National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Tue, 2014-01-21 12:29Sharon Kelly
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In Push For Nuclear Power, Climate Change Concerns Overlooked

Three years ago the world was reminded of the dangers nuclear energy poses when catastrophe struck Japan at the Fukushima power plant. Since then the gravity of the disaster has grown more evident as cleanup efforts have turned into a debacle. In the last month alone we have seen news of radioactive water leaks at the site, lawsuits from U.S. Navy sailors who responded to the initial disaster and are now developing cancer and ongoing harm to the fishing industry.

The nuclear industry is often portrayed as a climate-neutral alternative to coal and natural gas. An industry-tied movie called Pandora's Promise, recently featured at Sundance and debuted through Netflix and iTunes, has been promoting this very perspective.

But nuclear power plants need cooling water, which means they are often situated on shorelines. That makes these plants more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, such as sea level rise. They are also more at risk of being affected by the ever-growing number and severity of storms tied to climate change, such as Hurricane Sandy.

Case in point: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers recently concluded that a small six-foot-high miniature tsunami that hit near a New Jersey nuclear power plant this summer was not the result of a seismic event (as tsunamis usually are). Instead, the researchers concluded that the surge was caused by a sudden atmospheric pressure change. The nuclear plant, Oyster Creek, did not report any damage. But experts say there was a cautionary lesson on offer: expect the unexpected. Climate change will cause more destructive and seemingly freakish events like this. Emergency planners need to plan for them — especially when the risks are high as is the case with nuclear plants.

Mon, 2013-10-14 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Flaws in Environmental Defense Fund's Methane Study Draw Criticism from Scientists

Perhaps the single most consequential and controversial issue at the center of the onshore natural gas drilling boom is the question of methane leaks. Natural gas is primarily made of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and if enough escapes into the atmosphere, these leaks could potentially make natural gas a worse fuel for the climate than coal.

In mid-September, researchers from the University of Texas published a study that was hailed by a triumphant oil and gas industry, which claimed it definitively showed that methane leaks from fracking are minimal. Major news outlets largely fed this excitement, proclaiming that the study showed EPA had dramatically overestimated methane leaks from the drilling boom.

But as the celebrations died down and more sober and rigorous analysis of the study has begun, scientists are finding that the University of Texas study is riddled with flaws.

The backers of the report cherry-picked the oil and gas wells included in the study, selecting smaller wells that had less capacity to leak and ones that used leak controls that are not currently used at many of the nation’s wells. The authors systematically ignored more recent federal research indicating that as much as 17 percent of natural gas – more than 10 times the estimate indicated by the UT study – leaks from gas fields, and overlooked serious methodological flaws that were pointed out in similar studies dating back as far as 1996.

As scientists have raised these concerns, the Environmental Defense Fund, one backer of the study which was 90 percent funded by the oil and gas industry, have tried to tamp down some of the media excitement surrounding the result and said that their research was misrepresented.

Sun, 2013-10-06 21:16Steve Horn
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NY Times' Joe Nocera Overlooks Key Flaws in EDF Fracking Climate Change Study

Yesterday, New York Times' columnist Joe Nocera weighed in on the study by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and University of Texas-Austin (UT-Austin) on the climate change impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)DeSmogBlog got a special mention in Nocera's op-ed titled, “A Fracking Rorschach Test.” 

Nocera praised UT-Austin Professor David Allen and colleagues for obtaining what he claimed was “unassailable data” on fugitive methane emissions and fracking's climate change impact potential. 

“The reason the Environmental Defense Fund wanted this study done is precisely so that unassailable data, rather than mere estimates, could become part of the debate over fracking,” wrote Nocera. “You can’t have sound regulation without good data.”

Missing from Nocera's praise: new findings by the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change in their latest comprehensive review of the climate crisis.

IPCC revealed “over a 20-year time frame, methane has a global warming potential 86 [times the amount of] CO2, up from its previous estimate of 72 [times],” as explained by Climate Progress' Joe Romm.

In juxtaposition, Nocera dismissed DeSmog's criticisms of the study - one we referred to as “frackademia.” 

Simplifying the crux of my 3,000-word DeSmog critique and the 800-word follow-up as “because the nine companies involved had both cooperated and helped pay for it,” Nocera then rhetorically asks “why a study that necessitated industry cooperation and money is inherently less valid than a study produced by scientists who are openly opposed to fracking was left unanswered.”

Tue, 2013-08-13 07:00Sharon Kelly
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Greenwashing Concerns Mount as Evidence of Fracking's Climate Impact Grows

Several years ago, Utah public health officials realized they had a big problem on their hands – one with national implications as other states were racing to increase oil and gas drilling. Smog levels in the state’s rural Uintah basin were rivaling those found in Los Angeles or Houston on their worst days.

The culprit, an EPA report concluded earlier this year: oil and gas operations. The industry was responsible for roughly 99 percent of the volatile organic compounds found in the basin, which mixed under sunlight with nitrogen oxides – at least 57% of which also came from oil and gas development – to form the choking smog, so thick that the nearby Salt Lake City airport was forced to divert flights when the smog was at its worst.

But the haze over the Uintah isn’t the most dangerous air pollutant coming from the oil and gas fields in the valley.

A string of studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that the core ingredient in natural gas, methane, is leaking at rates far higher than previously suspected.  This methane has climate change impacts that, on a pound-for-pound basis, will be far more powerful over the next two decades than the carbon dioxide emissions that have been the focus of most climate change discussions.

The smog problem is especially pronounced in Utah. But a growing body of research nationwide suggests that methane is leaking from the natural gas industry at levels far higher than previously known.

In Washington D.C., pressure is mounting to ignore these methane leaks. The oil and gas industry says there is no time to waste. We must proceed immediately with the “all-of-the-above” national energy strategy they say, code for “drill baby drill”. This pressure is coming not only from the natural gas industry itself, but also from a surprising ally: the Environmental Defense Fund, which has supported natural gas development as a “bridge” from coal to renewables.

This position has drawn renewed accusations that the EDF is “greenwashing” for the natural gas industry.

Mon, 2011-08-08 08:33Chris Mooney
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Here Comes the Atlantic Hurricane Season

gulf of mexico sea surface temperatures

This has been a year of dramatic disasters and weather extremes. From tornadoes to droughts to heat waves, the U.S. has been battered.

Unfortunately, the hurricane season that’s about to get firing may not go any easier on us.

Nobody can say in advance where storms are form to strike or whether they are going to make landfall—but everything is lining up for there to be a lot of them in the Atlantic region, and some very strong ones. As you can see from the figure here, we’re just starting the climb towards the peak of the season, which occurs on September 10.

Sea surface temperatures in the main development region for Atlantic hurricanes (pictured above for the Gulf) are the third hottest they’ve been on record. Everything is lining up for there to be a lot of action: 9-10 hurricanes, and 3-5 major ones, NOAA predicts. There have already been 5 tropical storms, but that’s child’s play compared with what’s likely coming.

Sat, 2011-01-22 11:51Richard Littlemore
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Canadian Hotspot Hits 21°C (37.8°F) Above Normal

While world media have been distracted by cold temperatures in Europe (December averages in the U.K. were 5.2°C [9.4°F] below normal), a vast pocket over northeastern Canada has been hitting heights that were not just unprecedented but, until this year, unimaginable.

As Bob Henson reports at the NCAR & UCAR Currents, the Canadian low Arctic has been unseasonably, unreasonably balmy, with the largest anomaly rising to 21°C [37.8°F] above normal. Hudson Bay and the waters around Baffin Island remained open well beyond usual, suggesting that the risk for an extraordinarily low summer ice season is built into the works. (If you look at this map, from Bremen University, you see that even the North Pole was unconvincingly frozen by Jan. 11 of this year.)

Henson looks particularly at the community of Coral Harbour, on the northwest corner of Hudson Bay in Nunavut, where typical January temperatures range from a bone-chilling low of –34°C (–29.2°F) to teeth-chattering “high” of -26°C (–14.8°F). This year, Environment Canada reported that in the first 12 days:

Wed, 2010-07-28 15:13Jim Hoggan
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International Scientists Confirm Climate Change is "Undeniable"

An international team of climate scientists led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has confirmed that climate change is “undeniable” and clearly driven by the “human fingerprints” of greenhouse gas emissions.  The findings are based on new data that was not reviewed during the most recent 2007 report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Financial Times reported today that the NOAA study drew on 11 different indicators of climate, and “found that each one pointed to a world that was warming owing to the influence of greenhouse gases.”

The scientists confirmed that seven of the indicators are rising, including air temperature over land, sea-surface temperature, marine air temperature, sea level, ocean heat, humidity, and tropospheric temperature in the “active-weather” layer of the atmosphere closest to the earth’s surface. Four other indicators were declining: Arctic sea ice, glaciers, spring snow cover in the northern hemisphere, and stratospheric temperatures.

The Financial Times quotes Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring at the UK Met Office, stating:

“The whole of the climate system is acting in a way consistent with the effects of greenhouse gases. The fingerprints are clear. The glaringly obvious explanation for this is warming from greenhouse gases.”

Glaringly obvious, unless you are a climate skeptic who denies the facts in favor of touting manufactured scandals like “Climategate” - a mythical tale ginned up by the climate denial machine to further confuse the public about the real dangers of climate change. 

Fri, 2008-07-25 15:06Richard Littlemore
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Lorne Gunter: Incompetent or Lying? Either Way, Worth Firing

An earlier post of the errors/misrepresentations in a recent Lorne Gunter column in the National Post has attracted a host of comments and a few that further debunk Gunter’s passionately inaccurate talking points.

DeSmog reader Dave Clark, for example, offers this:

Yet another whopper from Gunter:

Fri, 2007-01-12 10:33Richard Littlemore
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2006 Fifth Warmest Year on Record

Despite beginning the year with a chilling La Niña, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) advises that 2006 was the fifth-warmest year in recorded history and the hottest year in the U.S.

Check the attached graph and see if you buy the Dr. Bob Carter's contention that global warming ended in 1998.

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