International Team Maps Nearly 200K Glaciers in Quest of Sea-Level Rise Estimates

 

Chenega Glacier

Chenega Glacier

University of Colorado-Boulder May 7, 2014.

An international team led by glaciologists from the University of Colorado Boulder and Trent University in Ontario, Canada has completed the first mapping of virtually all of the world’s glaciers — including their locations and sizes — allowing for calculations of their volumes and ongoing contributions to global sea rise as the world warms.

The team mapped and catalogued some 198,000 glaciers around the world as part of the massive Randolph Glacier Inventory, or RGI, to better understand rising seas over the coming decades as anthropogenic greenhouse gases heat the planet. Led by CU-Boulder Professor Tad Pfeffer and Trent University Professor Graham Cogley, the team included 74 scientists from 18 countries, most working on an unpaid, volunteer basis.

The project was undertaken in large part to provide the best information possible for the recently released Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. While the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are both losing mass, it is the smaller glaciers that are contributing the most to rising seas now and that will continue to do so into the next century, said Pfeffer, a lead author on the new IPCC sea rise chapter and fellow at CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.

“I don’t think anyone could make meaningful progress on projecting glacier changes if the Randolph inventory was not available,” said Pfeffer, the first author on the RGI paper published online today in the Journal of Glaciology. Pfeffer said while funding for mountain glacier research has almost completely dried up in the United States in recent years with the exception of grants from NASA, there has been continuing funding by a number of European groups.

Since the world’s glaciers are expected to shrink drastically in the next century as the temperatures rise, the new RGI — named after one of the group’s meeting places in New Hampshire — is critical, said Pfeffer. In the RGI each individual glacier is represented by an accurate, computerized outline, making forecasts of glacier-climate interactions more precise.

“This means that people can now do research that they simply could not do before,” said Cogley, the corresponding author on the new Journal of Glaciology paper. “It’s now possible to conduct much more robust modeling for what might happen to these glaciers in the future.”

As part of the RGI effort, the team mapped intricate glacier complexes in places like Alaska, Patagonia, central Asia and the Himalayas, as well as the peripheral glaciers surrounding the two great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, said Pfeffer.  “In order to model these glaciers, we have to know their individual characteristics, not simply an average or aggregate picture. That was one of the most difficult parts of the project.”

The team used satellite images and maps to outline the area and location of each glacier. The researchers can combine that information with a digital elevation model, then use a technique known as “power law scaling” to determine volumes of various collections of glaciers.

In addition to impacting global sea rise, the melting of the world’s glaciers over the next 100 years will severely affect regional water resources for uses like irrigation and hydropower, said Pfeffer. The melting also has implications for natural hazards like “glacier outburst” floods that may occur as the glaciers shrink, he said.

The total extent of glaciers in the RGI is roughly 280,000 square miles or 727,000 square kilometers — an area slightly larger than Texas or about the size of Germany, Denmark and Poland combined. The team estimated that the corresponding total volume of sea rise collectively held by the glaciers is 14 to 18 inches, or 350 to 470 millimeters.

The new estimates are less than some previous estimates, and in total they are less than 1 percent of the amount of water stored in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which collectively contain slightly more than 200 feet, or 63 meters, of sea rise.

“A lot of people think that the contribution of glaciers to sea rise is insignificant when compared with the big ice sheets,” said Pfeffer, also a professor in CU-Boulder’s civil, environmental and architectural engineering department. “But in the first several decades of the present century it is going to be this glacier reservoir that will be the primary contributor to sea rise.  The real concern for city planners and coastal engineers will be in the coming decades, because 2100 is pretty far off to have to make meaningful decisions.”

Part of the RGI was based on the Global Land Ice Measurements from Space Initiative, or GLIMS, which involved more than 60 institutions from around the world and which contributed the baseline dataset for the RGI. Another important research data tool for the RGI was the European-funded program “Ice2Sea,” which brings together scientific and operational expertise from 24 leading institutions across Europe and beyond.

The GLIMS glacier database and website are maintained by CU-Boulder’s National Snow and Ice Data Center, or NSIDC. The GLIMS research team at NSIDC includes principal investigator Richard Armstrong, technical lead Bruce Raup and remote-sensing specialist Siri Jodha Singh Khalsa.

NSIDC is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES, a joint venture between CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

– See more at: http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2014/05/06/international-team-maps-nearly-200000-glaciers-quest-sea-level-rise#sthash.W6vK18yo.dpuf

Greenhouse Gases, More To Be Weighed In Vancouver Oil Terminal Review

Protesters opposing an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver gather Wednesday outside the Clark County Public Service Center before a meeting there of the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. | credit: Troy Wayrynen/The Columbian

Protesters opposing an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver gather Wednesday outside the Clark County Public Service Center before a meeting there of the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. | credit: Troy Wayrynen/The Columbian

 

The Columbian; Source: OPB

The Washington state board reviewing what would be the Northwest’s largest oil-by-rail terminal will undertake a sweeping analysis of the facility’s environmental effects — from the extraction of the oil to its ultimate consumption.

The environmental review for the proposed $110 million Tesoro-Savage oil terminal will consider impacts well beyond its location at the Port of Vancouver, the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council unanimously decided Wednesday.

Opponents of the oil terminal said they were heartened by the decision, while the project’s proponents remained unfazed.

“It’s generally encouraging that they’re looking at impacts outside of Vancouver throughout the state of Washington and the region,” said Dan Serres, conservation director for the environmental advocacy group Columbia Riverkeeper. “As the process moves forward, we’re going to be looking for more specifics.”

The general manager of the proposed terminal, Jared Larrabee, said Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies have known since they first filed their application with EFSEC last summer that the council’s review would be “very robust.”

“We’re fully on board with going through that process,” Larrabee said.

The proposed facility would generate 250 temporary construction jobs and 120 permanent jobs, according to the companies, and boost local and state tax revenues.

EFSEC, a state council created in 1970 to address controversy over the siting of nuclear power plants, is reviewing the terminal proposal before making a recommendation to the governor, who has the final say.

The council consists of a governor-appointed chairman and an employee each from five state agencies. During deliberations on the Tesoro-Savage proposal, Vancouver, Clark County, and the state Department of Transportation have representatives on the council, as does the Port of Vancouver, which approved a lease for the project.

Although the council’s Wednesday work session was public, the council did not take comments. Instead, the council chewed over a summary of the 31,074 overwhelmingly critical comments it had already received about the oil terminal proposal.

Since they knew they wouldn’t be able to speak directly to the council, about 50 opponents gathered outside the Clark County Public Service Center in downtown Vancouver before EFSEC began its meeting there.

“I’m hoping that everyone who is going to be inside will see we are out here and we care. We’re very concerned about the environment and safety,” protester Victoria Finch said. She lives close to the rail line that would supply the terminal with as many as 380,000 barrels of crude a day.

“We want EFSEC to turn it down. If they don’t, we want the governor to turn it down,” said protester Lehman Holder, chairman of the local Sierra Club chapter.

Opponents have argued the environmental impact statement should include the effects of greenhouse gas emissions — not just from the transportation of the oil to and from the terminal and its daily operations, but also from consumption of the oil.

Toward the end of the council’s meeting, EFSEC member Christina Martinez asked how far the environmental study’s consideration of greenhouse emissions would go.

“There’s some question of whether it fits into an area that’s speculative,” Chairman Bill Lynch said. “Some general analysis is appropriate because, obviously, burning fossil fuels creates greenhouse gases.”

Martinez pressed the point.

“It came up quite a bit in the scoping comments,” she said. “There’s a way for us to do that in the document without going to the nth degree.”

Don Steinke, who organized the pre-meeting protest, was taken aback.

“The biggest impact was almost an afterthought: the emissions from burning the fuel they’re shipping out,” he said.

Another Vancouver resident who has been tracking the oil terminal proposal was more upbeat.

“Listening to the tone of the board is encouraging,” said Eric LaBrant, who lives in the neighborhood closest to the proposed terminal. “They’re looking at details and asking questions. I’m going to be breathing those details — benzene and hexane and carbon monoxide. My kids are going to be breathing that when they’re taking spelling tests and riding their bikes.”

EFSEC staff can’t yet say how long the environmental review will take, let alone how long it will be before the council forwards its recommendation to the governor on whether to approve the oil terminal. The council will discuss the time line more specifically at its regular meeting April 15 in Olympia.

Extreme weather, more extreme greenhouse gas emissions beckon urgent activism

Patrick Bond; Source: Climate Connections

The northern hemisphere summer has just peaked and though the torrid heat is now ebbing, it is evident the climate crisis is far more severe than most scientists had anticipated. The latest report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a notoriously conservative research agency – will be debated in Stockholm next month, but no one can deny its projections: “widespread melting of land ice, extreme heat waves, difficulty growing food and massive changes in plant and animal life, probably including a wave of extinctions.”

Even worse is coming, for a giant Arctic Ocean “belch” of 50 billion tonnes of methane is inexorably escaping from seabed permafrost, according to scientists writing in the journal Nature. North Pole ice is now, at maximum summer heat, only 40 per cent as thick as it was just 40 years ago, a crisis only partially represented in the vivid image of a temporary “lake” that submerged the pole area last month.

The damage that will unfold after the burp, according to leading researchers from Cambridge and Erasmus Universities, could cost $60 trillion, about a year’s world economic output. Global warming will speed up by 15-35 years as a result.

With these revelations, it is impossible to mask the self-destructive greed of fossil-fuel firms and their carbon-addicted customers. The ruling crew in the United States, Russia and Canada will enthusiastically let oil companies exploit the soon-to-be ice-free Arctic summers with intensified drilling, joined by unprecedented bunker-fuel-burning in the newly opening shipping lanes.

Heat blowback in the US, China and Durban

But the extreme weather that necessarily results has just hit China, whose world-record CO2 emissions – mainly a result of producing junk purchased by wealthier countries which have outsourced their industrial emissions to East Asia – generate as a byproduct not only thick layers of smog in the main cities. There were also scores of heat-related deaths earlier this month. Shanghai suffered 10 straight days above 38C, with temperatures in some places high enough to use a sidewalk to fry eggs and prawns.

In the second-biggest greenhouse gas emitter (and biggest historically), the western United States is suffering a brutal drought, so severe that 86 per cent of New Mexico’s water supply evaporated, extreme wildfires broke out – this week, for example, scorching Yosemite Park’s legendary redwoods and threatening San Francisco’s water supply – while California’s Death Valley temperatures soared to 50C.

The effects are highly uneven, with environmental-justice research now proving that as climate change hits US cities, the wealthy turn up the air conditioner while the poor – and especially black and Latino people – suffer in “heat islands”. Likewise, poor people in the Himalayan mountains died in their thousands as a result of last month’s floods.

In Alaska, a source of enormous oil extraction, record temperatures in the 30s left thousands of fish dead. The effect of global warming on the oceans is to push marine life towards the poles by seven kilometres each year, as numerous species attempt to find cooler waters.

The impact here in South Africa, from East London to Durban, was a disaster for the local fishing industry last month, as billions of sardines which annually swim to shore stayed away due to warmer waters.

Can shipping survive the climate chaos it causes?

And here along the Indian Ocean, more local climate damage comes from – and is also visited upon – the shipping industry. In the world’s largest coal export site, South Africa’s Richards Bay harbour, an idiot captain of the China-bound MV Smart (sic) tried to exit the port in 10-metre swells on August 20 with a load of nearly 150,000 tonnes of coal and 1700 tonnes of oil. He promptly split the huge ship in half on a sandbank.

This followed by hours the strategic offshore sinking of a Nigeria-bound cargo ship, Kiani Satu, which had run aground a week earlier, further down the coast, close to a nature reserve and marine protected area. As plans were made to extract 300 tonnes of oil from the boat, more than 15 tonnes spilled, requiring the cleaning of more than 200 oil-coated seabirds.

The maniacs whose ships now rest at the bottom of the Indian Ocean can identify with the fly-by-night owners of the MT Phoenix, after that ship’s willful self-destruction off the Durban north coast holiday resorts exactly two years ago. Taxpayers spent $4 million pumping out 400 tonnes of oil and then towing the Phoenix out deeper to sink. A few weeks ago, that salvage operation’s contested audit resulted in the implosion of the South African Maritime Safety Authority.

These are just some surface-level indications that our shipping industry is utterly ill prepared for the rise of both overall sea levels and the “monster waves” which accompany climate change. The Columbia University Earth Institute now projects “sea-level rise of as much as six feet globally instead of two to three feet” by 2100, with higher amounts (three metres) possible if further ice sheets crack from their foundations.

As Susan Casey, wrote in her book, The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, “Given that 60 per cent of the world’s population lives within 30 miles of a coastline, wave science is suddenly vital science, and the experts are keenly aware that there are levees, oil rigs, shorelines, ships and millions of lives at stake.”

Her experts need to visit South Africa, because ours are apparently asleep at the wheel, as they now plan an extreme makeover of Durban’s harbour. The shipping mania that made China such a successful exporter – and wiped out so much of South Africa’s manufacturing industry – has generated vessels that can carry more than 10,000 containers (which in turn require 5800 trucks to unload), known as “super post-Panamax”. They are so named because the Panama Canal’s current limits allow only half that load, hence a $5.25 billion dig will deepen and widen the canal by 2015, with a $40 billion Chinese-funded competitor canal being considered in nearby Nicaragua.

Most ports around the world are following suit, including here where $25 billion is anticipated from national, provincial and municipal subsidies and loans for South Durban’s port/petrochemical complex – the origin of our status as the most polluted African suburb south of Nigeria. The project is mainly managed by Transnet, a huge (but hot-to-privatise) transport state-owned agency, and is the second main priority in the the African National Congress government’s National Development Plan, which claims that from handling 2.5 million containers in 2012, Durban’s productivity will soar to 20 million containers annually by 2040 – though these figures certainly don’t jell with the industry’s much more conservative projections of demand.

More examples of state planning hubris: Transnet’s $2.3 billion doubling of the Durban-Johannesburg oil pipeline is still not complete, but already massive corruption is suspected in the collusion-suffused construction industry, given that early costings were half the price. And notwithstanding their “aerotropolis” fantasies, Durban’s King Shaka International Airport and the speedy Johannesburg-Pretoria-airport Gautrain are both operating at a tiny fraction of the capacity that had been anticipated by state planners. The 2010 Soccer World Cup sports stadiums are such blatant white elephants that even arrogant local soccer boss Danny Jordaan felt compelled to apologise.

Climate denialists from Durban to Deutschland

One reason they breed is that climate is not being factored into any of these carbon-intensive white elephants, as I have learned by fruitlessly offering formal Environmental Impact Analysis objections. As a result of a critique I offered last November, Transnet’s consultants finally considered prospects that sea-level rise and intense storms might disrupt the Durban port’s new berth expansion.

But Transnet’s study on sea-level rise by Christopher Everatt and John Zietsman of ZAA Engineering Projects in Cape Town is as climate-denialist as the consultancy report last year by the South African Council on Scientific and Industrial Research’s Roy Van Ballegooyen. I do understand that – like the dreaded AIDS-denialism of a decade ago – the allegation of climate-denialism is a strong insult these days. But what else would you call a November 2012 report (mainly by Everatt) that cites five studies to claim we will suffer only a maximum 0.6 metre maximum sea-level rise this century, but based on data from 1997, 2004, 2006 and 2008 reports. Five years old information is, in this field, ridiculously outdated.

In South Africa, de facto climate denialists are now led by a South African Communist Party leader: minister of trade and industry Rob Davies. Last week, Davies pushed through cabinet approval to build yet another coal-fired power plant plus permission to frack the extremely water-sensitive Karoo, “Land of the Great Thirst” in the original inhabitants’ San language.

Awful precedents Davies tactfully avoided mentioning include the massive environmental damage and the corruption, labour-relations and socio-ecological crises at South Africa’s main coal-fired powerplant construction site, Eskom’s $10 billion Medupi generator which at 4800 megawatts will be the world’s third largest. Medupi was meant to be generating power in 2011, but due to ongoing conflict, may finally be finished only in mid-2014.

Eskom’s main beneficiary, also unmentioned by Davies, is BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining house, a firm at the centre of South Africa’s crony-capitalist nexus dating to apartheid days. Eskom now subsidises this Australian company with $1.1 billion annually by gifting it the world’s cheapest electricity.

Another de facto climate denialist is the German development aid minister, Dirk Niebel, an opponent of Ecuadoran civil society’s plan to save the Yasuni National Park from oil exploitation. According toNiebel, “Refraining from oil drilling alone is not going to help in forest preservation.” Of course not, but it could have been a vital step for Germany to make a downpayment on its huge climate debt to the victims of extreme weather.

The Yasuni campaign to “leave the oil under the soil” is excellent, and while there, deep in the Amazon on the Peruvian border two years ago, I witnessed the Oilwatch network mobilising to expand the idea(even to Durban where oil prospecting recently began offshore). Oilwatch generated a “Yasunization” strategy for other fossil fuels, also promoted by the Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade scholar-activist network based in Barcelona. Network leaders Joan Martinez-Alier and Nnimmo Bassey are also heartbroken at Yasuni’s apparent demise.

The government of Rafael Correa – trained in the US as an economist – always had the intention to sell Yasuni into the global carbon markets, a self-defeating strategy given the markets’ tendency to both fraud and regular crashing; carbon prices today only about a quarter of what they were two years ago.

So now, because the erratic Correa doesn’t have his hands on the cash yet, in part because he failed to address world civil society to put pressure on governments, Ecuador’s PetroAmazonas and China’s PetroOriental will go ahead and drill. A fresh campaign has been launched to halt the extraction, starting with one letter after another from Accion Ecologica, the eco-feminist lobby that initiated the project, joined by the eloquent leader of the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador, Carlos Perez Guartambel.

Climate activist counter-power gathers

Yasuni is a critical place to draw the line, for it is probably the world’s most biodiverse site. But there are other vulnerable points of counter-power, too, as across the world, many more defenders of nature come forward against rapacious fossil-fuel industry attacks.

South Africa has not been particularly climate-conscious, because the thousands of recent social protests are mainly directed against a state and capitalists which deny immediate needs, from municipal services to wages. Still, in Johannesburg, the Anglo American Corporation and Vedanta coal-fired power plant witnessed a protest of 1000 community and environmental activists last month.

Surprisingly, a Pew Research Centre poll found that 48 per cent of South Africans worry “global climate change” is a “major threat”, followed by “China’s power and influence” (40 per cent) and “international financial instability” (34 per cent). Across the world, 54 per cent of people Pew asked cited climate change as a major threat, the highest of any answer (in second place, 52 per cent said “international financial stability”). Only 40 per cent of the US populace agreed, putting it at seventh place.

Yet even in the belly of the beast, more people seem to be mobilising, and there are growing connectivities in the spirit that what happens in Yasuni is terribly important to the First Nations activists of western Canada (one of the finest blog sites to make these links is http://climate-connections.org/).

For example, fossil fuel projects have been fought hard in recent weeks by forces as diverse as Idaho’sNez Perce Native Americans, Idle No More and Wild Idaho Rising Tide; by Nebraska farmers; by activists from the filthy oil city of Houston who are contesting a new coal terminal; and in Utah where not only have conservationists sued to halt drilling of an 800,000-acre tar sands field stretching into Colorado and Wyoming, but 50 activists physically blocked tar sand mining and construction at two sites last month.

350.org’s Bill McKibben recently mentioned the “Summerheat” rebirth of US climate activism, “from the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, where a tar-sands pipeline is proposed, to the Columbia River at Vancouver, Washington, where a big oil port is planned, from Utah’s Colorado Plateau, where the first US tar-sands mine has been proposed, to the coal-fired power plant at Brayton Point on the Massachusetts coast and the fracking wells of rural Ohio”.

The growing movement has had results, says McKibben, in part through civil disobedience: “In the last few years, it has blocked the construction of dozens of coal-fired power plants, fought the oil industry to a draw on the Keystone pipeline, convinced a wide swath of US institutions to divest themselves of their fossil fuel stocks, and challenged practices like mountaintop-removal coal mining and fracking for natural gas.”

This is encouraging partly because summertime is a lull when it comes to challenging power in many parts of the world. Meanwhile, our political winter was mostly spent wondering whether the crucial Congress of South African Trade Unions would remain aligned to the government or split in half. The more enlightened wing would logically move towards environmental, community and social struggles, leaving behind the likes of Rob Davies, just as US progressives (should) have shed any last illusions about slick Barack Obama.

But not far from Durban, 100 years ago next month, Mahatma Gandhi began preparing a non-violent mass assault on a white-owned coal mine in support of both Indian women’s right to cross a regional border and workers’ wage demands. The idea known as satyagraha (truth force) went from theory to practice, as militant passive defiance gained concessions that, 80 years later, helped free South Africa from apartheid. This time, there’s no 80-year window; we all have to rise to the challenge as fast as do the thermometer and the greenhouse gas emissions.

Cruise to Set Sail to Investigate Ocean Acidification

NOAA Ship Fairweather in the Gulf of Alaska with namesake Mt. Fairweather.Credit: NOAA

NOAA Ship Fairweather in the Gulf of Alaska with namesake Mt. Fairweather.
Credit: NOAA

By Douglas Main, Staff Writer for LiveScience

July 25, 2013 06:01pm ET

The waters off the Pacific Northwest are becoming more acidic, making life more difficult for the animals that live there, especially oysters and the approximately 3,200 people employed in the shellfish industry.

Researchers from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will set sail Monday (July 29) on a monthlong research cruise off the U.S. and Canadian West Coast to see how ocean acidification is affecting the chemistry of the ocean waters and the area’s sea life.

Ocean acidification occurs when greenhouse-gas emissions cause carbon dioxide to accumulate in the atmosphere and become dissolved in sea water, changing the water’s chemistry and making it more difficult for coral, shellfish and other animals to form hard shells. Carbon dioxide creates carbonic acid when dispersed in water. This can dissolve carbonate, the prime component in corals and oysters’ shells.

The world’s oceans are 30 percent more acidic than they were before the Industrial Revolution, scientists estimate.

This cruise follows up on a similar effort in 2007 that supplied “jaw-dropping” data on how much ocean acidification was hurting oysters, said Brad Warren, director of the Global Ocean Health Partnership, at a news conference today (July 25). (The partnership is an alliance of governments, private groups and international organizations.)

That expedition linked more acidic waters to huge declines in oyster hatcheries, where oysters are bred, Warren said. Oyster farms rely ona fresh stock of oysters each year to remain economically viable.

When the data came in from that cruise, it was “a huge wake-up call,” Warren said. “This was almost a mind-bending realization for people in the shellfish industry,” he said.

The new cruise will also look at how acidification is affecting tiny marine snails called pteropods, a huge source of food for many fish species, including salmon, said Nina Bednarsek, a biological oceanographer with NOAA’s Pacific Environmental Marine Laboratory.

The research will take place aboard the NOAA ship Fairweather, which will depart from Seattle before heading north and then looping back south. It will end up in San Diego on Aug. 29. During this time, scientists will collect samples to analyze water chemistry, calibrate existing buoys that continuously measure the ocean’s acidity and survey populations of animals, scientists said.

The researchers will also examine algae along the way. Ocean acidification is expected to worsen harmful algal blooms (like red tide), explosions of toxin-producing cells that can sicken and even kill people who eat oysters tainted with these chemicals, said Vera Trainer, a researcher at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Email Douglas Main or follow him on Twitter or Google+. Follow us@livescienceFacebook or Google+. Article originally on LiveScience.com.

 

Latest NRCS Science and Technology Helps Agriculture Mitigate Climate Change

Source: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

WASHINGTON, July 1, 2013 — USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has developed the world’s largest soil carbon dataset to help producers and planners estimate the impacts of conservation practices on soil carbon levels. USDA is committed to reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint, as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack discussed in a June 5 address at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The Secretary outlined USDA’s modern solutions for environmental challenges.

“It is our obligation to equip landowners with the most up-to-date information and technical assistance so we can mitigate the impacts of climate change and help secure sustainable food production systems for the American people,” said NRCS Acting Chief Jason Weller.

Soil has tremendous potential to store carbon, which reduces the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, one of the leading greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.

Storage potential varies among soils, land covers, land uses and management, and NRCS soil scientists took 148,000 individual soil samples and evaluated them for carbon content. This Rapid Carbon Assessment, or RaCA, dataset serves as a baseline or snapshot in time for the amount of carbon each soil type is holding.

“By understanding our soils’ current carbon content, we can target the ones with the greatest potential to store additional carbon. Planners can use models (where accuracy is enhanced by RaCA data) to better predict the impact a conservation practice might have on enhancing the soil’s carbon content,” Christopher Smith, NRCS soil scientist, said.

Increasing soil carbon is also the single most important component of soil health, Smith said.

Several conservation practices, such as conservation crop rotations or planting cover crops, help increase carbon storage in soil. These crops take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and deposit it into the soil as organic matter. They also help reduce erosion and increase water-holding capacity and water infiltration, which increases the resiliency to drought, heavy precipitation and extreme temperatures.

Landowners can calculate how much carbon their conservation practices such as cover crops can remove from the atmosphere with the new tools, COMET- Farm™ and the Agricultural Policy Environmental Extender, or APEX model.

COMET- Farm™, developed in partnerships between USDA and Colorado State University, is a free online tool that allows producers to enter information about their farm or ranch management practices and receive general guidance on actions they can take to build carbon in their soil.

APEX, developed in partnership with Texas Agrilife Research, Texas A&M, and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and NRCS, is planned for use by NRCS conservation planners and private technical service providers. This tool will also assist NRCS and landowners with properly managing nutrients to keep a balance between soil carbon gains, production goals and impacts on water quality.

The Rapid Carbon Assessment, COMET- Farm™ and APEX open the door to new possibilities for producers, said Dr. Adam Chambers, scientist with the NRCS air quality and atmospheric change team in Oregon.

If carbon can be quantified, verified, and then sold into carbon markets, it is “another potential revenue stream for producers,” said Chambers.

As of Jan. 1, California began regulating a cap and trade carbon credit market for industries. The first to do so, the state is looking for agricultural greenhouse gas emission reduction and carbon sequestration projects to provide offsets into their regulated markets, he said.

“The Rapid Carbon Assessment provided baseline data on how much carbon is in each soil type. COMET-Farm™ can then be used to show how different management practices can increase that soil carbon,” said Chambers, who is guiding the work in environmental markets for the agency through NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants programs.

To find more information on COMET- Farm™, APEX, the Rapid Carbon Assessment and how NRCS can help you mitigate climate change, visit your nearest NRCS field office.

vcsPRAsset_1090321_133044_4fd9634e-e667-4761-86cd-1149dc1e1f1a_0

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service helps America’s farmers and ranchers conserve the Nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment.

Even without terminals, coal trains will increase

Trains would feed growing, but much smaller, terminals in B.C.

Jennifer Buchanan / The HeraldA coal train passes through Everett in May. Proposed export terminals would increase the number of trains between Seattle and Bellingham.

Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald
A coal train passes through Everett in May. Proposed export terminals would increase the number of trains between Seattle and Bellingham.

Bill Sheets, The Daily Herald

If coal export terminals proposed for the Pacific Northwest are never built, the number of trains rumbling through Washington state filled with coal would still increase.

Coal is already shipped from British Columbia, and terminals there are expanding.

Based on projected numbers, however, those increases would not come close to equaling the combined capacity of the terminals proposed for Cherry Point near Bellingham and two others in the Northwest.

Opponents of building coal export terminals in Washington say they would bring traffic congestion from the number of trains, and generate coal dust and greenhouse gases.

Supporters say Cherry Point will create jobs — 4,400 temporary, construction-related jobs and 1,200 long-term positions, according to SSA Marine, the Seattle company that wants it built.

If Washington says no to the terminal, coal trains will still come through Western Washington, but the jobs will go north to Canada, SSA Marine spokesman Craig Cole said.

“We do know there’s demand (for coal in Asia) and port operators will seek to service that demand, whether they’re in the United States or British Columbia,” he said.

The proposed $650 million Gateway Pacific terminal at Cherry Point would add an average of 18 trips per day — nine full trains going north and nine empty trains traveling southbound — between Seattle and Bellingham. Marysville, which has 16 street crossings, and Edmonds, with a crossing at the ferry dock, would be the communities most affected in Snohomish County.

On average, about four coal trains per day pass through Snohomish County on their way to Canada, according to BNSF Railway.

The Cherry Point terminal could ship an estimated 60 million tons per year of coal, grain, potash and scrap wood for biofuels to Asia. Coal would make up the bulk of the shipments, according to the state Department of Ecology, which is handling the environmental review for the project. That review is expected to take at least a couple more years.

The Millennium terminal proposed for Longview, Wash., would have a coal capacity of about 48 million tons, according to the ecology department. Trains to this port would travel across the state but not north to Seattle and beyond.

Another smaller terminal targeted for Boardman, Ore., on the Columbia River could handle just under 9 million tons.

Together, these ports could ship 117 million tons per year.

Possible expansions at the five ports in British Columbia could add 55 million tons per year to their current capacity, according to numbers compiled by SSA Marine.

If all of the B.C. expansions come to pass, they would roughly equal the output of Gateway Pacific.

“There will be additional coal that will be going to British Columbia, and we will be working hard to increase the percentage,” said Jim Orchard, senior vice president of marketing and government affairs for Cloud Peak Energy, a coal-mining company based in Denver.

At the same time, it won’t equal what could be shipped through the U.S. terminals, he said.

Cloud Peak operates two mines in Wyoming and one in southeastern Montana, in the area known as the Powder River Basin, Orchard said.

The greater the shipping capacity, the faster the coal can be mined without piling up, he said.

Without the U.S. terminals, “the timing with which we get to new reserves, it just would take longer,” Orchard said.

The largest potential British Columbia terminal expansion could occur at Ridley Terminals in Prince Rupert, B.C., 460 miles north of Vancouver by air.

This port gets ships to northern Asian ports one day faster than those sailing from Vancouver and three days faster than ships leaving from Long Beach, Calif., according to the Ridley website.

Right now, Ridley handles about 12 million tons per year. It has plans to double to 24 million tons, but has access to a vacant area nearby that could allow it to grow by 36 million tons or more on top of its current capacity, according to numbers compiled by SSA Marine.

It could potentially grow by even more than that.

Adjacent to Ridley’s current terminal is a 110-acre wooded tract called “Area A” that could be used by the terminal for further expansion, according to quotes from Ridley president George Dorsey in Coal Age magazine in March 2012.

“All that’s needed are the capital investments necessary,” Ridley said in the story. “Area A gives us the capacity to double the facility, from 24 (million tons) to 50 (million tons) and beyond. There’s so much space, it’s infinitely expandable.”

A Ridley official could not be reached for further comment.

“B.C. terminal operators are very competitive and capable and, like most businesses, will creatively endeavor to find a way to meet needs,” said SSA Marine’s Cole.

Still, Prince Rupert’s distance from the U.S. mines would increase travel costs, said Dennis Horgan, vice president and general manager of the Westshore Terminal in Tsawwassen.

“It’s a long way up there,” he said.

Currently, BNSF trains carrying coal through Washington end their run at Tsawwassen, said Courtney Wallace, a spokeswoman for the railroad.

Westshore is increasing its capacity by 4 million tons per year, to 33 million, and will be maxed out, Horgan said.

Some trains do pass over the Canadian Rockies carrying coal from Wyoming mines to Prince Rupert, according to Horgan.

“It’s still a long way,” he said.

Most of the coal shipped from Prince Rupert comes from British Columbia, Horgan said.

Westshore and Ridley ship only coal, he said. Neptune Terminal and Fraser Surrey Docks in Vancouver handle a mix, and Pacific Coast Terminals, based in Port Moody, ships mostly sulfur but has plans to add coal, according to Horgan. These terminals put together are much smaller than the Tsawwassen and Prince Rupert facilities.

Other commodities could figure into the picture, Wallace of BNSF Railway said.

“It is important to keep in mind that freight rail traffic will increase with or without coal export,” she said in an email. “Train volumes through any community ebb and flow based on several factors: market demand, customer needs, economic conditions, etc.

“Washington state’s economy is built on trade and ports and demand is increasing domestically for all goods as the population grows,” she said. “That’s a good thing, especially for a state like Washington that is heavily dependent on trade.”