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Monday, September 18, 2017

A Norwegian Returns Home

This is the incredible story of a man and his ship wanting to prove the nearly impossible. It is also the story of his ship going home after having spent 80 years in a foreign country on the bottom of the sea.

The man’s name was Roald Amundson, a Norwegian, obsessed with exploring the polar region.

As the leader of the Antarctic expedition of 1910–12, which was the first to reach the South Pole, on 14 December 1911, he was a key expedition leader during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. In 1926, he was the first expedition leader for the air expedition to the North Pole, making him the first person, without dispute, to reach both poles. He is also known as having the first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage(1903–06) in the Arctic.

In 1918 Amundsen began another expedition. This time the plan was to try the North-East Passage. The goal of the expedition was to explore the unknown areas of the Arctic Ocean, strongly inspired by Fridtjof Nansen's earlier expedition with Fram. The plan was to sail along the coast of Siberia and go into the ice farther to the north and east than Nansen had.

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Amundsen planned to freeze the Maud into the polar ice cap and drift towards the North Pole (as Nansen had done with the Fram), and he did so off Cape Chelyuskin. But, the ice became so thick that the ship was unable to break free, although it was designed for such a journey in heavy ice. In September 1919, the crew got the ship loose from the ice, but it froze again after eleven days somewhere between the New Siberian Islands and Wrangel Island.

After two winters frozen in the ice, without having achieved the goal of drifting over the North Pole, Amundsen decided to go to Nome to repair the ship and buy provisions.

During the third winter, Maud was frozen in the western Bering Strait. She finally became free and the expedition sailed south, reaching Seattle, Washington, in the US Pacific Northwest in 1921 for repairs. Amundsen returned to Norway, needing to put his finances in order.

In June 1922, Amundsen returned to Maud, which had been sailed to Nome. He decided to shift from the planned naval expedition to aerial ones, and arranged to charter a plane. He divided the expedition team in two: one part was to survive the winter and prepare for an attempt to fly over the pole. This part was led by Amundsen. The second team on Maud, under the command of Wisting, was to resume the original plan to drift over the North Pole in the ice. The ship drifted in the ice for three years east of the New Siberian Islands, never reaching the North Pole. Maud was seized by creditors in Seattle and sold at an auction. The Hudson's Bay Company purchased the ship to supply its Arctic outposts. After refitting in Vancouver, and with a new name, Baymaud sailed for the Western Arctic in June 1926. It never returned. After freezing in for the winter of 1926-1927, the ship was moored close to shore and used by the Hudson's Bay Company as a floating machine shop, warehouse and wireless station.

Baymaud developed a leak and sank at its anchorage in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Northern Canada, in the winter of 1930. A small portion of the ship remained above the ice and water, and the masts, rigging and cabins were stripped from the hull. The rest of the ship was allowed to settle into the water.

An Idea Is Born

The idea of bringing “Maud” home took hold in 2011, during a 3 weeks visit to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, in August 2011 when “Maud” was surveyed extensively over and under the water both with still photographs as well as film. Maud was still in a satisfying technical state to be saved, despite having spent the last 80 years at the seabed.

 

But the removal of Maud from it’s icy location was not to happen without a fight against the Federal Government of Canada which at first denied the Norwegians the removal of the ship, citing polar region’s cultural interests, but the Norwegians were holding the title to the ship and finally the action lifting the ship got underway, starting preparations in 2014.

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         Maud submerged at Cambridge Bay, Nunavut

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A float is brought into position to lift Maud

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    Maud resurfaced after 80 years

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Yesterday, the expedition posted the following on their Facebook page:   

MAUD HAS REACHED GREENLAND
After 3 weeks of sailing MAUD and the tug Tandberg Polar has reached Aasiaat, Greenland, safe and sound. We are extremely tired but happy to have arrived here in Aasiaat where Maud will stay this winter before continuing to Norway next summer.
Tricky ice conditions in the Northwest Passage and stormy weather across to Greenland gave us a good challenge, but Maud and Jensen as well as our crew stood the test. The old Queen of the ice is on her way home. We are full of joy and gratitude to be part of Maud´s journey back to her home country, after 100 years

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Forget Trump. The U.S. Storms Ahead on Climate Change Like Never Before

Months after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, states and cities are offering their own forecast for reducing global warming: We got this.

While leaders outside Washington have been implementing measures for decades when it comes to combating carbon emissions and promoting green energy, the Trump administration’s rolling back of federal environmental protections has spurred localities around the country to step up in what experts say is an unprecedented effort.

Since Trump took office, there's been a downpour of legislation, amendments and resolutions aimed at curbing carbon emissions that are in line with key tenets of the Paris climate pact, the landmark global coalition meant to curb emissions that cause climate change.

"We’re really seeing a groundswell of activity," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune told NBC News.

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Environmental activists hold placards during a demonstration to protest President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord deal on June 1.

"The U.S. is moving strongly and irreversibly forward to transition to clean energy and to take on the climate crisis seriously, even if there is an absence of leadership coming from the White House," Brune added. "Because of the president’s and Congress’ intransigence when it comes to climate change, local governments are looking to do more."

To date, 377 mayors have joined together in a group called Climate Mayors, pledging to honor carbon emissions goals set by the Paris deal in their own cities. Under Paris, the U.S. had committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

Another group, America’s Pledge, was created in July by California Gov. Jerry Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to help organize states, cities and businesses in their efforts to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. Their group now includes officials from 200 cities and counties and nine states.

Actions supporting those goals have emanated from state capitals and city halls with rocket speed.

More than 370 bills of varying scope — all related to climate change, emissions reductions, carbon capture and green jobs — have sprung up in 41 states and Puerto Rico, proposed by Democrats and Republicans alike.

At least 50 of the measures have been enacted, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and 200 are still pending.

Some states have tackled the issue comprehensively.

In Hawaii, for example, the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature adopted or passed a series of measures, including making chunks of the Paris pact state law, allocating millions of dollars for emission reductions programs, and taking a step toward mandating climate change education in the state’s public schools.

In California, Brown extended in July his state’s cap-and-trade program, which makes businesses in the Golden State pay for their carbon dioxide emissions to 2030. It had been due to expire in 2020.

Under the program, limits are set on the amount of carbon dioxide a company is allowed to emit and auctions are held in which companies bid against each other for permits that allow a specific amount of emission. The cash from the auctions goes to a state greenhouse gas reduction fund.

Other states have taken a narrower approach.

In Maine, for example, the politically divided Legislature worked across party lines to issue $5 million in bonds to pay for prediction models for the state’s coastal zones that will help monitor "sea level changes in order to mitigate the impact of help prepare for rising sea levels" caused by climate change.

Maryland’s Democratic-controlled state Legislature passed a bill to incentivize farming practices that reduce runoff and emissions.

Even more action is taking place at the city level.

"There’s literally nothing more important than saving the planet, and now it’s cities leading the effort," Long Beach, Calif., Mayor Robert Garcia told NBC News. "That’s the world we live in with Trump having withdrawn from Paris."

A new survey of more than 100 American cities with at least 30,000 people, released exclusively Sunday to NBC News by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, found that nearly two-thirds of the cities are procuring green-fleet vehicles for city use and public transportation.

About two-thirds of the cities have also made commitments to require energy efficiency in all government buildings, and 63 percent have installed public charging stations for electric vehicles. Another 23 percent said they’re considering programs that would result in the installation.

The survey’s results "indicate the desire of cities of all sizes to do more to meet the challenges of clean energy and sustainable development," Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a joint statement.

And innovation keeps coming.

Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who’d committed in 2014 to cutting the city’s emissions by 80 percent by 2050, announced a first-of-its-kind proposal that would require owners of all aging buildings over 25,000 square feet, including apartments, to meet new greenhouse gas emission standards.

While climate experts have celebrated the progress, they've also been quick to point out that states and cities had been active on the issue long before Trump took office.

"They weren’t just sitting on their hands," said Jackson Morris, who manages on climate-mitigation policies for the eastern U.S. for the National Resources Defense Council. "(Trump) lit a fire under them, it added another layer of urgency."

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Ravaged Island

For the first time in 300 years, there’s not a person on Barbuda

Barbuda has been left completely devastated by Hurricane Irma. An estimated 95% of Barbuda’s structures are damaged, and the entire island of around 1,800 people has been evacuated.

“The damage is complete,” says Ambassador Ronald Sanders, who has served as Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the U.S. since 2015. “For the first time in 300 years, there’s not a single living person on the island of Barbuda — a civilization that has existed on that island for over 300 years has now been extinguished.”

According to Sanders, Irma was “the most ferocious, cruel and merciless storm” in the island’s history. The hurricane was 378 miles wide when it descended on Barbuda, which is just 62 square miles.

“This was a huge monster,” he says. “The island and the people on the island had absolutely no chance.”

Evacuees from Barbuda were sent to Antigua, which did not suffer the same level of damage from Irma.

“We’ve had most of the people we’ve brought over to Antigua in shelters,” says Sanders. “We’ve tried to make living accommodations as good as humanly possible in these circumstances. Fortunately, we had planned ahead for this hurricane, and we had ordered supplies in from Miami and the United States before the hurricane hit.”

 

Though Barbudan evacuees are safe, Sanders says the situation is not ideal — people are living in cramped quarters in government facilities and nursing homes, including some 500 school-aged children. Now that school is back in session, Antigua must find room for these students.

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“The situation is unacceptable, and it’s costly,” he says. “We’re going to have to keep this going for sometime because Barbuda’s not going to be rebuilt in a hurry, and when we do rebuild it, we’re going to have to rebuild to massive hurricane standards. This is going to take a while. There is no electricity there, there is no potable water anymore, there is no structure in which people can survive. We have a mammoth task on our hands.”

Sanders says the world must step up and help Barbuda.

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“We are a small island community — the gross domestic product of Antigua is $1 billion a year,” he says. “We cannot afford to take on this responsibility by ourselves. Barbuda is not just a disaster, it’s a humanitarian crisis. We are hopeful that the international community will come to our aid, not because we’re begging for something we want, but because we’re begging for something that is needed.”

Right now, initial estimates suggest that Barbuda will need about $200 million to recover. Antigua and Barbuda will create a sustainable development plan for rebuilding Barbuda, Sanders says, adding that he hopes the global community will provide humanitarian recovery aid.

“We have declared a state of emergency in Barbuda because it is a complete disaster and uninhabitable,” he says. “We cannot cope with our own resources alone.”

In addition to financial aid, Sanders says the global community must also stand up to climate change.

“We believe climate change is here to stay — it’s a reality, despite all of the naysayers,” he says. “We know that these things have occurred as a result of the profligacy of the countries that are rich, and have abused the system. We, unfortunately, who contribute less than naught point naught percent of pollution of the world’s atmosphere, are the world’s greatest victims.”

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like

By ERIC HOLTHAUS

August 28, 2017

In all of U.S. history, there’s never been a storm like Hurricane Harvey. That fact is increasingly clear, even though the rains are still falling and the water levels in Houston are still rising.

But there’s an uncomfortable point that, so far, everyone is skating around: We knew this would happen, decades ago. We knew this would happen, and we didn’t care. Now is the time to say it as loudly as possible: Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously.

Houston has been sprawling out into the swamp for decades, largely unplanned and unzoned. Now, all that pavement has transformed the bayous into surging torrents and shunted Harvey’s floodwaters toward homes and businesses. Individually, each of these subdivisions or strip malls might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but in aggregate, they’ve converted the metro area into a flood factory. Houston, as it was before Harvey, will never be the same again.

Harvey is the third 500-year flood to hit the Houston area in the past three years, but Harvey is in a class by itself. By the time the storm leaves the region on Wednesday, an estimated 40 to 60 inches of rain will have fallen on parts of Houston. So much rain has fallen already that the National Weather Service had to add additional colorsto its maps to account for the extreme totals.

Harvey is infusing new meaning into meteorologists’ favorite superlatives: There are simply no words to describe what has happened in the past few days. In just the first three days since landfall, Harvey has already doubled Houston’s previous record for the wettest month in city history, set during the previous benchmark flood, Tropical Storm Allison in June 2001. For most of the Houston area, in a stable climate, a rainstorm like Harvey is not expected to happen more than once in a millennium.

In fact, Harvey is likely already the worst rainstorm in U.S. history. An initial analysis by John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist, compared Harvey’s rainfall intensity to the worst storms in the most downpour-prone region of the United States, the Gulf Coast. Harvey ranks at the top of the list, with a total rainwater output equivalent to 3.6 times the flow of the Mississippi River. (And this is likely an underestimate, because there are still two days of rains left.) That much water—20 trillion gallons over five days—is about one-sixth the volume of Lake Erie. According to a preliminary and informal estimate by disaster economist Kevin Simmons of Austin College, Harvey’s economic toll “will likely exceed Katrina”—the most expensive disaster in U.S. history. Harvey is now the benchmark disaster of record in the United States.

As with Katrina, Harvey gives us an opportunity for an inflection point as a society. The people of Houston didn’t choose this to happen to them, but what happens next is critically important for all of us.

 

Climate change is making rainstorms everywhere worse, but particularly on the Gulf Coast. Since the 1950s, Houston has seen a 167 percent increase in the frequency of the most intense downpours. Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth thinks that as much as 30 percent of the rainfall from Harvey is attributable to human-caused global warming. That means Harvey is a storm decades in the making.

While Harvey’s rains are unique in U.S. history, heavy rainstorms are increasing in frequency and intensity worldwide. One recent study showed that by mid-century, up to 450 million people worldwide will be exposed to a doubling of flood frequency. This isn’t just a Houston problem. This is happening all over.
A warmer atmosphere enhances evaporation rates and increases the carrying capacity of rainstorms. Harvey drew its energy from a warmer-than-usual Gulf of Mexico, which will only grow warmer in the decades to come. At its peak, on Saturday night, Harvey produced rainfall rates
exceeding six inches per hour in Houston, and its multiday rainfall total is close to the theoretical maximum expected for anywhere in the United States.

Weather patterns are also getting “stuck” more often, boosting the chances that a storm like Harvey would stall out. Some scientists have linked this to melting Arctic sea ice, which reduces the strength of the polar jet stream and weakens atmospheric steering currents that can otherwise dip down and kick a storm like Harvey on its way. To be sure, a storm like Harvey might have been possible in the absence of climate change, but there are many factors at play that almost assuredly made it more likely.

 

Adapting to a future in which a millennium-scale flood can wipe out a major city is much harder than preventing that flood in the first place. By and large, the built world we have right now wasn’t constructed with climate change in mind. By continuing to pretend that we can engineer our way out of the worsening flooding problem with bigger dams, more levees and higher-powered pumping equipment, we’re fooling ourselves into a more dangerous future.

It’s possible to imagine something else: a hopeful future that diverges from climate dystopia and embraces the scenario in which our culture inevitably shifts toward building cities that work with the storms that are coming, instead of Sisyphean efforts to hold them back. That will require abandoning buildings and concepts we currently hold dear, but we’ll be rewarded with a safer, richer, more enduring world in the end. There were many people in Houston already working on making that world a reality even before Harvey came.

If we don’t talk about the climate context of Harvey, we won’t be able to prevent future disasters and get to work on that better future. Those of us who know this need to say it loudly. As long as our leaders, in words, and the rest of us, in actions, are OK with incremental solutions to a civilization-defining, global-scale problem, we will continue to stumble toward future catastrophes. Climate change requires us to rethink old systems that we’ve assumed will last forever. Putting off radical change—what futurist Alex Steffen calls “predatory delay”—just adds inevitable risk to the system. It’s up to the rest of us to identify this behavior and make it morally repugnant.

Insisting on a world that doesn’t knowingly condemn entire cities to a watery, terrifying future isn’t “politicizing” a tragedy—it’s our moral duty. The weather has always been political. If random whims of atmospheric turbulence devastate one neighborhood and spare another, it’s our job as a civilized society to equalize that burden. The choices of how to do that, by definition, are political ones.

 

Climate change hits the vulnerable in a community hardest. It is no different in Houston with Hurricane Harvey, where even if an evacuation would have been ordered, countless thousands of people wouldn’t have had the means or ability to act. There is simply no way to safely evacuate a metro area the size of Houston—6.5 million people spread across an area roughly the size of Massachusetts.

The symbolism of the worst flooding disaster in U.S. history hitting the sprawled-out capital city of America’s oil industry is likely not lost on many. Institutionalized climate denial in our political system and climate denial by inaction by the rest of us have real consequences. They look like Houston.

Once Harvey’s floodwaters recede, the process will begin to imagine a New Houston, and that city will inevitably endure future mega-rainstorms as the world warms. The rebuilding process provides an opportunity to chart a new path. The choice isn’t between left and right, or denier and believer. The choice is between success and failure.