A Changing Climate
Data Show Warming Trends Ahead
The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years, seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat have occurred, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago, marking the beginning of the modern climate era— and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.
The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it may very likely be human induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.
The Data Is In
Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. Studying these climate data collected over many years reveal the signals of a changing climate.
Among the evidence that leads to this conclusions are as follows:
- The global sea level rose about 17 cm (6.7 in) in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century.
- All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all ten of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years. Even though the decade of the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007–2009, surface temperatures continue to increase.
- The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 m (about 2,300 ft) of ocean showing a warming of 0.302°F since 1969.
- The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show that Greenland lost 150–250 km3 (36–60 mi3) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 km3 (36 mi3) of ice between 2002 and 2005. Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades. Also, glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world, including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska, and Africa.
- Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30%. This increase is the result of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.
In This Issue
With this as background, the IEEE Power & Energy Magazine Editorial Board felt compelled to present an issue that attempts to put these concerns into perspective as they pertain to the electrical infrastructures throughout the world. In the recent past, there have been a multiplicity of events occurring worldwide that have had catastrophic effects on electric systems. Our issue’s guest editors, Ralph Masiello and Nick Abi-Samra, have compiled a cohesive set of seven articles that offer insight into the entire spectrum of cause and effect as well as into the research and implementation of solutions to mitigate the effects of future events, which conceivably could be far more catastrophic than those already experienced. The issue theme and the articles are introduced by Ralph and Nick in their “Guest Editorial.” I want to offer my thanks to Ralph and Nick for their superlative effort, a sentiment that I believe our readers will echo.
History on Vacation
Many of our readers, this one included, will be disappointed to find that this issue does not contain a “History” column. Unfortunately, Associate History Editor Carl Sulzberger is enjoying an unexpected “vacation” as a result of extensive computer problems. Though Carl may welcome some time off, his work will be sorely missed, and our hopes are that his technical problems will be overcome before our next issue.
To those of us who attended the recently concluded T&D Conference and Exposition in Chicago, we offer coverage of this outstanding event in “Society News” to refresh their memories, and to those who did not attend, we hope our coverage will encourage their attendance at the 2016 T&D in Dallas.
Climate Change from the Utility’s View
We are very grateful to Craig Ivey, the president of Con Edison, for providing our issue’s “In My View” column. Mr. Ivey speaks from the “vantage” point of his company being in the center of Superstorm Sandy where millions of customers lost power. He offers us a realistic evaluation of what Con Edison views as the path it must embark upon in light of foreseeable climate change events, while reducing its impact on the environment. Mr. Ivey describes the formidable tasks that a utility must address and the multiple factors to be considered before conclusions are reached. This column is both realistic as well as sobering and a fitting conclusion to the issue theme.