Sunday, September 18, 2011

Energy and just getting along

No single energy technology will solve the world’s issues with renewable energy.

That’s a key message of the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo, which was held Sept. 13-15 at the Honolulu Convention Center.

It’s not a new message, certainly, but it’s apparently one a lot of folks still need to learn.

“We need technology-agnostic approaches...There is no one-size-fits-all,” said Chris Myers, vice president for international business development and energy markets for Lockheed Martin.

And yet, the rifts were obvious. Wind versus geothermal. Ocean thermal versus solar.

And there were even battles within sectors. This wind generator versus that one. Utility-scale photovoltaic versus distributed rooftop photovoltaic.

Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz said the state’s initiative to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels requires those divisions be set aside.

“We have the most aggressive public policy in clean energy in the nation,” he said. And then he added: “If we’re going to get to 70 percent clean energy, we need everything and everyone.”

Sempra Generation’s Mitch Dmohowski, whose firm plans large-scale solar, said cost should be one deciding factor.

“At the end of the day, renewables have to make sense from a cost basis,” he said.

Technological capability is another key determinant of what works, said T.J. Glauthier , former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. There may be lots of interesting energy technologies, but the ones that will make a difference are the ones that can be taken to scale, he said.

And ultimately, one message of the sessions was that it’s not just about supply. There’s efficiency. And conservation. Michael Trovato of Johnson Controls said energy retrofits can yield major savings.

Specific programs can help get people to invest, even when they lack the resources to do so independently. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Energy Right program helps people put in heat pumps by guaranteeing bank loans, which can be paid off through the electric bill. Here’s how the city of Aloca, Tennessee, does it.

And a big issue is simply managing energy more appropriately. On this point, a smarter grid is key, said Glauthier. He argued that a smart grid is long overdue: “It is the last major part of our economy to be computerized.”

© Jan TenBruggencate 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rising seas top threat to Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

When researchers looked into the most significant threats to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the top threat was a slam dunk: rising seas.

That’s because most of the islands of the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago are low, sand and coral islands. A foot of sea level rise could erase entirely much of the dry land.

(Image: A map ranking human impacts in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. From

And with that, the stunning repercussions for wildlife: Something like 90 percent of all the Hawaiian green sea turtles nest on the sandbars of French Frigate Shoals; entire species of seabirds and a few land birds rely on these specks of land for nesting habitat; Hawaiian monk seals, already threatened, would lose their haulouts and pupping places.

This threat research is documented at a new website, which documents research being done in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Those islands, which lie beyond Kaua`i and Ni`ihau, are managed as the Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Monument.

“Those interested in the exciting and dynamic research coming out of HIMB now have an easy to use forum and site to access information,” said Robert Toonen, principal investigator for the HIMB Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Research Partnership.

The website has gone “live” this week.

Just one of the pieces of research on it involves the mapping of cumulative impacts of human activity. The team talked to 25 experts about the various threats, and ranked them.

We used a novel index of ‘ecological vulnerability’ that accounts for five ways a human activity can adversely impact a coral reef: the area and frequency of impact, the number of species impacted, the biomass lost and the recovery time following the impact,” the site says.

From the biggest threat to the least problematic, here’s how the ranking went:

Sea level rise, sea temperature rise, marine debris, alien species establishment, increasing ultraviolet radiation, ghost fishing, sea water acidification, ship groundings, coastal engineering, land-based runoff, ship waste input, pelagic long-lining and net fishing, anchor damage, lobster trap fishery, research wildlife sacrifice, sport fishing, trampling damage, vessel strikes, diver impacts, research manipulations, bottom fishing, indigenous fishing, aquarium collecting, and non-fishing non-diving recreation.

The report said that while the islands are protected from many direct human impacts, global threats put them at serious risk.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Warming seas, invading king crabs, bad news for life that evolved without them

Good news for crab lovers, bad news for less robust critters like sea lilies, brittle stars, asteroids and sea urchins.

(Image: The invasive king crab, Neolithodes yaldwyni, from the Antarctic shelf waters. It’s similar looking and is related, but is a different genus and species from the Alaskan or red king crab, Paralithodes camtschaticus. Photo courtesy University of Hawai’i.)

University of Hawai’i oceanography professor Craig Smith is part of a team that found that king crabs have invaded across the West Antarctica continental shelf and now inhabit the Palmer Deep along the west Antarctic Pensinsula. Their paper on the subject is here.

And lots of creatures that should be there, aren’t.

“This is a very interesting discovery for several reasons,” Smith said

“First, it provides evidence that king crabs can now disperse across the Antarctic shelf, and reproduce in at least some Antarctic shelf waters. It also suggests that these predatory king crabs will cause a major reduction on seafloor biodiversity as they invade Antarctic habitats because they appear to be eating all the echinoderms in the Palmer Deep.”

Smith recently joined researchers from Duke University, Ghent University, Hamilton College and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Antarctica. They used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to inspect the seafloor life in the area. They found that a king crab species called Neolithodes yaldwyni is dramatically altering the ecosystem.

The result is the demise of a whole ecosystem that had developed in the absence of crushing predators like big crabs. Echinoderms like the stars and urchins are common in most of the Antarctic ocean, but they’re not now found in the parts of the Palmer Deep where the king crabs are found.

The researchers believe the rapid pace of ocean warming has allowed the crabs to move into the new habitat, where they dig into oceanfloor sediments and feed on seafloor animals there.

Smith and the team said they believe the continued warming will allow the king crabs to further expand their range within as little as 20 years at the expense of the native creatures that compose Antarctica’s unique seafloor animal life. The team hopes to use genetic tests to track the continuing colonization of the crabs.

Their research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Special Research Fund of Ghent University.

The University of Hawai’i release on the issue is here.

More images and story here.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

Nihoa to repopulate Laysan's millerbird habitat.

One of the mantras of conservation is that a tiny population in a single location is inherently at risk.

That’s why conservation agencies are working this week to establish a population on Laysan Island of the Nihoa millerbird.

(Image: Nihoa millerbird, which will help create a new population of millerbirds on Laysan. Credit: Robby Kohley via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

This has been done before with another single-island species from Nihoa, the Nihoa finch, which now has a backup population on Pearl and Hermes Atoll. And it’s been done with the Laysan duck or teal, which now also exists on Midway Atoll.

The new transfer is a joint effort of the U .S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the American Bird Conservancy, with the help off the group Pacific Rim Conservation. All the islands are within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which covers the islands, reefs, seamounts and atolls of the remote northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago.

A team working from the motor vessel Searcher is on Nihoa this week, seeking to collect 24 millerbirds for the transfer. Millerbirds have previously existed on Laysan, but not for nearly a century. The birds will be taken aboard the ship, which will power to the northwest to Laysan, a 650-mile voyage.

The two islands had different varieties of the the millerbird. The one on Laysan was Acrocephalus familiaris familiaris and the one on Nihoa is Acrocephalus familiaris kingi. They were very similar. Laysan’s millerbird went extinct during a period when introduced rabbits destroyed virtually all green vegetation on Laysan Island. The rabbits were eventually eradicated, and some of the original vegetation is back now.

The insect-eaters are active gray-brown birds that forage among low shrubbery on Nihoa. What are the risks for them? Nihoa is a tiny rock island, and fire, rats, disease-carrying mosquitoes, storm or any number of threats could wipe them out. Even rabbits.

The world expert on millerbirds is University of Hawai’i zoologist Sheila Conant, who studied them extensively in the 1980s and has watched the population whipsaw from as many as 800 birds to as few as 30. She is a strong proponent of translocation.

“For thousands of years, the Nihoa Millerbird miraculously survived low numbers, catastrophes including a severe brush fire in the late 1800s, and, most importantly, existence on a single tiny island.

"These threats are as serious today as they have ever been, and are compounded by the potential for non-native predators and diseases to be introduced to Nihoa. This translocation could more than double the total number of birds by establishing a second population on another island, and provide insurance for the species,” Conant said.

Read more about the millerbirds at the American Bird Conservancy site.

For more on the translocation project, see here.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2011