Archive for the ‘Planet Earth’ Category

Joe Farman (left), with Brian Gardiner and Jon Shanklin, discovers of the depletion of the ozone layer

Joe Farman (left), with Brian Gardiner and Jon Shanklin, discovers of the depletion of the ozone layer

Joe Farman died in Cambridge on 11 May 2013. His name is unknown to most people. He was a British physicist who along with fellow researchers, Brian Gardiner and Jon Shanklin, caused a sensation when they published their findings in Nature in May 1985 revealing that the levels of ozone above the Antarctic had fallen by about 40% between 1975 and 1984. This had caused a very large hole  (more correctly a reduction in the concentration of ozone) to appear in the ozone layer, a thin layer in the earth’s stratosphere which absorbs virtually all the ultraviolet rays from the sun which are harmful to life.

The hypothesis of ozone depletion had been put forward in the 1970s but had been dismissed by NASA scientists after satellites failed to substantiate the loss. Since 1957, Farman and his colleagues had been looking at atmospheric data collected by the British Antarctic Survey station at Halley Bay, Antarctica, using old-fashioned devices like weather balloons and a Dobson meter, a rudimentary ozone measuring machine that had to be wrapped in a duvet to work properly. At first the figures were questioned, even by the team. Perhaps the discrepancy was just above Halley Bay? Measurements were taken 1,000 miles further north, but these showed the same result? Why had NASA’s satellites not picked up the anomaly. Much later and to NASA’s embarrassment, the data had been collected by the satellites but had been overlooked.

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Financial markets are gambling trillions of dollars on a bet that governments will never seriously curb carbon emissions say Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark in The Burning Question: We can’t burn half the world’s oil, coal, and gas, so how do we quit? published by Profile. Why do they claim this? Because to address climate change would mean leaving most of the remaining fossil fuels in the ground. But that would mean the future value of the fossil-fuel energy companies falling to a fraction of their current market valuation. In any event, sudden action forced on governments by a period of catastrophic climate change and food shortages would cause the collapse of the energy industry, far greater than the banking crash of 2008. Something will have to give.

The authors explain the maths very well. CO2 in the atmosphere has now reached 400 parts per million from 280 ppm in pre-industrial times. The switch to renewable energy has so far had no impact upon global carbon emissions (since this book’s publication, figures released for carbon emissions show that in the UK, emissions went up by 3% in 2012, the highest in Europe). What is the amount of fossil fuels we can safely burn to stay within the agreed 2 degree C rise in average surface temperatures above which the lives of millions of people are a risk. The answer is 565 gigatonnes of CO2 by 2050. But established reserves of fossil fuel are 2,795 gigatonnes, and the 565 gigatonne emission limit will be hit by 2030.

Areas of the UK with potential shale gas

Areas of the UK with potential shale gas

And this does not allow for the dramatic increase in potential shale gas fields world-wide. In the UK, estimates of reserves of shale gas are continually being revised upwards, with claims that just the fields in the north of Englad could meet UK energy needs for five years. In the USA, the extraction of shale gas is welcomed, it is cheaper and it is the solution to their dependency on imported oil from dictatorial regimes. So it’s carry on as normal. (more…)

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