Pricing CO2 could help to end the deadlock of international climate policy

"Finance ministers are facing strong demand for public investments in education, security or transport - pricing CO2 turns out to be a suitable means of raising the revenues that are needed," says Max Franks from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), lead-author of the study. "Finance ministers can put money into infrastructure that substantially and lastingly improves public welfare. This is something you can count in Dollars. And along the way they save the climate, since pricing CO2 yields a strong incentive to reduce emissions. You could call it a double sustainability dividend."

In our globalized world, taxing a firm's capital assets is difficult

In contrast, it is difficult for governments to raise additional taxes on a firm's capital assets or on labour. "In our globalized world, it has become relatively easy for capital - and in fact for whole companies - to relocate to another, low-tax country," says co-author Ottmar Edenhofer, chief-economist of PIK. Payroll taxes, being the alternative, reduce consumption and can raise social issues. "We have been surprised how robust our results are," adds Edenhofer. "No matter whether other countries are taxing emissions or if the fossil fuel market is dominated by a near-monopoly OPEC or by perfect competition, virtually all of the scenarios we computed show that CO2 pricing has a positive economic effect - even without considering the additional benefits of avoided climate change damages."

Recently, Canada's Alberta province, well-known for producing oil, introduced a comprehensive carbon tax. Chile announced something similar last year. Other governments are considering it.

The research is based on an innovative game theoretic model - a supercomputer simulation that allows for strategic behavior of finance ministers on the global capital market. Additionally, the interaction between governments and its domestic private agents are modeled explicitly. The method has already been used in previous standard economic studies. It reflects well-known empirical facts, for example, tax competition in a globalized economy, which often leads to undersupply of infrastructure investments and the strategic supply on resource markets. "Yet we found that a CO2-taxing country does not suffer from large-scale relocation of capital because the economic effect of improving the infrastructure and hence production conditions for firms are so much greater," explains Franks.

Paris world climate summit: pricing as a shift for the policy debate?

Importantly, however, the study yields sound findings on the conceptual level, but it can not provide information about any concrete country or concrete sums of economical gains. This would now have to be the next step for research, the authors stress.

"While at the Paris world climate summit, the debate is focused on volume targets for CO2 emission reductions, our research shows that price targets can be a most effective tool" says Edenhofer. "For some countries, taxing CO2 would work best. Others - like the European Union and China - might rely on an emissions trading system which can have the same effect, at least if a minimum price is introduced. Despite the progress we see in expanding such pricing schemes, the welfare effect of combining it with investing the revenues in infrastructure improvements has been widely underestimated so far. It could mean an important shift for the global climate policy debate."

University of Luxembourg research finds potential key to making town living more

Compact towns with high population density can have social, environmental, and economic benefits. The supply of high-density urban housing has increased, but people continue to choose to live in suburbs and commuter towns. The result is continued urban sprawl and longer commuting times.

For the first time, a team of researchers* has used mathematical analysis and a supercomputer simulation model to demonstrate that facilitating access to high-quality parks, woodland and other green spaces is central to making town living much more attractive and sustainable. The research results were published recently in the interdisciplinary journal Computers, Environment and Urban Systems*. Associate professor Geoffrey Caruso from the University of Luxembourg was on this international team.

This work suggests that mistakes have been made in the way residential projects are planned. "Local politicians have sought to increase town centre populations by encouraging the supply of high-density urban housing on almost every available plot of land. Despite this, demand remains strong for more spacious homes in the suburbs and in commuter towns. Thus attempts to boost urban density may be having the opposite effect," he noted.

Town planners may not have understood the high importance residents put on easy access to generous amounts of green space in urban areas. "Having parks, woodlands and green play areas nearby could very strongly encourage people to move into smaller town houses and apartments," associate professor Caruso said.

Advocates of urban living see it as a way to boost well-being, as it brings lower levels of social isolation and easier access to workplaces, shops, and public services. There are also environment benefits, as town dwellers are more likely to walk or take public transport, and smaller homes are cheaper to heat. Plus it is cheaper to supply transport infrastructure and public services to urban populations.

The research team used mathematical analysis and a supercomputer simulation model to represent the evolution of an idealised town of about 200,000 inhabitants. "We demonstrate that increasing the availability of close, convenient parks, woods and green play areas, encourages people to live in smaller homes in town. This reduces the cost and inconvenience of commuting, and has a strong positive impact on welfare," Geoffrey Caruso said.

He also recommends creating more local footpaths and bicycle lanes to access green spaces. The next step is to apply this theoretical breakthrough in urban areas. This could be the key to one of the central problems faced by town planners.

* Geoffrey Caruso, University of Luxembourg; Jean Cavailhès, Institut National de Recherche Agronomique, France; Dominique Peeters & Isabelle Thomas, Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium; Pierre Frankhauser & Gilles Vuidel, University of Franche-Comté, France.

** Greener and larger neighbourhoods make cities more sustainable! A 2D urban economics perspective, published in Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, November 2015

The huge West Antarctic ice sheet would collapse completely if the comparatively small Amundsen Basin is destabilized, scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research find

The huge West Antarctic ice sheet would collapse completely if the comparatively small Amundsen Basin is destabilized, scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research find. A full discharge of ice into the ocean is calculated to yield about 3 meters of sea-level rise. Recent studies indicated that this area of the ice continent is already losing stability, making it the first element in the climate system about to tip. The new publication for the first time shows the inevitable consequence of such an event. According to the supercomputer simulations, a few decades of ocean warming can start an ice loss that continues for centuries or even millennia.

"What we call the eternal ice of Antarctica unfortunately turns out not to be eternal at all," says Johannes Feldmann, lead author of the study to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). "Once the ice masses get perturbed, which is what is happening today, they respond in a non-linear way: there is a relatively sudden breakdown of stability after a long period during which little change can be found."

"A few decades can kickstart change going on for millennia"

This is what is expressed by the concept of tipping elements: pushed too far, they fall over into another state. This also applies to, for instance, the Amazon rainforest, and the Indian Monsoon system. In parts of Antarctica, the natural ice-flow into the ocean would substantially and permanently increase.

Ocean warming is slowly melting the ice shelves from beneath, those floating extensions of the land ice. Large portions of the West Antarctic ice sheet are grounded on bedrock below sea level and generally slope downwards in an inland direction. Ice loss can make the grounding line retreat, thereby exposing more and more ice to the slightly warmer ocean water - further accelerating the retreat.

"In our simulations 60 years of melting at the presently observed rate are enough to launch a process which is then unstoppable and goes on for thousands of years," Feldmann says. This would eventually yield at least 3 meters of sea-level rise. "This certainly is a long process," Feldmann says. "But it's likely starting right now."

The greenhouse-gas emission factor

"So far we lack sufficient evidence to tell whether or not the Amundsen ice destabilization is due to greenhouse gases and the resulting global warming," says co-author and IPCC sea-level expert Anders Levermann, also from the Potsdam Institute. "But it is clear that further greenhouse-gas emission will heighten the risk of an ice collapse in West Antarctica and more unstoppable sea-level rise."

"That is not something we have to be afraid of, because it develops slowly," concludes Levermann. "But it might be something to worry about, because it would destroy our future heritage by consuming the cities we live in - unless we reduce carbon emission quickly."

Berkeley Lab's Shyh Wang Hall

Wang Hall takes advantage of Lab’s hillside location for advanced energy efficiency

A new center for advancing computational science and networking at research institutions and universities across the country opened today at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

Named Wang Hall, the facility will house the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, or NERSC, one of the world’s leading supercomputing centers for open science which serves nearly 6,000 researchers in the U.S. and abroad. Wang Hall will also be the center of operations for DOE’s Energy Sciences Network, or ESnet, the fastest network dedicated to science, which connects tens of thousands of scientists as they collaborate on solving some of the world’s biggest scientific challenges.

Complementing NERSC and ESnet in the facility will be research programs in applied mathematics and computer science, which develop new methods for advancing scientific discovery. Researchers from UC Berkeley will also share space in Wang Hall as they collaborate with Berkeley Lab staff on computer science programs.

The ceremonial

The ceremonial “connection” marking the opening of Shyh Wang Hall.

The 149,000 square foot facility built on a hillside overlooking the UC Berkeley campus and San Francisco Bay will house one of the most energy-efficient computing centers anywhere, tapping into the region’s mild climate to cool the supercomputers at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) and eliminating the need for mechanical cooling.

“With over 5,000 computational users each year, Berkeley Lab leads in providing scientific computing to the national energy and science user community, and the dedication of Wang Hall for the Computing program at Berkeley Lab will allow this community to continue to flourish,” said DOE Under Secretary for Science and Energy Lynn Orr.

Modern science increasingly relies on high performance computing to create models and simulate problems that are otherwise too big, too small, too fast, too slow or too expensive to study. Supercomputers are also used to analyze growing mountains of data generated by experiments at specialized facilities. High speed networks are needed to move the scientific data, as well as allow distributed teams to share and analyze the same datasets.

Shyh Wang

Shyh Wang

Wang Hall is named in honor of Shyh Wang, a professor at UC Berkeley for 34 years who died in 1992. Well-known for his research in semiconductors, magnetic resonances and semiconductor lasers, which laid the foundation for optoelectronics, he supervised a number of students who are now well-known in their own right, and authored two graduate-level textbooks, “Solid State Electronics” and “Fundamentals of Semi-conductor Theory and Device Physics.”

Solid state electronics, semiconductors and optical networks are at the core of the supercomputers at NERSC—which will be located on the second level of Wang Hall—and the networking routers and switches supporting the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet), both of which are managed by Berkeley Lab from Wang Hall. The Computational Research Division (CRD), which develops advanced mathematics and computing methods for research, will also have a presence in the building.

NERSC's Cray Cori supercomputer's graphic panels being installed at Wang Hall.

NERSC’s Cori supercomputer’s graphic panels being installed at Wang Hall.

“Berkeley Lab is the most open, sharing, networked, and connected National Lab, with over 10,000 visiting scientists using our facilities and leveraging our expertise each year, plus about 1,000 UC graduate students and postdocs actively involved in the Lab’s world-leading research,” said Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos. “Wang Hall will allow us to serve more scientists in the future, expanding this unique role we play in the national innovation ecosystem. The computational power housed in Wang Hall will be used to advance research that helps us better understand ourselves, our planet, and our universe. When you couple the combined experience and expertise of our staff with leading-edge systems, you unlock amazing potential for solving the biggest scientific challenges.”

The $143 million structure financed by the University of California provides an open, collaborative environment bringing together nearly 300 staff members from three lab divisions and colleagues from UC Berkeley to encourage new ideas and new approaches to solving some of the nation’s biggest scientific challenges.

UC President Janet Napolitano at the Shyh Wang Hall opening.

UC President Janet Napolitano at the Shyh Wang Hall 

“All of our University of California campuses rely on high performance computing for their scientific research,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “The collaboration between UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab to make this building happen will go a long ways towards advancing our knowledge of the world around us.”

The building features unique, large, open windows on the lowest level, facing west toward the Pacific Ocean, which will draw in natural air conditioning for the computing systems. Heat captured from those systems will in turn be used to heat the building. The building will house two leading-edge supercomputers – Edison and Cori – which operate around the clock 52 weeks a year to keep up with the computing demands of users.

Wang Hall will be occupied by Berkeley Lab’s Computing Sciences organization, which comprises three divisions:

NERSC, the DOE Office of Science’s leading supercomputing center for open science. NERSC supports nearly 6,000 researchers at national laboratories and universities across the country. NERSC’s flagship computer is Edison system capable of performing more than two quadrillion calculations per second. The first phase of Cori, designed for data-intensive science, has already been installed in Wang Hall.

ESnet, which links 40 DOE sites across the country and scientists at universities and other research institutions via a 100 gigabits-per second backbone network. ESnet also connects researchers in the U.S. and Europe over connections with a combined capacity of 340 Gbps. To support the transition of NERSC from its 15-year home in downtown Oakland to Berkeley Lab, NERSC and ESnet have developed and deployed a 400 Gbps link for moving massive datasets. This is the first-ever 400 Gbps production network deployed by a research and education network.

The Computational Research Division, the center for one of DOE’s strongest research programs in applied mathematics and computer science, where more efficient computer architectures are developed alongside more effective algorithms and applications that help scientists make the most effective use of supercomputers and networks to tackle problems in energy, the environment and basic science.

Technique enables more realistic look, behavior of cloth in animations

Simulating the behavior of clothing and other fabrics in animated films requires animators to make tradeoffs between a realistic look and a reasonable amount of computing time. Researchers at Walt Disney Animation Studios now have developed a method that can shift the balance toward greater realism.

The Disney scientists used multigrid, a popular approach for large-scale numerical simulations, and, in particular, a special type known as smoothed aggregation. This approach enabled them to achieve speedups six to eight times faster than conventional methods for simulating a fully clothed character as he walked and ran.

"The more unknowns there are in the equations, the more advantageous this is going to be," said Rasmus Tamstorf, senior research scientist. The approach actually works more efficiently on large problems than small problems, making it especially suitable for simulations requiring lots of detail, such as the clothing worn by a main character or fabrics that appear in the foreground of a scene, he added.

Tamstorf and his collaborators, Toby Jones, senior software engineer, and Stephen McCormick, a professor emeritus of applied mathematics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, will present their findings at ACM SIGGRAPH Asia 2015, the Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, Nov. 2-5, in Kobe, Japan.

Multigrid methods, which have been around for decades, are an approach to solving large problems by first solving a less detailed, coarser version of the problem. This process occurs recursively, with the problem made coarser and coarser until it can be solved easily. "Then you work your way back up," Tamstorf said, using each solution to guide the solution of the next, more complex version of the problem.

"The idea is not new; other people have tried to use geometric multigrid methods for cloth simulation," Tamstorf said. But these attempts often have failed to produce big increases in efficiency, and are more restrictive in how they can be applied.

One reason is because of the inherent physics of cloth, he explained. When a piece of material is stretched, for instance, it not only gets longer in one direction, but also compresses, or gets narrower, in the perpendicular direction. This property proves to be difficult to handle for geometric multigrid methods.

The smoothed aggregation technique the Disney team adopted is an algebraic method designed to handle the coupling between directions. "Smoothed aggregation allows a lot more flexibility," Tamstorf said, noting it works with any type of mesh and handles contact constraints seamlessly.

Jessica Hodgins, vice president of research at Disney Research stated, "In addition to film animation, smoothed aggregation multigrid methods could be used in e-commerce to allow customers to try on clothing virtually."

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