Scientists raise alarm over Persian Gulf climate

Image: Hajj
Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims pray outside the Namira Mosque near Mecca on Sept. 23 during this year’s hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. (AP file photo by Mosa’ab Elshamy)

Climate researchers say that summertime conditions in some parts of the Persian Gulf region could become intolerable by the end of the century – and that the annual hajj pilgrimage, a core observance for Muslims, is ”likely to become hazardous to human health.”

“The main day of the pilgrimage involves worshiping at a site outside Mecca from sunrise to sunset in an outdoor setting. … That’s the kind of ritual that could be quite limited,” said Elfatih Eltahir, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is one of the authors of a report published today by Nature Climate Change.

Eltahir and his co-author, Jeremy Pal of Loyola Marymount University, base their projections on an analysis of the potential regional effects from global climate change under two of the scenarios laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. One scenario assumes “business as usual” and a steady rise in greenhouse gas emissions. The other, known as the RCP4.5 scenario, assumes the rise in emissions can be stabilized.

The analysis suggests that if current trends continue, summertime heat and humidity would occasionally rise beyond the limit of human endurance in Abu Dhabi and Dubai; in Qatar’s capital, Doha; in the Saudi city of Dhahran and the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Temperatures in Mecca wouldn’t hit the threshold by the end of the century, but they’d come close.

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Carbon X Prize could turn CO2 into $20 million

Image: Power plant
The Four Corners power plant in New Mexico is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, based on measurements made by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (Credit: LANL)

Can you turn carbon dioxide emissions into gold? How about biofuel? The Carbon X Prize competition is offering $20 million for the best strategies to make use of CO2.

Past X Prizes have rewarded high-tech achievements in private-sector spaceflight and super-efficient automobiles. There are also X Prizes for moon missions“Star Trek” tricorders and educational software. The competition announced Tuesday is aimed at identifying technologies that convert industrial carbon dioxide emissions into high-value products – for example, clothing or shoes, building materials or industrial chemicals.

Carbon dioxide emissions are considered one of the factors behind global climate change, and the Obama administration is seeking steep cuts in such emissions from power plants. The Carbon X Prize could highlight high-tech solutions to the environmental problem.

“In order to demonstrate the widest possible applicability of potential solutions, the competition will have two tracks: one focused on testing technologies at a coal power plant, and one focused on testing technologies at a natural gas power plant,” Paul Bunje, principal and senior scientist for energy and environment at XPrize, said in Tuesday’s announcement.

Would-be competitors have until next June to sign up. Their proposals will be assessed by a judging panel, and the top 15 teams in each track will move on to demonstrate their technologies in controlled experiments.

In each track, the five top-rated finalists will share a $2.5 million milestone purse, based on the results of the experiments. Then they’ll try out their technologies using actual emissions from power plants. In March 2020, the highest-rated team in each track will be awarded a grand prize of $7.5 million. Check out the Carbon XPrize website for the details.

The competition is sponsored by NRG Energy and Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, or COSIA. It follows up on a similar multimillion-dollar carbon conversion contest in Canada known as the CCEMC Grand Challenge.