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Is Climate Change to Blame?

Houston, Texas resident up to his knees in floodwaters dumped by Hurricane Harvey, August 28, 2017 (Photo by Jill Carlson) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Houston, Texas resident up to his knees in floodwaters dumped by Hurricane Harvey, August 28, 2017 (Photo by Jill Carlson) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

MIAMI, Florida, September 20, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – Contemplating the destruction and suffering that four ferocious hurricanes have brought to the Caribbean over the past three weeks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres blames it on climate change.

This year’s hurricane season “fits a pattern,” he said at a high-level event at the UN to secure help for Hurricane Irma survivors. “Changes to our climate are making extreme weather events more severe and frequent, pushing communities into a vicious cycle of shock and recovery.”

“Extreme weather linked to climate change has an impact all over the world, including floods in southern Asia and landslides and droughts in Africa,” said Guterres. He also noted the impact of rising ocean surface temperature on weather patterns.

In the past month alone, four major hurricanes have ripped through the islands in the western Atlantic Ocean the Caribbean and lands lining the Gulf of Mexico. First Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, Texas; then hurricanes Irma and Jose tore through, and now Hurricane Maria blasted in with Category 5 winds on Wednesday.

AT little less intense as a Category 4 hurricane, Maria made landfall as dawn broke in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico on September 20 with maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (250 km/h).

“Maria is an extremely dangerous category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, and it should maintain this intensity until landfall,” said forecasters at the National Hurricane Center. The last category 4 storm to hit Puerto Rico was in 1932.

Maria is following a similar track as Hurricane Irma blew down in the first two weeks of September, again striking small island developing states that were already reeling from Irma.

It is exceptionally rare to have two category 5 hurricanes in such a short space of time and on a similar track.

On September 18, Maria intensified rapidly from a category 1 to a category 5 hurricane. It hit the island of Dominica with maximum winds of 159 mph (257 km/h), the first Category 5 hurricane ever to hit the island. The entire island was under the influence of peak eyewall surface winds and it took more than 150 mm of rainfall.

Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico with 155 mph winds, the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall on the island since 1932. Now all of Puerto Rico is without electricity.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center is warning of a life-threatening storm surge for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin islands.

Puerto Rico could get an additional 12 to 18 inches (300 to 460 mms) of rainfall, with 25 inches (640 mm) in some locations.

Earlier today, Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, asked President Donald Trump to declare the region a disaster zone. The White House gave the territory an emergency declaration, one designation below “disaster.”

And there’s more…

Dominca, a small mountainous island with about 70,000 residents, lost all communications during the storm.

As Hurricane Maria struck, Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit posted a message on Facebook, saying, “Initial reports are of widespread devastation. So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains.”

“So far,” wrote Skerrit, “the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with. The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn away roofs in the city and the countryside.

“Come tomorrow morning,” he wrote, “we will hit the road, as soon as the all clear is given, in search of the injured and those trapped in the rubble. I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating…indeed, mind-boggling,”

“My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured. We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds. It is too early to speak of the condition of the air and seaports, but I suspect both will be inoperable for a few days,” wrote Skerrit.

Skerrit is seeking help from friendly nations and organizations with helicopter services, because he is “eager to get up and get around the country to see and determine what’s needed.”

What many people believe is needed is a concerted decision to limit the greenhouse gas emissions they fear are driving climate change and causing these hurricanes to become even more devastating.

Most scientists say that changes in Earth’s atmosphere did not cause Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose or Maria to form.

But most agree that the effects of climate change, such as warmer oceans and rising sea levels, made these storms more destructive than they would have been in earlier decades.

“The short version is, climate change makes these very bad storms worse,” said Sean Sublette, a meteorologist with Climate Central, a nonprofit organization of scientists who conduct scientific research on climate change and journalists who inform the public of key findings.

“It’s not the proximate cause of the storm, but it makes these bad storms worse,” said Sublette. “And in the case of a really bad storm, climate change can make it totally disastrous or catastrophic.”

The question of how climate and extreme weather interact will be central to the upcoming Science Summit, organized by the World Meteorological Organization’s <public.wmo.int> Commission for Atmospheric Sciences in Bali, Indonesia from October 20 to 22.

The Summit is an opportunity to shape the WMO’s research agenda, building toward a closer collaboration between weather, climate, water and environment research.

Scientists have been hard at work analyzing the relationship between climate change and extreme storms for years.

Back in May 2016, Australian scientists published a study in the journal “Geophysical Research Letters” showing that cities face harsher, more concentrated rainfall as climate change intensifies storms and draws them into narrower bands of more intense downpours.

Engineers at the University of New South Wales found that this has major implications for existing stormwater infrastructure, particularly in large cities, which face high risks of flash flooding.

“As warming proceeds, storms are shrinking in space and in time,” said doctoral student Conrad Wasko, lead author of the paper. “They are becoming more concentrated over a smaller area, and the rainfall is coming down more plentifully and with more intensity over a shorter period of time. When the storm shrinks to that extent, you have a huge amount of rain coming down over a smaller area.”

That analysis will sound familiar to the residents of Houston, Texas who were flooded with record-breaking amounts of rainfall – at least 30 inches (76 cm) of rain, with a maximum of 51.88 inches – in late August.

Hurricane Harvey brought record multi-day rainfall to the Houston area, after it stalled in the region following landfall.  Harvey had intensified before landfall after travelling over unusually warm waters (~2°C) in the western Gulf of Mexico.

“There is no clear evidence that climate change is making the occurrence of slowly moving land-falling hurricanes in the Houston region, such as Hurricane Harvey, more or less likely. However, some aspects or “ingredients” of the Harvey event may have linkages to climate change,” said the WMO’s Expert Team on Climate Impacts on Tropical Cyclones, led by Tom Knutson of NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

Because the tropical atmosphere now holds about seven percent more water vapor than it used to due to climate warming, Knutson and the Expert Team say the rainfall rates associated with Harvey “were likely made more intense by anthropogenic climate change.”


Maximpact+WASTE

Floating Windfarms to Generate Power for Europe

PortugalVestasWindFloatBy Sunny Lewis

LISBON, Portugal, November 19, 2015 (Maximpact News) – Windfloat Atlantic, Europe’s second floating windfarm, will be built off Portugal’s northern coast under plans outlined this week by an international consortium of energy utilities and engineering companies.

Energias de Portugal Renewables (EDP), the French multinational electric utility company Engie, Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp and Chiyoda Corp, and the Spanish energy group Repsol are buying in by acquiring a stake in the Portuguese corporation that owns the project, Windplus, S.A.

The three or four turbines that will make up the 25 megawatt facility will float in the ocean 20 kilometers off the Portuguese coast at Viana do Castelo. Operational startup is planned for 2018.

The project will be the second floating offshore windfarm pilot in Europe, after Norway’s Statoil said this month it would invest about US$236 million in a 30 megawatt, five-turbine floating windfarm off Scotland.

PortugalWindFloatMap

In Portuguese waters, the consortium will use the WindFloat technology, an innovative semi-submersible foundation developed by Principle Power, Inc.

EDP says the floating foundation is anchored to the seabed. Its stability comes from the use of “water entrapment plates” on the bottom of the three pillars, and a static and dynamic ballast system.

“WindFloat adapts to any type of offshore wind turbine. It is built entirely on land, including the installation of the turbine, thus avoiding the use of scarce marine resources,” EDP explained in a statement.

This technology has already been used in a first-of-its-kind prototype called WindFloat 1 close to Aguçadoura. There, a two-megawatt Vestas V80 commercial wind turbine is mounted on a WindFloat foundation and was connected to the grid in December 2011.

The prototype is the world’s first offshore wind deployment, floating or fixed, that did not require the use of heavy lift equipment offshore, and it is the first in open Atlantic waters.

This prototype has produced more than 16 gigawatts of power over nearly four years of operation, performing well even in extreme weather with with waves of up to 15 meters, according to EDP and Vestas.

The consortium says the aim of the Windfloat Atlantic project is “to demonstrate the economic potential and reliability of this technology, advancing it further in the path towards commercialization.”

Floating offshore windfarm technology makes it possible to generate electricity from parts of the ocean that are too deep for conventional offshore wind foundations.

The consortium estimates the total cost of the Windfloat Atlantic project at €121.4 million (US$130.1 million or 16 billion Japanese yen).

The project will receive financial help from the European Union.

In April 2015, the European Commission determined that the Portuguese floating windfarm project was in line with EU state aid rules.

The aid will be granted for 25 years in the form of a feed-in-tariff to compensate for the higher costs of the new technologies.

The cost estimates for ocean energy technologies submitted by Portugal show that the maximum feed-in tariff available under the scheme is “proportionate to the objective pursued,” limiting potential distortions of competition brought about by the state aid, the Commission decided.

The project will also benefit from investment aid and funding from NER300, the EU support program for innovative low-carbon energy demonstration projects.

“The development of new renewable technologies is crucial to help Europe meet its environmental commitments. Today’s approved scheme is an important step for bringing new technologies to the market.”

The Commission found that the project contributes to increasing Portugal’s share of renewable energy by developing new generation technologies.

EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said in April, “The development of new renewable technologies is crucial to help Europe meet its environmental commitments. Today’s approved scheme is an important step for bringing new technologies to the market.”

This year is already the biggest on record for European offshore wind, with a total of 584 electricity-generating turbines coming online across the Netherlands, the UK, and Germany in the first half of 2015, according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).

“It has taken the offshore wind industry just six months to set the best year the sector has ever seen in terms of installed capacity,” said Kristian Ruby, chief policy officer at the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).

“While this clearly shows a commitment to offshore wind development in Europe, a number of completed projects, explosive growth in Germany and the use of higher capacity wind turbines are major contributors to these numbers,” Ruby said.

France currently has no offshore wind installed – fixed or floating – but plans to install six gigawatts of offshore windpower by 2020.

Today, Europe’s 128.8 gigawatts of wind power can meet 10 percent of European power consumption in a normal wind year.

Wind energy will be the largest source of power supply in the EU by 2030 if governments apply the right level of ambition in their climate and energy policies, according to EWEA’s latest report, released November 17.

Wind power can exceed gas, coal and other forms of energy by the end of the next decade if European member states follow the ambitious end of the policy framework they have set for 2030, the report projects.

Giles Dickson, EWEA’s chief executive officer, said, “Wind power can be the foundation of the European energy system within the next 15 years.”


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Featured image: The prototype WindFloat 1 in Portuguese waters near Aguçadoura (Photo courtesy Energias de Portugal)
Main image: A Vestas wind turbine on a floating platform is the first-of-its-kind Windfloat Atlantic prototype (Photo courtesy MHI Vestas Offshore Wind)
Map image: Map showing the location of the Windfloat Atlantic project off Portugal’s northern coast. (Map courtesy Chiyoda Corp.)