Viewpoint: Keeping a Weather Eye Out

On a recent family vacation, unseasonably warm temperatures sparked discussion of climate change, global warming, greenhouse gas emissions, the El Nino/La Nina effects, and drought vs. flooding.

I was trying to explain to my daughters (ages 10 and 12) that “global warming” fails to fully describe the unusual weather patterns our world is experiencing. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, many factors point to climate change, among them:

  • Sea level rise: Global sea level rose about 6.7 inches in the past century and the rate of rise in the past decade is nearly double that of the past century
  • Temperature rise: Earth has warmed since 1880, with much of this warming having occurred since the 1970s and 10 of the warmest years occurring during the past 12 years
  • Warming oceans: The top 700 meters of ocean has warmed 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969
  • Shrinking ice sheets: The Greenland ice sheet lost 150 to 250 km3 of ice per year between 2002 and 2006 and the Antarctic ice sheet lost about 152 km3 of ice between 2002 and 2005
  • Ocean acidification: The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year

May 2016 was a hot month worldwide, with the National Centers for Environmental Information in the USA reporting above-average temperatures in Europe (20 locations set all-time May temperature records), Africa (the continent’s fourth warmest May since 1910), Australia (second highest May temperature since national records began in 1910), Asia (ninth warmest May since 1910), and North America (fourth warmest May since records began in 1910).

South America, conversely, experienced different weather patterns in the north (warmer than average) and south (coolest May since 2008).

Even more tellingly, the combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for May 2016 was the highest for May in the 137-year period of record. And May 2016 marks the 13th consecutive month a monthly global temperature record has been broken, the longest such streak since global temperature records began in 1880, according to NCEI.

A big question for readers of HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide is what effect climate change will have on water available for hydropower generation. This is much harder to predict. Precipitation from March to May 2016 was above average across much of the central contiguous USA and parts of southern South America, Europe and Asia. Conditions were drier than average across northeastern Brazil, southern Argentina and parts of Southeast Asia and Europe.

Owners and operators of dams and hydropower projects worldwide certainly face considerable challenges in dealing with factors beyond their control, such as temperature and water availability. Regardless, hydropower remains the best, least-cost option for new renewable generation. Work to advance development of this valuable resource in Malaysia (page 10) bears that out, as does a recent report from the Hydro Equipment Association (page 20).

So, pardon the pun, hydropower continues to weather the storms and come out strong.

Elizabeth Ingram
Managing Editor

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