May 26, 2014

South West England Elects a Green MEP

I watched the BBC's coverage of the 2014 European Elections last night until the results for South West England had been announced in Poole. This is how they looked:

Party Votes % MEPs change +/-
UK Independence Party 484,184 32.29 (+10.23) 2 0
Conservative 433,151 28.89 (-1.36) 2 -1
Labour 206,124 13.75 (+6.09) 1 +1
Green 166,447 11.10 (+1.80) 1 +1
Liberal Democrat 160,376 10.70 (-6.49) 0 -1
An Independence From Europe 23,169 1.55 (0.00) 0 0
English Democrats 15,081 1.01 (-0.63) 0 0
British National Party 10,910 0.73 (-3.20) 0 0

As you can see, the parties that currently comprise our coalition government here in the United Kingdom each lost one seat, to be replaced by Clare Moody of Labour and Molly Scott Cato from the Green Party. The South West's representation in Europe is therefore now more female than male, and the Green Party now have three representatives in Europe, a 50% increase from yesterday. On waking this morning I wondered how the mass media had been reporting these momentous events, so I've been scouring the web for evidence. Here's what I've come up with so far. According to an article in the Exeter Express and Echo, which I reproduce in full:

Dr Molly Scott Cato has made history by becoming the first Green Party MEP for the South West. The Green Party gained 11.2% of the vote in the European Election, taking the 6th seat out of six.

Speaking shortly after the results were announced, Molly Scott Cato said: “It is fantastic that the South West now has a Green voice in Europe. I would like to thank everyone who voted Green on Thursday, and I am looking forward to representing the South West in Brussels.

“The Greens are the only party with a clear and positive message on EU reform, which I think was attractive to voters and translated into the result we see today. Our ‘people before profit’ policies have really resonated with voters who have been looking for a viable alternative party which truly represents their values.”

Greens across the region celebrated as they saw their vote share rise from 9.3% in 2009 to 11.2% in 2014.

Here's a picture of Greens from across the region celebrating!

The BBC has a couple of articles on their web site. The first one mentions the Greens' gains, and states that:

The Green Party of England and Wales has beaten the Liberal Democrats into fourth place in the European elections for the first time.

It got nearly 8% of the vote nationally, and three MEPs, ahead of the Lib Dems which got less than 7%.

The Greens won one new seat in the South West of England and also retained their two existing seats in London and the South East of England.

Party leader Natalie Bennett hailed it as a "good night" for the Greens.

The second one concentrates on the Lib Dems loss. In a sidebar Tristan Pascoe reports that:

Despite UKIP topping the poll, the demise of the Lib Dems in their traditional power-base was the big story of the night in the South West.

Sir Graham Watson has been a Lib Dem MEP for 20 years and before last night, few would have predicted his rejection at the ballot box.

Speaking without rancour or bitterness he said it had been "an honour and a privilege to serve the South West".

UKIP's victorious William Dartmouth led the tributes, saying Sir Graham had given "distinguished, competent, able and professional service for 20 years".

The Conservatives lost one seat and now have two MEPs in the region, while Labour say their recovery in the South West is well on the way

But the biggest cheer of the night went to Molly Scott Cato. The keen apiarist (bee keeper) created a buzz of her own as she became the Green Party's first South West MEP.

The Guardian has had a dedicated "Environment" section for quite some time, but at the moment the only report I can find about Molly's move to Brussels is a small section of their "10 key lessons from the European election results":

The Greens got another MEP, Molly Scott Cato, in the south-west and triumphed over the Lib Dems in many areas. This was despite their overall share of the vote dropping very slightly by 1 percentage point.

Then I scoured Environment Guardian for recent news from South West England concerning the views of a long list of eminent scientists about our rapidly changing environment, but I found none. I also scoured the BBC web site for a report about what Alex Salmond said to David Dimbleby on air last night. This was the best I could come up with:

UKIP's performance has shown the real and increasing threat to Scotland's place in the EU that comes from being part of the Westminster system, but in Scotland, UKIP have come fourth with only around a third of the vote they got in the rest of the UK, where they won the election, and only around 3% of Scotland's electorate backing them – despite the wall-to-wall media coverage of UKIP that has been beamed into Scotland.

I recall Mr. Salmond saying a lot more than that about the BBC's "wall-to-wall coverage of UKIP", all of which brought to mind Ros Donald's recent article for Carbon Brief, in which she reported on Dr. Saffron O'Neill's presentation at the Transformational Climate Science conference, hosted by Exeter University the week before last. According to Ros:

BBC television coverage of the UN's latest climate science reports was the most likely to portray climate science as not 'settled', according to emerging research. Meanwhile, UK tweeters are the most likely in the world to have debates about climate change.

Hopefully the above is more than sufficient explanation for this "Tweet" of mine this morning:

P.S. At least ITV West Country managed to interview Molly. Here's Bob Constantine's report on what she had to say:

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May 24, 2014

Climate Change – The Latest Evidence and Implications

The videos from the Transformational Climate Science conference at Exeter University are still not yet available, but on Monday May 19th the Met Office hosted another climate change conference, this time in London. This one was held in conjunction with the Walker Institute at the University of Reading and the Grantham Institute for Climate change at Imperial College London, and was entitled "Climate change – the latest evidence and implications for business". As the title suggests, the audience this time around consisted of businesspeople instead of climate scientists. Some of the speakers from Exeter had headed up to London to speak about all things IPCC for the second time in a week, and those proceedings are already available on video at the Climasphere web site.

That page takes a while to load, but persevere and you will be rewarded with a total of almost four and half hours of information on the latest scientific findings about climate change, interspersed with a couple of breaks and introduced by the Director of the Walker Institute, Professor Nigel Arnell. If that seems overly daunting then I suggest you pick and choose from the following presentations from those who were also present in Exeter. From session 1 on "Climate change – the latest evidence" there's:

  • Prof. Chris Field (Stanford University and IPCC WG II co-chair) on "Impacts and adaptation" – 00:20:00
  • Prof. Jim Skea (Imperial College and IPCC WG III vice-chair) on "Mitigation of climate change" – 00:42:00

Session 2 on "What will climate change mean for the UK?" was started off by:

  • Prof. Stephen Belcher (Head of the Met Office's Hadley Centre) on "Climate extremes" – 01:54:45
Prof. Dame Julia Slingo summing up at the Met Office's "Climate Change – The Latest Evidence and Implications" conference

Dame Julia Slingo summing up at the "Climate Change – The Latest Evidence and Implications" conference

Since I'm from the UK I was interested in the rest of that session too, but wherever you hail from I also suggest you watch Dame Julia Slingo's summing up starting at 4:17:00. Amongst one or two other things Dame Julia had this to say:

What really struck me when I read the [IPCC AR5] reports was really that the highlights were WG II and WG III and I can say that without any shame, I'm a WG I scientist, because what was coming out of those was seriously now, as Chris said,  wide ranging and consequential evidence of the impacts of climate change across many systems, and that's the first time we've been able to say that about the impacts. Just the scientific evidence for a changing climate from the physical evidence. Then we saw from Jim's talk really much, much more detail about our options, about the challenge we face. The phrase that comes to mind now is that at last we're into the phase of what I call "actionable science". This means we are in a place where science is mature enough, it's still not there in many respects but we as a global society must start to take action on the basis of that science. Of course it is uncertain, but that doesn't mean that we can't make risk based assessments and start talking about risk based actions, and accepting we don't all need to have the final decimal point, we just need to know what the scale of the challenge often is.

That being said I think the other thing that comes through time and time again in the discussions is that it's not about the global mean temperature any more, that we need to shape the climate change message much more about "what does it mean for me, regionally and locally", and that's really around extreme or high impact weather, it's about extreme seasons, it's about that intersection between natural variability of the climate and how climate change is often compounding that, and actually the key message from many of us now in the science community is that our climate will become more volatile and more challenging because of climate change.

That means a new science agenda. It means taking us way beyond what was in UKCP09. That was a fantastic start, but it was only a start. The science continues apace, and I think will accelerate in the next few years as we really get to grips with these key problems about regional climate, and we need to make sure that you as a community that acts on that science, hears about it, can shape it and work with us to translate it into action. The IPCC has an inter-governmental role, and that should continue, but we have to more and more find ways to work at the national or even international level, across sectors, to find how to translate what the new science on climate change is telling us into what we should do.

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May 19, 2014

Transformational Climate Science at Exeter University

Last week the University of Exeter hosted a two day conference organised in partnership with the Met Office and the University of Leeds, under the banner of  "Transformational Climate Science". According to the conference's "About" page:

The world’s top climate change experts [met] in Exeter to present and critically reflect on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).

The Transformational Climate Science conference [saw] world-leading researchers using the IPCC report’s findings to explore the next steps for climate science research.

The report assesses scientific, technical, and socio-economic factors concerning climate change, its potential effects and the options for adaptation and mitigation.

Conference participants included leading UK and international contributors to the IPCC report, who [gave] policy and scientific perspectives on the cutting edge of science, social science, and science-policy interface.

All this was far too much for me to resist, so I attended the public forum on Thursday evening and the whole of the Friday session which covered the work of IPCC Working Group III on "the challenge of mitigation". I was wearing the hat (and badge) of a member of the local press:

A couple of press passes for a couple of "summits"

A couple of press passes for a couple of "summits"

Since I have a great professional interest in energy security and hence energy policy I was delighted to discover that Catherine Mitchell, who is Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Exeter, was on both panels. When I arrived on Thursday evening there was still time to look around some of the assorted exhibits outside the conference room itself. There I spotted Professor Tim Lenton who was in charge of the Exeter climate change MOOC that I signed up for earlier this year:

Your faithful scribe with Tim Lenton at the Transformational Climate Science conference

Your faithful scribe with Tim Lenton at the Transformational Climate Science conference

Tim was wearing a badge that said "I'm a climate researcher. Ask me anything!", so I asked him something!

Tim Lenton's "Ask me anything" badge

Tim Lenton's "Ask me anything" badge

Tim told me that the Exeter MOOC had gone even better than expected, with over 16,000 people signing up for the course out of which over 10% managed to complete it. Apparently this is well above the "industry average", so Tim was very pleased with how things had turned out.

Next I bumped into three more people wearing "Ask me anything!" badges. They were Tom, Steve and Chris, and I asked them about their own research:

Tom Powell, Steve Beckett and Chris Boulton at the public forum of the Transformational Climate Science conference

Tom, Steve and Chris at the public forum of the Transformational Climate Science conference

We'd never met before but their faces were familiar to me since they were the ones asking Tim Lenton questions in many of the videos that constitute a large part of the Exeter climate change MOOC course materials. It turns out that Tom is researching "humans as a newly evolved but very significant element in the relationship between life and the Earth", Steve is looking at "the ecology and evolution of marine microbial systems, in particular the interactions and coevolution of bacteria and their viruses", whereas Chris is using computer modelling to investigate how to potentially get "early warning of environmental tipping points".

By now it was time for the evening's main event to start. I always try to sit at the front on such occasions, where this time I found myself sitting next to Professor Neil Adger. I was having a quick chat to him when he apologised for the fact that he had to go and stand at the front and introduce the forthcoming proceedings! Here's what the panel for the public forum looked like, and it seemed they would each have 7 minutes to present an overview of their specialist subject:

The panel for the public forum of the Transformational Climate Science conference

The panel for the public forum of the Transformational Climate Science conference

A video of the complete session should be available shortly is now available, so for now I'll concentrate on the question and answer session at the end. I had a couple of energy policy questions I wanted to ask Catherine, so I kept waving my arm in the air, but somehow I never managed to catch Peter Gibbs' eye. Somebody else did manage that tricky feat, and Peter described her as "the lady in the Green cardigan" when directing the microphone in her direction. She turned out to be Molly Scott Cato, the Green Party's lead candidate for the South West of England in the forthcoming European elections, who effectively asked one of my questions for me by suggesting that "if politicians aren't dealing with climate change perhaps we have the wrong politicians" and garnering a round of applause from the assembled throng as a result. Catherine didn't seem any keener on those politicians than Molly, saying that she had "very little faith in any governments" and "we really need a completely new way of thinking about [UK energy policy]".

The message was very clear that things are not moving fast enough if dangerous climate change is to be avoided. According to an article about the conference in The Western Morning News, Prof. Mitchell told them that:

Personally, I think the IPCC report shows how much mitigation we have to undertake if we are to meet the 2C target – in Britain we are nowhere near and we have to up our game.

The report shows that by 2030 globally we should be getting about 25% of our energy – for electricity, heat and transport – from low carbon sources but we have had a process in place since 1990 and we have only managed 3 to 4% so we are way off target.

The Government really has to start explaining, not in a scary way, what climate change means to people’s daily lives and manage that change.

There will be winners and losers – I would argue the Government spends too much time looking after the losers – the fossil fuel companies – rather than innovative new businesses.

Soon the Q&A session was over. Neil apologised for the fact that I hadn't got to pose a question to the panel. I thanked him but told him not to worry. I headed over to the table and asked Catherine some questions in person! More on that and Friday's events in my next post. Until then though, lots of the slides from the presentations on both days have already been made available.They should be required reading for every politician (and prospective politician) on the planet!

View the slides from Thursday's presentations.
View the slides from the public forum on Thursday evening.
View the slides from Friday's presentations.

Should said politicians prefer watching videos to reading IPCC reports they could always try starting here instead:

P.S. Some alternative interpretations of the Transformational Climate Science conference are now available at:

Simple Climate – IPCC: Millions of words on climate change are not enough

The Exeter Blog – Transformational Climate Science

Angus Ferraro – Transformational Climate Science – meeting report et seq.

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May 13, 2014

Ann Daniels on "How to Become a Polar Explorer"

Ann Daniels was born in Bradford, but now lives near Exeter. In this video recorded at TEDxExeter 2014 she explains how her first visit to Dartmoor led her from being a mother of triplets to becoming a leader of Polar exploration expeditions as well:

Apart from that Ann also enquires:

What's the point in finding out this [scientific] information… if we don't do anything with it, if we don't change the world, if we don't tell the people that are not scientists?

She also explains that she first learned about ocean acidification from Pen Hadow on the 2010 Catlin Arctic Survey expedition:

Of the carbon dioxide we emit, around 30% goes into the oceans. It's always happened… and the oceans have been able to act as a buffer, but at a cost. Since the industrial revolution this has been changing the chemistry of our oceans. In the Arctic Ocean already they're becoming more corrosive, and it's already causing problems with the minutiae of the ocean. As the carbon dioxide goes into the salt water it forms a weak acid called carbonic acid and this is what's causing the problem, and it's a huge problem. What we can do about it?

Answering her own rhetorical question Ann suggest 5 small things that can make a difference:

  1. Use your car less
  2. Make your home energy efficient
  3. Use green energy
  4. Buy locally, and plan your meals so you don't waste food
  5. Don't use bottled water

Make the small changes, for the world you live in.

Hear, hear!

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April 13, 2014

Tropical Cyclone Ita Leaves Queensland Behind

In their latest cyclone warning bulletin the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre in Brisbane revealed this forecast track for Tropical
Cyclone Ita:

Forecast track for Tropical Cyclone Ita at 7:57 pm EST Sunday 13 April 2014

Forecast track for Tropical Cyclone Ita at 7:57 pm EST Sunday 13 April 2014

The bulletin adds that:

Tropical Cyclone Ita is expected to maintain a southeast track as it crosses the Whitsunday Islands this evening before moving offshore away from the Queensland east coast overnight.

GALES with gusts to 90 kilometres per hour are possible between Bowen and Mackay this evening, before possibly extending further south to St Lawrence tonight and to Yeppoon early Monday. Gales should ease from the north tonight as the system begins to move offshore of the Queensland coast.

Heavy rainfall, which may lead to flash flooding, is expected to occur between Proserpine and Mackay, and should extend further south to Gladstone overnight. Rainfall totals of at least 100 to 200mm are likely and isolated falls to 400mm are possible.

As the system tracks near the coast abnormally high tides are expected between Proserpine and Mackay, but the sea level should not exceed the highest tide of the year. Large waves are likely along the foreshore.

People between Bowen and Yeppoon, including Mackay, should take precautions and listen to the next advice.

Here's how Ita looks from on high this morning, once again courtesy of  NASA Worldview and the Aqua satellite:

Tropical Cyclone Ita on Sunday 13 April 2014

Tropical Cyclone Ita on Sunday 13 April 2014

WeatherZone reports that there have still been no fatalities in Australia, although there have been some close calls:

Power blackouts and flooding continue across much of north Queensland in the wake of Cyclone Ita, as the storm system continues moving south. The category one system, which made landfall on Friday night, is tracking south of Townsville and is heading for Mackay. Falls of 400 millimetres were expected in some parts of the coast this afternoon, with Cyclone Ita expected to maintain tropical cyclone intensity as it moves south-east over the next 24 hours. Ken Kato from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says conditions are still extreme. Wind gusts up to 90 kilometres per hour are expected this evening between Ayr and Mackay.

"Our warning also covers the possibility of abnormally high tides between Townsville and Mackay," he said.

The popular holiday destinations of Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands were copping the brunt of Ita on Sunday afternoon, while the weather bureau advised residents from Bowen down to Yeppoon to prepare for flash flooding.  In Airlie Beach, four people had to be rescued from their car after becoming stranded. Swift water rescue crews arrived to find them sitting on the roof of the vehicle.

Meanwhile in other news from the Solomon Islands, and somewhat reminiscent of that from Haiti four years ago, the BBC reports that:

An earthquake of magnitude 7.6 has hit near the Solomon Islands, but there have been no reports of major damage or casualties.

The undersea quake was registered at a depth of 29km (18 miles), 100km (60 miles) south-east of Kira Kira.

A tsunami warning issued for the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia was later cancelled.

Strong waves were reported after the earthquake struck at 07:14 on Sunday (20:14 GMT Saturday).

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April 12, 2014

The Aftermath of Cyclone Ita

Severe Tropical Cyclone Ita has now reduced in strength to category 1. Here's a report from 7 News about the arrival of Ita in North Queensland:

Cooktown bore the brunt of the damage. Many properties are without power, and a few without roofs, but thankfully there are currently no reports of any loss of life in Australia.

However at least 23 people were killed and a number of others remained unaccounted for in the Solomon Islands after the precursor tropical low to Cyclone Ita caused flash flooding at the beginning of April.

An estimated 49,000 people are homeless. Entire riverside communities and bridges were washed away when the Matanikau river in Honiara broke its banks on Thursday. The government declared a state of emergency.

Rivers in the north-west, central and north of the island also flooded, destroying homes and displacing communities.There are more than 5,500 people in three of the most populous of the 13 evacuation shelters in Honiara, where aid groups report dengue fever is threatening to spread.

Here's an ITN video from the Solomon Islands:

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April 11, 2014

Severe Tropical Cyclone Ita Heads For Australia

A report from the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre in Brisbane this morning warns that:

SEVERE TROPICAL CYCLONE ITA, CATEGORY 4, poses a serious threat to communities along the far north Queensland coast. It is expected to continue to move in a general south-southwest direction and make landfall near Cape Flattery tonight with VERY DESTRUCTIVE WINDS to 275 kilometres per hour near the core and GALES extending out to 185 kilometres from the centre.

DESTRUCTIVE WINDS with wind gusts in excess of 125 kilometres per hour are currently occurring at Cape Flattery and should develop elsewhere between Cape Melville and Cooktown this evening, extending south to Cape Tribulation overnight and possibly to Port Douglas during Saturday morning. GALES are occurring between Cape Melville and Cooktown and should extend south to Cape Tribulation this evening and inland to Laura and Palmerville overnight. Gales may extend south to Cairns and Innisfail and inland to Chillagoe during Saturday, and possibly to Cardwell later in the evening.
There remains the small possibility that Ita could track south close to the coast tonight and maintain an intensity capable of generating destructive wind gusts to 150 kilometres per hour in Cairns during Saturday.

Here is the current forecast track for Severe Tropical Cyclone Ita,

Forecast track for Severe Tropical Cyclone Ita at 5:55 pm EST Friday 11 April 2014

Forecast track for Severe Tropical Cyclone Ita at 5:55 pm EST Friday 11 April 2014

As you can see Ita has recently reduced in intensity from Category 5. Here's the view of Ita from the Aqua satellite at the moment, where you can just make out the "eye of the cyclone" just offshore when the image was recorded:

Severe Tropical Cyclone Ita on Friday 11 April 2014

Severe Tropical Cyclone Ita on Friday 11 April 2014

Regarding the potential storm surge and flooding,  the Bureau of Meteorology had this to say:

Coastal residents between Cape Melville and Cape Tribulation, including Cooktown are specifically warned of the dangerous storm tide as the cyclone crosses the coast tonight. The sea is likely to rise steadily up to a level which will be significantly above the normal tide, with damaging waves, strong currents and flooding of low-lying areas extending some way inland. People living in areas likely to be affected by this flooding should take measures to protect their property as much as possible and be prepared to follow instructions regarding evacuation of the area if advised to do so by the authorities.

Very heavy rain, which may lead to flash flooding, is developing about parts of the Peninsula and North Tropical Coast and Tablelands districts and should gradually contract southwards with the system over the weekend.

Here is the current swell forecast for Queensland, courtesy of the MagicSeaweed surf forecasting web site:

Magic Seaweed swell forecast for Northern Australia on Friday 11 April 2014

Magic Seaweed swell forecast for Northern Australia on Friday 11 April 2014

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March 24, 2014

US Navy 2014 to 2030 Arctic Roadmap

The US Navy recently released their new "Arctic Roadmap" for the years 2014 to 2030. According to the Navy's press release:

In the coming decades, as multi-year sea ice in the Arctic Ocean recedes, previously unreachable areas may open for maritime use for a few weeks each year. This opening maritime frontier has important national security implications and impact required future Navy capabilities.

"Our goal is to have the Arctic continue to unfold peaceably," said Vice Admiral Michelle Howard, Deputy CNO for Operations, Plans and Policy. "Working with our maritime and inter-agency partners, and by investing smartly in future capabilities, we can contribute to a secure and stable Arctic region."

"As the perennial ice melts and open water is available for longer periods of time, we are committed to expanding our Arctic capabilities," said Rear Admiral Jonathan White, Oceanographer of the Navy and the Navy's Task Force Climate Change director.

Given the vast distances and virtually no supporting infrastructure there, naval forces without specialized equipment and operational experience face substantial impediments. Naval operations in the Arctic Ocean require special training, extreme cold-weather modifications for systems and equipment, and complex logistics support.

Amongst many other things the roadmap document itself discusses future reductions in sea ice cover in the Arctic:

Reduction of Arctic Ocean sea ice is expected to continue, and major waterways will become increasingly open. By 2020, the Bering Strait is expected to see open water conditions up to 160 days per year, with 35-45 days of shoulder season. The Northern Sea Route will experience up to 30 days of open water conditions, with up to 45 days of shoulder season conditions. Analysis suggests that the reliable navigability of other routes, including the Transpolar Route and the Northwest Passage, is limited in this timeframe. There will be shoulder season route variability based upon ice age, melt, and movement.

By 2025, the Bering Strait will see up to 175 days of open water (and 50-60 days of shoulder season). These figures increase to 190 days of open water (and up to 70 days of shoulder season) by 2030. For the Northern Sea Route, predictions are for up to 45 days of open water (with 50-60 days of shoulder season) by 2025, increasing to 50-60 days of open water by 2030 (with up to 35 days of shoulder season conditions). This period will begin to see greater accessibility of the Transpolar Route, which is forecast to be open for up to 45 days annually, with 60-70 days of shoulder season. Analysis suggests the reliable navigability of the Northwest Passage will continue to remain limited in this timeframe.

Beyond 2030 environmental conditions are expected to support even greater and more reliable maritime presence in the region. Major waterways are predicted to be consistently open, with a significant increase in traffic over the summer months. The Northern Sea Route and Transpolar Route should be navigable 130 days per year, with open water passage up to 75 days per year. The Northwest Passage will be increasingly open during the late summer and early fall.

Here is the US Navy's graphic representation of how the sea ice will recede and commercial shipping will increase in the Arctic over the next 15 years or so:

US Navy graphic showing projected Artic sea ice extent from 2012-30Summarising matters, the Roadmap's introduction concludes that:

Anticipating the impacts of climate change, the Navy will take deliberate steps to prepare for near-term (2014-2020), mid-term (2020-2030), and far-term (beyond 2030) Arctic Ocean operations. As security conditions change and the Arctic Region becomes more accessible, the Navy will re-evaluate its preparedness. The Navy must make targeted investments in Arctic capabilities to hedge against uncertainty and safeguard enduring national interests.

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March 17, 2014

Stormy Winter Weather Moves South

The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA for short) has published an article on the stormy weather we experienced over the winter. They say that:

In the North Atlantic [there have been] an unusually high number of hurricane-force storms. Between October 25, 2013, when the first hurricane-force event of the season occurred, and March 8, when the most recent one to date occurred, 43 unique hurricane-force events have blasted their way across the North Atlantic. Thirty of them underwent rapid intensification. The most intense system occurred on December 24, 2013; pressure in the heart of the storm dropped to 929 hPa as the storm lurked north and northwest of the British Isles.

and show this chart of wind speed anomalies over the North Atlantic compared to the 1981-2010 average:

North Atlantic wind speed anomalies for January-February 2014

North Atlantic wind speed anomalies for January-February 2014

Notice the large area of blue revealing abnormally high winds out in the Atlantic to the west of Great Britain. There's a smaller but even more intense area of strong winds between Iceland and Greenland. The NOAA go on to point out that:

Another difference between this winter and last is that while both seasons saw storm tracks passing near Greenland, many of this year’s events took a more southerly track through the eastern Atlantic near the British Isles.

We had noticed that! So had the UK's Met Office, who have produced this video that covers the stormy weather we experienced here in the UK in January 2014:

As the Met Office point out (at 00:18):

For the South of England it was the wettest January on record, and also the wettest January in the long running England and Wales precipitation series, that extends back to 1766.

They have also produced two detailed online reports on the storms, for December/January and January/February,  together with an even more detailed downloadable briefing report. The last two paragraphs of the summary section of the latter states that:

There is an increasing body of evidence that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, and that the rate of increase is consistent with what is expected from fundamental physics. There is no evidence to counter the basic premise that a warmer world will lead to more intense daily and hourly heavy rain events.

More research is urgently needed to deliver robust detection of changes in storminess and daily/hourly rain rates. The attribution of these changes to anthropogenic global warming requires climate models of sufficient resolution to capture storms and their associated rainfall. Such models are now becoming available and should be deployed as soon as possible to provide a solid evidence base for future investments in flood and coastal defences.

Here's a couple of pictures taken at the Haldon Forest Park just up the hill from here, to give you some idea of some of the local effects of all the recent wind and rain:

The entrance to Haldon Forest Park on February 24th 2014

The entrance to Haldon Forest Park on February 24th 2014

Haldon Forest Park on March 8th 2014

Haldon Forest Park on March 8th 2014

One final message of cold comfort from the NOAA:

These intense winter storms don’t always call it a season with the arrival of the spring equinox in late March. Last year’s final event occurred on April 19th, 2013.

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March 13, 2014

Westminster Debates South West Wind Farms

Yesterday afternoon up in Westminster a selection of South West Members of Parliament, together with one or two from further afield, debated the controversial topic of "Planning policy and wind turbines in the South West" led by Geoffrey Cox, the Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon. Here's a video recording of the proceedings:

The "They Work For You" web site has conveniently extracted a transcript of the debate from Hansard, in which the controversial phrase "Den Brook wind farm" occurred more than once. It didn't sound as though the locals present were very keen on such things. By way of one example my own MP, Mel Stride from Central Devon, had this to say amongst other things (at 2:30):

On the visual impact of turbines, I do not want to get into a bragging war about who has the largest turbines, but those that he mentioned were probably no higher than 60 or 70 metres. Those that are likely to be built now in the Den Brook valley will be 120 metres high; that is almost the height of St Paul’s cathedral. Whether they are smaller turbines up on hill ridges, which are obviously visible, or turbines down in valleys, they are often of such a magnitude that they are visible for miles around.

My hon. Friend knows that Devon’s tourist industry is valued at about £1 billion a year. There will be huge, cumulative detrimental impact on that business if we continue to despoil our landscape in this way.

One thing Mel didn't mention however, is that some of the unfortunate side effects of our changing climate are already having a huge, cumulative detrimental impact on agriculture, tourism and other businesses down here in soggy (and now also windy) South West England.

Duncan Hames, the Liberal Democrat MP for Chippenham also spoke (at 43:20). Hansard records his opening remarks as follows:

I congratulate Mr Cox on securing this debate. I anticipate that I will be a dissenting voice—[Hon. Members: “Lone voice.”] We shall see.

Mr Hames spoke some more, but he didn't mention climate change either. That controversial topic was eventually raised by a Labour MP from up country, Andy Sawford from Corby. Here's some of what he had to say (at 1:04:50):

Political division at Westminster, some of which has been reflected today, means that we are sleepwalking into a national security crisis on climate change. The science has not changed, and the terrible events of the last few weeks should serve as a wake-up call. The climate change consensus that once existed in this country has frayed.

The transition to a low-carbon economy is essential, but it also presents a huge opportunity for the UK, with the potential to be a major source of jobs and growth that we need now more than ever. The Government started out by promising to be the greenest Government ever, but the reality is that they have a terrible record on climate change. We see squabbling and inconsistent messages from Ministers and policy uncertainty on decarbonisation and support for renewables. The Prime Minister says that he has not changed his mind, but, in the face of pressure from his Back Benchers and the UK Independence party, he has ignored the issue or allowed it to become downgraded across Whitehall. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs apparently refuses to be briefed on climate change by his own civil servants.

I fear Mr. Sawford's speech won't be sufficient to persuade me to vote Labour at the next general election, but his remarks do seem to sum up quite well my own views on the sorry state of both energy policy and climate change adaptation policy over here in the once, but no longer, Great Britain.

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