» Greenhouse gases

Local biomass burning is a dominant cause of the observed precipitation reduction in southern Africa

Observations indicate a precipitation decline over large parts of southern Africa since the 1950s. Concurrently, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols have increased due to anthropogenic activities. Here we show that local black carbon and organic carbon aerosol emissions from biomass burning activities are a main cause of the observed decline in southern African dry season precipitation over the last century. Near the main biomass burning regions, global and regional modelling indicates precipitation decreases of 20–30%, with large spatial variability. Increasing global CO2 concentrations further contribute to precipitation reductions, somewhat less in magnitude but covering a larger area. Whereas precipitation changes from increased CO2 are driven by large-scale circulation changes, the increase in biomass burning aerosols causes local drying of the atmosphere. This study illustrates that reducing local biomass burning aerosol emissions may be a useful way to mitigate reduced rainfall in the region. Read More

Global 500 Greenhouse Gases Performance 2010-2015: 2016 Report on Trends

Are the 500 largest businesses in the world (Global 500) reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at a rate that follows the global scientific consensus on the risks of climate change? As a group, they were not in our prior reports covering performance from 2010 through 2013, and they are not now, according to the most recent data, current to the beginning of 2016. However, the gap, or the difference, between actual performance and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidance is now improving slightly, offering some grounds for hope coming out of COP21. In addition to this updated gap analysis, this report will seek to engage with the Global 500 and their stakeholders by creating a new “sustainable growth view,” which will provide insight into how companies are performing with respect to growing their businesses while at the same time reducing their emissions. This approach adopts the operating assumption coming out of COP21 that the world will and should continue to grow economically, but only by decoupling that growth from GHG emissions and decreasing them in a manner consistent with warming less than 2° C. Finally, we will also provide an update on the latest planetary trends to put the private sector progress, or lack thereof, in a planetary frame of reference. Read More

Study: Will We Ever Stop Using Fossil Fuels?

History predicts that fossil fuel consumption will continue to grow without aggressive efforts to price carbon and improve clean energy technologies. On the heels of a historic climate agreement in Paris, a new study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives sheds light on the world’s ability to stop using fossil fuels. Its conclusion: fossil fuel consumption is likely to continue to grow without clear and decisive global actions to put an adequate price on carbon dioxide emissions and increase research and development spending toward clean energy technologies. Read More

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Air-Sea Interaction & Climate

We take a synergistic and interdisciplinary approach to apply space-based observations, ground-based measurements, and numerical model to study the coupled ocean-atmosphere system. We improve the monitoring, from space, of ocean-atmosphere exchanges in momentum, heat and water. We study how these exchanges force ocean circulation and distribute the heat, water, greenhouse gases, and nutrients stored in the ocean. We examine the effect of these exchanges on the energy and hydrologic balances in the atmosphere. We focus on seasonal-to-interannual variability and predictability, but also examine how such variability is affected by shorter time scales (intra-seasonal) changes and longer time scales (decadal) trend. We are planning to study the manifest of long-term and global variability in local and near-term hazards, such as hurricane and monsoon. Read More

The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability

Ecological and societal disruptions by modern climate change are critically determined by the time frame over which climates shift beyond historical analogues. Here we present a new index of the year when the projected mean climate of a given location moves to a state continuously outside the bounds of historical variability under alternative greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Using 1860 to 2005 as the historical period, this index has a global mean of 2069 (=/- 18 years s.d.) for near-surface air temperature under an emissions stabilization scenario and 2047 (+/- 14 years s.d.) under a “business-as-usual” scenario. Unprecedented climates will occur earliest in the tropics and among low-income countries, highlighting the vulnerability of global biodiversity and the limited governmental capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change. Our findings shed light on the urgency of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions if climates potentially harmful to biodiversity and society are to be prevented. Read More

Towards a culture of low carbon research for the 21st century

The research community has highlighted for several decades the implications of greenhouse gas emissions for climate change. In response, world governments have agreed to limit global temperature change to 2°C, which requires drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In advanced economies, a commitment to a 2°C limit generally represents a reduction of emissions of between 80-95% from the 1990 baseline. Despite this, emissions from international aviation increased by 53 % between 1990 and 2011 in those countries. Academic researchers are among the highest emitters, primarily as a result of emissions from flying to conferences, project meetings, and fieldwork. Here we review the rationale for and alternatives to the current high-carbon research culture. We find no clear obstacles to justify an exemption for the research community from the emission reduction targets applied elsewhere. While stimulating ideas and creating personal links of trust are important benefits of face-to-face meetings, these benefits may be outweighed by the opportunities to reach much wider communities by developing and using new social media and online platforms. We argue that the research community needs a road map to reduce its emissions following government targets, which ironically are based on findings of the research community. A road map to a low-carbon research space would need simple monitoring, an example of which is presented here and documents the Tyndall Travel Tracker, incentives from international and national research platforms and funders, and a fundamental change in the research culture to align the walk with the talk. Such a change in practice would strengthen the trust of the public in research. Read More

Quantitative Modeling of Biofuels Life Cycles

This activity allows students to compare the net energy and/or net greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted during the life cycle production of ethanol from switchgrass, diverse prairie and corn stoves. Using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, students model a range of scenarios, starting with data and assumptions provided in the package. This is a flexible quantitative model with many opportunities for modifications depending on the abilities and interests of the students. Read More

Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States

The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) is a collaborative initiative to understand and show how individual countries can transition to a low-carbon economy and how the world can meet the internationally agreed target of limiting the increase in global mean surface temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Achieving the 2C limit will require that global net emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) approach zero by the second half of the century. In turn, this will require a profound transformation of energy systems by mid-century through steep declines in carbon intensity in all sectors of the economy, a transition we call “deep decarbonization.” Read More

Forests, Agriculture, and Climate: Economics and Policy Issues

Deforestation and agriculture together contribute about 30% of global carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Policies to reduce emissions and store carbon under REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) and by carbon-saving agricultural practices have enormous potential to contribute to efforts to mitigate global climate change. But institutions to promote forest preservation, reforestation, and emissions-reducing agricultural practices are often lacking. This module discusses the causes of deforestation and degradation, and the sources of agricultural emissions, as well as the potential for reduction and the economic and political reforms needed to achieve it. It includes a section on the positive and negative impacts of biofuels. The student reading consists of 42 pages which includes key terms and concepts, discussion questions, references, and web links. Read More

Center for Sustainable Systems Teaching Resources

The Center for Sustainable Systems has created several sets of teaching resources that can be used to support education surrounding sustainability concepts. These outlines and PowerPoints were created with a post secondary education audience in mind. Read More


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