Here today, gone tomorrow?

Apparently the big science/climate story today is that the "Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) Synthesis Report" was released. Although the stories I've read (e.g.,EarthTimes.org), haven't made it very clear, this report was issued by the UN, and the information in it was compiled by people working for the UN (and in conjuction with the UN). You can read the official press release, which actually has more information than the news stories I saw online, at this link. It is the first of a series of seven reports that will be released dealing with the state of global ecosystems and human well-being. The bottom line is that humans are f'ing up the environment, and ecosystems are going to suffer badly in the near future.

Of course, this is all well and good, but who reads this report? The answer: no one does, not even the people who wrote it will read the other parts. The report is some 2500 pages! You can actually download it (~7MB), at this link, or you can see the "popularized version" at greenfacts.org. Actually, it looks like that popularized version is pretty nice, giving several layers of information, from bullet points to more detail, and then linking to the actual report. Nice job, greenfacts.org.

Don't get this report confused with the well-known IPCC report on climate change. The fourth assessment report of the IPCC is starting to be written this year, and will probably come out next year. While the MA report probably won't be read much, the IPCC is essentially used as a text book because it is a careful, complete, and technical review of the state of knowledge of the climate system and climate change. It is the one that is honest enough to say that we know X about climate change, but the uncertainty is Y (or is unknown), and that is what anti-environmentalists like to use to say "we just don't know." Actually, we do know, but there are uncertainties that could allow a variety of solutions. Anyway... stay tuned for more news about the IPCC coming in the next months.


I'll show you pollution, you don't even know what pollution is!

Hot Air and Global Warming, an opinion piece by Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe, contrasts the views of James Connaughton (dir of env quality) and British economic minister Gordon Brown. Basically Brown says, see post from earlier today, that global warming is very important and we have to do something about it. Connaughton still hasn't accepted the well-established fact that humans are changing global climate.

Jackson says Bush acts like an adolescent in the face of climate change. He refuses to acknowledge it, and does everything he can to make the problem even worse, like a modern-day Nero.

Again, this has nothing to do with the science, but with the interpretation of science by politicians beholden to other powers. Those powers, in this case, are Big Oil and the automotive lobby.

I'll show you pollution, you don't even know what pollution is!

Hot Air and Global Warming, an opinion piece by Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe, contrasts the views of James Connaughton (dir of env quality) and British economic minister Gordon Brown. Basically Brown says, see post from earlier today, that global warming is very important and we have to do something about it. Connaughton still hasn't accepted the well-established fact that humans are changing global climate.

Jackson says Bush acts like an adolescent in the face of climate change. He refuses to acknowledge it, and does everything he can to make the problem even worse, like a modern-day Nero.

Again, this has nothing to do with the science, but with the interpretation of science by politicians beholden to other powers. Those powers, in this case, are Big Oil and the automotive lobby.

UK PM's policy "dismally unambitious"

Tony Blair has been pandering to the US administration for years, but was recently called out by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee. They are very unhappy about Blair's policy, basically saying that he doesn't do what he says he wants to do, and even that is not enough.

I don't have a lot to add to what the story says. The UK has been much more interested in and active about climate change. The coverage in their press is vastly better than in the US. From this I can only assume the British people are generally more concerned about climate change than Americans. The only other point to make is that this is all just politics anyway, and has so little to do with the science of climate change that we should hardly treat them together (as I am doing on this blog).

[LINK to the story]


Go toward the light

VOA News - Astronomers See Light of Distant Planets for First Time

In very cool science news, astronomers can actually "see" an extrasolar planet, or two actually. Like a lot of science, this isn't earth-shattering, but is really interesting. For the time, the primary method for finding extrasolar planets will have to remain the old look-for-wobbling-stars method, but maybe as technology gets better, we will be able to start looking for planets directly.

Well, unless the budget for such research gets cut so some Navy pilot can go play geologist on Mars.

We can build him, we have the technology...

Soft Tissue Discovered in Bone of a Dinosaur

"In bone blasted from Montana sandstone, fossil hunters for the first time have discovered the microscopic soft tissue of a Tyrannosaurus rex"

Yes, finally, fiction will become fact. Order your pet dinosaur soon on Amazon.com.


How did we get to this point?

A quick little political post, to brighten our morning:

USATODAY.com - John Ashcroft to teach class at Va. college
"One month after leaving office, former U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft has a new job: He'll be a part-time professor at a Christian university run by television evangelist Pat Robertson."

How can people not be outraged? I am outraged. Not that Asscrack... um... Ashcroft has taken this "job," but that this man was our Attorney General for four years. I feel like vomitting.

I found this story on Dave Pell's blog.

High clouds. Who cares?

So I saw an article in the NYTimes Science section about NASA diverting money away from confirmed projects to shuttle/space station/moon/mars projects (LINK HERE). This is a shame, for sure. I was going to post something about how we need to fund these geophysical research projects in order to understand climate change etc., but blogger.com went down and I didn't know what to do. So instead of posting here, I resorted to the age-old tradition of posting to a usenet-style group (LINK HERE). I tried to keep it short and sweet, but I don't think anyone reads that group anyway.

The point is that NASA is being torn asunder by this new fascination with sending people to the Moon and Mars. And don't forget that stupid space station that should have its name changed to the International Space Money-Pit. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for exploring space, with both people and "robots," but we are obligated to concentrate on basic research as well. These are two completely different goals, and should be treated separately. One competing against the other is not fair for either, especially with non-scientists in charge of so much of the decision making.


This is a good headline: "Rotten Apple?"

Until now I've been fairly pleased with Apple as a company. Now they seem to be turning into Micro$oft of the late 90s. Catch up by reading this little article: AlterNet: Rotten Apple? by Scott Thill.

Not only has Apple been unfriendly to the people who have generated a lot of buzz for their products, but they are also playing some sketchy games. For example, their use of AAC for the iTunes music store is very suspicious. Basically nothing plays that format except iPod and iTunes. This is so M$-like.

Of course the flip side is that OS X is still based on unix, and the open-source community is flourishing and producing all kinds of great applications for the Macs. Perhaps this is a limit on Apple's ability to control their loyal customers. Yes they want us to buy their stuff, and on the surface it only behaves how they want it to. Underneath that though, there are well-known structures that can be manipulated, and there are lots of people with desire and skills to make things work in different ways. By tapping into the tech-savy Unix/Linux market, Apple may well have saved their products from becoming truly niche products that only serve a small subset of people. Now if we could just work on their marketing and legal teams....


An interesting website?

I just stumbled across ENN: Environmental News Network through ibiblio.org, and I just wanted to throw it out there. Just glancing at it (I really need to get back to work on zonal asymmetry and climate), it looks interesting. There are some RSS feeds, and seems to be really current stuff. So if you're bored, you should go and look it over and report back. Of course I'm most interested in the coverage of real science, not just reports of animals dying or goverments being corrupt, but don't feel constrained by my biases.

Something upbeat before St. Patricks

So there's some study, [link:New Scientist - Women more affected by binge drinkingby Shaoni Bhattacharya] that suggests that binge drinking may be more harful to women than men. They specifically mention cognitive abilities and especially short-term working memory. This is no conclusive study, as the researcher points out, but is an interesting link. From my own experience, women tend to be slightly more prone to binge drinking than men anyway, which could amplify the effect. That is, women are harmed more by binge drinking plus a larger fraction of women are binge drinkers, so binge drinking is much worse for women (as a group) than men.


Could reason actually win?

We often like to think our country is founded on the idea that all people are created equal. This of course is actually just a nice line from the Declaration of Independence, and the idea is not necessarily echoed in the Constitution, at least not as explicitly. That technicality aside, I think it is a good starting point for a republic to admit that everyone in the society is equal under the law (think Magna Carta, but for everybody).

Today a Californian judge actually thought this through and came to an obvious decision: it goes against the California constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Here's a link to the NYTimes.com article: The New York Times > National > California Court Rules Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

making image galleries...

I am the "webmaster" for a small group, and occasionally we need to post pictures from our events. I can make my own thumbnails and things, but it would be much easier to have a little program that makes the thumbs and puts them in a table in a web page and makes all the links right. There are a bunch of things available, like www.simplethumbs.de, but none of the ones I've looked at really do a great job. The main problems I've had are with the directory structure. SimpleThumbs does a good job with that, but is limited and makes pretty low-quality thumbnails. PhotoPage by J. Vink has several nice features, including adding comments/captions to the pictures, but you have to be real careful about making the local files compatible with the directory structure on your server (if they're different, which they are in this case). If you mess that up, it is annoying to have to change all the links in all the files. So if anyone knows of a better image gallery maker for Mac OS X, please let me know.


Why can't states just get along?

The EPA announced some new regulations called the Clean Air Interstate Rule, which affects 28 eastern states. The idea is to reduce NOx and (eventually) SO_2 emissions over the next 10 years. Here's the NYTimes.com story: The New York Times > E.P.A. Announces New Emissions Regulations for Eastern U.S. by Michael Janofsky.

The "story" is that the crappy Clear Skies Act can't get through Congress, so the EPA is moving forward without Congressional input. Everyone is pretty much in favor of the Clean Air Interstate Rule, but most environmentalists are very much against the Clear Skies Act. Why? Well, the Interstate Rule sits on top of all the other legislation we have, namely the Clean Air Act. The Clear Skies Act would strip away some important aspects of the Clean Air Act, and would also ignore carbon dioxide (and methane too, I think) emissions. So while the Interstate Rule is a small step forward, the Clear Skies Act would be a big step to the side, letting power plants run right by with their dirty ways. Bad.

The Interstate Rule will help states who are victimized by their upwind neighbors. I'm not so sure if it includes by-products though. For example, if Cleveland produces a lot of NOx that blows toward Pittsburgh (this is hypothetical, I don't know about residence times and mean wind there) but it becomes ozone by the time it gets there, will Pittsburgh have an actionable position? They should, since it is the NOx from across the border that is leading to respiratory problems of Pennsylvanians. This does happen within southern California. Traffic on the westside produces lots of NOx, which blows inland toward San Bernardino and Riverside and Pasadena etc, and chemistry happens along the way. Of course, Riverside can't sue Long Beach over this, but Pennsylvania might be able to sue Ohio.

As for the Clear Skies Act, I have to add to the dissent. It isn't enough, and it gets rid of some good regulations on power plant upgrades. If anything, we should amend the Clean Air Act to make it stronger and include greenhouse gas emissions. Why will the federal government not pay attention to greenhouse gases? It makes no sense!!


oh, and here we go back to the Gaia hypothesis...

Sometimes I just leave my browser open to some source, like NYTimes.com or Salon.com, and through the day go back and click around. For some reason today it is NewScientist.com, which is an okay science publication but not one that I spend as much time on as it might seem today.

Anyway, there's an article about how coral reefs make dimethyl suflide (DMS), which can act as a cloud condensation nucleus... a nucleation site for water for those of you who prefer. So basically the coral makes a mucous with a ton of DMS, which mixes around in the shallow water where coral live. Then the wind blows (a common assumption in atmosci!), and sea spray is whipped up into the atmosphere. Inside the sea spray is lots of DMS, which apparently was puzzling in the 1970s (I don't know why they "didn't know about DMS in the 1970s"). The DMS might then help make clouds around the reefs.

There has been a Gaia hypothesis floating around for quite a long time by which the Earth system acts as an organism, reacting to changes to maintain itself. I think it dates back to Lovelace in the 1970s, but I'll have to check. One example used DMS, but not from coral. It went something like: (1) assume some kind of global warming, (2) low clouds are reduced because the boundary layer warms and dries (questionable), (3) more sun gets to the sea surface, (4) phytoplankton go crazy with biological activity, (5) they DMS produced by the phytoplankton gets into the atmosphere to act as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN), (6) the increased cloudiness acts to decrease the sunlight at the surface and reflects it back to space (cooling the atmosphere). Of course, that effect has never been quantified, but it is possible in some sense.

The coral reefs can now be considered in the same way, I guess. However, from the coral reefs that I know about, they tend to grow in places that are more sunny more often. Like the tropics instead of the subtropics. So increasing the CCN there might lead to more clouds, but they'd probably be small cumulus, not big thick layers of stratocumulus, so that probably wouldn't be much of a feedback. There might be a possibility of a local precipitation feedback, but the importance of such an effect on climate is questionable. It deserves some study, but it won't save humanity... or the coral reefs.

at least it's a dry heat

Scientific American: Climate Change Desiccating the Planet, Researchers Conclude

RE: Link above

No real news here, in that most of us involved with this stuff have been aware of increasing drought frequency and severity for some time, but this story from Scientific American is a quick blurb about increasingly dry conditions all around the globe. This is just part of the preponderance of evidence for changing climate, and more reason to bring climate science to the forefront of public awareness. Please, people, pay attention.

Separately, why are headlines so crappy?

an iPod story

A story on NewScientist.com tells the story of a teenager bent on installing Linux on his 4th Generation (4G) iPod. He eventually got the device to tell its booting story through clicks (using the "click" of the click wheel), and then decoded the clicks with another computer. I can't imagine wanting to spend so much time on this, but I'm glad there are people out there who will do the dirty work for me!


Life science can be interesting too.

So in the ongoing melodrama of Flores Man, a species of very diminutive human-like people who lived as recently as 18,000 years ago, a new story today (see story in VOA) says they had advanced brains. The news story has the lead scientist, who says a "model" of the brain was construced based on the boundary conditions given by the morphology of the skull, describing the brain as supporting advanced skills like language and fire building. There is also a skeptic who says brain size is quite important, and a grapefruit sized brain probably couldn't be quite that advanced. Then the story tries to say something about how "some" people think this might be evidence of parallel evolution, not just miniaturization. This is probably more far fetched. It seems unlikely that some apes wandered onto the island and evolved into small human-like people. It is much more likely that some fairly recent ancestor of modern humans got stranded on the island and the species got smaller over many generations. That is not to say they didn't evolve to become more person-like during that time too, so maybe the answer is more in the middle, which is usually the case.


What ever happened to....

... Joyce DeWitt, or Janet from Three's Company?
Well, somehow I happened to come across this page which has some pictures of her, mostly from back in the day. There are also some more recent ones:

According to IMDB, she's been kicking around on a few TV shows as herself, most notably appearing on Hollywood Squares.

Climate change matters!

Today I want to remind all of you that climate change will affect your life. Really. It is likely that we are already experiencing a warmer climate, which will continue to warm for many years to come. Along with "global warming," it is quite likely that the intensity of seasons will change, with larger variance (more extremes) than we have seen in the recorded past. For example, El NiƱo years seem to be more frequent and more intense compared to the distant past. Get ready folks, it's going to be a wild ride. Pay attention to RealClimate.org, ClimatePrediction.net, the IPCC, and NCEP.

GWB is out of touch? I can't believe it.

I'm just testing out this fancy blogger.com/blogspot.com thing today. My normal blog is over at xanga.com.

In a poll that makes me feel only a smidge better about my fellow Americans, the NY Times and CBS find that GWB is out of touch with a majority of Americans on a variety of subjects.