Heat and Temperature
Two separate reports on the future of the Middle East suggest the region could someday soon be 100% renewable in its energy sources, and 100% uninhabitable due to climate change.
“The major oil-producing countries that call the Middle East and North Africa region home could make use of abundant renewable energy resources and transition to a fully renewable energy system in the coming decades,” CleanTechnica reports. But “new evidence is deepening scientific fears, advanced few years ago, that the Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, as accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years,” the Inter Press news service warns.
According to a study by Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT), Iran could complete a renewable energy transition by 2030, while the rest of the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region “could make use of the abundant and various renewable energy resources available to them and develop a lucrative system in less than two decades,” writes CleanTechnica’s Joshua S. Hill. “In fact, the researchers determined that a fully renewable electricity system is approximately 50% to 60% cheaper than other emission-free energy options” across the region.
“The low-cost renewable electricity system is a driver for growing standards of living, continued economic growth, in particular also for energy-intensive products, and finally, more peace,” said LUT Professor Christian Breyer.
“The picture that emerges from the study is that the fossil fuel industry can transform its business to meet the COP21 target of a net zero emission energy system,” he added. “This requires fundamental change in how we think about carbon, but it could potentially open major new business opportunities.”
But if climate change continues unabated, Inter Press says there may be no one living in the Middle East to enjoy the change.
“The region’s fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world, and are expected to fall over 50% by 2050,” the news agency reports, citing the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. “Moreover, 90% of the total land in the region lies within arid, semi/arid and dry sub/humid areas, while 45% of the total agricultural area is exposed to salinity, soil nutrient depletion, and wind water erosion.” Agriculture consumes about 85% of the water available in the region, more than 60% of which “flows from outside national and regional boundaries.”
The situation prompted FAO Director General José Graziano de Silva to declare water access a “fundamental need for food security, human health, and agriculture”, adding that “looming water scarcity in the North Africa and Middle East region is a challenge requiring an urgent and massive response.”
Inter Press cites several recent studies on the Middle East climate crisis, including an MIT report that predicted a high enough heat index to make the region uninhabitable by 2100 unless climate change is brought under control.
The ocean current that keeps England warmer than southern Labrador, at the same latitude, is at much greater risk of slowing down or stopping than researchers previously thought, climatologists there and in France have concluded.
“For thousands of years, parts of northwest Europe have enjoyed a climate about 5ºC warmer than many other regions on the same latitude,” The Guardian writes, thanks to the “meridional overturning circulation (MOC), sometimes known also as the thermohaline circulation, which is the phenomenon behind the more familiar Gulf Stream that carries warmth from Florida to European shores. If it did slow, that could lead to a dramatic, unprecedented disruption of the climate system.”
Climatologists “now say there is an almost 50% chance that a key area of the North Atlantic could cool suddenly and rapidly, within the space of a decade, before the end of this century.” the paper writes, “much sooner and much faster than thought possible.” That cooling could short-circuit the meridional overturning circulation, cutting off the loop that flows past the British Isles.
Researchers from the University of Bordeaux and the University of Southampton analysed 40 climate models behind the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report. Their findings, “in sharp contrast to the IPCC, put the probability of rapid North Atlantic cooling during this century at almost an even chance—nearly 50%.” Sea core records in several places have revealed that regional climates have shifted abruptly and dramatically, over time scales of a little more than a decade, in the past
The United States recorded 736 record high temperatures last week and zero record lows, ending a 22-day period that saw the country set or tie nearly 5,000 record highs and only 42 record lows.
Mashable casts the “lopsided ratio of daily record highs to daily record lows” as “a key indicator of short-term weather variability and, over the longer term, human-caused climate change.”
While “transient weather variability is playing a key role here, the widespread record warmth across the U.S. so far this year is part of a long-term trend toward more warm temperature records versus cold ones,” writes Senior Editor Andrew Freedman.
And on a more gut level, “there’s something about a warm February day that reminds you that something just isn’t right. It gives you that nagging feeling that maybe global warming is real, after all.”
Freedman attributes individual warm days to jet stream patterns that have dumped 500 inches of snow on California’s mountains, while cutting off the flow of cold Arctic air across other parts of the U.S. and North America. But “it’s not the daily records that are most impressive, but rather the number of monthly records that are being tied or broken from the Gulf Coast all the way to the Midwest and northeastward into Canada,” he notes. 736 of them, to be exact, through February 22.
“Even more startling is the number of record warm overnight temperatures set or tied in the past seven days, which total a whopping 940,” against zero record lows. The U.S. National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI) in Asheville, NC also reported 336 monthly highs set or tied, along with 203 records for warmest overnight midnight temperature, over the 22-day span.
“The warm weather in the U.S. hasn’t been a freak phenomenon only occurring for the past few weeks, either,” Mashable notes. “The year-to-date is averaging a record daily highs to record daily lows ratio of more than 4:1, and studies have shown that over the past several decades, human-caused global warming has increased the odds of warm temperature records so that these ratios are becoming more and more skewed.” If not for climate change, the long-term ratio would be in the range of 1:1, and the trend is reflected across the globe.
“This week has been an up-close look at the DNA of what we are seeing in the big picture: relative to historical norms, extreme heat continues to outpace extreme cold across almost every place, season, and time of day in the USA,” said NCEI climate modelling head Deke Arndt. “One thing I remind myself when comparing contemporary events to trends or patterns is that the contemporary events themselves make up the trends and patterns.”
UPDATE: The immediate crisis in New South Wales was averted when the Australian Energy Market Operator directed the 250-MW Pelican Point gas plant to be switched on, RenewEconomy reported this morning.
Beginning around 4 PM local time today, an extraordinary summer heat wave was expected to bring rolling blackouts to the coal-dependent Australian state of New South Wales, with temperatures up to 45°C in the suburbs of Sydney producing more electricity demand than the system can supply.
An earlier round of blackouts last Sunday, affecting 40,000 people for up to 45 minutes, led to arguments back and forth about the factors behind the failure, RenewEconomy reports. Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg attributed the blackouts to low wind output and a failed “gamble” on renewables, leading Treasurer Scott Morrison to brandish a lump of coal during legislative questioning. But South Australia Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis blamed the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) for failing to activate the 250-MW Pelican Point natural gas unit in time to meet the peak load, despite three days’ notice of the potential mismatch between demand and supply.
“The events—their impact on a high renewables state like South Australia and a coal-reliant state such as NSW—underline the shocking state of Australia’s energy policy,” write veteran energy reporters Giles Parkinson and Sophie Vorrath. “While Frydenberg jumped into the gutter, and refused to answer questions why the AEMO did not use its powers to ensure Pelican Point was operating, the more reasonable approach would have been to underline the need for a smarter grid rather than dumb politics.”
A livid tongue of red, representing unseasonably warm air, licking repeatedly over an outline map of the Arctic Ocean in computerized weather visualizations for the week ahead, dramatizes a polar climate trend that scientists are describing as “beyond even the extreme,” Brian Kahn reports for Climate Central.
The animated weather visualization, compiled at the University of Maine, is embedded in Kahn’s post, which traces a succession of dramatic recent milestones in the Arctic’s climate.
“Sea ice hit a record low maximum last winter (for the second year in a row, no less), and the second-lowest minimum ever recorded last fall,” Kahn writes. “After a fairly rapid refreeze in late September, sea ice growth reversed in November. Temperatures reached the melting point at the North Pole in December. Preliminary data from January indicates the Arctic was up to 35°F above normal in some locations.”
Now, a hurricane-strength low-pressure system southeast of Greenland is pushing up waves as high as 14 metres and driving counter-clockwise winds that are sending a stream of relatively warm southern air into the Arctic Ocean basin. “Temperatures are forecast to reach the melting point in Svalbard, Norway, an island between the Greenland and Karas Seas,” he notes. “The North Pole could also approach the melting point [again] on Thursday.”
“Together, these all indicate that the Arctic is in crisis,” Kahn concludes. “It’s the most dramatic example of how carbon pollution is reshaping the planet, and scientists are racing to understand what comes next.”
The most alarming of those “coming next” possibilities, researchers warn, is the weakening and potential eventual shutdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). The vast ocean current (the Gulf Stream is a part of it) transports huge amounts of heat from equatorial latitudes to northern ones, giving the British Isles their moderate climate, among other benefits.