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.