Sunday, August 03, 2008

The latest scare: Rising sea levels

You just have to look at their graphs to debunk this one. It is clear from the first one that sea levels have been rising for a LONG time -- long before the era of widespread industrialization. And if you look at the third graph you will see that the rise has in fact been LEVELLING OFF in the last two years. See below

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a very good new website on global climate change. It offers a nice summary of the relevant science in a variety of areas: key indicators, evidence, causes, effects, uncertainties, and solutions. The website is a good place to send people who are uninformed on global warming, but looking for basic information.

JPL has a very nice front-page banner with pulldown menus providing data on "Vital Signs of the Planet," including Arctic sea ice, carbon dioxide, sea level rise, global temperature, and the ozone hole. Here is the expanded chart showing the recent 70 percent jump in sea level rise:


"The chart [above] shows historical sea level data derived from 23 tide-gauge measurements. The chart on the right shows the average sea level since 1993 derived from global satellite measurements, updated here monthly. Sea level rise is associated with the thermal expansion of sea water due to climate warming and widespread melting of land ice."

If you go to the key indicators page, you can run your mouse over the final data point, which shows that the trend continues. JPL gets their data from the University of Colorado, which has extended their plot through the end of 2008:

Mean sea level

So sea levels are now rising about 1.3 inches a decade. This is not yet worrisome, but if current emissions trends continue and the rate of sea level rise merely continues the same relationship to global temperature rise that it has had in recent decades, then we could see a total rise of up to five feet by 2100, at which point the rate of sea level rise would exceed six inches a decade, as explained in a 2007 Science article, "A Semi-Empirical Approach to Projecting Future Sea-Level Rise."


Arctic Ice Thickness Update

1st year Arctic Sea Ice is AS THICK as OLDER Sea Ice?

While I was on vacation last week, I monitored some of the comments and saw the interesting update about the Arctic ice thickness from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Earlier concerns about the Arctic sea ice was that much of the Arctic Ocean this year was covered by unusually thin, first-year ice, which is far more likely to completely melt out during the summer 2008 melt season, compared to the thicker multi-year ice.

According to the latest ICESat thickness estimates, it appears that the first-year sea ice in the Arctic Ocean so far this season is comparable in thickness to what it was in 2006 and 2007. Note the charts below. Why is that? The NSIDC says that sparse snow cover over the Arctic Ocean last winter resulted in less insulation from the bitterly cold air, resulting in faster, first-year ice growth. Snow was unable to accumulate last autumn since much of the Arctic Ocean was still ice-free, causing the snow to just melt into the open waters. Once the ice formed later in the fall, it accumulated more quickly than normal as there was very little barrier (snow) between the ice and the cold air just above the surface.

Now, correct me if I am wrong, let's assume that there is even less sea ice coverage at the end of this year's melt season compared to the last two years, based on their above explanation wouldn't that mean that there would be even less early autumn snow accumulation compared to last year and thus another slight increase in the first-year sea ice thickness for 2009?

You can also see that the multi-year ice this year is clearly much thinner than the past two years. The NSIDC notes that this could be due to two factors. melting at the underside of the ice that was observed in the summer of 2007 and the greater than normal export of thick ice out of the Arctic Ocean.


Regulate Rocks? Rocks responsible for 'substantial' release of CO2

Maybe cover them with tinfoil left over from the hats?

University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers have added a new source of carbon dioxide to the complex climate change puzzle by showing that ancient rocks can release substantial amounts of organic matter into Earth's rivers and oceans, and that this organic matter is easily converted by bacteria to carbon dioxide, which enters the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.

"Sedimentary rocks contain the largest mass of organic carbon on Earth, but these reservoirs are not well-integrated into modern carbon budgets" says Steven Petsch, a professor of geosciences. "Since we need to know the budget of the natural carbon cycle in order to determine human climate impacts, this information will lead to more accurate climate modeling." The research was conducted by Petsch and UMass Amherst graduate student Sarah Schillawski.

In a study published in the July issue of Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Petsch and Schillawski focused on black shales from Kentucky. Black shales are rich in a type of organic matter called kerogen that contains carbon. Kerogen can turn into oil and natural gas when the rocks are heated. The first step was to determine how much organic carbon could be released from the rocks by simulating the weathering process in the laboratory.

Samples of the shale were placed in glass columns, and the effects of weathering were duplicated by running water through the samples for one year. Kerogen is thought to be difficult to dissolve, but the results of the column studies showed a slow, sustained release of organic matter from the rock. Over the course of one year, the rock samples had lost approximately 0.3 percent of their total organic carbon.

The next step was to determine whether this hard-to-digest organic matter could be broken down by bacteria into carbon dioxide. Using common bacteria found in natural waters, including the Quabbin Reservoir, Petsch found that essentially all of the dissolved organic matter in water from the column studies was rapidly degraded by bacteria over a period of nine days.

"This was the most surprising finding in the study, since these bacteria are adapted to digest organic matter from things like leaves and acorns, which is similar to carbohydrates consumed by humans," says Petsch. "The presence of microorganisms capable of using kerogen may have significant implications for the global-scale cycling of carbon and oxygen."

Petsch has also studied the release of carbon from sedimentary rocks by soil bacteria, which is another way that ancient carbon can be converted into carbon dioxide. "We have found outcrops of the New Albany Shale, which is usually black, that have turned a light brown color as bacteria consume carbon where the overlying soil meets the weathered rock," says Petsch.

According to Petsch, the bottom line is that the release of organic material from sedimentary rocks contributes approximately 2 percent of the carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere each year. While this may seem like a small amount, it is another piece of the puzzle that can be used when determining how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades.


British Conservative leader wavers on green pledges

David Cameron has shelved his commitment to green taxes because of rising fuel prices and the economic downturn

A range of measures designed to penalise motoring and other polluting activities has been put on hold amid fears that it would alienate working families feeling the pinch as the economy slows. Senior strategists admit privately that initiatives prepared by the Tory leader are unlikely to see the light of day, including raising taxes on short-haul flights and on larger cars. Elaborate plans for widespread micro-generation of energy in homes and offices are also being quietly shelved in favour of a strategy little different from Labour's, based on a new generation of nuclear power stations

Rather than taxing a range of polluting behaviours, the Tories will offer incentives to choose more environmentally-friendly alternatives, insiders say. A senior party source admitted: "We can't possibly sell the idea of green taxes to voters during a downturn."

Last year, Mr Cameron welcomed a Tory policy review that called for Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) on the highest-emitting cars to be up to $1,000 more than for the greenest vehicles and a "showroom tax" of up to 10 per cent on "gas guzzlers". The Tories led calls for a ground-breaking Climate Change Bill to set a target for cutting carbon emissions by 2050 and campaigned under the banner "vote blue, go green" in the local elections. The party's "quality of life" group, led by John Gummer and Zac Goldsmith, proposed radical parking charges at out-of-town supermarkets and shopping malls, a moratorium on airport expansion and increased taxes - including VAT - on short-haul flights. Mr Cameron had pledged to increase the proportion of taxation raised through green levies by rebalancing taxation away from "good" things, such as jobs and investment, towards "bad" things, like pollution and carbon emissions. He also promised that the money raised from green taxes would fund tax cuts for families.

But this summer Mr Cameron dropped his support for higher road tax as he clashed with Gordon Brown over the Government's plans to impose retrospective rises of up to $400 in VED on cars up to seven years old while George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, promised to cut tax on fuel when prices at the pump rose.

Strategists said it was possible the Tory leader could resurrect green taxes, but not for a year or until the economy has rallied. One senior MP said: "The question is whether the party will keep its nerve about doing things that will be uncomfortable for consumers. At the moment the jury is out."

Another issue of concern for some is that the Tories are warming to nuclear power. Last year, it viewed a new generation of nuclear power stations as "a last resort" but would now support the move if there were no taxpayers' subsidy. The about-turn is significant because green issues were once the lynchpin of Mr Cameron's modernising drive. But he has not made a major speech on the environment or hinted at policy in this area for many months.

This week the Tories will open a new offensive on education, promising to address the plight of the poorest children. Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, will claim that the Government has failed to eradicate glaring inequalities between the achievements of the richest and poorest children.


Summer Chill: Montana breaks 1897 record for coldest temps?

Two temperature records were set or tied in July in Great Falls, including one dating back more than a century, according to the National Weather Service. An overnight low of 39 degrees on July 11 broke the daily record of 40 degrees set in 1897, said Ed Kurdy hydro-meteorological technician with the Weather Service. The only other July daily record occurred July 12, when the low was 40 degrees, tying the mark set in 2004. "Other than those two record temperatures, it was a pretty unspectacular month as far as weather was concerned," Kurdy said. That is in stark contrast to July 2007, when the mercury topped 100 degrees seven times. The highest temperature last month was 97 degrees, on July 21.

The average high temperature last year was 94, compared to 84.7 this year, according to the Weather Service's month-end report. This year's average was still 1.7 degrees above the monthly average, the report states. The mean average of highs and lows was 67.9 degrees for July this year, much cooler than the 76.8 degree average in 2007.


Global Warming Did It! Well, Maybe Not

We're heading into the heart of hurricane season, and any day now, a storm will barrel toward the United States, inspiring all the TV weather reporters to find a beach where they can lash themselves to a palm tree. We can be certain of two things: First, we'll be told that the wind is blowing very hard and the surf is up. Second, some expert will tell us that this storm might be a harbinger of global warming.

Somewhere along the line, global warming became the explanation for everything. Right-thinking people are not supposed to discuss any meteorological or geophysical event -- a hurricane, a wildfire, a heat wave, a drought, a flood, a blizzard, a tornado, a lightning strike, an unfamiliar breeze, a strange tingling on the neck -- without immediately invoking the climate crisis. It causes earthquakes, plagues and backyard gardening disappointments. Weird fungus on your tomato plants? Classic sign of global warming.

You are permitted to note, as a parenthetical, that no single weather calamity can be ascribed with absolute certainty (roll your eyes here to signal the exasperating fussiness of scientists) to what humans are doing to the atmosphere. But your tone will make it clear that this is just legalese, like the fine-print warnings on the flip side of a Lipitor ad.

Some people are impatient with even a token amount of equivocation. A science writer for Newsweek recently flat-out declared that this year's floods in the Midwest were the result of climate change, and in the process, she derided the wishy-washy climatologists who couldn't quite bring themselves to reach that conclusion (they "trip over themselves to absolve global warming").

Well, gosh, I dunno. Equivocation isn't a sign of cognitive weakness. Uncertainty is intrinsic to the scientific process, and sometimes you have to have the courage to stand up and say, "Maybe." Seems to me that it's inherently impossible to prove a causal connection between climate and weather -- they're just two different things. Moreover, the evidence for man-made climate change is solid enough that it doesn't need to be bolstered by iffy claims. Rigorous science is the best weapon for persuading the public that this is a real problem that requires bold action. "Weather alarmism" gives ammunition to global-warming deniers. They're happy to fight on that turf, since they can say that a year with relatively few hurricanes (or a cold snap when you don't expect it) proves that global warming is a myth. As science writer John Tierney put it in the New York Times earlier this year, weather alarmism "leaves climate politics at the mercy of the weather."

There's an ancillary issue here: Global warming threatens to suck all the oxygen out of any discussion of the environment. We wind up giving too little attention to habitat destruction, overfishing, invasive species tagging along with global trade,and so on. You don't need a climate model to detect that big oil spill in the Mississippi. That "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico -- an oxygen-starved region the size of Massachusetts -- isn't caused by global warming, but by all that fertilizer spread on Midwest cornfields.

Some folks may actually get the notion that the planet will be safe if we all just start driving Priuses. But even if we cured ourselves of our addiction to fossil fuels and stabilized the planet's climate, we'd still have an environmental crisis on our hands. Our fundamental problem is that -- now it's my chance to sound hysterical -- humans are a species out of control. We've been hellbent on wrecking our environment pretty much since the day we figured out how to make fire. T his caused that: It would be nice if climate and weather were that simple.

But "one can only speak rationally about odds," Kerry Emanuel, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has studied hurricanes and climate change, told me last week. "Global warming increases the probabilities of floods and strong hurricanes, and that is all that you can say." Emanuel's research shows that in the past 25 years, there's been an uptick in the number of strong storms, though not necessarily in the number of hurricanes overall. Climate models show that a 1-degree Celsius rise in sea-surface temperatures should intensify top winds by about 5 percent, which corresponds to a 15 percent increase in destructive power. The tropical Atlantic sea surface has warmed by 0.6 degrees Celsius in the past half-century.

At my request, Emanuel ran a computer program to see how much extra energy Hurricane Katrina had because of increases in sea-surface temperature. His conclusion: Katrina's winds were about 2 percent stronger in the Gulf, and not significantly stronger at landfall. Maybe climate change was a factor in generating such a storm, or in the amount of moisture it carried, but the catastrophe that Katrina caused in New Orleans can more plausibly be attributed to civil engineers who built inadequate levees, city planning that let neighborhoods materialize below sea level and Bush administration officials who didn't do such a heckuva job.

Let's go back to those Iowa floods. Humans surely contributed to the calamity: Farmland in the Midwest has been plumbed with drainage pipes; streams have been straightened; most of the state's wetlands have been engineered out of existence; land set aside for conservation is being put back into corn production to meet the demands of the ethanol boom. This is a landscape that's practically begging to have 500-year floods every decade.

Was climate change a factor in the floods? Maybe. A recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that heavier downpours are more likely in a warming world. Thomas Karl, a NOAA scientist, says that there has been a measurable increase in water vapor over parts of the United States and more precipitation in the Midwest.

But tree-ring data indicate that the state has gone through a cycle of increasing and decreasing rainfall for hundreds of years. The downpours this year weren't that unusual, according to Harry J. Hillaker Jr., the Iowa state meteorologist. "The intensity has not really been excessive on a short-term scale," he said. "We're not seeing three-inch-an-hour rainfall amounts."

This will be a wet year (as was last year), but Iowa may not set a rainfall record. The wettest year on record was 1993. The second wettest: 1881. The third wettest: 1902. Iowa is an awkward place to talk about global warming, because the state has actually been a bit cooler in the summer than it was in the first half of the 20th century. Hillaker says the widespread shift to annual plants (corn and soybeans) and away from perennial grasses has altered the climate. The 10 hottest summers in Iowa have been, in order, 1936, 1934, 1901, 1988, 1983, 1931, 1921, 1955, 1933 and 1913. Talk about extreme weather: One day in 1936, Iowa set a state record with a high temperature of 117 degrees. And no one blamed it on global warming.

Rest assured, we may find ways to ruin the planet even before the worst effects of global warming kick in. The thing that gets you in the end is rarely the thing you're paying attention to.

The basic problem is that there are so many of us now. Four centuries ago, there were about 500 million people on Earth. Today there are that many, plus 6 billion. We're rapidly heading toward 9 billion. Conservatives say that we just need to focus on maintaining free markets and let everything sort itself out through the miracle of the invisible hand. But the political tide is turning against unfettered free markets and toward greater regulation. Climate-change policy is part of that: Somehow we've got to embed environmental effects into the cost of energy sources, consumer goods and so on. The market approach by itself has let us down.

Viewed broadly, it appears that humans are environment-destroying creatures by nature. The notion of the prelapsarian era in which we lived in perfect harmony with nature has been effectively shattered by such scientists as Jared Diamond, the author of "Collapse," and Tim Flannery, who wrote "The Future Eaters." If everything gets simplified and reduced to a global-warming narrative, we'll be unable to see the trees for the forest.

Consider the June issue of Scientific American, where you'll find a photograph of a parched lake, the mud baked into the kind of desiccated tiles that scream "drought." The caption says: "Climate shift to unprecedentedly dry weather, along with diversion of water for irrigation, has converted this former reservoir in China's Minqin County into desert."

Um . . . "this former reservoir?" Look closely, and you can see concrete walls in the background. This is not a natural place: It's a manufactured landscape. Here's a wild guess: This part of China is an environmental disaster that has very little to do with climate change and very much to do with high population and intensifying agriculture.

Last week, we saw reports of more wildfires in California. Sure as night follows day, people will lay some of the blame on climate change. But there's also the minor matter of people building homes in wildfire-susceptible forests, overgrown with vegetation due to decades of fire suppression. That's like pitching a tent on the railroad tracks.

The message that needs to be communicated to these people is: "Your problem is not global warming. Your problem is that you're nuts."



For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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