq, which was towing the rig from Dutch Harbor, Alaska to Puget Sound, for modifications, repairs and winter berthing.
Shown in the video are the Kulluk – the round vessel with a tall central tower, the Nanuq – the long, slender vessel, and the Aiviq – the vessel with the helicopter platform over its bow.  The tug Guardsman, not shown in the video, is plotted on as being close by.  All four vessels haven’t moved much since they grouped together yesterday morning. Rather than get close to the shore and seek shelter from the ongoing major winter storm, as they had planned yesterday, they have decided to put as many miles as possible between the rig and the rocks.
Here’s from an Alaska news report:
“It’s precautionary measure. They weren’t in any immediate danger,” Mosley said. “As this continued to unfold, they just wanted to mitigate any potential issues with that crew onboard.”
Coast Guard helicopters were also able to deliver a ton of engine parts and technicians to the Aiviq, and the ship’s crew had two of its four engines up and running by Saturday morning, Shell said.
What started as 20-foot seas and 40 mph wind built to 35-foot seas and gusts to more than 50 mph, the Coast Guard said.
The weather and the combined weight of the Kulluk and Aiviq were too much for the tugboat Guardsman, which was unable to stop the vessels from drifting. By 5:30 a.m. Saturday, its towline had also broken free, the Coast Guard said. Saturday morning, the Kulluk was about 27 miles from the Trinity Islands and drifting at a rate that would have had it hitting the islands in as little as 12 hours, Mosley told the Associated Press.
“We don’t want it to go aground,” he said. “When a vessel goes aground, it’s directly played upon by the waves hitting it and having it hit something solid.”
In what Shell spokesman Curtis Smith described as “cascading assets into the theater,” another Shell-contracted ship, the Nanuq, had been sent from Seward at the first sign of trouble. It arrived Saturday morning. The Aiviq soon had all four of its engines running, and with the Nanuq’s help, was towing the Kulluk farther out to sea to the southeast late Saturday, Smith said. The plan was to avoid more bad weather and the worst-case scenario that the vessels could again drift toward land, he said.
And here is the current marine forecast for Kodiak Island waters:
Storm Warning
Today: SE wind 40 kt increasing to S 50 kt in the afternoon. Seas 21 ft building to 28 ft in the afternoon. Rain.
Tonight: S wind 45 kt diminishing to 30 kt after midnight. Seas 22 ft subsiding to 15 ft after midnight. Rain and snow.
Mon: SE wind 25 kt becoming E 45 kt in the afternoon. Seas 15 ft. Rain and snow.
Mon Night: SE wind 50 kt. Seas 26 ft.
Tue: S wind 50 kt. Seas 30 ft.
As you can see, today is rougher than yesterday (I published yesterday’s forecast in an earlier post). The seas will come down on Monday, but another storm will hit Tuesday, perhaps worse then the one they are enduring.
It appears the tugs and barge are on a course of 200 degrees, with speeds averaging about 1.8 knots, which would put them about 90 miles further from shore when Tuesday’s storm hits.
So far, nobody has been reported to have been injured or lost.  Lets hope it remains that way.
So this is how Shell Oil rings out the year during which they hoped to start extracting oil from under the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.
Update – Sunday 2:00 pm:  The so-called “Unified Command”  held a press conference in Anchorage at 1:00 p.m. Alaska time today.  I attended telephonically.  The Unified Command is the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Shell Alaska and Edison Chouest Offshore (owner of the drilling rig Kulluk).  They are maintaining a “Joint Information Center” during the ongoing emergency.  The Alaska DEC representative on the Joint Command, Steve Russell, described the Unified Command, saying how hard the State of AK worked, developing the “Unified Command.”
I posted comments at this diary throughout the conference.  Here’s my summary:
What I got out of this press conference was:
(1) Aiviq and Kulluk walked into this storm blithely.
(2) At least two people have been injured.
(3) USCG does not want to talk about why their cutter left the scene early Saturday.
(4) Shell is backing off from earlier descriptions of the multiple simultaneous engine failures on the Aiviq being caused by fuel contamination. No mention in the presser of the USCG offloading “900 pounds” worth of new fuel injectors onto drifting Aiviq for those engines Saturday. This may be more important than is readily apparent.
(5) There is nobody aboard the drill rig.
Should Tuesday’s storm part the lines again, like Friday’s did, it will be extremely dangerous to get anyone back aboard. Pumps are on automatic, but to re-hook for a tow, winches would have to be manned on the rig. No wonder they are putting as many miles as possible between them and the rocky coast of Kodiak Island eh?

[Readers, be sure to read the comments at the link below showing how Shell avoided real questions during the presser.] 

Dark Snow Project crowd-source funding for Greenland ice sheet research

From: Jason Box;;
Subject: crowdfunding a Greenland expedition to gauge increasing wildfire impact on melt
Date: 30 December 2012 4:46:17 AM NZDT

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Wildfire, increasing with climate change [123], deposits increasing amounts of light-absorbing black carbon [soot] on the cryosphere [snow and ice], multiplying the existing heat-driven ice-reflectivity feedback [a.k.a. albedo feedback].

The relative importance of increasing wildfire [and changing industrial soot pollution] to cryospheric heating remains poorly known. Snow/ice cores down to the 2012 summer soot layer on Greenland input to new field and lab spectral and microscope technology in concert with satellite remote sensing, automatic weather station data, and numerical modeling, could be used to gauge fire's role in amplified Arctic climate change and Greenland ice sheet mass loss.

On the heels of an [open access] publication predicting 100% surface melting on Greenland months before actuality, we're now attempting to launch the first of its kind crowd-funding of an Arctic expedition to Greenland to measure the radiative impact of wildfire and industrial soot from the 2012 (and possibly 2013) fire seasons.

Because we can't precisely measure fire's increasing role in cryospheric change unless we reach our funding goal, please consider:
  1. supporting with a US tax deductible donation via Earth Insight charitable foundation, tax ID 80-0621720 or a check mailed to Dark Snow at Byrd Polar Research Center, Scott Hall Rm. 108, 1090 Carmack Rd., Columbus, OH, 43210
  2. distributing this message in a call for support to those you expect would support Dark Snow Project
  3. following Dark Snow Project on Facebook and Twitter
  4. watching and forwarding Peter Sinclair's awareness and ask video
  5. reading Bill McKibben's Rolling Stone article about Greenland albedo decline
I'm [naturally] beginning to lose sleep as we've generated less than $1000 since launching our crowdfunding drive 3 weeks ago, despite substantial press [1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 pointing to our web site] about our 7 Dec, 2012 discovery of smoke clouds reaching Greenland using NASA CALIPSO atmospheric laser data. The fact that this article generated >half of the donations suggests that donors are more politically driven than inspired by new science-fact-infotainment.

Bucking the gatekeeper science tradition, Dark Snow Project is by design an open-science enterprise, soliciting constructive participation from all relevant scientists and communicators. Will you join us? Each step of our work will be communicated using primarily video and social media, but also public speaking, education engagement, and conventional scientific publications aimed at the highest impact journals.

While we are not the first to consider or evaluate the role of black carbon in cryosphere-climate interactions*, we are poised to push the science envelope and amplify its urgent message in powerful new ways relying mainly on video and social media, not conventional science publications nor governmental agency funding.

With happy Holiday wishes, on behalf of the Dark Snow Project collective, 

Jason E. Box, PhD
Byrd Polar Research Center / Geologic Survey of Denmark and Greenland

Aivik loses tow line to Shell's Kulluk rig, rig evacuated, Aivik's engines damaged in high seas contamination of fuel with sea water

by Jennifer Dlouhy, Fuel Fix, December 29, 2012

The Coast Guard has evacuated 18 employees from a stranded Shell drilling rig and is assisting the tugboat that was heaving it across turbulent western Alaska waters.
The Coast Guard also used two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters to ferry equipment parts to the tugboat Aiviq on Saturday morning, as repairs focused on its damaged engines.
“Mechanics are busy replacing fuel injectors and purging intake systems of potentially contaminated fuel,” said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith. As of Saturday morning, two engines had been brought back online, and by late Saturday, all four of Aiviq’s engines were functional.
The Aiviq has been towing the Kulluk conical drilling rig south, about two months after it stopped boring the first half of an exploratory oil well in the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska. But on Thursday, amid 20-foot seas and winds of up to 40 miles per hour, the Aiviq lost its tow line to the Kulluk. Once it was reconnected, the tugboat experienced multiple engine failures, perhaps due to water in the ship’s fuel. Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said crew were able to use power generators on the Aiviq to keep it and the tethered Kulluk from drifting significantly.
The Coast Guard has been coordinating a response with Shell Oil Co., and Edison Chouest, which owns the Aiviq.
The Coast Guard initially deployed C-130 aircraft to monitor the scene and sent its cutter Alex Haley to help out, although it has left the scene after one of its propellers was damaged in a bid to string a tow line to the Kulluk to keep it from drifting. The Coast Guard Cutter Hickory is slated to arrive in the area Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, a Shell-contracted support ship, MV Guardsman, arrived around 2 p.m. Friday and Shell’s contracted Nanuq response vessel showed up around 6:30 a.m. Saturday.
“Our main priority remains the safety of all crews involved in this situation,” said Capt. Paul Mehler III, the commander of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage. “To help ensure safety of all involved, we have directed multiple Coast Guard assets to the area, including the coast Guard Cutter Hickory, our Kodiak-based HC-130s and Jayhawk helicopter aircrews.”
By late Friday, workers were able to connect a tow line from the Guardsman to the Aiviq, although it has since been removed. By mid-afternoon Saturday, responders were attempting to connect another anchor line to the Kulluk using the Nanuq.
Shell officials said late Friday that they were assessing options for towing the vessels to safe harbor and had secured additional assets in case more help is needed.
Although 18 Kulluk crew members were rescued by helicopter, another dozen workers are still on the Aiviq.
An initial attempt to evacuate workers from the Kulluk — which Shell described as a precaution — failed on Friday, amid the bad weather. While the wind direction was working in Shell’s favor on Saturday, the high sea has made the response more difficult, and the National Weather Service predicts worsening conditions over coming hours and days.
Mike LeVine, senior counsel with Oceana, noted that “we are fortunate that this latest incident happened close to the Coast Guard station in Kodiak.”
“Response equipment was nearby, and parts to fix the Aiviq’s broken engines could be dropped off by helicopter.” LeVine said. “If this had happened in the Arctic Ocean, Shell could have been on its own, 1,000 miles from the help it needed. The rough conditions that prevented a rescue today could be compounded by darkness and ice in the Arctic.”
Environmentalists opposed to exploratory oil drilling in the Arctic have stressed the lack of infrastructure, including Coast Guard response vessels.
A 29-year-old conical drilling unit, the Kulluk spent more than a dozen years hibernating in Canada before Shell snapped it up for its new Arctic venture..
This is just the latest misfortune to befall Shell, roughly two months after it ended its Arctic drilling season.
The Noble Discoverer, which, unlike the Kulluk, moves under its own engines, had propulsion problems pulling into Seward in mid November, prompting a Coast Guard inspection that revealed additional safety system and pollution-control system deficiencies.
A fire also broke out in the rig stack on the Discoverer while it was in Dutch Harbor, Alaska in mid November.

Coast Guard evacuaties Shell's Kulluk drilling rig south of Kodiak. Engines fail on Aiviq

Coast Guard evacuates crew of troubled oil drilling barge

Aiviq and Kulluk
The Kulluk oil drilling rig is towed by the Aiviq as they set sail from Seattle earlier this year for offshore drilling in Alaska. The Coast Guard was evacuating the rig south of Kodiak after engine troubles on the tow vessel threatened to leave it adrift. (Royal Dutch Shell / December 28, 2012)
VANCOUVER, B.C. — U.S. Coast Guard helicopters were evacuating the crew of a troubled oil drilling barge off the coast of southern Alaska Saturday afternoon after engine troubles on its tow vessel had left the barge drifting toward landfall south of Kodiak Island.
The move followed a tense night, when high seas and heavy winds prevented any evacuation and left Coast Guard officials worried that the Kulluk rig, which was returning from a season of offshore drilling in the Arctic, could run aground if the situation were not brought under control.
“The weather on scene is testing the limits of our Coast Guard crews. The professionalism of our air crews and cutter men and women have prevented the situation from deteriorating further,” said Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander of the 17th Coast Guard District in Juneau, Alaska.
On Saturday afternoon, engineers were able to restart the last of the four engines on the Aiviq towing vessel and also attach a line from a second ship brought in by Shell Alaska, the Nanuq.
The armada of three was steaming slowly southward, away from land, and Shell engineers were attempting to decide the best nearby harbor in which to shelter and reassess.
“We'll continue south for now to create more distance from land,” Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith told the Los Angeles Times.
Coast Guard helicopters and C-130 aircraft were on hand to aid the drilling rig after the Aiviq lost engine power a day earlier in severe weather.
The Kulluk, which has no propulsion system, was heading south for Seattle when it first had trouble with its tow line in the high winds and heavy seas and then was left without power when the Aiviq encountered what officials said was likely a fuel contamination problem.
Coast Guard officials said they had hoped to evacuate nonessential crew members as a precaution Friday night, but the weather prevented it.
“Due to the efforts of the crew, they were able to slow the drift, and we were able to get the parts to the crew that they needed to repair the Aiviq,” Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley said in an interview.
By midafternoon, Coast Guard teams were able to begin evacuating all 18 crew members from the Kulluk, while the Aiviq's crew was expected to remain on board that ship.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hansen & Sato: Update of Greenland Ice Sheet Mass Loss: Exponential?

Update of Greenland Ice Sheet Mass Loss: Exponential?
[3 guesses, first 2 don't count]

by James Hansen and Makiko Sato, December 26, 2012

Shepherd et al. (2012) provide an update of the mass loss by the Greenland ice sheet (and the Antarctic ice sheet). They compare several analysis methods, achieving a reasonably well-defined consensus. The data is 2-3 years more current than data we employed recently (Hansen & Sato, 2012), so a new look at the data seems warranted.

A crucial question is how rapidly the Greenland (or Antarctic) ice sheet can disintegrate in response to global warming. Earth's history makes it clear that burning all fossil fuels would cause eventual sea level rise of tens of meters, thus practically wiping out thousands of cities located on global coast lines. However, there seems to be little political or public interest in what happens next century and beyond, so reports of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) focus on sea level change by 2100, i.e., during the next 87 years.

IPCC (2007) suggested a most likely sea level rise of a few tens of centimeters by 2100. Several subsequent papers suggest that sea level rise of ~1 meter is likely by 2100. However, those studies, one way or another, include linearity assumptions, so 1 meter can certainly not be taken as an upper limit on sea level rise (see discussion and references in the appendix below, excerpted from our recent paper). Sea level rise in the past century was nearly linear with global temperature, but that is expected behavior because the main contributions to sea level rise last century were thermal expansion of ocean water and melting mountain glaciers.

In contrast, the future sea level rise of greatest concern is that from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which has the potential to reach many meters. Hansen (2005) argues that, if business-as-usual increase of greenhouse gases continue throughout this century, the climate forcing will be so large that non-linear ice sheet disintegration should be expected and multi-meter sea level rise not only possible but likely.

Hansen (2007) suggests that the position reflected in IPCC documents may be influenced by a "scientific reticence." In such case the consensus movement of sea level rise estimates from a few tens of centimeters to ~1 meter conceivably is analogous to the reticence that the physics community demonstrated in its tentative steps to improve upon estimates of the electron charge made by the famous Millikan.[1]

Perceived authority[2] in the case of ice sheets stems from ice sheet models used to simulate paleoclimate sea level change. However, paleoclimate ice sheet changes were initiated by weak climate forcings changing slowly over thousands of years, not by a forcing as large or rapid as human-made forcing this century. Moreover, in a paper submitted for publication (Hansen et al., 2013) we present evidence that even paleoclimate data do not support the degree of lethargy and hysteresis that exists in such ice sheet models.

Gyms which double as hurricane shelters are being built with financial assistance from FEMA

by Juan A. Lozano, Associated Press, December 28, 2012

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The new dome in Edna, Tex., will also serve as a high school gymnasium. The $2.5 million structure, mostly financed by FEMA, is designed to withstand winds of up to 200 miles per hour.

EDNA, Texas  – Most of the time, the windowless building with the dome-shaped roof will be a typical high school gymnasium filled with cheering fans watching basketball and volleyball games.
But come hurricane season, the structure that resembles a miniature version of the famed Astrodome will double as a hurricane shelter, part of an ambitious storm-defense system that is taking shape along hundreds of miles of the Texas Gulf Coast.
Its brawny design – including double-layer cinder-block walls reinforced by heavy duty steel bars and cement piers that plunge 30 feet into the ground – should allow it to withstand winds up to 200 mph.
"There is nothing standard" about the building, said Bob Wells, superintendent of the Edna school district, as he stood inside the $2.5 million gym, which is set to be completed by March. "The only standard stuff is going to be the stuff we do inside."
The Edna dome is one of 28 such buildings planned to protect sick, elderly and special-needs residents who might be unable to evacuate ahead of a hurricane. First-responders and local leaders will also be able to take refuge in the domes, allowing them to begin recovery efforts faster after a storm has passed.
Storm-defense structures are getting increased attention in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which inflicted heavy damage on the East Coast in October. In New York, for instance, the city is considering a multi-billion-dollar system of sea barriers.
For Texas, a state always in danger during hurricane season, the domes offer the extra benefit of serving as recreation or community centers when not needed as shelters. They are being erected with help from the federal Emergency Management Agency.
"I think it's good for FEMA, and I think it's good for us. And I think it's good for the taxpayers," Wells said.
The gym in Edna, a town of 5,500 people about 100 miles southwest of Houston, is the second hurricane dome in Texas. The first was built in 2011 in Woodsboro, near Corpus Christi. Most of the domes will be around 20,000 square feet.
The plan calls for structures in 11 counties in the Rio Grande Valley, around Corpus Christi and along the coast from Victoria to Newton counties, said Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.
So far, $34.5 million has been awarded for the project. This month, FEMA approved funds for a hurricane dome that will serve as a community center in Brownsville, one that will serve as a wellness center and physical rehabilitation facility in Bay City and two that will serve as multi-purpose training centers in Kingsville.
Inside the gym in Edna, Wells' voice echoed as he pointed to the ceiling, which has layers of sprayed-on concrete, insulation and rebar, all of which are under a heavy duty fabric that gives the structure its distinctive wind-resistant shape.
The doorways are covered by awnings of heavy gauge metal and supported by concrete girders that go 15 feet into the ground.
FEMA is paying for 75% of the dome structures, with local communities picking up the remaining cost.
The funding is part of the agency's initiative to help homeowners and communities build hardened shelters that provide protection from extreme weather.
Nationwide, more than $683 million has been awarded in 18 states, including Texas, Alabama, Michigan and South Carolina.
Walking around the gym, Wells said it reminded him of when, as a teenager, he first walked into the Astrodome after it opened in 1965 in Houston.
"It was like, 'Oh, wow, this is so cool,'" he said. "I'm still kind of in the 'oh, wow' stage with this."

Friday, December 28, 2012

Top Climate Stories of 2012

Top Climate Stories of 2012

by Greg Laden et al., ScienceBlogs, December 28, 2012

A group of us, all interested in climate science, put together a list of the most notable, often, most worrying, climate-related stories of the year, along with a few links that will allow you to explore the stories in more detail. We did not try to make this a “top ten” list, because it is rather silly to fit the news, or the science, or the stuff the Earth does in a given year into an arbitrary number of events. (What if we had 12 fingers, and “10” was equal to 6+6? Then there would always be 12 things, not 10, on everyone’s list. Makes no sense.) We ended up with 18 items, but note that some of these things are related to each other in a way that would allow us to lump them or split them in different ways. See this post by Joe Romm for a more integrated approach to the year’s events. Also, see what Jeff Masters did here. We only included one non-climate (but related) item to illustrate the larger number of social, cultural, and political things that happened this year. For instance, because of some of the things on this list, Americans are more likely than they were in previous years to accept the possibility that science has something to say about the Earth’s climate and the changes we have experienced or that may be in the future; journalists are starting to take a new look at their own misplaced “objective” stance as well. Also, more politicians are starting to run for office on a pro-science pro-environment platform than has been the case for quite some time.
A failing of this list is that although non-US based people contributed, and it is somewhat global in its scope, it is a bit American based. This is partly because a few of the big stories happened here this year, but also, because the underlying theme really is the realization that climate change is not something of the future, but rather, something of the present, and key lessons learned in that important area of study happened in the American West (fires) the South and Midwest (droughts, crop failures, closing of river ways) and Northeast (Sandy). But many of the items listed here were indeed global, such as extreme heat and extreme cold caused by meteorological changes linked to warming, and of course, drought is widespread.
This list is subject to change, because you are welcome to add suggestions for other stories or for links pertaining to those already listed. Also, the year is not over yet. Anything can happen in the next few days!
The following people contributed to this effort: Angela Fritz, Eli Rabett, Emilee Pierce, Gareth Renowden, Greg Laden, Joe Romm, John Abraham, Laurence Lewis, Leo Hickman, Michael Mann, Michael Tobis, Paul Douglas, Scott Mandia, Scott Brophy, Stephan Lewandowsky, and Tenney Naumer.

1 Super Storm Sandy

Super Storm Sandy, a hybrid of Hurricane Sandy (and very much a true hurricane up to and beyond its landfall in the Greater New York/New Jersey area) was an important event for several reasons. First, the size and strength of the storm bore the hallmarks of global warming enhancement. Second, its very unusual trajectory was caused by a climatic configuration that was almost certainly the result of global warming. The storm would likely not have been as big and powerful as it was, nor would it have likely struck land where it did were it not for the extra greenhouse gasses released by humans over the last century and a half or so.
A third reason Sandy was important is the high storm surge that caused unprecedented and deadly flooding in New York and New Jersey. This surge was made worse by significant global warming caused sea level rise. Sea level rise has been eating away at the coasts for years and has probably caused a lot of flooding that otherwise would not have happened, but this is the first time a major event widely noticed by the mainstream media (even FOX news) involving sea level rise killed a lot of people and did a lot of damage. Fourth, Sandy was an event, but Sandy might also be the “type specimen” for a new kind of storm. It is almost certainly true that global warming Enhanced storms like Sandy will occur more frequently in the future than in the past, but how much more often is not yet known. We will probably have to find out the hard way.
Note that the first few of the links below are to blog posts written by concerned climate scientists, whom the climate change denialists call “alarmists.” You will note that these scientists and writers were saying alarming things as the storm approached. You will also note that what actually happened when Sandy struck was much worse than any of these “alarmists” predicted in one way or another, in some cases, in several ways. This then, is the fifth reason that Sandy is important: The Earth’s weather system (quite unconsciously of course) opened a big huge can of “I told you so” on the climate science denialist world. Sandy washed away many lives, a great deal of property and quite a bit of shoreline. Sandy also washed away a huge portion of what remained of the credibility of the climate science denialist lobby.
[Fox: Hurricane Sandy Has “Nothing To Do With Global Warming”: ]

2 Related to Sandy, the direct effects of sea level rise…

… were blatantly observed and widely acknowledged by the press and the public for the first time

3 The Polar Ice Caps and other ice features experienced extreme melting this year.

This year, Arctic sea ice reached a minimum in both extent (how much of the sea is covered during the Arctic summer) and more importantly, total ice volume, reaching the lowest levels in recorded history.
[TV Media Cover Paul Ryan’s Workout 3x More Than Record Sea Ice Loss:–3x-mor/190165]

4 Sea Ice Loss Changes Weather …

We also increasingly recognized that loss of Arctic sea ice affects Northern Hemisphere weather patterns, including severe cold outbreaks and storm tracks. This sea ice loss is what set up the weather pattern mentioned above that steered Sandy into the US Northeast, as well as extreme cold last winter in other areas.

5 and 6 Two major melting events happened in Greenland this summer.

First, the total amount of ice that has melted off this huge continental glacier reached a record high, with evidence that the rate of melting is not only high, but much higher than predicted or expected. This is especially worrying because the models climatologists use to predict ice melting are being proven too optimistic. Second, and less important but still rather spectacular, was the melting of virtually every square inch of the surface of this ice sheet over a short period of a few days during the hottest part of the summer, a phenomenon observed every few hundred years but nevertheless an ominous event considering that it happened just as the aforementioned record ice mass loss was being observed and measured.

7 Massive Ice islands…

…were formed when the Petermann Glacier of northern Greenland calved a massive piece of its floating tongue, and it is likely that the Pine Island Glacier (West Antarctica) will follow suit this Southern Hemisphere summer. Also, this information is just being reported and we await further evaluation. As summer begins to develop in the Southern Hemisphere, there may be record warmth there in Antarctica. That story will likely be part of next year’s roundup of climate-related woes.

8 More Greenhouse Gasses than Ever

Even though the rate of emissions of greenhouse gasses slowed down temporarily for some regions of the world, those gasses stay in the air after they are released, so this year greenhouse gas levels reached new record high levels

9 It Got Hot

As expected, given the greenhouse gases just mentioned, Record Breaking High Temperatures Continue, 2012 is one of the warmest years since the Age of the Dinosaurs. We’ll wait until the year is totally over to give you a rank, but it is very, very high.

10 …and that heat brought extreme, killer heat waves

[STUDY: TV Media Ignore Coverage of Climate Change In Coverage Of Record July Heat:]

11 For many areas, this was the year without a Spring.

The growing season in temperate zones is longer, causing the USDA in the US to change its planting recommendations.

12 There were widespread, unprecedented and deadly wildfires…

…around the world and in the American West.
[STUDY: Media Begin To Connect The Dots Between Climate Change And Wildfires:]

13 There was a major drought…

…in the US with numerous negative effects including threats to the food supply

14 River Traffic Stops

A very rare event caused by drought conditions was the closing of the Mississippi River to traffic in mid-summer at two locations. This is part of a larger and growing problem involving drought, increased demands for water, and the importance of river traffic. Expect to hear more about this over the next couple of years.

15 Very, very bad storms.

In June, a major and very scary derecho event – a thunderstorm and tornado complex large enough to get its own Wikipedia entry – swept across the country. This was one of several large storm systems that caused damage and death in the US this year. There were also large and unprecedented sandstorms in Asia and the US.
[And don't forget the "inland hurricane" derecho that hit Carbondale, Illinois, in May 2009.]  

16 Widespread Tree Mortality is underway and is expected to worsen.

17 Biodiversity is mostly down…

We continue to experience, and this will get worse, great Losses in Biodiversity especially in Oceans, much of that due to increased acidification because of the absorption of CO2 in seawater, and overfishing.

18 Unusual Jet Stream Configuration and related changes to general climate patterns…

Many of us who contributed to this list feel that this is potentially the most important of all of the stories, partly because it ties together several other events. Also, it may be that a change in the air currents caused by global warming represents a fundamental yet poorly understood shift in climate patterns. The steering of Hurricane Sandy into the New York and New Jersey metro areas, the extreme killer cold in Eastern Europe and Russia, the “year without a Spring” and the very mild winters, dome of the features of drought, and other effects may be “the new normal” owing to a basic shift in how air currents are set up in a high-CO2 world. This December, as we compile this list, this effect has caused extreme cold in Eastern Europe and Russia as well as floods in the UK and unusually warm conditions in France. As of this writing well over 200 people have died in the Ukraine, Poland and Russia from cold conditions. As an ongoing and developing story we are including it provisionally on this list. Two blog posts from midyear of 2011 and 2012 (this one and this one) cover some of this.
The following video provides an excellent overview of this problem:

19 The first climate denial “think” tank to implode as a result of global warming…

… suffered major damage this year. The Heartland Institute, which worked for many years to prove that cigarette smoking was not bad for you, got caught red handed trying to fund an effort explicitly (but secretly) designed to damage science education in public schools. Once caught, they tried to distract attention by equating people who thought the climate science on global warming is based on facts and is not a fraud with well-known serial killers, using large ugly billboards. A large number of Heartland Institute donors backed off after this fiasco and their credibility tanked in the basement. As a result, the Heartland Institute, which never was really that big, is now no longer a factor in the climate change discussion.