Germans are on board!

A lot of news stories are starting to come out referencing studies going into the next IPCC assessment of climate. This is the same report that came out in 2001 (3rd assessment report), and twice before that. The idea is that about every 5 years a lot of the experts in climate science get together, collect a lot of scientific papers together and try to extract a few basic conclusions about what we know about climate. [FYI: Every report has had the same conclusion: human activity has warmed the surface of Earth, and will continue to do so unless drastic actions are taken immediately. See also Hansen et al. (1981)]

Today there's a report about a German contribution [LINK]. Apparently one of the best climate models in Germany, and the world, is used for a projection of future climate, and it doesn't look good. They find rising sea-levels and hotter summers in Europe; there are longer droughts and bigger floods. This is all becoming redundant (at least in terms of the overall picture). While climate scientists are trying to work out details, there is such a strong consensus on global warming that it is a non-issue at this point.

Also, Joseph Smagorinksky is dead [LINK]. Smagorinsky had a huge influence on the development of climate models, not to mention demonstrating the usefulness of computers in the early days, and helped to establish the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton. GFDL has been one of the foci of climate research in the USA for decades now.

On an unrelated point, a week ago I went to see Al Gore give a talk about climate change. It was being filmed for a DVD that is in the works. For the most part, it was an impressive demonstration. I hope the DVD will match the presentation, and that it will be viewed by people who don't know about climate change, i.e., people who are exposed to politically motivated anti-science views of climate change and don't know to be skeptical of them. An Al Gore in 2008 website has the text of a more political talk about climate change[LINK].

Browsers browsers everywhere

I never know what browser to use.

I don't use MSIE. Not just because I don't use any MS products (really, not even Office... can you believe it?). Not just because it has myriad security problems. Those are true though. It also isn't just a protest, really. For the past few years, MSIE was left behind, tasting the dirt flung into its face by better browsers like Firefox and its mozilla predecessors. Recently I think I heard that MSIE has tabbed browsing now. Yay! Welcome to 2001, Microsoft, glad you could make it.

Anyway, I'm vascillating between three (sometimes four) browsers now. The first one is the default Apple browser, Safari. Other browsers claim to be the fastest, but just from every day experience, Safari is fast. It is simple, and doesn't try to do too much. It has tabs and a download manager. The bookmarks manager is clumsy though. The bookmarks bar is nice, but ordinary. The thing that makes me always go back to it is that integration/cooperation with the operating system. I can drag and drop or cut and paste just about anything. I think there's RSS support of some kind in the Tiger edition, but I'm still using Panther for now.

A while back I started playing with Firefox. It is slick. There's something that feels smooth and glossy about using Firefox. It has that RSS support that always seems like such a good idea. (and it is). It has tabs. It has a download manager. It's bookmark system is simple, but not great. Like Safari it has that nice little google search bar in the address bar. It doesn't act quite as nicely with OS X though... keystrokes are different and things don't paste quite as well. The only other downside is that it sometimes -- only sometimes -- seems sluggish when loading, and it has even become unresponsive a few times.

A cousin of Firefox, Camino is also a slick little browser. It is smaller and faster than the fox. It has tabs and bookmarks and download managers and all that. In fact, overall, this browser might be the best bang for the buck. The problems are with little things. Forms don't quite work sometimes, or pages look a little wrong, with text floating over and out of frames. It doesn't do RSS either. Since it is so similar to Firefox, I wonder if it will continue to be developed.

Finally, I downloaded Opera the other day. I've only just started playing with it. It claims to be the fastest browser because it knows how to read pages better. I don't believe that. In fact, about the only gripe I've got with this browser so far is that it isn't very fast... apparently. It likes to put up the whole page at once, which is great for small pages, but if there's a lot of data to load, it has a slight delay. I do wonder if it is faster with a slower internet connection. Maybe for those people who are stuck with dialup speeds it has an advantage. I'm very impressed so far with the RSS capabilities (it has a reader built in). The keystrokes are different from the others, which makes me think a little more about how to navigate. The mouse gestures feature is very interesting, but might not be quite as useful as you think at first. It has a notes tool that might be useful, and a links tool that could be to some people. Oh, and have you ever accidently closed a page and then screamed out, "no.... wait!" as it closes forever? Well, Opera has a built in backup for that. Close the page? Just click on the little trash bin, and there it is, waiting for you to reopen it. I'm still in the honeymoon phase right now, but as I see it, Opera has the potential to win me over, and make me get rid of my dock icons for Safari and Firefox.

I know this post is random and off topic, but browsers are important. Imagine what the world would be like if we all used MSIE5.5... [shudder]. Comments and suggestions are welcome, as long as you don't recommend MSIE.


The King Mum speaks...

So you've probably seen this already, but you just have to read the quotes by Barbara Bush: [LINK]. I won't make comments, as it is just a cheap shot at this point, and if far from the discourse I try to pursue on this blog.


NCPA full of poop

Just a heads up to everyone: The "National Center for Policy Analysis" is a right-wing, pro-big-business propoganda machine. It is that simple. They are posting tons and tons of "press releases" and "statements" and "news stories" and whatnot that downplay climate change. They are attacking the science, bashing the scientists, giving credence to discredited research, trying to talk around the problem, ignoring the problem, and generally just misinforming the public. If you see the NCPA as a source of anything, either disregard it or get a second (unbiased) opinion. If this organization gains any popularity with the mainstream media, it will be a great disservice to the public, increasing ignorance of the basic, proven science involved with climate change.

Time for Plan B.... Jesus does abortions

Ouch, that is a rough headline.

Chris Mooney [LINK] has an op-ed in the LATimes today [LINK] about the FDA railroading science to instead follow a more theological approach to family planning. Mooney is the author of The Republican War on Science, a book I'm very interested in reading, but haven't had the chance just yet. Look for his name on some very interesting pieces around the web, and he's also doing a lot of book publicity right now so he's pretty visible. I don't know anything about the FDA or Plan B, so I can't comment on the science directly, but the story is both interesting and remeniscent of recent science vs. special interests stories, so I thought I'd throw it out there.


Again with the cyclones

The current issue of Science has an article about tropical cyclones in a warming world. It can be found on the Science site [LINK], or on Peter Webster's web site [LINK]. Here's the info:
Webster, P.J., G. J. Holland, J. A. Curry, and H.-R. Chang, 2005: Changes in Tropical Cyclone Number, Duration, and Intensity in a Warming Environment, Science, 309 (5742), 1844-1846.

The findings are actually not too surprising given the recent studies reported here and all over the news. The study looks at the last 30+ years of tropical cyclone frequency and intensity and does a statistical analysis of it, comparing it to SST. There is a warming SST throughout the tropics, but there doesn't seem to be a significant relationship to more frequent cyclones, except in the north Atlantic. However, there is a significant trend toward more intense cyclones (category 4 and 5) over the same time and in all parts of the tropics. The maximum intensity isn't increasing, at least as measured by maximum wind speed, but there are more and more big cyclones.

For those of you who don't mind reading technical writing, check out the article. It has lots of references to other relevant work, including the scientific basis for the controversy over this topic.

The authors can't rule out long-term oscillations as the cause of the trend, but their statisitics seem to point to a much longer period than the literature has usually found in cyclone activity. The conclusion is that the number of hurricanes doesn't seem to be related to the warming SSTs (and thus global warming), but the strength of those hurricanes is increasing, and is probably related to global warming. This is important for people because it tells us that we need to prepare for more Katrina-like storms in the future; not just in New Orleans, but across the entire gulf coast and southeastern coast. Other parts of the world also need to prepare for more large hurricanes, like Japan, Taiwan, and Mexico.

thinking ahead

I hope the developers of this resort [LINK] have taken sea-level rise into account. Otherwise, the whole thing will be under water in 50-100 years.

word verification activated

Because of the increasing number of spam comments on this blog, I've activated the word verification system provided by blogger. This will force commenters to type a word into a field before publishing the comment. This should stop automated comments. It is sad that we have to do this, and I think it must say something about our society. I will let you decide what it says though. Please don't stop leaving comments though, even though it is a few more keystrokes.

Moon stuff

A story in The Register [LINK] (and a lot of other new sources today) reports NASA is about to "lay out its plans" to send astronauts to the moon by 2018. That seems like a long time from now, but considering that the plans will call for a new vehicle (not designed), a launch platform (not designed), a lunar landing module on the platform (not designed), and plans for a small moon base (not even designed in concept, I guess), it sounds much more ambitious.

While I am not yet convinced that money should be diverted from basic science to manned exploration, I must admit that I am a big fan of the idea of space exploration/colonization. My main reason for being pro-space is because I'm convinced that the longer we keep our species (and let it be the plural form) isolated on this little rock, the more likely it is that we're going to get completely wiped out by a global catastrophe. I know, I sound crazy, but it is true. If Earth is "special" or at least rare in the universe, it is our responsibility to preserve biological diversity.

Back to the money. If this is really one of our top goals for the next couple decades, maybe it is time for a reorganization of resources. Let's have an exploration/colonization division and a science and research & development division within, say, NASA. Fund them separately, but have strong links and no impediments to the two working together. There is, afterall, a lot of overlap between them, especially at the beginning. However, NASA is not only devoted to space stuff; it also is a major source of research funds and resources for people studying Earth, and that should be maintained. Even as we learn more and more about the universe, there remain myriad unanswered questions about our own world. I don't say this out of self-preservation, I'm more than happy to go and work on problems involving other worlds, but we need to know how our own works now, and we don't.


Paradise lost.... and gone forever?

Today we can take a break from worrying about humans causing climate change. Instead, let's take a look at humans poisoning themselves and their planet. In a story in the LA Times, Gary Polakovic reports on the dismal quality of the air in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks [LINK]. The pollution, much of it ozone and NOx (apparently), is wafted into the moutains from the San Joaquin Valley below. I don't really think I need to comment on this, except to say that our society really should address these kinds of problems. Remember the old saying, it's a dirty bird that spoils its own nest.


why google is still going strong

Because they hire "the father of the internet" to a made up position called Chief Internetevangelist [LINK].


FEMA article

A story in the LATimes [LINK] by Peter G. Gosselin and Alan C. Miller tries to blame changes in Washington, D.C. beauracracy for deemphasizing FEMA's role in disaster prevention and mitigation. It's kind of interesting, but I imagine at least some FEMA people would have to disagree. I'd hope so anyway.

Taking responsibility for the safety of the populace

On Weather Underground (wunderground.com), Dr. Jeff Masters writes a short piece on the politics of natural disaster preparedness [LINK]. Here's a short exerpt: "[Hurricane Katrina was a] horror unimagined by anyone, except by every hurricane scientist and government emergency management official for the past forty years and more. It was a certainty that New Orleans would suffer a catastrophe like this."


Gerard Baker rips us a new one

Gerard Baker writes in TimeOnline.co.uk, "the intellectual looters have busied themselves with plundering half-truths and false analyses to advance one of their most precious agendas: global warming."

Before you get upset, go read the piece. It isn't factually incorrect. People are coming out of the woodwork to say that Katrina is a product of global warming. Of course, it is not, at least not directly. Even in my post earlier, I didn't really mention that. We've been down this road before. There isn't much theoretical or observational evidence that the frequency of tropical cyclones increases with global warming, but there is evidence that they become more intense. Katrina is not really an extraordinary storm; there have been lots of big, intense hurricanes in the past. I think it is likely that links between cyclone frequency and global warming will emerge eventually, probably just through a longer cyclone season... i.e., a longer time of optimal conditions for cyclogenesis will probably spawn more cyclones. It's also likely that stronger cyclones (as discussed here before, including discussion of Kerry Emanuel's recent study) will mean more named storms, and lay-people will interpret that as "more" cyclones when really they are just more intense.

Gerard Baker goes one to rip Bush a new one too. He chastises the US federal government for flubbing this disaster relief so far. I won't comment here, but I'll bet you can guess where I fall on the issue... you'd be pretty close.

Too much to cover.... a long post today

I know, I know, the western front has been quiet all too long. In fact, I've had two failed posts recently, and never corrected the problems.

After such a long absence from the "blogosphere," there is an overwhelming amount of ground to make up. I won't try here today.

Instead, I'd suggest looking at the "War Room" blog on salon.com [LINK]. You will need to watch an advertisement to get a day pass to salon, but it is very much worth it... since it will cost you nothing but a few seconds of time to watch a commercial for, e.g., the ACLU. Today Tim Grieve, the main (only?) author, is reporting on Katrina aftermath, including the poor response of the Bush administration. There's also an entry about a biologist at the FDA resigning because of the agency letting politics win over science [LINK]. So, that is the recommended reading for today.

On the science front, I don't have much time now to cover anything in any depth. However, if anyone happened to catch William M. Gray (Colorado St. U.) on Tucker Carlson's MSNBC show the other night, you might have been surprised to hear an atmospheric scientist literally decrying the human-caused global warming. I know I was. I'm unaware of any other atmospheric scientists, including climate scientists, hydrographers, geographers, and oceanographers, who don't believe human activities have led to the dramatic global warming over the past 50 years or so. William Gray, for all the good work he's contributed in the past, seems now incapable of separating personal beliefs from scientific evidence. His views are surprising, given his active role in tropical cyclone predictions, which are cited on several web sites, like CaribWx.com. There is an interview with Gray on discover.com [LINK] which starts out sounding fine, and then degenerates into Gray decrying global warming. Gray seems to link changes in ENSO, ocean circulation, and other global patterns with cyclone activity, but doesn't believe that there is any link between such phenomena and human activity. He claims most of the older atmospheric scientists are with him on this, but I doubt that very much. While it is true that Gray is a pioneer in cyclone prediction, his views on global warming are extremely outside the mainstream, and I have found no scientific evidence that his view are defensible. One of his co-authors, Chris Landsea, is another hurricane expert who doubts the connection between hurricanes and global warming, but I don't know about his beliefs regarding anthropogenic climate change (although I suspect they are within the mainstream).

In extraterrestrial news, Enceladus, Saturn. A small moon with a +5 K temperature anomaly at the south pole and an atmosphere of 90% water vapor that has the highest reflectivity of any object in the solar system (big objects only?), has been featured in a lot of news stories over the past couple days [LINK]. It is a weird little place, and the astrobiologists are starting to get interested, I'm sure.

On a related note, I can't wait until extraterrestrial life is confirmed on any of our nearby candidates (Mars, Europa, Enceladus). It will likely make some people rethink some very backward views of the universe.

Finally today... obviously I've spent more time on this post than I should have... I wanted to link to a few climate change related news items. In the UK, 18 organizations ranging from environmental groups to Christian groups have formed "Stop Climate Chaos," a poorly named movement aimed at putting pressure on the UK government to do more about global climate change [LINK][LINK]. Also out of the UK, the WWF-UK (a member of Stop Climate Chaos) has issued a report about possible risks to species around the coasts of the UK. Sea-surface temperature is increasing, and sea level is rising, which could impact many aspects of both animal and plant life in the not-too-distant future. A very, very interesting study has been published linking an increase in a fungal blight in British Columbian lodgepole pines to increased summer rainfall. While the increased rainfall would usually be a good thing for the trees, the fungus can kill them, and the fungus depends critically on summer moisture to disperse spores. There isn't local warming around the affected area, but the increased rainfall seems linked to a trend in the climatic record (and is apparently not due to any known oscillation/cycle) [LINK][BioScience]. James Reynolds reports in The Scotsman that seabirds around Scotland's coast have had a very poor breeding season, and is probably due to a decline in the population of sand eels, which are a common food source for the birds. The report suggests climate change may be playing a role, although no explanation for such an assertion is provided by the article [LINK].