January 25, 2008

Melting Ice Linked to Dying Trees in Colorado

This guest blog is written by Chuck Kutscher, principal engineer and manager of the Thermal Systems Group at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

At last year’s Mountainfilm Festival I gave a talk about climate change and renewable energy at the Energy Symposium. The news about climate change has unfortunately gotten worse. The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder announced that on September 16, Arctic summer sea ice extent had set a new record low—an incredible 22% below the previous record low set in 2005. Many scientists now believe that the Arctic will be completely free of summer sea ice within just 5 to 20 years—a situation not seen on this planet for at least 100,000 years.

Ice melt in Greenland

Land-based ice sheet loss in Greenland also set a new record in 2007. Both the Arctic and Antarctic are rapidly losing floating ice, thus removing an important barrier to glaciers that are now marching much faster towards the ocean. It appears this could be the beginning of a rapid increase in the rate of sea level rise. Here in Colorado, severe bark beetle damage has been linked to warmer weather and drought, conditions that also increase the likelihood of wildfires.

Bark beetle damage

The good news is that Colorado has become a real leader in fighting climate change and developing renewable energy. In 2007 the state legislature passed a number of significant bills, including increasing our renewable electricity standard to 20% by 2020 and requiring the mapping of renewable resource “generation development areas.” I participated in the Colorado Climate Project, which issued a report in October describing 70 policy recommendations. In November Governor Ritter released his “Colorado Climate Action Plan,” and in December Environment Colorado released their “Blueprint for Action.” And lest anyone think that the only thing being produced is reports, in 2007 Colorado surpassed the 1,000 MW mark for installed wind power.

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