Earth911’s Five Things Today: Greenland’s Glacial Lakes, Floating Solar, and Salty Seas

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Every day brings new climate information and news about scientific and commercial progress toward a net-zero economy. We know you can’t keep track of all of it. Earth911 offers these articles for your informed reading.

Greenland’s Ice-bound Glacial Lakes

A superglacial lake — a lake sitting atop the Store Glacier — in western Greenland turned into “briefly became one of the world’s tallest waterfalls” for a few hours in July 2018, the Washington Post’s Andrew Freeman writes. The 3,200-foot high fall drained much of the lake in five hours. This is a source of concern because the fast-draining water can undercut the ice below the lake, increasing the speed of glacial collapse. In short, the water acts as a lubricant, causing more slippage in the glacier, fracturing the ice, opening under-ice caverns, and allowing more water to drain and repeat the cycle. Hundreds of such lakes formed on Greenland’s ice this summer due to abnormally high temperatures.

“Using computer models, the study found that the lake in question is what the researchers term a “trigger lake,” which can result in a chain reaction of sorts, causing more lakes as far away as 62 miles to subsequently drain,” Freeman reports. Previously, scientists believed that only three percent of meltwater in Greenland came from these fast lake drainage events, but more than a third of melting water may be released this way. You can see the original study summary at the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences website.

Floating Solar Panels

From Grist, this report on the installation of floating solar panels near Sayreville, New Jersey, brings to light another place where solar power can be generated: ponds. These floating panels are more popular in other parts of the world, but Sayreville adopted them instead of removing 15 acres of trees to make room for the panels on solid ground. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that more than 24,000 reservoirs around the United States could support floating solar installations. Sayreville estimates it will save $1 million on local power generation costs over the next 15 years because of the $7.2 million investment. While long-term studies are needed to understand the benefits and potential hazards of floating solar panels, many reservoirs have no natural fish or animal populations that might be adversely affected.

Floating solar is an interesting option for communities across the country.

Following Tech, Farming Goes Open Source

Civil Eats explores the next generation of farm management. Open-source software, from the Linux operating system to database and myriad other tools, helped revolutionize computing in the 1990s. Now, farmers seeking to manage their crops, water use, and harvests more efficiently are jumping into the Open Source world. farmOS, for example, is an alternative to the commercial applications for farmers and food distributors that are flooding the market. More than $17 billion was invested in food distribution and technology distribution during 2018, but small farmers typically can’t afford high fees. They are turning to programs offered by communities of coders who share, or “open-source,” their code and data to help create widespread improvements in the food supply.

“Nobody is mining it or monetizing it in any way. It’s yours. You can export it in whatever way you want,” farmer Robert Chang told Civil Eats’ Aaron Orlowski. A certified organic farmer, Ryan Power of Sonoma County, California, hopes to use software to better plan harvest and hyper-local delivery of produce in the region, reducing waste and transportation impacts. The benefits of technology can be small and self-supporting. An open-source community in farming can lower the cost of sustainably grown food and improve access for customers and the needy.

Did You Want Salt With That Ocean?

Physe.org reports that the accuracy of climate models continues to improve. A major variable in estimating the impact of rising seas is seawater salinity, which is an Essential Climate Variable. Until the turn of the century, there was no system for collecting that information reliably. With the installation of a network of monitors, known as Argos, every 300 kilometers across the oceans has produced the first comprehensive map of seawater saline levels. Saltier water is more dense, meaning high concentrations can change ocean currents. El Niño events are often identified by concentrations of denser saltwater, for example. Dense layers of salty water in shallows can change a local ecosystem, as well as impact the temperature of the air above a body of water, changing local weather.

Science is a process of refinement. With salinity information, science will be better able to make comprehensive assessments of ocean climate impacts. That’s progress and some good news.

Community Solar Could Be Mainstreamed

Community solar projects, which Earth911 has covered, are becoming more affordable and accessible, GreenTechMedia reports. These centralized facilities that consumers can tap into can “widen solar availability for the 50 to 75 percent of Americans who don’t have the option of installing their own system,” Emma Foehringer Merchant writes. Contract terms and financial requirements have relaxed over the past decade, but working out the sharing of power between the direct supporters and local utilities, called “dual billing,” remains challenging.

Discounts of between five and 15 percent are now common for households who buy into a community solar farm. Because of rapid growth, state regulators are stepping into planned projects and have stopped almost 1 Gigawatt in new community solar production, such as in Massachusetts. The concern is how to integrate these independent production facilities into the state’s electrical grid. This is a debate to watch, especially if you would like to use renewable solar energy while living in an apartment, condo, or heavily shaded home.

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