From NOAA (Theo Stein):
A climate science milestone on Colorado’s Continental Divide
On January 16, 1968, in a bracing chill at 11,568 feet above sea level, a Colorado researcher collected an air sample at Niwot Ridge, on the doorstep of the Indian Peaks mountain range. The sample was carried down the mountain and then measured for carbon dioxide at a lab in Boulder, Colorado. The result: 322.4 parts per million.
NOAA was not officially established until 1970, but this air sample produced the first measurement for NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network. In the 50 years since, more than 274,000 air samples have been collected at over 60 sites around the globe, including more than 9,000 at Niwot Ridge. All have been transported to what is now NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division labs in Boulder for measurements of carbon cycle gases, like carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and other gases.
From this inauspicious start, NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network has evolved into one of the international climate science community’s most valuable resources – a long, uninterrupted and highly accurate accounting of Earth’s changing atmosphere.
Air samples are collected on a weekly basis from locations spanning the Canadian Arctic to the South Pole – continental sites ranging from deserts to tropical forests to barren ice caps, on small islands, and on ships crossing the oceans, by scientists and technicians, as well as soldiers, ranchers, mariners, school teachers, lighthouse keepers, a monk, and a host of other volunteers. One dedicated group of volunteers in Mongolia sends a hearty soul on a 12-hour overnight train ride once a month to deliver air samples to a shipping destination.
Over the years measurements were refined and added, and now samples are analyzed for as many as 60 different trace gases, some at a resolution of parts per trillion. Collection and measurement methods have changed over the decades, but extraordinary steps taken to ensure accuracy mean that historical data are valid and continue to be used by researchers around the world to understand the carbon cycle.
Thanks to that 1968 Niwot Ridge sample, NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network database is the third-longest continuous carbon dioxide record in the world, behind the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and Antarctic records. NOAA maintains independent sampling stations at Mauna Loa and the South Pole as well.
On January 15, 2018, almost 50 years to to the day since the first sample was collected, a researcher sampled the air at Niwot Ridge. This time, instruments measured 410.24 ppm of carbon dioxide, an increase of 27 percent over that first sample.
For more information on NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, contact Theo Stein: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):
What’s needed to integrate renewables at scale in the U.S. electrical grids
For all the worries about budget cuts as Donald Trump ascended to the presidency a year ago, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory at Golden, Colo., has remained intact and, in at least one division, is expanding.
That particular division, the Strategic Energy Analysis Center, will add 40 analysts by the end of the year to the existing 150, reported David Mooney, the director.
That division has several major studies to wrap up and others soon to get start, said Mooney in Fort Collins Tuesday evening at an event sponsored by the local chapter of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society.
In March, a study will be released that examines the costs and benefits of breaking down the electrical fences in the United States. The West, the East, and Texas are all on different grids, interconnected but not integrated. Think of three people holding hands, three heartbeats, but not quite with the same timing.
A seamlessly-connected grid would cost trillions of dollars to create but would yield so many benefits that the cost would be reimbursed within 15 years if the work were started in 2024.
Another study, due in October 2019, examines renewable energy integration across North America, not just the United States.
Then there’s the study—expected to be due in 2020, although Mooney said the contract has not been finalized—that will examine what the options would be for the Los Angeles Basin, home to 13 million people, to achieve 100 percent electrification based on renewable energy. “That is real exciting,” he said.
The tone of the evening was a smile. Renewable energy is happening—even more rapidly than many people expected. Mooney related the prices of solar energy when he was a grad student in the 1980s, the most optimistic predictions of the time—and now the reality that is far, far below those most optimistic projections.
Just how low can these prices for renewable go? In Colorado, proposals by independent power developers to Xcel Energy announced in late December were “some crazy good prices,” said Mooney. Wind, as expected, came in at the very lowest, but solar prices, too, were very low.
In fact, Colorado has pretty good solar resources, especially in the San Luis Valley. Mooney related how, after Colorado voters in 2004 ordered Xcel and the state’s other investor-owned utility, Black Hills Energy, to begin investing in renewables, he was at a meeting with representatives of Xcel. He informed them that some of the nation’s best solar capacity was to be found in the San Luis Valley. Three weeks later Xcel was buying land, and the valley now has 26 megawatts of solar generating capacity.
It’s about as good as the Mojave Desert because not only is it nearly as cloudless, but it’s also high, about 8,000 feet, meaning there are no extremely hot days. That results in better electrical production.
But wind is where Colorado really excels, at least in terms of raw generating capacity. It ranks 10th nationally, with about three gigawatts in capacity. Wind now provides about 17 percent of the total electricity consumed by customers of Xcel on an annual basis. Xcel is the state’s largest utility, with more than 60 percent of the state’s customers, including those in Summit County. Xcel is also a wholesale provider for several electrical co-operatives in mountain valleys, including Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley and the Vail and Aspen areas.
What stands out is how rapidly this has all come about. Mooney said when he was a grad student in the late 1980s, the world had a total of 50 megawatts of wind, solar and other renewable generation. Now, the United States alone has 1,180 gigawatts and the world has 6,000 gigawatts. One gigawatt has 1,000 megawatts.
If the United States has exploded with renewable generating capacity, and Germany with solar collectors, China has blown past everybody.
Now comes energy storage. Again, it’s not new, but from 2010 to 2017, prices of lithium-ion battery storage have dropped 81 percent.
This plummeting cost of storage is now causing energy analysts like Mooney to begin shifting their thinking. They are no longer asking at what penetration level is storage necessary. Instead, they’re starting to wonder what happens if storage become ubiquitous.
If deep, broad penetration of renewables in the electrical and—more broadly—energy supplies is the goal, then what helps achieve that?
To maximize renewables, he said, the electrical grid needs to be flexible, able to respond rapidly to changes in demand but also changes in supply. Storage, he said, is the ultimate source of flexibility. He also emphasized strengths achieved through the interconnections of effective transmission. The final component is geo-spatial diversity of resources.
“For a robust, well-interconnected transmission system, geo-spatial diversity in assets is really key,” he said.
About Allen Best
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
From the Nortglenn-Thornton Sentinel (Scott Taylor):
Westminster looking for spot for Semper successor
City officials will begin looking around Westminster for a good place to put a new water treatment plant with the aim of having it ready for service by 2025.
“This is the first phase of longer program and we’re calling this first phase Water 2025,”said Stephen Grooters said. “That’s designed to give us the quantity, quality and reliability goals we need to meet today’s population.
“And as the city grows and as our other treatment facilities age, the city can gauge the cost and efficacy of adding a second phase plant — when to add it and how big to make it.”
The new plant would provide backup service to the city’s two existing treatment plants, the Northwest plant and the Semper, and give the city time to consider options for replacing Semper some time in 2040.
City Councilors voted Jan. 8 to set aside $609,749 to begin the multi-year Water 2025 process. That would pay for engineering and a city-wide site selection process. The potential sites should be at a lower elevation from Standley Lake but higher than most city storage tanks.
Grooters said he hopes the city can find as many as 12 potential sites for a water treatment facility…
The budget includes $150,000 for a public engagement process to get public opinion about the facility.
From UCAR/NCAR News (Laura Snider):
Precipitation variability — the swing from dry to wet and back again — will continue to increase across the majority of the world’s land area as the climate warms, according to a new study led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
The researchers expect precipitation variability to become greater from day to day, year to year, and even decade to decade. The new research, published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, provides results from sophisticated computer simulations that predict that there will be both more droughts and more floods within the same areas as the climate warms. The findings are relevant for water managers who need to make long-range plans.
“When it’s dry, it will be drier. When it’s wet, it will be wetter — in the same place,” said NCAR scientist Angeline Pendergrass, lead author of the study. “There will be a broader range of conditions that will become ‘normal.'”
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR’s sponsor, and by the U.S. Department of Energy.
NEW TOOLS TO STUDY CHANGES IN PRECIPITATION
Historically, changes in precipitation variability have been difficult to pin down because the amount of rain or snow a particular region gets can vary a great deal naturally.
But in recent years, the availability of large ensembles of climate model runs has allowed scientists to begin separating some of the more subtle impacts of climate change from the natural chaos in the climate system. These ensembles may include 30 or 40 runs of a single climate model over the same time period with slightly different, but equally plausible, initial conditions.
Pendergrass and her colleagues, NCAR scientists Flavio Lehner, Clara Deser, and Benjamin Sanderson, along with ETH-Zürich professor Reto Knutti, took a closer look at precipitation variability using large ensembles of runs from the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model (CESM) and from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) climate model. They also looked at a collection of individual runs taken from many different climate models and known as the Climate Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5, or CMIP5.
The team found that precipitation variability will likely increase substantially over two-thirds of the world’s land areas by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated. They also found that, on average, variability increases 4 to 5 percent over land per degree Celsius of warming and that variability increases across all time scales, from days to decades.
“This increase in variability is arising due to more moisture in the atmosphere and a weakening of global atmospheric circulation,” Pendergrass said. “That’s important because it means that changes in precipitation variability are not just linked to changes in El Niño and La Niña events, as some previous work implied.”
HELPING WATER MANAGERS PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
Pendergrass hopes the study’s findings will be used by water managers in their future planning. Models used today by water managers often assume that the change in precipitation variability in the future will track with the expected increase in average precipitation.
But the new study finds that the increase in precipitation variability will outstrip the increase in average precipitation, which means that water managers may be miscalculating the magnitude of future swings from wet to dry or vice versa.
“Water managers may be underestimating how much heavy events — floods or droughts — will change,” Pendergrass said.
ABOUT THE ARTICLE
Title: Precipitation variability increases in a warmer climate
Authors: Pendergrass, A. G., R. Knutti, F. Lehner, C. Deser, and B. M. Sanderson
Journal: Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-17966-y
From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):
Less water in the stream means less comes into large and critical impoundments such as Lake Powell, which Mueller said is already being “equalized” with Lake Mead. The latter is being drawn down by overuse, not just drought.
“They’ve been draining the savings account at Lake Mead for them (users), and, the way it works, they’ve also been draining Lake Powell,” Mueller said. “ … It isn’t the drought draining Lake Powell as much as it is the overuse and the lower supply of water going in.”
Colorado must be aware of that because of its requirements under the Colorado River Compact to deliver a set amount of water right below Glen Canyon Dam.
“There’s accounting that goes on. Every year, we know exactly how much water is delivered. At a point in time … we can see very clearly, we have a significant risk of not being able to deliver that water,” Mueller said. “When we can’t deliver that water, we will get a call, or a curtailment, coming up the river.”
He said it appeared as though most of those present Jan. 19 have pre-compact water, or senior rights, that are not obligated to be called out. Most municipalities have rights junior to the compact — but they also have the right of condemnation through an involuntarily “buy and dry” process.
“Those (municipal) fire hydrants and those faucets, my guess is, are going to get water in the time of curtailment. That’s the municipal preference in our state constitution,” Mueller said.
To-date, the state hasn’t actually had to determine how this consideration would be applied — in fact, mum’s the word at the state level, Mueller added.
“The reality is, many of the Front Range providers would have rights junior to the compact,” Mueller said. These providers divert about 650,000 acre-feet a year to the Front Range out of the Colorado River Basin, including, at times, the Upper Gunnison.
The Front Range is constantly on the lookout for additional supply, but that’s not the only thing to keep in mind, Mueller said. Front Range providers will continue to supply current municipal needs in that populous part of the state.
The question becomes: What happens in the event of a curtailment when municipalities have the right of condemnation?
“They have the right to come over and buy ag rights. They don’t even have to build a pump. They can just run the water down the stream into Lake Powell. They can dry up the agricultural — buy and dry involuntarily,” Mueller said.
Locals under the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association are not necessarily safe from condemnation just because the association is under a right held by the federal government, he said.
Although municipalities cannot condemn against federal property, it’s not certain whether the U.S. Secretary of the Interior would ultimately be comfortable with not delivering water to the lower basin, where the greater population provides a congressional delegation many times the size of the Western Slope’s, Mueller explained.
“The question really is, how do we prevent that from happening?” he said.
“We don’t have the answer yet, but we are studying a number of different mechanisms where we can use voluntary efforts by our agricultural producers on the Western Slope, combined with voluntary efforts of ag users who depend on transmountain diversions on the Eastern Slope; industrial providers on the East Slope, and municipal providers on the East and West Slope, to voluntarily curtail their uses ahead of time and bank that water somewhere and then be able to prevent a curtailment from ever occurring.”
These, Mueller explained, are “thoughts,” not absolutes.
From Westword (Chris Bianchi):
…the drought status does signify the the potential for some major issues if we don’t get needed moisture in the next few months, particularly heading into the drier summer and fall months and fire season.
The mountains are struggling, as any powder-day chaser knows. Colorado’s snowpack is a key source of drinking water, and it also helps deters wildfires come spring and summer.
Statewide, as of Friday, the state’s snowpack sat at 60 percent of average, with the biggest deficits in the southern part of the state. The San Juans have been particularly hard-hit, with the southwest mountains sitting at only about a third of their typical season-to-date snowfall. The northern mountains are also below average, though recent storms have helped them get back to a solid flurry or two away from typical levels for this time of year.
The Climate Prediction Center’s official three-month outlook leaves most of Colorado looking drier than average and continuing the persistently dry pattern across the state, and particularly across the southern parts of the Centennial State.
There’s probably a key buzzword you’re hearing non-stop as to why it’s been so dry and snow-less: La Niña. Okay, that’s technically two words, but it’s a reference to cooler-than-average Pacific Ocean temperatures and a domino effect of global weather impacts.
The West Coast has experienced a fairly typical weather pattern for a La Niña winter: a wet, active spell for the Pacific Northwest and a bone-dry pattern for California and the inter-mountain West. However, storms have trended to push further north than usual, even for a La Niña winter, leading to the huge snowfall deficits. It’s kept Colorado’s northern mountains close to seasonable levels, but it’s left the southern Colorado mountains hungry for snow.
From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):
As of this week, snowpack in the Animas, Dolores, San Miguel and San Juan basins was at 33 percent of normal, tied with the Upper Rio Grande basin for the lowest snow totals in Colorado. The state as a whole is at 60 percent of normal.
But water managers are quick to mention one interesting and important stat: about 50 percent of the entire San Juan River basin’s snowpack comes from just 10 percent of the storms to hit the region.
Translation: Southwest Colorado needs only a handful of major storms to drop heavy snow to restore a sense of normalcy to snowpack levels and relieve the region of dreaded water issues that come with drought years.
But as the winter weather has yet to arrive, pressing into late January, these storms have to actually materialize to kick off the about-face.
“Whereas the northern mountains get dustings every other day, we get big events from the Southwest, all at once,” said Susan Behery, a hydraulic engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation, who is based in Durango. “But the longer we go into the season without any snow at all, the less likely that seems.”
Tayrn Finnessey, a climate-change risk management specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said this winter’s lack of snowfall for Southwest Colorado is a “classic La Niña” year.
“In La Niña years, storms tend to track north,” she said.
There are precedents for this year’s lack of snow.
Take 2002, one of the driest years in Southwest Colorado history, which will forever be tied with the Missionary Ridge Fire that ripped through the San Juan Mountains, burning almost 73,000 acres.
This year’s snowpack is about half of what it was at this time of year in 2002, according to SNOTEL records from the Molas Pass gauging station, about 60 miles north of Durango in the high country.
In 2002, drought conditions didn’t actually hit until later in the season, paving the way for dangerously combustible conditions in the summer.
More comparable snowpack years to this winter would be in 1990 and 2000. But even in those years, snowpack did see a jump by the end of the winter, with peak numbers at about 15 inches and 18 inches, respectively.
“Is there a chance we could come back?” said Brian Domonkos, a snow survey supervisor with the National Resources Conservation Service. “Yes. But our chances are dwindling quickly.”
There is precedent for Colorado basins receiving late winter snow to compensate for a dry start. But given that winter is about half over, it is not likely we will hit those normal averages, Domonkos said.
And, it is notable to mention that past years at least displayed cold temperatures. Not so this year. In January, for instance, the month is on track to be 7.4 degrees warmer than historic averages, according to the National Weather Service.
In his 14 years with the service, Domonkos said this is probably the lowest snowpack he has seen in the majority of Colorado basins. It is statistically abnormal, he said, but not anything weather watchers haven’t seen before.
“We have to keep a real close eye on what’s going on,” he said. “The only way we’ll be able to plan and adjust – and adapt – is by watching these events closely and making smart good decisions.”
Water managers in Southwest Colorado are already watching to see how this year’s snowpack will play out for the many and varied water users of the region.
The Bureau of Reclamation’s Behery said the most-recent forecasts are predicting spring runoffs into Vallecito and Lemon reservoirs will be at about 45 percent of historic averages, and the forecasts will continue to drop with the absence of snow.
As a result, it’s unlikely that either reservoir, of which thousands of irrigators rely on, will hit capacity this year. Both reservoirs are about 50 percent full because of carry over from last year’s strong snow season.
John Simpson, an assistant division engineer with the Department of Water Resources based in Durango, said it’s too early to tell whether strict water restrictions will be enacted on the area’s waterways.
The Department of Water Resources is the state entity that administers all water rights to water users. In years where there is not plentiful water available, that’s when the division must give priority to senior water-right holders, potentially leaving others in the lurch.
From The Aspen Times (John Stroud):
Steve Beckley, owner of the Iron Mountain Hot Springs and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park with his wife Jeanne, is offering to lease the site from the city of Glenwood Springs for 18 months in order to do the necessary pre-engineering and come up with a development plan.
A concept plan presented by Beckley and land planner Ron Liston to City Council on Thursday envisions designed hot springs facilities and a campground at the site along Garfield County Road 134, just below the city’s landfill.
In addition, Beckley wants to build a campground at the city’s upper South Canyon property where a new mountain biking trail system is about to be constructed.
A lease would allow for water quality testing at the springs and the pool that exists, plus a test well to determine the potential for development and availability of potable water in the area. Beckley and his team also would use the time to design the lower and upper RV park/campgrounds, and obtain any city, county and state permitting that would be necessary.
Two pools exist at the makeshift site that has been a popular hangout over the years for those looking for a free soak.
From The Washington Post Editorial Board:
One warm year is not necessarily cause for concern. The trend, however, is. The past three years were the warmest three ever recorded. The five warmest years in the record all came since 2010. Seventeen of the 18 warmest years in the data came since 2001. This decade is on track to be warmer than the 2000s, which were warmer than the 1990s, and so on. The heating of the Earth is unmistakable.
Some climate doubters insist that while the warming trend is established, humans’ responsibility is not. This assertion is nearly as absurd as denying the warming in the first place. It is not coincidence that breakneck warming occurred just as humans began pumping increasing amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. Scientists have spent more time than necessary examining other offered causes — such as solar activity — only to conclude that those supposed causes cannot account for the patterns of warming clear in the data.
Others argue that the country should not get lost in an unsolvable disagreement on the science but rather just talk about solutions. But without a clear sense of the problem, policymakers will waste time and money on the wrong responses. If global warming were a totally natural phenomenon, the task would be simply to build a society more resilient to temperature extremes, crazy weather, droughts, floods and scrambled-up ecosystems. But because humans are warming the planet, the top priority must be to remove the underlying cause by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Last year also marked a recent low in the federal government’s response to climate change. President Trump installed a climate-change denier, Scott Pruitt, at the Environmental Protection Agency, signaling the end of landmark climate rules on power companies. Mr. Trump’s energy secretary, Rick Perry, pushed for a pro-coal policy so absurd that the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected it out of hand. The president also announced he would pull out of the Paris climate agreement, an accord that the United States spend years fine-tuning to ensure it was a fair deal.
In 50 years, many of the unnecessary distractions that Mr. Trump packed into his presidency will be forgotten. But no one will forget how selfishness and purposeful ignorance reigned in the United States as the world began to cook.