Tag Archives: greenhouse emissions

UN urges top 1% earners to urgently address their carbon footprint

We’re all responsible for the ongoing climate crisis, but we’re not equally responsible: the top 1% income earners, for instance, account for more than twice the greenhouse gas emissions of the poorest 50%, according to a UN report.

Image credit: Flickr / Dave Montiverdi

The top 10% income earners use about 45% of the energy consumed for land transport and about 75% of the energy used for aviation, compared to 10% and 5% respectively for the poorest 50% in the world.

This has to change, and fast, warns the UN.

In its emission gap report, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) said the carbon footprints have to be cut to 2.5 tons of CO2 per capita by 2030. For the 10% earners, this would mean a 10% reduction, while for the richest 1% it would mean cutting their emissions by a factor of 30 – a significant change in their lifestyle.

“The wealthy bear the greatest responsibility in this area,” UNEP executive director Inger Anderson wrote in a foreword to the report. “The combined emissions of the richest 1% of the global population account for more than twice the combined emissions of the poorest 50%. They need to reduce their footprint.”

The report listed a set of actions we can all take to change our lifestyle and reduce our carbon footprint. Taking one less long-haul international return flight would reduce your footprint by almost two tons of CO2 while using renewable electricity in your household would curb emissions by 1.5 tons per capita.

But it’s not only individuals. Governments themselves have plenty of opportunities for reducing their emissions by pursuing a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. If they take further climate action, they could reduce expected emissions in 2030 by about 25% and give the world a 66% change to keep temperatures below 2ºC.

Countries agreed in 2015 through the Paris Agreement to limit the temperature increase to 2ºC and ideally to 1.5ºC to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis. But so far we are far from that goal. With the current climate pledges, the world is heading to a global warming of between 3ºC and 4ºC.

To be on track with the 2º goal, countries would have to collectively increase their climate action threefold, while to be in line with the 1.5ºC goal they would have to do so fivefold, according to the UN’s report. Between now and next year, new climate pledges are expected as governments ready for the COP26 climate summit in 2021.

“The year 2020 is on course to be one of the warmest on record, while wildfires, storms, and droughts continue to wreak havoc,” said Andersen.”However, Unep’s Emissions Gap report shows that a green pandemic recovery can take a huge slice out of greenhouse gas emissions and help slow climate change.”

Each annual UNEP report analyses the previous year’s emissions. In 2019, emissions reached a record high of 52.4 GtCO2e, mainly because of land-use and non-CO2 greenhouse gasses. Looking at this year, the UN estimated that emissions would drop 7% compared to 2019 levels due to the coronavirus pandemic

The UN also said that so far government actions on a green recovery have been limited, with a lot of money spent instead on fossil fuels. But it highlighted that so far 126 countries covering 51% of global emissions have net-zero goals that are either formally adopted, announced, or under consideration.

“The growing climate and social justice movements demand that governments not just eventually close the gap, but prove to all of us that they are, at this moment, doing everything in their power to tackle the unfolding climate emergency,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director, Jennifer Morgan, in a statement.

When it comes to climate, US is the worst-performing country

None of the 57 most polluting countries is on track to reduce the necessary emissions to reach the targets of the Paris Agreement, according to a report introduced at the COP25 climate summit. The “crown” goes to the United States, which rank as the worst climate performer according to the report.

The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) is a ranking of 57 countries which account for about 90% of global GHG emissions. The four categories assessed are greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, energy use, and climate policy.

The report showed opposing trends in climate action. The United States, Australia, and Saudi Arabia were ranked with low to very low performances in emissions but at the same time, global coal consumption is dropping while investment in renewables continues.

“The report shows signs of a global turnaround in emissions, including declining coal consumption. However, several large countries are still trying to resist this trend – above all the USA. We see opportunities for a halt to rising global emissions,” said Ursula Hagen, one of the authors of the report.

The first three places on the index were symbolically left vacant as none of the countries assessed is on a trajectory compatible with the Paris Agreement, signed in 2015. Countries committed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

The performance of European Union countries in the index varied significantly. Eight countries were rated high, eight low and two very low. Bulgaria and Poland were the worst performing ones in the region because of low results on renewable energy and low policy rating.

“The EU has lost a few ranks but could move up again if it were to follow the recommendation by the new president of the European Commission to increase the emission reduction target from -40% to -55% by 2030 compared to 1990 and adopt a long-term strategy for reaching climate neutrality by 2050”, said Prof. Dr. Niklas Höhne from NewClimate Institute.

Now the main global emitter, China improved its ranking slightly, with good performance because of its largest share of renewables and good policy ratings. Nevertheless, a potential expansion of coal-fired power plants could put the country at the bottom of the ranking.

Only two countries of the G20 group, the United Kingdom and India, were ranked in the “high” category, while eight ones remain in the “very low” category. The US was the worst performer for the first time, ranking low with Saudi Arabia and Australia. During the Trump administration, the US always ranked low or very low.

“This science-based assessment shows again that in particular the large climate polluters do hardly anything for the transformational shift we need to deep emissions reductions to curtail the run to potentially irreversible climate change”, Dr. Stephan Singer from the Climate Action Network (CAN), co-publisher of the CCPI, said.

Climate risks are increasing worldwide — even for high-income countries

Extreme heatwaves, droughts and floods like we’ve never seen before — these are some of the most common extreme weather that will take place due to the climate crisis, according to a report presented at COP25.

These will represent massive challenges for poor countries but also for high-income ones across the world, the report claims, stressing the importance of immediate action.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

The Global Climate Risk Index, a report by the think tank Germanwatch, showed that industrialized countries such as Japan and Germany were among the most affected ones last year because of heatwaves and droughts. The Philippines also ranked high due to record typhoons.

The report was presented at the COP25 climate summit in Madrid, Spain, where countries are trying to finish the rulebook to implement the Paris Agreement – signed in 2015 to limit the temperature growth to 2 degrees Celcius.

When looking at longer-term, poor countries faced most of the impacts. From 1999 to 2018, seven of the ten most affected countries are developing ones with low or lower middle income per capita. Puerto Rico, Myanmar, and Haiti were the most affected ones.

The report also showed that in the past 20 years almost 500,000 deaths were directly linked to more than 12,000 extreme weather events that happened across the globe. The economic damages amounted to approximately US$3.54 trillion, calculated in purchasing-power parity.

“The Climate Risk Index shows that climate change has disastrous impacts especially for poor countries, but also causes increasingly severe damages in industrialized countries like Japan or Germany”, says David Eckstein of Germanwatch. “Countries like Haiti, Philippines and Pakistan are repeatedly hit by extreme weather events and have no time to fully recover.”

The most significant cause of damage last year was heatwaves, according to the report. Among the most affected countries, Germany, Japan and India suffered from long periods of extreme heat. This is in line with recent findings that showed a link between climate change and the frequency and severity of heatwaves.

The report also showed that single exceptional disasters have had a strong impact on many countries, such as Haiti, Philippines, and Pakistan, recurrently affected by catastrophes and usually present on the ranking of those most affected.

“The climate summit needs to address the so far lacking of additional climate finance to help the poorest people and countries in dealing with losses and damages. They are hit hardest by climate change impacts because they lack the financial and technical capacity to deal with the losses and damages,” Laura Schaefer of Germanwatch said.

Startup makes breakthrough that could reduce carbon emissions by 20%

Heavy industries such as cement, glass and steel manufacturing could soon be saying goodbye to their reliance on fossil fuels and welcoming renewable energy – all thanks to a breakthrough in solar technology by a startup supported by Bill Gates.

Credit Heliogen

The company, called Heliogen, announced it found a way to use mirrors and artificial intelligence to reflect sunlight and reach a temperature of more than 1,000 degrees Celsius – the temperature needed to manufacture cement, glass, steel and other materials.

“The world has a limited window to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Bill Gross, CEO and founder of Heliogen. “We’ve made great strides in deploying clean energy in our electricity system. But electricity accounts for less than a quarter of global energy demand.

The industries that could benefit from the new invention represent around 20% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, according to Gross, who said that up until now not many options had been developed to lower the carbon footprint of the sector.

Heliogen took this a step further a technology through which hundreds of mirrors located in a field aligned to direct sunlight to a steam turbine located in a tower. The heat then turns liquid to steam, giving power to the turbine. New software can now align the mirrors and obtain better results.

“Heliogen represents a technological leap forward in addressing the other 75 percent of energy demand: the use of fossil fuels for industrial processes and transportation. With low-cost, ultra-high temperature process heat, we have an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to solving the climate crisis,” said Gross.

In the past, the technology used by Heliogen, called concentrating solar power (CSP), was able to generate heat of up to 560 degrees Celsius. Now, thanks to Heliogen’s research, the temperature could reach up to 1,500 degrees Celsius – enough to split hydrogen atoms from water and create a fossil-fuel-free gas.

But that’s further down the line. So far, Heliogen has been able to reach a temperature of 1,000 degrees, which is also helpful heavy industries. For example, cement represents the third most important source of greenhouse gas emissions after oil and coal – with a growing production that threatens the pledges of the Paris Agreement.

“Today, industrial processes like those used to make cement, steel, and other materials are responsible for more than a fifth of all emissions,” Bill Gates told The Guardian. “These materials are everywhere in our lives, but we don’t have any proven breakthroughs that will give us affordable, zero-carbon versions of them.”

More than 11,000 scientists foresee “untold suffering” due to climate emergency

If we continue on the same path, humanity is on track to face an “untold suffering” because of a climate emergency caused mainly by human activities, according to a new study signed by more than 11.00 scientists from around the world.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

In the study, published in the journal BioScience, scientists no longer mince words when it comes to talking about the climate crisis, preferring instead to “tell it like it is.” They declare, “clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” which threatens every part of our ecosystem.

“We have joined together to declare a climate emergency because the climate change is more severe and accelerating faster than was expected by scientists,” Bill Ripple, professor of ecology at Oregon State University and co-author of the paper, told CNET. “Many of us feel like the time is running out for us to act.”

It’s not the first time thousands of academics united to urge people to take action on climate change. More than 16,000 scientists from 184 countries published a letter in 2017, warning that “human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.”

In this new report, the scientists, who come from over 150 countries, said the climate crisis is “closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle.” Echoing the words of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, the scientists have criticized policymakers for failing to take proper action.

“Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations, with few exceptions, we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament,” they said.

They listed six key issues that need to be addressed if humanity wants to prevent the most catastrophic scenarios.

These include replacing fossil fuels, cutting the emissions of climate pollutants such as methane and soot, eating less meat, restoring and protecting ecosystems, building a carbon-free economy and stabilizing population growth by investing into family-planning services and girls education.

Scientists are particularly concerned about population growth, noting that human fertility rates have “substantially slowed” over the last 20 years. The study calls for strengthening human rights, especially for women and girls, in order to combat the issue.

The paper was published just one day after the Trump administration announced a formal process to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement — an accord in which nearly 200 countries set their own national targets for reducing or controlling pollution of heat-trapping gases.

The age of coal has set. Credit: Pixabay.

India and China are cutting down on coal, and this will save the atmosphere from 2-3 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2030

The age of coal has set. Credit: Pixabay.

The age of coal has set. Credit: Pixabay.

Five years ago, before the landmark Paris Agreement was signed at COP21, the simple thought of China and India stopping coal use was seen as utopic in some circles. These are the most populated countries in the world with some of the fastest growing economies, all predicated on burning fossil fuels. Something happened in the meantime, though, since the two nations have drastically cut down on coal. According to a new report, a staggering two billion to three billion tonnes of CO2 will no longer be released into the atmosphere by 2030 compared to forecasts made only a year ago.

Someone tell President Trump coal is dead, please

The news comes from Climate Action Tracker (CAT) which found India and China are taking a ‘positive’ and ‘healthy’ stance against coal use. The same report suggests that although dramatic and ‘highly adverse rollbacks’ made by the Trump Presidential Administration, these policies will have a minimal impact on global emissions by 2030.

“The Trump Administration remains undecided on its overall position on the Paris Agreement. A reduction of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC)—or a complete withdrawal from the Paris Agreement—would contradict the spirit and the need of the Paris Agreement to increase climate action,” according to a press release. 

“If the CAT were to rate the current policies of the Trump Administration as an NDC, it would move it from “Medium” to “Inadequate” on its rating scale,” it continues.

Possible impact of removing or adding additional policies on the greenhouse gas emissions of the USA in 2025 (excl. LULUCF). Credit: CAT.

Possible impact of removing or adding additional policies on the greenhouse gas emissions of the USA in 2025 (excl. LULUCF). Credit: CAT.

China and India: two Paris Agreement ‘overachievers’

According to the report released by CAT, both China and India are well on track to ‘overachieve’ their Paris Agreement climate pledges. Since 2013, coal use in China has been declining even though the nation’s economy and energy use has grown. This decoupling is most evident by last year’s stats released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics according to which the country’s overall energy consumption increased by 1.4% but coal use dropped by 4.7%. To supply its growing energy demand, China is focusing instead on renewable energy. China is investing $360 billion in renewable energy by 2020 — a sum equivalent to the United Arab Emirates GDP in 2015. China is also the world’s largest solar producer, standing at 77.42 gigawatts of installed capacity at the end of 2016.


Credit: CAT.

“In the last ten years, the energy market has transformed: the price of renewable energy from wind and solar has dropped drastically. In many countries and regions, renewables are now cost-competitive with fossil fuels and, since 2015, have been responsible for the majority of new installations. Even with a decrease in the overall value of investment by almost a quarter, investments in renewables in 2016, without large hydro, increased by 9% compared with 2015,” the CAT report reads.

As for India, it had planned to open hundreds of new coal-fired power plants. But according to a report issued by Greenpeace, the amount of new capacity starting construction was down 62% in 2016 on the year before. Hundreds of sites slated for new coal plants are now frozen across both India and China. According to India’s National Electricity Plan, the country plans to get 40% of its energy demand from renewables by 2022 with the help of some 100 GW of solar and wind. This alone would save one gigatonne of CO2 from reaching the atmosphere by 2030. More about this in a previous article where we asserted India ought to become the biggest market in the world for solar energy. 

India emissions

Credit: CAT.

Yvonne Deng of Ecofys, a Navigant company, said “Renewables are now cost-competitive and being built at a much faster rate than coal-fired power plants.”

The big takeaway here is that two countries that not too long ago were demonized for their coal-powered intensive growth are now ironically becoming environmental leaders. Both India and China are ‘overachieving’ their Paris Agreement pledges. How many countries can boast the same? In contrast, the United States — previously a climate champion under President Obama that was integral to the signing of the Paris Agreement — is but a shadow of its former self, moving into the limelight as other nations with more potent leadership seize the moment.



Global average temperature graph for the past 2000 years. (c) Science

Global temperatures reaching 11,000 years peak

In what’s maybe the most comprehensive global temperature reconstruction study to date, scientists at Oregon State University and Harvard University found that the planet today is warmer than it has been during 70 to 80 percent of the time over the last 11,300 years.

Global average temperature graph for the past 2000 years. (c) Science

Global average temperature graph for the past 2,000 years. (c) Science

The authors note in their paper published in the journal Science that previous, similar studies have concentrated on assessing global temperatures for the past 2,000 years only. Other studies that have backtracked temperatures over longer periods of time are also insufficiently relevant since they concentrate their analysis over a specific region only, like Europe or North America for instance. Thus, the present study, through its temperature reconstructions up until close to the last Ice Age, aims to put climate change, past and present, in a much broader context.

“We already knew that on a global scale, Earth is warmer today than it was over much of the past 2,000 years,” Marcott said. “Now we know that it is warmer than most of the past 11,300 years. This is of particular interest because the Holocene spans the entire period of human civilization.”

Global average temperature graph for the past 10,000 years. (c) Science

Global average temperature graph for the past 10,000 years. (c) Science

Lead author Shaun Marcott, a post-doctoral researcher in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science spearheaded the combined efforts that collected regional temperature data from 73 sites around the world.

“When you just look at one part of the world, the temperature history can be affected by regional climate processes like El Niño or monsoon variations,” noted Peter Clark, an OSU paleoclimatologist and co-author on the Science article,. “But when you combine the data from sites all around the world, you can average out those regional anomalies and get a clear sense of the Earth’s global temperature history.”

For the year 2100, nearly every climate model evaluated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that temperatures will exceed the warmest temperatures during that 11,300-year period known as the Holocene, no matter the greenhouse gas emissions scenario. Now, that’s something to ponder.

“The last century stands out as the anomaly in this record of global temperature since the end of the last ice age,” said Candace Major, program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences, which co-funded the research with NSF’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences. “This research shows that we’ve experienced almost the same range of temperature change since the beginning of the industrial revolution as over the previous 11,000 years of Earth history – but this change happened a lot more quickly.”


The Inevitable 2014 Headline: ‘Global CO2 Level Reaches 400 PPM For First Time In Human Existence.’

The inevitable 2012 title was ‘Human population reaches 7 billion‘, surpassing anything anyone could have imagined 100 years ago. Now, we’re approaching a very worrying milestone – CO2 levels in the air will reach 400 ppm (parts per million), for the first time in human existence.

co2 1

CO2 levels have risen at a quick, steady pace for several decades, as the chart above clearly shows. Now, just to get this out of the way, any man in his right mind will tell you this is man made, there’s no argument there. There is a direct connection between global CO2 levels and human activity, as was clearly observed by studies conducted on ice cores.

co2 2

But hey, guess what. Geologists and paleoclimatologists don’t even look at thousands of years – that doesn’t even make any sense for us. Here, take a look at the CO2 levels from the past 800.000 years.

co2 3

As a matter of fact, in 2009, a research team from UCLA published a paper in Science concluded that we have to go back in time some 15 million years before we reach CO2 levels like those we have today; and that change happened in geologic time (hundreds of thousands/millions of years), slowly. The change we have today happened in about 100 years, so you can easily understand the differences.

So what does this mean? First of all, CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which in time causes global warming. Quite simply put, the more CO2 you have in the atmosphere, the hotter our planet gets. Considering how the CO2 level trend shows no intention of even slowing down, neither will global warming; on the contrary, IPCC models show the atmospheric concentration of CO2 could range between 541 and 970 ppm – an increase of 90–250% above the concentration in the year 1750. So rememeber this post until next year – we’ll be sure to remind you when we reach CO2 400 ppm.

Inspired by Think Progress

carbon negative

Carbon negative: removing CO2 altogether from the atmosphere

As climate change and global warming become ever pressing issues on the desks of the world’s governments, so do the much awaited measures become more prevailing, albeit not nearly as thoughtfully as they should be addressed. Today, renewable energy sources like solar and wind have actually ceased to become regarded as “alternative”, since actually more capacity of renewable energy was added than other in both the United States and in Europe.

Whether you choose to believe in human induced climate change or not, the truth of the matter is, no matter what side of the fence you’re on, growing carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere signify a grave peril to humanity, life on Earth and nature’s balance.

(c) http://bellona.org

(c) http://bellona.org

Efforts to curb emissions levels have gone a long way in the past few decades, and for this we can only be grateful to all the engineers, scientists, and not lastly government officials who had the vision and courage to listen and voice the right measures for the good of our planet and generations to come.

Still…with all this measure at play, in the year 2011 global greenhouse gas emissions reached a new record, since developing countries are burning fossil fuels at an alarming rate as they seek to level the game with other developed countries. It’s becoming clear than reducing emission isn’t enough.

Recently, Stanford University released a report in which it highlights solutions for cutting carbon emissions, as in removing them altogether, instead of simply reducing them, as part of the university’s Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP). These methods and solutions are commonly referred to as carbon-negative technologies, and some of them have been described in the report.

“To achieve the targeted cuts, we would need a scenario where, by the middle of the century, the global economy is transitioning from net positive to net negative CO2 emissions,” said report co-authorChris Field, a professor of biology and of environmental Earth system science at Stanford. “We need to start thinking about how to implement a negative-emissions energy strategy on a global scale.”

Negative carbon means a more positive environment

Negative carbon emission occurs when more carbon is sequestered than it is released in the atmosphere, and of the technologies that can allow this is s BECCS, or bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. Typically, BECCS converts woody biomass, grass and other vegetation into electricity, chemical products or fuels, such as ethanol. Where it shines however is in it capability of trapping carbon.

In a way, the system is very similar to how plants work. During photosynthesis plants absorb carbon dioxide and store it, before releasing it back in the atmosphere when the plants dies and decays. With BECCS however, the captured carbon doesn’t need to be released back, instead it can be stored underground.

In the GCEP Stanford report, a conclusive example is being given in the form of a Department of Energy sponsored corn ethanol production facility in Decatur, Ill. Here,  some 1,000 metric tons of CO2 emitted during ethanol fermentation are captured and stored in a sandstone formation some 7,000 feet underground. Ultimately, the goal of the project is to sequester 1 million metric tons of CO2 a year – the equivalent of removing 200,000 automobiles from the road.

Estimates show that by 2050, BECCS technologies could sequester 10 billion metric tons of industrial CO2emissions annually worldwide. This, of course, if the technology is backed up by solid investment.

 “To meet ambitious climate targets, a cost-effective policy would be to implement a carbon tax and to recycle the revenues to subsidize captured emissions from biomass,”  said Olivia Ricci of the University of Orléans in France.

Biochar and other carbon-negative technologies

Another carbon-negative technology, rather similar to BECCS but with distinct differences, is biochar. Similar to charcoal, biochar is the byproduct of plants, only it is produced through the heating of vegetation without oxygen, a process typically referred to as pyrolysis. Carbon-rich chunks of biochar are thus made that can be put in the soil trapping the carbon, while acting as a soil fertilizer at the same time.

Biochar systems can be net negative if the biochar is made from waste biomass, sustainably harvested crop residues or crops grown on abandoned land that has not reverted to forest. On a global scale, using biochar could result in the sequestration of billions of metric tons of carbon a year, however scientists warn that biochar instability might occur if concentrations are too great. I recommend reading my colleague’s piece on how biochar could save millions of lives, for more info on the subject.

 “Estimates of biochar half‐life vary greatly from 10 years to more than 100 years. The type of feedstock also contributes to stability, with wood being more stable than grasses and manure,” the authors of the report write.

Sequestrating carbon in the ocean has been a proposal for many years, and is also considered a viable solution discussed in the raport. Today, ocean acidification  is a matter of great concern, as an increased uptake of atmospheric COcauses seawater to become more acidic, putting the ecosystem at great peril. It is believed ocean acidification is reaching a 300 million year old peak, something that might trigger the extinction of massive amounts of marine life.

The authors cited research by David Keith of Harvard University suggesting that magnesium carbonate and other minerals could be added to the ocean to reduce acidity and sequester atmospheric CO2 absorbed in seawater in the process.

Like in the case of biochar, however, sequestrating immense amounts of carbon in the world’s oceans is a rather extreme measure and the full effects of such an endeavor are yet to be fully understood. “The associated risks to the marine environment need to be adequately assessed,” the authors concluded.

Other technologies discussed in the report, which can read in full here, are carbon-negative large agricultural systems and “artificial trees”.

source: Stanford.

A core extracted from the Greenland ice sheet shows that during the Eemian period 130,000 to 115,000 thousand years ago the climate in Greenland was around 8 degrees C. (14.4 F.) warmer than today. The inset graph shows the change in surface height and temperature over time.

Greenland ice core reveals it withstood warmer climate and warns of the future

A newly published massive study, where some 133 scientists collaborated, revealed that during our planet’s last warm period between ice ages the Greenland ice sheet was still fine and sturdy, despite it was a lot shorter than it is today and caused an increase of a few feet in world sea levels. The authors involved in the paper warn that carbon dioxide levels are on par with current trends and if things continue to remain as now in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, then Greenland might irreversible dump its fair share of ice in the near future.

The four year long study was a veritable challenge for the international team of researchers, who analyzed ice core samples from the Greenland ice sheet, some 1.5 miles long. These samples served as time capsules, allowing the scientist to backtrack Earths’ climate far into the past, offering highly accurate and valuable data concerning temperature, ice sheet size and even atmospheric conditions. A certain heavy oxygen isotope, O18, came particularly in handy.

A core extracted from the Greenland ice sheet shows that during the Eemian period 130,000 to 115,000 thousand years ago the climate in Greenland was around 8 degrees C. (14.4 F.) warmer than today. The inset graph shows the change in surface height and temperature over time.

A core extracted from the Greenland ice sheet shows that during the Eemian period 130,000 to 115,000 thousand years ago the climate in Greenland was around 8 degrees C. (14.4 F.) warmer than today. The inset graph shows the change in surface height and temperature over time. (c) Niehls Bohr Institute

What interested the scientists most was the Eemian period, around 115 to 130 thousand years ago or better known as Earth’s last (very warm) interval between ice ages. Apparently during this time the region was 8 degrees Celsius warmer; that’s much warmer than it’s forecast to get in the coming decades. Apparently the ice sheet in Greenland withstood these high temperatures for 6,000 years, not without shaking some ice though.

In the Eemian the world’s oceans were four to eight meters higher than today, however the ice sheet in northwest Greenland was only a few hundred meters lower than the current level. This means Greenland ice sheet had a far less contribution to the global sea rise than previously thought, prompting scientists to direct their attention towards Antarctica which has always been the hardest environment to study.

Also, in a remarkable find scientists estimated that between 122,000 and 115,000 years ago, Greenland’s surface elevation had dropped to about 425 feet below the present level as a result of melting. The scientists however paint a gloom picture of the future and lament the current poor state of awareness regarding the impending peril our grandchildren will face at the cost of present day comfort.

“Unfortunately, we have reached a point where there is so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere it’s going to be difficult for us to further limit our impact on the planet,” co-author Jim White, the director of the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, said in a separate statement. “Our kids and grandkids are definitely going to look back and shake their heads at the inaction of this country’s generation. We are burning the lion’s share of oil and natural gas to benefit our lifestyle, and punting the responsibility for it.”

“We were quite shocked by the warm surface temperatures observed at the NEEM ice camp in July 2012,” said Dahl-Jensen. “It was raining at the top of the Greenland ice sheet, and just as during the Eemian period, meltwater formed subsurface ice layers. While this was an extreme event, the present warming over Greenland makes surface melt more likely, and the predicted warming over Greenland in the next 50-100 years will very likely be so strong that we will potentially have Eemian-like climate conditions.”

Findings were documented in a report published in the latest edition of the journal Nature.

Greenhouse gases reached record levels in 2011

Greenhouse gas emissions are growing, growing and growing; the level of CO2 emitted by humans grew to 390.9 parts per million (ppm) – 40 percent above the levels in the pre-industrial age.

Fossil fuels are the biggest are the biggest contributor to this volume, responsible for 375 billion metric tonnes (413.37 billion tons) of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere since 1750; and the bad thing is that this carbon dioxide doesn’t just … go away. It will remain in our atmosphere for centuries, causing our planet to warm more and more as the levels grow.

“We have already seen that the oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of the carbon dioxide uptake, with potential repercussions for the underwater food chain and coral reefs,” he said in a statement.

Methane, a gas released in much smaller quantities, but much more harmful, is also long-lasting – and it too is accumulating in our atmosphere; so is nitrous oxide, a gas with a long-term climate impact that is 298 times greater than carbon dioxide. According to WMO, the United Nations’ weather agency, these three gases, linked to fossil fuels, deforestation and intensive agriculture have increased the warming levels by 30 percent between 1990 and 2011.

Via Reuters

Electric cars are twice as harmful than conventional cars to the environment during manufacturing

There’s a general belief, most likely resulting from extensive marketing ploys, that electric cars are the cleanest mean of transportation, and an adoption should be hastily made in order to save our planet. While it’s true that electric cars have virtually zero emissions and not even one part per million of CO2 is released during operation, a new research by scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that  electric cars can be twice as harmful to the environment than conventional cars, during the manufacturing process, while the electricity sourced from fossil fuels needed to power the vehicles harm the environment also needs to be factored in. The study suggests that electric cars aren’t that green as previously thought.

During the researchers’ extensive analysis, they locked down the life-cycle impact of conventional and electric vehicles. More precisely, every carbon emission from the very first bolt that goes into a car, until the vehicle rolls down from the factory to commence operation, to its very dismantlement at the end of the product’s life has been taken into account.  The findings were surprising.

“The production phase of electric vehicles proved substantially more environmentally intensive,” the report said, comparing it to how petrol and diesel cars are made.

“The global warming potential from electric vehicle production is about twice that of conventional vehicles.”

The main issue lies in the battery, most often made from toxic materials nickel, copper and aluminium. Scale this to millions of cars in the world and you’ve got yourself a frightening acidification potential.

“Across the other impacts considered in the analysis including potential for effects related to acid rain, airborne particulate matter, smog, human toxicity, ecosystem toxicity and depletion of fossil fuel and mineral resources, electric vehicles consistently perform worse or on par with modern internal combustion engine vehicles, despite virtually zero direct emissions during operation,” according to  co-author Prof Anders Hammer Stromman..

Electric cars are not that green after all

The researchers conclude that electric vehicles significantly pollute the environment before they even get a chance to hit the streets, and also once operation commences, they’re far from being completely emissions free since in most countries the electricity which is needed to power such automobiles is generated from fossil fuels. This is not to say that electric cars are more harmful to the environment than conventional vehicles.

The truth of the matter is, electric cars need to reach an operation threshold for them to become significantly superior to diesel or petrol powered cars, as well as supplying them with electricity generated from alternative, more environmental-friendly sources. The researchers estimate that for a life cycle of 200,000 km, electric cars improve on gas and diesel engines by around 28% and 19% respectively. At 100,000 km however its relative environmental impact is much larger, and shows an improvement of only  9% and 14%, compared to gas and diesel, respectively. If the electric car is powered from an area where the electric mix is more environmentally favorable, like in Europe, an extra 10% boost in favor of the electric car is gained.

As battery life is improved, and production is made more environmentally favorable, electric cars should experience a significant decrease in their carbon footprint. Now the take away of this study is not that electric cars are bad or, in extreme cases, worse than diesel or gas powered internal combustion engines, but that the zero emissions vehicle is a pure myth. Personally, even now despite its shortcomings, I honestly believe a massive shift towards electric needs to be made. Oil during the extraction process itself causes a lot of harm to the environment, without counting the social aspects of its exploitation (see wars), not to count the environmental impact it has during its actual combustion – that’s a whole different fish soup. Also, greenhouse emissions can be trapped at a coal plant, while emissions running rampant from an exhaust pipe from hundreds of millions of vehicles around the world can not. Wind, hydro and solar power sources are increasing their relative margin in the electricity production pie every year, albeit with slow progress, and anyone with an ounce of reason could see that oil is far from being a sustainable model – it needs to be dropped fast. But it’s oh-so profitable…

“A more significant reduction in global warming could potentially be achieved by increasing fuel efficiency or shifting from petrol to diesel,” the report said.

“If you are considering purchasing an electric vehicle for its environmental benefits, first check your electricity source and second look closely at the warranty on the batteries,” said Professor Stromman.

Findings were published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

Tianjin Eco City

China’s eco-city of the future hints towards its green turnaround

Tianjin Eco City

China is the most pollutant country in the world, and as it continues to develop industrially, one can only expect greenhouse gas emissions to grow as well. The country is taking steps towards its ecological rehabilitation, however. The first step was to acknowledge that it faces a dire problem, one whose consequences reverse on the entire world. One of the most interesting green projects China is currently involved in is centered around an experimental city, which incorporates smart and green technology extensively through out its whole infrastructure, but all applied with the characteristic Chinese sense of practicality.

China is home to some of the biggest and most modern cities in the world, however at the same time these massive urban centers area beacons of pollution – its streets filled with dust, its air filled with noxious fumes, smog so thick that sunlight can barely creep in. It’s very clear that China will become a wasteland in decades to come if something is not done about it. The Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco City, the world’s largest projected eco-city, is the nation’s hope towards the future of its urban centers.

Tianjin Eco City

Just an hour away by train from Beijing, and  just 10 minutes away from the business parks at the Tianjin Economic-Development Area, Tianjin Eco City is expected to house 350,000 people when completed. The city’s designed infrastructure is set to target all of the current major hurdles Chinese urban life is facing at the moment – permanent gridlock, a lack of water and ruinous electricity bills.

One of the biggest problem green cities face at the moment, besides the huge development cost compared to the conventional alternative, is the prerequisite of having an involved populace. Tianjin, isn’t glamorous by any means, and at first glance it looks just as gray and desolate as any Chinese city, however under the hood things are a lot greener – this without any kind of effort needed from its inhabitants’ part.

“Our eco-city is an experiment, but it is also practical,” said Wang Meng, the deputy director of construction. “There are over 100 eco-cities in the world now, and they are all different. If you look at the one in Abu Dhabi, they spent a huge amount of money and bought a lot of technology. It is very grand, but is it useful?”

Tianjin Eco City

Tianjin will be a huge urban experiment, probably the largest in the world. For instance, General Motors is using Tianjin to work out if electric driverless cars can function in a normal traffic system, and road-test the next generation of vehicles: small urban cars that drive themselves but are safe in an environment full of unpredictable drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. Other interesting green projects currently discussed and most likely to be implemented are low energy lighting systems from Philips or rubbish pins that automatically clean up themselves by sucking the trash though special ducts, developed by a Swedish company called Envac. Government-owned buildings will be powered by geothermal energy, have shutters that move with the light, in order to keep buildings cool, and heating systems that use solar energy.

The area on which Tianjin is currently being built is roughly half the size of Manhattan, but what’s interesting is that only three years ago it used to be huge desolate landscape, ruined by chemical pollution from the factories that border it. By using a special process, the Chinese authorities have managed to clean-up the site and hope to implement the same solution around other sites in the country – there are countless such sites through out China.

Tianjin Eco City

The city of Tianjin is projected to be completed by the end of the decade, after a projected investment of around 250 billion yuan (£25 billion), part of a joint financial and administrative collaboration between the Chinese and Singaporean governments. Currently, 60 families have already moved in. If successful, Tianjin might be the first of many green, yet cheap and practical, cities in China, quite possibly turning the country around ecologically.

via Telegraph

Congo River

First human induced climate change may have occured 3,500 years ago

Congo River

The Congo River

While there are still a lot of climate change skeptics out there that argue that the human influence exerted upon Earth’s climate is minimal, if not non-existent, a myriad of research studies tackling the subject would say otherwise. Fossil fuels usage yields the most greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, out of all other human-induced pollutant activities. As the industrial age boomed in the XIX so did the poisoning of the environment, spurred by a reckless and inconsiderate attitude towards the surroundings. We could argue that they didn’t know one bit what they were doing at the time or what would be the consequences of their actions, but even so in the last 50 years – a time when climate change and global warming awareness is rampant – we’ve witnessed the highest greenhouse gas emission levels in recorded history.

Where did we go wrong? Will we ever be able to ecologically repent and make up for our wrongs? Progress is being made in this direction, but just at a philosophical level, by the world’s governments, which are now fully aware of the impact of human intervention upon the climate, and thus upon their nations’ prosperity. In 2010, CO2 levels reach a record height, up 45% than in 1990.  It’s expected that 2011 will slightly overthrow the previous year, after scientists have enough data to make a pertinent study.

So where did this all begin? A new paper recently published in the journal Science, describes the researchers study of sediment cores from the mouth of the Congo River, the deepest river in the world, suggests that man might have played a major role in altering the Central African environment. Analysis showed that around 3,500 years ago the river suddenly began to dump a lot more muck, despite no change in rainfall. This is a typical effect caused by farming. The researchers hypothesize that this must have coincided with the arrival of the Bantu people in the region, who also introduced farming.

The Bantu grew oil palm, pearl millet and yams. These crops require plenty of sunlight to flourish, and naturally deforestation followed, which is today the second greenhouse gas inducing factor. Also, trees were cut down for fire, which allowed for the manufacturing of tools and weapons.

The Congo river flows through one of the world’s biggest and lush rainforests in the world, however, it’s intriguing how it also suddenly transits through the savannas as well. Scientists believe that a climate shift from warm and humid to seasonally cooler and drier lead to the creation of savannas, however sediment samples that hold critical geological record from the past 40,000 years state otherwise – see the muck deposits.

The intro to this study synthesis was a bit long, however I feel it was required to give context to this importing finding, in my opinion. Tracing back our steps from the very beginning, like in the case of a individual, helps us learn a great deal about ourselves, and what pushes us to do all sort of things. Education is the key to our survival and evolution.



Stop Climate Change

Man responsible for three quarters of climate change

Stop Climate Change A new independent study conducted by researchers from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, has concluded that natural climate variability is highly unlike to have contributed more than a quarter of the total dramatic temperature increase the Earth has faced since the 1950s. The study concludes that man made activities resulting in greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for at least 74% of the current global temperature rise.

Since 1950, the global air and surface temperature has risen by a net value of 0.5 degrees Celsius. Climate change skeptics, however, currently argue that this is a cyclic activity, one which nature goes through from time to time, and by no means anthropic induced. So, to separate natural temperature increase from artificial, man-made one, the scientists used a new model which looked at the balance of heat energy entering and leaving Earth.

The authors of the study, Knutti and his co-author Markus Huber, also at ETH Zurich, found that the main culprits are greenhouse gas emissions – carbon dioxide, in particular. For that matter CO2 levels in the atmosphere would’ve risen to great lengths since the dawn of the industrial times, were it not for the counter effect which generated cooling as a result of atmospheric aerosols such as black carbon.

The researchers made a simplified model of the Earth’s total energy budget, which they parsed through various parameters, like global values from solar radiation, solar energy leaving earth, heat absorbed by the oceans, climate-feedback effects and so on, and ran all of these thousands of times, using different combinations.

Knutti and Huber found that massive CO2 emissions contributed between 0.6-1.1 degrees C to the global warming effect we’re currently experiencing today, most likely value being 0.85 degree C, statistically speaking. Luckily, 0.45 degree C was offset by the cooling effects of aerosols. These directly influence Earth’s climate by scattering light; they also have indirect climate effects through their interactions with clouds.

So, with their climate model, the researchers came out with a value of 0.55 degree C temperature rise since the 1950s, wheres real measurements show that in the last 60 years the planet has warmed by 0.5 degree C. Very, very close, which enforces their claim.

Some climate skeptics believe solar radiation is to blame for the recent warming, however it was found to have contributed with only 0.07 degree C. How about the cyclic random variations in Earth climate? Well, the researchers re-run the model under some haywire paramenters, and found that even if climate variability were three times greater it would still be far from being able to account for this dramatic increase in temperature.

“This tightens estimates of past responses,” says Gabriele Hegerl, a climate scientist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, “And it should also lead to predictions of future climate change that are grounded in the kind of changes already being observed.”


The authors’ paper has been published in the latest issue of Nature Geoscience. Photo courtesy of WWF.

Antarctica ice-sheet

Ice sheets in Antarctica formed by massive fall in CO2

Antarctica ice-sheetAntarctica is the most the arid place on Earth. Its climate is so rough, so hazardous that no permanent human populace can live there, however just a few million years ago the harsh plains of the south and north poles had a subtropical climate – a paradise for life. During a transition period of just 100,000 years, a blink of an eye in geological timeline, the temperature went down dramatically and thus the same ice sheets that are in place today were formed. Scientists have been debating for some time what lead to this event, and now a new research shows that a massive fall in the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide is the true culprit.

The research shows CO2 level plunged by 40 percent before and during the formation of the ice sheet 34 million years ago, during the Eocene to Oligocene climate transition, when the first ice shards formed. Previously it was assumed that a change in ocean currents was the cause for the sudden drop in temperature, however this couldn’t be farther from the truth – quite the opposite. It is quite evident when the Southern Ocean currents and temperatures of that period – vastly different from today – are factored in, it becomes apparent that Antarctica’s big freeze followed a fall in CO2 levels.

“Our research recognised that the flows of deep ocean currents at the end of the Eocene were dramatically different from those of today because of the altered position and shape of continental masses,” says NSW Climate Change Research Centre researcher Dr Willem Sijp.

“Previous research relied on different temperature estimates and had also not taken these different currents into account. This decline was a critical condition for global cooling and the emergence of the Antarctic ice sheet. In short, the apparent increase of CO2 during Antarctic glaciation is refuted.”

The estimates in carbon dioxide levels millions of years ago were possible by analyzing  ancient algae remnants from deep-ocean sediments, in which they observed a change in their biochemical molecules that correspond with the sudden CO2 drop. The measurements where factored in with the ocean currents from that period.

The whole event signified a major tipping point in Earth’s climate. Imagine just that a few millions of years before the cooling, the southern and northern poles of the planet were warm and wet, inhabited by a luxuriant tropical vegetation and fauna. Today, the ice sheets of Antarctica are over one kilometers thick and exercise a fundamental influence across the whole globe, from impacting the circulation of cold and warm air masses to wind strength, precipitation patterns and variability in regional and global temperatures.

“The onset of Antarctic ice is the mother of all climate ‘tipping points,'” says Pagani. “Recognizing the primary role carbon dioxide change played in altering global climate is a fundamentally important observation.”

The research found that the tipping point in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels for cooling that initiates ice sheet formation is about 600 parts per million. At present day, we’re currently nearing 400 million parts per million, which is more than enough to keep the ice sheets in place for a lot of time to come, the researchers claim.

“The system is not linear and there may be a different threshold for melting the ice sheet, but if we continue on our current path of warming we will eventually reach that tipping point,” says Huber. “Of course after we cross that threshold it will still take many thousands of years to melt an ice sheet.”

This highly remarkable event from Earth’s recent history shows just how important greenhouse gases are on the climate.

The new findings were reported in the journal Science


Wheat field

Food demand to double by 2050, new study says

Wheat field

According to a new report released online by researchers of University of Minnesota, the world’s food demand is expected to double by 2050. To fill this need, the researchers argue that if one was to use inferior agricultural practices present in developing countries, then a land mass of  2.5 billion acres (1 billion hectares) would have to be cleared -roughly the size of the United States.

Because of these ever expanding clearings, greenhouse emissions are expected to grow at a directly proportional rate, especially when rainforest clearing is involved. In fact, it’s been shown that global agriculture is responsible for a third of the carbon emissions, according to David Tilman, Regents Professor of Ecology in the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations recently projected a 70 percent increase in demand. According to Tilman, either projection shows that the world faces major environmental problems unless agricultural practices change.

Besides the intake increase of carbon dioxide and nitrogen released into the atmosphere, habitat clearing means extinction for more and more species in the future, as well. The researchers’ solutions? Well, they suggest to improve crops yield through technology, which by their computations might limit the need to 500 million acres. Their second outlook is that developed countries should help the poor countries of the world feed themselves. Preferably a combination of the two would be ideal, however these don’t seem like very creative solutions at all.

Rich countries helping poor countries with food? This has been going for years and years, as foreign food aid has been delivered to poor countries in Africa and Asia, with little results. You can’t help a country feed itself, when its government doesn’t care about its people, which is sadly the case with most regimes in Africa for instance. I’ve heard countless reports of U.N. food supplies, actually, getting ransacked and then sold on the streets; see Somalia. It’s hard to teach someone how to fish when you don’t even have a rod. It’s a serious matter, with enormous deeply rooted social problems.

What about superimposed cultures? In the same manner you see parking lots save space by thinking altitude, instead of longitude, why not implement a similar system for crops? Sure, it won’t work for wheat or corn, but it will suffice for tomatoes or potatoes and so on. Inhabitat actually suggests the concept of urban agriculture, which implies building farm land on top of empty urban lots, on city rooftops and in community spaces. Heck, if a crisis situation should ensue I’d be glad to eat lab burgers.

The research was  published Nov. 21 online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

photo credit (c) Bloomberg.

CO2 levels reach record height – 45% larger than in 1990

Recent figures published in a report prepared by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency show that the world’s CO2 emissions have been steadily and significantly growing during the past two decades, reaching an all time peak  this past year. Carbon dioxide emissions, the main cause of global warming, rose 45 percent between 1990 and 2010, reaching an all-time high of 33 billion tonnes in 2010, says a report.

Though the global recession has helped dampen the increase of CO2 into the atmosphere, emissions are still in an upward trend, mainly because of the growth in developing countries and economic recovery in the industrialised world.

In the last twenty years, the commission reports, CO2 emissions in the European Union (EU) and Russia decreased by seven percent and 28 percent, respectively, while emissions in the US increased by five percent and Japan’s emissions remained more or less constant.  A record-breaking 5.8 percent increase in global CO2 emissions has been experienced between 2009 and 2010. China, the US and India were the worst offenders.

In 1990, a group of industrialized countries ratified a protocol in Kyoto in which they would strive to stabilize their CO2 emissions. Various measures have been employed since then, most notably in the energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors, and as a result CO2 emissions from these industrialized countries, which used to account for about two-thirds of global CO2 emissions, have now fallen to less than half the global total.

If you’re curious, power generation and road transportation are driving the increase, both in industrial and developing countries. Globally, they account for about 40 percent and 15 percent respectively of the current total.

Read the full report.

Global warming put on hiatus by deep ocean absorption

In the past decade global warming levels have remained stable, despite no significant improvements in green house emissions have been observed. A lot of explanations have been hypothesized by scientists as to why this is happening, offering various factors like aerosol deflection of radiation or soot absorption, however according to a recently released report by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), global warming has been put at a halt by deep oceans.

Despite the fact that satellite measurements show a discrepancy between incoming sunshine and outgoing radiation from Earth actually increased in the past years, variations in temperature in the air is insignificant. This has caused scientists to wonder where this missing heat has been going for all these years. Part of the study to pinpoint where the majority of this missing heating has been absorbed, scientists ran complicated computer simulations which eventually suggested that the heat’s to be found in ocean layers deeper than 1,000 feet. The computer models, which took into account complex interactions between the atmosphere, land, oceans and sea ice, predicted that temperatures would rise by several degrees during this century, but with hiatus periods interrupting the increase.

“We will see global warming go through hiatus periods in the future,” says NCAR’s Gerald Meehl, lead author of the study. “However, these periods would likely last only about a decade or so, and warming would then resume. This study illustrates one reason why global temperatures do not simply rise in a straight line.”

Shallow waters warmed substantially less, while deeper waters warmed by about 18 to 19 percent more during the hiatus periods.

“This study suggests the missing energy has indeed been buried in the ocean,” said Kevin Trenberth, a study author and NCAR scientist. “The heat has not disappeared and so it cannot be ignored. It must have consequences.”

During these hiatus periods, simulations showed that extra energy entered the oceans, with deeper layers absorbing a disproportionate amount of heat due to changes in oceanic circulation. A pattern has been observed as well: sea-surface temperatures decreased across the tropical Pacific, while increasing in the higher latitudes, during hiatus period. Interestingly enough the pattern very much resembles that of La Niña event.

The study is of particular importance since it shows that global warming is not actually decreasing, but gets absorbed by the world’s oceans, fact which certainly won’t be without consequences.

Pole to pole flights give grim image of greenhouse gases

A three year survey that comprised of research flights from the Arctic to the Antarctic comes to an end, successfully depicting greenhouse gases unlike ever before.

Greenhouse gases are gases that absorb and emit radiation within the thermal infrared range; they have a huge impact on our planet’s temperature, and any increase in the amount of greenhouse gases leads to global warming. However, they are pretty hard to track down and map, even though their effects are visible. The survey in cases, named the HIPPO project, was aimed at creating the first detailed map of the distribution of gases and particles that so greatly affect Earth’s planet.

“Tracking carbon dioxide and other gases with only surface measurements has been like snorkeling with a really foggy mask,” says Britton Stephens, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). “Finally, HIPPO is giving us a clear view of what’s really out there.”

The flights allowed researchers to study air samples at different latitudes and altitudes (from 500 to 45.000 feet); the flights were scheduled for different times of the year, in order to also see what role the seasonal effect plays. There were five missions which took the research team from Colorado to Alaska and the Arctic Circle, then south over the Pacific to New Zealand and near Antarctica.

Researchers wanted to see, among others, why the methane levels have tripled since the start of the Industrial Age; they also found that black carbon particles, caused by industrial plants, diesel engines and fires are much more widespread than previously believed.

“What we didn’t anticipate were the very high levels of black carbon we observed in plumes of air sweeping over the central Pacific toward the US West Coast,” says NOAA scientist Ryan Spackman. “Levels were comparable with those measured in megacities such as Houston or Los Angeles. This suggests that western Pacific sources of black carbon are significant and that atmospheric transport of the material is efficient.”

Researchers were also shocked to see much larger than expected quantities of nitrous oxide high in the tropical atmosphere, which play a significant role in thinning the ozone layer.