Dead Zones and Climate Change

Dead Zones and Climate Change

The number of dead zones has doubled every decade since the mid 1900s (Greenhalgh, 2015). The spread and increase in severity of these anoxic areas resulted from a number of factors, but future changes are expected to be heavily influence by climate change. There are several ways that climate change will impact dead zone formation and location, but temperature changes and sea level rise are the two impacts with the greatest degree of certainty.

Warmer water is able to hold less dissolved oxygen because gas solubility decreases as temperature increases, resulting in bubbles of oxygen at the surface (Greenhalgh, 2015). In addition, stratification of the ocean due to warming of the surface layer creates layers with differing temperatures and decreases the amount of mixing in the water column (Altieri and Gedan, 2014). This means the oxygen bubbles tend to sit at the surface are not distributed to deeper waters. Deep waters are also cut off from the atmosphere, a primary source of oxygen in the ocean (NSF, n.d.). These are the general trends expected as a result of warming, but all areas will not warm evenly, resulting in differing impacts in some areas. Higher latitudes are expected to see the worst dead zone changes due to warming because these areas will be experiencing the greatest overall rise in temperatures (Altieri and Gedan, 2014). Coastal areas will be impacted greater because they are shallower, and temperatures are more closely dictated by the air temperature there than the open ocean is (Altieri and Gedan, 2014).

The primary focus of sea level rise from climate change is the impact on wetland habitats. Wetlands are natural buffers to the nutrient runoff that can cause algal blooms and eventually lead to dead zones. These habitats help by filtering nitrogen and phosphorus from runoff before it reaches coastal areas (Zielinski, 2014). These ecosystems are being threatened as sea level rises (Zielinski, 2014). Declines in wetlands will result in more nutrients reaching coastal areas and contributing to algal blooms and dead zones. Sea level rise is also increasing the total volume of water susceptible to eutrophication because of the expanse in volume of shallow coastal regions (Altieri and Gedan, 2014).

There are several other less impactful and more nuanced factors of climate change that can influence algal blooms and dead zones. The first is the timing and length of algal blooms. Warming and other changes in seasonality are causing seasonal algal blooms to appear earlier into the season and stay longer, extending the period of time that eutrophication can occur and cause dead zone conditions from which the system may not be able to recover from during the off season (Altieri and Gedan, 2014). Another hypothesized impact is a hypothesis formed by a researcher named Bakun. Climate change is expected to increase the land-sea temperature imbalance in some areas due to the land heating more significantly than the ocean (Bakun et al., 2015). This would drive a greater pressure gradient in these areas that could potentially drive upwelling favorable winds resulting in greater nutrient conditions for algal growth (Bakun et al., 2015).

Climate change will also have significant impacts on ecosystem health. As temperature increases, an organism’s metabolism also increases requiring them to take in more oxygen (Altieri and Gedan, 2014). This fact, paired with an overall decline in oxygen supply, leads to worse anoxic conditions and overall lowered ecosystem resilience.

References

Altieri, Andrew H., and Keryn B. Gedan. “Climate Change and Dead Zones.” Global Change Biology, vol. 21, no. 4, 10 Aug. 2014, pp. 1395–1406., doi:10.1111/gcb.12754.

Bakun, A., et al. “Anticipated Effects of Climate Change on Coastal Upwelling Ecosystems.” Current Climate Change Reports, vol. 1, no. 2, 7 Mar. 2015, pp. 85–93., doi:10.1007/s40641-015-0008-4.

“Dead Zones – Special Report – SOS: Is Climate Change Suffocating Our Seas?” NSF, www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/deadzones/climatechange.jsp.

Diaz, Robert J, and Rutger Rosenberg. “Spreading Dead Zones and Consequences for Marine Ecosystems.” Science , vol. 321, no. 5891, 15 Aug. 2008, pp. 926–929., doi:10.1126/science.1156401.

Du, Jiabi, et al. “Worsened Physical Condition Due to Climate Change Contributes to the Increasing Hypoxia in Chesapeake Bay.” Science of The Total Environment, vol. 630, 15 July 2018, pp. 707–717., doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.02.265.

Greenhalgh, Emily. “Climate Change Likely to Worsen U.S. and Global Dead Zones.” NOAA Climate.gov, 2 Feb. 2015, www.climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/climate-change-likely-worsen-us-and-global-dead-zones.

Zielinski, Sarah. “Ocean Dead Zones Are Getting Worse Globally Due to Climate Change.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 10 Nov. 2014, www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ocean-dead-zones-are-getting-worse-globally-due-climate-change-180953282/.


The Realization of the Energy-Water Nexus

Water is the most frequently cited sector in all of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the adaptation chapter, and energy is a critical means through which we can reach the Paris goals. However, the true scope of these issues extends beyond simply their interactions within the Paris agreement.

The saying “one only understands the value of water when the well is dry” is the perfect depiction of the situation facing many of us in terms of water. Speakers on Water Action Day at COP23 noted that, “around 40 percent of the world’s population will face water shortages by 2050, accelerating migration and triggering conflict, while some regions could lose up to six percent of their economic output, unless water is better managed.” A side panel at COP23 stated a similar occurrence in regard to energy highlighting how access to reliable, clean and affordable energy is a necessary condition to reduce poverty and to support human development.

These impacts are not as thoroughly researched and understood as other impacts from climate change, and certain regions of the world that feel these types of issues won’t affect them may tend to disregard their importance. But the facts are that over 1 billion people lack access to electricity, about 850 million live without access to safe water, and another 800 million are undernourished.

It is only once water and energy resources are in a state of emergency that the world may be truly awakened to the extent of these issues, and that’s what makes the collaboration between energy and water so important.

“There is an urgent need to develop and enhance capacity and partnerships in relation to understanding three underpinning elements of a sustainable society: food, energy and water security.”  -Simon Langan, Director of the Water Future and Solutions Initiative at International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

If we are able to develop these partnerships now through integrated approaches, a variety of tools and sustainable methodologies, we will create a more resilient future for the world, not only in terms of climate change but also other related factors such as poverty, human development, and hunger.

These initiatives are addressed in an interrelated manner because tackling one sector, indirectly and sometimes directly, impacts aspects of the other sectors. This is especially seen with the interdependent nature of energy, water and agricultural resources:

“The production of food and energy are both highly dependent on the access to water and may compete for this resource, water supply and agriculture are major users of energy. Energy system and land-use change are the biggest emitters of GHGs. There is thus a high likelihood that pursuit of policy goals in one area could have impacts on other areas.” -IAEA

Initiatives that address the interconnectedness of these topics make it easier to find solutions for the others. This was seen with a number of the outcomes of COP23, especially solutions such as the nature-based solutions for water management, which form a crucial part of the “toolbox” for addressing climate change through conservation and sustainable management of ecosystems, as discussed at International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s COP23 event: Nature-based Solutions for a Climate Resilient Europe.

“Healthy, well-functioning ecosystems improve the resilience of nature and society and often have a high return on investment rate.” -IUCN

The Global Water Partnership (GWP) described water as a connector, an enabling resource for sustainable development. They state that water-intensive investments should assess and reduce climate risk even if they are not “water sector” projects. This similar result is seen with a number of other integrated solutions and methodologies.

Among the tools developed by the IAEA and other UN organizations, the Climate, Land, Energy and Water (CLEW), methodology helps countries analyze complex interactions between these key resources, together with climate change. The methodology supports policy and planning for sustainable development.

When all of these solutions, partnerships and tools are considered together, the picture that emerges is promising for the future of the energy-water nexus. We must work together in an innovative and optimistic manner. Maybe we won’t have to learn what happens when the well runs dry after all.


The Energy-Water Nexus Outcome @COP23

COP23 raised thoughtful and innovative discussions surrounding the many issues of the energy-water nexus. While there were few large decisions or policies made addressing energy and water, there were several important outcomes that will be key in reaching the goals set for these resources and responding to related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

  1. Nature-Based Solutions for Water

SDG 6 relates to water being more of a local issue but stresses that the consequences how water is managed have global impact  The need for an equally global solution was emphasized by the launch of a plan that will integrate nature-based solutions into water management strategies worldwide:

The declaration defines nature-based solutions as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.”

  1. Water Financing

Prime Minister of Fiji Accepting Aid from the EIB

SDG 6 addresses water and sanitation, prioritized in many countries’ climate action plans submitted under the Paris Agreement. However, water agencies at COP23 estimated that $295 billion (USD) would be needed for countries to fully develop water management strategies and take action as part of adaptation to climate change—a number that is three times the levels of investment prior to COP23.

In other progress, Fiji received the largest European Investment Bank grant for water management ever received by a small island state:

  • The EIB pledged $75 million (USD) toward a $405 million Fiji investment program to strengthen resilience of water distribution and wastewater treatment following Cyclone Winston.

While there was not much progress toward acquiring finance on this large scale, there was a call “for the sustainable use of water to be at the center of building resilient cities and human settlements and ensuring food security in a climate change context.”      – Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President, Women for Water Partnership

    1. Energy Financing- 

SDG 7 addresses the use of affordable renewable and clean energy, which is continuing to grow with investments in renewables outweighing investments in fossil fuels, especially in developing countries. Finance is a major force to accelerate the global energy transition:

It will “provide cutting-edge technical support to governments whose energy policies will significantly impact the speed of a global transition toward more sustainable energy production and use, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and greater access to energy.” -IEA

Many other outcomes that emerged from COP23 relate to or are reliant on proper management of energy and water resources. One such event was the launch of the global Powering Past Coal Allianceformed to declare a phase-out of coal—led by the UK and Canada, and joined by more than 20 countries and other groups. Unfortunately, emissions rose this year after holding steady for three years, due to increased use of fossil fuels.

“Ending, or at least sharply reducing, the use of coal continues to be a major objective for many NGOs, and many governments as well.” -SDG 7

28 July 2017, Nepal- Village of Bhagawoti Kauledhara. Farmers’ Field School female members working in the fields trying new agricultural techniques.

As agriculture is closely tied to the energy-water nexus, another noteworthy outcome was the parties’ agreement to address issues of agriculture and climate change, which marked the “end of a deadlock on agriculture which had lasted for years.”

  • Leaders agreed that investing more in agricultural climate action and supporting sustainable livelihoods of small-scale farmers will unlock much greater potential to limit emissions and protect people against climate change.
  • The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a new Sourcebook on Climate-Smart Agriculture with guidelines to scale up public and private climate financing for agriculture, encourage partnerships, and build capacity.

“Countries now have the opportunity to transform their agricultural sectors to achieve food security for all through sustainable agriculture and strategies that boost resource-use efficiency, conserve and restore biodiversity and natural resources, and combat the impacts of climate change.”     -René Castro, Assistant-Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Overall, COP23 was quite focused on setting the stage for COP24, which will hopefully see adoption of the Paris Rulebook. Great strides were achieved for the issues of the energy-water nexus and how they relate to climate change. Not only were these issues brought up more frequently in discussions across the COP, but also steps are being taken to integrate concepts and promote collaboration on these issues across many organizations, countries, and disciplines.


Going With the Flow (of Water) @COP23


COP23 marked the second Water Action Day held at a UN climate change conference, the first occurring last year in Marrakesh. This thematic day sponsored as part of the Global Climate Action (GCA) Initiative brought together approximately 33 water agencies and other interested individuals and corporations to discuss the use of water as it relates to climate change and the strategies needed to promote better water management.

The GCA describes Water Action Day’s goal is “to build on our achievements in mainstreaming water into the global climate action agenda, enabling climate and water actors and their allies to learn from one another and engage as full partners in achieving a sustainable and resilient climate future for all people.”

In the GCA Media Briefing on Energy, Water and Agriculture, Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President of Women for Water, World Water Council Member and spokesperson for the #ClimateIsWater Initiative, discussed how the infrastructure for clean drinking water access is difficult to achieve. This central theme was reflected throughout the conference, and contributed to one of the main focuses of Water Action Day revolving around water finance and how to build a sustainable system for water to prevent shortages in the coming years.

She also discussed how, unlike energy, water technology is not often seen as an investment, and how this perspective must change for sustainable water initiatives to progress.

GCA Media Briefing Panel on Energy, Water and Agriculture

Delia Paul, Thematic Expert for Poverty Reduction, Rights and Governance (Malaysia/Australia), discussed how many speakers throughout the day mentioned that their countries consider water an important part of their climate action plan, but they have yet to make the jump to financing it.

A number of other water-interested organizations discussed how water fit into larger themes they were advocating for. One such group—the #ClimateisWater campaign—encouraged countries to take water into account in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) and policies relating to other factors such as energy and health.

“The role of water as an integral pathway to build climate resilience and implement the Paris Agreement can never be overemphasized.”     -Alex Simalabwi with the Global Water Partnership Southern Africa (GWPSA) Executive Secretary, Head of the GWP Coordination Unit (CU) and Global Coordinator for the Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP)

Discussions occurring at panels and side events during Water Action Day focused on addressing three categories surrounding use of water in implementing the Paris Agreement and building resilience. These focus areas were:

  1. Water knowledge to respond to climate uncertainty

Many participants advocated for incorporating nature-based practices such as biochar, permeable soils, and other applications.

“We would be wise to apply lessons from across the world, even traditional rural populations in Africa or Asia, which have the potential to inform innovative, sagacious and responsible resource management, to adapt our planet to climate variation’s onslaught. The knowledge is there, we just have to listen and tap into it.”  -Maggie White, Manager International Policies, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Co-Chair, Alliance for Global Water Adaption (AGWA) and Steering Committee Member of the #ClimateIsWater Initiative

  1. Water for urban resilience

A common theme was the importance of collecting and sharing data on water availability and use for best practices in water management when planning at all levels from government to families.

 “Indeed, the sustainable use of water for multiple purposes must remain a way of life and needs to be at the centre of building resilient cities or human settlements and ensuring food security in a climate change context.”     -Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President of Women for Water, World Water Council Member and spokesperson for the #ClimateIsWater Initiative

  1. Water for sustainable agriculture and food security

Farmland water management practices were important discussions, especially considering expected impacts of climate change.

“Some of the smartest applications of sustainable farming come from countries and regions such as the south of Morocco or Pakistan, to name just a few, which are naturally poor in access to water from rainfall and riverbeds.”     -James Dalton, Coordinator, Global Water Initiatives, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Overall, Water Action Day at COP23 was filled with important and innovative dialogues on the role of water in the climate debate, and brought together key stakeholders that will need to work together to promote sustainable water initiatives for the future.

Interested in learning more? Check out these COP23 panels from Water Action Day!

GWP (Global Water Partnership) Media Briefing

GCA Water Round Table


The Challenges of the Energy-Water Nexus

Participants at UN Climate Talks are typically surrounded by discussions on a wide variety of climate impacts, climate solutions, and complex interactions. While it may seem like every issue is being discussed during numerous side panels and events, these same issues may not always be raised during the political side of the talks. Here, the focus often tends to rest on climate finance, Nationally Determined Contributions, adaptation/mitigation, and capacity building, with some topics such as gender and land use making an appearance.

One of the crucial issues not specifically included in this list is the energy-water nexus. It’s true that energy and water are woven into the issues discussed through technology, concerns for adaptation, and resilience, but energy-water nexus topics are often not independently discussed. The Paris Agreement states that without curbing emissions, there will be a massive concern for water resources, with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 6 and 7 set to specifically address water concerns. Even with the Paris Agreement in place, there may be many concerns about water availability and water quality in the future. Energy is more frequently addressed because of its importance in reaching the emission reduction plan set forth, but this does not consider the interactions between energy and water resources, nor how they may be impacted by climate change.

At COP23— the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)— held this November in Bonn, Germany the issues of water and energy took more of a center stage:

 

Energy Water Nexus Panel at COP23

 

The Global Climate Action (GCA) Initiative Media Briefing on Energy, Water and Agriculture stressed how everything that happens with climate, is linked to everything that happens with energy, is linked to everything that happens with water! Even a slight inefficiency in one area could lead to catastrophic impacts for the whole interaction.

As was aptly stated by René Castro, Assistant-Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “There is no room for inefficiency.”

Paulo Bretas de Almeida Salles, President of ADASA in Brazil (a regulatory agency for water and sanitation) presented concerns about water resources,

“There is a traditional idea that we have lots of water, that water is an infinite resource- now we are learning that this is not true.”

He also voiced the unmistakable connection that,

“Water and climate change are directly related… Everything that happens on earth based on climate has some relationship with water.”

In panel discussions, negotiators stressed how we need water to be able to provide and produce the necessities for this world, and discussed the connection between energy and water being that it takes energy to produce clean water and water is often needed to produce energy.

In the GCA Media Briefing they offered a summary of information:

  • Of total water use by humans, only 10% is safe drinking water; if even a small percentage of that water becomes unusable, there would be major impacts on availability worldwide.
  • Agriculture, on the other hand, uses 70% of total water use! The fact that this is such a high percentage opens the door for new advances in technology and water reduction strategies that would improve the world’s water situation.
  • One such technological advancement offers promise—renewable energy stands to use 20 times less water than conventional energy sources.

Both energy and water are resources with a history of being mismanaged, and both are resources that have a direct interaction with the forces of climate change. By including water and energy—both distinctly and as an interrelated force—in the discussion at COP23, new policies and guidelines can be established to more effectively manage these valuable resources and leverage them to our advantage in the fight against climate change.


The Water Cycle- Reclaimed

waterhub-header

Prior to spring of 2015, Emory used about 1 million gallons of potable water every day, with nearly half of that put toward mechanical uses like heating and cooling. That’s a lot of drinkable water wasted—especially when California is experiencing a major drought and the Tri-State Water Wars are happening right here in Georgia.

emory-waterhub

WaterHub logo photo I took during my visit

What changed in 2015? Emory’s multi-award winning facility WaterHub began operation. WaterHub reduced potable water usage 40% on campus by recycling wastewater, providing an alternative source of water for use in mechanical systems. This facility provides an important role in reusing and reclaiming water.

The WaterHub is a triple win. Water entering the hub is routed directly from sewer lines, helping to reduce stress on wastewater treatment plants. Emory pays for the recycled water that is produced, generating profits to support the facility while saving money compared to water costs from other sources. The environment is the third beneficiary!

Let’s explore the process that creates such benefits!

INITIAL SCREENING

Imagine the water you find in a sewer. It’s pretty gross right? The WaterHub process removes all the gross and leaves the water looking clean. A lot of your gross vision of sewer water was due to visible contaminants, most of which is some form of solid waste. Screening devices filter out those solids, and the cleaner—but probably still very discolored water—moves on to the next phase of the process.

MOVING BED BIOREACTORS 

mbbr

Diagram of the Bio-Reactors at the WaterHub facility

The wastewater flows through a series of moving bed bioreactors (or MBBR for short). These four tanks contain small plastic discs with holes, designed to provide the largest amount of surface area possible. Microbes grow on these plastic pieces, and they remove small contaminants and chemicals from the water.

Surface area, surface area, surface area! That is a mantra you hear over and over in wastewater treatment. The greater the surface area, the bigger the number of microbes present, and the larger the amount of contaminants removed from a volume of water. The design of this system allows 400,000 gallons of water to be cleaned every day!

HYDROPONIC SYSTEM 

waterhub

The “greenhouse” of the WaterHub. Photo taken during my visit.

The next component is the hydroponic system, which makes a visit to the WaterHub feel like a greenhouse stroll. The water tanks are housed underneath a variety of green plants, allowing their roots to extend into the water. These root systems contribute a lot of surface area and provide a great habitat for microbe growth.

 

 

RECIPROCATING WETLANDS

wetlands

Example of the reciprocating wetlands at the WaterHub

Emory’s WaterHub is especially unique because it is actually two different water treatment systems. The greenhouse with the MBBR is the main one processing most of the water. A second smaller unit called the reciprocating wetlands cleans around 1200 gallons of water each day.

Unlike the main system, the wetlands are outside and grow a different variety of plants. The plants still provide lots of surface area for microbial growth, but instead of continuous mixing like in the MBBR, the wetlands employ the concept of tides. There are two main basins using a series of 18 tides per day to move water throughout the process.

CLARIFIER AND ULTRAVIOLET

After passing through one of these systems, most of the large-particulate contaminants have been removed. Water then travels very slowly through a clarifier to filter out fine particles with the help of chemical treatment. And next through a disc filter to remove the smallest particles.

The water now passes the government’s test for being re-use quality! Just to be sure, the water moves through one last series of tanks where it is exposed to UV light, making it ultra clean.

The WaterHub’s state-of-the-art techniques create a huge difference in water usage at Emory! Every day, thousands of gallons of drinking water are saved from the fate of being used for operating mechanical systems. All thanks to reclaimed water that is distributed to campus for the steam and chiller plants, and even to residence halls for toilet flushing.

Recent news: the WaterHub team is exploring possibilities to expand the project to new sites and to apply the technology for other uses. For example, Matt, the senior project manager who led our great tour, described how the reciprocating wetlands model could be used in developing countries as an effective but cheaper wastewater treatment mechanism.

Check out plans and policies to advance sustainable water use at this government site: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/documents/White_House_Water_Summit_commitments_report_032216.pdf

Eager to learn more about the WaterHub? Visit its website http://sustainablewater.com/waterhub/or explore the benefits and responsibilities of the WaterHub by clicking on an icon below.

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