2018 Nobel Prize for climate change and innovation

Nobel Prize for climate change studies

Climate change Two U.S. economists, William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, have received the 2018 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for their efforts to untangle the economics of climate change and technological innovations.

They significantly broadened the scope of economic analysis by constructing models that explain how the market economy interacts with nature and knowledge.

Nordhaus, of Yale University, developed two computer simulations that weigh the costs and benefits of taking various steps to slow global warming. He has argued for taxes on the carboncontent of fuels as an effective way to get businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Romer, of New York University, expanded economic theory by arguing that government policies, such as funding for research and development, can stimulate technological advances.The presence or absence of such policies helps to explain national differences in wealth and economic growth, in Romer’s view.

Romer’s ideas about policy making and technological innovation, first published in 1990, inspired a school of research that examines how business regulations and policies lead to new ideas and economic growth. (Science News)

Third storm in the Arabian Sea in 2018

Third storm in the Arabian Sea in 2018

The natural-colour image of cyclone Luban in the early afternoon of 11 October, 2018 when it was centred about 400 km southeast of Salah, Oman, and moving westward at just 4km/hr. per hour). Winds are 120kph and maximum wave heights are 8m.

Forecasters predict that Luban will make landfall in Yemen as a tropical storm on October 13 or 14.

The region is a major crossroads for ships passing from the Atlantic and Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean by way of the Suez Canal and Strait of Hormuz.

Twelve cyclones have formed in the region since 2010, but very few reach the Arabian Peninsula at cyclone strength; they usually weaken to tropical storms as dry desert air and wind shear sap their energy.

Some atmospheric scientists argue that increasing air pollution—particularly an increase in aerosols—over the northern Indian Ocean has likely reduced vertical wind shear, a phenomenon that could alter monsoon weather patterns and allow more cyclones to form. (NASA)

Hold us back from climate catastrophe

Hold us back from climatic disaster

In its latest report released on 8 October IPCC states that carbon emissions have to be reduced by at least 49% of 2017 levels by 2030 and then achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 to meet this target of 1.5°C rise.

Limiting global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels would require enormous effort from governments, industries and societies.

But even though the world has already warmed by 1 °C, humanity has 10–30 more years than scientists previously thought in which to inculcate the carbon habit.

The world is on track for around 3 degrees of warming by the end of the century if it doesn’t make major reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. It could breach 1.5 °C sometime between 2030 and 2052 if global warming continues at its current rate.

With 1.5 °C of warming there is “high confidence” that would be a greater number of severe heat waves on land, especially in the tropics. With “medium confidence”, there will be more extreme storms in areas such as high-elevation regions, eastern Asia and eastern North America.

The risk of such severe weather would be even greater in a 2 °C world. Temperatures on extreme hot days in mid-latitudes could increase by 3 °C with 1.5 °C of global warming, versus 4 °C in a 2 °C world.

Two degrees of warming could destroy ecosystems on around 13% of the world’s land area, increasing the risk of extinction for many insects, plants and animals. Holding warming to 1.5 °C would reduce that risk by half.

The Arctic could experience ice-free summers once every decade or two in a 2 °C world, versus once in a century at 1.5 °C. Coral reefs would almost entirely disappear with 2 degrees of warming, with just 10–30% of existing reefs surviving at 1.5 °C.

Measures include increase in installation of renewable energy systems such as wind and solar power to provide 70–85% of the world’s electricity by 2050, and expanding forests and carbon sequestration to increase their capacity to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Other proposed options involve changing lifestyles: eating less meat, riding bicycles and flying less.

Testing space elevators

Space elevators

A pair of tiny satellites will help test technology for a space elevator. Scientists have dreamed of space elevators since the late 1800s, but the technology is still the stuff of science fiction.

STARS-Me (or Space Tethered Autonomous Robotic Satellite – Mini elevator) built by Japan, comprised of two 10-cm cubic satellites connected by a 10-m long tether.

A small robot representing an elevator car, about 3 cm across and 6 cm tall, will move up and down the cable using a motor as the experiment floats in space.

A full-scale space elevator, if ever built, might use a similar setup to ferry astronauts and cargo from Earth to orbit much more cheaply and efficiently than rocket launches.

The design involves a 96,000-kilometer-long, carbon-nanotube cable attached to a floating “Earth Port” in the ocean on one end and a space station on the other.

Pictures and rocks from asteroid Ryugu


Pictures and rock samples from asteroid Ryugu

Japan's space agency (JAXA) has made history by successfully landing two robotic explorers on the surface of asteroid Ryugu (Picture). The picture was taken by one of the rovers on the asteroid's surface (Picture). The white area on the right is due to sunlight.

The two small "rovers", will move around the 1km-wide space rock known as Ryugu. The asteroid's low gravity means they can hop across it, capturing temperatures and images of the surface. The satellite reached the asteroid Ryugu in June 2018 after a three-and-a-half-year journey.

While the European Space Agency had previously managed to land on an icy comet, this is the first spacecraft to place robot rovers on the surface of an asteroid.

Asteroids are essentially leftover building materials from the formation of the Solar System 4.6 billion years ago. Ryugu is a particularly primitive variety, and studying it could shed light on the origin and evolution of our own planet.

Ryugu's surface is rougher-than-expected surface. The 1kg rovers are equipped with wide-angle and stereo cameras to send back pictures. Spine-like projections will measure surface temperatures on the asteroid.

On 3 October 2018, the mothership will deploy a lander called Mascot and in late October, Hayabusa-2 will descend to the surface of Ryugu to collect a sample of rock and soil.

Later on an explosive charge will be detonated that will punch a crater into the surface of Ryugu. Fresh rocks will be collected that have not been altered by aeons of exposure to the environment of space. These samples will be sent to Earth for laboratory studies.

The spacecraft will leave Ryugu in December 2019 and return to Earth with the asteroid samples in 2020.

Clean air - a universal human right

Clean air – a universal human right

Air pollution was once celebrated as a smell of
prosperity but the filthy air is now seen as a global disgrace. But a change in
mind set about air does little to actually clean it. 


More than four million people still die each year          
from exposure to polluted outside air — a situation perpetuated by urbanization
and regulatory impotence. 


Nine out of ten people live in places where air
pollution exceeds WHO guidelines. While actions are underway in many countries,
fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide from vehicular traffic, energy
production, industry and heating remain a serious public-health risk in most
built-up areas.
Hotspots are congested urban areas in low- and
middle-income countries such as India, Nigeria and China. In Europe, in spite
of action underway in many countries to reduce pollution, most have made little
or no progress over the last decade in reducing particulate matter pollution or
in reducing nitrogen dioxide levels. Although emissions of air pollutants have
been decreasing overall, most EU member states still do not fully comply with
stringent EU air-quality standards set up in 2008.
 Effectively tackling the causes and effects of
air pollution requires a more joined-up approach. Air-quality regulations in
the EU, for example, must be taken into account more fully when setting
policies on climate, transport, enterprise, trade and innovation. 
Science, too, can do more to mitigate health
risks from poor air quality. It is important to unpick how different types and
levels of pollution affect human health. The epidemiological research needed to
do that requires more-consistent methodologies to monitor and report pollution
and human exposure to it.
Scientists can also help to develop and provide
well-tested modelling tools that local authorities can use to improve
assessments of their specific circumstances, and to design action plans. 
The results of this environmental science should
be shared with countries worldwide. About half of city dwellers in developed
nations are exposed to air that does not meet WHO guidelines. In cities of more
than 100,000 people in the developing world, that figure rises to include
almost everybody (97%). India alone has nine of the world’s ten most-polluted
Air is a shared resource. Research and tools to
make it safe to breathe should be shared as well. (Nature)





Removing carbon from atmosphere

Keeping global warming below 2°C

Expanding forests, restoring existing forests and managing forests can help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have emitted more than 2,000 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (A gigatonne is one billion tonnes.)

If nothing changes, climate impacts such as forest fires, stifling heat waves and damaging sea level rise will only continue to intensify. The imperative for combatting climate change is to dramatically curb emissions—for example, by ramping up renewable energy, boosting energy efficiency, halting deforestation and curbing super pollutants like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

To keep global temperature rise to less than 1.5-2 degrees C, some scientists believe that we need to not only reduce emissions, but also to remove some carbon from the atmosphere estimated at billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide annually by mid-century.

Graphics of carbon removal

Here are six options for removing carbon from the atmosphere:

1.       Forests

Photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide naturally—and trees are especially good at storing carbon removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis. Expanding forests, restoring existing forests and managing forests will store carbon in wood and soils.

However, reforesting farmland would reduce the supply of food. Restoring land outside of farmland and managing existing forests are important.

2.       Farms

Soils naturally store carbon, but agricultural soils are running a big deficit due to intensive use. Building soil carbon is good for farmers and ranchers, as it can increase soil health and crop yields. Integrating trees on farms can also remove carbon while providing other benefits like shade and forage for livestock.

There are many ways to increase carbon in soils - planting cover crops, sequestering about half a metric tonne of CO2per acre per year and compost making

3.       Bio-energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)

BECCS is another way to use photosynthesis to combat climate change. It is the process of using biomass for energy in the industrial, power or transportation sectors; capturing the embodied carbon before it is released back to the atmosphere; and then storing it either underground or in long-lived products like concrete.

If BECCS relies on bioenergy crops, it could displace food production or natural ecosystems, erasing the apparent climate benefits and exacerbating food insecurity and ecosystem loss.

4.        Direct Air Capture

Direct air capture is the process of chemically scrubbing carbon dioxide directly from the ambient air, and then storing it either underground or in long-lived products. The technology remains costly and energy-intensive. One estimate is that it would cost about $94-$232 per tonne.

Direct air capture also requires substantial power inputs. The technology need further development and would need to be powered by low- or zero-carbon energy sources to result in net carbon removal.

5.       Seawater Capture

Seawater capture is akin to direct air capture, except CO2 is extracted from seawater instead of air. By reducing CO2 concentration in the ocean, the water then draws in more carbon from the air to regain balance. Seawater capture will have to grapple with the added complexities of technology deployment in harsh maritime environments.

6.       Enhanced Weathering

Some minerals naturally react with CO2, turning carbon from a gas into a solid. The process is commonly referred to as “weathering,” and it typically happens very slowly—on a geological timescale. But scientists are figuring out how to speed up the process, especially by enhancing the exposure of these minerals to CO2 in the air or ocean.

The Future of Carbon Removal

We don’t know today which of these strategies can provide the most large-scale carbon removal in the future, and which may ultimately prove less useful. Each approach offers both promise and challenges. (WRI)


New Climate Action


Global Commission on the Economy and Climate finds that bold climate action could deliver at least US$26 trillion in economic benefits through to 2030, compared with business-as-usual.

The tremendous technological and market progress over the last decade is driving the shift to a new climate economy. Real benefits include new jobs, economic savings, competitiveness and market opportunities, and improved wellbeing for people worldwide. Momentum is building behind this shift by a wide range of cities, governments, businesses, investors and others around the world, but it is not yet fast enough.

The Report highlights opportunities in five key economic systems – energy, cities, food and land use, water, and industry that could deliver net economic gains compared with business-as-usual.. 

“We can now see that this new growth story embodies very powerful dynamics: innovation, learning-by-doing, and economies of scale. Further, it offers us the very attractive combination of cities where we can move, breathe, and be productive; sustainable infrastructure that is not only clean and efficient, but also withstands increasingly frequent and severe climate extremes; and ecosystems that are more productive, robust, and resilient,” said Lord Nicholas Stern and Co-Chair of the Global Commission.

The Global Commission calls on governments, business, and finance leaders to urgently prioritise actions on four fronts over the next 2-3 years:

·  Ramp up efforts on carbon  pricing and move to mandatory disclosure of climate-related financial risks

·  Accelerate investment in sustainable infrastructure 

·  Harness the power of the private sector and unleash innovation 

·  Build a people-centred approach that shares the gains equitably and ensures that the transition is just. 

Read the report at www.newclimateeconomy.report/2018/

Indian Ocean key in pause in global warming?


In its 2013 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had reported that the rate of warming was less in the latest 15 years than it was in the previous 30 to 60 years. The apparent pause in global warming might have been a temporary mirage, according to recent NOAA analysis.

Researchers using global data have found that average temperatures have continued to rise throughout the first part of the 21st century. They used data from a correction to ocean-temperature readings, to account for differences in measurements from ships and buoys as well as new land-based monitoring stations that extend into the Arctic — an area where observations are sparse. The updated NOAA dataset also includes observations from 2013 and 2014; the latter ranked as the warmest year on record. The analysis follows a series of papers that sought to explain why global temperatures seemed to level off around the turn of the millennium.

The research has confirmed that there was no true ‘pause’ or ‘hiatus’ in warming.

Climate models used by the IPCC still project warming to continue, but scientists have documented various factors for which the models have not accounted, resulting in suppressed temperatures. These contributors include weak solar irradiation, volcanic aerosols that block sunlight and ocean circulation. (Nature)


Upper ocean may be storing heat, giving atmosphere a break. Scientists have long suspected that oceans have played a crucial role in the so-called warming hiatus by storing heat trapped in the atmosphere by rising levels of greenhouse gases. But pinpointing exactly which ocean acts as a global air conditioner has proved challenging.

The Indian Ocean may explain the puzzling pause in global warming. A study finds that the Indian Ocean may hold more than 70% of all heat absorbed by the upper ocean in the past decade.

Prior research suggested that a significant amount of heat moves from the atmosphere into the Pacific Ocean, where La Niña-like conditions have dominated since the turn of the century.

As a result, wind patterns and ocean currents have increased the drawdown of warm surface waters in the subtropics. This process and others enhance ocean heat uptake. Scientists could not find the extra heat beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean. In fact the upper 700 metres of the Pacific have actually cooled in recent years.


Using computer models, scientists found that easterly trade winds have strengthened during the hiatus, causing warm water to pile up in the western Pacific. The water seeps between the islands of Indonesia and into the Indian Ocean, through the Makassar Strait bringing heat with it.

In the model, this surge of water produces dramatic warming in the upper Indian Ocean starting in the early 2000s. This explanation also fits with measurements of flow through the Makassar Strait which increased over the same period of time.

Changing patterns of trade winds and ocean currents have stored heat in the Indian Ocean which has been observed. The measurements were for the upper 700 metres of the ocean. However, there is evidence that a significant part of the heat has been going down into the mid and deeper layers which were not accounted for in the study. Other studies have also implicated warming in the North Atlantic and Southern Ocean. The challenge is to understand the energy imbalance of the Earth.

Climate change - brief history

Climate Change-Key milestones, scientific discoveries, technical innovations and political action.

1712 - British ironmonger Thomas Newcomen invents the first widely used steam engine, paving the way for the Industrial Revolution and industrial scale use of coal.

1800 - World population reaches one billion.

1824 - French physicist Joseph Fourier describes the Earth's natural "greenhouse effect". He writes: "The temperature [of the Earth] can be augmented by the interposition of the atmosphere, because heat in the state of light finds less resistance in penetrating the air, than in re-passing into the air when converted into non-luminous heat."

1861 - Irish physicist John Tyndall shows that water vapour and certain other gases create the greenhouse effect. "This aqueous vapour is a blanket more necessary to the vegetable life of England than clothing is to man," he concludes. More than a century later, he is honoured by having a prominent UK climate research organisation - the Tyndall Centre - named after him.

1886 - Karl Benz unveils the Motorwagen, often regarded as the first true automobile.

1896 - Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius concludes that industrial-age coal burning will enhance the natural greenhouse effect. He suggests this might be beneficial for future generations. His conclusions on the likely size of the "man-made greenhouse" are in the same ballpark - a few degrees Celsius for a doubling of CO2 - as modern-day climate models.

1900 - Another Swede, Knut Angstrom, discovers that even at the tiny concentrations found in the atmosphere, CO2 strongly absorbs parts of the infrared spectrum. Although he does not realise the significance, Angstrom has shown that a trace gas can produce greenhouse warming.

1927 - Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and industry reach one billion tonnes per year.

1930 - Human population reaches two billion.

1938 - Using records from 147 weather stations around the world, British engineer Guy Callendar shows that temperatures had risen over the previous century. He also shows that CO2 concentrations had increased over the same period, and suggests this caused the warming. The "Callendar effect" is widely dismissed by meteorologists.

1955 - Using a new generation of equipment including early computers, US researcher Gilbert Plass analyses in detail the infrared absorption of various gases. He concludes that doubling CO2 concentrations would increase temperatures by 3-4C.

1957 - US oceanographer Roger Revelle and chemist Hans Suess show that seawater will not absorb all the additional CO2 entering the atmosphere, as many had assumed. Revelle writes: "Human beings are now carrying out a large scale geophysical experiment..

1958 - Using equipment he had developed himself, Charles David (Dave) Keeling begins systematic measurements of atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa in Hawaii and in Antarctica. Within four years, the project - which continues today - provides the first unequivocal proof that CO2 concentrations are rising.

1960 - Human population reaches three billion.

1965 - A US President's Advisory Committee panel warns that the greenhouse effect is a matter of "real concern".

1972 - First UN environment conference, in Stockholm. Climate change hardly registers on the agenda, which centres on issues such as chemical pollution, atomic bomb testing and whaling. The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) is formed as a result.

1975 - Human population reaches four billion.

1975 - US scientist Wallace Broecker puts the term "global warming" into the public domain in the title of a scientific paper.

1987 - Human population reaches five billion

The CO2 concentration, as measured at Mauna Loa, has risen steadily

1990 - IPCC produces First Assessment Report. It concludes that temperatures have risen by 0.3-0.6C over the last century, that humanity's emissions are adding to the atmosphere's natural complement of greenhouse gases, and that the addition would be expected to result in warming.

1992 - At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, governments agree the United Framework Convention on Climate Change. Its key objective is "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". Developed countries agree to return their emissions to 1990 levels.

1995 - IPCC Second Assessment Report concludes that the balance of evidence suggests "a discernible human influence" on the Earth's climate. This has been called the first definitive statement that humans are responsible for climate change.

1997 - Kyoto Protocol agreed. Developed nations pledge to reduce emissions by an average of 5% by the period 2008-12, with wide variations on targets for individual countries. US Senate immediately declares it will not ratify the treaty.

1998 - Strong El Nino conditions combine with global warming to produce the warmest year on record. The average global temperature reached 0.52C above the mean for the period 1961-90 (a commonly used baseline).

1998 - Publication of the controversial "hockey stick" graph indicating that modern-day temperature rise in the northern hemisphere is unusual compared with the last 1,000 years. The work would later be the subject of two enquiries instigated by the US Congress.

Rajendra Pachauri's IPCC netted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007

1999 - Human population reaches six billion.

2001 - President George W Bush removes the US from the Kyoto process.

2001 - IPCC Third Assessment Report finds "new and stronger evidence" that humanity's emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause of the warming seen in the second half of the 20th Century.

2005 - The Kyoto Protocol becomes international law for those countries still inside it.

2005 - UK Prime Minister Tony Blair selects climate change as a priority for his terms as chair of the G8 and president of the EU.

2006 - The Stern Review concludes that climate change could damage global GDP by up to 20% if left unchecked - but curbing it would cost about 1% of global GDP.

2006 - Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and industry reach eight billion tonnes per year.

2007 - The IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report concludes it is more than 90% likely that humanity's emissions of greenhouse gases are responsible for modern-day climate change.

2007 - The IPCC and former US vice-president Al Gore receive the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change".

2007 - At UN negotiations in Bali, governments agree the two-year "Bali roadmap" aimed at hammering out a new global treaty by the end of 2009.

2008 - Half a century after beginning observations at Mauna Loa, the Keeling project shows that CO2 concentrations have risen from 315 parts per million (ppm) in 1958 to 380ppm in 2008.

2008 - Two months before taking office, incoming US president Barack Obama pledges to "engage vigorously" with the rest of the world on climate change.

2009 - China overtakes the US as the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter - although the US remains well ahead on a per-capita basis.

2009 - Computer hackers download a huge tranche of emails from a server at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit and release some on the internet, leading to the "ClimateGate" affair.

2009 - 192 governments convene for the UN climate summit in Copenhagen with expectations of a new global agreement high; but they leave only with a controversial political declaration, the Copenhagen Accord.

2010 - Developed countries begin contributing to a $30bn, three-year deal on "Fast Start Finance" to help them "green" their economies and adapt to climate impacts.

2010 - A series of reviews into "ClimateGate" and the IPCC ask for more openness, but clear scientists of malpractice.

2010 - The UN summit in Mexico does not collapse, as had been feared, but ends with agreements on a number of issues.

2011 - A new analysis of the Earth's temperature record by scientists concerned over the "ClimateGate" allegations proves the planet's land surface really has warmed over the last century.

2011 - Human population reaches seven billion.

2011 - Data shows concentrations of greenhouse gases are rising faster than in previous years.

2012 - Arctic sea ice reaches a minimum extent of 3.41 million sq km (1.32 million sq mi), a record for the lowest summer cover since satellite measurements began in 1979.

2013 - The Mauna Loa Observatory on Hawaii reports that the daily mean concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time since measurements began in 1958.

2013 - The first part of the IPCC's fifth assessment report says scientists are 95% certain that humans are the "dominant cause" of global warming since the 1950s.

2015 – Negotiations towards reaching a legally binding instrument on reduction of carbon emissions. All nations have been invited to voluntarily submit their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) towards achieving the objective of the Convention. All Parties have also been invited to consider communicating their undertakings in adaptation planning or consider including an adaptation component in their intended nationally determined contributions. Switzerland was the first country to submit its INDC.