A season of shipping milestones is ending in the Arctic. Climate change has ushered in a new era of far north transit, focused on extraction of energy stores.
Offshore wind farms could produce abundant clean energy close to coastal population centers. To critics, however, the towering turbines are unsightly and expensive.
Green Quiz: Holiday Spending
A. $320 million
B. $750 million
C. $3 billion
D. $12 billion
Be one of the first three responders to email the correct answer to firstname.lastname@example.org and you'll win a green prize from EarthShare.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) announced on Dec. 3 that he will introduce a bill this month to designate central Colorado’s Browns Canyon as a national monument, with nearly half of that newly-protected land to be set aside as wilderness.
Weathering the Storm: Building Resilience
During Hurricane Sandy when the Atlantic coast was getting blasted with wind, rain and extensive power outages, the campus of Princeton University disengaged from the failed regional electric grid and seamlessly continued providing heat and power through its on-campus power plant.
In the middle of a crisis, the university proved to be resilient to the shock of a severe weather event.
Princeton University wasn’t the only entity to weather the storm. While over 8 million people experienced power outages during and following Sandy, some communities, hospitals and buildings kept the lights on because they had access to combined heat and power (CHP) systems, also known as co-generation. These highly efficient power plants don’t need to rely on the grid, an advantage that becomes especially apparent during severe weather events.
CHP plants are just one tool that communities around the country are using to remain resilient in the face of climate change.
While some politicians at the national level still debate the existence of climate change, local leaders are battening down the hatches for an unpredictable future they know is coming. This summer, over 100 mayors from across the US signed the Resilient Communities for America Agreement. These signatories are taking tangible steps to ensure their communities are protected from climate impacts.
Steps like installing permeable pavement to prevent flooding in Debuque, IA, a city that spent almost $10 million after a flash flood in 2011. Or planting trees in Grand Rapids, MI to counter the heat island effect and shield residents from more frequent heat waves.
El Paso, TX has seen a lot of weird weather in the last decade including costly record floods and cold snaps. These events strain infrastructure like water treatment plants and gas lines. Former Mayor John Cook oversaw the city’s shift to more efficient buildings, mass transit improvements, and renewable energy.
Cities are setting renewable energy and emissions reduction targets that not only reduce local reliance on fossil fuels, but slow the pace of climate change by preventing heat-trapping greenhouse gases from reaching the atmosphere in the first place. The World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour City Challenge is one program working to help cities with their energy goals.
Renewable energy is more than just a sustainability showpiece. In tough times, it can step in where other power sources can’t. After Hurricane Sandy when gas supplies were strained, portable solar generators helped with the cleanup process by powering tools, electronics, fans and more.
Renewable energy was also deployed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to help residents of the hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward save money on energy and reduce vulnerability from future storms.
If this decade’s major weather events have shown us anything, it’s that our conventional infrastructure is not capable of keeping society humming when shocks happen. But communities are slowly learning be nimble and self-sufficient. That the innovative solutions deployed during and after extreme events happen to be sustainable, too, is no coincidence.
Adaptation Clearinghouse, Georgetown University
Can Electricity Grids Withstand The Next Superstorm?, CleanTechnica
The Barents Sea, an Arctic shelf area north of Norway and Russia, is among the world’s richest fishing grounds, and its fish population is changing as the waters warm. Interest from the oil industry is increasing as well, setting up potential conflicts between oil exploration and fisheries. (See related interactive map: The Changing Arctic.
The Barents is home to the world’s largest stock of cod, with a sustainable catch of about 1 million tonnes (valued at about $2 billion) both for 2013 and 2014. This stock has increased considerably in recent years, both due to favorable environmental conditions and sensible management. Management of the fish resources in the Barents Sea has since 1976 been carried out through the Joint Norwegian-Russian Fisheries Commission. This joint management regime is generally considered to be successful, as most fish stocks in this area are now in a healthy state.
The Arctic: The Science of Change
Learn more about the issues surrounding a changing region.
In recent years, annual surveys conducted jointly by Norway and Russia have shown that cod are moving farther north and east than ever before*. These are stray individuals, but the main cod concentrations have also moved northwards in a similar way.
The northward migration of cod is a feeding migration: The cod follows its main prey, capelin—a small salmonid fish—and is able to follow it farther because of an increase in sea temperatures and decrease in ice cover. Cod is, however, not likely to cross the shelf-break and move further north into the deep Polar Ocean, as it is rarely found at depths larger than about 500 meters (1,640 feet). (Vote and comment: “Arctic Activity Is Ramping Up. What Do We Need to Know More About?“)
The conflict between the energy and fishing industries takes place especially in the spawning and nursery areas for fish. So far, the areas close to the main cod spawning grounds in Lofoten/Vesterålen have not been opened to oil exploration, but this has been a hot issue in Norwegian politics for several years.
So far, the recent changes to fish patterns are mostly occurring within feeding grounds: spawning areas and the general migration patterns between spawning, feeding and wintering areas are much more resistant to changes, both in the Barents Sea and elsewhere. Cod and most other major Barents Sea stocks spawn off the coast of Northern Norway, and so far, changes in spawning areas have been minor.
A considerable part of the fishery industry is at or near the spawning grounds, and due to fuel costs, and weather conditions, it is not likely that the fishing areas will change as much as the distribution of fish during the feeding migrations. The division of the quotas for cod and other major fish stocks in the Barents Sea between Norway and Russia has remained unchanged since the 1970s, despite variations in geographical distribution, so it would take a major change in distribution to re-open this issue.
Another stock which has expanded its geographical range northwards in recent years is the mackerel. This species prefers more temperate waters than do cod, but it has in recent years extended its range to the northwest and northeast, and is now found from the Bay of Biscay in the south to the east coast of Greenland in the northwest and the southern Barents Sea in the northeast. Mackerel was this year found in the Norwegian Sea as far north as 75° N.
The reasons for the northward expansion are the same as for cod – increased temperature (particularly in the surface layers where the mackerel is found) and increased stock size. Management of mackerel has proved more difficult than for cod, as the parties involved (The European Union, Norway, Faroes, and Iceland) have not reached an agreement on how to divide the catch quota between them. The stock has, however, so far been able to cope with catches higher than what is advised by the scientists. (Take the quiz: What You Don’t Know About Energy in the Changing Arctic.)
In the Barents Sea and other northern waters, such as those around Iceland and Greenland, there are large areas where fishing has been almost the only offshore activity going on, but where oil exploration could be moving in. As the fish stock changes along with the climate, these very rich fishing grounds will need continued monitoring and cooperation between fisheries and other industries seeking to enter the region.
* In 2012, cod was found as far north as 82° 30’ N 56° E (north of Franz Josef Land) and in 2013, as far east as 78° 30’ N 79° 30’ E (in the northern Kara Sea – and at the same longitude as India!).
The holiday season can invite a number of agonizing decisions, many of which have an impact on our environment. Perhaps the most confusing of all of them is around what some also consider to be the most prized tradition of the holidays: the tree.