Ralph Hall, chair of the House of Representatives science committee

I have not read such incoherent drivel from such a highly placed official since George W. Bush was in the whitehouse. Please read this story and accompanying interview with Ralph Hall; it is a shocking view into the world of American politics. It is a world where people say things like "I don't have any proof of that. But I don't believe 'em. I still want to listen to 'em and believe what I believe I ought to believe." [LINK]


Sherwood's dredging up history

Steve Sherwood has an outstanding piece in Physics Today that compares climate "denialism" to historical precedent. In particular, he compares today's climate deniers to those who denied general relativity and heliocentrism in the past. The three stories are interwoven beautifully, definitely worth the read. Here's the link: LINK


The American ‘allergy’ to global warming: Why?

"Climate change has already provoked debate in a U.S. presidential campaign barely begun. An Associated Press journalist draws on decades of climate reporting to offer a retrospective and analysis on global warming and the undying urge to deny." -- Editor's Note regarding this piece by Charles Haney, The American ‘allergy’ to global warming: Why? [link].

Nice, concise overview of the state of climate science and "denialism" in the United States.


Start pre-gaming, only two years to the next IPCC report

The last IPCC report on the physical science of climate change, called the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), was published in 2007. Since that time, plans for the next assessment (AR5) have been underway.

I think I posted before about the announcement of the chapter outlines and the lead authors [link]. The groundwork has been laid for some time, with the lineup of authors finalized earlier this year [pdf]. A lot of the effort falls upon Thomas Stocker [link], the Co-Chair of "Working Group 1," the job previously held by Susan Solomon [link] for AR4. Not only that, but there have already been two meetings of the lead authors, the most recent being in July in Brest, France.

If they are able to keep on schedule, then the AR5 will be published in two years: in September 2013.

The first order draft will be done and reviewed in the next few months. As you know, the assessment is basically a gigantic review paper of climate science. As such, it relies on published results for the basis of the review. The last day to have papers submitted to journals and be considered for inclusion in the AR5 is 31 July 2012, so if you want to get something into the next IPCC report, you have about 10 months to get it done and submitted. It also needs to be accepted by 15 March 2013, giving you plenty of time to deal with those pesky reviewers.


Remote Sensing shakeup

The editor-in-chief of the open-access journal Remote Sensing has resigned. An editorial in the journal explains the situation. The short version is that this journal is the one that let that Spencer & Braswell paper slip through peer review; that publication has fatal flaws throughout its assumptions and analysis. The paper was quickly and brutally criticized in the climate-blogosphere, but exaggerated and praised in the right-wing, and much of the mainstream, media. The journal was criticized for letting such a poor paper get published. The editor-in-chief, Wolfgang Wagner, has now had a chance to review the criticisms and the paper and the review process. He has come to the conclusion that the paper should not have been published. The reason seems to come down to poor selection of reviewers by the editor that was in charge of that paper. The reviews came back with little criticism, to which the authors responded, and that basically tied the editor's hands and the paper had to be accepted.

From my point of view, the failing was the editorial board's misunderstanding of the subject matter and clear mishandling of the review process. From the tone and content of the paper, it was clearly a contrarian point of view and had the flavor of ideological bias. I suspect that the reviewers were selected from the list of suggested reviewers supplied by the authors. In cases of controversial content, there needs to be at least one critical reviewer selected from the community involved, and I'm pretty sure none of the reviewers in this case were in the mainstream of the climate change community.

I'm glad that Wolfgang Wagner has stepped down. I don't know that he did anything wrong except let the other editors make some bad decisions, but this move does help to show that the journal doesn't want to build a reputation for publishing garbage, contrarian papers. Hopefully this will be a small blemish on the journal's reputation which won't mar the whole thing.  It will be interesting to see if the next editor-in-chief conducts a review of the evidence and officially retracts the paper (it is unclear whether this journal has provisions for that, but they should consider it).

The original paper can be found from the journal's web page. The editorial is worth a read, and can be found in the current issue [LINK]. On a related note, a new GRL paper by Andy Dessler destroys the Spencer & Braswell argument in under 4 pages [LINK].

UPDATE: Lots of coverage of this story on the climate blogs. One worth seeing is Mooney's post on DeSmogBlog, which rehashes some similar scandals involving climate, intelligent design, and autism. [LINK]


CLOUD experiments

The first results from the CLOUD experiments have been getting a lot of media attention. The focus of the attention is the Nature paper that was published this week: [news][paper].

The goal of this project is to determine whether cosmic rays have a significant impact on clouds.

Let's boil this down a little. This project is a laboratory experiment at CERN. It is a cloud chamber, basically an isolated volume of air that is precisely controlled for temperature and pressure. They put very pure air into the chamber, add a little background water, and some gases like ozone, sulfuric acid, and ammonia. The chamber is heavily instrumented to look for nucleation, which just means that they try to keep track of particle formation that occurs as the vapors interact and possibly start condensing. They can do this in neutral conditions (like a classical cloud chamber), or they can shine a pion beam into the chamber. That beam is adjusted to mimic cosmic ray bombardment. The goal is to see if cosmic rays produce ions that enhance the formation of particles, which could then go on to become the seeds for cloud droplets.

The answer seems to be that shining that beam into the chamber does produce more particles. This actually isn't a surprise, as far as I can tell. One important point is that nucleation rates, that is the rate of particle formation, are smaller than observed rates unless the temperature is quite low. This means that it is unlikely that cosmic rays ionizing gases near the Earth's surface is a major source of particle formation. Certainly there is particle formation, but it is likely to be a small source of the total number of particles. This result may change when they start adding in organic molecules, but that is future work.

There is better coverage on RealClimate: link.

There is hubbub about this result because there is a crack-pot theory that galactic cosmic rays are a major control of climate because of their impact on cloud formation. There are major flaws with this theory. My own take is that cosmic rays probably do produce some of the particles in the atmosphere that go on to become cloud condensation nuclei, but there are many paths to becoming cloud condensation nuclei, and there are lots and lots of these particles around. In fact, I seriously doubt that cloud formation is frequently affected by the limitation of these aerosol particles. I've been thinking about this in terms of observed cloud properties. The number of cloud droplets is connected to the number of aerosol particles available: over land where there are lots more aerosol particles, there tends to be more, smaller droplets in clouds, while over the remote ocean the clouds are made of fewer, larger droplets. In very polluted conditions, we can observe changes in the cloud properties that follow that same trend. I think the downfall of the cosmic ray theory of cloud formation comes from the fact that out in the middle of the ocean there are still tons of aerosol particles. While many of those particles may come from cosmic ray influenced nucleated vapors, there is no evidence that there is a shortage of other sources of aerosol, so if the intensity of cosmic ray bombardment were to change, it seems unlikely that other sources of aerosol wouldn't fill whatever tiny void that change would make.

Besides this basic criticism (which amounts to the originators of the theory simply having a bit of a myopic view of cloud formation), there is also a clear lack of evidence for cosmic ray intensity modulating cloud/climate. The RealClimate piece covers that. Finally, there is the link to climate change, for which there is absolutely no evidence.

So my summary would be something like: This research presents experimental results that suggest that ionization by cosmic ray-like effects can impact nucleation rates in conditions similar to the Earth's atmosphere. The role of such nucleation enhancement in the Earth's atmosphere remains unclear, especially given that the impact seems most pronounced in conditions that are outside the atmospheric boundary layer. This is a nice contribution to basic aerosol research, which should help to constrain models of aerosol formation. The impacts on cloud formation and the Earth's climate can not be assessed with the data collected so far.

The authors are only slightly overselling their results, which is typical for authors of Nature papers. The lead author's comments can be heard in the embedded YouTube clip. The media coverage, and especially the climate change denier blogosphere, is lighting up like this experiment proves something controversial. It does not.


Reactions to the Spencer paper

It's a very bad paper. That is the short story. I haven't thought through all my criticisms of it yet (maybe I'll write something here eventually). In the meantime, I like this overview piece at Climate Central by Michael D. Lemonick [LINK]. I especially enjoyed the comment that, "... it's not that NASA data are blowing a hole in anything. It's that Spencer's interpretation of NASA data are blowing... something, somewhere."

For those of you looking to actually read the paper, it is in a journal called Remote Sensing, and it is open access. You can find it by looking up doi:10.3390/rs3081603. Let me reiterate that this is a bad paper, with many incorrect statements, assumptions, and reasoning. It isn't worth you time reading this paper when you could better spend it reading an informative one about climate sensitivity... oh, I don't know, maybe doi:10.1175/2008JCLI1995.1


A peer-review recipe

Eos is on a hot streak, at least compared to the usual Eos status quo. There's another useful article in the 12 July issue. It is an overview, or maybe a primer, about peer reviewing [LINK]. It is written by K.A. Nicholas and W. Gordon. I'm not sure what they do, Nicholas is at Lund U. in Sweden, and Gordon is at UT Austin. The article is a bit prescriptive for my taste, but I think it will be helpful reading for graduate students and others who are doing their first reviews. It's a good reminder for the rest of us about how we should think about some aspects of doing reviews.

One difference between my reviews and the ones outlined by the article is in how to treat fatally flawed manuscripts and majorly flawed ones. The article suggests identifying these errors and being done with the review. In my experience, there is a good chance that the manuscript will still get "accepted subject to major revisions," so this may be the only chance to really convey to the authors what they need to improve. (Otherwise, there's the risk of multiple rounds of reviews, which no one wants.) To that end, I always provide a full review, even if I am recommending rejection of the paper. I always hope that the editor will appreciate the effort, and also that the authors will get more constructive criticism to help improve a new version of the manuscript, or at least have a comprehensive set of comments to address in a revised version that will come back for another review.

On a side note, this is also helpful, at least in principle, in the "dialog" between the climate science community and the climate change denying community. There is a lot of mistrust of the peer-review process among "skeptics" (note they are not skeptical, really). The article in Eos is a simple explanation of how peer-reviews are written, and I think almost everyone will agree that the description is roughly what reviews look like. While sometimes reviews are more or less helpful, the thought behind them is basically the one described by the article. They are meant as constructive criticism, pointing out strengths and weaknesses of work, judging the contribution to the field, and recommending whether publication is reasonable or not. This is how I write reviews, and it is similar to reviews I receive. In climate science, reviews are usually anonymous, though there's always the option of signing a review so that the authors know who you are. The decision about how the submitted manuscript proceeds comes from the editor, not directly from the reviewers, so even if a paper receives an unfair review, the editor can take corrective action. When that doesn't happen, the authors can appeal to the editor, pointing out where the review has gone off track. The usual course of action would be for the editor to find another reviewer, who can then corroborate the criticism or back up the author. There really isn't anything secretive or mysterious about the process. There are obvious measures to avoid conflicts of interest, and procedures for interaction among the participants. So while there are interesting arguments about how to improve peer review (blinded reviews, e.g.), I think the current system is quite transparent and attempts to be fair to all involved. I hope that critics of climate science will read this article (and David Schultz's book, LINK) before they attack the peer review process in general.


News Corp behind Climategate?

Was Rupert Murdoch's right-wing-leaning News Corp behind the illegal hacking of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit? There's no direct evidence at this time, but Joe Romm has put it out there in today's Climate Progress [LINK]. While Romm's connections seem tenuous, there is no doubt that News Corp's news outlets made great use of the stolen emails, and no one would be surprised if the suspicion were to be found true. Either way, I think Romm's real point is that there have been so many investigations of the scientists tangled up in "climategate," but the actual crime remains unsolved. Who broke into UEA's computer system, selectively stole and then distributed emails from CRU? The motive is almost certainly political/idealogical, and whoever did it had some competence with "hacking," and some savvy about how to distribute the stolen information to the media... It would certainly bring closure to the whole affair if the perpetrators were brought to justice.


Comparing volcanic CO2 emissions to human-made emissions

There's a terrific article by T. Gerlach in last week's issue of AGU's EOS newspaper [PDF]. Gerlach is apparently a volcanologist, not a climate scientist. The article compares estimates of CO2 emission by volcanic sources to human-made emissions. There is a common misconception (I'm not sure how common) about the relative contributions of volcanos and humans to the emission of CO2.

So, which do you think is the larger source of CO2, global volcanos or human-made sources (includes land-use change, cement production, transport, energy, etc)?

The answer is that humans produce (as of 2010) about 135 times more CO2 than all the volcanoes in the world. The numbers are something like humans emitting about 35 billion tons versus volcanoes emitting 260 million tons. There doesn't appear to be any tricky business going on, and all kinds of volcanoes (including underwater volcanoes) are included. In fact, Gerlach goes on to make lots of interesting comparisons: one good one is that human activities produce the same amount of CO2 emissions as the global volcanic annual source every 12.5 hours.

Gerlach also accounts for the explosive volcanic eruptions like Mount St. Helens and Pinatubo, which are called paroxysms. These can suddenly emit a lot of CO2, but they are rare. While these paroxysms are happening, their emission rate might be as large as all of humanity's. The catch is that they only last a few hours, and wind up contributing very little to the global CO2 emissions.

Really nailing the coffin shut, Gerlach also considers what it would mean for volcanism if the emission rate did match the human-made CO2 emissions of  about 135 Gigatons per year. It sounds like it would mean that we would need one (or more) supereruptions per year. Supereruptions are huge volcanic eruptions, like when Yellowstone blew up 2 million years ago, and they are rare even for geologists, happening only every 100,000-200,000 years or so.

The only weakness of the article is that Gerlach forgets to address the obvious climate change denial argument that humans are not emitting as much CO2 as claimed. There are hints of how to deal with this, however, as Gerlach mentions that the total volcanic emission is equal to that of about two dozen large coal-fired power plants. The volcanic number is so small that we can easily eliminate huge amounts of human-made emissions and still have more human-made emissions than volcanic emissions by more than an order of magnitude. So I think this presentation is a great place to point to really come to terms with this comparison, and the vast difference in the volcanic versus human-made emissions means that there can be no dispute.

Also see another Gerlach article at EARTH Magazine [LINK].


It pays to go to college

So this guy Peter Thiel is starting a fellowship program that will give students $100,000 to start a new business. He thinks it will encourage more rapid innovation. The catch is that they can only do this fellowship instead of going to college for two years [NPR story]. Apparently Thiel has some contrarian tendencies, and perhaps a grudge against higher education. He's done pretty well for himself as a co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook; he's worth around $1,5000,000,000 [wikipedia]. Oh, and by the way, he graduated from Stanford in philosophy in 1989, and then got his JD from Stanford in 1992. All that time at Stanford would probably make anyone hate higher education (Go Bears!). So education worked for him, but this fellowship is about stimulating and accelerating innovation, and from my reading of his Wikipedia page, it sounds like Thiel is an investor, not an innovator. He struck gold with PayPal, which has given him a chance to take risks on lots of start-ups, some of which might do well and others completely fail. He's a hedge fund manager and a venture capitalist, so his job is focused on taking risks and hoping that some of them pay off big (and implicitly this assumes that those few successes will more than make up for the many failures).

All this is fine and good, but now that Thiel is talking about education, I think he may have confused his own risk-taking lifestyle as an appropriate one for society at large. He's presenting the undergraduate degree as being overvalued, and thinks of this like a bubble (as in the dot-com bubble or the housing bubble). There is maybe a point in there somewhere, and maybe in the USA we need to think about whether everyone needs to go to college. I'll throw in the thought that "trade schools" are extremely undervalued, and that promoting real trade schools would be much more valuable to a vast number of people than getting an associates degree from a community college. That's a digression, though, and to get back on track, let me say that Andrew Kelly wrote a nice critique of the fellowship program on (unfortunately) the HuffPo [LINK].  He points out that the fellowship program is taking some of the best students from the best universities in the country, and putting them into a 2-year intensive mentoring program. This is a far cry from devaluing higher education.

For the overwhelming number of American students, going to college is a good idea. Whether it is because of an overvaluation of degrees or not, the numbers simply show that the more education one gets, the higher the salary [SEE FIGURE, SOURCE].  In the present social-economic conditions, trying to argue that fewer people need to graduate from college is damning most of those people to a lower salary tier. While Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of college to become extraordinarily wealthy, the graphic and the data show that they are extreme outliers, and that most people who quit college are giving up almost a third of their potential salary.

Okay, my final comment for this rant... I hope the Thiel Fellowship program is wildly successful. No, really! You should go look at the list of young "innovators" [LINK]; they are extremely impressive, and if this 2-year program can get them and their ideas to the next level, that could have a tremendous impact in several emerging fields (I was especially interested in the Energy category). These are clearly very smart, highly motivated people, and allowing them to focus intensely on these ideas for two years is actually a good plan. It isn't for the average American 20-year-old, but for a few it could be really advantageous. My guess is that most of these Thiel Fellows will go back to school, and then on to graduate school, because they won't be satisfied picking things up along the way. When it comes to extremely technical fields, it actually is more efficient to work through all that fundamental material before just jumping in and cobbling together the pieces as you go along. But we will see.


African biomass burning (part 1?)

The amount of area and material that is burned each year in tropical Africa is staggering. The series of maps shown here is from NASA, showing burning across Africa during 2005 (note they aren't monthly, just 10 day composites ranging from January to August). Globally, biomass burning is estimated to consume somewhere around 8700 Tg of dry matter and release nearly 4 Tg of carbon to the atmosphere. Much of that carbon is returned to the biosphere, though, because the majority of the burning isn't to clear forest, but to clear cropland in savannah regions. People seasonally set the fires to keep harmful plants and pests out of their farmland. The chemical consequences of this huge efflux of gas and aerosol each season across the tropical belt is still only crudely understood. The global impact is poorly understood, as there are processes that are indirectly related to the burning, such as the planetary albedo, cloud and precipitation effects, and chemical effects in both the troposphere and stratosphere. See here for a little more description, especially on the chemical side. 

While not exactly analogous to other forms of anthropogenic changes to the climate system, this is an obvious and large perturbation that is mostly human induced. Understanding the consequences, both locally and remotely, may help us understand impacts of climate change globally.

Another interesting aspect of the African seasonal biomass burning is that it could represent an interaction between the climate system and human culture. The burning is seasonal, as I mentioned, but the extent and severity of the burning and resulting smoke depends on when and where the fires are started. That in turn depends on the previous rainy season. Where the smoke goes depends on the atmospheric circulation, and where the material ends up may determine the remote impact. For example, in some circulation patterns, the central African smoke is transported toward the Indian Ocean and is mixed into the westerlies, which will disperse the plume rather quickly. In other situations, the plume is transported over the southeast Atlantic, which is an are of large-scale sinking motion, so the smoke is contained within a layer and slowly moved over the ocean. This can affect radiation budget and the clouds in the area, which then have potential effects on other aspects of climate variability (through changes in the ocean surface temperature, for example, which may feed back on Atlantic Nino activity). These links are only tenuously understood, and are worth a good think if you have the time.

MODIS burning product, see LINK


Glory of the sea?

I recently wrote about the Glory satellite mission [LINK]. Early this morning, the rocket carrying Glory to orbit was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Unfortunately Glory will only be studying the particles in the south Pacific, because the rocket was unable to attain orbit and crashed into the ocean. [LINK]. This is very similar, at least superficially, to the failure of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, which I also blogged about [LINK]. This is supposed to be the "golden age" of satellite observations of the climate system, but it is hard to believe when we struggle to get the satellites into orbit. Glory has been over a decade in the making, and I imagine there are a lot of people around the country right now who are wondering what they are going to do in the next couple of years.

There may be hope, though. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 is a go, scheduled to be put into orbit in February 2013. Except that they are planning to use yet another Taurus rocket [LINK]. So, yeah.

RealClimate also picked up this story [LINK].

George Will want(ed) high speed rail

I've said it before, and I say it again: George Will is an ass. [LINK]


Taking the conserve out of conservative

Today I heard a story on NPR that I think makes plain the GOP position on all matters environmental:

They won't even concede that biodegradable plasticware is better than petrochemical-based forks. I mean, if anyone had any doubts about where these people are coming from, this should clear it up.


Horse dies, Inhofe continues beating it anyway

I can't believe that the scandal that was known as "climategate" continues to give climate change deniers some kind of special tingle. NOAA's Inspector General issued a report about the scandal at the request of Sen. Inhofe [LINK]. Guess what the report said? Yeah, that's right. And how much money and resources were devoted to putting together this report? Why does Jim Inhofe insist on wasting taxpayer dollars on these flights of fancy?

Read details at Climate Progress.


Response to House continuing resolution cuts

The House Appropriations Committee today introduced a Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1) to fund the federal government for the last seven months of the fiscal year while cutting spending by over $100 billion from the President’s fiscal year 2011 request. This CR legislation represents the largest single discretionary spending reduction in the history of Congress. [source]
I've just been browsing through the summary of the program cuts from this CR proposal, which can be viewed here.  My interpretation is that the middle column is the FY2010 budget item minus the CR budget item, and the right column is the FY2011 request (by the Administration) minus the CR budget item. I'll just consider the right column, and assume that these are generally cuts on top of cuts. Just browsing through the list looking for science research related items:

- Technology Innovation Program: $40 million cut.
- Construction: $66.8 million cut
- Scientific & Technical Research Services: $115 million cut.

-Operations, Research, and Facilities: $450.3 million cut -- THAT's almost half a billion dollars!!

NASA: $578.7 million cut -- over half a billion dollars.

Office of Science and Technology Policy $500,000 cut (wonder what their budget is?)

-Research & Related Activities: $550.9 million cut.
-Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction:  $110.4 million cut.
-Education & Human Resources: $166.2 million cut.

Energy & Water Development (I assume this is DOE mostly):
Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy: $899.3 million cut. What? Seriously?
Fossil Energy Research & Development (for comparison): $30.6 million cut. I see a pattern.
Clean Coal Technology (for comparison): $18 million cut. Hmm.
Science: $1,110,900,000 cut... yes, OVER A BILLION DOLLARS CUT FROM DOE'S OFFICE OF SCIENCE!
ARPA-E (energy innovation grants): $250 million cut. Do you see what is happening here?
Weapons Activities: $312.4 million cut... maybe it isn't all bad?
Nuclear Nonproliferation: $647.5 million cut... oh, I see.

Science is not the only target. Scanning down though, you'll find a category called "Interior and Environment," which must be mostly Department of Interior and the EPA: it starts midway through page 8 and goes until the top of page 11. These are mostly smaller cuts, focused on USGS, EPA, BLM, NPS, and a handful of other programs. There are some nice highlights though.

  • EPA State and local air quality management: GHG permitting: $25 million cut. It isn't listed as termination, but I'd have to guess this is about all the money they could get for this new program.
  • Fish & Wildlife Service Grants $160.7 million cut.
  • State & Tribal Wildlife Grants: $90 million cut.
  • EPA Great Lakes Initiative: $75 million cut.
  • EPA Clean Water SRF: $1,310,000,000 cut. Yep, 1.3 Billion cut. 
  • EPA Drinking Water SRF: $457 million cut. 
  • EPA Rescission: $290 million cut.
  • EPA Categorical Grants: $220.2 million cut.

There are big cuts also for FEMA, NIH, CDC, Department of Labor, OSHA, Head Start (2 BILLION DOLLARS CUT FROM HEAD START!), a billion dollars cut from Social Security Administration, and even cuts in the defense budget.

What I'd like to see is another column stating the proposed budget by the CR for each item, to put in perspective how big these cuts are compared to the programs. I'm guessing that the are huge for these science programs, but I'd like to see the numbers.

And in the end, these cuts could be devastating for science research in the USA, but they only reduce the deficit from $1.5 Trillion to $1.4 Trillion. I think that we need to reevaluate how the government is spending money, not just in these relatively small discretionary items, but for the whole enchilada.


Fickle conspiracy theorists

Richard Linklater's 1991 film "Slacker" touches on a number of persistent conspiracy theories. Many of them, such as moon landing hoaxes and JFK assassination plots, are still bandied about today, especially on late-night talk shows like Coast to Coast AM. If you watch this clip, you'll see an example, but there's a part about global warming, too. Today the conspiracy nuts think that global warming is the hoax, that  somehow scientists are pulling the wool over the eyes of the public. This clip shows that around 1990, the conspiracy needle was really pointing the other way, with the government covering up global warming. "Greenhouse effect... by the way, they discovered that in the '40s."


Dansgaard Dies

Just saw the LA Times obituary for the Danish paleoclimatologist Willi Dansgaard [LINK]. Dansgaard was a physicist by training, with a specialty in spectroscopy. He figured out the connection between temperature and oxygen isotope ratio in precipitation which became one of the foundations of paleoclimatatology. He also discovered abrupt climate change when he analyzed early ice cores. 

Dansgaard's death comes just after Tamino wrote about glacial cycles in a couple of posts that are worth reading: PART0 PART1 PART1b PART2



WalesOnline.co.uk has the most unremarkable story on climate change that I have every seen [LINK]. The byline says it is by Chris Kelsey, but the end of the article makes it seem to be connected to Kevin Anderson, a professor at University of Manchester. Either way, I wasn't sure what the point of the article was, since it could well have been written in the 1970s, until I read the lame reader comments that follow it. In case you see them, I can assure you that climate models do include the effects of water vapor, and they have since the 1970s. Where do these people come up with this stuff?


Rolling back the job-destroying (greenhouse gas) regulations

A McClatchy Newspapers article [LINK] suggests that the House republicans are going to move on to the Clean Air Act now that they've "repealed" the health care act. It's actually a really nice article, so I recommend taking a look. The idea is that the republicans don't like that the EPA is going to try to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, so they want to re-write the Clean Air Act to make sure that is not in the EPA's purview.

The argument seems to be that (a) the Congress should pass regulatory legislation, (b) carbon dioxide shouldn't be considered a "pollutant," (c) regulating carbon dioxide will "kill" jobs. Who is making this argument? Well, it seems like Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is fully on board, but Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) is the one who introduced the so-called Free Industry Act and she has 96 co-sponsors who are all Republicans except Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK).

In terms of the points above, I think there are some obvious problems. (a) There is no legislation that is going to regulate emissions that is going to get through congress. That ship sailed last year, even before that commercial in which Joe Manchin literally shot the bill [YOUTUBE]. So the republican position seems to be, "let's do nothing." (b) The EPA went to court to determine whether CO2 is a pollutant, and it is. Case closed, literally. [WIKIPEDIA] (c) Just asserting that reducing carbon pollution will "kill" jobs does not make it true. One of the reasons that Barack Obama was so overwhelmingly elected was because he championed the idea of reducing our dependence on foreign oil by moving toward a renewable energy infrastructure, creating thousands of "green jobs." There are a number of arguments for moving in this direction to create jobs and move the USA into a leadership position in green technology that can be used (read: sold) to other countries [LINK]. I think this point is one where there could be actual debate, but there are so many reasons to move away from fossil fuels that they overshadow possible short-term economic implications. In the long-term, I think everyone agrees that fossil fuels are bad for everyone.

One last point. Just like in the case of health care, there is not enough support to move any of this legislation through the Senate, much less through the White House. It is an exercise in futility, a symbol of the frustration that the Republicans feel and the animosity they have toward environmental regulation. It is also a waste of time in Congress and a waste of taxpayer money. It will make headlines, though, and confuse the American public, who I'm pretty sure now believe that the healthcare bill has really been repealed.


Glory Be.

Well, it might be, depends how the launch goes. Glory is the new NASA "A-Train" satellite that is supposed to be launched on 23 February [LINK]. The launch vehicle is a Taurus XL 3110; I know what you're thinking, but no this is not a Ford model. It is, however, a similar rocket to the one that delivered the Orbiting Carbon Observatory to the bottom of the ocean [LINK]. So let's hope for a little better luck with this one.

The satellite is really going to be doing two things once it is functional. First, it is going to measure the solar output. Put another way, it is going to measure how much sunshine reaches the top of the atmosphere. Second, it is going to use the Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor (APS) to measure properties of suspended particles in the atmosphere (aerosol). According the the overview, "this instrument will measure the size, quantity, refractive index, and shape of aerosols."[NASA]. This isn't the first time aerosol will be observed from space, but it is the first time that detailed properties will be retrieved (as opposed to bulk or geometric properties, as from CALIPSO).

If you are thinking, but isn't the A-Train lifetime actually nearly over? Well, yes, it sure is getting there. Because of the lack of funded missions on the horizon, I have heard our present period referred to as the golden age of satellite observations. The A-Train has been up for a while, except that everything has been delayed. Glory was scheduled to launch in 2008, and here we are years later. The OCO did launch, but crashed; there is an OCO2 planned, but it will be some time before they can build, test, and launch the replacement. The French companion to the A-Train, PARASOL, is heading toward end of life (probably this year), and has had to leave the train because it doesn't have enough fuel to maintain synchronous observations. I think it is safe to say that the original picture of the A-Train never came to fruition, but there has been a lot of overlap which is providing a better view from space than ever could have been achieved with a single satellite.

An interesting aspect of this mission is that the APS is measuring parameters that I don't think have ever been measured from space. It is a passive instrument, which just means that it looks at the light coming up from Earth, and then analyzes that light. Often satellites just measure the brightness (intensity) of the light, and might do that for several frequencies. Glory will measure the other "Stokes parameters" to get information about the polarization of the light, and will do it in 9 different spectral bands. It is quite an impressive piece of optical equipment, even more so when you think it is in a box 705 km above the earth traveling at 24,000 kph or so. Basically a small section of the Earth is seen by the satellite, and the light goes through a refractive telescope and then something called a Wollaston prism before reaching the detectors. The prism separates two orthogonal linearly polarized beams, each beam then impacts a detector. The instrument also contains a motor that rotates the mirrors and allows views of the scene at multiple angles. My knowledge of optics to too rusty to be able to say anything useful about this, but it amazes me that such a complex, delicate instrument can be put into orbit.

But don't forget that Glory is also measuring the Total Solar Irradiance. This is a critical parameter as it represents the energy source for the climate system. There have been continuous space-based measurements of the sunshine for about 30 years. The good news is that the measurements show the variability in solar output and are consistent with theory about what the solar constant should be. The bad news is that different instruments have shown slightly different values (ranging from 360-370 W/m2). That doesn't sound too bad, but 10W/m2 of incoming sunlight makes a substantial difference in the global energy budget. Glory will hopefully provide the accuracy and stability needed to better constrain the average solar output.

Details of Glory can be found in an overview paper from BAMS [LINK], but keep in mind that this was written by the scientists. Despite being for the general atmospheric science community, they don't do a great job of explaining things in simple non-jargony language.


Keeping perspective

MySpace is firing about half its employees, about 500 people, as it struggles to stay relevant [LINK]. Contrast with Wikipedia, which has about 50 employees total and has existed successfully for 10 years and is now one of the "most relevant" sites on the internet [LINK].