Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Urgent need for research to increase, on climate change impacts on Antarctic sea ice

The combination of Antarctica’s dynamic climate system, its short observational records, and its potential to cause costly heatwaves, drought and sea-level rise in Australia, mean that we can’t afford to stifle fundamental research in our own backyard.

Record high to record low: what on earth is happening to Antarctica’s sea ice? https://theconversation.com/record-high-to-record-low-what-on-earth-is-happening-to-antarcticas-sea-ice-66114September 29, 2016 2016 continues to be a momentous year for Australia’s climate, on track to be the new hottest year on record.

To our south, Antarctica has also just broken a new climate record, with record low winter sea ice. After a peak of 18.5 million square kilometres in late August, sea ice began retreating about a month ahead of schedule and has been setting daily low records through most of September.

It may not seem unusual in a warming world to hear that Antarctica’s sea ice – the ice that forms each winter as the surface layer of the ocean freezes – is reducing. But this year’s record low comes hot on the heels ofrecord high sea ice just two years ago. Overall, Antarctica’s sea ice has been growing, not shrinking.

So how should we interpret this apparent backflip? In our paper published today in Nature Climate Change we review the latest science on Antarctica’s climate, and why it seems so confusing.

Antarctic surprises

First up, Antarctic climate records are seriously short.

The International Geophysical Year in 1957/58 marked the start of many sustained scientific efforts in Antarctica, including regular weather readings at research bases. These bases are mostly found on the more accessible parts of Antarctica’s coast, and so the network – while incredibly valuable – leaves vast areas of the continent and surrounding oceans without any data.

In the end, it took the arrival of satellite monitoring in the 1979 to deliver surface climate information covering all of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. What scientists have observed since has been surprising.

Overall, Antarctica’s sea ice zone has expanded. This is most notable in the Ross Sea, and has brought increasing challenges for ship-based access to Antarctica’s coastal research stations. Even with the record low in Antarctic sea ice this year, the overall trend since 1979 is still towards sea ice expansion.

The surface ocean around Antarctica has also mostly been cooling. This cooling masks a much more ominous change deeper down in the ocean, particularly near the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Totten glacier in East Antarctica. In these regions, worrying rates of subsurface ocean warming have been detected up against the base of ice sheets. There are real fears that subsurface melting could destabilise ice sheets, accelerating future global sea level rise.

In the atmosphere we see that some parts of the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica are experiencing rapid warming, despite average Antarctic temperatures not changing that much yet.

In a rapidly warming world these Antarctic climate trends are – at face value – counterintuitive. They also go against many of our climate model simulations, which, for example, predict that Antarctica’s sea ice should be in decline.

Winds of change

The problem we face in Antarctica is that the climate varies hugely from year to year, as typified by the enormous swing in Antarctica sea ice over the past two years.

This means 37 years of Antarctic surface measurements are simply not enough to detect the signal of human-caused climate change. Climate models tell us we may need to monitor Antarctica closely until 2100 before we can confidently identify the expected long-term decline of Antarctica’s sea ice.

In short, Antarctica’s climate remains a puzzle, and we are currently trying to see the picture with most of the pieces still missing.

But one piece of the puzzle is clear. Across all lines of evidence a picture of dramatically changing Southern Ocean westerly winds has emerged. Rising greenhouse gases and ozone depletion are forcing the westerlies closer to Antarctica, and robbing southern parts of Australia of vital winter rain.

The changing westerlies may also help explain the seemingly unusual changes happening elsewhere in Antarctica.

The expansion of sea ice, particularly in the Ross Sea, may be due to the strengthened westerlies pushing colder Antarctic surface water northwards. And stronger westerlies may isolate Antarctica from the warmer subtropics, inhibiting continent-scale warming. These plausible explanations remain difficult to prove with the records currently available to scientists.

Australia’s unique climate position

The combination of Antarctica’s dynamic climate system, its short observational records, and its potential to cause costly heatwaves, drought and sea-level rise in Australia, mean that we can’t afford to stifle fundamental research in our own backyard.

Our efforts to better understand, measure and predict Antarctic climate were threatened this year by funding cuts to Australia’s iconic climate research facilities at the CSIRO. CSIRO has provided the backbone of Australia’s Southern Ocean measurements. As our new paper shows, the job is far from done.

A recent move to close Macquarie Island research station to year-round personnel would also have seriously impacted the continuity of weather observations in a region where our records are still far too short. Thankfully, this decision has since been reversed.

But it isn’t all bad news. In 2016, the federal government announced new long-term funding in Antarctic logistics, arresting the persistent decline in funding of Antarctic and Southern Ocean research.

The nearly A$2 billion in new investment includes a new Australian icebreaking ship to replace the ageing Aurora Australis. This will bring a greater capacity for Southern Ocean research and the capability to push further into Antarctica’s sea ice zone.

Whatever the long-term trends in sea ice hold it is certain that the large year-to-year swings of Antarctica’s climate will continue to make this a challenging but critical environment for research.

September 30, 2016 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, climate change - global warming | Leave a comment

South Africa’s energy minister delays nuclear tenders 

South Africa will delay tendering for new nuclear power stations after requests for consultation and discussion made it impossible to start the process by the end of September as initially planned, the energy minister said on Thursday.

A statement said energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson remained “fully committed” to plans for nuclear procurement. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-safrica-nuclear-idUSKCN11Z1SW

September 30, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

British government admits that Hinkley nuclear deal is very expensive

Hinkley Point nuclear deal signed as Government admits gas would be cheaper, Telegraph,  energy editor 29 SEPTEMBER 2016
The Hinkley Point C nuclear plant will saddle UK consumers with higher energy bills than building gas power stations, the Government has admitted, as it signed a legally-binding contract to subsidise the £18bn project.

An official assessment claimed the Franco-Chinese project to build Britain’s first nuclear plant in a generation represented “value for money”, despite being more expensive than gas, because it would help meet climate change targets.

A series of deals signed between the Government, France’s EDF and China’s state nuclear firm CGN at a ceremony in London marked the final go-ahead for the Somerset power plant and also fired the formal starting gun on Chinese efforts to build their own reactor in Essex………

Earlier this month the Government opted to press ahead with the project with some new security safeguards but leaving the controversial subsidy deal underpinning Hinkley unchanged.

Under a deal first agreed in 2013 Hinkley will be paid a fixed price of £92.50/MWh for the power it produces for 35 years, funded through levies on energy bills. The National Audit Office has said it could cost up to £30bn in subsidies.

Among hundreds of pages of documents issued on Thursday afternoon – some heavily redacted – ministers faced a series of questions over a cursory three-page assessment concluding that the deal would add £12 to energy bills in 2030 but was “value for money”.

The assessment said Hinkley was “cost-competitive to other options for delivering power” despite its own assessment that the “comparable cost” of new gas in the 2020s could be as low as £45/MWh, solar as low as £65/MWh and onshore wind as low as £49/MWh.

If Hinkley was delayed by three years and gas plants built instead then by 2030 the UK would be £3.2bn better off and energy bills would be “£6 cheaper per year”, it concluded……..

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, accused the Government of obfuscation and providing “no evidence anywhere in the documents to back up their assumptions”.

“The numbers speak for themselves. In the unlikely event Hinkley is working sometime in the second half of the next decade, renewable energy will be much cheaper, yet British consumers will still be forced to pay over the odds for nuclear power,” he said.

Another document underlined the lasting impact the decision will have on UK energy policy for more than a century to come, forecasting that the spent fuel for the plant would not be disposed of until the year 2138.

EDF Energy said Hinkley would “kickstart Britain’s nuclear revival” and that it had “been shown to offer consumers value for money”.

The Government said the signing of the deal marked “a significant step forward for a new era of nuclear power in the UK”. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/09/29/hinkley-point-nuclear-plant-gets-final-go-ahead-as-government-si/

September 30, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment