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IEA report says COVID-19 has shown path away from climate change

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Oct. 13 (UPI) — While carbon emissions worldwide have fallen dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, energy experts said in an influential report Tuesday that more global efforts are needed to prevent a return to the higher readings seen before the health crisis.

The International Energy Agency said in its World Energy Outlook 2020 it expects global energy demand to decline by 5% for the year, and fall a record 7% for energy-related emissions.

Under present scenarios, global demand is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels by early 2023 but that could be delayed until 2025 if the crisis endures, the IEA said.

According to one model, carbon emissions could surge next year, surpass 2019 levels by 2027 and rise to 36 gigatons by 2030.

Since the start of the pandemic, global emissions have declined sharply due to a major decrease in driving and air travel worldwide — proof, many environmentalists say, that the world is capable of controlling the climate change crisis.

Carbon emissions from energy use are expected to fall to 33.4 gigatons for 2020, the lowest level since 2011 and the largest year-to-year decline since 1900 when record-keeping began, the IEA said.

If the world wants to continue affecting climate change for the better, the outlook says, it needs to take more advantage of the present downturn before carbon emissions return to 2019 levels. The outlook called the next decade “pivotal.”

“It has been a tumultuous year for the global energy system. The COVID-19 crisis has caused more disruption than any other event in recent history, leaving scars that will last for years to come. But whether this upheaval ultimately helps or hinders efforts to accelerate clean energy transitions and reach international energy and climate goals will depend on how governments respond to today’s challenges,” it states.

“A surge in well-designed energy policies is needed to put the world on track for a resilient energy system that can meet climate goals.”

“Despite a record drop in global emissions this year, the world is far from doing enough to put them into decisive decline,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement.

“The economic downturn has temporarily suppressed emissions, but low economic growth is not a low-emissions strategy — it is a strategy that would only serve to further impoverish the world’s most vulnerable populations.”

Birol called for quicker structural changes in the way energy is produced and consumed in the form of renewable sources to break the expected upward trend of carbon emissions.

“Governments have the capacity and the responsibility to take decisive actions to accelerate clean energy transitions and put the world on a path to reaching our climate goals, including net-zero emissions,” he said.

The report said the pandemic has helped accelerate some renewable alternatives, such as solar power. The IEA report projects that the use of solar power will increase by an average of 13% per year between now and 2030.

“Solar is the new king of global electricity markets,” Birol said.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx touches down on asteroid Bennu to nab sample

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Oct. 20 (UPI) — NASA’s OSIRIS-REx touched down on asteroid Bennu on Tuesday evening in a mission to scoop a sample of rocks and dirt.

The spacecraft — the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer — made soft contact with the asteroid at 6:12 p.m. EDT.

The historic “touch and go” event featured animation displaying OSIRIS-REx’s sample collection activities in real time. It takes time for real images of the touchdown to travel back to the Earth, so they won’t be released to the public until Wednesday.

The craft executed a series of maneuvers over the course of several hours before making soft contact with the surface of the asteroid to collect regolith, or rocks and dirt.

“It will be four and a half hours of anxiousness,” Beth Buck, OSIRIS-REx mission operations manager at Lockheed Martin Space, said in a news conference ahead of the event.

Buck made a comparison to the descent of a spacecraft on Mars, when there is typically “seven minutes of terror.”

The goal is to learn more about the solar system’s history and help “planetary defense” engineers with missions to protect earth from rogue asteroids. Bennu is believed to be a window into the solar system’s past since it’s a pristine, carbon-rich body carrying building blocks of both planets and life.

At around 1:50 p.m. EDT, the spacecraft left orbit around the asteroid before executing a series of burns to position itself over a sampling area nicknamed Nightingale.

Once in position, the craft began its approach to the asteroid at 5:50 p.m. EDT. It then spent about 15 seconds attempting to collect the regolith sample before backing away again.

The area, which is 52 feet in diameter, will make for a more demanding landing than expected, Kenneth Getzandanner, OSIRIS-REx flight dynamics manager at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in the news conference.

The original mission called for a landing “zone” about 150% larger than Nightingale, at 82 feet, but that changed because Bennu was more rocky than expected.

The goal was to collect at least 1.7 ounces of fine-grained material, but the spacecraft can carry up to 4.4 pounds, Heather Enos, OSIRIS-REx deputy principal investigator at the University of Arizona said.

“I would love for that capsule to be completely full,” Enos said.

Though early images from the asteroid should hint at whether the mission succeeded, it will take engineers roughly 10 days to compare and analyze the mass before and after the maneuver to actually know how much dirt is inside the OSIRIS-REx.

If it failed, the spacecraft has enough fuel to attempt two more touch downs to collect material.

The spacecraft is expected to return to Earth, with the regolith sample from Bennu, in 2023.



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SpaceX scrubs Starlink launch until Thursday, if weather cooperates

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Oct. 21 (UPI) — Just three days after sending 60 more Starlink satellites into orbit, SpaceX is aiming to launch another batch of broadband satellites into space from Florida.

If the weather cooperates, Thursday’s launch will be SpaceX’s 15th Starlink mission.

Liftoff had been scheduled for 12:29 p.m. EDT Wednesday aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but controllers scrubbed the launch due to weather and rescheduled for 12:14 p.m. on Thursday.

With a launch Sunday, SpaceX increased the size of their Starlink constellation to nearly 800 satellites. The 15th mission will see another 60-odd satellites join the network.

“The goal of Starlink is to create a network that will help provide Internet services to those who are not yet connected, and to provide reliable and affordable Internet across the globe,” according to the Kennedy Space Center.

Weather for Wednesday’s planned launch had looked so-so and the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron predicted a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions.

“A mid-level inverted trough and associated easterly wave currently across the Bahamas will meander into the state over the next few days, bringing enhanced moisture, cloud cover, and instability with a higher coverage of showers and storms,” Space Force forecasters wrote.

They said Thursday’s forecast looks quite similar to Wednesday’s.

Earlier this month, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Starlink’s constellation was big enough to begin beta-testing the Internet service system in both the United States and southern Canada.

SpaceX has already offered Starlink Internet services to emergency responders in wildfire-stricken areas of Washington State.

Washington’s Hoh tribe is also using the Internet service to provide their members online education and telehealth services.



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Chernobyl-level radiation harms bumblebee reproduction

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Oct. 21 (UPI) — Bees are more sensitive to radiation than scientists thought. Scientists found the reproduction rates of bumblebees declined significantly when exposed to Chernobyl-level radiation.

The research, published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, suggests radiation in Ukraine’s Chernobyl Exclusion Zone could impair pollination services, triggering wider ecological consequences than previously estimated.

Humans are not allowed to live in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the disaster area more directly impacted by the 1986 nuclear accident, the worst in history. However, the destroyed nuclear reactors are surrounded by forests that are populated by robust populations of birds, bears, bison, lynx, moose, wolves and more.

Efforts to gauge the effects of radiation contamination on insects have yielded mixed results in the past. While some studies have suggested insects are relatively radiation-resistant, others have demonstrated significant impairment.

When researchers exposed bumblebees in the lab to radiation dose of 100 µGyh-1, an amount approximating exposure inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, reproduction rates among the bees dropped between 30 and 45 percent.

Researchers found a direct correlation between the size of the radiation dose and reproduction rate declines. Lower levels of radiation had a smaller effect, while larger doses yielded greater declines.

Scientists were surprised to find they were able to detect reproductive rate declines at very small levels of radiation exposure.

“Our research provides much needed understanding as to the effects of radiation in highly contaminated areas and this is the first research to underpin the international recommendation for the effects of radiation on bees,” lead study author Katherine Raines, environmental scientist at the University of Stirling in Scotland, said in a news release.



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