I don't have time to really think too hard about this story, but it is making the rounds, so I'll at least acknowledge it. Some NCAR simulations now predict essentially no late-summer ice in the Arctic by 2040. See the story at BBC [LINK] or at Nature [LINK]. The actual paper is in Geophysical Research Letters [doi:10.1029/2006GL028024].

What does this mean? Well, I haven't had a chance to look closely at the paper, but I have some first impressions. I did get a sneak-peek of these results this summer, and at the same time was introduced to some of the details of the sea-ice model used in CCSM (NCAR's climate model), so maybe I'll be able to say something halfway meaningful. The paper itself does not predict an ice-free Arctic in 2040, so let's just get that out of the way. This paper is really about the possibility of abrupt decreases in sea-ice in a changing climate, and the current generation of climate models suggest a real possibility of large reductions in perennial ice coverage in the first half of the 21st century. The main focus is a set of CCSM simulations using one of the emissions scenarios from IPCC. They also take a look at some of the results from other IPCC models. The CCSM always has what the authors call "abrupt reductions" in Arctic ice, and several of the other models also show large reductions.

I am willing to accept these results, but I think some skepticism has to be exercised still. First off, this is a GRL paper, which is a journal of short, usually preliminary, work focusing on "sexy" results. The peer-review process for GRL is sometimes thought to be a little lax, and sometimes the quality of the work is questionable. That does not seem to be an issue for this paper; the CCSM is a respected climate model, the authors are top-notch climate scientists, and this work is presented well. That said, this is not the last word on this project; I'm sure that the authors are doing more detailed work and are planning a longer, more careful analysis for another journal (e.g., Journal of Climate, Climate Dynamics). The best thing that could do would be to better quantify what "abrupt changes" really are, and the physical processes that trigger them, which is a big open question in this paper. They say the abrupt changes are driven by thermodynamics, but don't really present evidence of this; I assume they mean that wind patterns/ocean currents are changing to just move ice out of the Arctic, but it is not explained. The other thing to keep in mind is that even in the current generation climate models, the sea-ice models are fairly crude. I don't mean that in a bad way, the people working on these models are doing the best they can. Ice processes are quite complicated, and to properly model sea-ice, much like "properly" modeling clouds, the simulations need to be run in much higher resolutions. That kind of resolution is too expensive right now, and even if the resources were there, it would be a tough sell to dedicate it to the sea-ice component rather than better atmospheric and oceanic components. This particular climate model is known to be fairly sensitive, and when it gets knocked out of equilibrium, the sea-ice is one of the things known to respond fairly erradically. So while I think the CCSM, and several other high-end climate models, can get a lot of important changes correct, we still can't trust the details of these fully coupled simulations. My interpretation is then something like this: in the near future (50 years), it is likely that rapid reductions in perennial Arctic sea-ice will be observed, associated with (but not well-correlated with) increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases.


Would I qualify?

A small story, ultimately of no consequence, suggesting the "need" for a Nobel Prize for the Environment: LINK.

Funny as it may sound, I don't think it would be a very good idea to add such a prize. I would like to see more earth scientists honored for their contributions to understanding physics, chemistry, and dynamical system, but the Nobel prizes are so high profile, and climate change such a charged issue, I think such a prize would be politicized immediately. That would sully the award, because there would always be questions about why people get the prize. Not only that, but it would be difficult to separate scientific achievment in understanding the environment from conservation of the environment, which is more social science or economics or political or who knows what. If conservation groups tended to be awarded the prize, then earth scientists would be even less likely to be honored, since they wouldn't get the environment prize and they'd usually be excluded from the physics or chemistry prizes.

There is also the issue of the maturity of the fields of meteorology, oceanography, climate dynamics, environmental sciences, and such. While those of us in the field could come up with a list of deserving people, it would be difficult after a few years to say with confidence that a person(s) have made a lasting positive contribution. This comes up in the other science prizes when people complain that awardees get the award decades after the work, but the defense is that it takes that long to figure out what work needs to be honored. We don't really have very many decades of work to choose from (of course, excluding the early pioneers like Bjerknes, Charney, Richardson, Ekman, von Neuman, and many other dead folks).


Down under, where the carbon is.

Today's little tidbit is a short news story about a Journal of Climate paper [LINK]. The paper is about a climate simulation that includes an ocean (and presumably a carbon cycle model). The bottom line is that they think they have a credible southern hemisphere atmospheric circulation, with then drives a realistic Antarctic circumpolar current. If you have never done so, go get a globe and look at it from the "bottom," so you are looking right at the south pole; notice that there is a ring of water around Antarctica. That's the only place where that happens, and it makes a big difference to the world's climate. Anyway, they say that as the winds around Antarctica move south, they change the uptake of carbon dioxide into the ocean, which partially offsets the climate change associated with the anthropogenic greenhouse effect. That's good! Unfortunately, it also accelerates sea level rise (by pumping heat into the ocean, raising the temperature faster) and ocean acidification (which might feed back onto the carbon cycle if critters start dying off). So there you go. Maybe I'll try to tap Nikki for more nuianced insight, since this is closely related to her work.


mid-term updates

The dearth of posts here for the last month should be taken as an indication of progress and stress here at the home base. It is difficult to save the world one simulated cloud at a time, but it will be worth it. The blog will likely continue to suffer in coming months, but I will try to put up interesting tidbits on a weekly-ish basis.

Today's tidbit is about supercomputers. What do I know about supercomputers? Not too much, but sometimes I use them. Okay, sometimes I use small little chunks of them (anywhere from 8 to 128 processors right now, maybe more in the near future). However, people who do know about high-performance computing are abuzz about the new rankings of the top 500 supercomputers [LINK]. The IBM machine at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab is destroying its competition, running at an impressive 280.6 teraflops. That is 280.6 trillion operations per second, where an operation is basically adding or multiplying some numbers. A nice desktop computer can usually crank out about one billion operations per second (1 gigaflops), which is 280,600 times less than the BlueGene/L at LLNL. The next closest speed to the BlueGene/L is at Sandia National Lab, which runs a Cray (called "red storm") that gets 101.4 teraflops. That seems like nothing in comparison, but it is only the second system to break the 100 TFLOPS barrier.

For comparison, the Earth-Simulator in Japan (made from NEC parts, 5120 processors) is now ranked 14th at about 35 TFLOPS. That facility is still considered an amazing feat, and the atmospheric simulations coming from them are still astounding people in the atmospheric sciences [EXAMPLE]. NCAR's newest machine (one I definitely do not have access to) is "blueice," an IBM machine running 1696 processors at 10.5 TFLOPS.... I think this machine is getting expanded very soon, too. They also have a BlueGene to play with that is ranked 144, using 2048 processors, and IBM machines (1600, 608 processors) at numers 193 and 213.

Why does any of this matter? Well, for one thing, we are inching closer and closer to the ultimate goal. Also, we are on the brink of "peta-scale" computing, which is probably going to change the way computational science gets done. We'll be able to do simulations much faster with much finer resolutions, which will produce incredible amounts of data. It will be a challenge over the next few years to develop ways to deal with all that data. It will require different software approaches as well as new hardware. With standard desktop technology of today, the file I/O (that is, just reading the data from the hard disk) is far too slow to deal with the amount of information that we're going to be dealing with. Crunching the numbers and then visualizing the model output is going to be tremendously difficult without an incredible amount of support from computer-savvy folks who can help the scientists. The technology is coming, money is already being spent, projects are being planned, so now is the time to start thinking about how to deal with the output.


The Ozone Hole is confusing

I've been seeing small news items over the past week or two saying that this year's Antarctic ozone hole has matched the previous record, and that the amount of ozone is the lowest ever [e.g., LINK]. While this is interesting and important news, I'm wondering if it might confuse people. Afterall, a lot, way more than you think, of people think there is a direct link between anthropogenic global warming and the ozone hole. Not just laypeople on the street either, smart and usually-informed people think this. Climate scientists everywhere are constantly being forced to correct people at cocktail parties and other social events. "No, the ozone hole is due to chemicals called CFCs in the upper atmosphere; global warming has to do with burning fossil fuels."

After the gigantic ozone hole of 2000, the size has actually decreased, leading most to believe that the Montreal Protocol of 1987 was a smashing success, and that the hole would disappear in 50 years or so. Actually, that is still what most people in the know are thinking.

So what's with the new big ozone hole? Well, it may have something to do with global warming. Sigh.

Basically, every winter (in Antarctica the winter is during June-July-August) it gets really, really, really cold around and over Antarctica. Because of the geography of the southern hemisphere, there are incredibly strong winds that essentially circle around the continent of Antarctica. Cold air basically gets trapped inside this huge votex, and has nothing better to do than get even colder, all winter. During this deep freeze, polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) can form, in which molecular chlorine can form (Cl2), and the stronger the vortex, the larger the PSCs and the more Cl2 can form.

When the spring comes, sunlight is added to the equation. Sunlight easily breaks the molecular chlorine into atmoic chlorine. The atomic chlorine (Cl) quickly reacts in a chain of events that destroys ozone; it's a catalytic reaction; a single chlorine atom can tear apart many ozone molecules. This is why the ozone hole appears suddenly in September, when the sun finally shines on the pole.

How is this related to global warming? Well, the same course of events happens year in and year out, but there is variability, of course. Because of the international agreement to eliminate the use of CFCs, every year the amount of CFCs decreases. As a side note, CFCs get absorbed by the upper ocean, and are used as a great passive tracer to study ocean motion. Even with the decrease, the coldness of the winter is still quite variable. The colder the winter, the stronger the polar vortex, the more PSCs can form and condition the stratosphere for ozone depletion. It is possible that the large-scale circulation pattern of the southern hemisphere could adjust to make the polar night colder even as the global surface temperature rises. A paper from 2000 explores some of these issues of synergy between stratospheric ozone depletion and greenhouse gas warming (Hartmann et al, 2000, PNAS). This is ongoing research, as the question of how the circulation will adjust to a warmer world is hard to answer, but my feeling is that more and more people seem to think that the change might favor these extremely cold winters with a strong polar vortex and favorable conditions for ozone depletion.

By the way, Cambridge has a nice ozone hole web site: LINK


Slate misunderstands wine AND global warming

Last friday, Slate.com posted an article by Joel Waldfogel called "Go North, Young Grapes: The effect of global warming on the world's vineyards." I was excited to see it, since I'm really interested in both global warming and wine. However, after reading it, I find several major deficiencies, some of which are obvious errors in understanding what global warming is and how plants, specifically grape vines, work.

The article reports on something called a "working paper" by Orley Ashenfelter and Karl Storchmann, who I think are economists. The paper is called "Using a Hedonic Model of Solar Radiation to Assess the Economic Effect of Climate Change: The Case of Mosel Valley Vineyards," written for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., whatever that is. I have looked at this paper, which you can find through the RePEc (Research Papers in Economics) web site [LINK,pdf], and so I will let Joel Waldfogel off the hook for a time while we discuss the paper itself.

Section 2B of the paper states, "it is apparent that
total solar radiation is highly dependent on the amount, kind and density of clouds, and varies
with time and place. For the sake of simplicity engineers often calculate the so-called
extraterrestrial radiation, that is, the radiation that would be available if there were no
atmosphere (Duffie and Beckman, 1991)." What this means to me is that they don't want to account for variations in the atmosphere (weather and such, you know, that's not important), so they are going to use what I would call solar insolation. However, that varies only with latitude and time of year, and they are calculating it at the ground, so they ignore the atmosphere but take into account the slope of the ground. Okay, well, I'll tell you why that is a poor assumption shortly.

Let me now quote from section 2D:
"D. Other Factors that Affect Vineyard Sites Gladstones (1992) provides a detailed analysis of several other factors that make specific geographic sites more or less suitable for the production of high quality grapes. Important factors include those that reduce diurnal (night-day) temperature differences. Nearness to a body of water and, especially, soil type are important determinants of diurnal fluctuations..."
Hold on to this for our discussion below.

Before going on to the analysis, the authors discuss the data for vineyard prices, and how they take into account non-south-facing slopes, altitude, and soil characteristics. There are gross assumptions built into these choices, which I will ignore here. However, let's just say that vineyards don't necessarily suffer from being farther away from bodies of water, despite the authors' assumption. One aspect that might be worth mentioning here is that the authors state that they think vineyards far from large bodies of water will be hurt because they don't have smaller diurnal temperature fluctuations; as I understand it, grapes do extremely well in conditions where there is large diurnal variation.... the hot days and cool nights of California's Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties come to mind.

So how do they do global warming without an atmosphere? Well, they don't. They do a very simple energy flux calculation using blackbody radiation, albedo (reflectivity) and an "emissivity." Fair, except that instead of actually considering something resembling an emissivity, the authors choose to assume that the energy emitted from the surface is half of that emitted from the atmosphere. Crude to say the least, especially when it would have been easy to do much better. So they are sort of taking account of the greenhouse effect, since they'll get temperatures that are way too cold if they don't. They then plug in a temperature change associated with global warming, and get the amount of "radiation energy" that must be associated with that change, and they continue to assert this is "solar radiation" (actually in their figure they say "positive net radiation" which is correct).

Here's the thing. They set up their model using solar insolation, or atmosphere-free radiative flux at the surface, but then they try to apply a climate change that relies on a crude assumption about the atmosphere. This is inconsistent. They could have done better, but let us accept it. A greater problem is that they are making a model based on how agriculture should use incident solar radiation, which is visible light. Yes, there is a connection between sunshine and temperature, but plants are highly dependent on the actual sunshine for photosynthesis, not temperature alone. This is a complex biological relationship the authors fail to take into account.

They mention that there are other factors that affect vineyards, as quoted above. A critical one is the night-day temperature variation. The model punishes vineyards for having a large/larger diurnal variation, including an assumption that higher altitude vineyards are farther from water, must have larger day-night temperature variations, and therefore suffer more from "global warming." I'm just not sure why they do that, as I've learned that wine grapes are better with large diurnal cycles, and also wines made from mountainside vineyards are among the most prized/collected wines in the world. This is actually going to be important too, because in global warming scenarios, the diurnal variation is often affected more than the actual maximum temperature. That is because the effect is in the infrared, not the visible light, so after the sun goes down the surface can't cool as efficiently because the atmosphere is warmed. That means minimum temperatures get higher, and they change more than daytime maximum temperatures, which reduces the diurnal variation. The authors ignore this fact.

The major deficiency of the paper is the assumption that plants will thrive under warmer conditions based on energy input arguments. While it is true that there will be a larger energy flux into the surface under global warming, this energy will be in the infrared, which does not necessarily benefit plants. In marginal growing areas where occasional freezing conditions damage crops during the growing season, increases in daily minimum temperatures might reduce the occurence of these freezes, but the increased energy flux will not increase photosynthetic activity. Vineyards will not benefit directly from global warming by absorbing more radiant energy.

A more appropriate hypothesis to test is whether the changes in growing season length might affect vineyards. Since "spring" will start earlier, plants might respond by starting their growth cycle earlier. Autumn-like temperatures will come slightly later, so the growing season my be extended further. In the case of vineyards, this might allow grapes to ripen more, which increases the sugar content of the berries and increases the alcohol content of the wine. More importantly, different grape varieties might benefit by a longer growing season, so areas that only grow grapes with a short "hang time" now might be able to expand to other longer "hang time" varieties. Regions that don't have a long enough growing season to properly ripen grapes might get a boost and obtain growing seasons long enough to produce them (thinking especially of regions of Oregon and Washington).

Existing vineyards are unlikely to be affected by global warming, especially in established regions with strong control on growing practices (e.g., Bordeaux, Burgundy). It is possible that the nature of the wine will change, as warmer days and nights might change the sugar levels of grapes, or various other aspects of the fruit. It is also possible that changes in rainfall patterns will significantly alter the agricultural practices, and the possibility of severe droughts and floods putting more vintages in jeopardy in the future is a distinct threat.


Sun spots only predict hemlines

This week's Nature has a short review article about the effect of variations in the Sun's luminosity on Earth's climate. In fact, most of the article is about trying to understand the Sun's luminosity and the solar physics at work. In the end, I think the important thing to glean is that there is a well-known 11-year sunspot cycle, and sunspots are cooler than the solar surface. However, when there are lots of sunspots, the sun is actually a bit brighter than normal because of faculae and the "magnetic network" of bright thermal "leaks," that let more energy escape the solar surface. All the evidence points to variations is luminosity (brightness or energy flux) being due almost entirely to magnetic field variations. Not so surprising perhaps. More surprising is that as hard as people try to find secular variability in the luminosity, it doesn't seem to change much. Even less surprising is that the variations that are observed, and inferred from proxies, should have a minimal influence on Earth's climate. This, despite global warming denialists always talking about "solar variability" as if it were a well-known, well understood phenomenon.

Here's something that hardly ever gets said out loud: climate scientists know at least as much about climate as solar physicists know about the sun. There, I said it. The two fields are covered in very different ways in popular press, though. Why? My little theory goes like this: People (general public, policymakers, media) can associate solar physics with astrophysics, which is like physics, which they (usually) didn't understand when they took it in high school/college compared; climate science, on the other hand, is not like physics (to them), and maybe it is more like meteorology, which is like the weather report, which is always wrong (right? Actually, no, but that is the perception.) So there is this tendency to not believe the "climate scientists" or "climatologists" (an even worse term) when they publish a new result, and this skepticism is amplified because there are so often controversial policy consequences/implications that bring out more vocal opposition and "fair and balanced" sort of treatment in the media. Contrast that with findings about the sun or stars or astronomy in general, which is mostly covered as amazing and important new scientific facts (unless it has to do with defining planets!). So that sort of sums up my pet theory.


Most Important Science Story of the Month

The observational confirmation of dark matter. [LINK] Far and away the most important science story for the month, and will definitely be in the top 10 for the year.

This is a great example of how science works. A set of physical rules seemed to make sense, but something didn't fit. Physicists thought they understood how gravity worked (at large scales), but galaxies and clusters of galaxies didn't seem to obey it. It was as if there were more mass that could be measured. A lot of explanations were presented, but one called dark matter seemed to come to the fore. The idea is that there is matter that interacts gravitationally, but we can't actually see it. This conjecture seems to be proved now with observations.

Guess what, science works!

Someone tell Congress.


Deniers try to misrepresent science.

A nice blog entry has been posted over on Deltoid, of ScienceBlogs [LINK]. It shows Hansen's 1988 climate model predictions of global warming along with observed global temperature. Despite how crude climate models were in 1988, Hansen's predictions are pretty much spot on. It is especially interesting to look at 1993, where the observations take a nosedive because of Mt. Pinatubo. They "recover" in about 2 years. Note that the credit on the figure is to the GISS page [LINK], but neither the blue line nor the extension of the red line (both observations) from 1998 to 2005 is on that page, and I don't know where that data come from. I tend to believe it though. If I find a better reference, I'll post it.

UPDATE: The red line (observations) actually isn't extended. Instead another dataset (blue) is just overlaid.


Crutzen's sulfur ideas

"Wait, don't do it!"

That was my first reaction after reading about Paul Crutzen's semi-crazy idea to ameliorate anthropogenic global warming by filling the stratosphere with sulfur. In case you've missed the story, there's a wired article that covers the main points [LINK]. It all stems from an editorial Crutzen published in Climatic Change, [LINK] . The idea is that putting sulfur into the stratosphere (about 20 km above you, say) would reflect sunlight, reducing the amount of energy reaching Earth's surface. That would cool the globe, no doubt, but there are problems.

We know it will work. Volcanoes do this same thing, more or less. We also know it would be temporary, because the sulfur would only float around the stratosphere for a few years before being used up in chemical reactions and slowly deposited back into the troposphere and back to the surface. Crutzen covers all this in the paper, which is mostly a quick back-of-the-envelop calculation mixed with some previous results. Crutzen, it should be pointed out, is not actually in favor of the idea; the media doesn't really seem to be mentioning that so much. In the paper he is extremely hesitant, saying essentially that if we keep pumping CO2 into the atmosphere we may start to experience catostrophic warming (~5 degrees C), which would necessitate rapid action to reduce the global temperature. To that end, he proposes a community wide, multidisciplinary effort to test this geo-engineering scenario. He thinks we need to model the effects, but also consider possible ecological consequences.

So what are the problems with reducing the sunlight getting to the surface? Well, one that is pointed out by the Wired article is that it will directly impact plants and photosynthesis. This might be especially pronounced in the tropics, where plants have evolved to expect a lot of sunlight. Changing the amount of light reaching the surface might give some plants a benefit and others a disadvantage, which could potentially throw the natural balance out of whack. Land-use issues aside, we don't have any idea really what the distribution of plant species in the tropics means for the global carbon cycle, not to mention the hydrological cycle. A second potential problem is that the additional sulfur in the stratosphere might change the stratospheric heating rates, which would change the temperature distribution, which would alter the large-scale temperature gradients, and might impact the Brewer-Dobson circulation. This would have unknown effects on the general circulation of the midlatitudes, possibly altering large-scale weather patterns (think El Nino or North Atlantic Oscillation). A third issue, also mentioned by Crutzen, is that cooling the surface won't save the ocean. As CO2 increases, it will continue to be taken up by the ocean. Unfortunately, that increases the acidity of the upper ocean, where lots of little creatures grow. Many of those little creatures grow calcium carbonate shells, but they can't do it in acidic conditions. That means they die. Not only do those organisms play an important role in the carbon cycle (and other biogeochemical cycles), but they are also the foundation of the entire marine food chain. If they die, then large species suffer, and larger ones suffer even more, and even humans who like to eat seafood will suffer.

So those are my first three potential problems with this plan. However, I'll take Crutzen's side. He basically says that our policy makers have their heads in their behinds, partly because they don't have good solutions and partly because they are not forward thinking, and so there is not going to be a reduction in greenhouse gas concentrations any time soon. Since we know we will face global warming, we need to figure out what to do if the warming starts to get out of control. This sulfur parasol effect is one possibility, and it should be investigated. Along the way, we will continue to learn important things about the climate system, even if the sulfur parasol turns out to be an untenable solution.

Additional reading

1. BioEd Online: Should we flood the air with sulphur? [LINK]

2. Crutzen, Paul J., 2006: Albedo Enhancement by Stratospheric Sulfur Injections: A contribution to resolve a policy dilemma? Climatic Change doi: 10.1007/s10584-006-9101-y [possible LINK]

3. Geo-engineering in vogue, on RealClimate [LINK]


cheap movies

Having just spent my second consecutive night appreciating Brick on DVD, I wanted to take a moment out of our usual foray into climate science to talk about movies. A few posts ago, I raved a little bit about Clerks II, which I still highly recommend, but today I want to do something different. I've always appreciated low budget, indie movies, but I've recently seen a few that really struck my fancy. These have also mostly been first efforts (or at least first feature films) from the writer/directors. These are movies that you watch, or at least I watch, and then I just have to wonder how they got it done for hardly any money, and unde adverse filmmaking conditions. My intention is not to review or analyze these films, but just to note them, marke them as different from most movies, even different from most "indie" movies. I'm no expert on this, of course, but I can name a couple off the top of my head. Please feel free to add/recommend movies I've missed.

  • El Mariachi (1992) - Robert Rodriguez - $7,000

  • Clerks (1994) - Kevin Smith - $27,000

  • Primer (2004) - Shane Carruth - $7,000

  • Brick (2005) - Rian Johnson - $500,000

  • Honorable mentions:

  • Slacker (1991) - Richard Linklater - $23,000

  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) - Tobe Hooper - $84,000

  • Roger & Me (1989) - Michael Moore - $160,000 (but it is a documentary)

  • THX 1138 (1971) - George Lucas - $777,000 (a little pricey)

UPDATE: I just realized that The Brothers McMullen (1995) by Ed Burns was made for just $23,800. I haven't actually seen it, but I know a lot of people swear by it.

Planets, Dwarf planets, plutons, and apathy

The international astronomical union is going to vote on a new system for classifying heavenly bodies as planets [LINK]. Essentially the new rule is if a thing orbits a star, but is not a star or a moon, and it has enough mass to make it round, then yes, it is a planet. Well done, boys. Here's a potential new schematic of the solar system (LATimes):

People always have to make up labels and categories, despite the fact that nature certainly has shades of grey. We deal with it in clouds classification schemes all the time... cumulus, altocumulus, altostratus, cirrostratus, stratocumulus, and it goes on ad nauseam. Some things are categorized easily. Mammals are different from birds, and both are different from reptiles. Animals are different from plants. Galaxies are different from stars, and both are different from rocks (planet or not). Water clouds are different from dust clouds. Lakes are different from oceans. You get my point. Yet, at some level, the system starts to break down. Is Pluto a planet? Is Ceres? Does it matter what we call them at all? Is this the right way to spend our time? Instead of arguing over whether to have an official definition for planet or dwarf planet or "pluton," why don't we get back to work and figure out some meaningful scientific questions. As for elementary school science books, well, if you grew up in public schools like I did, you know it doesn't matter what the new books say, because the students won't see them until they are obsolete too.


A new feature here on FtF

If you ever scroll down the page, take note of a new feature here on Facing the Fire: "An Idiot List." It is just a static list of people, especially those in the media, who consistently seem to say stupid things about climate change. It's not comprehensive, of course, and I welcome suggestions. It's also not a "deniers hit list," even though I did have to add Pat Michaels. I'll be expanding the list as new idiots appear, so keep your eyes peeled.


Competitive Enterprise Institute Ad - parody on Jimmy Kimmel

Jimmy Kimmel took the CEI add and spoofed it. The first half of the video is the actual add, which is funny enough. The second half is Kimmel's version. It's hard to tell which one is really the parody (except the midget gives it away).


The Committee on Energy and Commerce

Because I missed it on 19 July, I've been watching parts of the webcast of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing called Questions Surrounding the ‘Hockey Stick’ Temperature Studies: Implications for Climate Change Assessments [
LINK]. Other sites have already been covering the proceedings in more detail (esp. RealClimate), so I won't go into any details. All I'll say is that I have discovered a new villian in the House, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, whose opening statements to the proceedings (about minute 55 or so of the webcast) are among the most ill-informed, partisan, ignorant, and dangerous views on climate change that I have heard in the past few years.

Inhofe adds insult to injury

During my morning procrastination, I came across two blog entries about Senator Inhofe's recent appearance on CNN. He is amazingly wrong on just about every point. Deltoid was the first post I saw, and he points out Inhofe is lying about when (and why) he started denying global warming [LINK]. Deltoid in turn links to Judd Legum at Think Progress, who even has the video clip [LINK]. I recommend going over to see it, just to see how ridiculously wrong-minded he is. And this is one of the most influential people in Congress? Something needs to be done.

Op-Ed madness

Somehow I missed this Op-Ed in the LA Times yesterday by Naomi Oreskes [LINK]. It is called "Global Warming -- Signed, Sealed, and Delivered," and it a defense of her work -- which found an overwhelming scientific consensus that scientists believe global warming is real and humans have played a large role in it -- and also an explanation that there are always people who refuse to accept new ideas and facts. That second point is directed at the few remaining global warming deniers in the real scientific community (i.e., Richard Lindzen) and those outside science who cling to these "experts" as evidence that there is still some kind of debate about whether humans have influenced Earth's climate. Ms. Oreskes uses a classic example to show that this is not a new phenomenon; she points out that Harold Jeffreys, an eminent geophysicist in the early 20th Century, who was a brilliant and talented person, never believed in plate tectonics or continental drift. He just didn't think it was possible. As evidence mounted, he never bought into it, and railed against the idea. Despite the fact that by the time he died almost everyone in the geosciences believed in plate tectonics, Jeffreys refused. Of course, whether continents drift or not had no bearing on public policy in the 1950s or 1960s, and the "debate" was never sensationalized by the popular media and no lobbying groups rallied to quash the well-accepted science of continental drift. Undoubtedly there were religious types who found the thought unappealing, there still are people who don't want to believe in plate tectonics... for that there are a few out there who still believe Earth is hollow, but they were unable to stop the progress of science. With anthropogenic global warming, solid science faces a serious obstacle because the results of innumerable studies point directly toward humans and fossil fuels as the cause for global climate change, and that butts up against policy decisions. Worse yet, the most obvious way to mitigate climate change is to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but to do so would affect how business is conducted, and Business (with a capital B) has the money and influence to alter the policy-making process.

Go read the Oreskes' op-ed, it is quite clear and doesn't digress like I always do.


three quick notes

First, I want to let you know that I am still interested in these "atmospheric rivers." I've tracked down some additional references, and even some data, but haven't had a chance to look into it yet. On that note, I should also mention that I did at least learn that I was wrong about the Pineapple Express being more frequent in the spring. One reference (that I'll cite eventually) finds that these events are centered in January and February. More on this stuff later

Second, there's a story in the NYTimes about NASA changing their mission statement [LINK]. It seems a little troubling, but I'm not sure if it really means anything right now.

Finally, and off topic, I highly recommend Clerks II. It is the sequel to Kevin Smith's 1994 film, Clerks. If you haven't seen Clerks, you need to see it, and see it first. Smith has made a series of movies centered on characters in New Jersey, sometimes with slightly overlapping stories. There are a lot of "in jokes," in Clerks II, but I think as long as you've seen Clerks, you're good to go. The clerks are in their early 30s now, and haven't made the life changes hinted at in Clerks. Clerks II is a hilarious rehashing of some of the same themes from the original, but it is also a new look at life from an older point of view. It isn't a perfect movie, there are a few gags and a scene or two that could have been more effective, but on the whole it is funny and even emotionally resonant at times. The NYTimes gives a positive, though not completely consistent review [LINK], and it has been getting a slightly "Fresh" rating on RottenTomatoes.com (from critics, very fresh from users). While I'm pimping Clerks II, you can also see a featurette about the making of the movie on the Apple site [LINK], and there's even more at the official site Clerks2.com.


rivers in the sky

Well, in a small step toward more focused posts, I wanted to write a few thoughts about a short paper that is in Geophysical Research Letters this month. The reference is:
Ralph, F. M., P. J. Neiman, G. A. Wick, S. I. Gutman, M. D. Dettinger, D. R. Cayan, and A. B. White (2006), Flooding on California's Russian River: Role of atmospheric rivers, Geophys. Res. Lett., 33, L13801, doi:10.1029/2006GL026689. [LINK]
The authors are using satellite observations of atmospheric moisture, and comparing coherent (but transient) structures to precipitation events (storms), with particular emphasis on flood events. These coherent structures are called atmospheric rivers by the authors, who have been championing the term for a couple of years. Residents of California will recognize the particular events discussed in the paper as the "pineapple connection" or the "pineapple express." This is basically a narrow band of very moist air that stretches from the tropical central to eastern Pacific northeastward toward California. When these atmospheric rivers form, they tend to bring humid, more tropical conditions to California. I've always thought of these events happening in spring, and delivering warm, humid conditions, usually associated with mid-level to high-level clouds. The authors are looking at winter storms though, and they find that atmospheric rivers are associated with the warm-sector of storms, and also they are associated with strong low-level winds (a low-level jet).

When the low-level jet gets wrapped up with a developing storm, forming the connection between the tropics and the extratropics manifest as an atmospheric river, it can deliver a lot of precipitation to coastal areas. This study is an attempt to show that atmospheric rivers are associated with floods in the Russian River area of northern California. The way it works is that the storm approaches the coast, with the atmospheric river sort of preceding it (or riding on the warm sector). The atmospheric river is confined to the lower levels in that low-level jet, which then intersects the land. The trouble with land is that it isn't flat, and when the low-level jet meets the coastal mountains, it has to go somewhere. It turns out that relatively low mountains don't deflect the flow very much, but instead the jet goes up and over the mountains (that's the dynamics). As the moist air rises, it cools, and cooler air has a lower saturation humidity so the water begins to condense and rain out (that's the physics). This is orographic precipitation. So as long as that low-level jet is carrying such warm, moist air and is intersecting the mountains, there's going to be serious rain. The paper shows a case study from February 2004, and it is clear that as long as there is upslope winds (the low-level jet going over the mountains), it is raining like crazy.

The authors suggest, not very strongly (because this is kind of a new way of thinking about this), that a large fraction of coastal flooding in California is connected with these filaments of moist air originating in the tropics and attached to winter storms.

What does this have to do with climate and/or climate change? Well, a lot of people like to talk about changes in the distribution of extreme events in a warming world... like more/stronger hurricanes, more frequent floods and droughts, etc. This is a possible mechanism for flooding along coastal areas (where most people live), so if we want to understand how flood events will change in the future, we need to understand this connection between atmospheric rivers and orographic precipitation. That includes better understanding of both the dynamics (how and why the atmospheric rivers form) and the physics (how mountains force precipitation). Even more interesting for some of us... well, me... is that a lot of the water in the atmosphere comes from the tropics, and there is some evidence that a large fraction of that transport is in the form of these narrow filaments. If the formation or characteristics of atmospheric rivers are sensitive to, say the distribution of moist convection in the deep tropics, or the structure of the north-south atmospheric circulation (the Hadley circulation), then there might be important consequences for extratropical atmospheric moisture in a changing environment. That's just a poorly-formed idea rattling around in my head though, so don't take it too seriously, but these atmospheric rivers are probably playing a more important role in the distribution of water in the climate system than has been appreciated before, and that is interesting.


anti-ballistic missile systems

GWB just said in his press conference this morning that he thinks there was a "reasonable" chance of shooting down that long-range Korean missile the other day. The question was about missile defense systems, with the implication that the system is what would intercept the missile. I think this is false. The missile defense system has, to public knowledge at least, not passed any of its tests without knowing where to aim a priori. Shooting down a missile with a missile is like stopping a bullet with a bullet (or an arrow with an arrow, or whatever you like); it's pretty hard. So when people say things like "missile shield" you should instead think defending yourself by shooting at the bullets heading for you. A shield not does that make.


quick updates

I haven't posted much lately, I know. I don't know about you, but I've been overwhelmed with the various climate-related news, movies, books, etc. coming out lately. I think it would be more worthwhile for us to try to focus on some issues here, rather than the usual scattershot links and comments. Unfortunately, that takes more time and energy than I have right now. If possible, I'll work something up by next week, but don't plan you life around it. 

In the meantime, Daimler-Chrysler is finally bringing the Smart car to the USA, New Zealand could ban inefficient cars (yeah, that will happen), the "Competitive Enterprise Institute" is still out there making ridiculous claims, tropical mountain glaciers are still disappearing, and everybody continues to run around yelling about Greenland melting. Not to mention China's air pollution, PowerLight Corp. producing tons of clean energy, the Supreme Court of the USA is going to hear Mass. v. EPA, and geo-engineering is back in the limelight. 

Definitely take a look at DeSmogBlog and ClimateArk for news stories about all these and more, and RealClimate for the science arguments. I'm going to ruminate for a while about what niche needs to be filled in this little climate-centric arc of the blogosphere, and get back to you soon.


Shermer finally signs on

Acclaimed skeptic Michael Shermer, head of the Skeptic Society among other things, has a recent column in Scientific American in which he admits that is is now won over by the evidence for anthropogenic climate change [LINK]. Skepticism is very good, and I think most scientists are skeptics at heart. At this point though, people who are still on the fence about human-induced climate change are either turning a blind eye or are being pulled by non-objective forces toward the other side. Apparently Shermer was just turning a blind eye.

So what was it that made Shermer finally find his way to the side of science on this issue? Did he get a preview of the IPCC 4th Assessment Report? Did he take a critical look at the scientific literature? Did he visit NCAR and talk with leading scientists in the area? No, he saw Al Gore's presentation. Okay, I also saw it, and I must say it is very good. But Shermer says it is "based on the recent documentary film about his work in this area, An Inconvenient Truth. The striking before-and-after photographs showing the disappearance of glaciers around the world shocked me out of my doubting stance." Well, it is an important part of the documentary (and book), An Inconvenient Truth, but it is not Al Gore's work. That is an incredibly inaccurate statement. I'm a big Al Gore fan, but he's not a scientist. Giving a summary of hundreds of other people's work can lead to a significant contribution in a field, but that would be a technical review, this is really just a public outreach project. And to be convinced by before and after photos is a naive approach to understanding an incredibly complex phenomenon. The photos are impressive, no doubt, but taken out of context, such photos can also be extremely misleading. For example, until the last few years some mountain glaciers in North America and Europe were growing, after having shrunk in the middle of the 20th C. The photos are impressive, showing giant sheets of ice coming down the mountain year after year. However it wasn't because the world was cooling, but because of local effects. Today we can look at most glaciers and feel confident that they are receding because of global warming, but it is only because we have the cumulative effects of many glacier observations. I'm glad Shermer has decided to use science and logic on this issue, but it is too bad he had to be convinced by a flashy powerpoint presentation instead of the actual scientific evidence.


A Bill Gray sighting

Last hurricane season, I blogged a few times about Bill Gray, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University. For those of you out of the atmosci loop, CSU is actually a top-notch meteorology/atmspheric dynamics program, and Bill Gray was a pioneer of seasonal forecasting for tropical activity. I emphasize was, as now is mostly a climate change denier. He still does seasonal prediction, and his group is still respected in that area, but he doesn't seem very active in that work any longer. Apparently he's at the AMS meeting on hurricanes and tropical meteorology this week, where he is presenting a paper [LINK]. He seems to think that global warming is due to variations in the thermohaline circulation; I don't think there is any observational evidence for links of decadal scale variability in the THC and global surface temperature (I could be wrong about that). In any case, RealClimate has posted a limited response to the extended abstract by Gray [LINK]. The didn't go looking for it, but it is a response to a CNN article, which undoubtedly has been picked up by other outlets [LINK]. The article doesn't go into depth about Gray, but uses him as the "other side" of the "debate." The RealClimate guys (and girls) have taken Gray to task, pointing out "scientific absurdities" in the argument, and also pointing out that Gray's theory has conveniently changed over the years to account of contrary evidence. It is worth a quick read if you are interested.


"In fact, let's call it science fiction," says Orrin Hatch

In an interview with Salt Lake City Tribune, Senator Orrin Hatch gives his opinion of climate change [LINK]. The article is fairly timid, but does manage to paint a picture of Orrin Hatch, showing he is firmly in that bizarro neo-Conservative reality where there is little scientific consensus, or at least where that consensus is part of some kind of vast scientific conspiracy. Suddenly I'm reminded that I never got a chance to read Chris Mooney's The Republican War On Science; maybe it is time to pick that up.

Maybe I'm wrong about Hatch though. After all, as the article says, he has read Michael Crichton's State of Fear, and "took note of the scientific citations at the end of the book." No, he couldn't remember any of them, or what they said, but he noted them.... of course, that might just mean that he saw that Crichton "did research," so the novel must be true. Conservatives are getting funnier and funnier.

Oh, just in case anybody has missed the news, climate change, and by that I mean global warming caused by human activity increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere along with all the associated effects, is not in dispute in the scientific community. The temperature trends are quantitatively different from the observed natural variability, and recent years are among the warmest in the past 1000 years.

An article in The Register reports that a study published in Nature decreases the uncertainty in our estimate in climate sensitivity [LINK]. Actually, the study just shows that it is extremely unlikely to get what are already considered implausible temperature changes (without some seriously catastrophic conditions). The work is by Hegerl, Crowley, Hyde, and Frame, who use a simple hemispheric energy balance model and reconstructions of climate for the past 1,000 years or so to examine the statistical relationship between our best guess of past climate and our estimate of climate sensitivity. It is an interesting study, though the limitations of their model may be such that the result is not as relevant for anthropogenic global warming as the authors believe. It is, however, as good an estimate for climate sensitivity as we have right now. The paper is in Nature: Climate sensitivity constrained by temperature reconstructions over the past seven centuries
Gabriele C. Hegerl, Thomas J. Crowley, William T. Hyde and David J. Frame

In a not-quite-related story in Nature, the climateprediction.net project found an error in their aerosol forcing that caused the simulation to crash at 2013 [LINK]. This is for a sub-project focusing on climate change in the UK, and has set the schedule back by a couple months. It isn't all that bad, really, because the error will allow the investigation of the effects of aerosols on global warming.


Alarmists! Alarmists!

I haven't posted a response to Richard Lindzen's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal [LINK]. The main reason is that I'm really not fast enough to beat the folks at RealClimate [LINK], who do an outstanding job of addressing the scientific points of these kinds of things. Definitely read the op-ed, take a drink to wash that bad taste away, and then go read the posts at RealClimate. Today, Jeff Masters at wunderground.com has taken a swing at the Lindzen piece, and done a really nice job [LINK].

As a recap, the Lindzen rant is basically saying that there are all kinds of "alarmist" climate scientists who rely on the public being afraid of global warming in order to get funding to, you guessed it, study global warming. This idea has been around almost as long as the global warming deniers have. (By the way, I am not going to use the word 'skeptic' for these folks, since I think being skeptical is a virtue and relates to having an open mind and rational thought process. The deniers are closing their minds to basic scientific principles, and have ceased to be skeptical.) The problem with the idea that climate science is self-perpetuating is that it can't really be true. If it were, and this response is now standard among climate scientists addressing the question, climate scientists would be encouraging much more investment in climate research, but instead the most "alarmist" among us are calling for huge investments in energy research and mitigation strategies. That doesn't sound like self-interested activity to me. There are a few other points in Lindzen's rant, but you can read more about that elsewhere.

As a point of clarification, in case you go read Jeff Master's post, the description of Lindzen's iris hypothesis is not correct there. The idea behind the iris hypothesis is that precipitation efficiency (how much of evaporated water in tropical convection gets rained out versus deposited in the upper troposphere) will increase in a warming environment, which would have the effect of reducing the area covered by cirrus anvils. That would essentially let more terrestrial infrared radiation escape to space (in the tropics) and be a cooling influence on the climate, like the iris of the eye opening and closing to change the amount of light passing through. The problems with this theory are numerous, actually, though it can not yet be completely discredited. The main problem is that there is no evidence for this change in precipitation efficiency, either from observations or simulations. It is still a possibility, and if it were ever to be found in nature, it is likely that climate models would have to incorporate a new microphysics parameterization because this effect is not currently modeled. Other criticisms have pointed out errors with the statistical methods Lindzen and colleagues used in the original paper, as well as ambiguities between local and nonlocal effects.


iris hypothesis paper (Lindzen et al)
statistical response (Harrison)
local v. nonlocal effects (Hartmann & Michelsen)
Obervational study to test iris hypothesis (Lin et al)


NOAA, USGS scientists struggle to inform public

In another article about the current USA administration putting pressure on scientists to avoid talking publicly about the impact of global warming, Juliet Eilperin at the Washington post describes several cases of the administration censoring or obstructing scientists trying to discuss global warming publicly [LINK]. This time the problem is at NOAA and the USGS. I hadn't heard anything about trouble at USGS, but probably because most of their work doesn't directly involve climate change. The NOAA stories I had heard about, especially about the CO2 conference in Boulder, where the organizer, Pieter Tans, was asked to have the presenters avoid using climate change buzz words in the publicly available parts of the talks (the titles and abstracts). I was outraged when I heard about that, which was during the meeting. Luckily that request was ignored, since having a conference about carbon dioxide and not talking about climate change would be pretty silly. 

I think there's something to this behavior by the administration, but I haven't got it straight in my head yet. There might be some reasoning behind keeping government agencies from interacting with the public about climage change, and leaving university-types to do it. There's something sinister, but I don't know how to articulate it yet. Comments would be helpful in that regard.


starving walruses

The Inuit, the natives of high northern latitudes, have noticed climate change for years, and it is only getting worse [LINK]. A lot of popular press have mentioned that "experts" and/or "scientists" think the polar region will feel climate change first and worst. This seems to be an accurate statement, based on current understanding of global warming scenarios. The effect is usually described as polar amplification, conveniently described by a recent RealClimate.org column [LINK]. Most of the time people like to talk about the ice-albedo feedback to support polar amplification. That is basically the idea that the change in atmospheric composition leads to warmer surface conditions, which melts snow or sea-ice, which decreases the albedo (reflectance) and leads to more warming. This can be coupled with myriad other positive feedbacks to get a larger effect. There are also dynamic arguments that the circulation (polar vortices, e.g.) are changing in response to warming. Michael Winton (GFDL/NOAA) seems to think the models say the change in clouds and water vapor are at least as important as surface effects [PDF]. I like to think about it the other way around, that is, the atmosphere warms, but the tropics don't warm as much as they "should," which forces more energy to higher latitudes by various heat transports. The increase in poleward heat transport is manifest by larger outgoing longwave radiation at the top of the atmosphere and higher temperatures to provide that radiation. I'll have to look more deeply into the literature to see if my view is at odds with the accepted ways of looking at polar amplification, but I think it should be pretty much the same. They describe the processes that result from increased poleward heat transport (like more precipitation at high latitudes leading to more melting of snow and ice, and definitely more eddy energy (storms) moving tropospheric moisture poleward from the tropics and subtropics).

SSRD supplied the first WaPo article linked above, and set me off on this tangential discussion of poleward heat transport... thanks SSRD.


Un-installing Norton anti-environment

Hee hee.... that's a good headline, IMHO.

Anyway, Gale Norton resigned, and I thought it should be publicized: [LINK]

One more week, ten fewer species

This is the kind of stuff that makes me want to do the Timothy Treadwell thing, i.e., escape into the wilderness and turn semi-feral. Of course, Treadwell was a narcissistic nutball; I just mean that human society has some issues, actually similar issues to Treadwell.... hmmm...

Anyway, today's link is to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a pro-environmental organization of actual scientists who issue opinions about policy-related environmental issues. I don't alway agree with them, especially over the use of nuclear energy, but today they are rallying scientists and other citizens to stand up for the Endangered Species Act: [LINK]. The House has already taken steps to undermine the ESA, so the Senate needs to be heavily lobbied on this matter before they doom hundreds of species in the name of the all-mighty dollar.


Someday the Sun Will Go Out and the World Will End (but Don't Tell Anyone) - New York Times

I even kept the headline from a NYTimes.com commentary by Dennis Overbye for today's post, I hope he doesn't mind [LINK]. The commentary is about important people being interested in science. The focus is on astronomy, which is Overbye's general beat. Yes, this is related to the NASA scandal, and yes, I seem to be a NYTimes.com sycophant more and more these days (don't worry, they'll drop the ball soon, and I'll be all over them like birdshot on a Texas lawyer), but I really do think this scandal has brought a lot of issues out into the open again. Of course, the most obvious issue is this administration's apparent neglect and even scorn for modern science, but there are other issues here, like the more general topic of what governmental organizations (e.g., NASA) are allowed to do independent of the very government that is funding them, and what the relationship should be between these kinds of organizations and the general public, for whom the organizations ultimately work.

Overbye brings up some important points about astronomers staying in the wings of the political stage while, for example, Kansas stopped teaching about the big bang in science classrooms. What? Yeah, it doesn't make a lot of sense, but we all know that Kansas has some serious troubles (see this BOOK and the Flying Spaghetti Monster). He touches on George Deutsch ordering NASA web sites to add "theory" after any mention of "big bang." Then he moves on to a less egregious offense at NASA: a sentence about observations of a white dwarf being similar to our sun's fate being removed from a new release.

The statement wasn't removed for being political or policy related, as it is common knowledge that our sun will die in about 5,000,000,000 years. Instead it was removed because it was too much "gloom and doom" to give the public. Never mind that it's true. Do governments, or scientists working for the government, need to sugar-coat findings for the public? What would this mean for avian flu stories? Is it inevitable that a pandemic will occur, and we're just being told about less gloomy scenarios? Is the public so spoiled, or so dumb, that we can no longer trust them to deal with hard realities?

Despite my innate cynicism, I don't think the American public has fallen that far yet. It is mysterious to me why the government and media seem to pander to the least curious, and intellectually laziest among us. A bad analogy: it's like keeping a population happy by slipping some sedatives into the water supply. I'll make it more extended: what happens when we find out the sedative is actually toxic? Maybe I took it too far. Well, that's what blogs are for.


Australia copies everything the USA does

Now the aussies are up to it. Well, at least there are some stories being spread about climate scientists (at CSIRO) being censored by the government. If I had to take a stance based on what I've read, it sounds like this case is less severe than the NASA scandal from a couple weeks ago, but serious in its own right. It sounds like the CSIRO scientists wanted to talk about climate mitigation, which could be interpretted as "policy." That is what the governments seem to think scientists should keep their noses out of. Of course, in a field like climate science, at least in the last few years and presumably for the next 10-50 years, the scientists are doing work that should directly influence policy. Further, the science has been coming down on the side of actively fighting climate change, and policies don't seem to be following. So what are climate scientistis to do? If the science has clear implications, yet the government is unwilling to take the science at face value and act, it seems important to take the science to the people, and let that populace drive policy.

Here's the links:

[LINK, smh.com.au]

[LINK, The Australian]


this story got much more play than I thought it would

Yet another WaPo article about Jim Hansen and censorship in climate science, [LINK]. That guy who had been making trouble at NASA, the 24-year-old nearly-graduated-from-college George Deutsch resigned last week, by the way. Although it was techically over lying on his resume, clearly he was forced out under the enormous pressure this issue with Hansen has put on NASA. An especially great quote from Deutsch is the linked article:
"'Anyone perceived to be a Republican, a Bush supporter or a Christian is singled out and labeled a threat to their views. I encourage anyone interested in this story to consider the other side, to consider Dr. Hansen' s true motivations and to consider the dangerous implications of only hearing out one side of the global warming debate,' Deutsch said."

Yes, consider it.


roundup time

I was considering writing a longer post than normal about how badly the current administration has treated science. It's a topic that keeps coming up, and now there are even books about the topic [e.g., The Republican War On Science]. I got as far as writing down some notes, which I may go back to in the future, but for now I think Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post has done a quick review [LINK]. Actually, only about the first half of the column, which is really more of a list of links, is specifically about science, and not all of that is about climate science, but there seems to be a strong case that GWB and his buddies don't value science when it doesn't help them out directly, and that prejudice is present in other areas, as important as national security, as well.

Another WaPo article, this one by Juliet Eilperin, discusses the possibility of a climate change "tipping point" [LINK]. It gets into the James Hansen/NASA story toward the end.


UW scientists subtract stratosphere, find global warming

There's a study in Nature about using microwave measurements of temperature in the atmosphere to reconcile the apparent discrepancy between temperature change at the surface and in the upper troposphere (about 11 km up). The problem is that everything we know about physics tells us that there should be commensurate warming, but the measurements haven't really born that out. According to this study, it is the cooling of the stratosphere (predicted in a global warming scenario and observed) that is contaminating the measurements. Some folks at UW made a statistical relationship, and then subtracted the upper level signature from the temperature, and lo and behold, global warming. [LINK] There are critics of the method, and that is good. But since there seems to be mounting evidence that observations really do show the kind of warming expected, we can give this study the slight advantage over skeptics. I expect we'll hear about similar studies doing slightly different things and getting basically the same results in the next year or two, which along with new observations will pretty much seal the deal.


maybe now we'll grow an exoskeleton

There's an interesting review in National Geographic by James Owen [LINK] about evidence that early human species probably evolved along with changing regional climate in Africa. The studies cited tie the evolutionary stages of humans to changes in rainfall and vegetation in the Great Rift Valley in East Africa. The idea seems pretty straightforward. As the climate dried out, tropical vegetation gave way to grasslands, making the ability to run an advantage in finding food and staying alive. Then a series of climate shifts made eastern Africa wetter and drier over a few millennia, which made early humans adapt several times. That favors bigger brains that can cope with a variety of climates, as well as a host of other physiological traits that may have helped early humans.

This kind of study shows some of the potential for very multidisciplinary studies among biology, geology, and atmospheric and oceanic sciences, and even including anthropology, etc. It warms my heart.


it's the climate, stupid

Tony Blair included a forward to a UK Met Office report on climate change [LINK]. It sounds like the report is the UK's own personal IPCC-style assessment, and it sounds like they aren't holding back, even invoking the holy of holies, the west Antarctic ice sheet. If that ice starts melting, which according to scenarios dreamed up by people like Jim Hansen could happen quickly once it starts, the southern ocean will be flooded with fresh water, heat uptake by the ocean would be shut down in a climatically important region, and sea-levels would immediately rise. It would be bad news.

The report is available: [LINK]

Lovelock has a new book

Thanks to Renee for pointing out Jame Lovelock's latest essay to promote his new book [LINK]. Apparently instead of angering the earth, only to be crushed as it rebels against it, humans have made earth sick enough that it might go into a coma. I'm not making this up, it is in the essay.

This will probably set the mark for the most extreme serious climate change scenarios for this decade, giving us a feel for what the upper limit is right now. Of course, if we don't seriously think about what is happening, this extreme scenario might actually come to pass. Maybe not in 100 years, but maybe 150 or 200 years.


( I can't wait for the movie. I hope it is better than The Day After Tomorrow.)


slick willy v. chilly willy?

Bill Clinton is talking about climate change; he says it is the world's biggest problem [LINK]. Clinton's VP, and former (only former?) presidential candidate, Al Gore has a supercharged powerpoint (or is it keynote?) presentation that has been turned into a movie, An Inconvenient Truth. It even premiered at Sundance, and is now looking for distribution:

I got a little carried away with those links, but hey, I was practically part of the production!!


Washington watches climate scientists...

I know I'm not supposed to post a whole article, but I didn't think it would be right to just link to it. It is from NYTimes.com, and I think you should read it. It is freely available for two weeks on the NYTimes.com website, and then goes into the archives. Read the article, and don't tell anybody I put it up!!

January 29, 2006
Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him


The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.

Dr. Hansen said he would ignore the restrictions. "They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public," he said.

Dean Acosta, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the space agency, said there was no effort to silence Dr. Hansen. "That's not the way we operate here at NASA," Mr. Acosta said. "We promote openness and we speak with the facts."

He said the restrictions on Dr. Hansen applied to all National Aeronautics and Space Administration personnel. He added that government scientists were free to discuss scientific findings, but that policy statements should be left to policy makers and appointed spokesmen.

Mr. Acosta said other reasons for requiring press officers to review interview requests were to have an orderly flow of information out of a sprawling agency and to avoid surprises. "This is not about any individual or any issue like global warming," he said. "It's about coordination."

Dr. Hansen strongly disagreed with this characterization, saying such procedures had already prevented the public from fully grasping recent findings about climate change that point to risks ahead.

"Communicating with the public seems to be essential," he said, "because public concern is probably the only thing capable of overcoming the special interests that have obfuscated the topic."

Dr. Hansen, 63, a physicist who joined the space agency in 1967, directs efforts to simulate the global climate on computers at the Goddard Institute in Morningside Heights in Manhattan.

Since 1988, he has been issuing public warnings about the long-term threat from heat-trapping emissions, dominated by carbon dioxide, that are an unavoidable byproduct of burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels. He has had run-ins with politicians or their appointees in various administrations, including budget watchers in the first Bush administration and Vice President Al Gore.

In 2001, Dr. Hansen was invited twice to brief Vice President Dick Cheney and other cabinet members on climate change. White House officials were interested in his findings showing that cleaning up soot, which also warms the atmosphere, was an effective and far easier first step than curbing carbon dioxide.

He fell out of favor with the White House in 2004 after giving a speech at the University of Iowa before the presidential election, in which he complained that government climate scientists were being muzzled and said he planned to vote for Senator John Kerry.

But Dr. Hansen said that nothing in 30 years equaled the push made since early December to keep him from publicly discussing what he says are clear-cut dangers from further delay in curbing carbon dioxide.

In several interviews with The New York Times in recent days, Dr. Hansen said it would be irresponsible not to speak out, particularly because NASA's mission statement includes the phrase "to understand and protect our home planet."

He said he was particularly incensed that the directives had come through telephone conversations and not through formal channels, leaving no significant trails of documents.

Dr. Hansen's supervisor, Franco Einaudi, said there had been no official "order or pressure to say shut Jim up." But Dr. Einaudi added, "That doesn't mean I like this kind of pressure being applied."

The fresh efforts to quiet him, Dr. Hansen said, began in a series of calls after a lecture he gave on Dec. 6 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. In the talk, he said that significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles, and that without leadership by the United States, climate change would eventually leave the earth "a different planet."

The administration's policy is to use voluntary measures to slow, but not reverse, the growth of emissions.

After that speech and the release of data by Dr. Hansen on Dec. 15 showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century, officials at the headquarters of the space agency repeatedly phoned public affairs officers, who relayed the warning to Dr. Hansen that there would be "dire consequences" if such statements continued, those officers and Dr. Hansen said in interviews.

Among the restrictions, according to Dr. Hansen and an internal draft memorandum he provided to The Times, was that his supervisors could stand in for him in any news media interviews.

Mr. Acosta said the calls and meetings with Goddard press officers were not to introduce restrictions, but to review existing rules. He said Dr. Hansen had continued to speak frequently with the news media.

But Dr. Hansen and some of his colleagues said interviews were canceled as a result.

In one call, George Deutsch, a recently appointed public affairs officer at NASA headquarters, rejected a request from a producer at National Public Radio to interview Dr. Hansen, said Leslie McCarthy, a public affairs officer responsible for the Goddard Institute.

Citing handwritten notes taken during the conversation, Ms. McCarthy said Mr. Deutsch called N.P.R. "the most liberal" media outlet in the country. She said that in that call and others, Mr. Deutsch said his job was "to make the president look good" and that as a White House appointee that might be Mr. Deutsch's priority.

But she added: "I'm a career civil servant and Jim Hansen is a scientist. That's not our job. That's not our mission. The inference was that Hansen was disloyal."

Normally, Ms. McCarthy would not be free to describe such conversations to the news media, but she agreed to an interview after Mr. Acosta, at NASA headquarters, told The Times that she would not face any retribution for doing so.

Mr. Acosta, Mr. Deutsch's supervisor, said that when Mr. Deutsch was asked about the conversations, he flatly denied saying anything of the sort. Mr. Deutsch referred all interview requests to Mr. Acosta.

Ms. McCarthy, when told of the response, said: "Why am I going to go out of my way to make this up and back up Jim Hansen? I don't have a dog in this race. And what does Hansen have to gain?"

Mr. Acosta said that for the moment he had no way of judging who was telling the truth. Several colleagues of both Ms. McCarthy and Dr. Hansen said Ms. McCarthy's statements were consistent with what she told them when the conversations occurred.

"He's not trying to create a war over this," said Larry D. Travis, an astronomer who is Dr. Hansen's deputy at Goddard, "but really feels very strongly that this is an obligation we have as federal scientists, to inform the public."

Dr. Travis said he walked into Ms. McCarthy's office in mid-December at the end of one of the calls from Mr. Deutsch demanding that Dr. Hansen be better controlled.

In an interview on Friday, Ralph J. Cicerone, an atmospheric chemist and the president of the National Academy of Sciences, the nation's leading independent scientific body, praised Dr. Hansen's scientific contributions and said he had always seemed to describe his public statements clearly as his personal views.

"He really is one of the most productive and creative scientists in the world," Dr. Cicerone said. "I've heard Hansen speak many times and I've read many of his papers, starting in the late 70's. Every single time, in writing or when I've heard him speak, he's always clear that he's speaking for himself, not for NASA or the administration, whichever administration it's been."

The fight between Dr. Hansen and administration officials echoes other recent disputes. At climate laboratories of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, many scientists who routinely took calls from reporters five years ago can now do so only if the interview is approved by administration officials in Washington, and then only if a public affairs officer is present or on the phone.

Where scientists' points of view on climate policy align with those of the administration, however, there are few signs of restrictions on extracurricular lectures or writing.

One example is Indur M. Goklany, assistant director of science and technology policy in the policy office of the Interior Department. For years, Dr. Goklany, an electrical engineer by training, has written in papers and books that it may be better not to force cuts in greenhouse gases because the added prosperity from unfettered economic activity would allow countries to exploit benefits of warming and adapt to problems.

In an e-mail exchange on Friday, Dr. Goklany said that in the Clinton administration he was shifted to nonclimate-related work, but added that he had never had to stop his outside writing, as long as he identified the views as his own.

"One reason why I still continue to do the extracurricular stuff," he wrote, "is because one doesn't have to get clearance for what I plan on saying or writing."


deSmogBlog | Clearing the air on climate change

I don't know if I've had a chance to direct you to desmogblog.com [LINK], but if not, you should take a look. It is maintained by Jim Hoggan, a Canadian lawyer, and the posts are mostly about the treatment of climate science in the media and in public relations. It has some really good stuff, and is often much more on top of news stories than I can be. From now on, you can also link to it directly from this blog's links menu on the right side of the page.


Let's raise gas prices

There's an old saying that if Americans used public transportation at the same rate as Europeans (roughly 10% of total daily travel needs) the US would reduce its need for imported oil by more than 40% (at the current level of domestic production). Okay, it isn't that old, it is what the American Public Transportation Association says [LINK]. Being interested in public transportation, they also monitor how many people use it, and apparently people use it more when gas prices are high:
"With high gas prices in the third quarter of 2005, national transit ridership grew by 3.3 % from the same period in 2004, according to a report released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) today." [LINK]

And the increase is even more in big cities (even LA!).

So with higher gas prices people take public transportation more. That decreases teh number of cars on the road which makes driving more efficient for those who do it, but decreases the petroleum products use by Americans. That decreases our oil needs, and also decreases the CO2 emissions.

Raising gas prices, through an at-the-pump tax, would then decrease traffic, decrease dependence on foreign oil, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The money raised by the tax could be used for better public transportation, providing a positive feedback, since better transport will attract more riders, further reducing traffic, oil dependency, and ghg emissions. Why aren't we doing this?


need a larf? Check out APC.

Today I came across a link to the American Policy Center's statement on global warming [LINK]. Their statement is that there is no global warming, and the good scientists have proved it, and anybody who says different is part of a vast conspiracy to redistribute America's wealth to foreign powers. Yeah, because all of us on the left hate the USA. At first I was angry that such a statement, with such blantanly false assertions, could exist at all. After reading more, I decided that this statement was too funny to cause anger. In fact, I now see it as a classic work of satire. It is brilliant, on par with anything Swift could have written. I highly suggest reading it.

I haven't looked at them yet, but it looks like the APC article index is full of this kind of stuff. I think I have a new favorite site.


grumble grumble...

Another dataset seems doomed to never be today. NASA has cut the funding for the Deep Space Climage Observatory, a satellite that was to sit between Earth and the sun and observe the entire dayside of Earth [LINK; DOI: 10.1126/science.311.5757.26b]. As a bonus, the satellite could stare back at the sun to observe solar activity like flares and CMEs.

Oh well, at least we have an infinite supply of Iraqi oil. Damn.


A public service announcement... A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

Just a snippet I saw in wired.com today. Pete Townshend is trying to get the word out that headphones can lead to permanent loss of hearing [LINK]. This has been a common warning to people listening to loud music for many years, but I'm guessing the current generation of teenagers and 20-somethings should take heed. Ear buds and headphones are pervasive these days, and based on the amount of your music that I can hear from across a crowded bus, the volume is turned way up. We should all think about turning it down, to save our ears and also decrease the general noise (as I've blogged about before [LINK]).