Thursday, September 21, 2017

My new bike is, sadly, a car ...

But, trust me, it's a really, really cool car!

I've always primarily commuted to work by bike, walking, or public transport; across four countries, two continents, and almost three decades (I'm getting that old and am that much of an academic nomad). Partly as a conscious lifestyle choice, partly for health, and mainly because of the environmental impacts being low. Confronted by the coming winter weather, and a now longer commute in excess of 16Km (10 miles) with no public transport option on unlit country roads as a result of moving yet again, I've had to look at finally becoming a two car family for the first time ever, to be able to get to work whatever the weather. I still aim to bike as often as I can, but sometimes that simply won't be possible or practical.

My solution is a Renault Twizy - an all electric two seater (at a pinch) car. Or, perhaps more accurately, an electric go-kart by any other name. It's about as no-frills as you can get. Forget being 100% weather proof, heaters, radio, cd etc. This is driving in the raw. It gets you from A to B. It doesn't go super-fast, or super-far, but for a relatively short commute where the fastest speed limit is 80Km/h it's perfect, and it's a lot more weather proof than a bike. You also can't help but drive it with a smile on your face. It'll go about 60-80Km between charges and it's charged straight from a mains plug (no fancy car charger issues) in only a little longer than it takes to charge a smart phone.

The doors open as wings, it's small, and it buzzes around. Needless to say, and with sincere apologies to J.K. Rowling, my boys, who are Harry Potter fans, have immediately christened it Pigwidgeon. With a name like Pigwidgeon it needs, clearly, to be a messanger, so here is Pigwidgeon in his (or her?) finery (thanks to Signflair for developing)...

Graphics credits go to NOAA NCEI's graphics team who produced the past climate change figure as part of the US NCA 2014 process (although, humble brag here, the underlying coding is my fair hands); and the most excellent KNMI Climate Explorer run be the irrepressible and, again, most excellent Geert Jan Van Oldenborgh for the two maps used in the future change panel.

Pigwidgeon's message

As you can see Pigwidgeon is sending out a message about climate change. Where does this message come from? Well, straight from the Working Group 1 Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a report on which I am proud to have played a minor part as a Lead Author (this is a somewhat more pretentious title than the role itself, most work is done by the chairs / vice-chairs, technical support unit, and coordinating lead authors). The messages are words that every party to the process (basically, the vast majority of the nations of the world) all signed off on via a meticulous and painstaking approval process (trust me; I was there). In this case, words really do matter. So, taking these in turn ...

Past Climate Change: It's real

Or, in the slightly longer hand version of IPCC:
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
We can see this from the FAQ 2.1, that takes a range of climatic indicators and the suite of published estimates assessed in the report, and plots them without fear or favour. Some indicators, in a warming world, we would be expecting to be increasing; whilst others we would be expecting to be decreasing:

FAQ 2.1, Figure 1 from WG1 report of AR5. Showing what sign of change would be expected were the world warming.

What do the analysed estimates of the changes arising from a broad range of groups, using an arary of analysis techniques, and based upon diverse measurement techniques ranging from satellites through weather stations, buoys, ships, weather balloosns, and floats tell us? That what we would expect is what we actually see:

FAQ 2.1 Figure 2 from WG1 report of AR5. Each line denotes a distinctly produced estimate of the changes in the given parameter

Past climate change: It's us

Or, in the slightly longer-hand version of IPCC:
Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.
Human fingerprints have been detected in multiple aspects of the climate system. Without invoking human influences on the climate system, it is impossible to reconcile observed changes since the mid-twentieth Century with our understanding of possible drivers of climate change and variability. Human influence is clear in multiple aspects of the climate system including the atmosphere, the oceans, and the cryosphere. The culprit is beyond any reasonable doubt here:
 Figure 10.21 from WG1 report of AR5. For multiple regions and parameters to exlain the observed changes requires human factors to be invoked.

How much of the change since 1950 is down to us? Slightly more (!) than all of it is the best guess, and certainly most of it:
Figure 10.5 from WG1 report of AR5. Contributions of different factors to observed (black bar) change and uncertainties. ANT (orange) denotes the total human (anthropogenic) contribution. The whiskers denote a measure of our uncertainty.

Future climate change: It's our call

 Or, in the slightly longer-hand version of IPCC:
 Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
Our choices, collectively, matter not just for our personal futures, but what world we leave to our children, our grandchildren, and future generations. We face choices. We can accept the status quo, change nothing, and have a much warmer future world. Or, we can address the challenge of moving away from fossil fuel dependency and other behaviours that lead to climate change, which will require a mix of: policy; innovation; and lifestyle modification, and limit future changes:

 Figure 12.11 from WG1 report of AR5. As you go across you get progressively far into the future. As you go down the degree to which efforts are made to curtail our use of fossil fuels diminishes.

Pigwidgeon's parting message:

Well, precisely.

The small print
  1. This blog is strictly moderated. If you wish to argue over the reality of climate change, your words will disappear into the ether. Don't waste your breath. There is much that is uncertain and that could be improved, but the basic tenets that climate has changed, that it's due to us, and that what we do collectively shall determine the future trajectory, are solid science.
  2. Is this virtue signalling? Hopefully not. We have bought an energy efficient house and we plan as we can afford to add micro-generation, further improve insulation etc and replace the primary car with a hybrid or all-electric soon.
  3. Is this intended to be political? Absolutely not. This is about our understanding of the planet and stewardship thereof for our own sakes and future generations' sakes. If you wish to conflate that and my choices with a political ideology, knock yourself out, but it's not intended as such.
  4. You still fly? Yes, sadly, sometimes face-to-face meetings are unavoidable. Trust me, I spend a lot of time talking into my computer in virtual meetings but there remain limitations as to what can be achieved that way. I try to keep personal pleasure fights to a minimum (indeed I can't remember the last).
  5. You still produce GHGs via the electricity use? Yes, but we have gone with a domestic supplier that (at least claims to) put as much renewable into the grid as their customers remove. See also, above, about plans for micro-generation.
  6. You want us all to go and live in caves? Absolutely not. We need through a combination of policy and innovation to get ourselves off the carbon highway while maintaining or even improving quality of life for all. And, removing point pollution sources from the roads has massive health benefits (dieselgate, anyone? Breathable air?). So, it makes sense even if you still doubt the reality of climate change after getting this far (although I seriously doubt you would have).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Drought Monitoring using the Island of Ireland long term precipitation series (IIP).

The team at ICARUS have been monitoring the monthly rainfall across Ireland to identify the onset of drought. The results showed that October, November, December and January were unusually dry months at many  locations. Although, rainfall totals during February and March returned to near normal levels across the island of Ireland some regions are still experiencing considerable rainfall deficits. Available monthly rainfall data was used to update 12 stations in the Island of Ireland precipitation series (IIP) (1850-2016) to end of March 2017. Figure 1 shows the location of all 12 IIP stations. The monthly rainfall for October to March at each location was compared with the long-term average (LTA) of the same months over the period 1850-2017. The average of all 12 stations was also established and presented as the Island of Ireland (IoI) series. Finally using the Standard Precipitation Index (SPI) the 6-month accumulative rainfall anomalies (SPI-6) for all the series January 1850 - March 2017 was produced.
Figure 1 map showing the location of the 12 update IIP stations.


October 2016 rainfall
Figure 2 presents the results for October 2016 and show a particularly dry month when compared with the October LTA rainfall. Markree station located in the west only received 25% of the LTA rainfall in October 2016. The station at Malin head located in the north received 35% of LTA rainfall. Similarly, during October Shannon airport located in the south west received less than 40% of LTA rainfall. Other stations such as Armagh, Galway, Mullingar, Cork Airport and Roches Point received less than 50% of LTA rainfall in October 2016. However, some stations were not as dry with Dublin Airport and Valentia receiving 81% and 122% of LTA rainfall respectively. But overall the average rainfall across all stations (IoI series) was 54% below LTA rainfall in October 2016.

November 2016 rainfall
Rainfall totals during November 2016 were also well below LTA at most stations (See Figure 2). The lowest rainfall occurred across the south with Cork Airport and Roches Point receiving less than 35% of LTA rainfall in November 2016. Similarly, Athboy, UC Galway, Armagh, Valentia, Phoenix Park and Dublin Airport all received less than 60% of LTA rainfall. Conversely, Malin Head and Markree received near normal rainfall in November 2016 when compared with the LTA.

December 2016 rainfall
December saw a return to near normal conditions with all stations receiving rainfall greater than 60% of LTA (see Figure 2). The overall average rainfall (IoI series) was 68% of LTA in December 2016. Mullingar experienced 83% of LTA rainfall in December 2016 which is a stark contrast to December 2015 when 325% of LTA rainfall fell at Mullingar. Most of the IIP stations experienced over 2.5 times the LTA rainfall in December 2015.

January 2017 rainfall
Results shows that much dryer conditions returned to most stations in January 2017 (see Figure 2) with the exception of those located in the south and south west of Ireland (Valentia, Cork Airport, Roches Point). The driest region was along the east with Dublin Airport and Phoenix Park receiving only 35% of LTA rainfall in January 2017. Markree and UC Galway in the west also experienced a relatively dry January with less than 50% of LTA rainfall. Armagh, and Athboy located in the east and north east also saw less than 45% LTA rainfall in January.

February 2017 rainfall
The rainfall during the month of February 2017 returned to near normal conditions mainly due to Storm Doris which brought heavy rainfall to most areas on the 22nd February. All stations received greater than 80% of LTA during February 2017(see Figure 2).  Mullingar and Phoenix Park received 20% more than average rainfall in February 2017.

March 2017 rainfall
The month of March was also a much wetter month than previous months when compared with the LTA (see Figure 2). The results show that all IIP stations received over 20% more than average rainfall in March 2017. However, Shannon Airport experienced double the amount of average rainfall and UC Galway received more than 1.5 times the average rainfall in March 2017.

Figure 2 October 2016-March 2017 monthly rainfall as a percentage of the long-term average rainfall of each month over the period 1850-2017.

SPI-6 results
Although, we experienced near or above normal rainfall in February and March most stations across Ireland are still showing some significant rainfall deficits over the past 6 months. According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) SPI values between 0.99 and -0.99 are near normal conditions, while SPI values of -1.00 to -1.49 is moderate drought, -1.50 to -1.99 is severe drought, and less than -2.00 is extreme drought (WMO, 2012). The SPI-6 analysis (1850-2017) results suggest that ten IIP stations are currently experiencing moderate drought.  All stations except Shannon Airport and Valentia show less than -1.00 SPI-6 month accumulative anomalies for March 2017. The results also indicate that the IoI series (12 station average) is experiencing severe drought with SPI-6 values less than -1.50 for March 2017. 

Figure 3 Results at four IIP stations with SPI-6 values less than -1.50 for March 2017 indicating severe drought.

 Results also suggest that a severe drought is currently present at four IIP stations (Armagh, Markree, Athboy and UC Galway), with SPI-6 values that range from -1.66 to 1.83 for March 2017. During November and December 2016 four stations (Armagh, Markree, Athboy and Roches Point) experienced SPI-6 values less than -2.00 indicating extreme drought. Figure 3 presents the SPI-6 values for the past 15 months at the four stations (Armagh, Markree, Athboy and UC Galway) currently experiencing severe drought. The most striking result is the contrast between SPI-6 values for the first 4 months of 2016 and the SPI-6 values for first 4 months of 2017. Figure 4 map shows the extent of the current severe drought as indicated by the SPI-6 values for march 2017 at Armagh, Markree, Athboy and UC Galway.

Figure 4 Shows the area that is experiencing severe drought as at end of March 2017 based on the SPI-6 values calculated over the period 1850-2017. Blue shaded area indicates extent of current severe drought.

April rainfall.
Dryer conditions have returned for the month of April. So far up to the 12th April rainfall has been very low across Ireland with the next 10 days also expected to be dryer than normal. All stations have only received less than 15% of LTA rainfall so far this month, except for Valentia which has received 25% of LTA rainfall. The station at UC Galway and Roches Point have seen only 4% of LTA rainfall during the first 12 days of April. Phoenix park, Dublin Airport and Shannon Airport have received less than 10% of LTA rainfall.

October 2016 -April 12th 2017 rainfall 
Figure 5 shows the current rainfall deficits from the start of the hydrological year from October 2016 up to April 12th 2017 when compared with the LTA rainfall 1850-2017 for the same period. Most stations  have only received two thirds of the LTA rainfall up to 12th April for the period October 2016 to April 2017.

Figure 5 Current rainfall deficits for October 2016 -April 12th 2017 as a percentage of long term average for the months of October-April 1850-2016.

 Figure 6 shows the amount of rainfall needed before the end of April at each station in order bring the rainfall totals back to the LTA normal amounts. UC Galway and Cork Airport will need over 250 mm and Markree over 200 mm of rainfall over the next 18 days to bring the total rainfall to the normal LTA. In addition, Athboy, Malin Head, and Armagh will need over 150 mm and all the other the stations will need a further 100 mm by the end of this month to attain LTA rainfall totals.

Figure 6 Current rainfall deficits in (mm) for October 2016 -April 12th 2017 of long term average for the months of October-April 1850-2016.

Final remarks.
The results of the drought monitoring indicate that some areas of Ireland (west, midlands and north-east) are currently experiencing drought conditions.This situation needs ongoing monitoring as many Irish rivers are groundwater dominated catchments and require winter rainfall to replenish storage. The results are suggesting that there are considerable rainfall deficits accumulated in many areas of Ireland due to a unusually dry winter. Therefore, if spring rainfall continues to be dry with below average rainfall certain regions of Ireland could be heading for a water shortages during the summer months.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Adapting to climate change: The challenges of transformation

In attempting to adapt to climate change, it is recognised that a continuation of the status quo may no longer suffice and a shift to more radical and transformative approaches may be necessary. In this regard, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) note that transformation is likely to involve a change in underlying norms, values and power structures and an introduction of new institutional and regulatory practices. A recently published paper in the Journal of Extreme Events by researchers from Maynooth University and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Norwich highlights the challenges faced in implementing transformative adaptation. The research, being funded by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency, is concerned with understanding societal transformation to manage flood risks across four European countries: Ireland, Austria, France and the Netherlands.

Drawing on flood defence planning in Ireland; specifically, Skibbereen, County Cork and Clontarf, County Dublin, the research identified those barriers that persistently emerge in the context of transformative adaptation. In Skibbereen, transformative adaptation was centred on plans in 2009 to develop a multi-functional environmental park on public land on the towns periphery to alleviate flooding. The concept was designed to provide significant recreational and environmental benefits and was to be the first park of its kind in Ireland in terms of its multi-functionality in integrating both engineering and non-engineering flood measures and recreational facilities. It was deemed transformative on these grounds. In Clontarf, plans by the local authority to construct an earthen mound through the centre of a heavily utilised promenade to reduce the risk of coastal flooding were vehemently opposed by the community in 2011. The project was deemed transformative in that it was considered to fundamentally alter existing social values and norms ascribed to the promenade and its functionality from a community perspective.

The findings showed that three primary factors played a role in creating barriers to transformative change across both case studies, namely threats to emotional place attachment and place identity and rigid regulations in Clontarf, and reliance on technical knowledge in both Skibbereen and Clontarf. Despite ongoing flood risks in Clontarf, interviewees involved in the study highlighted that protection of the form and functionality of the promenade was of primary importance, whereby the community did not wish changes to interfere with their attachment to the landscape nor impinge on their sense of connection to the area. As one local resident noted, the proposed changes would serve to “sterilize the prom” if implemented, something which the community was determined to prevent from happening for current and future generations. In Clontarf, people also criticised how the local authority notified them of the proposed plans, describing communication strategies used as “stone-age”, and highlighting the inadequacy of regulatory practices for notifying the public of proposed flood defence plans. Across both cases, the researchers also found that Irish flood risk management planning is heavily dependent on those with technical expertise, and engineering solutions therefore continue to dominate nationally. Indeed, a representative with responsibility for flood risk management from a local authority typified this argument, noting that if flood defences are not designed that you can put something else in front of it and make it higher, its very difficult to retrofit it.

The study argues that where social or institutional barriers emerge, transformation may more likely succeed through a series of incremental changes. The research has practical implications for future adaptation planning as facilitating transformation through incrementalism requires flexible adaptation strategies that are responsive to changing social values over time. Darren Clarke, a researcher involved in the study commented that “this is one of the first studies of its kind globally to explore barriers to transformative adaptation using real-world examples. The results of this research therefore offer important lessons for future adaptation planning across all sectors as often more is learned when processes fail than succeed.”