“The Arctic ice is back to normal.” Yeah, right.

This New Scientist video includes some rather spectacular images of a rapidly draining meltwater lake on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet. The three kilometre wide lake drained down through 1 km of ice in an hour and a half, at a rate similar to that of the water flowing over the Niagara Falls. Full story here, and more detail from NASA here. Meanwhile, RealClimate covers the factors driving the acceleration of Greenland’s outlet glaciers, the principle mechanism for getting large volumes of ice into the ocean. There’s some interesting stuff in the comments, too, particularly from a scientist (Tad Pfeiffer) working on establishing an upper limit to the contribution to global sea level rise likely from Greenland’s glaciers. Nature also has a very nice overview article on the state of research on the GIS, but unfortunately it’s hidden away behind a paywall.

Offshore in the high Canadian Arctic, Canadian Rangers have discovered large cracks are appearing in the Ward Hunt ice shelf, a large chunk of very old and thick ice on the northern coast of Ellesmere Island. The Arctic sea ice has now begun its spring melt back, and the National Snow & Ice Data Centre has posted a page to monitor this summer’s events. The time series graph of ice extent (here) compares current ice to last year’s record and the 79-2000 average. You can monitor ice area (a slightly different metric) at Cryosphere Today (here).

Down South, more results from the Andrill Project were presented at last week’s European Geophysical Union conference. Researchers now have a climate history for the continent stretching back 17 million years, and there are plans to drill a new core (starting in 2012) to take that back to 40 million years, when the continent started iceing up. Grab the Nature article before it disappears behind a paywall.

Tasman.jpgThis is the Tasman Glacier, near Mt Cook, from the lookout on the lateral moraine a couple of months ago (click for a larger version: pic ©GR). New fieldwork shows that the lake is now 7 km long, 2 km wide and – amazingly – 245 m deep. The results confirm that the presence of the lake effectively dooms the glacier to disappear – within 20 years, according to the research team from Massey University. Herald story here.

Weekend roundup #12 & #35

Thousands of diplomats are on the road to Bali to start the negotiations for a post-Kyoto emissions reductions deal. I’ll be posting more on that as the conference progresses, but in the meantime Brian Fallow provides some useful context in the Herald, and Liz Banas at Radio NZ National produces an excellent Focus On Politics on the conference (listen live at 5-10pm Saturday, podcast available). Meanwhile, the UN turned up the pressure by issuing its latest Human Development Report [PDF], which gives us only ten years to get down to serious action.

  • To get up to speed with cap and whatever, the US-based Tomales Bay Institute has issued a concise little report , Carbon Capping – A Citizen’s Guide, which gives a good overview of how carbon trading works [PDF]. Very US-centric, and not exactly highbrow, but very clear and with a great glossary (via desmogblog).
  • Oxfam issued a briefing paper, Climate Alarm: Disasters increase as climate change bites [PDF], which concludes that climate change is already increasing the number of disasters affecting communities around the world. “The total number of natural disasters worldwide now averages 400– 500 a year, up from an average of 125 in the early 1980s. The number of climate-related disasters, particularly floods and storms, is rising far faster than the number of geological disasters, such as earthquakes.” [BBC], Independent (UK)]
  • I’ve been getting quite a few hits after TV3 featured New Plymouth’s electric car builder Gavin Shoebridge, featured here a few months ago. Apparently his YouTube pages (First Run here) have had more than 100,000 hits. A bit more than HT. It seems we’re less sexy than his Tredia…
  • On the clean energy front, the Aotearoa Wave and Tidal Energy Association reckons that tidal and wave power could be producing electricity in NZ in five years, there are discussions in Europe about building a 8,000km DC power grid to link giant windfarms scattered around the continent (so that somewhere always has wind), and The Guardian reports on research into cheap solar photovoltaics using organic polymers.
  • The whinging by big emitters about the ETS continues: Fran O’Sullivan details complaints by Solid Energy and Air NZ chair John Palmer about the “lack of debate” and the rubbishing of the NZI’s Fast Follower report (who, me?), while John Pfahlert of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand is given space by the Herald to add to the noise. More sensibly, on the other side of the world, British business lobby group the CBI (not a notably left-wing organisation) has called for fundamental change in British business, and Prince Charles has whipped up a statement signed by many of the world’s largest corporates urging the Bali conference to take serious action. From the Herald: “Contrary to the argument that mandatory pollution cuts would harm the economy, the business leaders’ petition says ambitious emissions reductions would “create significant business opportunities“. [Update: Full communiqué available here.]
  • Fonterra has commissioned a report into its carbon footprint [Herald , Scoop], AgResearch is going to analyse the lifecycle carbon footprint for sheep meat, and MAF prepared a report [PDF] for the Primary Industries 2020 Summit, held in Christchurch this week, that warns: The drivers [of change] are global warming, climate change, and extreme weather; energy cost and supply; geopolitical power shifts, and international trade and investment; ecosystem degradation, and water quality and availability; demographic shifts; and technological advances.”
  • Meridian hopes to convert Stewart Island to 100% renewable energy, starting the process in January.
  • Further south, the Andrill project has been making rapid progress on another core from the seabed in McMurdo Sound. By now they should have a 1,100m core to set alongside last year’s 1,285m core – 20 million years of climate information drilled from the seabed.

Clearing the decks

A few quick links before I post on the government’s just announced energy strategy: cleaning out the tabs in my web browser…

  • Professor Graham Harris of the University of Tasmania addresses the issues I raised in my “ecological overdraft” post a few days ago, in Sleepwalking Into Danger – an article for ScienceAlert: “It is time to admit how little we know and face the risks of planetary degradation – this goes way beyond climate change. Biodiversity isn’t just birds, primates and whales; it is planetary function and resilience.”
  • The Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds is planning [Guardian, BBC] to allow the sea to reclaim 728 hectares of coastal land in the Essex marshes on Britain’s east coast to restore habitat for wildlife – and as a pragmatic adaptation to rising sea levels. Could we see the same sort of thing here?
  • The Andrill project – a sea floor drilling effort under the Ross Ice Shelf involving NZ and US scientists – is using nifty Apple computers, so Apple has posted an interesting perspective on the work being done. New drilling season starts soon.
  • Brian Fallow in the Herald takes a look at the cost of carbon in the new ETS and speculates about ongoing impacts on the government’s accounts.
  • Carbon emissions from shipping may be much higher than previously thought, according to The Independent (UK).
  • German solar power company Conergy is planning a 500 turbine windfarm near Broken Hill in New South Wales. Meanwhile, BusinessWeek (US) profiles entrepreneur John O’Donnell, who has bought into Aussie scientist David Mills solar thermal designs, and plans to build a lot of generation at costs competitive with coal. With Silicon Valley money, and soon.
  • The Dominion Post digs up some advice to government on dealing with “environmental refugees”. NZ will probably want to help small Pacific nations, but refugees from the Asian megadeltas might be another matter.