Joanne Simpson

This news is now several weeks old, but somehow I forgot to mention it here. Joanne Simpson, a pioneer of tropical meteorology, and specifically a giant in the business of clouds, died 4 March 2010. There's a decent obituary via USA Today [LINK]. That obit also points out one of the stories that I've heard several times, which was that Simpson wanted to study meteorology, Rossby told her to study issues related to tropical clouds saying it would be "an excellent problem for a little girl to work on because it is not very important, and few people are interested in." There's a better piece, with a fantastic photo, on the NASA site [LINK]. In the day or so following her death, the tropical meteorology community was aflutter; the obituaries and news stories aren't exaggerating Simpson's importance to meteorology (and climate science more generally), she truly changed the way people think about the atmosphere and about clouds.


Streamlining your workflow

Just watched this video showing how one guy keeps his references organized. It's included below, and worth watching. My own citation organization isn't as clean, but uses basically these same tools. (Read that as: this is how I should do it!)

I'll also note that I'm a bit conflicted about whether to use BibDesk to organize my files. The definite pros are that I'm already using it to organize my references and that it is free. I've been using Yep! to organize my documents, which don't always need to be in my bibtex library, and it is a pretty nice application. The downside is that it isn't free (I got it in one of those bundles). I think Yep! is very similar to another application called Papers that I know some people like a lot.


Impact in North America?

There's been a lot of talk about an extraterrestrial impact in North America about 11,000 years ago. The idea is that such an event could have contributed to the extinction of North America's megafauna, like giant ground sloths and wooly mammoths. A new paper in PNAS by Haynes et al [LINK] examine the evidence from several "Clovis" sites. These are sites where remains of the Clovis people [wikipedia] have been found. Their analysis finds no strong evidence of an extraterrestrial impactor, and especially damning to me is that they find no enhancement of Iridium, which is a fingerprint for impacts.

While they are careful to say that they haven't ruled out an impact, I think this is strong evidence that the other hypotheses (e.g., human hunting) are more likely to have led to the megafaunal extinction.


News from the paper of record

Al Gore wrote an Op-Ed piece in the NYTimes on 27 February, and I think it is worth reading [LINK]. He covers a little science and a lot of the politics of global warming.

Meanwhile, there is going to be some kind of review of the IPCC reports [LINK]. Let's consider that this is a ~3000 page assessment of the totality of climate change. Over the past month, about three years since the release of the report, two errors have been discovered. One is mentioned in one paragraph of the second report, and misreports the time it will take for Himalayan glaciers to melt [cf. LINK]. Note that this isn't the official IPCC projection for melting, which is in the first report [cf. LINK]. The second error is that in another part of the second report, there's a statement that 55% of the Netherlands is below sea-level. This number was given to the IPCC by the Dutch government [LINK], who now decry it as an error [LINK]. Here, it should be stressed, this statement was not a scientific finding of the IPCC, the report was just using the Netherlands as an example of a country that is susceptible to sea-level rise; it is. I'm not sure why these two errors -- essentially typos -- have caused this firestorm of controversy, nor why that would warrant an independent committee to review the IPCC (which is itself a review). It is theatre of the absurd.

Also in the meantime, the Vermont legislature is working to close down a nuclear plant [LINK].

Vermont might regret this decision, as the EPA is beginning to go forward with a plan to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases [LINK]. As early as 2013 the largest emitters will be subject to regulation. This is later than regulation should happen, but it is good to see that even if the elected politicians won't act to do something, the EPA is going to be able to. Of course, as the article details, democrat congress members from coal-friendly states are trying to stop or slow this regulation. This is a surprisingly obvious example of politicians being beholden to big industry.