Latest GRACE data on Greenland ice mass

As a companion to my concerns about polar amplification, see this blog post about Greenland's increasing mass deficit. I don't want to be an "alarmist," but I'm feeling somewhat alarmed by the OBSERVED changes around the Arctic.


News from the Arctic, and it's bad

I was just directed to a recent paper in Nature called "The central role of diminishing sea ice in recent Arctic temperature amplification" by Screen & Simmonds [LINK]. The title doesn't quite do justice to the paper. Maybe a better title would be something like, "Staring into the face of polar amplification and knowing fear." To summarize, they use a new "renalysis" dataset called ERA-Interim to show that there is detectable polar amplification over the past twenty years. Renalysis just means a model that is guided by observations, and this one is a more sophisticated one than the more popular ERA-40 or NCEP/NCAR ones. They look at the northern high latitudes and find substantial warming, mostly confined near the surface. The rate of warming is faster than the global mean, and that is the definition of polar amplification. The fact that it is mostly near the surface implicates near-surface processes, and that is actually the key point for arctic researchers because this has recently been a bone of contention. Some previous work suggested that the extra warming was distributed through the atmosphere, leading to the conclusion that changes in atmospheric circulation were most important for the warming. This new paper reaches the conclusion that the mechanism most responsible for the polar amplification is temperature-ice interactions, which many of us like to lump into "ice-albedo feedback." They consider other mechanisms, but the evidence points toward decreasing sea ice being strongly tied to the warming. An implication of the work is that positive feedbacks are already evident in observations, and positive feedbacks destabilizing to the system and can lead to abrupt changes. Insert the phrase "tipping point" somewhere into this discussion, since that is really what we're talking about. The question now is just how far the Arctic can be pushed before things get scary. It is an open question, but clearly needs to be answered soon!


Bacterial origin of clouds and rain

From Evernote:

Bacterial origin of clouds and rain

Ok, there is a lot to say and I don't have the time now to think about it in detail, but consider this a place holder.  Basically there is a conjecture floating around that bacteria act as condensation nuclei for cloud formation [http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/science/25snow.html?partner=rss&emc=rss].  First I guess that we have to state that there is a plausible idea, and probably more than that. There have been some recent studies that found bacteria in cloud drops, and while I have been a little skeptical of these results, I guess it is time to look at them more seriously. Second, though, I think it is important to keep in mind that a lot of this work is being driven by the biological side of the story, without a lot of input from the cloud physics side. Whether the bacterial origin can explain much of global cloudiness is up for debate.  For now, the argument for bacteria being very important for global climate is on the much weaker side. Deails to come soon.


Al Gore: The Crisis Comes Ashore

The Crisis Comes Ashore

Why the oil spill could change everything.

Climate debate gets ugly as world moves to curb CO2

A general overview of the current environment for climate scientists trying to communicate the science to the general public.


Sent from my iPad


On prospects for energy/climate legislation

From Evernote:

On prospects for energy/climate legislation

I just read that Sen. Lindsey Graham is no longer going to support the climate+energy bill that he had been working on with Kerry and Lieberman. Apparently he now thinks that the political climate is not right [http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/08/us/politics/08climate.html]. The article goes on to say that Kerry is willing to focus on the energy issues without explicitly dealing with climate, if that is what he can get passed. Graham says no, though, and insists that legislation has to put a price on carbon emissions.


I can not understand this line of thinking. Graham has been one of the only conservative politicians willing to consider meaningful policy to mitigate climate change, but now he's pulling support because of politics? That strikes me as disingenuous, and cynical. To just roll over and ignore such an important issue because it doesn't fit the current political trends is equivalent to admitting that the addressing the problem is also just a politically motivated move too. Every year that goes by without better policy is a year lost, and damns our future to a fate of dealing with the egregious impacts of climate change.

It is notable also that both the recent coal mine explosion and the gulf coast oil spill are cited as shifting the political winds. Again, to me, these are both prime examples why the cost of fossil fuels is not really as cheap as is generally thought, and should boost motivation to move away from these polluting fuels to clean and safe ones.


Maybe attaching lasers to baby birds will make it rain

From Evernote:

Maybe attaching lasers to baby birds will make it rain

There appears to be a laser technology that can be fired into the atmosphere to induce cloud formation processes. [http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100502/full/news.2010.213.html?s=news_rss] A "few" challenges remain to take the step from producing some droplets in the path of the beam to producing measurable rainfall. Whether there are any unexpected consequences is an open question. One potential issue is what happens high up in the atmosphere? The way this works is that the laser ionizes oxygen and nitrogen, which then somehow act as condensation nuclei. What happens in the stratosphere when you create ions? I don't know the answer, but I do know that there is a lot of chemistry happening in the stratosphere. We might not to perturb that chemistry if we don't understand the consequences. See also ozone depletion.

A few issues regarding the oil accident in the Gulf

From Evernote:

A few issues regarding the oil accident in the Gulf

I have not been following the coverage of this gulf oil spill very carefully, so maybe I've missed something, but it seems like there are a few things that aren't being talked about very much. First, what is being publicized well is the potential magnitude of the situation, and it seems like people are pretty concerned about the ecological damage that the spill could wreak in the coming weeks. A totally separate issue is the energy resources aspect of the story. No, this one platform isn't going to adversely affect the price of oil, and maybe that is why not many outlets have picked up this thread yet. This accident is a great example of the fragility of our energy infrastructure. It may also serve as a learning experience about the real cost of fossil fuels. We go to great lengths to extract oil from the Earth's crust, subsidizing the industry that does the extracting to the tune of billions of dollars. The purpose is to supply "cheap" energy to our society. This accident shows that it is hard to get at this cheap oil these days, I mean, who else gets to build floating cities in the middle of the ocean besides oil companies (and maybe some middle eastern princes using money from oil)? It is enormously expensive to construct these platforms, run them, and transport to oil to the mainland for refining. Now we also see that an accident can send thousands of gallons of oil spewing into the ocean, and into the fragile coastal ecosystems nearby. How much is it going to cost to stop the leak? How much to contain the spill? How much to clean up the coast? Who is going to pay? If the USA federal government pays, is that just another of these bail outs that the "tea party" is so upset about? And how many smaller (or less public) spills happen every year?

What is the alternative? Well, I would just like to posit that leveling the playing field might lead to a more secure, reliable, and cleaner energy infrastructure. Take away the deep subsidies that the oil companies get. Make them responsible for their actions, including paying for spills and clean up. Remove the archaic restrictions facing those seeking to build new nuclear power plants. Reward companies that supply local, renewable energy. I think taking these steps would lead to a revolution in the American energy landscape.

These thoughts can be extended by also considering national security. Wouldn't it be nice to stop supporting foreign governments that are, well, not exactly pro-America? I'm looking at you saudi Arabia.

Anyway those are just some considerations that are rolling around my head.
blogged from my iPad

UPDATE: Just saw this amusing post by D. Roberts: LINK.