Fort McMurray wildfire burning so hot, only weather can stop it – Technology & Science – CBC News

The raging wildfire that has forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alta., and engulfed parts of the community is the kind of blaze that firefighters dread, but could become more common, according to experts.  Alternatively described by officials as “catastrophic,” a “multi-headed monster” and a “dirty, nasty” fire, the blaze is at least 10,000 hectares in area and has destroyed more than 1,600 structures. It could threaten the entire community, they said.  LIVE BLOG | Up-to-the-minute updates from Fort McMurray Wildfire rages in Fort McMurray as evacuees settle in Edmonton 2 babies born in Fort McMurray wildfire evacuation camp The wildfire became so intense Tuesday that the heat limited air operations over the affected areas. More than 150 firefighters are battling it on multiple fronts, with hundreds more from other provinces expected to arrive in the coming days.  Temperatures are expected to remain high, with a glimmer of hope on the horizon as a cold front approaches. It could, however, bring lightning with it, possibly starting more fires. It is a nearly impossible situation. The wildfire is an extreme example of the power of Mother Nature, but offers some interesting lessons about the science of wildfires.  ‘A perfect storm’ of fire The conditions that preceded the start of this fire were quintessential wildfire conditions: a seemingly endless supply of dry fuel on the forest floor and in the canopy, and intense heat. All that was needed was a spark, and whether it was caused by human error or lightning (an investigation is underway), once the spark was there, the fire became a beast.  “You hate to use the cliché, but it really was kind of a perfect storm,” says Mike Wotton, a research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service and professor at the University of Toronto.   An evacuee puts gas in his car on his way out of Fort McMurray, Alta., on Wednesday. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press) 1 of 15Hide captionToggle FullscreenAt beginning of image galleryShow Next Image (2 of 15) “There was a mild winter and not a lot of meltwater from the mountain snow pack. Now, a stale air mass has been sitting over Alberta, and it led to very low humidity. Then there was an early, hot spring, and everything got very dry. Then on top of that, it got windy.” The fire, burning between 800 C and 1,000 C, was first spotted when it was about 500 hectares in area (with each hectare about the size of a rugby pitch). It became what’s called a crown fire, which occurs when the tops of conifers, which tend to burn more easily than deciduous trees, become engulfed and the flames spread through the canopy.  “That’s when you start to see the 100-metre-high flames,” said Mike Flannigan, professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. The fire was likely moving at a speed of up to five kilometres per hour and quickly became difficult to manage.  ‘Like spitting on a campfire’ Many fires in the Boreal forest are extremely unpredictable. The fire front, the area where it’s burning most intensely, is so hot, that crews can’t attack it from the front. Sometimes the fire front can be hundreds of metres long, according to Flannigan, so crews have to work at its flanks. Aerial attacks become less effective because they aren’t hitting the core of the fire.

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Source: Fort McMurray wildfire burning so hot, only weather can stop it – Technology & Science – CBC News

Canada’s Mordor: European Report Slams Alberta’s ‘Dirty Oil’

New scathing European report compares the Alberta Tar Sands to the dark realm of Mordor from Lord of the Rings. Pressures are looming over Alberta to clean up its environmental act. This is an S.O.S.

Source: Canada’s Mordor: European Report Slams Alberta’s ‘Dirty Oil’

This Week, Canadas Poor Climate Change Reputation Got Worse | Nick Fillmore

As hinted by the French president, Canada plays a leading role in destroying the atmosphere. Mechanical engineer John Abraham of the University of Saint Thomas in Minnesota told Scientific American: “If we burn all the tar sand oil, the temperature rise, just from burning that tar sand, will be half of what weve already seen — an estimated additional nearly 0.4 degrees Celsius from Alberta alone.”

via This Week, Canadas Poor Climate Change Reputation Got Worse | Nick Fillmore.

Caribou habitat in Alberta ravaged beyond repair – Technology & Science – CBC News

This stretch of foothills still looks like pristine, trackless boreal forest when seen from the highway. But back roads into the bush reveal a patchwork of clearcuts, well pads, access roads and seismic lines so extensive that gravel and green greet the eye almost equally.Scientists are trying to remediate the lines that help wolves get deep into the forest of Albertas foothills and are partly responsible for vanishing caribou herds, but there are so many that theyre focusing on which ones would do the most good. HO, Foothills Research Institute/Canadian PressIts part of an area that recent satellite data suggests is being deforested at a rate that outpaces whats going on in Brazils rainforests.There are more than 16,000 kilometres of seismic lines, cut by the energy industry through the forest, within the study areas 13,000 square kilometres.

via Caribou habitat in Alberta ravaged beyond repair – Technology & Science – CBC News.

Alberta’s Current Carbon Strategy No Match for Keystone’s Emissions, Figures Show | InsideClimate News

In the tiny hamlet of Hairy Hill, Alberta, a highly energy-efficient grain-fed distillery does what it can to offset some of the greenhouse gas emissions spewed by the province\’s dirtier industries—mainly the tar sands.

The upstart company called Growing Power Hairy Hill turns grain, manure and household waste into liquid fuel and electricity while emitting essentially no greenhouse gases. It says it is Canada\’s first \”integrated biorefinery.\”

Hairy Hill is one small gear in Canada\’s carbon-control strategy as the nation struggles to rein in its soaring greenhouse gas emissions. And it is one among more than four dozen government-funded projects that officials hope will help persuade President Obama to approve the Keystone XL, the cross-border pipeline that has been immobilized for years as the Obama administration considers its environmental and climate consequences.

But despite its low carbon footprint, the emissions credits the plant earns under Alberta\’s complex carbon offsetting scheme are a drop in the bucket compared to what the Keystone would add to the atmosphere.

via Alberta’s Current Carbon Strategy No Match for Keystone’s Emissions, Figures Show | InsideClimate News.

Fort McMurray, Home to 176 Square km of Tar Sands Tailings Ponds, Overwhelmed by Floods | DeSmog Canada

Fort McMurray, Home to 176 Square km of Tar Sands Tailings Ponds, Overwhelmed by Floods | DeSmog Canada.

On Friday the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), the Alberta government’s industry regulator, released a report stating that tar sands companies have failed to comply with pre-existing agreements to limit the amount of water used in tar sands extraction and processing as well as the amount of polluted water that ends up in the region’s growing toxic tailings ponds.

The release of the report coincides with massive floods near Fort McMurray, wreaking havoc on the city’s infrastructure. Since Friday the region has seen between 80 and 180mm of precipitation. Major highways have been closed, roads have been partially washed out, buildings flooded and homes evacuated. The city of Fort McMurray officially declared a state of emergency today, while unseasonably high temperatures prompt snow melt and rain is forecast to continue throughout the week.

The immediate question is apparent: what threat does the flooding pose to the massive tailings ponds lining the Athabasca River and the millions of litres of toxic contaminants they contain?

According to recent industry figures, tailings ponds, which hold the billions of litres of contaminated waste water used in bitumen extraction and processing, cover 176 square kilometres of the tar sands region.

Syncrude leads among greenhouse gas emitters, province’s annual tally reveals

a comparison with the U.S. shows Alberta had the largest overall increase, while Texas had the largest drop in emissions and the New York area the second largest.

via Syncrude leads among greenhouse gas emitters, province’s annual tally reveals.

Oped: Schooling minister Lukaszuk

To Thomas Lukaszuk:

Hello minister Lukaszuk. We’ve never met. I’m president of the Alberta College of Art and Design faculty association. I hope you don’t mind, but I thought I might help out with this whole post-secondary budget problem.

You seem a little confused, what with the constantly changing information coming out of your office, and let me tell you I am too. So let’s figure this thing out together.

You might not be aware that your request for an across-the-board salary freeze, including faculty salaries, in a letter of April 18 to the college’s board of governors, undermines the principle of collective bargaining as supported by provincial legislation.

My faculty association’s job is to negotiate a settlement with the board of governors you appointed, not to listen to your requests and just agree. Then again, you didn’t make the request to me.

In fact, to my knowledge, while you seem content to make decisions about my livelihood, you’ve never met with faculty representatives in this province.

Your reported suggestion that “teaching loads could also be on the table” — which I assume is code for indirect layoffs — is also puzzling, since I don’t recall you being invited to the bargaining table to begin with. You might be surprised to learn how much teaching loads vary among schools and programs.

via Oped: Schooling minister Lukaszuk.