Saturday, February 6, 2016

Climate Central - News

Climate Central is a nonprofit science and media organization created to provide clear and objective information about climate change and its potential solutions.
  1. World’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm to Be Built in U.K.

    By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian

    The U.K. wind energy industry received a boost this week with the announcement of the world’s biggest offshore wind farm, to be built off the northeast coast.

    Dong Energy said its multi-billion pound Hornsea project, which is expected to power as many as 1 million homes in the region when complete, will occupy more than 400 square kilometers, situated about 120km off the Yorkshire coast.

    Thanet offshore wind farm off England's south coast.
    Credit: Nuon/flickr

    The company, which has already put £6 billon into wind power in the U.K., said this was its largest investment in offshore wind to date. Dong, Denmark’s state-backed energy utility, told the Guardian it expected to invest another £6 billion in the U.K. by 2020, in a boost to the beleaguered wind industry.

    Brent Cheshire, chief executive of Dong Energy in the U.K., said: “We are making a major financial investment to construct this giant wind farm and this underlines our commitment to the U.K. market. Hornsea Project One will support the supply chain and help create local jobs.

    “To have the world’s biggest ever offshore wind farm located off the Yorkshire coast is hugely significant, and highlights the vital role offshore wind will play in the U.K.’s need for new low-carbon energy."

    Amber Rudd, secretary of state for energy and climate change, said: “The U.K. is the world leader in offshore wind energy and this success story is going from strength to strength. The investment shows that we are open for business and is a vote of confidence in the U.K. and our plan to tackle the legacy of under investment and build an energy infrastructure fit for the twenty first century."

    An estimated 2,000 jobs will be created for the construction of the project, with a further 300 jobs likely to be created for its operation.

    However, prospects for the wind industry in the U.K. were hit last year when the government announced the ending of subsidies for onshore wind generation.

    Teesside offshore wind farm in England.
    Credit: Paul/flickr

    While offshore wind is still favored by ministers, the blow to onshore wind - which is much cheaper, and when carbon emissions are taken into consideration is cheaper than traditional fossil-fuel forms of generation - has been a cause of concern to wind investors. The potential investment into wind turbine manufacturing factories, much vaunted under the coalition government, has been called into question.

    RenewableU.K., which represents the U.K.’s wind power industry, said the Hornsea project was a major step forward.

    Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of the organization, said: “[This] is an important step in making this historic project a reality. It signals the start of creating a new landmark in the North Sea. Its size is guaranteed to bring a multitude of benefits to the U.K., [such as] a huge amount of inward investment and the creation of local jobs. It will play an important part in meeting our commitments [under the Paris accord on climate change and] help create the new energy infrastructure this country desperately needs."

    The 1.2GW Hornsea project will be made up of 7MW wind turbines, the largest generally available, each more than 190m high, which is taller than the Gherkin building in the City of London. Dong is planning to have them built at a factory in Hull owned by Siemens, the German industrial giant, but it is uncertain whether all of them will come from there.

    The green light for the Hornsea wind farm is also a boost to three other mooted offshore wind farms that are in the offing: Neart na Gaoithe and Beatrice One in Scotland, and East Anglia One.

    Offshore wind has had a checkered history in the U.K. It is more problematic than onshore wind because it requires bigger and more robust turbines, and has higher levels of maintenance and much greater installation costs than onshore wind. Rising costs caused problems for the London Array, which was at the time the biggest offshore wind farm to be built.

    However, the government is understood to favor offshore wind over onshore turbines owing to local objections on land, and the U.K. has more installed offshore wind than any other country, though Germany is catching up. Polls have, however, regularly found the British public in favor of onshore wind energy generation.

    Reprinted from The Guardian with permission.

  2. Climate Economists React to Obama’s Proposed Oil Tax

    On Thursday, President Obama dropped a surprise in his transportation plan as part of his annual budget. The plan — dubbed the 21st Century Clean Transportation System — calls for $300 billion in investments over the next decade in high speed rail, driverless cars and mass transit across the U.S.

    That would cut down on carbon pollution and could help the U.S. meet its 10-year climate goal of reducing carbon emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels.

    The 5-year cost of a barrel of crude oil.
    Credit: Bloomberg Business

    That Obama wants to reduce transportation emissions is no surprise. Twenty-seven percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions are due to transportation, second only to electricity generation as the main source of emissions.

    The surprise, though, is how he wants to pay for it. The $300 billion would come via a “fee” of $10 per a barrel of oil, phased in over five years. According to CNN, it would apply to both domestic and imported oil used in the U.S. but not exports. That translates to roughly an extra 25 cents tacked onto a gallon of gas if oil companies decided to pass the cost onto consumers.

    We asked leading climate economists for their thoughts on the proposal. The answers below have been edited lightly for clarity.

    Would a $10/barrel tax on oil have any notable impact on the climate?

    Carolyn Fischer, Resources for the Future senior fellow: A better question is, does this tax better align fossil fuel prices with their social costs? Given that the EPA estimate of the social cost of carbon is around $40, and a barrel of oil leads to about 0.43 tons of CO2, that implies a social cost of $17 per barrel, so a $10 per barrel tax does move us closer to that. One can also note that oil use is associated with other problems like particulate matter, congestion, accidents, etc. that are also underpriced.

    Noah Kaufman, World Resources Institute climate economist: Not initially, but it would be a small step in the right direction. Right now, we are all paying the costs of the greenhouse gas emissions from oil. This fee would start to make those responsible for the emissions pay the costs instead, and it would encourage polluters to pollute less. If the revenues were used to invest in transportation infrastructure and R&D, even better — we cannot achieve the GHG emissions reductions we need without a transformation to a lower carbon transportation sector.

    Rob Williams, University of Maryland climate economist: This seems like not quite the right question to ask. Climate change is a global problem, and no individual country can solve it alone. A more reasonable question is whether this tax would have a substantial effect on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. It won’t: this tax will reduce oil consumption, but not by a lot. Oil consumption accounts for less than half of U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions, and more importantly, oil consumption is much less price-sensitive than other emissions sources. And a $10/barrel tax is small when compared to recent market fluctuations in the world price of oil. A broad-based carbon tax, even at a fairly low rate, would do much more to reduce emissions.

    An artist rendering of California's high-speed rail line currently under construction.
    Credit: California High Speed Rail Commission

    Is a tax on oil an effective way to fund green transportation?

    Fischer: Economists always want spending and tax policies to be judged on their individual merits and question arbitrary linking of revenues to specific spending. However, earmarking has a long history in the political process, in part because voters are wary of taxes for taxes’ sake and spending that is not paid for. Thus, it is more palatable to offer a package of green transportation infrastructure spending paid for by a complementary tax that in itself helps meet climate policy goals. Voters are more confident when both sides serve the same purpose, or when the costs of infrastructure are borne by those who use it (in this case, cars and transportation networks). We certainly see a precedent in the National Highway Trust Fund, to which the Federal gasoline tax is earmarked.

    Kaufman: Yes. The government has an important role to play alongside the private sector in modernizing our transportation system. Why on Earth would we fund this government spending by taxing and thus discouraging things we want more of (like income) instead of things we want less of (like pollution)?  Of course, it’s also important that these costs do not fall on low income households that cannot afford to pay them, and we have the tools to ensure that too.    

    Williams: Politicians often like to fund environmental and transportation programs with energy taxes, but there’s no economic rationale for that link: the most economically effective way of raising revenue is largely independent of how it’s going to be spent. That said, this tax would raise a substantial amount of revenue — probably in the neighborhood of $60 billion per year. And it would do so in a relatively painless way: oil prices now are much lower than had been expected a couple of years ago, so imposing a tax on oil now would be much less of a shock to consumers than it would be if oil prices were high.

    Credit: Sergio Russo/flickr

    Could a tax like this eventually be part of an effective suite of climate policies in the U.S.?

    Michael Greenstone, University of Chicago Milton Friedman Professor of Economics: The proposal would certainly raise a lot of desperately needed money for infrastructure and that in itself is important. Along with that, there are two somewhat subtle ways that this is quite a bold proposal from a climate perspective. First, it could be used in international negotiations to spur pricing carbon emissions from petroleum around the world. Second, on the domestic side, it might also set the stage to trade CAFE regulations for pricing carbon emissions from petroleum directly, which is likely to be less costly for the U.S. economy overall.

    Fischer: A tax on oil consumption is a natural component of a suite of climate policies, particularly if we are taking a sector-by-sector approach, rather than going for a comprehensive price on carbon throughout the economy. (For example, the EU has capped emissions from its major power and industrial sources and its member states impose high taxes on transportation fuels; the US Clean Power Plan targets the power sector alone, but the transportation sector accounts for nearly as many emissions). It also makes sense to start implementing it now, while oil prices are low, before consumers get too used to them again and stop wanting fuel-efficient vehicles.

    Kaufman: Yes. But an even better approach is an economy-wide price on carbon, as WRI has shown in its recent research (see here).

    Williams: We don’t need a suite of climate policies. Broad-based greenhouse gas emissions pricing (such as a carbon tax or cap-and-trade program) will generally be both more effective and (for a given level of emissions reductions) less costly than a hodgepodge of narrower policies. But a carbon tax is equivalent to a coordinated set of taxes on different emissions sources (e.g., taxes on coal, oil, natural gas, etc.). Thus, a tax on oil could be a first step toward a broad-based carbon tax.

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  3. Hot, Dry Weather Could Cut Into California’s Snowpack

    Hello, it’s me.

    Words made famous by Adele could just as easily apply to what’s about to happen in California. An unwelcome call is coming from across the Pacific for a state still struggling with drought.

    A ridge of high pressure is coming to the state, harkening back to the ridiculously resilient ridge of the past few years and butting into California’s burgeoning love affair with El Niño. It could set back California’s snowpack and break heat records.

    A ridge of high pressure will deflect storms away from California and send temperatures climbing 10-15°F above normal over the next week.
    Credit: NWS Sacramento

    Snowpack is the highest it’s been in five years. While it’s not quite rolling in the deep, all regions of California are reporting slightly above average snowpack for this time of year. And as the heart of the wet season approaches, most Californians were hoping their state and El Niño would be moving from puppy love to a full-blown relationship.

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    Instead, high pressure is muscling its way between California and any storm systems for at least the week or so. 

    "I would not say it's the return of the 'Ridiculously Resilient Ridge,'" Daniel Swain, a California weather expert at Stanford University, said in an email. "While we'll certainly have a ridge, and and it will be pretty impressive ('ridiculous,' one could say), it hasn't yet been resilient."

    California snowpack percentages for the year as of Friday, Feb. 5.
    Credit: California Department of Water Resources

    The National Weather Service’s Sacramento office describes it as El Niño taking a 5-10 day break. It’s not quite accurate in the sense that El Niño is still going strong in the Pacific, but it is accurate in the sense that wet weather usually associated with El Niño is drying up for California. Storms are forecast to steer clear of the state as a ridge of high pressure shunts them to north.

    From north to south, California will bake with temperatures running 10-15°F above normal through the end of next week. Both the Sacramento and Los Angeles National Weather Service offices are forecasting highs that could challenge daily records. Forecast highs in and around L.A. are in the mid-80s next week. The mountains will also be warm and that's bad news for snowpack.

    Peter Gleick, a climate expert at the Pacific Institute, warned that seven days of sustained warmth could melt as much as 30 percent of California’s snowpack.

    The hot, dry weather is exactly what baked in exceptional drought in California over the past four years. Some signs indicate the heat is driven in large part by climate change, but the role of the ridiculously resilient ridge is still an area of active investigation.

    It’s also true that a few strong storms could build it back up. But for a state missing a year’s worth of precipitation, any loss is bad news.

    A warning about California's coming high temps: state can gain or lose 20-30% of snowpack in 7 days. #drought pic.twitter.com/u8m4M3ESJN

    — Peter Gleick (@PeterGleick) February 4, 2016

    “California has a fickle wet season,” Gleick said. “All it takes to go from wet to dry are slight changes in storm patterns. If moisture from the Pacific goes north, or south, and if temperatures rise, a winter that starts off looking decent or even wet can turn around quickly.”

    Beyond the next week, rumor has it that California is still likely in for a wetter than normal month. And on the bright side, the timing of the ridge’s arrival is great for the Super Bowl, which will have clear and warm weather.

    Still, time hasn’t healed California’s drought yet and the return of a jilted ridge is not a welcome one.

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  4. The Southwest May Have Entered a ‘Drier Climate State’

    The Southwest is already the most arid part of the U.S. Now new research indicates it’s becoming even more dry as wet weather patterns, quite literally, dry up.

    The change could herald a pattern shift and raises the specter of megadrought in the region.

    Precipitation across the U.S. that can be attributed to these changes in weather patterns. The gray dots show areas where the results are statistically significant.
    Credit: Andreas Prein

    “We see a very intense trend in the Southwest,” Andreas Prein, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said. “The Southwest might already have drifted into a drier climate state.”

    Prein, who led the research published on Thursday in Geophysical Research Letters, looked at weather patterns rather than average trends in precipitation. The team identified 12 major patterns, only three of which are favorable for rain in the Southwest.

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    In an ominous finding for the region, they found that over the past 30 years, those three rainy patterns are becoming less frequent and the rains and mountain snow that come with them are drying up.

    Less rain and mountain snow in an already dry region is a recipe for severe drought. There’s an 80 percent chance the region could face a megadrought lasting decades as the climate warms, according to research published last year. The new findings reinforce just how serious that threat is.

    “Nowadays, the droughts are not the same as 30 years ago. They can be more intense and last longer than we would expect 30 years ago,” Prein said.

    While Prein did not look directly at whether the current drying was driven by climate change or natural forces, the main climatic driver is an increase in high pressure in the northeast Pacific Ocean that essentially steers stormy weather away from the region. (You might recall a feature called the ridiculously resilient ridge doing something similar and driving the California drought. That’s kinda what’s happening in the Southwest.)

    “We would expect something like that from climate change,” Prein said. “The only surprise was that this can be detected in observational datasets.”

    Changing drought patterns across the U.S. at the start of each decade through 2095.
    Credit: NASA

    The findings have huge implications for a region that’s home to some of the nation’s fastest growing cities that are already battling over scarce water resources.

    If you look at average changes, you’re missing most of what’s actually going on,” Daniel Swain, a PhD candidate at Stanford University, said. “Are wettest days becoming wetter, are the driest days becoming more common? It has a lot of practical implications for humans and ecosystems that are adapted to a certain degree.”

    Swain, who was not associated with the study, said that the approach of looking at pattern changes had the potential to be a more effective way to understand climate change and natural impacts that matter the most people.

    We feel changes in climate through weather. In some cases, it does help to think of climate change through the lens of changing weather patterns and this paper is one way of doing that,” he said.

    Adding to the woes is rising temperatures, which help bake in drought. While California has seen a big precipitation deficit, it’s been record heat that’s really helped turn the current drought into one of epic proportions. With heat projected to continue rising, it’s clear the Southwest will have to adapt to more than just dry conditions.

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  5. UK Forecasters: More Warming in Store Over Next 5 Years

    Earth’s temperature will continue its steady climb thanks to global warming over the next five years, with 2016 likely to rival 2015 as the warmest year on record, according to an experimental forecast released this week by the U.K. Met Office.

    With its latest annual effort at what is known as decadal forecasting, the Met Office is predicting that global temperatures will continue to rise from 2016 through 2020, with those years likely falling between 0.5° and 1.4°F (0.28 and 0.77°C) above the 1981-2010 average.

    The range of global temperature predicted for the period 2016-2020 is seen in blue, with the black lines showing observed temperatures and previous predictions in red.
    Credit: U.K. Met Office

    For comparison, 2015 was 0.8°F (0.44C) above that average, beating out 2014 by a good margin as the warmest year on record.

    This five-year forecast isn’t like the ones that appear on the evening news, rather, it is a research effort aimed at improving climate models. The goal is to get models to the point where they can have skill in predicting features like drought or seasonal hurricane activity a few years ahead, said climate scientist Doug Smith, who leads the Met Office effort. Such predictions would allow governments and societies time to prepare, he said.

    Other climate scientists, though, are wary of just how skillful such predictions can be and cautioned against drawing too firm a conclusion from them.

    Tricky Predictions

    Decadal forecasting, which began in 2007, uses the same climate models that are normally run to simulate changes across many decades, but only goes up to one decade out. The goal is to capture natural variations in the climate, like changes in ocean circulation or features like the El Niño Southern Oscillation, that are swamped by the signal of human-caused warming when looking out to the end of the century.

    Researchers start the model simulations using the current state of the climate system, in particular ocean conditions, “and by doing that, we can potentially predict any kind of natural variability in the climate system” as well as the background warming signal, Smith said.

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    What makes the effort particularly tricky is that the prediction of natural variations like El Niño are typically only accurate on the scale of a few months, so looking out several years presents a serious challenge.

    “Currently the ability to do that is limited and even marginal, although theory and experiments suggest some skill should be developed,” said climate scientist Kevin Trenberth, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

    Smith says that over time the Met Office has upgraded its models and they have found that they have some skill in predicting European winters, rainfall in Africa and Atlantic hurricane frequency.

    In terms of global temperatures, he said that previous forecasts had captured the relative flattening of temperature rise for several years and the subsequent sharper uptick seen over the last few years.

    Global temperatures are already about 1°C (2°F) above those of pre-industrial times; countries have agreed to try to limit that warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

    The Next Five Years

    In finer detail, the models used by the Met Office suggest that the heat released by the strong El Niño that helped boost 2015’s temperature will continue into 2016, potentially causing it to rival 2015 for warmest year. But the run of consecutive record warm years would likely end there, with the possible shift to a La Niña state later this year.

    La Niña is the cooler counterpart to El Niño, featuring colder-than-normal temperatures in the eastern portions of the tropical Pacific Ocean. It tends to overall cool the planet. Of course, there is still background warming at play, so 2017 would be “generally warm, but probably cooler than 2016,” Smith said.

    Trenberth said he thinks the Met Office forecast is likely a bit high, based on previous research he has conducted. He thinks the current El Niño has likely already had its biggest impact on global temperatures and that 2016 won’t beat out 2015.

    He said he does think, however, that there will a broader shift to warmer ocean conditions that will last for several years and that means that global temperatures will hover around the level they have recently reached before moving upward again, like stairs on a staircase.    

    It is this background warming from the heat trapped by greenhouse gases that actually accounts for most of the predictability in future temperature change, said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State.

    While each of the scientists not involved with the Met Office said they saw the potential usefulness of decadal forecasting, they said that any particular predictions at present aren’t at the stage where they can be used for any kind of decision-making.

    “These exercises are not entirely without merit, but their utility should not be overstated,” Mann said in an email.

    Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, said that while he thought the decadal forecasting effort was “interesting science,” it is still in the research phase “and so comes with a lot more caveats and an understanding that it might not have any skill at all.”

    Smith was more optimistic about the prospects of such forecasting efforts, but also emphasized their experimental nature.

    “We are developing these products and we are assessing them at the moment,” but they could one day be used to help areas prepare in advance for a busy hurricane season or the onset of drought, he said.

  6. These Paintings Turn Climate Data Into Art

    Climate data is usually seen in pixels, spreadsheets and maps. But watercolor paintings? Not so much.

    That’s what makes a growing series of paintings by Maine-based artist Jill Pelto so striking. They combine haunting imagery from the natural world with hard data showing the impact climate change is having.

    Large wildfires are happening more frequently and burning more area across the western U.S. in part due to rising temperatures. The global average temperature is shown between the flames and the forest.
    Credit: Jill Pelto

    The message can be subtle, with the global average temperature graph tucked in a painting that shows wildfires raging. But the point is clear. Data — and the way humans are influencing that data by emitting greenhouse gases — is an essential part of the landscape and the changes that are happening.

    And by embedding that message within paintings, the works become a Trojan horse for science to reach a public that doesn’t necessarily think about data points and models.

    “Most of the population doesn’t pay attention to the scientific community and research,” Pelto said. “That’s the group I want to target.”

    Ecosystems are threatened by ocean acidification, represented in the background of the painting by a decline in ocean pH.
    Credit: Jill Pelto

    The global average temperature, sea level rise, disappearing Arctic sea ice and other major climate indicators have made an appearance in Pelto’s artwork. But local climate stories are also something she wants to explore more since they can make pieces even more emotionally resonant.

    Her father, Mauri Pelto, is a glacier researcher who has worked in Washington’s North Cascades for decades. Glaciers there have been receding at an alarming rate, including a huge drop in 2015 following the hottest year on record for the region. The warm year also caused a large portion of precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow, further shrinking glaciers across the region.

    Summer trips to the region have been a family affair since Jill was in high school and they’re what piqued her interest in making climate impacts clear.

    Glaciers are losing mass in the North Cascades, where Pelto's father has done work for decades monitoring glacier retreat and related changes. Annual glacier mass balance data is represented in the painting.
    Credit: Jill Pelto

    “To me it’s really dramatic and it means a lot because it’s something I personally experienced,” she said. “Seeing signs of climate change that were more evident inspired me to pursue science at the same time as art.”

    Next up on the local data-art docket are eastern Canadian caribou, which have seen a rapid decline since the early 2000s. Beyond that, Pelto said she’d like to collaborate with any other scientists looking to have their data become art. And eventually her own research could inform her art once she begins an earth science Master's this fall at the University of Maine.

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  7. Warming Ups Odds And Costs of Extreme U.K. Rains

    Parts of southern England and Wales were swamped with storm after storm after storm during the winter of 2013-2014, as roads turned into streams and fields into lakes. The relentless rains flooded thousands of homes and businesses and cost more than $700 million in damages.

    It was both the wettest January and the wettest winter ever measured at the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford, which has kept daily precipitation records since 1767.

    Flooding along the river at Staines-upon-Thames in Surrey, England in a photo taken on Jan. 8, 2014.
    Click image to enlarge. Credit: flickr/Mario Sanchez Prada

    Climate change could mean England is in for more such extreme rainfall events because of increasing moisture in the atmosphere and changes in atmospheric weather patterns, a new study detailed online Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change finds.

    The study is the first to take so-called event attribution a step further to investigate how warming has increased the risks of flooding impacts, finding that it has likely put more properties at risk and raised the costs of such an event.

    When combined with previous studies, this new effort provides further evidence that that winter weather and its significant impacts in the U.K. “had a link to human-induced climate change,” said study co-author Peter Stott, who leads the Climate Monitoring and Attribution team at the U.K. Met Office.

    Increased Risk

    While no one storm that blew over the U.K. that winter was particularly extreme on its own, the repeated bouts of rain overwhelmed the ability of streams and the ground to absorb all that water. The hardest hit areas in southern England saw 14.5 inches of rain over just December and January, and that January was the wettest in the area since 1910 by a “very wide margin,” according to the Met Office.

    One reason the rains kept coming was a larger pattern in place in the atmosphere, with the jet stream in an unusual position that kept guiding storms over the increasingly soggy region.

    Studies conducted relatively quickly after the event found that climate change had made such extreme rainfall more likely, but the new study aimed to examine any link in more detail.

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    The research team, which included scientists involved with Climate Central’s World Weather Attribution project, used a now-routine method that involves running multiple iterations of several climate models. The models are used to compare the odds of such an event happening in a world with human-caused warming to one without it.

    The modeling showed that such an event was about 40 percent more likely in a world with warming, both because of the increased moisture in a warmer atmosphere — a key tenet of climate change — and because that particular jet stream pattern was more likely to occur and corresponded to higher rainfalls in southern England.

    The researchers then used statistical methods to break down the relative contributions of the two influences on the increased odds. They found that while the increased moisture content was the primary factor in the extreme rainfall, accounting for about two-thirds of the added risk, the atmospheric pattern still played a noticeable role, filling out the remaining one-third.

    Stott cautioned, though, that this was only one study and that more will be needed to pin down that breakdown. “This is not yet the definitive answer,” he said.

    One Step Further

    The team took their effort a step further to see how increased rainfall associated with warming would affect river flow along the Thames and then how many more properties would be put at risk and how much more that would cost. Theirs is the first attribution study to extend an analysis to such concrete impacts, which is what insurance companies, governments and the public is most concerned about.

    Flooded fields near the River Avon in January 2014.
    Click image to enlarge. Credit: flickr/Matt Buck

    “This is something we’ve always wanted to do with an attribution study,” said study co-author Neil Massey, a researcher with Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute.

    “That’s really our next big frontier challenge,” said Jim Kossin, an atmospheric scientist with the Center for Weather and Climate, part of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information. “That is really where the rubber meets the road.”

    Kossin was not involved with the study, but collaborates with Stott on editing the annual attribution special issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

    The rainfall from the models was fed into a hydrological model for the Thames and then combined with flood risk maps. They found that, for a 1-in-100-year rain event, about 1,000 more properties would be at risk, with a cost of about $40 million, but with a wide range of possible outcomes, from fewer properties at risk to several thousand.

    The researchers hope that as efforts to look at the changing risk of impacts are refined, they can help societies better prepare for those impacts.

    For example, if engineers target flood defenses for a 1-in-200-year flood, but under climate change such an event becomes a 1-in-150-year flood, “then you’re not going to be as well protected as you thought you were,” Massey, who was kept from the office for two weeks because of the 2013-2014 flooding, said.

    Right now, the uncertainty in the results is too high to be of use to insurance companies or governments, Stott said. “There’s a lot of work to do before this information can be used.”

    But, overall, he said, the study is “pointing the way forwards.”

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  8. Watch All of 2015’s Weather in Super High-Def

    Another year of wild weather is behind us. But thanks to EUMETSAT, you can now relive it in amazing high-definition video from space.

    The new visualization uses geostationary satellite data from EUMETSAT, the Japan Meteorological Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to stitch together 365 days of data into one stunning highlight reel of 2015’s weather.

    And what a year it was. You’ll definitely want to keep your eye on the tropics throughout the animation as the northern hemisphere set a record for the most major tropical cyclones to form in a year.

    Around the 6:30 mark, you can see the evolution of Hurricane Joaquin, the strongest Atlantic hurricane of 2015. It went from a tropical depression in late September to a Category 4 storm that battered the Bahamas and menaced the East Coast before steering all the way across the Atlantic and plowing into the U.K.

    The transition of Hurricane Joaquin near the Bahamas to an extratropical storm that hit the U.K.

    Hurricane Patricia became the strongest hurricane ever recorded in October and at the 6:55 mark, you can see it quickly slam into Mexico’s west coast before heading inland to inundate parts of Texas.

    But beyond the highlights, there’s also yearly the ebb and flow of weather on our fair planet. During the southern Amazon’s rainy season, which last from December-April, you can see clouds pop up almost daily to spread rains across the region. Clouds become far less plentiful during the region’s dry season.

    And more broadly, you can see weather patterns flow across continents and oceans. Today’s storm in the Southeast U.S. is next week’s rain in Spain. By putting together a global view of our planet, EUMETSAT’s video shows how our atmosphere is the common tie that binds humanity together.

    There have been a few things updated since last year’s version. For one, EUMETSAT has cranked the resolution to 4K for truly epic detail. And more importantly, the quality of satellites in space has improved.

    Both Japan and EUMETSAT launched new satellites last year that have higher resolutions than their predecessors. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to launch a new high resolution geostationary satellite this year, adding even more detailed coverage of the planet.

    That’s good news if you want an even sharper 4K experience or improved forecasts. And if you want both, well, then life is really good.

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  9. Oslo Trash Incinerator Starts Experiment to Slow Warming

    By Alister Doyle, Reuters

    Oslo's main waste incinerator began the world's first experiment to capture carbon dioxide from the fumes of burning rubbish on Monday, hoping to develop technology to enlist the world's trash in slowing global warming.

    The test at the Klemetsrud incinerator, which burns household and industrial waste, is a step beyond most efforts to capture and bury greenhouse gases at coal-fired power plants or factories using fossil fuels.

    "I hope Oslo can show other cities that it's possible" to capture emissions from trash, Oslo Mayor Marianne Borgen said at an opening ceremony at the Klemetsrud waste-to-energy incinerator which generates heat to warm buildings in the city.

    Oslo Mayor Marianne Borgen and city council members Geir Lippestad and Lan Marie Nguyen Berg start the Klemetsrud incinerator in Oslo, Norway, Jan. 25, 2016.
    Credit: Alister Doyle/Reuters

    So far, high costs have plagued technology for carbon capture and storage. Last month, almost 200 nations agreed a deal in Paris to fight climate change in a new spur for technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    The Klemetsrud incinerator emits more than 300,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, or 0.6 percent of Norway's man-made emissions. Carbon dioxide is the main gas blamed for stoking rising temperatures and more droughts, floods and rising seas.

    The test plant, in five containers feeding exhaust gases through a series of pipes and filters, will capture carbon dioxide at a rate equivalent to 2,000 tonnes a year until the end of April.

    And if it works, a full-scale carbon capture plant could be built by 2020, officials said. Carbon dioxide could then be shipped to the North Sea and injected into oil and gas fields to help boost pressure and raise production.

    "We see potential in this market across the world," said Valborg Lundegaard, head of Aker Solutions' engineering business which runs the test. She said it was the first of its kind worldwide for a waste-to-energy plant.

    A general view of the Klemetsrud incinerator in Oslo, Norway, Jan. 25, 2016.
    Credit: Alister Doyle/Reuters

    Officials declined to discuss costs but said the price of emitting carbon dioxide in the European Union emissions trading market would have to be far above a current 6 euros ($6.50) per tonne for the technology to be feasible at scale.

    About 60 percent of the rubbish burnt at Klemetsrud is of biological origin — from waste wood to food. That means that capturing emissions would be a step to extract carbon from a natural cycle in so-called "negative emissions".

    "It won't be possible to achieve goals set in the Paris agreement without wide use of negative emissions," said Frederic Hauge, head of environmental group Bellona.

    A 2015 report by the Australia-based Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute said there are just 15 big CCS projects in operation worldwide, including a coal-fired power plant run by Canada's Saskatchewan Power.

    Editing by Dominic Evans

  10. California Narrowly Upholds Key Policy For Solar Growth

    By Nichola Groom, Reuters

    California delivered a narrow victory to the solar industry this week by maintaining a policy that has underpinned rooftop solar's dramatic growth while introducing fees that were smaller than utilities requested.

    After two years of rancorous debate, California's Public Utilities Commission upheld net metering by a vote of 3-to-2, allowing homeowners with solar panels to keep selling the excess power they generate back to their utility at the full retail rate.

    Homeowners with solar panels cheer net metering as it lowers their power bills. But net metering has been criticized by utilities and some ratepayer advocates for rewarding solar users while leaving others to shoulder the cost of maintaining the electricity grid.

    The decision was being watched far beyond the Golden State by states and utilities that are working to integrate ever larger amounts of rooftop solar onto their power grids.

    Solar panels are pictured on the rooftops of residential homes in San Diego in this Aug. 21, 2015 file photo. 
    Credit: Reuters/Mike Black/Files

    Most states have passed laws allowing net metering, but a 40 percent drop in the cost of residential solar installations in the last five years has prompted some to review those policies amid calls by utilities to roll them back. Most recently in Nevada, regulators last month approved changes to the state's net metering policy that prompted some solar companies to stop doing business there.

    The narrow victory in California reflected what the Commission said was the difficult job of balancing its desire to support the growth of rooftop solar while making sure solar customers pay their fair share.

    "I will be the first to say that I think we really have a ways to go before we have a really enduring rooftop strategy," said PUC President Michael Picker, who voted in favor of extending the policy.

    In response to critics, the PUC did make some changes that will drive up the cost of going solar.

    Solar customers will have to pay a new fee of between $75 and $150 to connect a system to the grid, and will be required to move to time-based utility rates, paying more for power during peak hours. They will also be required to pay monthly fees of about $6 for certain utility programs.

    The revised structure serves as somewhat of a placeholder, as the PUC will reconsider net metering again in 2019.

    Net metering, which has been in place for 20 years in California, has been critical to making it affordable to go solar. It is largely responsible for the rise of major rooftop solar installation companies like SolarCity Corp and Sunrun Inc.

    Solar company shares soared following the decision, with SolarCity's stock up nearly 8.4 percent. Sunrun's stock was up more than 20 percent.

    Industry groups like the California Solar Energy Industries Association and environmentalists applauded the decision.

    Two commission members who voted against the proposal indicated the PUC had gone too far in supporting the industry when it backed away at the eleventh hour from imposing transmission charges on solar owners.

    The state's three investor-owned utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, initially argued for fixed charges for solar customers, but in the last month authored a new proposal that would preserve net metering but reduce the rate at which solar customers are compensated for the excess power they produce.

    PG&E spokesman Donald Cutler said the utility was "extremely disappointed" in the decision.

    Reporting by Nichola Groom; Additional reporting by Bruce Wallace; Editing by Terry Wade and Phil Berlowitz