Where Cheap Power Matters More Than Environmental Armageddon

Bloomberg -   | 

Australia lags behind in energy transition away from coal
Lack of policy clarity hurting investment in new power sources
An aerial view of Abbot Point, north of Bowen, Queensland, Australia, in 2013. Source: Greenpeace via EPA
Few places better illustrate the tension between pursuing profit and tackling climate change than Australia’s Abbot Point port in northern Queensland.
It’s here, 30 miles from the Great Barrier Reef, that Adani Enterprises Ltd. wants to increase capacity so it can ship more coal from a new A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) mine nearby. The expansion faces opposition from environmentalists, who say it will endanger the health of the reef, one of the seven wonders of the natural world, but has been backed by the government along with the new mine.
It’s emblematic of Australia’s dilemma: blessed with some of the world’s richest natural environments, from Kakadu wetlands in the Northern Territory to the primordial Tarkine rainforest in Tasmania, yet reliant on mining and exporting one of the most ecologically-damaging fossil fuels to keep its economy ticking.
Under Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Liberal-National coalition government, political and economic arguments in favor of fossil fuels are overpowering popular interest in tackling climate change for now. The coalition was keen to disburse A$1 billion in taxpayer-funded loans to help Adani build a rail link for the project, but the plan was vetoed by Queensland’s state government, which is controlled by the national opposition Labor Party.
Though one of the world’s biggest sources of coal and natural gas, a decade of political dithering and policy missteps have saddled Australia with rising power prices and at times unreliable supplies. Successive governments have failed to provide the investment certainty needed to bridge the transition to renewables such as solar and wind as aging coal-fired plants close.
The government is primarily focused on mollifying voters hit with higher electricity bills and sees coal as the solution. Yet those same voters also want more action against climate change, with 84 percent wanting the government to boost renewable power generation, according to a June poll by Australian think tank the Lowy Institute.

Power Mix Down Under
Keeping the coal fires burning

Source: Bloomberg NEF
Note: Data for 2017
“The challenge is largely political” said Mark Howden, director of the Climate Change Institute at Australian National University. “We have a range of barriers both in terms of policy, or lack of policy, to incentivize change.”
The need for change is becoming more urgent, according to a panel of scientists convened by the United Nations. The world must invest $2.4 trillion in clean energy every year through 2035 and cut the use of coal-fired power to almost nothing by 2050 to avoid catastrophic damage from climate change, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change wrote in a report last month.
The atmosphere is already almost 1 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) hotter than it was at the start of the industrial revolution and on track to rise 3 degrees by 2100, according to the report. That’s double the pace targeted under the 2015 Paris climate agreements.
“Post-Paris, the world has largely moved on toward adopting a de-carbonization pathway,” Christoph Frei, chief executive of the World Energy Council, said during a visit to Australia last month. “In Australia, we don’t have that certainty and that’s probably the worst situation you can be in.”
An increase in 1.5 degrees would pose an increased risk of coral bleaching on the iconic Reef, longer droughts on the driest inhabited continent and more intense bushfire seasons, according to Howden.
Many Australian lawmakers still find the economic argument for supporting coal more compelling than avoiding possible environmental Armageddon. The fuel is overtaking iron ore as Australia’s largest export earner this fiscal year, with taxes from more than $40 billion a year in overseas sales helping bolster government coffers. Australia generates about 80 percent of its power from coal and gas, compared with the global average of about 59 percent, according to Bloomberg NEF data.

Fossil Fuel Fetish
Coal and gas still make up bulk of Australian power generation

Source: Bloomberg NEF
Note: Data for 2017
 That looks unlikely to change under the current government. Morrison, who in 2016 brandished a lump of coal in parliament to show his support of the fuel, is considering using taxpayer dollars to subsidize new coal-fired plants. Following the IPCC report, Morrison said he was confident Australia would meet its Paris emissions-reduction target -- a minimum 26 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2030 -- “at a canter.”
“The government is committed to drive down power prices for Australian businesses and families, while we keep the lights on,” Energy Minister Angus Taylor said in a written response to questions sent by Bloomberg. “There are already record levels of investment in Australia’s renewable energy sector,” and the nation is on track to meet its emissions reduction and large-scale renewable energy targets, he said.

‘No Effective Policy’
Not everyone is convinced. Tim Flannery, perhaps Australia’s best known environmentalist, said the country’s Paris targets were underwhelming compared with developed world peers and “even those targets look unachievable.”
“The government has no effective policy to achieve them,” Flannery said in an interview.
Unlike the Trump administration, Australia has not formally withdrawn from the Paris framework. But Morrison’s government is refusing to legislate or regulate measures to ensure the targets will be met. The nation is the world’s number one carbon emitter on a per-capita basis and its renewables capacity is among the lowest in the developed world.
The policy vacuum makes it difficult for energy companies to make investment decisions needed for the transition to cleaner power.
“It’s hard to decide to invest in long-life assets when you don’t know what the rules of the game are around carbon constraint,” said Sarah McNamara, chief executive officer of the Australian Energy Council, which represents companies in the wholesale and retail energy markets.
ANU’s Howden says Australia’s lack of action on climate change is perplexing to many of his international colleagues.
“When other countries look at us,” he said, “they wonder why we’re not aligning ourselves with what they see as our own self-interest.”


Fighting Climate Change: How Emergency Services Are Battling Changing Conditions

ABCKate Doyle

Fire seasons in the United States and Australia are getting longer. (Reuters: Gene Blevins)
Meanwhile in Australia, there was a heat event recently that smashed early season temperature records in the south-east, and fires threatened Canberra.
It is still spring.
Attributing individual events to climate change is complex, but observing the overall trend is not.
The California fires are happening during the period of the Santa Ana winds, which blow across the continent bringing hot, dry winds from October through to April.
November fires are not unheard of, but historically the Santa Ana fires peak in October, before things cool down as the northern hemisphere heads into winter.
Because of climate change, fires are getting more intense and fire seasons are extending to the point where the northern and southern hemisphere fire seasons are overlapping.

Tactics will need to change
Climate change is a reality emergency services are dealing with, and fire is not the only problem, with warming oceans resulting in heavier rain and the potential for increased flooding.
Tasmanian Fire Service chief officer Chris Arnold does not back away from the issue.
"We have to look at what the impact of climate change is in the community and how we're going to change our strategies and our tactics, and then ultimately invest in new approaches to deal with climate change," he said.
Mr Arnold is involved with an emergency services climate change initiative to research and respond to climate change issues in the sector.
"Certainly we have been aware of climate change coming and the Bureau of Meteorology has long been warning of those impacts. The next thing to decide is what do you do about that?" he said.

Bad fire seasons are becoming the norm
Bureau of Meteorology climate services manager David Jones said the impacts of climate change were already being felt in Australia.
"In southern Australia we've seen rising temperatures and declining rainfall and that's increasing the fire danger, particularly in states like Victoria, parts of New South Wales, western New South Wales, southern New South Wales, across south-west WA," he said.
Summer fire danger has been getting worse for the south and east since the 1950s.
  (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)
Dr Jones said in Victoria there had been about a 50 per cent increase in the forest fire danger index season severity.
"When you look at the past, we would get a bad fire season maybe once every 10 years or thereabouts," he said.
"Now the norm is actually a bad fire season."
What can be done about that?
New South Wales Rural Fire Service planning and predictive services manager Simon Heemstra is on the frontline of trying to work out how to adapt to climate change in the emergency services sector.
One of the challenges he faces is not being able to share resources, such as the big American firebombing aeroplanes, when seasons cross over.
Sharing resources is a challenge when states and countries are battling fires at the same time. (Supplied: DELWP)
"With the lengthening season, there may be competition for those sorts of resources, and we're going to need to look at what are the most effective alternatives, and also how else can we better mitigate and prepare for events," Dr Heemstra said.
"The American water bombers are only a part of how we manage fires."
Dr Heemstra said an increased emphasis on better hardening infrastructure, preparing communities, as well as all the mitigation works on fire trials and hazard reduction, would hopefully reduce the increasing risk and impact of climate change-induced natural disasters.

Not just fire that is an issue
Dr Jones said the changing climate was not just impacting fires — the ice is melting and the warming ocean is expanding, impacting on flooding.
"What we're seeing is a quite general increase in sea level. It's about 4 millimetres a year at the moment, 3–4 millimetres, and it's going on year on year. It's actually starting to add up," he said.
A few centimetres could change how natural disasters play out.
Warm waters in May 2016 coincided with record rainfall in Tasmania. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)
"For example, earlier in the year in Brisbane, we saw floods on perfectly fine sunny days and that was because of these higher sea levels," Dr Jones said.
Warmer oceans can also lead to heavier rain, especially when combined with a warmer atmosphere.
"The amount of moisture the atmosphere can hold increases by nearly 10 per cent for each degree of global warming," Dr Jones said.

When it comes to climate, nothing happens in isolation
"The other thing we're noticing with the heating globe is that the things that caused these disasters also have other cascading and coalescing events," Dr Heemstra said.
For example, fires during heatwaves can stress electricity supply.
"There's a whole public health issue that also goes with multiple disasters you might need to be responding to," he said. 
Dealing with firefighter fatigue is an issue emergency services will have to tackle as fire seasons get longer. (Supplied: Wallcliffe Volunteer Fire Brigade, file)
 There are many aspects for emergency services to consider, particularly if there are going to be more frequent events.
"How do we deal with our workforce, and fatigue, and managing the increased expectation of how we're going to work?" Dr Heemstra said.
"How do we look at infrastructure, and are our design levels appropriate for a changing climate?"

How bad could it get?
Most climate modelling focuses on how the averages are going to change over time.
If you're reading this article, it's possible the answer is yes. Then why not join the ABC-facilitated Weather Obsessed group on Facebook — thousands of others are already going troppo for the troposphere!
"The thing that we're missing out of the climate models is they don't really look at the extremes, and that is where we operate in the emergency services space," Dr Heemstra said.
"We actually need to do some more work looking at the amplitude or the amount which those extreme events vary from those averages, stay the same, or will that actually increase."
According to Dr Heemstra, there needs to be an investment in projecting the extremes so we can better understand the sort of challenges we might face because of climate change.
Dr Jones's data demonstrates that things are already different from how they were in the past.
"What it means is really the past can no longer tell you the limits of what you can see," he said.
"So you start to have to prepare for events which are perhaps beyond what you're seen before, perhaps starting to really test your imagination."
For Dr Jones it is not about hope or options. As a scientist he studies these things objectively.
"We study really to make people's life better … enable them to take the opportunities that climate change will present, but also adapt so the impacts of climate change are less bad."


Ten Ways Climate Change Is Making Wildfires Worse

SBS -  Yuri Kadobnov, AFP

As deadly wildfires threaten thousands in northern and southern California, scientists have identified 10 ways climate change can make wildfires worse.

Deadly wildfires such as those raging in northern and southern California have become more common in the US state and elsewhere in the world in recent years. AFP talked to scientists about the ways in which climate change can make them worse.
Other factors have also fuelled an increase in the frequency and intensity of major fires, including human encroachment on wooded areas, and questionable forest management. "The patient was already sick," in the words of David Bowman, a professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania and a wildfire expert.
"But climate change is the accelerant."

Fine weather for a fire
Any firefighter can tell you the recipe for "conducive fire weather": hot, dry and windy.
No surprise, then, that many of the tropical and temperate regions devastated by a surge in forest fires are those predicted in climate models to see higher temperatures and more droughts.
Heavy smoke blankets the forest where the Camp Fire is burning heavily near Paradise, California, on Nov. 11, 2018. AAP
"Besides bringing more dry and hot air, climate change - by elevating evaporation rates and drought prevalence - also creates more flammable ecosystems," noted Christopher Williams, director of environmental sciences at Clark University in Massachusetts.
In the last 20 years, California and southern Europe have seen several droughts of a magnitude that used to occur only once a century.
A group of U.S. Forest Service firefighters monitor a back fire while battling to save homes on Nov. 8.  © Stephen Lam/Reuters
More fuel
Dry weather means more dead trees, shrubs and grass - and more fuel for the fire.
"All those extremely dry years create an enormous amount of desiccated biomass," said Michel Vennetier, an engineer at France's National Research of Science and Technology for Environment and Agriculture (IRSTEA).
"That's an ideal combustible."

Change of scenery
To make matters worse, new species better adapted to semi-arid conditions grow in their place.
"Plants that like humidity have disappeared, replaced by more flammable plants that can withstand dry conditions, like rosemary, wild lavender and thyme," said Vennetier.
"The change happens quite quickly."
In the last 20 years, California and southern Europe have seen several droughts of a magnitude that used to occur only once a century. © Provided by AFP

Thirsty plants
With rising mercury and less rain, water-stressed trees and shrubs send roots deeper into the soil, sucking up every drop of water they can to nourish leaves and needles.
That means the moisture in the earth that might have helped to slow a fire sweeping through a forest or garrigue is no longer there.

Longer season
In the northern hemisphere's temperate zone, the fire season was historically short - July and August, in most places.
"Today, the period susceptible to wildfires has extended from June to October," said IRSTEA scientist Thomas Curt, referring to the Mediterranean basin.
In California, which only recently emerged from a five-year drought, some experts say there's no longer a season at all - fires can happen year-round.

More lightning
"The warmer it gets, the more lightning you have," said Mike Flannigan, a professor at the University of Alberta, Canada and director of the Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Science.
The wildfires spreading across California have so far claimed nine lives and forced tens of thousands to flee. AAP
"Especially in the northern areas, that translates into more fires."
At the same time, he noted that 95 per cent of wildfires worldwide are started by humans.

Weakened jet stream
Normal weather patterns over North America and Eurasia depend heavily on the powerful, high-altitude air currents - produced by the contrast between polar and equatorial temperatures - known as the jet stream.
But global warming has raised temperatures in the Arctic twice as fast as the global average, weakening those currents.
"We are seeing more extreme weather because of what we call blocked ridges, which is a high-pressure system in which air is sinking, getting warmer and drier along the way," said Flannigan.
"Firefighters have known for decades that these are conducive to fire activity."

Unmanageable intensity
Climate change not only boosts the likelihood of wildfires, but their intensity as well.
"If the fire gets too intense" as in California right now, and in Greece last summer - "there is no direct measure you can take to stop it," said Flannigan.
"It's like spitting on a campfire."

Beetle infestations
With rising temperatures, beetles have moved northward into Canada's boreal forests, wreaking havoc - and killing trees - along the way.
"Bark beetle outbreaks temporarily increase forest flammability by increasing the amount of dead material, such as needles," said Williams.

Positive feedback
Globally, forests hold about 45 per cent of Earth's land-locked carbon and soak up a quarter of human greenhouse gas emissions.
But as forests die and burn, some of the carbon is released back into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change in a vicious loop that scientists call "positive feedback."



Climate Change Will Make QLD’s Ecosystems Unrecognisable – It’s Up To Us If We Want To Stop That

The Conversation

It’s not just about the Great Barrier Reef. Queensland’s rainforests - particularly in the mountains - will also change thanks to a warming climate. Shutterstock
Climate change and those whose job it is to talk about current and future climate impacts are often classed as the “harbingers of doom”. For the world’s biodiversity, the predictions are grim - loss of species, loss of pollination, dying coral reefs.
The reality is that without human intervention, ecosystems will reshape themselves in response to climate change, what we can think of as “autonomous adaptation”. For us humans - we need to decide if we need or want to change that course.
For those who look after natural systems, our job description has changed. Until now we have scrambled to protect or restore what we could fairly confidently consider to be “natural”. Under climate change knowing what that should look like is hard to decide.
If the Great Barrier Reef still has a few pretty fish and coral in the future, and only scientists know they are different species to the past, does that matter? It’s an extreme example, but it is a good analogy for the types of decisions we might need to make.
In Queensland, the government has just launched the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Climate Adaptation Plan for Queensland focused on what is considered important for making these decisions. The plan is high level, but is an important first step toward preparing the sector for the future.

Changing ecosystems
For the rest of Queensland’s ecosystems the story is much the same as the Great Barrier Reef. There are the obvious regions at risk. Our coastal floodplains and wetlands are potentially under threat from both sides, with housing and development making a landward march and the sea pushing in from the other side. These ecosystems literally have nowhere to go in the crush.
It’s a similar story for species and ecosystems that specialise on cool, high altitude mountaintops. These small, isolated populations rely on cool conditions. As the temperature warms, if they can’t change their behaviour (for instance, by taking refuge in cool spots or crevices during hot times), then it is unlikely they will survive without human intervention such as translocation.
We are all too familiar with the risk of coral reefs dying and becoming a habitat for algae, but some of our less high profile ecosystems face similar transformations. Our tropical savannah woodlands cover much of the top third of Queensland. An iconic ecosystem of the north, massive weed invasions and highly altered fire regimes might threaten to make them unrecognisable.
Changing fire patterns and invasive species could see dramatic changes in Queensland’s savannah woodlands. Shutterstock
So where to from here?
From the grim predictions we must rally to find a way forward. Critically for those who must manage our natural areas it’s about thinking about what we want to get out of our efforts.
Conservation property owners, both public (for instance, national parks) and private (for instance, not-for-profit conservation groups), must decide what their resources can achieve. Throwing money at a species we cannot save under climate change may be better replaced by focusing on making sure we have species diversity or water quality. It’s a hard reality to swallow, but pragmatism is part of the climate change equation.
We led the development of the Queensland plan, and were encouraged to discover a sector that had a great deal of knowledge, experience and willingness. The challenge for the Queensland government is to usefully channel that energy into tackling the problem.

Valuing biodiversity
One of the clearest messages from many of the people we spoke to was about how biodiversity and ecosystems are valued by the wider community. Or not. There was a clear sense that we need to make biodiversity and ecosystems a priority.
The Great Barrier Reef is already seeing major climate impacts, particularly bleaching. Shutterstock
It’s easy to categorise biodiversity and conservation as a “green” issue. But aside from the intrinsic value or personal health and recreation value that most of us place on natural areas, without biodiversity we risk losing things other than a good fishing spot.
Every farmer knows the importance of clean water and fertile soil to their economic prosperity. But when our cities bulge, or property is in danger from fire, we prioritise short-term economic returns, more houses or reducing fire risk over biodiversity almost every time.
Of course, this is not to say the balance should be flipped, but climate change is challenging our politicians, planners and us as the Queensland community to take responsibility for the effects our choices have on our biodiversity and ecosystems. As the pressure increases to adapt in other sectors, we should seek options that could help – rather than hinder – adaptation in natural systems.
Coastal residences may feel that investing in a seawall to protect their homes from rising sea levels is worthwhile even if it means sacrificing a scrap of coastal wetland, but there are opportunities to satisfy both human needs and biodiversity needs. We hope the Queensland plan can help promote those opportunities.


Firefighters, Climate Scientist, Slam Trump For 'Shameful' And 'Ill-Informed' Wildfire Tweets


The leaders of two firefighters associations have blasted President Donald Trump’s tweet about California wildfires as “ill-informed” and “shameful,” arguing that the federal government is largely responsible for the ongoing problem.
At least 23 people have been killed and tens of thousands evacuated as a forest fire ravaged the Northern California city of Paradise over the weekend. In Southern California, two other bodies were recovered from a forest fire, bringing the state’s death toll to 25. Forest fires have been a constant problem in California for many years, regularly costing lives and billions in damages.
Addressing the disaster in a Saturday tweet, Trump lashed out at California’s management of forests as the cause of the fires, threatening to cut payments from the federal government.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” the president wrote on Twitter. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” he threatened.
Although Trump later sent out another tweet, saying “God bless them all,” referring to firefighters and those impacted by the devastation, the heads of the California Professional Firefighters (CPF) and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) released statements slamming the the president’s remarks.
“To make crass suggestions such as cutting off funding during a time of crisis shows a troubling lack of real comprehension about the disaster at hand and the dangerous job our fire fighters do,” Harold Schaitberger, General President of IAFF, which represents paid full-time firefighters and emergency medical services personnel in the United States and Canada, said.
"His comments are reckless and insulting to the fire fighters and people being affected,” Schaitberger added.
CPF President Brian K. Rice shared similar sentiments, while also pointing out that Trump’s tweet demonstrates a misunderstanding of the reality of how forests are managed in California.
“The president’s message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines,” Rice said. “The president has chosen instead to issue an uninformed political threat aimed squarely at the innocent victims of these cataclysmic fires,” he added.
A CalFire firefighter sets up tape as Yuba and Butte County Sheriff officers recover a body at a burned out residence in Paradise, California on November 10 JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images 
Continuing, Rice explained that Trump’s “assertion that California’s forest management policies are to blame for catastrophic wildfire is dangerously wrong.”
“Wildfires are sparked and spread not only in forested areas but in populated areas and open fields fueled by parched vegetation, high winds, low humidity and geography. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management, and another one-third under private control. It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California,” he pointed out.
“We would encourage the president to offer support in word and deed, instead of recrimination and blame,” he concluded, pointing out that wildfires are not a partisan issue. “Families are in mourning, thousands have lost homes, and a quarter-million Americans have been forced to flee,” he said.
While Trump blamed forest management, experts have often pointed out that climate change is a leading factor behind an uptick in fires throughout California and other western states. As president, Trump has removed the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords, which aimed to curb the impact of climate change globally. He has also expressed constant skepticism of the established science that demonstrates significant warming and change around the planet, while cutting regulations intended to curb pollution and emissions.
“As, frankly, someone that was evacuated and has visited burnt-out homes, that Trump tweet today blaming the state was an insult and so uninformed,” Glen MacDonald, a geography professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied climate change and the effects of wildfires for decades, told The Daily Beast. “There are no forests to manage here. Coastal fires and shrubs are part of what burnt. It was a statement made with insensitivity and ignorance.”
California elected several Democratic lawmakers in the recent midterms, defeating Republicans.


Fire Chief: Climate Change Helped Make California Wildfires More Devastating

The Guardian

Firefighters hose down hot spots on a wildfire-ravaged property in Malibu, California. Photograph: Marcio José Sánchez/AP 
As fire officials from across Ventura and Los Angeles county gathered to speak to reporters on Sunday, beyond the charred and smoldering hills where the Woolsey fire burned through the weekend, the wind was already starting to pick up.
As Los Angeles fire chief Daryl Osby took the podium, strong gusts swirled smoke, ash and dust through grey skies. Along with updates on progress in fighting the fire, he said this blaze signified a shift: fire crews are now facing the most erratic and challenging fight of their lives.
Climate change, Osby said, was undeniably a part of why the fires burning in northern and southern California were more devastating and destructive than in years past.
The death toll stood at 25: two in the LA-area fires, 23 around the destroyed town of Paradise 500 miles to the north. The total was expected to rise.
“The fact of the matter is if you look at the state of California, climate challenge is happening statewide,” Osby said, adding that “it is going to be here for the foreseeable future”.
The Camp Fire burns in the hills 2018 near Big Bend, California, on Saturday. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Drought conditions have increasingly affected the state over the past decade, causing erratic fire behavior and making efforts to contain the flames much more difficult. The Woolsey fire, which was only 10% contained on Sunday, has burned more than 87,000 acres in three days. More than 177 homes have been lost and officials said that number was expected to rise rapidly.
The fire season, which started in early summer, is poised to break records for a second year in a row. In July California’s outgoing governor, Jerry Brown, referred to megafires as the “new normal”.
After the press conference, Osby told the Guardian environmental changes had expanded fire season across the state. Crucially, this has put a crunch on resources. For an immediate example, the Camp fire in the north, which devastated Paradise, has diverted resources that drier areas of southern California could once rely on for backup.
Typically we would rely on our partners to the north to come. But they are fighting a major fire up there
Daryl Osby, LA fire chief
“It did have an affect on our strategy,” he said. “Typically we would rely on our partners to the north to come. But they are fighting a major fire up there.”
Southern California fire crews therefore only had capacity to focus on saving lives and structures as the fire moved and were unable to work on containing the flames for three days.
According to Cal Fire chief Scott Jalbert, there was a window on Saturday when the winds died down and firefighters were able to make some progress. But with strong winds projected through the beginning of the new week, containing the fire will be more difficult.
“They took as much advantage as they could,” he said but “with these winds, 30-40mph, it is going to cause a lot of problems”. He added that aircraft will be less affective at aiming retardant. “You can imagine dropping a cup of water into these winds. It goes all over the place.”
With help coming from Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Washington, Osby said fire crews would have the support they need to stop the flames from spreading.
“What really hampered our ability to combat this fire is we didn’t have enough resources for containment,” he said. “Normally we would do all three things simultaneously but now we have to do it in sequential order. Lives are first.”



Exclusive Photos: A Giant Iceberg Breaks Off Antarctica

National GeographicPhotographs 

NASA scientists just got their first close look at a new iceberg three times the size of Manhattan. Our team was on the plane.
Curving ice canyons mark the edge of the new iceberg, dubbed B-46, as it breaks off the thick, floating ice shelf of the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica. In the foreground lies broken sea ice on the dark surface of the Amundsen Sea. LARGE IMAGE
As the plane approached low over the enormous expanse of white, excited scientists crowded to the windows, cameras in hand. Their instruments had warned them that something special was about to emerge from the bleak expanse of West Antarctica.
“We’re coming up on B-46,” a pilot’s voice crackled in their headsets.

Flying at 1,500 feet, the NASA plane circled over the new B-46 iceberg, getting a good view here of its front, seaward edge.
B-46 is essentially a long slice cut from the front of the Pine Island ice shelf—the floating end of a glacier that is flowing toward the sea. The berg is already cracking into sections that will become separate icebergs. LARGE IMAGE

Moments later, the cracks appeared. Huge, blocky fissures sliced across the giant white layer cake of the Pine Island Glacier, a fast-moving part of the West Antarctic ice sheet. The sound of clicking shutters filled the noisy, drafty cabin of the DC-8. There were broad smiles and exclamations. “It’s so big,” someone said. “It’s incredible,” said another.
Another giant chunk of ice had just broken off the glacier.
As the jet continued its auto-controlled transect line, 1,500 feet over the ice, it crossed the main break—a huge white canyon that marked a detachment point of what was now an iceberg from the rest of the glacier’s floating ice shelf. The new iceberg, named B-46 by scientists, is estimated to cover about 71 square miles, more than three times the size of Manhattan. The cliffs at its edges are 160 to 230 feet high.
“This is a brand new feature,” said Brooke Medley, a glaciologist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “I’m 99 percent sure we are the first people to ever see this with our own eyes.”
Pine Island Glacier sits along the Amundsen Sea, west of the Antarctic Peninsula. Remote as it is, it’s one of the most famous and studied glaciers in the world—because it’s one of the fastest changing. As the glacier melts, largely due to warm seawater that’s being driven under its floating shelf by changing winds and currents, it contributes significantly to global sea level rise. (Read more about Antarctic melting and sea level rise.)
In September, scientists studying satellite photographs had discovered a crack in the ice shelf. “It’s possible it started before that, but it was in the polar winter then and we don’t have a record of it,” said Medley.
The fissure that separates the B-46 iceberg from the shelf of the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica. 
The B-46 iceberg is thought to have broken off just a few weeks later, on or around October 27, again according to satellite imagery, said Medley, who is also the deputy project scientist for NASA’s Operation IceBridge. Since 2009, the program has flown highly sensitive instruments over both poles in a variety of aircraft—including the vintage DC-8 used this week—to study how the ice-covered regions are changing as the planet warms.

Rapid breakup
The speed of the iceberg’s break has surprised scientists. And when it calved, “it may have taken smaller bergs with it along the way,” Medley adds.
In fact, the iceberg is so large and fresh, and still so close to the adjacent glacier, that it is hard to take in whole from an altitude of 1,500 feet—imagine flying over Manhattan just a few feet above the tip of the Empire State Building’s antenna.
“It’s difficult to grasp the scale of what we are looking at,” Medley said from her workstation in the DC-8, behind a bank of monitors. “But it’s absolutely stunning. Spectacular.”
In addition to the main ice canyons that mark the berg’s outer boundaries, it’s also bisected by many smaller crevasses, indicating that it’s already breaking up into smaller pieces. Even more fissures can be seen cutting into the glacier itself.
B-46 will likely keep breaking up over the coming weeks, as it is buffeted by wind and currents in the Southern Ocean.
Large sections of B-46 float in front of the Pine Island ice shelf. Scientists worry that the entire ice shelf might one day disintegrate, unleashing the glacier behind it. LARGE IMAGE
Although it’s a large mass of ice, B-46 is hardly the largest in recent memory. In 2015, the Pine Island Glacier—or PIG, as scientists affectionately call it—calved a 225-square-mile iceberg. And in July 2017, an expanse of ice the size of Delaware, some 2,240 square miles, broke off the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula. (Learn more about the impacts of warming on the peninsula.)

The global picture
Although such big ice calving events can be purely natural phenomena, they have increasingly drawn attention from the scientific community and public because of their possible links to global climate change. As the world’s land-based glaciers melt with warming temperatures—particularly in Greenland and Antarctica—global sea level is rising. That, in turn, threatens to drown low-lying areas from Florida to Bangladesh.
“Pine Island and the neighboring Thwaites Glacier contribute a large fraction of global sea-level rise, five to 10 percent, even though they only make up about three percent of Antarctica,” said John Sonntag, a NASA Goddard scientist and self-described “weather nerd”, who was also on the fight.
The glaciers that rim Antarctica are buttressed by their floating ice shelves. As those ice shelves melt and break into pieces, they relieve pressure on the vast amounts of inland ice behind them. If entire glaciers were to slough off into the sea, they could eventually raise sea level by tens of feet, with potentially catastrophic implications for human civilization.
In the early 2000s, Pine Island Glacier calved large icebergs roughly once every six years. But in the past five years there have now been four such events. Since the 1970s, the edge of the glacier has retreated tens of miles. Driving all this melting is water that in the Amundsen Sea has warmed by more than a degree Fahrenheit over the past few decades.
“It’s amazing the relevance to our species that this one area has,” Sonntag said.
Medley cautions that it’s difficult to link a specific calving event with long-term change. “That being said, you can look at the frequency of events.”
Glacier behavior is complex and there are significant gaps in understanding. In fact, collecting data to help close those gaps is the main purpose of the day’s flight over the bottom of the world, as part of NASA IceBridge’s austral spring and summer campaign. In particular, the scientists hope to better map the seafloor under the ice shelves (which influences the speed at which the ice retreats), and more precisely work out the densities and masses of the snow and ice (which can influence melt rates).
Preliminary data from the lasers and radar on board the DC-8 suggest B-46 had fractures that went at least 200 feet deep, said Jim Yungel, a NASA Goddard engineer overseeing the instruments on the flight.
For now, it’s hard to say how much the new iceberg may contribute to, or be a symptom of, the wider changes facing West Antarctica.
But, says Medley, “The fact that it broke off so rapidly is concerning.”


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