Thursday, April 25, 2013

Water World: Sea Level Rise in Real Life

Sea levels have risen along the East Coast around 6 to 8 inches since 1960. Under different global warming scenarios, seas could rise 8 inches to several feet by 2100.

The longer term concern is that if warming causes the collapse of the Greenland and/or Antarctic ice sheets, seas could rise tens of feet, although it is thought a rise of that magnitude would take hundreds of years.

Nickolay Lamm, a 24-year-old researcher and artist from, was motivated to gain a better idea of what such a devastating rise in sea level would look like. And so he created a set of surreal images showing treasured landmarks swallowed by sea water.

To create these visualizations, Lamm took stock photos of the different landmarks, used Google Earth to determine their exact location, and applied mapped sea level rise projections obtained from Climate Central.

In addition to the Jefferson and Washington monuments, he created visualizations from landmarks in Miami, New York City, and Boston viewable in a multimedia post at

“The inspiration for these sea level rise photos came from What Could Disappear from the New York Times,” Lamm wrote on his blog. “Because the maps shown were not in a high enough resolution to figure out exactly which places would be flooded, I got in touch with Remik Ziemlinski from Climate Central who gave me access to more precise versions of the same maps that New York Times used.”

Even if you’re skeptical of some of the more alarming and dramatic sea level rise projections from global warming, these visuals can give you a realistic sense of what hurricane storm surge flooding could do in these East Coast cities. Major hurricanes could bring double digit foot surges up and down the East Coast (although a 25-foot surge is probably unrealistic – in the current climate).

Hurricane Sandy swamped sections of New York City with a 14 foot surge, and, in 2003, Hurricane Isabel sent an 8-foot surge up the Potomac River.

Related: If Hurricane Sandy had come south: the dramatic storm surge scenario for Washington, D.C.

(Sources of images: More


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Thin Ice Film



Thin Ice is a joint initiative between Oxford University, United Kingdom, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand (VUW), and London-based DOX Productions. Both Universities have active programmes with world-wide networks of collaborators in climate change and related research. For Oxford see, and for VUW see and

The project began over a cup of coffee at a Climate Change and Governance conference in Wellington in March 2006. Peter Barrett (VUW) suggested to Simon Lamb (Oxford) that he make a film about it with his friend David Sington (DOX Productions)

The aim from the outset was to give people from all walks of the life the chance to see the astonishing range of human activity as well as scientific endeavour that is required to help us understand our changing climate. Our idea was then we would all be better able to decide both individually and collectively how we might deal with it.

What we have done

We have visited researchers on 4 continents and the ocean as they studied the changes in the atmosphere, oceans and ice sheets through measurements (from instruments, satellites, ice and rock) and computer modelling. We have to think not only in human time scales (hundreds of years), but also Ice Age time scales (tens of thousands of years), and even beyond (before 2-3 million years ago) when Earth was naturally warmer.


A David Sington/Simon Lamb Film

Directors: David Sington and Simon Lamb

Co-producer: Catherine Fitzgerald

Executive Producers: Peter Barrett and Philip England

Editor: David Fairhead

Music: Phillip Sheppard

Photographer: Simon Lamb

Additional photography: Tony Burrows, Christoph Lerch and Chris Terpstra

Sound: Sarah Kinsella, Michael Kerslake, Tony Williams,

Rudolf Schwarz, Steve Cochran and James Rae


Oxford University Department of Earth Sciences

Victoria University of Wellington:

- Research Office (Professor Neil Quigley)

- Victoria University Foundation (Tricia Walbridge)

- Faculty of Science, Architecture & Design (David Bibby)

- Teaching Aids (Steve Cochran and staff)

Antarctica New Zealand:

- Lou Sanson and staff in Christchurch

- Staff at Scott Base for logistical support during the 2007/8 Antarctic field season

United States National Science Foundation:

- Office of Polar Programs

- Staff at McMurdo Station for logistical support during the 2007/8 Antarctic field season

National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA):

- The captains and crews of the of the RV Tangaroa and RV Kaharoa

University Museum of Natural History, Oxford University:

- Prof. Jim Kennedy

British High Commission, New Zealand:

- Chris Harrington, Philippa Norton and Ric Nye

Glassworks, Wellington, New Zealand:

- Grant Franklin

British Embassy, Copenhagen, Denmark:

- Mogens Olsen


Satellite imagery courtesy of Geoeye and NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Scientific Visualization Studio ( and

Ocean current animation courtesy of CSIRO, Australia, kindly animated at 1080p by Graeme Whittle.

One year computer weather simulation courtesy of the UK - Japan Climate Collaboration ( by R. Stockli & P.L. Vidale.

Global temperature data courtesy of Goddard Institute of Space Studies - GISTEMP Project (Dr James Hansen and Robert Schmunk)

Ice core record courtesy of NOAA Ice Core Gateway, Etheridge et al. 1996, Jouzel et al. 2007, Luthi et al. 2008, .

CO2 historical emissions data courtesy of Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre (CDIAC), .


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Speed-dating, solar panels and the importance of process

The sun has set on the Pacific Energy Summitbut will the heat generated be channelled into sustainable development? This is the 635 million New Zealand dollar question.

Co-hosted by New Zealand and the European Union, the Summit brought together donor agencies, Pacific Island leaders and renewable energy companies. The goal was to help Pacific Island countries and territories move towards a target of generating 50% of their electricity from renewables. If, like us, you weren’t at the summit in person, you can watch the sessions online here. In effect, the Summit was speed-dating of sorts, bringing together:

  • Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) in need of renewable energy but without the financial resources, or technical and policy know-how;
  • donors with the resources (in the form of concessional loans and grants) and the ability to offer policy advice; and
  • renewable energy companies with the technical expertise to create and build the infrastructure.

This was speed dating with a cause though. Aimed at tackling a very real problem. As the UNDP’s Helen Clark emphasised in her talk at the summit, “the Pacific has the highest petroleum fuel dependency of any region or sub-region in the world … This heavy reliance on fuel imports exposes the islands to a high degree of price volatility, and takes away resources from important development priorities.” What the Summit did was respond to PICTs’ need for capital and technology. PICTs brought along a total of 79 renewable energy project proposals, and then it was up to donors and companies to make a date, matching themselves to projects. By the close of the Summit, over half of these projects had been committed to. This is impressive.

The focus on investment was deliberate. NZ’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Murray McCully, opened the Summit with a reference to his impatience arguing that we have the resources, we understand what is needed, but we are taking too long to deliver solutions. This is fair enough and we share his desire for results on the ground. But impatience brings the risk of failure. In the complex contexts of developing countries hasty aid is often wasted aid.

Already the Pacific is littered with malfunctioning renewable energy projects: solar panels that don’t work in Kiribati health clinics; broken generators damaging solar batteries in Tuvalu. There is a lot to learn about how to ensure that investments in renewable energy are sustainable. Yet, the Summit’s emphasis on selling renewable energy technology meant that, although there were many policy and technical specialists in the room, public discussion of the most important questions was scant.

Questions like: What are the exact pathways from renewable energy to human development? What else is needed to make sure the former leads to the latter? What level of investment in renewable technologies is warranted in each country? Who needs power most, and will large-scale, grid-connected infrastructure really meet their needs? What are the best ways to deal with the maintenance issues that sustainability relies upon? And do PICT governments have the capacity to negotiate with private providers or to manage large scale technical infrastructure? The answers to these questions are important and the summit missed an opportunity in not affording them more prominence. It was encouraging to hear Dominican Ambassador Vince Henderson speak eloquently on his country’s experiences of some of these challenges, but there needed to be a lot more of this.

The Summit was also problematic in that its focus on the goal of achieving renewable energy targets meant it overlooked an issue inherent in such targets. The easiest way for a country to meet a target of having a high proportion of its electricity come from renewable sources is often to devote most of its resources towards replacing non-renewable with renewable technology on the already existing electricity grid. Such an agenda ignores the need to widen access to electricity through expansion of the grid or smaller-scale off-grid rural electrification. For many PICTs, this means neglecting people that live in rural and remote areas – the very people who are more likely to be poor and to whom aid should be directed.

The focus on renewable funding projects and meeting energy targets also distracts from other important issues. One is the need for sound regulatory arrangements that determine pricing, and which consider affordability for poor households. Success in this area requires the navigation of complex institutional challenges.

Also, focusing on enhanced renewable electricity sources via big infrastructure projects may well mean neglecting the need for more action on energy efficiency – often a far cheaper way to reduce dependence on fossil fuel consumption. More


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lockheed, Reignwood to Build Ocean Thermal Power Plant for China

The 10-megawatt facility powered by ocean thermal energy conversion, or OTEC, may spur use of a technology that has the potential for billions of dollars of projects, Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed said on its website. The plant will produce power for a Chinese resort being built by Reignwood.

“Benefits to generating power with OTEC are immense,” Dan Heller, vice president of new ventures for Lockheed Martin mission systems and training, said in yesterday’s statement. “Constructing a sea-based, multimegawatt pilot OTEC power plant for Reignwood is the final step in making it an economic option to meet growing needs for clean, reliable energy.”

While OTEC systems are able to produce round-the-clock power, clean drinking water and hydrogen for use in electric vehicles, there are no commercial-scale plants in operation.

The agreement with Reignwood may be the foundation to develop OTEC power plants from 10 megawatts to 100 megawatts, Lockheed said in the statement. A commercial-scale plant would have the capability to power a small city, it said.

Lockheed already has tested an OTEC plant that ran for three months and produced 50 kilowatts of electricity. It got $12.5 million from the U.S. Navy to develop a pilot facility. More



Sunday, April 7, 2013

Rising sea levels threaten survival of cities like Kolkata: Pachauri

Rising sea levels due to climate change are threatening the survival of big cities located near coastal areas like Kolkata, Shanghai and Dhaka, said Dr RK Pachauri, chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“There is a very high risk in delta cities like Kolkata, Shanghai and Dhaka. They are very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to sea level rise and coastal flooding. Both people and property would be affected in such a scenario,” Pachauri told reporters.

Asking governments worldwide to start adaptation measures as soon as possible to counter the effects of climate change, the scientist said the matter has to be taken up in all seriousness.

“Scientific factors are evident. We cannot keep our eyes shut,” he said.

Earlier, delivering the convocation address at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, last night, Pachauri said, “Partial loss of ice sheets on polar land could imply metres of sea level rise, major changes in coastline, and inundation of low lying area, with greatest effects in river deltas and low-lying areas.”

Such changes are projected to occur over millennial timescales, but more rapid sea level rise on century timescales cannot be excluded, he warned.

IPCC’s fourth assessment report on climate change had stated, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global sea average level.” More


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sunday Dialogue: Tackling Global Warming

To the Editor:

President Obama has put climate change back on the national agenda, but actually doing something about it is famously difficult. This time will be no different if policy makers let the best become the enemy of the good.

Hoping for the best gets us in trouble in two ways. First, while science can make a strong case for starting now to control carbon dioxide and other gases that lead to climate change, it can’t yet say exactly how much to do when. Yet the game will be lost if we require that science nail down every uncertainty.

The second problem is that solving the climate problem requires changing a vast energy infrastructure on a global scale. The scope and scale of this challenge far exceed any other environmental problem we’ve seen before. It’s no surprise that many existing government rules and institutions aren’t up to the job of managing climate policy.

Rather than waiting for settled science and perfected institutions, today’s policy should aggressively promote steps that will make useful progress at low cost. Energy efficiency is the prime example; we know that we can use energy more efficiently, yet we don’t.

As highlighted by the American Academy report “Beyond Technology: Strengthening Energy Policy Through Social Science,” social scientists can help resolve this paradox, and so energy policy makers should incorporate the social sciences into their thinking. It could be as simple as writing a clear energy-efficiency label or as complex as productively engaging local citizens about a fracking project.

But it’s also essential to invest in understanding what policies and institutions must come into being to manage the climate problem over the long term. Our scientific establishment should encourage this new and exciting area of research.

Bethesda, Md., April 1, 2013

The writer is chairman of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Alternative Energy Future project and a visiting scholar at Resources for the Future.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

UN and Samoa: 2014 Small Islands Sustainability Conference

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo is leading a UN planning mission to Samoa to prepare for the 2014 Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States. Mr. Wu is also Secretary-General of …UN and Samoa Launch Preparations for 2014 Small Islands Sustainability Conference

Apia, Samoa, 1 April 2013 – United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo is leading a UN planning mission to Samoa to prepare for the 2014 Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States. Mr. Wu is also Secretary-General of the Conference.

Countries agreed at last year’s Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development that greater efforts were needed to assist small island developing States and called for convening a conference in 2014. The General Assembly has accepted Samoa’s offer to host the Conference.

Mr. Wu will meet with Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sa’ilele Malielegaoi on 2 April and will tour the proposed conference site.

The Samoa Conference will follow up on the outcomes of the two previous international conferences on small island developing States held in Barbados in 1994 and Mauritius in 2005.

“Small island developing States are on the frontlines of sustainable development and despite their unique vulnerabilities, they never shy away from tackling head-on the social, economic and environmental challenges facing their communities”, says Mr. Wu. “The world should take notice how these countries are dealing with a range of economic, social and environmental issues, including the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels and extreme weather events. The Samoa Conference will help guide us all toward a sustainable future.”

“The decision to hold a small island developing States review meeting in 2014 is important and timely,” Samoa Prime Minister Malielegaoi told the General Assembly in September. “Coincidentally, 2014 holds special significance for Samoa. Barring any natural catastrophes, we will graduate from the category of Least Developed Countries on 1 January that year.

“We want to underscore that through genuine partnerships with development partners our Small Island Developing State, also a least developed country, is able to markedly lift the socio-economic situation of our country and the standard of living for our people.” He added the success of meetings “should be measured on the quality of the decisions and commitments agreed to, not just on costs and number of participants considerations only.”

At Rio+20, countries agreed that small island developing States remain a special case for sustainable development because of their small size, their remoteness, small natural resource base and because they are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events and the impacts of climate change. More


Whats up with sea level rise - NASA

Earlier today, in a NASA Google+ Hangout on Air on these questions and more:

How much and how fast will sea level rise in the coming decades? What makes sea level rise hard to predict? Who will be affected?

You can watch it above.

There was a Twitter discussion, as well, centering on the #sealevel hashtag.

Monday, April 1, 2013

UCSB Conference Will Address Sea Level Rise

Over the next century, rising seas will transform coastlines and coastal zones around the world, from small islands to entire continents.

“Figuring Sea Level Rise,” the Critical Issues in America series at UC Santa Barbara, will conclude this month with the Arthur N. Rupe Conference on Media and the Environment, which will focus on several crucial –– and highly misunderstood –– questions in the debate about climate change and sea level rise.

“Risk and Uncertainty and the Communication of Sea Level Rise,” will begin at 9 a.m. on Friday, April 12, at UCSB’s Corwin Pavilion. The event will feature scholars, experts, and indigenous peoples addressing topics such as which coastal communities are likely to be directly and immediately impacted by rising seas, what form that impact will take, and the challenges inherent in accurately identifying and communicating the associated risks. The conference is free and open to the public.

“In the morning, the keynote speaker and panelists will discuss the human dimensions of sea level rise –– and the use of local and traditional media to represent these issues –– in indigenous coastal communities from Alaska to Hawaii to Santa Barbara,” said Ronald E. Rice, the Arthur N. Rupe Professor of Mass Communication at UCSB and co-director of the campus’s Carsey-Wolf Center.

“In the first afternoon session, panelists will explore the challenges in planning for and communicating the risks of climate change and sea level rise, when some outcomes are as yet unknowable, while others are of immediate and strategic concern to the United States,” he continued. “The final session emphasizes how different values and ways of thinking affect communication about –– and responses to –– the implications of sea level rise, and how to create engaging media while maintaining accurate sea level rise science.” More