Glacial Geology Field Tripping in the Northern Yellowstone Area

Living near Yellowstone National Park has its advantages – and the best of these is being easily able to go on field trips to the Park area. A field trip opportunity came up last week when the Rocky Mountain section of the Geological Society of America came to Bozeman, Montana, for its annual meeting. One of the meeting field trips was the “Glacial and Quaternary geology of the northern Yellowstone area, Montana and Wyoming”. The trip was led by Ken Pierce, Joe Licciardi, Teresa Krause, and Cathy Whitlock. Having spent much time in the Yellowstone area, I was ecstatic about going along to find out about recent geological work. I won’t elaborate on the specifics of the trip, but for those interested in more than the photos posted below, the field trip guide is available in The Geological Society of America Field Guide 37, 2014, p. 189-203. It’s worth a read!

A few of the stops on the trip:

Paradise Valley – Chico Moraines and Chico Outwash (45.3402 N, 110.6967 W)

Chico moraine boulders have an average cosmogenic age of 16.1 +- 1.7 10BE ka.

 

A succession of outwash terraces border the melt-water channel which is now the Chico Hot Springs road.

North Gardiner Area – Giant Ripples (45.0551 N, 110.7659 W)

Giant ripples occur on a mid-channel bar a few miles north of Gardiner, Montana.

Cosmogenic ages on the flood deposit boulders of the giant ripples average 13.4 +- 1.2 10Be ka.

Northern Yellowstone NP – Blacktail Deer Plateau (44.9577 N, 110.5652 W)

The Blacktail Plateau is capped by moraines of Deckard Flats age - 14.2 +- 10Be ka.

The Blacktail Plateau is capped by moraines of Deckard Flats age – 14.2 +- 10Be ka.

Northern Yellowstone NP – Phantom Lake Ice-Marginal Channel (44.9554 N, 110.5289 W)

The ice-marginal channel that Phantom Lake lies in was cut into volcanic bedrock during the Pinedale glacial recession. The lake is dammed on its down-stream end by a post-glacial age alluvial fan.

The ice-marginal channel that Phantom Lake lies in was cut into volcanic bedrock during the Pinedale glacial recession. The lake is dammed on its down-stream end by a post-glacial age alluvial fan.

Northern Yellowstone NP – Junction Butte Moraines (44.9128 N, 110.3854 W)

The Junction Butte moraines have an age date of 15.2 +-1.3 10Be ka. Large  boulders of Precambrian crystalline rocks and several ponds typify the morainal surface.

The Junction Butte moraines have an age date of 15.2 +-1.3 10Be ka. Large boulders of Precambrian crystalline rocks and several ponds typify the morainal surface.

2013 Yearbook of the Cuban Society of Geology – Now Online

Vinales Valley, Cuba - a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Vinales Valley, Cuba – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For those interested in Cuban geology, Manuel Iturralde-Vinent, President of the Cuban Geological Society, just informed me that the 2013 Yearbook of the Cuban Society of Geology (Volume 1, No. 1, 2013. ISSN 2310-0060, Scientific Journal of Geosciences, Havana) is now online. The papers in the yearbook are listed separately on the Cuban Digital Geoscience Library website. The individual papers in this volume are (pdf links for each paper are available on the website):

Chang Rodríguez, A. 2013. Geochemical results that characterize new saprolitic profile nickel deposit altered to “San Felipe “, Havana, Cuba. Yearbook of the Cuban Society of Geology, No. 1: 39-46. Delgado Lopez, O., JG López Rivera, O. Pascual Fernández, J.O. López Quintero, Z. Dominguez Sardinas. 2013. Petroleum systems and plays complementary in Havana-Corralillo region. Implications for oil exploration. Yearbook of the Cuban Society of Geology, No. 1: 1-12. 
George De Armas, E., A. Espinosa Creme, AM Rodríguez, M. Legon, S. López Guerra. 2013. Methodology for integrated assessment performance fluid systems for drilling wells oil. Yearbook of the Cuban Society of Geology, No. 1: 33-38. 
JE Herrera Gómez, O. Morán Rodríguez. 2013. Methodology for oil risk analysis and decision making. Case study strip north of heavy crude-Seboruco Guanabo, Cuba sector. Yearbook Cuban Society of Geology, No. 1: 23-32. 
Gómez Rodríguez, L., R. Fuentes Caceres, B. Sosa Navarro. 2013. Influence of natural zeolite in enhancing technology for the production of cane sugar. Yearbook of the Cuban Society of Geology, No. 1: 79-82. 
Iturralde-Vinent, M.A. 2013. Stratigraphy of North Fold Belt 
of Cuba. Yearbook of the Cuban Society of Geology, No. 1: 97-136. 
Lastra Cunill, M., E. Cordero Camejo, G. Fernández Ameijeiras. 2013. Bispectral analysis speed early in the processing seismic. Yearbook of the Cuban Society of Geology, No. 1:19-22. 
Morales Echevarria, C., EA George De Armas, S. and D. García López Guerra Delgado. 2013. Characterization by instrumental methods oil fields seal of the northern fringe of heavy crude, Cuba. Yearbook of the Cuban Society of Geology, No. 1: 13-17. 
Nunez Mora, J.C. 2013. Use of Spatial Data Infrastructure 
in designing disaster risk scenarios. Yearbook of the Society 
Cuban Geology, No. 1: 151-155. 
Peña Abreu, RE, L. Fernández Martínez, AI Rivas Salas, Y. Castañeda Ferrer, Y. Vilche Cuenca, N. and M. Espinosa Pérez Melo Frómeta. 2013. Methodology for evaluation in retrospective samples technology. Yearbook of the Cuban Society of Geology, No. 1: 47-58. 
Rocamora Alvarez, E. 2013. Criteria for the characterization of factors auditors slope stability in mountain areas. Yearbook 
Cuban Society of Geology, No. 1: 145-150. 
Rojas Consuegra, R. and R. Denis Valle. 2013. Influence on climate of Cuban Paleogene turbidite systems, as recorded 
by Cuban stratigraphy. Yearbook of the Cuban Society of Geology, No. 1: 83-94.
Santa Cruz Pacheco, M., D. De La Nuez Columbus, AI Castro Llanes, C. Capote Marrero. 2013. The microtextural features as support criteria and magmatic chromitites postmagmáticos in Camagüey. 59-64. 
Zafra Torres, J.L. 2013. Prospects for base and precious metals in the Cretaceous Volcanic Arc of central Cuba. Yearbook of the Cuban Society of Geology, No. 1: 65-78. 
Vega Garriga, N., ED Arango Arias, Y. Martínez Ríos, A. Núñez Labañino, C. Pérez Pérez, K. Núñez Cambra, Balangue JA Zapata, J. Perez Rueda. 2013. Valuations of seismicity occurring around New World Dam  in the town of Moa. Yearbook of the Cuban Society Geology, No. 1: 137-143. 

Landslide Hazards – Geology On The Move

Landslides in the western U.S. are very much in the news lately, so I thought I’d put together a brief listing of some data, images and video on a few of them. Most of the listings below are related to the Oso, Washington landslide. But because of unusually wet conditions that have occurred during the past several months throughout parts of the western U.S., I’m also including information on yesterday’s landslide in northwestern Montana and on the Colorado Front Range storm event of September 2013.

The Oso, Washington Landslide:

The landslide near Oso, Washington happened on Saturday, March 22, 2014, when an unstable hillside collapsed and propelled mud and debris across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. The 1-square-mile (2.6-km2) slide obliterated property and also created an earthen dam and a barrier lake. The slide is known as the “Hazel Landslide” and has reportedly been an active area of earth movement since at least 1937.

In a Washington Post video, David Montgomery, a geology professor at the University of Washington, briefly outlines the cause of the Oso landslide:

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Past landslides in the Oso area are delineated in a new US Geological Survey report based on a 2013 high-resolution lidar survey of the North Fork Stillaguamish River Valley which was acquired by the Tulalip Tribes in partnership with the Puget Sound Lidar Consortium:

Colored areas show older landslide deposits, distinguished by their relative age: A, youngest to D, oldest. The red cross-hatched area marks the approximate extent of deposits from the March 22, 2014, landslide (from USGS Open-file report 2014=1065).

Colored areas show older landslide deposits, distinguished by their relative age: A, youngest to D, oldest. The red cross-hatched area marks the approximate extent of deposits from the March 22, 2014, landslide (from USGS Open-file report 2014-1065).

The U.S. Geological Survey has also posted before and after Landsat 8 images of the Oso slide area. The March 23, 2014 image clearly shows the slide deposits:

Oso, Washington area Landsat 8 image acquired  January 18, 2014.

Oso, Washington area Landsat 8 image acquired January 18, 2014.

 

The Oso, Washington slide area Landsat 8 image acquired on March 23, 2014.

The Oso, Washington slide area Landsat 8 image acquired on March 23, 2014.

Snohomish County, Washington, released video of a March 23, Sunday afternoon flight over the mudslide area. The video was taken with Washington State Patrol equipment aboard a Washington State Patrol aircraft:

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Montana Lookout Pass Landslide:

Landslide debris covered part of Interstate 90 near northwestern Montana’s Lookout Pass (mile marker 6.5) late Sunday afternoon (March 30). As a result, west-bound traffic was detoured from St. Regis, Montana (mile marker 33) along Montana 135 and Highway 200 north to the Sandpoint, Idaho area until this afternoon. Currently westbound traffic on I-90 is diverted to an eastbound lane in the slide area. The cause of the slide is basically an unstable slope that was activated during wet conditions. Rock debris continues to move downslope as Montana Department of Transportation crews attempt to clean up the slide area – see the video posted by NBC Montana at: Lookout Pass Landslide

Colorado Front Range Storm Event:

Fourmile Canyon Road near Salinas Junction.

Fourmile Canyon Road near Salinas Junction.

Lastly, the Colorado Front Range storm event of last September is yet another example of geologic hazards generated by record rains that send water cascading through mountainous narrow valleys, producing landslides. I wrote an earlier Geopostings blog on this event and posted photos that I took of some of the flood-damaged areas. The link to my earlier Colorado Front Range storm event blog is: Front Range Storm Event

Update: Dave Petley (The Landslide Blog) has an excellent posting on the Oso landslide – The Oso (Steelhead) landslide: mechanisms of movement and the challenges of recovering victims.

 

Rare Earth Elements and the WTO

Yesterday the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that China breached international trade law by limiting the export of 17 rare earth elements and two metals used in steel alloys (molybdenum and tungsten). The case was originally brought before the WTO by the United States in March 2012; the European Union and Japan later joined in on the U.S. side. The WTO’s ruling could result in trade sanctions against China from these countries.

David Jolly of the New York Times notes that:

Members of a W.T.O. panel considering the case in Geneva found that the export taxes, quotas and bureaucratic delays Beijing imposes on overseas sales of the minerals artificially raise prices and create shortages for foreign buyers. The panel concluded that “China’s export quotas were designed to achieve industrial policy goals” rather than to protect its environment, as Beijing had argued.

Why are rare earth elements, molybdenum and tungsten so important as to prompt a WTO ruling? A large amount of rare earth elements (REE) are necessary for building a robust renewable energy industry. In the wind industry alone, REE are used in light-weight permanent magnets for wind turbines and for capacitors, sensors and scintillators used in electricity transmission, Other REE are critical to the manufacturing of photovoltaic panels, fuel cells and high-capacity batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles. For the metals in contention – molybdenum is used for light bulb filaments. Many technologies in the lighting, aerospace, automotive, and medical areas employ tungsten for various uses.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has become heavily reliant on imports of REE, particularly from China. The U.S. Geological Survey gives import sources for 2009-12 for rare earth metals, compounds, etc. as: China, 79%; France, 6%; Japan, 5%; Austria, 3%; and other, 7%. China also leads globally with 91% of the tungsten production and produces 36% of the world’s molybdenum.

Prior to this week’s ruling on China’s REE export policy, the U.S. has looked for alternatives to importing REE from China. There are potential substantial deposits of REE within North America, but rare earths are currently mined domestically in 2013 only by Molycorp at Mountain Pass, California. There are, however, other companies currently pursuing domestic exploration/production. Properties in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Arizona are among the areas of interest.

In October 2013, several U.S. senators introduced the Critical Minerals Policy Act, S. 1600, specifically to address future supply shocks of critical minerals. The act specifically would “facilitate the reestablishment of domestic, critical mineral designation, assessment, production, manufacturing, recycling, analysis, forecasting, workforce, education, research, and international capabilities in the United States, and for other purposes”. The bill is still in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee – the govtrack.us website lists a 3% chance for the bill to be enacted.

There are other known REE deposits in Australia, Vietnam, Brazil, and even Afghanistan, but the development of these resources for US markets will add geopolitcal consequences to the mix. Motley Fool commented on some international REE ventures:

Australia-based Lynas is another company which is slowly but surely turning into one of the major rare earths producers. Lynas said in a statement on Thursday that it will register a record output for the quarter ending March 2014.

Many other rare earth projects are also in the pipeline around the world. Russia, in order to reduce its reliance on imports, announced last year that it will invest $1 billion in rare earth mining projects through a joint venture. Also last year, Greenland announced its decision to remove a ban on rare earth and uranium mining which saw a rise in its Uranium Production – something that could prove economically advantageous to such a small nation. With all these developments during the last two years, China’s share in global rare earth production has gone down to 80%, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Lastly, in the quest to find usable REE, there is the possibility of “urban Mining” of recycled electronics. While the recycling effort for REE is still in its infancy, some believe that recycled rare earths could play a significant part in global demand.

Kathryn Free, in Scienceline’s The Future of Rare Earth Recycling, remarks that:

For now, the most promising recycling process may be obtaining rare earths from fluorescent light bulbs. In Europe, consumers are required to recycle bulbs because they contain mercury, so recycling companies have immediate access to the materials. Solvay, a chemical and plastics company based in Belgium, has already begun to extract six separate rare earth elements from fluorescent bulbs and has recycled more than 1,000 tons of product, according to Frederic Carencotte, who heads the rare earth division at Solvay. To recycle the bulbs, workers at Solvay separate the rare earths from everything else. Next, they isolate each one and recombine them to make a fluorescent precursor that they sell back to lamp manufacturers.

Other companies are looking beyond bulbs in their quest for recycled material. Around 20–30 percent of rare earths used in magnet production end up as scrap waste, so companies are beginning to collect the scrap to reuse it. In addition, a Chinese research team recently used nanoparticles to capture more than 85 percent of the rare earths from wastewater. But Colorado School of Mines’ Anderson suggests the Chinese results aren’t a breakthrough: the hard part is to separate rare earths from each other, not merely to capture them.

Since hybrid cars require rare earths in their batteries, companies such as Honda and Toyota are working hard to recycle them and cut battery prices. Recycling “could be the winning weapon to excel in the global car market,” says Marcello Ruberti, a rare earths economist at the University of Salento in Italy. Separating rare earths from cell phones, on the other hand, is more difficult and costly because the parts are so small that it requires a lot of labor to take the phones apart.

In the long run, recycling may not only prove to be an economic boon, but also a plus for public health and the environment. Rare earth ores almost always include a small amount of radioactive material, such as uranium and thorium. In 2004, researchers published the results of a 20-year study on workers from the Baiyun Obo Mine in China. They found that thorium exposure over a long period of time caused a higher incidence of lung cancer. With recycling, however, the radioactive materials would already be removed when workers handle the metals.

 

Ukraine Crisis Fueling Natural Gas Exports Debate

The Ukraine crisis is adding fuel to the natural gas export debate that’s been brewing in Congress. Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, is proposing that an amendment to lift restrictions on U.S. natural-gas exports be added to the Senate aid package for Ukraine. On March 5, Sen. Mark Udall, D-CO, a senior member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced legislation to increase the ability of energy firms to export liquefied natural gas. Sen. Udall preceded the legislation’s introduction by noting that:

The situation in Ukraine shows the urgent need for Colorado and the nation to export more natural gas. When foreign powers like Russia are able to exploit their monopoly on energy exports to coerce their neighbors, it weakens the international community’s ability to promote stability and avert conflicts.

Currently, under the Natural Gas Act (1938), exports of natural gas are generally limited to countries that have a free-trade deal with the U.S.. Sen. Udall’s recently introduced legislation, known as “The American Job Creation and Strategic Alliances LNG Act” would modify a part of the Natural Gas Act to allow natural gas exports to World Trade Organization member countries. Of course, under this provision, Ukraine and neighboring countries would then be eligible to receive exported natural gas.

However, many energy experts say that the real problem with natural gas exports is not the governmental red-tape involved with actually exporting it, but the dearth of infrastructure to liquefy the natural gas for overseas shipment. There are now six applications for LNG (liquid natural gas) export facilities that have been approved, but only one of them is under construction. This is Cheniere’s $10 billion Sabine Pass terminal in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, which just recently received its required approvals from the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as well as from any state regulators that are needed. LNG shipments from this facility are scheduled to start in late 2015. As approval processes for LNG export terminals are lengthy, it is unlikely that the other applied-for LNG export terminals would be operational soon. As Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said earlier this week during a major energy conference in Houston:

After the Cheniere license, the most optimistic view for the next set of LNG shipments to leave the U.S. isn’t until 2017 or 2018, according to Moniz. “So, there’s still quite a ways to go,” he says.

Aside from the natural gas export ban and the lack of infrastructure, the exporting of natural gas also begs the question of what will its price be once it is on the global market? The price of U.S. produced natural gas is much, much lower in the U.S. than natural gas sold elsewhere. An earlier Geopostings blog detailed how the spot price of domestic gas is set and how natural gas prices overseas are typically “oil-linked”, which means the price is coupled to the per-unit energy cost of crude oil. Suffice it to say that it is a real possibility that natural gas prices for domestic consumption will rise, and could rise precipitously. It is also a real possibility that as a market-driven commodity, U.S. produced natural gas will be exported not to Europe, but to the Asian market, where it will command a higher price.

As I said before in my earlier Geopostings blog on natural gas exporting/pricing:

All in all, 2014 is already shaping up as a very interesting year for US natural gas, LNG exports, and US energy policy.

 

New ACEEE Analysis – Why Is Electricity Use No Longer Growing?

The dynamics of electricity use are complicated. But with the ongoing muddlings regarding U.S. energy policy and the looming specter of climate change, it becomes critical that we do understand electricity usage. A new ACEEE (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy) analysis by Steven Nadel and Rachel Young proposes that energy efficiency has become an important factor in U.S. electricity use. As noted by the authors:

Prior to the 1970s energy crises, electricity sales in the United States were growing by more than 5% per year, and as recently as the early 1990s, electricity sales were growing more than 2% per year. In the past few years, growth has essentially stopped: retail electricity sales in 2012 were 1.9% lower than sales in 2007, the peak year. Some observers have attributed this stalled growth to the 2008 economic recession, while others have suggested a variety of other factors. In this paper, we undertake several analyses to consider which factors best explain changes in electricity use in recent years. Our hypothesis is that the recession alone cannot explain the recent stagnation in electricity consumption. We instead hypothesize that electricity savings from energy efficiency programs and from other efficiency efforts such as appliance standards and building codes are having a broad national impact on electricity consumption in the United States, possibly contributing significantly to the recent decline in electricity consumption.

The white paper for this analysis is available at: Why Is Electricity Use No Longer Growing

Wildlands Fire in the American West – The New Fire Realities

The fireline.It comes as no surprise to anyone living in the American West that wildlands fire is a major issue. Sally Mauk, of Montana Public Radio, recently interviewed wildlands fire expert Tom Zimmerman about the new realities of wildlands firefighting. As Ms. Mauk noted in her introduction to Mr. Zimmerman:

In over three decades of fighting fire, studying fire and crafting fire management policy, Tom Zimmerman has seen a lot of changes in fire behavior and control. Zimmerman has worked with fire for the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the U.S Forest Service – and most recently, at the  National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

Listen to the interview podcast at this link: Wildlands Firefighting

The U.S. Energy-Climate World Upheaval: 2008-2014

If the recent U.S. energy-climate world seems like it’s in upheaval, that’s because it is. Amy Harder of the National Journal, just posted a good synopsis of the monumental changes in the U.S. energy-climate world with her article – The Five Biggest Energy Changes in the Past Six Years. Harder notes:

In 2008, Washington was grappling with what it thought was a scarce supply of oil and natural gas, energy prices were high, presidential candidates of all stripes embraced action on global warming, and President Obama was riding to victory on his slogan of change you can believe in.

Today, six years later, who would have thought this much change would come to the energy and climate world this fast? Here are the biggest changes over the past six years.

The changes that Harder elaborates on include:

–          America’s oil and natural-gas boom

–          The rise of EPA and the fall of climate-friendly Republicans

–          Environmental movement flipping from top down to bottom up

–          Imports and exports of fossil fuels with exports up and imports down

–          Renewable-energy growth, which is objectively significant but still relatively small

Overall, I think this is a helpful, brief summary of the U.S. energy-climate world – basically a good starting point for those interested in more detail on this area.

Greenland’s Fastest Glacier Now Flowing At Record Speeds

Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland’s fastest flowing glacier, has been moving even faster over the past several years. The Jakobshavn Glacier, or Jakobshavn Isbræ, is located on the west coast of Greenland and drains a major part of the Greenland ice sheet into a deep ocean fjord. Accordingly, the Jakobshavn Glacier could add significantly to sea level rise.

Recorded speeds of glacial flow during the summer of 2012 topped out at more than 17 kilometers per year, or over 46 meters per day. In fact, the transient summer speeds observed for 2012 probably represent the fastest observed speeds for any outlet glacier or ice stream in Greenland or Antarctica. In a paper published recently in The Cryosphere, Joughin and others, note that:

We have extended the record of flow speed on Jakobshavn Isbræ through the summer of 2013. These new data reveal large seasonal speedups, 30 to 50% greater than previous summers. At a point a few kilometres inland from the terminus, the mean annual speed for 2012 is nearly three times as great as that in the mid-1990s, while the peak summer speeds are more than a factor of four greater. These speeds were achieved as the glacier terminus appears to have retreated to the bottom of an over-deepened basin with a depth of 1300m below sea level. The terminus is likely to reach the deepest section of the trough within a few decades, after which it could rapidly retreat to the shallower regions 50 km farther upstream, potentially by the end of this century.

The warming trend in the Arctic correlates with Greenland’s glaciers thinning and retreating progressively inland. The rapid retreat of the Jakobshavn Isbræ, however, is due not only to the warming trend, but to a number of feedbacks. The primary control on the glacial flow now is the physical location of the glacier’s calving front. The calving front is currently located in a deep area of its outlet fiord, an area where the underlying rock bed is about 1300 meters below sea level. As the glacier loses ice in this area – basically the ice in front that is holding back the flow – the flow speeds up.

The contribution to sea level rise from the Jakobshavn Isbræ may be significant. One of the study’s authors, Ian Joughlin, is quoted in Science Daily, 2/3/2014, as saying:

We know that from 2000 to 2010 this glacier alone increased sea level by about 1 mm. With the additional speed it likely will contribute a bit more than this over the next decade.

So what should we expect for the Jakobshavn Isbræ’s future? Joughlin and others summarized this by:

Thus, the potential for large losses from Greenland is likely to be determined by the depth and inland extent of the troughs through which its outlet glaciers drain. These features are only beginning to be well resolved by international efforts such as NASA’s Operation IceBridge. The relatively sparse data collected thus far indicate that, with its great depths and inland extent, Jakobshavn’s Isbræ is somewhat unique (Bamber et al., 2013), suggesting that it may be difficult for the majority of Greenland’s outlet glaciers to produce or to sustain such large increases in ice discharge.

Of interest may be an earlier Geopostings on “Chasing Ice” that showed a 2012 huge calving event from the Jakobshavn Isbræ.

A Year of Weather for 2013 Via an 8-minute Video

Watch this video to see the day by day weather of 2913 compressed into 8 minutes. The  video content comes from American, European, and Japanese satellite imagery. EUMETSAT, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, compiled the video, complete with audio commentary. NASA’s Blue Marble project is the source for the video background.

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Natural Gas and Climate Change

The rise in natural gas production, particularly in the U.S., has unquestionably impacted the global energy equation. Fueled by the unconventional-natural-gas revolution, natural gas is now a significant factor in the U.S. and global energy mix. As Sonal Patel summarized from the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2013 World Energy Outlook (WEO-2013):

By 2035, natural gas demand will outpace that of any other individual fuel and end up nearly 50% higher than in 2011. Demand for gas will come mostly from the Middle East-driven by new power generation-but also from Asian countries, including China, India, and Indonesia, and Latin America. Power generation continues to be the largest source of gas demand, accounting for around 40% of global demand over the period. New gas plants, meanwhile, are expected to make up around a quarter (or 1,000 GW) of net capacity additions in the world’s power sector through 2035.

Given the seemingly inevitable scenario of natural gas playing a significant role in the energy mix (and particularly in U.S., given the recent unconventional-natural-gas boom), how will its increased use influence climate change and future energy policies? The tenet that natural gas, being a cleaner-burning fuel, will lessen a carbon footprint has been bandied around for awhile now. Amy Harder, from National Journal, picks up this thread with:

First the aforementioned wisdom: Natural gas is unquestionably helping the United States reduce its climate footprint. Our nation’s greenhouse-gas emissions have dropped to levels not seen since the 1990s, thanks in part to this cleaner-burning fuel. Natural gas produces half the carbon emissions of coal and about a third fewer than oil. This is why everyone in the Obama administration, including the president himself, can’t talk enough about the climate benefits of natural gas.

Three disparate factors make the relationship between natural gas and climate change not so unequivocally simple and good. Concerns about methane emissions persist, but notwithstanding that challenge, two greater problems loom: First, shifting significantly away from coal to natural gas doesn’t get the planet anywhere close to the carbon-reduction levels scientists say we must reach. And second, while the natural-gas boom is great for the economy and the immediate reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions, it has deflated the political urgency to cut fossil-fuel dependence, which was more compelling when we thought our resources of oil and natural gas were scarce. We have a great problem of energy abundance.

Obviously, natural gas is not the total panacea for “fueling” the transition to a carbon-negative energy mix. But given the current and predicted production/market conditions, it will be a considerable part of the future global energy equation. There is more info over at websites like cooleffect.org for those who want to see what they can do personally to help their carbon emissions be reduced.

2014 AWG Canadian Rockies Geology Field Trip – Registration Now Open

Registration is now open for the Association for Women (AWG) Geoscientists 2014 Canadian Rockies Geology Field Trip. All registration information and associated forms are posted on the AWG website at: AWG 2014 Field Trip. 

Castle Mountain (Canadian Main Ranges) and Bow River, Banff National Park, Alberta, by Ben Rye.

Castle Mountain (Canadian Main Ranges) and Bow River, Banff National Park, Alberta, by Ben Rye.

The AWG 2014 Canadian Rockies field trip is scheduled for August 28 to September 7, 2014, and will be the field trip of a lifetime! The field trip begins and ends in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

There are two trip options available:

  • The 9-day main trip itinerary includes a classic geological transect through the Canadian Foothills to Main Ranges of the Foreland Fold and Thrust Belt, the geology of the Columbia Icefields Parkway, the Rocky Mountain Trench, and Crowsnest Pass areas, and a hike to the Burgess Shale.
  • An optional 2-day trip to Dinosaur Provincial Park and to the Royal Tyrrell Museum can be added on to the end of the main field trip.

The trip itinerary includes:

  • A classic geological transect through the Canadian Foothills to the Main Ranges of Foreland Fold and Thrust Belt via the Trans Canada Highway from Calgary, Alberta to the Icefields Parkway, Alberta
  • Columbia Icefields Parkway Geology
  • Burgess Shale Hike or less strenuous geotourism options such as Takkakaw Falls, Natural Bridge, and Emerald Lake in the Field, B.C. area
  • Columbia, Athabasca, and Saskatchewan rivers’ headwaters and Revelstoke Dam visits
  • Rocky Mountain Trench Geology: Omineca Crystalline Belt, Windermere Supergroup,  Illecillewaet Glacier in the Field, Revelstoke, Golden, & Fernie, B.C. areas
  • Crowsnest Pass Geology: Duplexes & Lewis Thrust, Crowsnest Volcanics, Frank Slide (Crowsnest Pass, B.C./Alberta area)
  • Dinosaur Provincial Park and Royal Tyrell Museum explorations in the Brooks and Drumheller, Alberta areas. This part of the field trip is an optional 2-day addition to the end of the main trip

The field trip leaders are:

  • Katherine Boggs, Department of Geology, Mount Royal College, Calgary, Alberta Canada
  • Mindy Brugman, PhD, Geological and Planetary Sciences – Cal Tech

Field trip costs and payment information:

The field trip base fee is US$1700/person for the full 11-day field trip and US$1400/person for the 9-day field trip without the Dinosaur Provincial Park/Tyrrell Museum option. A deposit of US$200 for AWG members/US$300 for non-members to AWG will be due by April 1, 2014, and is non-refundable after April 1. The remaining balance of the field trip fee is due by June 30, 2014, and is non-refundable after June 30.

Rising Seas and Carbon Footprint Visualizations

National Geographic

National Geographic “Rising Seas” map of projected North American shoreline change from ice melt. Map from: http://tiny.cc/xc0z9w

New sets of interactive maps help to visualize both the impact of rising seas on the world’s coastlines and U.S household carbon footprints.National Geographic has posted a set of world-wide interactive maps that show new coastal outlines resulting from the premise of all ice melting and thus raising sea level approximately 216 feet. As noted by the authors:

There are more than five million cubic miles of ice on Earth, and some scientists say it would take more than 5,000 years to melt it all. If we continue adding carbon to the atmosphere, we’ll very likely create an ice-free planet, with an average temperature of perhaps 80 degrees Fahrenheit instead of the current 58.

Continuing on the topic of adding carbon to the atmosphere, University of Berkeley researchers, Christopher Jones and Daniel Kammen, looked at the spatial distribution of U.S. household carbon footprints. The researchers first point out the obvious in that carbon footprints in densely populated areas are typically low because of smaller residences, shorter commutes, and the availability of mass transit. Here’s the catch though – the suburbs have an unusually large carbon footprint and are always in serious need of carbon management. In fact, the footprint is so large that it negates the “green” urban core. As Jones and Kammen summarize:

As a policy measure to reduce GHG emissions, increasing population density appears to have severe limitations and unexpected trade-offs. In suburbs, we find more population- dense suburbs actually have noticeably higher HCF, largely because of income effects. Population density does correlate with lower HCF when controlling for income and household size; however, in practice population density measures may have little control over income of residents. Increasing rents would also likely further contribute to pressures to suburbanize the suburbs, leading to a possible net increase in emissions. As a policy measure for urban cores, any such strategy should consider the larger impact on surrounding areas, not just the residents of population dense communities themselves. The relationship is also log?linear, with a 10-fold increase in population density yielding only a 25% decrease in HCF. Generally, we find no evidence for net GHG benefits of population density in urban cores or suburbs when considering effects on entire metropolitan areas.

U.S. Average Annual Household Carbon Footprint by Household.

U.S. Average Annual Household Carbon Footprint by Household. “Source: UC Berkeley CoolClimate Network, Average Annual Household Carbon Footprint (2013)”

Top Five 2014 Energy/Environmental Priorities of the EU

I thought that it’s instructive for anyone interested in US energy/environmental policy to look at what the EU has on its 2014 agenda. Environmental journalist Sonja van Renssen outlines the top 5 EU energy/environmental issues. The issue priorities are:

  • The biggest issue on the agenda will be the climate and energy package to be unveiled by the European Commission on January 22nd.

  • ETS and how to include emissions from international aviation will also be high on the agenda, with  the European Parliament and the biggest Member States disagreeing on the way forward.

  • Shale gas will be back on the agenda with a long-awaited proposal to be tabled by the European Commission also on January 22nd.

  • In 2014, DG Environment’s priority will be waste and resource efficiency with a ‘circular economy’ package expected to be presented by environment Commissioner Potočnik in spring.

  • The alternative fuel strategy with difficult trialogue negotiations between the Council, European Parliament and Commission lying ahead.

View environmental journalist Sonja van Renssen talk about the energy/environment priorities:


 

Dead Mud Encroaches On To Maine’s Shellfish Flats

“Dead mud” is not a geologic term that I had heard before. But it well describes a geologic event that may have catastrophic implications for coastal areas as oceans continue to acidify.

The Maine coastal areas are being particularly hard hit with dead mud:

The spread of “dead mud” among Maine’s shellfish flats could have disastrous implications for clammers, lobstermen, oyster farmers and others whose livelihoods depend on healthy coastal ecosystems.

Mark Green, an oyster grower and marine science professor at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, defines dead mud:

The darker muds and sulfur-rich muds don’t have any clams, and those are the flats that have lower pH levels. Places where historically there have been great harvests that supported clammers for decades, you now see water quality changes that are reflected in the mud.” The more acidic the water, the lower the pH.

In the following video, Prof. Mark Green further explains ocean acidification and how it affects marine life:
[embedplusvideo height=”315″ width=”584″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1gFfZKY” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/kwZxq5sKLuI?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=kwZxq5sKLuI&width=584&height=315&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep5332″ /]
 

Montana Energy News Roundup

During the last week, several significant energy-related events that peaked my interest occurred. Here’s a brief summary of those that I think are worth noting:

–          Northwestern Energy (NWE) formally requested a withdrawal of the Mountain States Transmission Intertie (MSTI) Right-of-Way application from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. NWE submitted the request for right-of-way over federal lands in 2007; NWE also submitted a MSTI-related application to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for a Certificate of Compliance under the Montana Major Facility Siting Act (MFSA) in 2008. As proposed by NWE, the MSTI project consisted of a 500 kV transmission line and a 50+ acre substation that would traverse 400 miles of land in Montana and Idaho. The project met intense public opposition (under full disclosure, I was part of the vocal opposition to MSTI) because of several factors including project need, project impact on rate payers, project impact on land owners, and an unnecessary additional conduit for fossil fuel energy. Although the MSTI MFSA application still stands at Montana DEQ (we are told that there is no mechanism to withdraw a MFSA application), we consider the MSTI project dead. As John Vincent, a former Montana Public Service Commissioner said in reference to NWE’s recent request for the right-of-way application withdrawal:

Finally, we can now say “We told you so” on MSTI. We can go back fully 4 years to find in our records any number of findings and statements proclaiming the lack of need for and the non-viability of the MSTI project. We knew it years before NWE did, or at least before they were willing to admit they had made a major miscalculation and mistake.

Read the NWE request letter for the right-of- way application withdrawal here: MSTI BLM NWE ROW Application Withdrawal January 6 2014

Read more on MSTI and citizen concerns here: CCM website

–          The Northern Plains Resource Council and Carbon County Resource Council (CCRC) are challenging in court a decision by the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation to prevent the public from testifying on a proposed oil well permit for the Belfry, Montana, (the Beartooth Front) area last month. A lawsuit was filed on January 8, 2014 with the Montana 13th District Court in Yellowstone County (Cause No. DV-14-0027 Dept. 3). Read more on this in: NPRC lawsuit

–          The controversy over sage grouse listing on the endangered species list is heating up and potentially impacts various energy and energy-related activities. As Andrew Gulliford notes in his High Country News op-ed on “ Who Speaks for the Sage Grouse”:

Across the West, politicians and oil and gas industry spokesmen are wringing their hands, shaking their heads and saying “no” to Bureau of Land Management proposals to set aside large swaths of land for the greater sage grouse, and for federal plans to list the separate Gunnison sage grouse as an endangered species.

The opposition to sage grouse ESA listing is not limited to politicians and fossil fuel industries, but also includes such diverse groups as utilities and ranchers. Other links on this topic include:

Montana Governor’s Advisory Council on Sage Grouse

BLM’s Greater Sage-Grouse on public lands web page

Montana Rural Electric’s position page: REA sage grouse position

Sage Grouse Initiative: Op-ed and NRCS Sage Grouse Initiative Information: NRCS

Keeping Sage Grouse Off the ESA Listing

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Sage Grouse 

State of Montana – Establishing a Greater Sage-grouse Habitat Conservation Advisory Council: Montana Sage Grouse Advisory Council

 

Sagan 2013 Lecture: Terra Sapiens -The Role of Science in Fostering a Wisely Managed Earth

So you couldn’t go to the 2013 American Geophysical Union’s Fall meeting in San Francisco? Now at least we can listen to the Carl Sagan Lecture by Dr. David Grinspoon, entitled “Terra Sapiens: The Role of Science in Fostering a Wisely Managed Earth” that is now posted on YouTube. It’s well worth the hour’s time:

[embedplusvideo height=”360″ width=”584″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/KauKKC” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/3yrj_oFPqtw?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=3yrj_oFPqtw&width=584&height=360&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep8366″ /]

SenseFly Drone aerobatics and oblique aerial photos

In all the bad press about drones, there are some good and exciting applications of this technology with the smaller, civilian-type drones. One application of interest to earth scientists is the ability to acquire high-resolution oblique aerial photos. One company, SenseFly, just released technology for this kind of drone application:

SenseFly, a Parrot company, releases its patent-pending technology for oblique images, a truly innovative way to enable its fixed-wing mapping professional drones to take extraordinary images without the use of a gimbal.

SenseFly’s civil drones eBee and swinglet CAM, both designed for mapping missions, are now also capable of quickly taking amazing oblique images to complement a mapping project or add additional documentation.

[embedplusvideo height=”360″ width=”584″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1glqEdB” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/-WpDRdYGIOk?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=-WpDRdYGIOk&width=584&height=360&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=¬es=” id=”ep5338″ /]

Go to the Parrot News blog site for more information on the SenseFly technology.

Between the Lines with Map Legends

In her continuing blog series, “The Hidden Meanings of Maps”,  Anne-Laure Freant’s new posting focuses on map legends. As noted in her blog:

Most cartographers neglect map legends. They put a lot of effort in the projection and scale choice, data and pretty colors selection, but then they just want to add a powerful title and press the “share” button. That is a mistake, as the cartographical legend is the key to understand the map. It is like building a beautiful door and forgetting to put a keyhole on it. It sounds obvious to say, but it is a major communication issue found in very prestigious media maps, still today. When maps were made by hand, making the legend was part of a very artistic process. This article puts side by side recent maps made with computers and ancient ones, drawn by hand, on purpose, to illustrate better the importance of skills and knowledge over technology when it comes to mapping.

Once again, for anyone who works with maps, Ms. Freant’s new posting is well worth reading.

Lifelines and earthquake hazards in the greater Seattle area (From: http://tiny.cc/etsb9w)

A map legend example: “Lifelines and Earthquake Hazards in the Greater Seattle Area” (From: http://tiny.cc/etsb9w)

 

Yellowstone and Super-Eruptions

Comparison of eruption sizes  using the volume of magma erupted from several volcanoes (From USGS "Questions about Supervolcanoes": http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/yellowstone/yellowstone_sub_page_49.html).

Comparison of eruption sizes using the volume of magma erupted from several volcanoes (From USGS “Questions about Supervolcanoes”: http://goo.gl/efpdDd ).

I give much thought to supervolcanoes – mainly because I live next to Yellowstone National Park and consequently spend much time in the Park. So when I saw today’s Nature publications about the cause of super-eruptions, naturally I wanted to read them.

I’ll first start with a definition for a supervolcano, and for that I’ll use one given by the U.S. Geological Survey:

The term “supervolcano” implies a volcanic center that has had an eruption of magnitude 8 on the Volcano Explosivity Index (VEI), meaning the measured deposits for that eruption is greater than 1,000 cubic kilometers (240 cubic miles). The VEI scale was created as a general measurement of the explosivity of an eruption. There are multiple characteristics used to give an eruption its VEI allowing for the classification of current and historic eruptions. The most common criteria are volume of ejecta (ash, pumice, lava) and column height. All VEI 8 eruptions occurred tens of thousands to millions of years ago making the volume of ejecta or deposits the best method for classification. An eruption is classified as a VEI 8 if the measured volume of deposits is greater than 1,000 cubic kilometers (240 cubic miles). Therefore a supervolcano is a volcano that at one point in time erupted more than 1,000 cubic kilometers of deposits.

Now to today’s online Nature publications for the cause of the eruption. There are two publications and each research team uses a different technique which results in finding two distinct causes for eruptions.

In the “Frequency and magnitude of volcanic eruptions controlled by magma injection and buoyancy, Lucca and others use thermomechanical numerical modeling of magma injection into Earth’s crust and Monte Carlo simulations to observe:

We find that the rate of magma supply to the upper crust controls the volume of a single eruption. The time interval between magma injections into the subvolcanic reservoir, at a constant magma-supply rate, determines the duration of the magmatic activity that precedes eruptions.

Malfait and others, in their “Supervolcano eruptions driven by melt buoyancy in large silicic magma chambers publication, state:

Here we use synchrotron measurements of X-ray absorption to determine the density of silica-rich magmas at pressures and temperatures of up to 3.6 GPa and 1,950 K, respectively. We combine our results with existing measurements of silica-rich magma density at ambient pressures, to show that magma buoyancy can generate an overpressure on the roof of a large supervolcano magma chamber that exceeds the critical overpressure of 10–40 MPa required to induce dyke propagation, even when the magma is undersaturated in volatiles. We conclude that magma buoyancy alone is a viable mechanism to trigger a super-eruption, although magma recharge and mush rejuvenation, volatile saturation, or tectonic stress may have been important during specific eruptions.

As I said earlier, my proximity to Yellowstone has certainly made me take note of research relating to supervolcanoes. So I’m always glad to find ongoing work on them as well as their triggering mechanisms. Hopefully, better overall understanding of supervolcanoes will expand our capability to predict their super-eruptions.

A Snafu for US Gas Exports and US Energy Policy

A cost-overrun dispute on the expanded Panama Canal construction could be a big snafu for exporting US liquefied natural gas. Keith Johnson of the Seattle Times notes that:

The project is the expansion of the Panama Canal to allow more and bigger ships to pass through – for instance, the large tankers that carry liquefied natural gas (LNG). Today, only about 6 percent of the global LNG tanker fleet can pass through the canal; after the expansion, about 90 percent of tankers will be able to use it, according to a U.S. government study. The bigger canal would provide a quicker and cheaper way to ship natural gas from the U.S. Gulf Coast and East Coast to markets in Asia that are desperate to secure supplies of natural gas.

But those plans now could be jeopardized because of a dispute over cost overruns – which means America’s gas-export dreams could be in jeopardy, too.

Why is LNG a critical part of any talk about both US and global energy? LNG is produced when natural gas is cooled to approximately -260 F. As summarized by Charles Morris in his Reuters opinion, The Case Against Natural Gas Exports:

Natural gas, the cleanest of the hydrocarbon-based fuels, has long been a primary choice for heating and power generation, as well as an essential raw material, or “feedstock,” for a vast range of chemistry-based products, including every kind of plastic, synthetic cloth and high-tech composite materials.

More importantly to the LNG/natural gas discussion is that since the early 2000’s, US gas production has increased so much that it has largely outstripped any growth in consumption. As observed by Trefis analysts in their 1/3/2014 posting on Key Trends Impacting Natural Gas Prices:

The outlook for U.S. natural gas supply has changed significantly over the past few years, primarily due to the evolution of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing; these techniques have enabled energy companies to tap the huge shale gas reserves in the U.S. at commercially sustainable rates. Widespread use of these techniques started only during the early 2000s in the Barnett shale play in north-central Texas. However, since then, natural gas production in the U.S. has ramped up much faster than the growth in consumption, which has led to severely depressed commodity prices by international standards.

Today, natural gas prices in the U.S. are less than half of that in the Europe and less than one-third of that in the LNG (liquefied natural gas) dependent Asian economies, such as Japan. Those hoping to make investments in oil and gas may want to use the services of a company like EnergyFunders with help from their elite operator teams and access to diverse, highly vetted investments through an easy-to-use online platform. Huge recoverable reserve estimates lead the EIA (authors note: US Energy Information Administration) to believe that shale gas would account for ~50% of the total natural gas production in the U.S. in 2040. Additionally, as the industry’s understanding of the shale resource basins continues to grow, leading to more productive wells, drilling costs are expected to trend lower. We therefore expect natural gas prices in the U.S. to remain depressed by international standards in the medium to long term.

The significant point here is that the price of US produced natural gas is much, much lower in the US than natural gas sold elsewhere. Charles Morris gives a summary of how the spot price of domestic gas is set:

The spot price of gas is set in the New York futures market, based on trades at a major Louisiana collection center called the Henry Hub. During the worst of the glut, the Henry Hub price dropped below $2 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf), well under the cost of production. But now new pipeline construction has broken the worst pipeline bottlenecks, and customer demand is rising, so prices have been hovering near $4 per Mcf for some time.

However, natural gas prices overseas are typically “oil-linked”, which means the price is coupled to the per-unit energy cost of crude oil. Morris further notes that in the global market:

Global oil and gas are not traded in free markets…World oil prices are carefully managed by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cartel. Knowing a good deal when they see it, the world’s largest gas producers, Russia and Qatar, both of whom produce gas more cheaply than the American shale industry can, keep gas prices resolutely oil-linked. It’s raining money for all of them.

Thus, one of the primary consequences of LNG exports is an expected rise in the domestic price of natural gas. Morris also points to Australia as the real world example of this:

Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on forecasts. There is a real-life experiment underway in Australia. They have been exporting natural gas for some time in modest amounts. But a number of big projects will start coming on line next year, and local gas prices have already tripled – though there is ample supply and there has been little change in production costs. Suppliers apparently “prefer to sell the LNG to the likes of Japan and South Korea who will pay a premium for it.”

Not surprisingly, a huge lobbying confrontation is occurring in Washington. The confrontation centers on the approval process for liquefaction installations (gas needs to be liquefied at cryogenic temperatures which “shrinks the volume by about 600 times, making the resource easier to store and transport through marine shipments”. The approval process involves both the US Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. According to the American Petroleum Institute:

As of October 1, 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) had approved only four applications for permits to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to non-free trade agreement nations. There are currently 21 pending applications, covering 19 facilities where U.S. businesses are seeking to build and operate terminals to process LNG for sales abroad. (A map showing proposed LNG export facilities is on the API website and is linked here.)

Interestingly enough, there is yet another sidelight to US LNG exports as outlined by the Sierra Club in An open letter to Energy Secretary Moniz on natural gas exports:

But the real game-changer for exporting LNG will be if the U.S. completes the free trade agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is currently under negotiation with 10 countries across the Pacific Rim. And Japan, the world’s biggest LNG importer, is likely to join the talks in July. The TPP and another pact the U.S. is initiating with the European Union (EU) are likely to require DOE to approve all gas exports, of any amount and without delay, to nations in the agreement. The TPP could be finalized as early as October of this year, and the U.S.-EU trade pact in 2015.

All in all, 2014 is already shaping up as a very interesting year for US natural gas, LNG exports, and US energy policy.

 

How Do You See Our Earth?

How do we actually visualize the earth? The Vsauce channel has posted an intriguing video that explores this question, ranging from discussions on human color perception to map projections. And much thanks to Anne-Laure Freant, who is fast becoming my favorite geographer, for posting a blog on the video, thus bringing it to my attention.
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Paleontology Podcasts

Palaeocast hosts podcasts on varied aspects of paleontology, including podcasts on mass extinctions, early vertebrate evolution, trilobites, trace fossils, and the fossil forests of Gilboa – just to name a few. Currently there are 24 podcasts posted on the Palaeocast website, with today’s podcast focusing on marsupial evolution. In this latest podcast, Laura Sol does an hour-long interview with Dr. Robin Beck, an expert on marsupial and metatherian phylogenetics, from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. If you think that marsupial evolution only occurred in Australia, you need to listen to Dr. Robin Beck talk about his research on fossil marsupials. It’s a good way to start the new year!

Reconstruction of the Tingamarra fossil site. The early Australian marsupial Djarthia murgonensis is visible bottom right. Illustration by Peter Schouten from the forthcoming book “The Antipodean Ark”, CSIRO Publishing (From: Palaeocast, Episode 25 - Marsupial Evolution: http://www.palaeocast.com/episode-24-marsupial-evolution/#.UsRwEvRDvGJ.

Reconstruction of the Tingamarra fossil site. The early Australian marsupial Djarthia murgonensis is visible bottom right. Illustration by Peter Schouten from the forthcoming book “The Antipodean Ark”, CSIRO Publishing (From: Palaeocast, Episode 25 – Marsupial Evolution: http://www.palaeocast.com/episode-24-marsupial-evolution).

The Hidden Intent of Map Makers?

 

Hawaii's volcanoes revealed - U.S. Geological Survey Geologic Investigations Series I-2809 by Barry W. Eakins, Joel E. Robinson, Toshiya Kanamatsu, Jiro Naka, John R. Smith, Eiichi Takahashi, and David A. Clague.

A map example: Hawaii’s volcanoes revealed – U.S. Geological Survey Geologic Investigations Series I-2809 by Barry W. Eakins, Joel E. Robinson, Toshiya Kanamatsu, Jiro Naka, John R. Smith, Eiichi Takahashi, and David A. Clague.

The blog series, The Hidden Meanings of Maps posted by Anne-Laure Freant, is well worth reading for all who make and use maps. The main theme to the blog set is basically – how well does a map carry its meaning to viewers? The map making blog series  includes the following topics:

–  The Projection Choice

– Why Scale Matters

– Design and Colours

– Between the Lines of Legends

– The Art of Data Selection

– Making a point of Mapping

As Ms. Freant notes:

Just like the photographer or the painter, the map maker turns into a messenger bringing back data “from above” to the people “on the ground”.  It is not meaningless, and it is certainly never purely objective.

The first three blogs in the series are now posted. The postings include map scale, map projection, and map design and colors.

Whose Land Is It Anyways?

The development of energy resources is typically dependent upon the availability of infrastructure such as hydrocarbon pipelines and transmission lines. Many of the issues concerning energy development and consequently infrastructure construction focus on the impact of climate change generated by a particular energy resource. The continuing controversy over the permitting of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline is a flashpoint in the debate over the development of Canada’s tar sands and its impact on climate change. Likewise, many wind- power advocates champion this use of renewable energy to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and catastrophic climate change.

The issues regarding energy resources and their impact on climate change are paramount to future energy policies. However, there is another significant concern tied to energy/infrastructure development, and that is the associated landowner-eminent domain problem. The movement of energy, whether it is hydrocarbons or electricity, involves infrastructure that is built in large part, on private property. When energy infrastructure is built by private corporations, these entities need to deal with private landowners so that infrastructure can be constructed on their lands. Ideally this is accomplished by corporations and landowners negotiating a fair price for the use of their lands. However, that is truly an ideal world scenario. The reality is that private corporations have lately pushed legislation through numerous state legislatures and court systems to gain the right of eminent domain for their infrastructure projects. The right of eminent domain has historically been used by governments to seize private property for public use and then to fairly compensate the owner for that ”taken” property. However, eminent domain usage for recent private infrastructure projects becomes one where private corporations can take private lands for their private gain. For example, the Montana 2011 legislature passed legislation via House Bill 198 that gives private corporations the right of eminent domain for projects such as nuclear generation and storage, hydro, certain transmission lines, certain major pipe lines, geothermal exploration, transportation links, pump stations and other facilities associated with the delivery of energy that receive permits through the Montana Major Facility Siting Act (see the Concerned Citizens Montana website for background on HB 198 and Geopostings.com for a review on Montana Senate Bill 180, the bill intended for repealing a part of HB 198 during the Montana 2013 legislative session).

In a needed first step for educating the Montana legal and legislative communities about the recent changes in eminent domain law, the State Bar of Montana CLE (Continuing Legal Education) Institute will convene a course on Montana Condemnation Rights on February 14, 2014, at Fairmont Hot Springs, Fairmont, Montana. A link to the course brochure is: MT Condemnation Rights.

The MT CLE course is well balanced in that it contains presentations from many sides of the eminent domain issue. More specific information on the CLE course presentations includes:

–          CONDEMNATION 101—What every real estate practitioner should know about condemnation. An overview of condemnation law in Montana, including condemnation authority, time frames, notices, rights of possession, valuation and attorney fees and expenses. [This element of the program is intended as an overview and not a detailed consideration of the latest developments in Montana law.  However, there should be a brief introduction to the US  Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London (propriety of using the power of eminent domain for economic development purposes) which placed new focus on the intended scope of the power of eminent domain as well as the Montana response.]  (1 hour presentation by Hertha L. Lund, Lund Law PLLC, Bozeman, Montana.)

–          TAKINGS AND TRANSMISSION— This presentation will explore the range of state laws governing eminent domain authority for interstate transmission lines, particularly those designed to bring renewable energy generated in one state to customers in other states.  It will focus in particular on various state approaches to granting private merchant transmission lines eminent domain authority to build transmission lines, and whether such lines are a “public use” for purposes of meeting state statutory eminent domain requirements.  In addressing these issues, this presentation will discuss the Supreme Court’s Kelo v. City of New London decision, the litigation and legislative activity surrounding the Montana Alberta Tie Line (MATL) project, some historical context with regard to state constitutional and statutory grants of eminent domain to private parties in the West, and the role of “just compensation” in eminent domain disputes involving transmission lines. (1.25 hours presentation by Professor Alexandra B. Klass, Professor of Law, the University of Minnesota Law School.)

–          THE EASEMENT:  PROCESS, TACTICS AND SUBSTANCE- How and what to negotiate to fully protect landowners’ property rights when confronted with the possibility of transmission lines burdening their land. A negotiation/drafting checklist will emerge which prove extremely helpful for any practitioner handling future utility easements. (1 hour presentation by Dennis R. Lopach, Attorney, Helena, Mt.)

–          THE MONTANA BATTLE: LITIGATION/LEGISLATION RELATING TO PRIVATE EMINENT DOMAIN FOR TRANSMISSION LINES AND OTHER CONTESTED CONDEMNATION ISSUES. A debate to highlight the opposing views by lawyers intimately involved in the process. Participants include: Hertha L. Lund (Private Landowners) Lund Law, PLLC, Bozeman, MT and John Alke (Utilities) Hughes, Kelner, Sullivan and Alke, Helena, MT. Each lawyer will be given 30 minutes to present their case in chief. (Total debate time: 1.5 hours.)

–          HOT TOPIC ROUNDTABLE-  A facilitated panel discussion including all speakers will address “Hot Topics” which have emerged throughout the day. (Facilitator:  Brian Kahn, Attorney, Helena, MT. Total Roundtable time is 1.25 hours.)

The potential use of eminent domain by a private corporation, Northwestern Energy, to build a high-voltage transmission line through a southwestern Montana community.

The potential use of eminent domain by a private corporation, Northwestern Energy, to build a high-voltage transmission line through a southwestern Montana community.

Cuba Geology Via the Cuban Digital Geoscience Library

mojotes

 

 

 

 

 

The Cuban Digital Geoscience Library, compiled by Yasmani Ceballos Izquierdo and Manuel Iturralde-Vinet, is now available at  www.redciencia.cu/geobiblio/inicio.html. This is an extremely complete compendium of resources on Cuban geology – one that I wish I had access to before I went on geology/”people to people” tour to Cuba last March that was sponsored by the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG). Manuel Iturralde-Vinet (one of the co-authors of the Cuban Digital Geoscience Library) was our geology guide for the AWG trip. That Manuel was our guide was fortunate for us given his extensive expertise in Cuban geology. For more information on our AWG trip, link to a trip article published by Earth magazine and to a previous blog on our Cuba journey posted on Geopostings.

Here’s a brief intro to the Cuban Digital Geoscience Library (using my sometimes loose translation skills):

The “Cuban Geoscience Digital Library” brings together a considerable number of references, most of the contributions published and unpublished to a lesser degree, the existence of which the authors are aware of (over 3000 references). The topics cover the various branches of Earth Science, with emphasis in geology, geophysics and mining Cuba, or in any way relevant to the best knowledge of Cuban territory and other geologically/geographically related areas. These contributions include books, monographs and scientific articles, abstracts and a few maps, dating from 1535. Some very important unpublished documents are referenced, and are available at the National Bureau of Mineral Resources (NDRA), the National Geological Information Center (IGP ), the map library and collection of science of José Martí National Library, and in the Institute for Geophysics Library, University of Texas at Austin.

The “Cuban Geoscience Digital Library” has several pioneering works, namely the literature on geology of Cuba News, released by Pablo Ortega (1910), the Cuban Scientific Library compiled by Trelles (1918), the Bibliography of West Indian Geology of Rutten (1938), the Cuban Geological Bibliography published by Peter J. Bermúdez (1938), Mining Bibliography of Colonial Cuba (Anonymous), Geology of the sketch on Cuba prepared by Antonio Calvache Dorado (1965), and the Compilation on Paleontology Publications (Bonzoño et al., 2008). Of these bibliographic lists, Bermudez and Trelles are noted for their excellent compilation of the oldest contributions.

The existence of many compilations on contributions to the geosciences of Cuba, made at different times, denotes the interest of researchers to present the results of their time, to facilitate future professionals, and to provide a computer database to serve as basis for their work. This compendium is also a broad recognition of the scientific work of several generations of outstanding professionals.

On this basis, the development of this “Cuban Geoscience Digital Library”, with the quality that current technologies can provide to users for accessing most texts and maps in digital format (pdf and jpg) was inspired, and thus for the first time puts a “click” access to this vast intelligence, particularly for the paper originals that are hard to acquire. A first version of this database was published as part of the “Compendium of Geology of Cuba and the Caribbean” in the 2010 and 2012 editions done by Manuel Iturralde-Vinet.

US Microgrid Technology and the U.S. East Coast

Microgrid systems, an alternative approach for integrating small scale distributed energy resources, are becoming a reality on the U.S. east coast. The microgrids are viewed as a way to improve energy resiliency in the face of future impacts related to climate change, as reported by the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. Bill Howley, in today’s “The Power Line” blog, points out a critical necessity for microgrid development – the need for larger capacity, less expensive battery storage. Bill notes that one company, Solar Grid Storage, is making significant strides in this direction. Here’s Bill’s summary:

Larger capacity, less expensive battery storage is the key to building more microgrids in the US. Here is a story about one new company, Solar Grid Storage, that is developing new grid storage systems.   The article also gives you a good overview of new microgrid systems that are popping up on the East Coast.

Solar Grid’s primary focus is commercial customers, but it also works with utilities and municipal governments. Among its customers are a school system in New Jersey and a utility in North Carolina. It partnered with Standard Solar Inc. on the installation of a solar system at the Konterra Realty Corporation that opened last month.

He says grid operators like PJM, a regional transmission organization, pay Solar Grid an installation fee and a monthly fee based on the hourly market rate of access to its battery system.

Leyden says the company is currently in talks with utilities in the Maryland-Washington, D.C. area on solar storage. He declined to identify them but the major operators in the District are Pepco and Washington Gas.

 

Colorado’s Front Range September Storm Event

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USGS map (see reference in blog text) showing the extent of landslides from the 9/2013 Front Range storm event and 2000-2010 fire events.

The northern Colorado Front Range area was hit with flooding and hundreds of landslides that were triggered by record rains that fell throughout this area from September 9 through 13, 2013. U.S. Geological researchers from the Landslide Hazards Group in Golden, Colorado, presented their findings to-date on landslide hazards associated with this storm event at the Geological Society of America’s (GSA) annual meeting in late October. A summary of their findings is available in the pdf online – Landslides in the northern Colorado Front Range caused by rainfall between September 9 and 13, 2013. The Figure 1 map from this pdf is shown above (red depicts the extent of the landslide area and 2000-2010 fire areas are in gray) and is a good reference map to use in understanding that the storm event damage happened inside a triangle along Colorado’s Front Range Mountains, spanning an area of approximately 1,150 square miles. As noted by the USGS researchers:

The combination of landslides and flooding was responsible for eight fatalities and caused extensive damage to buildings, highways, and infrastructure (fig. 2). Three fatalities were attributed to a fast moving type of landslide called debris flow (fig. 3). One fatality occurred in Jamestown, and two occurred in Pinebrook Hills immediately west of the City of Boulder. All major canyon roads in the northern Front Range were periodically closed between September 11 and 13. Some canyon closures were caused by undercutting of roads by landslides and flooding, and some were caused by debris flows and rock slides that deposited material on road surfaces (fig. 4). Most of the canyon roads, with the exceptions of Highway 6 (Clear Creek Canyon), Highway 46/Jefferson Co. Rd. 70 (Golden Gate Canyon), and Sunshine Canyon in Boulder County, remained closed at the end of September 2013. A review of historical records in Colorado indicates that this type of event, with widespread landslides and flooding occurring over a very large region, in such a short period of time, is rare.

I took an afternoon off from the GSA meeting and went to the flood damaged area to look at flood-related deposits and debris flows. At that time, most major canyon roads were still closed. I was able to go up Fourmile Canyon Road, which is west of Boulder, just off Highway 119, and then drove up towards Estes Park on Highways 72 and 7. The flood/landslide damage even in the areas I could get to was extensive. Below are several photos from these areas. As you can tell by the photos, there will be many homeowners looking for help from companies such as https://seiroofing.com/service-areas/allen/ and others around in order to assist with rebuilding their community.

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Fourmile Canyon Road – near Salinas Junction

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Fourmile Canyon Road – Salinas Junction

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Fourmile Canyon Road washout

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Salinas Junction Church – foundation washout

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Debris flow around the castle at Saint Malo Conference Center near Allenspark, Highway 7.

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Landslide on the northwest flank of Twin Sisters Peak near Rocky Mt. National Park that almost obliterated Aspen Lodge.

If this blog has peaked your interest in the September storm event, you should also read both a High Country News (HCN) blog and article written by Cally Carswell about Colorado Front Range flood events. In her HCN Goat Blog, Carswell tells why Front Range flooding is an inevitable event. She follows up the blog writing with a HCN article on lessons that should be learned by us all with this flood/landslide event. And – the flooding was not confined to just the immediate Front Range area. As floodwaters cascaded out of the mountainous areas, they engulfed towns and farmlands further east. The damage that is being caused around here is devastating communities, as well as to the lives of many homeowners who live in the area. Fallen trees, broken roofs and guttering, and even faulty HVAC systems could have been affected by the storm, and before their lives can even return to a state of normalcy, these devastating issues will need to be resolved. For example, if you find that you don’t have a fully-functioning heating system at your disposal, contacting experts similar to Buric Heating and Air Conditioning (burichvac.com/olney-heating-furnace/) will be in your best interests, as they will be able to help ensure that your home has access to suitable and warm temperatures going forward. This could be extremely beneficial, especially knowing that the extreme cold can significantly affect communities and homes if they do not have heating due to the destruction these floods have caused. National Public Radio ran a news segment on 11/19 that’s well worth listening to about how Colorado farmers are trying to recover from the historic flood event.

Montana Dueling Dinosaurs – No Sale For Now

A few days ago, Bonhams auction house in New York City hoped to sell a fossil specimen dubbed the “Montana Dueling Dinosaurs”. I say “hoped” because the Dueling Dinosaurs did not sell. The highest bid was $5.5 million which did not clear the reserve. Bonhams had estimated the Dueling Dinosaurs to be worth between $7 and $9 million.

The fossil specimen comes from the Hell Creek Formation of Garfield County in northeastern Montana. Clayton Phipps, a local rancher and commercial fossil collector, and a couple friends initially located the dinosaurs by finding a pelvis weathering out of sandstone. The fossil find was on deeded land belonging to Lige and Mary Ann Murray, who gave permission to excavate it. Phipps also enlisted CK Preparations, a commercial fossil collection/preparation company also located in northeastern Montana, to help with the fossil excavation. After three months of excavation, the fossil find was put into 4 plaster jacketed-blocks and moved to the CK Preparations facility.

The fossil find is potentially significant. It appears that the find contains two dinosaurs that are nearly completely articulated and are preserved such that they look as if they died while fighting. One dinosaur is a theropod (presently identified as Nanotyrannus), and the other is a herbivore (presently identified as a new ceratopsian).

As Heather Pringle noted in AAAS’s Science Insider:

Exactly how important the specimen is scientifically remains unclear because it hasn’t been fully prepared or thoroughly studied. But information provided by the auction house suggests that the carnivore resembles a specimen from Montana controversially identified by paleontologist Robert Bakker of the Houston Museum of Natural Science and others as a new species, Nanotyrannus lancensis, or pygmy tyrant. This animal looked very much like a Tyrannosaurus rex, but it was one-third the length and had more teeth. Other paleontologists strongly disputed this species, however, suggesting that the “pygmy tyrant” was simply a juvenile T. rex with extra teeth that would have been lost as it grew. The new specimen could help settle the debate. The auction house catalog also suggests that the herbivore half of the Dueling Dinosaurs could be a new Ceratopsian species, based on certain key aspects of the skull, such as a short brow horn.

As with anything potentially this scientifically significant, the Dueling Dinosaurs are controversial. The controversy is also ratcheted up several more levels because they were collected by commercial fossil hunters and then offered for sale at $7 to $9 million by an auction house.

The primary fear voiced by the scientific community is that the fossils will be sold to a private collector and the opportunity for detailed scientific study will be lost. However, the collector team and the landowners do have the legal right to sell the Dueling Dinosaurs to whomever they choose. Being a scientist, I can well understand the anguish in losing the chance for a detailed study of the fossils. However, many of us who live in Montana are not enjoying the life of the upper echelon 1%, so I also understand the need for making a living.

But it does appear that the Dueling Dinosaurs could yet end up appeasing most now involved in this endeavor. As Megan Gannon reported in Discovery News, Live Science:

“The story isn’t over,” said Thomas Lindgren, co-consulting director of the natural history department at Bonhams in Los Angeles, who put together today’s natural history auction in New York, which drew a crowd prospective buyers, curious onlookers and reporters.

“Behind the scenes, before the sale occurred today, I’ve had museums mention that they have difficulty coming up with funds this quickly, but should the lot not sell — which of course occurred — they want us to be in negotiations immediately,” Lindgren said during a press conference after the sale. “I’m very confident we’re going to find a scientific home for these dinosaurs.”

 

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AWG 2014 Canadian Rockies Field Trip

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I thought that I’d give some advance notice for a geology field trip that is being sponsored by The Association for Women Geoscientists. The field trip will go through a part of the Canadian Rockies and the Alberta Badlands, and anyone can sign up for a spot on the field trip. Here’s the trip information that we have so far:

Tentative Dates: Late August/Early September 2014 (11 days)

Itinerary (Main part of the trip is Day 1 through Day 8.5; the remaining 2.5 days are an add-on option of continuing on to Dinosaur Provincial Park/Tyrrell Museum): 

  • Trans Canada Highway from Calgary, Alberta to the Icefields Parkway, Alberta (classic transect through the Foothills to Main Ranges of Foreland Fold and Thrust Belt – 2 days total)
  • Columbia Icefields Parkway Geology (2 days)
  • Burgess Shale Hike or less strenuous geotourism option such as Takkakaw Falls, Natural Bridge, Emerald Lake (Field, B.C. area)
  • Rocky Mountain Trench Geology: Omineca Crystalline Belt, Windermere Supergroup, Illicillewaet Glacier (Field, Revelstoke, Golden, & Fernie, B.C. areas)
  • Crowsnest Pass Geology: Duplexes & Lewis Thrust, Crowsnest Volcanics, Frank Slide (Crowsnest Pass,  B.C./Alberta area)
  • Dinosaur Provincial Park and Royal Tyrell Museum Explorations (Brooks and Drumheller, Alberta). This part of the field trip is an optional 2.5 day addition to the main trip.

Field Trip Leaders:

  • Katherine Boggs, Department of Geology, Mount Royal College, Calgary, Alberta Canada
  • Mindy Brugman, PhD, Geological and Planetary Sciences – Cal Tech
  • Various Guest Lecturers

Tentative Cost (Includes field trip transportation, tours, lodging, and meals – except for dinners):

  • $1600 for field trip without Dinosaur Provincial Park/Tyrrell Museum option; $1900/person with Dinosaur Provincial Park/Tyrrell Museum option. Field trip cost may decrease depending on number of field trip participants, so spread the word about the field trip to your friends!

Trip Information Contacts: Marcia Knadle: MarciaAWG@aol.com; Debbie Hanneman: whgeol@gmail.com. We have not opened registration for the trip yet, but anticipate that registration will begin in early 2014 and will be done through the AWG web site – http://www.awg.org/.

Human Influence On The Climate System Is Unmistakable

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change‘s (IPCC) much awaited report, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), concludes that scientists are 95% certain that humans are the “dominant cause” of global warming since the 1950s. A policy makers’ summary for AR5, IPCC’s latest report on physical evidence for climate change, was released today. The full report will be released on September 30th.

As noted in IPCC’s 9.27.2013 press release on the AR5:

Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident in most regions of the globe, a new assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes.

 

It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming

since the mid-20th century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response and improved climate models.

 

Warming in the climate system is unequivocal and since 1950 many changes have been observed throughout the climate system that are unprecedented over decades to millennia. Each of  the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850, reports the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group I

assessment report, Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis, approved on Friday by member governments of the IPCC in Stockholm, Sweden.

 

“Observations of changes in the climate system are based on multiple lines of independent evidence. Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” said Qin Dahe, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.

Thomas Stocker, the other Co-Chair of Working Group I said: “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”

 

 

“Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2°C for the two high scenarios,” said Co-Chair Thomas Stocker. “Heat waves are very likely to occur

more frequently and last longer. As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions,” he added.

 

Projections of climate change are based on a new set of four scenarios of future greenhouse gas concentrations and aerosols, spanning a wide range of possible futures. The Working Group I report assessed global and regional-scale climate change for the early, mid-, and later 21st century.

 

 

“As the ocean warms, and glaciers and ice sheets reduce, global mean sea level will continue to rise, but at a faster rate than we have experienced over the past 40 years,” said Co-Chair Qin Dahe. The report finds with high confidence that ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and

2010. 

A Question of Firsts – Grass or the Teeth to Eat It?

I thought that I’d post a link to really interesting work being done by Burke Museum researchers that revolves around this question: which came first – grass or the teeth to eat it??

Link to the study information at: Grasslands Evolution

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The Continuing Saga of the Utilities’ Death Spiral

For those of you who are fighting numerous proposed high-voltage (HV) transmission projects, take some solace in the idea that “time is on our side”. There are lots of reasons for that, but one of them has always been that technology and the market would unfold and develop in ways that would, and should, make HV transmission largely unnecessary. As I’ve said before in other Geopostings’ blogs, I think that is exactly what’s currently happening with the disruptive challenge and the death spiral related to on-site solar and energy efficiency. Every day that passes increases the chances that more HV transmission will never be built. To elaborate on this, I’ve included a soon-to-be published op-ed in the Bozeman (Montana) Daily Chronicle by John Vincent (a frequent contributing author to Geopostings):

The Continuing Saga of the Utilities’ Death Spiral

– by John Vincent,  former Montana state legislator, Bozeman mayor,Gallatin County Commissioner and Montana Public Service Commissioner

Recently two opinion pieces published by the Bozeman Chronicle have addressed energy issues from a single perspective; increasing the supply of electricity. One article advocated for more power from wind. Another, while not dismissing wind power, made the case for coal fired generation.

Certainly reliable energy supply is important, the cleaner and cheaper the better.  But increasing supply isn’t what’s getting the most attention or generating the greatest concern in the utility industry today.

Here’s what is:  The industry is becoming more than a little troubled by the fact that energy efficiency and on-site and locally generated and distributed energy (which reduces demand for the power they sell) is beginning to threaten the way they’ve done business for over 100 years. They see this trend starting to cut into their profits, (profits made possible primarily by building large, centralized power plants and long distance transmission lines at handsome rates of return guaranteed by government regulation of electricity rates).

Consultants for the private utilities’ owned trade group, the Edison Electric Institute, recently acknowledged this threat. They call it a “disruptive challenge.” Others have dubbed it a “death spiral” for the utility industry.

What is “disruptive challenge” or the “death spiral”?

As more and more people and businesses use less and less energy and generate more of what they do use on their own, utilities will sell less power. Rates will have to go up in order to keep profits healthy and stockholders happy.

Customers who haven’t become more energy efficient, or who’ve been unable to find ways to utilize on-site or distributed energy systems, will bear the brunt of these higher rates. But because the cost of distributed energy and improved efficiency will continue to drop, increasing numbers of these customers will become empowered, motivated
and enabled to significantly reduce the amount of power they purchase from their traditional utilities.

The customer base for traditional utilities will shrink, profits will decline, expensive (and previously profitable) power plants and long distance transmission projects will no longer be needed and investors will look elsewhere for the kind of safe, profitable investments
government regulation of utility rates has guaranteed them for decades.  Utilities, as we know them, will no longer exist.

Because one key component of the “disruptive challenge/death spiral” is on-site solar, some may counter that what’s going on in the broader utility industry won’t apply to Montana.

Don’t bet the farm on it. New Jersey, under Republican Governor Chris Christie, trails only California in on-site solar installations; state of the art energy efficient office buildings using on-site solar are going up in Seattle; the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission said last week that on-site “solar will overtake everything” and so the cost of on-site solar will continue to drop. The utility industry’s Edison Electric Institute has warned its own constituency that they have a big problem on their hands; In Georgia, the Tea Party is going to bat for more on-site solar to reduce dependence on the grid; and Bloomberg BusinessWeek just  published an especially timely article, “Why The U.S. Power Grid’s Days Are Numbered”.

On top of all that, and of even more immediate concern for Montana, is the fact that substantial amounts of our state’s electric generation are exported to markets where, for decades to come,  85 to 100 percent of new energy demand is expected to be met through conservation and efficiency.

The grid isn’t going to disappear altogether and technology will make what remains of it smarter and more efficient.  But our reliance on the grid (the world’s largest machine but also a vast, interconnected system highly vulnerable to cyber attack and terrorism) will become a small fraction of what it is today. The signs are there for all to see and more than a few  industry leaders have started to adapt in order to survive and remain profitable in the coming decades.

We’ve seen this kind of paradigm change before, most recently in the phone industry. Land lines out, wireless in. A quantum leap. We are about to see it again in the utility industry. You can bet the farm on it.

The Anthropocene Is Here

The last 250 years of human history have vastly changed out planet. During this time, human activities have greatly transformed geologically significant conditions and processes. The change is so immense that many geologists now refer to our current time as the Anthropocene – a word coined in 2000 by Eugene Stoermer and Paul Crutzen, a Nobel-winning Dutch chemist. The word “Anthropocene” is derived from the Greek anthropos for ‘human’ and Greek kainos, meaning ‘new’ or ‘recent’, and thus it basically means the human-dominated time of recent earth history. Anthropocene is not yet an official geological time scale term. The  International Commission on Stratigraphy is now considering recognizing the Anthropocene as a geological epoch and their decision on its inclusion is slated for 2016. In the meantime, ‘Anthropocene’ appears profusely in the geological literature – the publisher Elsevier has even started a new aca­demic journal titled Anthropocene.

A video, Welcome to the Anthropocene, is a good intro into the proposed epoch. It’s part of:

a collaborative project being run by researchers and communicators that aims to improve our ‘collective understanding of the Earth system’. The online project combines high-level scientific data with visualisations to help communicate the global geological and environmental impacts of human behaviour over the last 250 years.

Watch the full video with related content here: http://www.richannel.org/welcome-to-the-anthropocene

A Geological Field Trip in Cuba

416270070_370The Association for Women Geoscientists sponsored yet another of their remarkable geological field trips. This time it was a March 2013 trip to Cuba. I detail the trip in the August 2013 issue of Earth magazine (published by the American Geosciences Institute), in “Travels In Geology: Journeying Through Cuba’s Geology And Culture”. As I explained in the article’s introduction:

It’s not every day that you get the chance to go to Cuba, so when I found out that the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG) was offering an organized trip there in March 2013, I jumped at the opportunity. The excursion — nearly two weeks of exploration of our southern neighbor’s geology and culture — did not disappoint.

Cuba is truly an extraordinary place – both geologically and culturally – and as I said at the end of the article:

I look forward to returning and seeing even more of Cuba’s geology.

As noted above in this post, AWG puts together some great geological field trips. The next one will be in September 2014, and it will be a geological field trip through the Canadian Rockies. More details on that will be uploaded to Geopostings as they become available.

Power Companies Losing Out To Rooftop Solar??

by John Vincent, former Montana Public Service Commissioner

America’s utility industry, “Big Power,” is, by their own admission, scared.  Made up of large corporations with huge and profitable investments in centralized generation and long distance, high voltage transmission (profits mostly guaranteed by monopoly status and government regulation), they are facing what their own industry calls a “death spiral,” – the likelihood that the loss of demand (need) for the power they sell will put an end to “business as usual,” (the old energy paradigm).

On Rooftops, A Rival For Utilities”, a 7.28.2013 NY Times article by Diane Cardwell, details the industry death spiral, and ties the spiral into net metering and its strong appeal to potential rooftop solar users:

Net metering right now is the only way for customers to get value for their rooftop solar systems,” said Adam Browning, executive director of the advocacy group Vote Solar.

Mr. Browning and other proponents say that solar customers deserve fair payment not only for the electricity they transmit but for the value that smaller, more dispersed power generators give to utilities. Making more power closer to where it is used, advocates say, can reduce stress on the grid and make it more reliable, as well as save utilities from having to build and maintain more infrastructure and large, centralized generators.

But utility executives say that when solar customers no longer pay for electricity, they also stop paying for the grid, shifting those costs to other customers. Utilities generally make their profits by making investments in infrastructure and designing customer rates to earn that money back with a guaranteed return, set on average at about 10 percent.

“If the costs to maintain the grid are not being borne by some customers, then other customers have to bear a bigger and bigger portion,” said Steve Malnight, a vice president at Pacific Gas and Electric. “As those costs get shifted, that leads to higher and higher rates for customers who don’t take advantage of solar.”

Whether it’s on-site solar (the main focus of this article), conservation, efficiency, distributed on-site or locally distributed power from other alternative energy sources, smart grid and micro grid technology or more efficient home appliances (the new energy paradigm), “Big Power” sees the day coming when sufficient need and market demand for the power they sell will no longer exist. Of course, they will do all they can to prevent that from happening, and that fight will be coming soon to a legislature and public utility/service commission near you.

One of the huge benefits of the new energy paradigm will be the rapidly decreasing need for any new high voltage, long distance transmission lines. Every day the new energy paradigm gains strength and momentum is a day that further diminishes the need for projects like NorthWestern Energy’s MSTI line and all the environmental, financial and private property rights problems it raises.

So, whether it’s rooftop solar in California or energy efficiency programs and small scale, on-site solar, wind or micro hydro projects in Montana, it all pushes the new energy paradigm forward. And that’s a good thing.

Energy Conservation And Efficiency….. Good For People, Business, And The Environment

– By John Vincent, Former Montana Public Service Commissioner

It’s recently become all too clear that “big power” is “waging war” on energy efficiency and conservation because it reduces the amount of power they sell and cuts into their profits. But for others (residential consumers, private businesses – both large and small, and corporations), energy efficiency is saving energy, saving money, and improving bottom lines. In addition, things like recycling are involved in energy efficiency because less landfill means less transportation and incinerators. Companies like phs Wastekit are a leading supplier of baler machinery and equipment and could be an easy way for businesses to recycle products that they would normally throw into the trash. Less generation, especially, but not exclusively, coal fired generation, reduces CO2 emissions (natural gas produces about half the CO2 of coal but also emits high quantities of methane, a “green house” gas 20 times more potent than CO2).

IDAHO’S J.R. SIMPLOT COMPANY LEADS THE WAY ON ENERGY EFFICIENCY

The J.R. Simplot Company shows the way to energy conservation and efficiency. This is a great example of the conservation/efficiency ethic being taken to heart by a major American business. With more than 10,000 employees, the J.R. Simplot Company is one of the nation’s largest privately owned companies. And, it’s no secret that the Simplots are a politically conservative family and business. They have fully embraced (dare it be said) a good, old fashioned conservative ethic; saving money……….. by using less energy and consequently also cutting costs.

Here’s what they’ve accomplished through energy efficiency and conservation since 2009:

– saved 1.3 trillion btu’s of natural gas (enough to take 29,929 cars off the road and keep 95,056 tons of co2 out of the air),

– reduced electrical use by 390,821,028 kilowatt hours (enough to take 35,400 homes off the grid),

– saved millions of dollars*.

Of course, when individuals and businesses save energy it also reduces the need for new and extremely costly centralized electrical generation plants and long distance, high voltage transmission lines – both of which would cost (not save) electric customers billions of dollars, pose a threat to the loss of private property rights through eminent domain, and harm the environment. When asked recently by the Idaho Statesman newspaper why they undertook their energy saving efforts, the Simplot family fell back on the words of the company’s founder, J.R. Simplot: “do well by doing good.”

Good advice.

*actual dollar amount of savings to be posted soon

Energy Efficiency and Small-Scale Solar Power Threaten Utilities’ Bottom Lines

Power company revenue is under siege by energy efficiency and small-scale solar power, says a Fitch ratings analyst.

Rooftop solar power and energy-efficiency programs will eat into utility revenue and profit margins and discourage investment in new transmission projects within five years, a Fitch Ratings analyst said.

Utilities in stagnant or low-growth markets in the Midwest and Northeast face the biggest losses as more businesses and homeowners install their own generation systems and upgrade to more efficient appliances, said Glen Grabelsky, Fitch’s managing director of utilities, power & gas. Retirees flocking to southern states may offset some losses for local utilities.

This is serious business for utilities as Bill Howley of The Power Line notes:

Fitch is issuing this report as a warning of downgrades to come if power companies don’t step and squash rooftop solar power soon.

The demand loss for grid electricity will be significant as further remarked by Grabelsky of Fitch Ratings:

Loss of demand from customers that go solar or reduce consumption in other ways will shift more and more grid costs onto customers that do nothing. As there are more and more successful Off Grid Solar Projects, traditional grid companies will have to change with the new developments or be left behind. Power supplied by U.S. utilities declined 3.4 percent last year, largely from energy efficiency and on-site solar generation, which reduces demand for electricity from the grid, Grabelsky said.

Unless utility rate structures change, that will reduce utilities’ abilities to invest in major new projects and upgrade their transmission systems, Grabelsky said.

“It will have a negative impact on their ability to raise capital,” Grabelsky said. “Regulators will ask, ‘Do you really need all that new transmission when there’s no demand growth?’ There’s the potential for stranded assets.”

A recent study by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), “Disruptive Challenges – Financial Implications and Strategic Responses to a Changing Retail Electric Business”, basically reiterates Grabelsky’s view of the threat to utilities by energy efficiency and distributed energy generation. The report details corporate utilities’ angst regarding their customers’ shift to go solar and reduce demand for grid electricity. Many are switching over to prepaid energy plans for their grid electricity, which is a greener option and more cost-effective to manage. With fewer people deciding to have a look for certain types of grid electricity, they are less likely to be overcharged by their utility company, which is good news for the customer.

How will utilities compensate for the loss of demand? Howley, in his “The Power Line” blog, gives a good response:

This translates into: do away with net metering and charge higher rates to people who install solar panels and invest in efficiency.

John Vincent, a former Montana Public Service Commissioner (PSC), in a recent op-ed in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, calls the shift away from using corporate grid electricity the “new energy paradigm”. As Vincent explains:

A new paradigm is grabbing hold in the residential, commercial and public sectors of our economy. That is: local distributed or “on site” electrical generation and consumption (wind, solar, small scale hydro, biomas, geothermal, micro turbines, combined heat and power systems etc.) conservation, efficiency and smart-grid technologies (to increase the efficiency and capacity of existing electrical transmission systems rather than of building costly new ones at rate payer expense).

But, as Vincent cautions us:

The new energy paradigm is, for obvious reasons, being met with strong resistance by those who benefit from the status quo. Unfortunately, these self interests still carry a lot of political clout, witness recent Montana legislative sessions.

The “new energy paradigm” is a model that we must embrace. We need to get people and politicians to move on this.

Blog Postscript – Former PSC Commissioner Vincent adds the following clarification on the EEI study mentioned above:

The Edison Electric Institute is Big Power’s number one ally and voice (funded and supported by Big Power) and so their own consultant has: 1. Clearly identified Big Power’s dilemma and, 2. Recommended ways to beat back the new paradigm and maintain the status quo…… at rate payers expense. I think the recommendations cited in the consultant’s report can be boiled down to raising rates (one way or another) to offset the loss of revenue brought about by on site, distributed generation and improved efficiency.

In other words, Big Power will do everything they can to make us (rate payers) pay for distributed energy and efficiency……..the new paradigm, not their stockholders.

The Uber Grid Push Is Back

The push for the uber grid raised its head again in the New York Time’s 7.12.13 edition. Matt Wald plugs the new EIPC (Eastern Interconnection Planning Collaborative) “hypothetical” nationalized grid as a “step forward”.

As Mr. Wald reports,

When President Obama presented his plans last month for executive action that would cut emissions of greenhouse gases, one item on his list was strengthening the power grid. It was on the lists of President George W. Bush and Mr. Clinton, too. But for the most part, experts say the grid is not being changed, at least not on a scale big enough to make much difference.

Their view is reflected in what they say is a largely hypothetical three-year effort by hundreds of engineers to redraw the grid for the eastern two-thirds of the United States. Engineers in the project, which is now drawing to a close, have proposed a basic redesign for beefing up the Eastern Interconnection, the part of the grid that stretches from Nova Scotia to New Orleans.

You may wonder what is EIPC and what is its function? Here’s how EIPC describes itself:

The EIPC was initiated by a coalition of regional Planning Authorities (see list below). These Planning Authorities are entities listed on the NERC compliance registry as Planning Authorities and represent the entire Eastern Interconnection.

The EIPC will provide a grass-roots approach which builds upon the regional expansion plans developed each year by regional stakeholders in collaboration with their respective NERC Planning Authorities. This approach will provide coordinated interregional analysis for the entire Eastern Interconnection guided by the consensus input of an open and transparent stakeholder process.

The EIPC received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2010 to initiate a broad-based, transparent collaborative process to involve interested stakeholders in the development of policy futures for transmission analysis. Learn more about the DOE-funded project.

The Stakeholder Steering Committee (SSC) is the body of stakeholder representatives that works collaboratively to inform and provide input on the EIPC’s efforts. Learn more about the SSC.

Planning Authorities:

Alcoa Power Generating

American Transmission Company

Duke Energy Carolinas

Electric Energy Inc.

Entergy

LGE/KU (Louisville/Kentucky Utilities)

Florida Power & Light

Georgia Transmission Corporation

IESO (Ontario, Canada)

International Transmission Company

ISO-New England

JEA (Jacksonville, Florida)

MAPPCOR

Midwest ISO

Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia

New Brunswick System Operator

New York ISO

PJM Interconnection

PowerSouth Energy Coop

Progress Energy – Carolinas

Progress Energy – Florida

South Carolina Electric & Gas

Santee Cooper

Southern Company

Southwest Power Pool

Tennessee Valley Authority.

 

As aptly noted in The Power Line blog in response to Mr. Wald’s uber grid writings:

See all that talk about “transparent,” “stakeholders” and “grassroots”?  That is corporate mumbo jumbo of the first order.  Ain’t nothing grassroots about EIPC.  Mr. Wald should go back to reporter school.  You don’t write an article and leave out all the important names.  Unless you are trying to hide something.

I also agree with The Power Line on the clincher to the EIPC’s uber grid vision stated by Christopher Russo, an energy consultant at Charles River Associates (a company that helped with the grid redesign):

“We said, ‘Here’s what we could do,’ ” he said. “We haven’t said how we would pay for it.”

I’ve wondered about that “pay for” part in regards to proposed high-voltage transmission in the western U.S.

Energy Efficiency Can Save Big Money And Greenhouse-Gas Emissions In Urban Transport Systems

The International Energy Agency just released a new report that shows how energy efficiency of urban transport systems could facilitate savings of up to USD 70 trillion that would be spent on vehicles, fuel and transportation infrastructure from now until 2050.

The report,  A Tale of Renewed Cities, draws on examples from more than 30 cities across the globe to show how to improve transport efficiency through better urban planning and travel demand management. Extra benefits include lower greenhouse-gas emissions and higher quality of life.

The report comes at a critical time: More than half of the world’s population already lives in cities, many of which suffer from traffic jams and overcrowded roads that cost hundreds of billions of dollars in lost fuel and time and that harm environmental quality, health and safety.

“As the share of the world’s population living in cities grows to nearly 70 percent by 2050 and energy consumption for transport in cities is expected to double, the need for efficient, affordable, safe and high-capacity transport solutions will become more acute,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven as she presented the report. “Urgent steps to improve the efficiency of urban transport systems are needed not only for energy security reasons, but also to mitigate the numerous negative climate, noise, air pollution, congestion and economic impacts of rising urban transport volumes.”

The IEA report, A Tale of Renewed Cities, is available for download at: http://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/name,39940,en.html

Or – check out the slideshare:

Siberian Cave Climate Records Indicate Permafrost Melt

Climate records from Siberian caves suggest an impending permafrost thaw and a resulting global warming acceleration.

Permafrost regions cover 24% of the northern hemisphere land surface, and hold an estimated 17,000 Gt of organic carbon. Thawing releases CO2 and CH4, creating positive feedback during greenhouse warming.

The researchers, led by Gideon Henderson at the University of Oxford’s Department of Earth Sciences, studied speleothem records from the caves to identify periods where temperatures were above freezing. Speleothems, such as stalactites and stalagmites, form when water seeps through cracks in cave walls, dissolving minerals which precipitate in the air filled cave.

‘Cave temperatures usually approximate the local mean annual air temperature’ says Anton Vaks, the paper’s lead author. ‘When they drop below 0 degrees, the rock above and around the cave freezes, and speleothem growth stops.’

By dating the speleothems and comparing their ages to existing climate records, it is possible to identify the degree of warming which caused the permafrost to melt. New results from Ledyanaya Lenskaya Cave, Eastern Siberia, extend previous records to one million years, and show major deposition of speleothems at around one million years and 400,000 years ago.

‘Both episodes occurred when global temperatures increased 1.5°C ± 0.5 above the pre-industrial level’ says Vaks, ‘showing that this degree of warming is a tipping point for continuous permafrost to start thawing.’

Global temperatures are currently around 0.7 degrees above pre-industrial level, with current models suggesting that a warming of 1.5°C ± 0.5 will be achieved within 10-30 years.

This paper will be presented at the Geological Society’s forthcoming William Smith Meeting, held on 25-27 June,  – a meeting that celebrates the 100th anniversary of the beginning of modern dating methods used in the earth sciences. (From: The Geological Society of London. “Siberian caves warn of permafrost meltdown.”Alpha Galileo Foundation, 19 Jun. 2013. Web. 21 Jun. 2013.)

North American Oil Supply Jolts Global Markets

The International Energy Agency (IEA) released its annual Medium-Term Oil Market Report (MTOMR) today. I doubt if it will surprise anyone who has been paying attention to the energy markets, but the report’s main assertion is that:

The supply shock created by a surge in North American oil production will be as transformative to the market over the next five years as was the rise of Chinese demand over the last 15.

IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven introduced the report at the Platts Crude Oil Summit in London by saying:

The good news is that this is helping to ease a market that was relatively tight for several years. The technology that unlocked the bonanza in places like North Dakota can and will be applied elsewhere, potentially leading to a broad reassessment of reserves. But as companies rethink their strategies, and as emerging economies become the leading players in the refining and demand sectors, not everyone will be a winner.

The IEA report makes the following prediction for the North American oil supply:

The MTOMR forecasts North American supply to grow by 3.9 million barrels per day (mb/d) from 2012 to 2018, or nearly two-thirds of total forecast non-OPEC supply growth of 6 mb/d. World liquid production capacity is expected to grow by 8.4 mb/d – significantly faster than demand – which is projected to expand by 6.9 mb/d. Global refining capacity will post even steeper growth, surging by 9.5 mb/d, led by China and the Middle East.

The rapid emergence of the rising oil supply will play havoc with the development of other energy sources such as the renewables. It will be extremely interesting to watch how the various energy markets evolve.

For an overview of the MOTR, go to – http://www.iea.org/media/news/MTOMR_2013_OVERVIEW.pdf

Eminent Domain in Montana – The Montana House Fails Landowners

Now that the Montana legislative session is over, here is my tally is on what landowners got out of the session regarding private property rights and specifically those rights related to merchant transmission lines:

–          HB 417: this bill requires that a condemnor provide landowners a final written offer prior to initiating a condemnation complaint. This is helpful to landowners because condemnors often manipulate offers before a final award for damages and this can adversely affect the determination of the prevailing party for reimbursed attorney fees. This bill passed the Legislature on 4/24 and was signed by the Governor on 5/1.

–          HB 45: this bill requires that the current Environmental Quality Council handbook on eminent domain be included in the condemnation complaint. This booklet may provide landowners with some information relative to their rights under Montana law. This bill was signed into law by the Governor on March 28.

All in all, not much for landowners came out of this past session, and nothing was really gained for landowners regarding private property rights in relation to merchant transmission lines. SB 180, a bill that would have repealed the power of eminent domain granted to private, for-profit corporations via the Major Facility Siting Act (MFSA), made it through the Senate and then was tabled in the House Federal Relations, Energy & Telecommunications Committee. Leesa Zalesky, of Western Ag Reporter, wrote a good summary of what happened to SB 180 during the session, and I’ve included it below. There are a couple of points in Leesa’s article that are slightly in error, such as HB 198 was more related to a patch for MATL (Montana-Alberta Tie Line) than explicitly written for MSTI, and the extent of an HB 198 repeal via SB 180, but at least there’s information about what happened to SB 180 out in the media. It is also important to note that SB 180 was traded for HB 417 by some House legislators/lobbyists, and that became a major obstacle in trying to get SB 180 through the House.

Here’s Leesa’s article:

Montana House Fails Landowners

By Leesa Zalesky – published in Western Ag Reporter, May 2, 2013

When the Montana legislative session ended last week, Senate Bill 180 — sponsored by Senator Debby Barrett, a Republican from Dillon, MT — died for lack of a champion in the Montana House of Representatives. SB 180 would’ve restored landowner protections and private property rights by repealing the expansion of eminent domain powers granted through last year’s passage of HB198.

Eminent domain is the power to take private property necessary for public use, a power typically held by the individual states and the federal government. Readers will remember that, during its previous session, the Montana Legislature passed the highly contentious HB 198, which delegated the power of eminent domain to an entity or a person issued a permit by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). The controversy over the bill surrounded Northwest Energy’s planned Mountain States Transmission Intertie (MSTI), a 500 kV electric transmission line that would extend from Townsend, Montana, through the Whitehall and Butte areas south along the Interstate 15 corridor to a substation in south-central Idaho, a route that involves a great deal of privately owned land.

The passage of HB198 left Montana landowners vulnerable to private property takings whether the land usage would be related to the public good or private use. SB180 would have protected landowners’ rights and would have ensured they received procedural and constitutional protections for private property. SB180 would NOT, as some opponents claimed, have brought development in Montana to a screeching halt, and utility companies like NWE and rural electric cooperatives would have been able to construct distribution power lines. It would have, however, protected private property rights in the process.

SB180 passed through the Montana Senate on February 27 in a 28:22 vote. But when it arrived in the House, the bill was assigned to the House Federal Relations, Energy & Telecommunications Committee (FRET) on March 27, essentially a political strategy to kill the bill. Knowing the FRET Committee would be unfriendly to the bill, SB180’s original sponsor asked House leadership to route the bill through the House Natural Resources Committee, but the request was rejected, and sure enough, the bill was promptly tabled by the FRET Committee. Proponents of the bill were unsuccessful at blasting the bill out of the FRET committee (60 votes are needed for a successful blast), and the bill simply died when the legislature adjourned. Rob Cook — a Republican from Conrad, Montana, and chair of the legislature’s Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Long-Range Planning — was one of the most vocal opponents of the bill. In fact, supporters of the bill found not one single champion on the Republican side of the House, where they expected to find their strongest support.

Deb Hanneman, PhD, is a landowner and geologist who lives near Whitehall, Montana. Hanneman is a member of Concerned Citizens Montana, a group that fought HB198 last year and supported SB180 during the latest legislative session. Hanneman, who worked the Montana legislature seeking support for SB180, summed it up: “A lobbyist that has been in Helena for decades pulled me aside during the last part of this session and told me,”You need to understand that Anaconda Company, then Montana Power and now Northwestern Energy, have owned the Montana legislature since day one. They found it easier to control 150 people in a confined space than to deal with people spread all over the state. You’re just beating your head against the wall trying to get your vote through.”

 

Temperature Change Over The Last 100 Years – Fastest on Record For Past 11,000 Years

A team of scientists just published a record of global temperatures in the journal Science that dates back to the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago.

As summarized in a brief note on National Public Radio, this global temperature compilation gives us a jolting view of temperature change over the last 100 years:

Shaun Marcott, a geologist at Oregon State University, says “global temperatures are warmer than about 75 percent of anything we’ve seen over the last 11,000 years or so.” The other way to look at that is, 25 percent of the time since the last ice age, it’s been warmer than now.

You might think, so what’s to worry about? But Marcott says the record shows just how unusual our current warming is. “It’s really the rates of change here that’s amazing and atypical,” he says. Essentially, it’s warming up superfast”.

Read more on this at NPR: http://www.npr.org/2013/03/08/173739884/since-end-of-last-ice-age-rates-of-global-warming-amazing-and-atypical

The research article is published in Science – http://www.sciencemag.org/content/339/6124/1198.abstract

Science 8 March 2013:

Vol. 339 no. 6124 pp. 1198-1201

DOI: 10.1126/science.1228026

Montana Senate Bill 180 Goes To The House

Montana rural landowners are gearing up to push Senate Bill (SB) 180 through the Montana House. SB 180 will repeal the power of eminent domain granted via the Montana Major Facility Siting Act (MFSA) as legislated in the 2011 session under House Bill 198. I’ve spent much time since the last Montana legislative session delving into how eminent domain law in Montana was changed by the enactment of HB 198 and also dealing with the potential impact of this on rural landowners.

I view this change in eminent domain law as largely a decision that favors economic development in rural areas being done at the expense of landowners. That may be a decision that the Montana legislature ultimately agrees upon, but it was a decision that did not result from an honest, open debate during the last legislative session. I think that this type of decision is best done via an interim study that incorporates input from a diverse set of Montana citizens.

However, for the moment, I think that SB 180 sets us on the path for a meaningful debate on how to handle eminent domain and merchant transmission lines. SB 180 will pull the power of eminent domain out of MFSA, and this first step is essential to take before any meaningful debate can occur. I say this because MFSA is basically an environmental review process that does not contain any vehicle for determining the facts necessary for condemnation, yet it gives the successful applicant the power of eminent domain. MFSA has also become more a political process than true environmental review process as evidenced by the fact that out of 37 projects proposed during the lifetime of MFSA, only one project has not been granted a certificate of compliance.

Additionally, I believe that the eminent domain power conferred via MFSA opens the gate for a variety of other energy facilities, in addition to the merchant transmission lines that have been central to most of the legislative debate on this issue. The power of eminent domain will go to any “person” who is granted a certificate of compliance for the following projects:

1. Nuclear (generation and storage: MCA 75-20-104 and 75-20-1202), hydro (MCA 75-20-104 and 75-20-204), and geothermal (MCA 75-20-104 ) energy generating facilities,

2. Certain transmission lines (MCA 75-20-104),

3. Certain major pipe lines (MCA 75-20-104),

4. Geothermal exploration (MCA 75-20-104),

5. Transportation links, pump stations and other facilities associated with the delivery of energy (MCA 75-20-104).

Some of the listed projects above requiring a MFSA Certificate are expressly identified as a public use in the Montana eminent domain statute 70-30-120, but others are not identified in this manner.  That means entities can be granted the power of eminent domain for projects that are not considered a public use. This is further evidence that use of the MFSA to delegate eminent domain was not fully considered.

Obviously the focus of last session’s HB 198 and the current session’s SB 180 is merchant transmission, but the questions of public uses and whether or not an entity must expressly be granted the power of eminent domain should be resolved given the variety of facilities that are still covered under MFSA and could be built using eminent domain. With no large impending projects looming under MFSA, we have time now to have a true public debate on these questions. This time we should do it correctly, and the goal of SB 180 is to start us on that path.

I’ve been asked how we can proceed with building merchant transmission lines as we sort this out. First of all, it is important to remember that many other kinds of entities, including various types of power companies, have existing authority to condemn property for construction of power lines in statute that is unaffected by SB 180: including the State of Montana, Municipal Utilities, Rural Cooperative Utilities and Public Utilities.

For building “merchant lines” specifically, there are currently a few options:

—–Use federal energy corridors that were established by several federal agencies in eleven Western states expressly to expedite the construction of high voltage transmission lines (established under the Energy Policy Act of 2005),

—– Bury high voltage direct current transmission lines in state highway and/or railroad right-of-ways,

—-The private, for-profit company can negotiate with a landowner for a true business partnership. This could include yearly royalties per tower, a fair one-time payment, or some other actual business partnership arrangement.

Montana citizens and legislators need to get behind SB 180 and get it to the governor’s desk!

China’s Coal Appetite Continues To Grow

china coal growth

Source: U.S. Energy Administration

“Chinese financial website Finet quotes Phil Ren, chief of the China Coal Importers Association, as saying at an industry conference in Singapore, China’s coal imports may reach 400 million – 500 million tonnes within three years. That would constitute massive growth from current levels.” – from Mining.com, 29 January 2013.

The statement made by Phil Ren coincides with the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announcing today that China continues on its upward trend in coal consumption. Figures released by the EIA to support China’s growing appetite for coal include:

“Coal consumption in China grew more than 9% in 2011, continuing its upward trend for the 12th consecutive year, according to newly released international data. China’s coal use grew by 325 million tons in 2011, accounting for 87% of the 374 million ton global increase in coal use. Of the 2.9 billion tons of global coal demand growth since 2000, China accounted for 2.3 billion tons (82%). China now accounts for 47% of global coal consumption—almost as much as the entire rest of the world combined.

Robust coal demand growth in China is the result of a more than 200% increase in Chinese electric generation since 2000, fueled primarily by coal. China’s coal demand growth averaged 9% per year from 2000 to 2010, more than double the global growth rate of 4% and significantly higher than global growth excluding China, which averaged only 1%.”

Where does China get its coal? The China National Coal Association gives in country coal production for 2012 as 3.66 billon tons, which is 4% higher than coal production in 2011. According to Platts, China also imported 289 million tons of coal in 2012. Most of the coal imported came from Indonesia (33.05%) and Australia (38.18%), with additional imports coming from South Africa (12.4%), Russia (6.58%), Mongolia (2.1%), Canada (0.92%), Colombia (2.45%), the US (4.24%) and others (0.08%).

First Intact Samples Collected From An Antarctic Subglacial Lake

wissard camp

Source: WISSARD Image of the Day.

The Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) field team drilled through 800 m of ice and intersected Subglacial Lake Whillans on 28 January 2013 at 0500 h. The team sampled mud and water from the floor of the subglacial lake, making this the first time that clean whole samples have been recovered from an Antarctic subglacial lake. Water analyses will be made for dissolved minerals and living cells. Sediment cores taken from the lake bed should provide scientists with data on the lake’s formation history and microbial inhabitants.

The WISSARD project team is also looking at ice dynamics. Live Science posted a quote from Ross Powell of the University of Northern Illinois, one of WISSARD’s 13 principal investigators regarding ice dynamics.  “Lake Whillans is just one of a few hundred interconnected lakes,” said Powell, “and radar observations have revealed that it fills and drains in a five-to-10-year cycle. We want to find out what causes these cycles. And knowing more about ice dynamics is important to better understand the effects global warming might have on the Antarctic continent. Thanks to WISSARD, we will be able for the first time to use real field data as input in our glacialogical models.”

DISCOVER Magazine has a science journalist, Douglas Fox, in Antarctica on assignment as the WISSARD Embedded Journalist. Read more of his experience with the project team at: DISCOVER.

Climate Change News

In reading through the torrent of recent news on climate change, I’ve come across a few events that stand out. Following is a brief summary of each taken from the original source:

Nicholas Stern: ‘I got it wrong on climate change – it’s far, far worse’

by Heather Stewart and Larry Elliott, The Observer, guardian.co.uk — 26 January 2013

“Lord Stern, author of the government-commissioned review on climate change that became the reference work for politicians and green campaigners, now says he underestimated the risks, and should have been more “blunt” about the threat posed to the economy by rising temperatures.

In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: “Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.”

The Stern review, published in 2006, pointed to a 75% chance that global temperatures would rise by between two and three degrees above the long-term average; he now believes we are “on track for something like four”. Had he known the way the situation would evolve, he says, “I think I would have been a bit more blunt. I would have been much more strong about the risks of a four- or five-degree rise.”

[…]

A New Draft of the National Climate Assessment was released for public review in early January 2013

The following text is from the draft’s Introduction – Letter to the American People:

 “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present. This report of the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee concludes that the evidence for a changing climate has strengthened considerably since the last National Climate Assessment report, written in 2009. Many more impacts of human-caused climate change have now been observed. Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont have observed changes in their local climate that are outside of their experience. So, too, have coastal planners from Florida to Maine, water managers in the arid Southwest and parts of the Southeast, and Native Americans on tribal lands across the nation.”

The concluding paragraph of the letter states, “This National Climate Assessment collects, integrates, and assesses observations and research from around the country, helping to show what is actually happening and what it means for peoples’ lives, livelihoods, and future. This report includes analyses of impacts on seven selected sectors: human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forests, and ecosystems and biodiversity. This report additionally focuses on the interactions among several sectors at the national level. It also assesses key impacts on the regions of the U.S.: Northeast, Southeast and Caribbean, Midwest, Great Plains, Southwest, Northwest, Alaska and the Arctic, Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands; as well as coastal areas, oceans, and marine resources. Finally, this report is the first to explicitly assess the current state of adaptation, mitigation, and decision support activities.”

President Obama’s Second Inaugural Speech, 21 January 2013 (taken from the Whitehouse transcript)

[…]

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. 

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.  We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.  That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks.  That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.  That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

Montana’s Legislative Response to Secretary Chu’s Use of Power Marketing Administrations to Upgrade the Electric Grid

Last Saturday, the Montana Senate unanimously adopted Senate Resolution (SR) 2 in response to the Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu’s March 16, 2012, memorandum that outlined his plan to upgrade the electric grid using power marketing administrations. The plan would utilize the nation’s four power marketing administrations (PMAs) – the Bonneville Power Administration, Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), Southeastern Power Administration and Southwestern Power Administration to transition to “… a more resilient and flexible grid”  (Joint Outreach Team Draft Recommendations, pg. 4) and to create more cooperation among system users. As envisioned in the 3/16 memorandum, this would be achieved by:

1. WAPA and Southwestern joining with third parties to develop needed transmission,

2. The PMAs creating rate structures that provide incentives for energy efficiency, demand response, integration of renewables, and prepare the grid for electric vehicle deployment,

3.The PMAs partnering with all owners and operators of the grid to improve grid reliability, and

4. The PMAs working with Congress to help streamline the complex regulatory system that governs them.

The Chu memorandum has generated much controversy. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) quickly jumped into the fray and contended that under Chu’s plan, most of the upgrade costs would be borne by local energy users. Thus, customers’ power bills could dramatically increase to pay for the new grid system.

NRECA’s concerns hit home in Montana because WAPA is taking the lead in Chu’s plan and WAPA is a primary PMA for that part of Montana east of the continental divide. This means that several of the Montana electric cooperatives get their federal allocations from WAPA and utilize WAPA transmission. Consequently, the cooperatives have been very vocal about the potential negative impact of the Chu plan on their customers’ future rates.

DOE and WAPA formed an initiative called “Defining the Future” and a Joint Outreach Team (JOT – a joint team of experts from WAPA and DOE) in response to Chu’s grid upgrade plan. Hearings about the initiative were held in six locations throughout WAPA’s territory during the past summer. Rural electric cooperative reps showed up at the Billings, Montana hearing, and all expressed apprehension about the potential of increased rates. The JOT draft recommendations were published in late November 2012. Of note are some changes that the JOT made from the Chu plan –  … “the JOT decided not to pursue any recommendations specifically targeted at energy efficiency, demand response, or electric vehicles. Further, a number of the areas addressed through the recommendations are considered on a regional basis…” (JOT Draft Recommendations, pg. 5).

This brings us to the start of the 2013 Montana legislative session. JOT representatives gave a brief summary of their draft recommendations to a combined Senate Committee on Energy and Telecommunications and the House Federal Relations, Energy, and Telecommunications Committee during the session’s first week. This allayed some concerns, but SR 2 was still introduced the next week, which according to Montana Senator Olson at the 1/17 SR 2 hearing, “stems from communications between the Montana Legislative Interim Energy and Telecommunications Committee and DOE”.  Senator Olson further noted during the hearing that WAPA and DOE had recent meetings regarding the future of transmission needs in this part of country, but that none of the policy was communicated to the Montana legislature. A letter from the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee was sent to DOE about the lack of communication, but Senator Olson characterized DOE’s response as “snarky”. Thus, SR 2 was crafted in order to make sure that DOE received the Senate’s remarks on the initiative by the close of the comment period on 1/22/2013.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the initiative and SR 2, but this all is reminiscent of the last Montana legislative session and the hearings on HB 198 (the bill that granted the power of eminent domain to many a corporation). Several of the same concerns, including increased power rates and lack of notification, were raised during these hearings. What goes around comes around.

 

 

Climate Change Impact on Earth Surface Systems

As Congress continues to stonewall on climate change legislation, I think that a recent article published in the Perspectives section of Nature Climate Change, The impacts of climate change on terrestrial Earth surface systems, is worth contemplating. The authors, Jasper Knight and Stephan Harrison, argue that “… at present, governments’ attempts to limit greenhouse-gas emissions through carbon cap-and-trade schemes and to promote renewable and sustainable energy sources are probably too late to arrest the inevitable trend of global warming. Instead, there are increasingly persuasive arguments that government and institutional focus should be on developing adaption policies that address and help mitigate against the negative outcomes of global warming, rather than carbon trading and cataloguing greenhouse-gas emissions”.

Don’t think that the authors suggest for us to just walk away from the greenhouse-gas emission and global warming problem, though. What they are advocating is a more inclusive strategy for dealing with global warming, one that includes understanding and managing the impacts of climate change on the dynamics of Earth surface systems – systems that include glaciers, rivers, mountains and coasts. These systems supply resources such as soil and water, and as such are critical components to life on earth. And, as we just witnessed with Superstorm Sandy, some of these systems, such as coastal and river systems, are vital in alleviating the impact of catastrophic weather events.

The major problem with immediately incorporating earth surface system data into a global warming management response is that earth surface systems operate on a much longer time scale than elements of the biosphere. To mitigate the time dilemma, there is potential in looking at earth surface system responses to past climatic events. Knight and Harrison note that, “…for instance, climate cooling during the Little Ice Age in Europe (~ad 1550–1850) had significant impacts on the sediment yields of mountain, fluvial and slope systems, particularly in marginal regions already predis­posed to be climatically sensitive to changes in temperature and pre­cipitation patterns, including their seasonality“.

In any event, currently, most Earth surface systems are not regularly monitored regarding climate change. This is a huge policy omission, both nationally and internationally, because Earth surface system dynamics are a major part of the landscape response to climate change, and these systems function on multinational spatial scales that play into sustainable resource management. It is going to take a large-scale effort by scientists, governments, and most importantly, citizens to make sure that the response to global warming includes understanding and managing the impacts of climate change on the dynamics of Earth surface systems. If you want to learn more about what you can do to tackle climate change, visit this website. It’s long past time to get to work and we need to act now to save the planet. After all, there’s no planet B!

2012 – Warmest Year on Record

US_Jan-Dec2012_tempanom_300NOAA’s National Climate Data Center (NCDC) announced today that 2012 was the warmest year on record for the contiguous U.S in over a century of record keeping. The average temperature for 2012 was 55.3°F. This is 3.2°F above the 20th century average and is 1.0°F above the previous 1998 record. Other temperature notables for 2012 include: the fourth warmest winter, an extremely warm spring, the second warmest summer, and a warmer than usual fall.

2012 was also the 15th driest year on record for the contiguous U.S., with an average of 26.57 inches, which is 2.57 inches below average. Snowpack totals in the Southern to Central Rockies were less than half of normal; winter snow cover for the contiguous U.S. was the third smallest on record. The minimal snowpack and the persistent dryness of 2011 set the stage for the pervasive drought conditions that occurred in many areas of the U.S. in 2012.

In regards to climate extremes, the U.S. Climate Extremes Index showed 2012 to be second most extreme year on record for the U.S. Catastrophic events such as Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Isaac, and tornadoes across several parts of the country, gave 2012 the edge over the former extreme weather year of 1998.

Constructing A Paleotemperature Record As A Check On Global Surface Thermometer Records

An independent global surface (GST) temperature record was recently compiled from several geological and historical sources.  David Anderson, of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climate Data Center, USA, and several colleagues constructed a Paleo Index which is based upon 173 temperature-sensitive proxy time series. As noted by Anderson and others in their paper in press, Global Warming in an Independent Record of the Last 130 Years (to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters):

“The thermometer-based global surface temperature time series (GST) commands a prominent role in the evidence for global warming, yet this record has considerable uncertainty. An independent record with better geographic coverage would be valuable in understanding recent change in the context of natural variability. We compiled the Paleo Index (PI) from 173 temperature-sensitive proxy time series (corals, ice cores, speleothems, lake and ocean sediments, historical documents).”

The PI extends back to 1730 and documents a significant increase in warmth from 1880 to 1995, much like the thermometer-based GST. The results of the PI, which are taken from numerous globally distributed proxies, well corroborates the thermometer data.  This independent check on the thermometer-based GST helps to bolster assurance in its accuracy.

Coal Could Overtake Oil As Number 1 Global Energy Source By 2017

I watched a coal unit train zip through the Belgrade-Bozeman, Montana, area yesterday. The Montana Rail Link unit train was 125 cars in length and presumably bound for Pacific Northwest seaports. The coal is sourced from the Powder River Basin, an approximately 20,000-acre part of Wyoming that supplies about 40 percent of U.S. coal. An informative guide to the Montana-Pacific Northwest coal train situation is the July 2012 Western Organization of Resource Councils’ publication – RAIL IMPACTS OF POWDER RIVER BASIN COAL TO ASIA BY WAY OF PACIFIC NORTHWEST TERMINALS.

My viewing of the coal train passage coincided time-wise with a press release on the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Medium-Term Coal Market Report. The IEA contends that by 2017 coal will closely rival oil as the number one global energy source.

“Thanks to abundant supplies and insatiable demand for power from emerging markets, coal met nearly half of the rise in global energy demand during the first decade of the 21st Century,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “This report sees that trend continuing. In fact, the world will burn around 1.2 billion more tonnes of coal per year by 2017 compared to today – equivalent to the current coal consumption of Russia and the United States combined. Coal’s share of the global energy mix continues to grow each year, and if no changes are made to current policies, coal will catch oil within a decade.”

The growth trend for coal will increase globally except for in the U.S. where cheap natural gas will bring a decline to coal usage. China and India will be the big markets for coal over the next five years, accounting for than 90 percent of the increase in coal demand.

In a Huff Post Green Blog, van der Hoeven notes that although affordable coal has aided emerging economies …” the surge in coal burning is not good news. Despite industry’s effort to promote “clean” coal, the black matter remains the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. The average coal-based power plant emits a tonne of CO2 per MWh generated, about twice the level of a power plant using combined-cycle gas turbines.”

The relentless growth trend for coal currently appears untouched by either climate policy or the economic slowdown. Given the present political situation, it may well be that cheap natural gas continues to be our biggest hope for carbon emission reductions.

Largest Ice Calving Event Caught on Video

As part of the filming for the documentary,Chasing Ice, two filmmakers caught a massive calving event of a Greenland glacier (see the accompanying YouTube video, via The Guardian, inserted below). One of the filmmakers, James Balog, said the event is like seeing “Manhattan breaking apart in front of your eyes”. Chasing Ice chronicles climate change’s impact on Arctic glaciers. Balog began his multiyear time-lapse photographic expedition in 2005. With the help of other adventurers, and on assignment for National Geographic, Balog set up cameras across the Arctic in hopes of documenting the changing glaciers. The result of this work clearly records the disappearance of Arctic glaciers and a transformation of our planet.

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The only place that I’ve found Chasing Ice currently playing in Montana is at the Wilma Theater in Missoula. It is scheduled to be at the Wilma at least until next Wednesday, 12/19. The Chasing Ice website does have a form available whereby a request can be made to bring the film to more local theaters. Here’s the link: http://www.chasingice.com/see-the-film/bring-it-to-my-local-theater/ . Let’s bring it to more places in Montana. Everyone should see this!

Mississippi River Water Wars

Water levels in the lower stretch of the Mississippi River are so low that the U.S. Coast Guard closed a stretch of the river today after a barge tow ran aground south of Memphis. Considering that water levels are projected to continue dropping due to the worst U.S. drought in 56 years over part of the Great Plains and Upper Midwest, navigation could become severely impacted.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that administers river and reservoir water levels, has come under pressure to delay or even to suspend the annual decrease in discharge from Missouri River reservoirs and to increase dredging and blasting work.

However, upstream water users are not rushing to agree to increased water releases. Water uses upstream include hydroelectric power, irrigation, recreation, and most recently  fracking, which is associated with Bakken oil shale production. And – even if the Corps opted to release more water for downstream users, it can’t because it must abide by the Missouri River Master Manual. Most crucially, though, the Missouri flow to the Mississippi through the Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, S.D., must increase quickly or dangerous rock pinnacles near Thebes, Illinois will be exposed which could shut down barge traffic on the Mississippi by December 10th.

The economic impact of restricted or even halted shipping on the Mississippi River is considerable. As stated in a recent National Public Radio news segment, Water Levels Dangerously Low on Mississippi River,  …”about 60 percent of the country’s grain exports and 20 percent of its coal for electric generation travel by river…”. The urgency of this situation has escalated such that barge companies are pressing President Obama to declare an emergency along the Mississippi River.

The water wars continue….

2 Degrees Celsius – An Inevitable Global Average Temperature Increase?

The Global Carbon Project’s recent analysis on current carbon dioxide emissions published in the latest issue of Nature Climate Change underscores the necessity for action in emission reduction. The commentary’s authors concluded that the rapid growth in fossil fuel emissions makes a global average temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) inevitable. It is this 20 Celsius global average surface temperature limit that was agreed to during the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. And it is the goal of the in-progress 18th annual United Nations climate-change summit in Doha to create a world treaty, which would be signed in 2015, to slow global green-house gas emissions so that global average surface does not rise by 20 Celsius.

The commentary conclusions put this goal in question. As the authors state in the abstract, “The latest carbon dioxide emissions continue to track the high end of emission scenarios, making it even less likely global warming will stay below 2 °C. A shift to a 2 °C pathway requires immediate significant and sustained global mitigation, with a probable reliance on net negative emissions in the longer term.”

The commentary’s abstract is found at Nature Climate Change – The challenge to keep global warming below 2 °C.

Polar Ice Melting Fast

A new study published in Science on 11/30/2012 shows that the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing more than three times as much ice each year as they were in the 1990s. The melting of ice, two thirds of which has occurred in Greenland, has raised sea levels by 11.1 millimeters since 1992.

ice melt

Source: ESA/NASA/Planetary Visions
Based on the Shepherd et.al. Science study, this image of Antarctica has a superimposed chart of changes in global sea level due to ice sheet melting since 1992. The background image shows thickening (blue) and thinning (red) of Antarctica’s ice sheets over the same period.

The study is the combined work of 47 researchers from 26 laboratories and was  supported by the European Space Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. As summarized in the abstract of the Science publication, “We combined an ensemble of satellite altimetry, interferometry, and gravimetry data sets using common geographical regions, time intervals, and models of surface mass balance and glacial isostatic adjustment to estimate the mass balance of Earth’s polar ice sheets. We find that there is good agreement between different satellite methods—especially in Greenland and West Antarctica—and that combining satellite data sets leads to greater certainty. Between 1992 and 2011, the ice sheets of Greenland, East Antarctica, West Antarctica, and the Antarctic Peninsula changed in mass by –142 ± 49, +14 ± 43, –65 ± 26, and –20 ± 14 gigatonnes year−1, respectively. Since 1992, the polar ice sheets have contributed, on average, 0.59 ± 0.20 millimeter year−1 to the rate of global sea-level rise.”

The research was undertaken as part of the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE). Read more on the study: Science – A Reconciled Estimate of Ice-Sheet Mass Balance

Sea Levels Rising 60% Faster Than IPCC Projections

New research published yesterday, 11/28/2012, in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research Letters, reports that sea levels are actually rising at a rate of 3.2 mm a year compared to the best estimate of 2 mm a year in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fourth assessment report (AR4).

The study’s focus was to analyze global temperature and sea level data for the past two decades and compare them to climate projections made in the IPCC’s  AR3 and AR4. The authors denote that the present overall global warming trend of 0.16°C per decade matches well with the best estimates of the IPCC, particularly if short-term variable effects of events such as El Nino-Southern Oscillation, solar variability, and volcanic activity are taken into consideration.

Sea level rise, based upon satellite altimeter measurements, however, differs greatly from the IPCC’s AR3 and AR4 projections. The sea level rise rate specified in this study is 3.2 mm/year, and is about 60% greater than the rate projected in the IPCC AR3 and AR4.  The authors also clearly state that the increased rate in sea level rise is not due to multi-decadal internal variability in the climate system, nor do other non-climatic components like groundwater extraction or reservoir water storage have an impact on data comparisons.

Stefan Rahmstorf, lead author of the study, stated: “This study shows once again that the IPCC is far from alarmist, but in fact has under-estimated the problem of climate change. That applies not just for sea-level rise, but also to extreme events and the Arctic sea-ice loss.”

Because climate projections should be a significant part of decision-making processes relating to climate change, it is essential that we know how past projections compare to accumulating observational data.

Read the Journal article: Comparing Climate Projections to Observations Up to 2011

Ocean Acidification and Climate Change

A news item caught my interest recently – a National Public Radio (NPR) news segment of 11/23/2012 on whether shellfish can adapt to increasingly acidic oceans (NPR shellfish link). Because UN Climate Talks opened in Doha, Qatar today, I thought it would be an appropriate time to talk about ocean acidification trends. As noted by Lauren Sommer during the NPR broadcast, “Scientists say oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb the carbon dioxide added to the air through the burning of fossil fuels. That can be bad news for oysters, mussels and others animals that are key to the seafood industry and to the marine food web. Scientists are using the unique ocean conditions off the California coast to monitor developments”.

The first comment posted on the NPR web site page of the shellfish story tried to debunk ocean acidification. However, as noted in a second comment, data from several studies clearly show that ocean pH is decreasing. In fact, a study cited by both commentors is the Wootton, et.al., 2008 study (Wootton study link) of ocean pH which is based upon a multi-year data set. The authors of this article give a summary statement of “…our results indicate that pH decline is proceeding at a more rapid rate than previously predicted in some areas, and that this decline has ecological consequences for near shore benthic ecosystems”.

Being a geologist, I like to look at the present oceanic decline in pH in a geologic context. One of the most interesting articles in this area that I’ve found is a 2012 paper by Honisch et. al. that was published in Science (Honisch study link). The authors of this paper, 21 ocean/climate geoscientists, examined the geologic record (these authors confined their study to only approximately the past 300 million years due to the presence of pelagic calcifiers similar to those living today that make the deep-sea carbonate buffer of the modern Earth system) for events that could be associated with ocean acidification, such as mass extinctions and evolutionary turnovers among marine calcifiers. They recognized eight geological events that could be similar to what is occurring today, but state, “…Although similarities exist, no past event perfectly parallels future projections in terms of disrupting the balance of ocean carbonate chemistry—a consequence of the unprecedented rapidity of CO2 release currently taking place”.

One of the better analog events identified by the Honisch study is the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) which began about 56 million years ago. During the PETM, global temperature rose about 5 degrees Celsius – a temperature elevation that occurred within just a few thousand years. The increased temperature probably resulted from massive additions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere sourced initially by volcanic eruptions and later by destabilized methane hydrate deposits and other related events such as wide-spread forest fires and thawed permafrost. It took about 200,000 years for the earth’s systems to counteract this elevated temperature. Consequences of this climate change are wide-ranging and include occurrences such as the largest extinction among deep-sea benthic foraminifers of the past 75 million years, poleward shift of many animals and plants, redistribution of mammals over high-latitude land bridges, and organism adaptation such as smaller body size. However, to put the PETM’s massive greenhouse gas injection into the atmosphere into a context for the present day, Lee Kump, in a 2011 Scientific American article on the PETM (Kump paper link), suggests that the PETM greenhouse gas release “… was only 10 percent of the rate at which heat-trapping greenhouse gases are building up in the atmosphere today”.

As the 21 geoscience authors in the 2012 Honish study summarized, “…the current rate of (mainly fossil fuel) CO2 release stands out as capable of driving a combination and magnitude of ocean geochemical changes potentially unparalleled in at least the last ~300 My of Earth history, raising the possibility that we are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change”.

Let’s hope that there is huge progress made at the UN Climate Change talks.

Alaska’s Continuing Clash of Resources

The Bristol Bay watershed in southwest Alaska is the site of an ongoing clash between mining and conservation interests. On the mining side is Northern Dynasty Minerals of British Columbia and Anglo American, an international corporation headquartered in London. Together these companies form the Pebble Partnership, and their proposed mine is known as the Pebble Mine.The opposition to Pebble Mine includes a diverse coalition of native groups, village councils, commercial fishermen, local residents, guides, and conservationists.

The Pebble Mine would develop a world-class ore body that is characterized as a porphyry copper, gold, and molybdenum mineral deposit. Because the deposit contains low-grade ore, the mine scale of operation would necessarily be large. Consequently, Pebble Mine is projected to consist of an open pit mine up to 2 miles wide and 1,700 feet deep, a related underground operation, a processing mill, and extensive tailings ponds. Because of the projected large-scale mine development, the opposition groups contend that environmental risks, particularly for the wild salmon fishery, dwarf any potential economic benefits of the mining operation.

In May of 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft environmental assessment (EA) of the Pebble Mine-like development. The EPA was petitioned by 9 tribal governments to do the EA, and thus an end-run was made around the state bureaucracy. The EPA did conclude that significant environmental damage would result from mining activity. Foremost among these conclusions were that 55 to 87 miles of pristine streams and up to 2,500 acres of wetlands would be destroyed by mining and mine-related operations.  Significantly, the EPA also noted that there is a potential risk of the mine’s tailings ponds failing, and hence acidic water and heavy metals could be released into salmon spawning grounds. The final EA is still in progress, and so the clash continues.

Read more at: Bristol Bay Clash

The Global Energy Map Is Changing

The 2012 edition of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook (WEO) was released on 11/12/2012. The changes in the global energy map will alter outlooks on how various countries, regions and fuels interact in the global energy system in the foreseeable future.

According to the WEO, North America leads the change in the global energy balance. “North America is at the forefront of a sweeping transformation in oil and gas production that will affect all regions of the world, yet the potential also exists for a similarly transformative shift in global energy efficiency,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “This year’s World Energy Outlook shows that by 2035, we can achieve energy savings equivalent to nearly a fifth of global demand in 2010. In other words, energy efficiency is just as important as unconstrained energy supply, and increased action on efficiency can serve as a unifying energy policy that brings multiple benefits.”

Other key points of the WEO are:

North American Oil and Gas – The growth in oil and natural gas production in the U.S. will result in a tremendous change in global energy flows. The WEO’s New Policies Scenario predicts that the U.S. will be a net exporter of natural gas by 2020 and will be almost self-sufficient in energy, in net terms, by 2035.

Fossil Fuels – Fossil fuels will remain dominant in the global energy amalgam. These fuels will probably remain supported by subsidies that jumped by almost 30% to $523 billion in 2011.

Renewables – Renewables become the world’s second-largest source of power generation by 2015 and begin to replace coal as the primary source by 2035. The increase of renewable energy, however, is dependent upon continued subsidies. Are you contemplating making the switch to a more renewable type of energy? If so, you might be tempted to do some research into environmentally friendly electricity provider options such as Gexa Energy plans.

Water – Water is key to energy production. The need of water for this makes water a critical component for energy projects.

Energy Efficiency – WEO asserts that this is a huge opportunity that is being unrealized. As stated within the report by Fatih Birol, IEA Chief Economist and the WEO’s lead author, “Our analysis shows that in the absence of a concerted policy push, two-thirds of the economically viable potential to improve energy efficiency will remain unrealized through to 2035. Action to improve energy efficiency could delay the complete ‘lock-in’ of the allowable emissions of carbon dioxide under a 2oC trajectory – which is currently set to happen in 2017 – until 2022, buying time to secure a much-needed global climate agreement. It would also bring substantial energy security and economic benefits, including cutting fuel bills by 20% on average.”

Download the Executive Summary at: World Energy Outlook

A slide presentation of the report is at: WEO slides

Home Heating With Volcanic Heat

Volcanic heat from Icelandic volcanoes may end up heating British homes. The UK government has signed a memorandum of understanding with Iceland to further study this option. The project would be technically challenging. Electricity produced from the geothermal energy would go to the UK via an underwater cable that would be at least 620 miles long. Icelandic officials say that the project could be in place by 2020. Read more at: Icelandic Geothermal Energy

Hurricane Sandy – A Predicted Event of Climate Change

Earlier this year, a peer-reviewed paper, Physically based assessment of hurricane surge threat under climate change, (PDF bypasses Nature’s paywall) was published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The authors predicted more frequent storm surges for New York City due to the changing climate.

The abstract from the paper follows:

Storm surges are responsible for much of the damage and loss of life associated with landfalling hurricanes. Understanding how global warming will affect hurricane surges thus holds great interest. As general circulation models (GCMs) cannot simulate hurricane surges directly, we couple a GCM-driven hurricane model with hydrodynamic models to simulate large numbers of synthetic surge events under projected climates and assess surge threat, as an example, for New York City (NYC). Struck by many intense hurricanes in recorded history and prehistory, NYC is highly vulnerable to storm surges. We show that the change of storm climatology will probably increase the surge risk for NYC; results based on two GCMs show the distribution of surge levels shifting to higher values by a magnitude comparable to the projected sea-level rise (SLR). The combined effects of storm climatology change and a 1?m SLR may cause the present NYC 100-yr surge flooding to occur every 3–20?yr and the present 500-yr flooding to occur every 25–240?yr by the end of the century.

Many residents of the areas impacted by Sandy are still without power and in the most hard-hit locations probably won’t be back in their homes for quite some time. The next step for families is to look at some sort of disaster recovery plan. The costs of Sandy will most likely be in the billions of dollars. And – Sandy is only one of the more recent catastrophic weather events to occur globally. There is a climate crisis.

Anthropocene: Is there a new human-based geological age?

Geologists are well known for separating the geologic time scale into many time units. The most recent time division, the Holocene, has now lasted about 11,700 years, during which time the climate has been fairly stable. However, at several recent geological meetings, geologists have discussed the premise that because human activity has so irrevocably changed our planet, we have entered a new geological age. The name given to this new, human-caused epoch is the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene was most recently discussed last week at a Geological Society conference in London . Read more about this discussion at: BBC News Science and Environment’s web site.

U.S. Coal Exports

For those concerned about coal use and the environment, the U.S. Energy Administration recently released information on U.S. coal exports. A brief summary follows:

“U.S. 2012 coal exports, supported by rising steam coal exports, are expected to break their previous record level of almost 113 million tons, set in 1981. Exports for the first half of 2012 reached almost 67 million tons, surpassing most annual export volumes dating back to 1949. U.S. coal exports averaged 56 million tons per year in the decade preceding 2011. If exports continue at their current pace, the United States will export 133 million tons this year, although EIA forecasts exports of 125 million tons.”  Source: Today In Energy, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 10/23/2012. Read more at: U.S. Coal Exports

Climate Change – Northern Rockies

Last Friday (11/9/2012), the Northern Rockies Climate Change Workshop was held in Missoula, Montana. Researchers used data such as forest fire records, snow-depth logs, frost dates, spring run-off peaks, plant inventories, and wildlife surveys from the past century to obtain weather patterns. Penny Morgan, a fire ecologist, said “There’s strong evidence for changing climate that will continue in our future.” Read more about the workshop at: Northern Rockies Climate Change