Energy and climate newsreel: Of glaciers, ocean floors, agricultural yields and a weak quarter for wind power
Last week, this space reported on the critical retreat of the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica (Enemies of Science and Wild Boars). The neighboring Thwaites Glacier, which also flows into Amundsen Bay, does not seem to be in a better condition. This is shown by quantities on its underside, which scientists have succeeded in measuring with a diving robot.
Accordingly, more warm water reaches the underside of the glacier than previously amed, which could lead to faster melting. As in the case of the Pine Island glacier, the baseline where the glacier rests on land will retreat further inland, which in turn will allow the ice to flow more quickly into the sea. The recent quantities help to better understand the ocean currents in the region and to more accurately model the future evolution of the glacier.
Around one third of the Antarctic ice shelf could collapse with global warming of 4 degrees Celsius, warn scientists at the University of Reading. Ice shelf refers to the part of the glaciers that floats on the sea. This corresponds to an ice surface of about half a million square kilometers.
The Antarctic Peninsula was particularly affected, losing two-thirds of its ice shelf. However, if we succeed in limiting the global temperature increase to 2 degrees, the ice sheet at risk will be cut in half. As described above, a loss of ice shelves always means that inland glaciers will be able to recede more quickly, accelerating ice melt and the associated rise in sea level.
Trawling harmful to the climate
Oceans represent the largest sink for carbon dioxide on Earth. They are an important source of nourishment for millions of people, especially in coastal areas. So it is worthwhile to pay more attention to the oceans and also to protect them better. More protected zones in the world’s oceans demand at least the authors of a study published in the journal Nature published study.
Protected zones had three positive effects: Biodiversity could be preserved, fishing would become more productive again, and carbon would remain safely stored at the bottom of the ocean. In the study, the team of 26 authors suggests marine zones that should be given special protection.
"In this study, we identified for the first time and in a new way places whose protection would boost food production and safeguard marine life while reducing carbon emissions", says lead author Enric Sala.
"It is clear that humanity and the economy would benefit from a healthier ocean. And we can achieve these benefits quickly if countries work together to put at least 30% of the ocean under protection by 2030."
While the problem of overfishing is well known, few people were aware of the importance of the seabed for the natural storage of carbon. But just as the seabed is a storehouse of carbon, it can release it again as carbon dioxide.
This is what happens when bottom life is destroyed by trawling. The amount of CO2 released into the sea water in this way exceeds even the emissions from global aviation. countries with large industrial fishing fleets and countries with extensive territorial waters therefore also had a special responsibility. If only about 4 percent more protected areas were designated, 90 percent of the carbon emissions from seabed destruction could be avoided, according to the authors.
Productivity of plants decreases
In the end, this only shows that there is also an interplay between biodiversity, CO2 content, soil and food security in marine ecosystems. The latter is risked on land not only by the degradation of soil. Human-induced climate change has wiped out about one-fifth of the productivity gains in agriculture since 1961, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change study published today, lead author Ariel.
Warmer regions in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean have been hit harder, with 26 to 34 percent of productivity gains reversed by climate change. "Our study finds that human-induced climate change has a disproportionate impact in poorer countries that are primarily dependent on agriculture, and that technological advances in the agricultural sector have not yet led to greater climate resilience", explains lead author Ariel Ortiz-Bobea of Cornell University.
However, it is not only in agriculture that crop growth is being inhibited by climate change. Until now, it was amed that a higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the air leads to plants absorbing more carbon, i.e. growing stronger, one speaks of a CO2 dungeon effect.
However, over the past four decades, this effect has decreased by 30 percent, according to a study published in the journal Science published a study. This could be due to the fact that water and other nutrients are not available at the same rate.
Despite increasing carbon uptake from vegetation in recent decades, we provide robust and consistent results that the positive CO2ungeeffect on plant growth has declined in recent decades. This decline could signify an emerging saturation of carbon uptake in vegetation, which also has important implications for the potential of land-based mitigation strategies (z.B. the afforestation of forests) has"
Yongguang Zhang, study author
However, if the potential of vegetation to store carbon is lower, climate models must also be adjusted for the future and remaining emission budgets must be recalculated until the 1.5 or 2 degree limit is reached.
Weak start to the year for wind power
While an above-average amount of electricity was generated from renewables in Germany in the first quarter of 2020, renewables were rather weak in the first quarter of 2021. Their share of the electricity mix fell to 42.7 percent, compared with 55.6 percent in the prior-year period.
The large difference can be attributed to the respective weather conditions. While wind conditions were above average at the beginning of 2020, the wind was rather weak in the past three months. Wind power yielded 32.8 percent less than in the same period last year.
In line with the lower share of renewables, electricity generation from gas, lignite and hard coal increased. Even lignite-fired power plants, which are now operating on the edge of economic viability, have been able to generate electricity profitably due to a high boron electricity price, Fraunhofer ISE notes.
A high CO2 certificate price of 36 euros per ton was surpassed by a boron electricity price of 49 euros per MWh. In view of these quarterly figures, Fabian Hein from the think tank Agora Energiewende expressed the fear that Germany would already be unable to meet its climate target this year.
Germany was able to meet its target of reducing emissions by 40 percent by 2020 primarily due to the Covid 19 pandemic and the associated restrictions – although this effect did not yet take effect in the first quarter.
In addition, conditions for the generation of wind and solar power were very favorable. Now, fossil-fuel power plants had again emitted 10 million tons more CO2 in the first quarter than in the same period last year. Whether greenhouse gas emissions will remain limited this year by the pandemic will depend not least on the further measures taken by the German government. However, as mobility is again comparatively high and production cutbacks are not being seriously considered at present, the "Corona effect" are likely to be small.
The sharp difference in renewable power generation compared with the same quarter of the previous year probably shows that rapid expansion remains imperative. But this has been very restrained in recent months. According to the IWR, onshore wind power capacity has increased, but at the same time, offshore wind power capacity has not increased.
Thus, from the beginning of January to the end of March, plants with a total capacity of 482 MW went into operation, and in 2020 the figure was 488 MW. In addition, the expansion is slowed down by the dismantling of old plants. In the first quarter of 2020, for example, plants with a total capacity of 42 MW went off the grid; in 2021, the figure was already 55 MW. According to the German Wind Energy Association, however, more permits for new turbines are being ied again.
The number of permits is increasing, because in several federal states the land designation was successful, new wind energy decrees reached first clarifications in the permitting process and the political will to expand renewable energies is formulated clearly enough.
Hermann Albers, President of the German Wind Energy Association (BWE)
The association continues to view with great concern the new short-cut mechanism for tenders that has been included in the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG). The tender volume of the Federal Network Agency must therefore be shortened if a signature is to be expected. In this way, price competition is to be maintained.
So in practice, when a tender was clearly signed, the volume was reduced at the next tender date. Here, industry representatives fear a downward spiral for the expansion of wind power. According to the EEG, the shortened tender quantities will be made up for in the third year, but overall the mechanism was likely to cause uncertainty.