University of Colorado-Boulder Researchers Investigate Warming Climate’s Threat to Western Water

Where does our water come from and how does climate change affect its future availability? In the arid West, mountain snowpack holds the answers to these and other questions.

Mark Williams, professor of geography and fellow at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), is an expert in snow hydrology and mountain ecology. He studies the storage and release of water from snowpack into mountain streams and what percentage of that water ultimately makes its way into homes. As principal investigator of the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research program at CU-Boulder’s Mountain Research Station, Williams and his team also explore the impacts of climate change, groundwater storage and pollution. The National Science Foundation funds the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research project, located above 10,000 feet in the mountains near Boulder.

This team’s research is highlighted in a new five-minute educational video titled, “Water: A Zero Sum Game” viewable at In a one-of-a-kind underground and under snow laboratory, the researchers use an array of lysimeters that isolate, collect and measure snowmelt. These data are important for people downstream.

“Snow accumulates in the winter. It’s kind of like a bank where you have this nice capital account,” says Williams, who estimates that between 60 and 90 percent of all usable water in the western United States comes from snowmelt runoff.

Unfortunately, warming temperatures have resulted in less snow and shorter winters in recent years. In fact, the 2012 snowpack at Niwot Ridge was roughly half of normal and snowmelt began one month before average.

“If we switch from snow to rain because it’s warmer, we’re going end up with less usable water because we’re going to lose that banking effect we get from the seasonal snowpack,” Williams says. “And we’re going to lose more water to evapotranspiration.”

This is of particular concern to the southwestern United States as dry places get drier simply because they heat up faster, he says.

Water: A Zero Sum Game” is the latest in a series of videos hosted at CU-Boulder is home to some of the world’s leading climate scientists. The Learn More About Climate initiative seeks to extend this expertise to educators, policymakers and citizens by highlighting current research and offering educational videos, educator tools and more.

Global Status of CCS 2012 report released

The report concluded that actively supporting carbon capture and storage (CCS) as part of the suite of low-carbon technologies used to tackle climate change would save electricity customers around the world more than US$3 trillion. The Global CCS Institute has estimated that carbon abatement from eight CCS projects already operating is greater than that achieved by all other energy-related climate efforts combined to date in Australia or the UK.
From the report, four key issues needing to be addressed to accelerate CCS deployment:
- the need for a stronger commitment to CCS by governments, in the form of timely and stable policy support to deal with barriers to implementation, drive industry confidence, encourage innovation and, ultimately, reduce capital and operating costs
that it is critical the technology is not disadvantaged; CCS is often not treated equivalently to other low-carbon technologies in government policy settings and support even though it is a cost-competitive technology
- a need to accelerate government and industry investment into demonstration projects to develop technology and bring down costs
- the importance of capturing and sharing lessons learnt from all CCS projects, particularly with non-OECD countries, where 70 per cent of CCS deployment will need to occur by 2050.

In the past year, the net number of large-scale integrated projects increased by one, to 75; eight previously identified projects were cancelled; and nine new projects were identified, most of which will investigate enhanced oil or gas recovery options. CCS projects are on track to achieve 70 per cent of the International Energy Agency’s [IEA] target mitigation activities for CCS by 2015increase in new projects will be required to meet the 2050 target.

The Institute’s analysis was informed by a quantitative and qualitative survey of global CCS projects. Significant progress in CCS during the past 12 months included:
- inclusion of CCS in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Clean Development Mechanism
- introduction of a comprehensive policy to drive deployment beyond demonstration projects and reform of electricity market arrangements in the UK
- inclusion of CCS in China’s 12th Five-Year Plan for building on clean energy.
“Progress of CCS in China is particularly strong,” Mr Page said. “Five of the nine newly-identified large-scale integrated projects are there, making a total of 11 CCS projects in development in China.

Support for capacity building activities in developing countries is also progressing well, with 19 non-OECD countries engaged in CCS, mostly at the early stage. Sharing expertise with these countries to overcome complex and difficult challenges is particularly important.Other notable developments during the past year included:
- the opening of the US$1 billion Technology Centre Mongstad in Norway, an industrial-scale test centre for carbon capture
- in Canada, the announcement that Shell’s Quest project would be built to capture and store more than one million tonnes a year of CO2 produced at the Athabasca Oil Sands Project
- Southern Company’s post-combustion Plant Barry in the US became the world’s largest integrated CCS project at a coal-fired power plant
- advances in oxyfuel combustion were realised through two pilot-scale projects, CIUDEN in Spain and Callide in Australia
- construction continued on two large-scale demonstration power generation projects scheduled to become operational in 2014: Kemper County in the US and Boundary Dam in Canada.

Table of Contents
Executive summary
1 Introduction
2 Projects
3 Business case
4 Policy, legal, and regulatory developments
5 CCS In Developing Countries
6 Capture
7 Transport
8 Storage
9 CO2 enhanced oil recovery as CCS
10 Public engagement
Appendix A: 2012 projects survey
Appendix B: Asset lifecycle model
Appendix C: 2012 LSIPs
Appendix D: Costs
Appendix E: Policy developments
Appendix F: Legal and regulation issues
Appendix G: CCS activities in developing countries
Appendix H: US CO2 pipelines

What to do about the EU-ETS

For instructors who include coverage of the European Union’s Emissions Scheme (EU-ETS) in their climate and energy courses, the European Energy Review (in my opinion, a critical resource for those us in the energy and climate teaching biz) recently published an article that does an excellent job of outlining challenges facing the EU-ETS, as “the carbon price stubbornly stays below 10 euros per ton.” Among the article’s take-aways:

  1. “Plan A” to address the problems facing the EU-ETS is to delay the sales of substantial numbers of EU allowances into the market, perhaps as many as 1.2 billion (with the market facing a glut as high as 2 billion by the end of 2013). “Plan B” is structural reforms;
  2. Some analysts view back loading options as both ineffective, because it wouldn’t raise allowance prices sufficiently to induce fuel shifting, and it could introduce an additional element of price volatility that might interfere with investment expectations; Moreover, absent EU legislation, these allowances could not be permanently withdrawn from the market;
  3. The secretary general of Eurelectric advocates an integrated approach going forward, including a new climate and energy project for 2030, an economy-wide greenhouse gas emission reduction target, an adjusted cap for the ETS in 2030 and a post-2020 renewable energy policy;
    1. Another proposal for structurally reforming the ETS would be to incorporate base level feed-in tariffs and capacity payments into the Scheme, potentially elevated the price of allowances
  4. Some analysts suggest that sectors that obtain free allowances because of the purported threat posed by carbon leakage should be removed from the list with prices of allowances at 6 euros per ton; Europe’s carbon leakage list encompasses approximately three-quarters of European manufacturing emissions.

European Parliament -requested report: “Human Rights and Climate Change: EU Policy Options

A report that was requested by the European Parliament has just been published entitled: “Human Rights and Climate Change: EU Policy Options”.

The report provides a survey of the relationships between human rights and climate change. It examines the external diplomacy of the EU in the fields of human rights and climate change. It analyzes the effectiveness and the efficiency of the integration of climate concerns within the EU’s external development policy. Special emphasis is put on climate and human migration. The study then considers internal EU climate policies, from the perspective of human rights. Finally, this report clarifies the existing environmental human right to public information and participation in decision-making,s and how it may evolve in EU internal and external climate policy. The report is found at the link below:

Although science has provided many early warnings about the consequences of climate change on human well-being and is becoming increasingly precise regarding its impacts particularly on the most vulnerable populations, policies have not yet actually addressed the question of links between climate
change and human rights. The role played by the European Union within and external to Europe puts it in an unique position, and the report makes specific policy recommendations concerning climate mitigation and adaptation and human rights:

The distributional consequences of mitigation policies: Mitigation policies imply distributional consequences and may generate negative human rights impacts, which can disproportionately affect certain social groups within and outside the European Union. More care should be taken in matters of environmental justice to address discrimination in the sharing of mitigation benefits, risks and costs. The European Union could achieve this through the
integration of human rights criteria into the impact assessment of mitigation policies and by using the revenue from auctions, by selecting Joint Implementation /Clean Development Mechanism credits admitted within the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, by taking due account of the right to property when amending mitigation legislation, and by favouring better access to courts for private individuals

The integration of human rights into adaptation policies: The mainstreaming of human rights into European Union adaptation policies follows from the application of binding human rights instruments, such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Treaty on European Union , and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, according to which the European Union shall ensure consistency between all of its policies and activities, and take all of its objectives into account. At present, some structural and substantial barriers are, however, hampering the effective integration of human rights into the definition and implementation of European Union policies. The report discusses and makes specific recommendation in this regard.

Role of Canadian government in iron dumping off Pacific coast, and need for open public disclosure to allay public concerns, ensure scientific scrutiny and mitigate adverse effects

The full facts around the controversial iron dumping off the Pacific coast of Canada are slow unfolding, with more information coming to light about the role of the Canadian government. Extracts from and links to updated news reports are found below. Importantly, there is still no open public disclosure of the circumstances of the iron dumping and subsequent events.

By their own admission, the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation was knowledgeable about international conventions prohibiting the iron fertilization, and had extensive legal advice on the iron dumping in international waters.

Environment Canada and other federal government departments also knew of the iron dumping prior to it occurring, and may have facilitated the iron dumping and subsequent monitoring. They have not provided public disclosure of their activities or their knowledge of the project itself.

There is no evidence of the Canadian government trying to stop this dumping, despite this iron dumping being contrary to Canada’s international commitments under two UN conventions, and where iron dumping could have impact on waters and species within exclusive economic zone and regulation of Canada and the United States.

Despite the importance of how iron is placed in the sea, and of any subsequent monitoring, the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation has not fully disclosed information about this iron dumping and subsequent events to independent scientists and academic institutes, to the Canadian public or this global public. Similar to an oil or chemical spill in the ocean, adequate and open disclosure should be of priority to satisfy public concern, to understand the consequences and implications of this iron dumping, and to mitigate any adverse effects.

The Haida Nation may be taking internal measures for greater scrutiny of these types of decisions by Haida villages in the future, but the Haida Nation has not ensured adequate disclosure of this iron dumping. The Haida Nation is a sophisticated intervenor in energy and forestry projects, arguing for full disclosure, consultation and environmental assessment in advance of controversial projects being developed. In this instance, it is not holding itself or its corporations to that same standard of disclosure, consultation and environmental assessment. The conduct of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation and the Haida Nation does not appear inconsistent with principles of  ocean stewardship.

References to key news updates and links:

Haida Nation:

Haida Salmon Restoration Project:

Quirks and Quarks, Canadian Broadcasting Radio Show scheduled for October 20, 2012.

“In an interview with Canadian radio, John Disney said: “I’ve been in touch with many departments within the federal ministry. All I’m saying is that everyone from the Canadian Revenue Agency down to the National Research Council and Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada – these people, they’ve all known about this.” The Guardian has seen government correspondence which indicates that Environment Canada officers met with Disney’s company in June and expressed their misgiving about any ocean fertilisation going forward, but appear to not have taken further action.After the huge experiment happened in July, Canadian government officials were anxious to find out if the company’s boat flew under a Canadian flag and whether the iron was loaded in Canada. A large number of Canadian personnel have been involved on the boat, the largest fishing vessel under Canadian registration in the province of British Columbia. Disney, who is also a non-native economic manager for the indigenous council in the Old Masset village in Haida Gwaii, told media that the iron was brought from Alberta.
Russ George, a colleague of Disney’s, told the Guardian: “Canadian government people have been helping us. We’ve had workshops run where we’ve been taught how to use satellites resources by the Canadian space agency. [The government] is trying to ‘cost-share’ with us on certain aspects of the project. And we are expecting lots more support as we go forward.” Environment Canada officials refused to comment, saying “the matter is currently under investigation.”

Long Term Policymaking and Solar Radiation Management (Geoengineering)

In a new study published in the journal Climatic Change, Steven J. Smith & Philip J. Rasch focused on the interplay of potential deployment of Solar Radiation Management geoengineering options and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Among the study’s take-aways:

  1. Solar radiation management geoengineering options are only viable in conjunction with emissions reductions due to ocean acidification impacts, the threat of the “termination effect” if we ceased the use of SRM, and the inevitable domination of carbon dioxide in forcing if emissions are not addressed;
  2. Should climate sensitivity prove to be high (4.5C/CO2 doubling), global temperatures are projected in the study to increase by 2.4C by the mid-21stcentury, with even greater temperature increases the longer the delay in transition to a peak and decline scenario;
    1. Emissions reductions can’t ensure that temperature remains below any given threshold in a high scenario threshold; this might justify the use of SRM techniques over an “interim period;”
  3. A constant forcing of -0.90 W/m2from 2040 through 2110 via SRM could reduce global mean temperature below a 2C threshold under a high climate sensitivity scenario, with global average temperatures reduced to near 2C throughout this period;
    1. SRM application could be scaled back with lower climate sensitivity results
  4. If SRM approaches are applied at low levels, it may be impossible to assess effectiveness for decades;
  5. SRM will create different spatial and spectral characteristics and thus not exactly counter greenhouse gas forcing. This means that it would change the climate and thus necessitate additional assessment before deployment could be considered;
  6. Policy measures to establish an express linkage between SRM use and greenhouse gas emissions reductions should be considered.

Interim WTO Ruling Finds Canadian Renewable Energy Scheme Discriminatory

According to a confidential interim WTO dispute settlement report, a three-member panel has sided with the EU and Japan in their challenge of renewable energy support provided by the Canadian province of Ontario, sources told BioRes this week. The two countries had argued that the feed-in-tariff (FIT) system – put in place in 2009 – violates WTO rules because it requires participating electricity generators to source up to 60 percent of their equipment in Ontario (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 28 March 2012).

The interim report, circulated to the parties by the panel on 20 September, now confirms the view that the scheme’s “local content requirement” violates the WTO’s non-discrimination principle enshrined in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS). However, based on what is currently known about the confidential document, assertions by Brussels and Tokyo that the programme also amounted to illegal subsidies – dependent on use of locally produced equipment – have been rejected. At the time BioRes went to press, the ruling was not available.

The case has been widely portrayed as an environmental dispute, concerning the extent to which authorities can favour domestic producers and suppliers in promoting green energy. At the earlier hearing, however, the arguments from the parties principally focused on the investment aspects of the FIT provisions.

Claimed by Ontarian officials to encourage clean energy production, the local initiative offers incentives to energy producers to use electricity from renewable sources. Provisions of the programme, however, also require that to be eligible for such incentives, renewable energy projects include a minimum quota of goods and services deriving from Ontario – in the case of wind, 25 percent, and for solar projects, 60 percent.

Such a, “discriminatory measure,” said Japan in its statement before the panel in March this year, “is designed to promote the production of renewable energy generation equipment in Ontario rather than to promote the generation of renewable energy.”

Canada, on behalf of Ontario, instead portrayed the measure as government procurement necessary to facilitate a move toward green energy production. If the argument was accepted, the measure would not have been subject to WTO provisions on non-discrimination.

In addition to their arguments that the measures were discriminatory, the EU and Japan also argued that the provisions constituted a prohibited subsidy inconsistent with the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM Agreement).

It is understood that both arguments have now failed, with the Panel ultimately condemning the Ontario rules on the grounds they are discriminatory against foreign suppliers of equipment and components for renewable energy generation facilities.

Both parties have now had an opportunity to submit comments on the interim report. Following the example of most WTO panels to date, however, the panel is not expected to substantially depart from its preliminary findings when it issues its final ruling in November. In a communication from June this year, the panel informed the parties that it expects to finalise its work by late November 2012.

From Bridges Trade BioRes • Volume 12 • Number 17 • 15th October 2012

Undisclosed large scale ocean fertilization off Canada’s coast contravenes international conventions and places important ocean ecosystems and species at risk

Russ George, former chief executive of Planktos Inc., and partners dumped around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean as part of a geoengineering scheme off the west coast of Canada in July. The intention is for the plankton to absorb carbon dioxide and then sink to the ocean bed – a geoengineering technique known as ocean fertiliaation that could support carbon credits

Satellite images appear to confirm the claim that the iron has spawned an artificial plankton or algal bloom as large as 10,000 square kilometres. The intention is for the plankton to absorb carbon dioxide and then sink to the ocean bed – a geo-engineering technique known as ocean fertilization. The dump took place without any prior public disclosure from a fishing boat in an eddy 200 nautical miles west of the islands of Haida Gwaiii, one of the world’s most celebrated, diverse ecosystems.

The Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, a private partnership funded by the Old Massett Village Council of the Haida First Nation, provided more than $1 million of its  funds for this project. The president of the Haida Nation Guujaaw said the village was told the dump would environmentally benefit the ocean, which is crucial to their livelihood and culture.”The village people voted to support what they were told was a ‘salmon enhancement project’ and would not have agreed if they had been told of any potential negative effects or that it was in breach of an international convention,” Guujaaw said.

International legal experts say Mr George’s project has contravened UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)  and London Convention on Prevention of Marine Pollution from the Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (the London Convention),, which both prohibit for-profit ocean fertilisation activities. This ocean dumping of iron would have been illegal if it has occurred  in Canada’s waters without authorization under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

Mr George had previously tried to conduct large-scale commercial dumps of iron near the Galapagos and Canary Islands which led to his vessels being banned from those ports by the governments of Ecuador and Spain. At that time, the US Environmental Protection Agency warned Mr George that flying a US flag for his Galapagos project would violate US laws. Mr George’s prior activities contributed to the UN CBD and London Convention provisions limiting ocean fertilization.

There is scientific debate as to whether ocean fertilization can sequester carbon in the oceans over the long term, and concern about whether it can irreparably harm ocean ecosystems, produce toxic tides and oxygen starved waters, or worsen ocean acidification. Possible side effects such as deep water oxygen depletion, and alternation of distant nutrient cycles and food webs make iron dumping questionable, and at the very least require any dumping to occur under controlled and carefully monitored circumstances.

There has been one experiment conducted in 2004 that suggested ocean fertilization might be have some positive effect. In February 2004, researchers involved in the European Iron Fertilization Experiment (EIFEX) fertilized 167 square kilometres of the Southern Ocean with several tonnes of iron sulphate in a precise and controlled manner. For 37 days, the German research vessel Polarstern monitored the bloom and demise of single-cell algae or plankton in the iron-limited but otherwise nutrient-rich ocean region. This experiment was done on a small scale in an isolated region of the Southern Ocean,  with the open and transparent participation of research institutes and scientists, and prior to prohibitions under the CBD and London Convention. Eight years later in July 2012, an analysis of the 2004 EIFEX experiment in Nature News suggested that some carbon was sequestered in that experiment.


New Study on Climate Change and Fish Weight

A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests serious impacts on maximum body weights of marine fish, which in turn could have serious implications for trophic interactions of species, ecosystem functions and global protein supplies. The study is significant because it expands our understanding of the impacts of climate change on oceans into a new dimension, i.e. the impacts of changes in ecophysiology and distribution and associated impacts on key metrics for marine biota, such as body size.

Among the study’s conclusions:

  1. According to SRES A2 scenarios, the bottom layers of the world’s oceans, most pertinent for demersal fish, will increase by average rates of 0.029 C (Pacific); 0.012 (Atlantic); 0.017 (Indian); 0.038 (Southern), and 0.037) (Arctic), with oxygen predicted to fall between 0.1-1.1 mmolm-3 per decade;
  2. Most (more than 75%) of studied populations (600 species were studied) are projected to expedience a reduction in body weight of 5-39%, with a median of 10% in all ocean basins, with the magnitude larger for fish in the Pacific and Southern Ocean.
  3. Distributions of most fish species are projected to shift poleward at a media rate of 25.5-36.4 kms. per decade by 2050 relative to 2000; this and changes in abundance explains about half of the projected reduction in maximum body weights, with the other half attributable to changes in physiology;
  4. There’s little evidence that fish would be able to completely adapt to compensate for increased warming;
  5. Other anthropogenic impacts on fish species, including pollution and overfishing are likely to exacerbate negative impacts associated with reductions in body weight.