Thursday, August 21, 2008

New climate record shows solar-based climate cycles

A stalagmite in a West Virginia cave has yielded the most detailed geological record to date on climate cycles in eastern North America over the past 7,000 years. The new study confirms that during periods when Earth received less solar radiation, the Atlantic Ocean cooled, icebergs increased and precipitation fell, creating a series of century-long droughts.

A research team led by Ohio University geologist Gregory Springer examined the trace metal strontium and carbon and oxygen isotopes in the stalagmite, which preserved climate conditions averaged over periods as brief as a few years. The scientists found evidence of at least seven major drought periods during the Holocene era, according to an article published online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"This really nails down the idea of solar influence on continental drought," said Springer, an assistant professor of geological sciences.

Geologist Gerald Bond suggested that every 1,500 years, weak solar activity caused by fluctuations in the sun's magnetic fields cools the North Atlantic Ocean and creates more icebergs and ice rafting, or the movement of sediment to ocean floors. Other scientists have sought more evidence of these so-called "Bond events" and have studied their possible impact on droughts and precipitation. But studies to date have been hampered by incomplete, less detailed records, Springer said.

The stalagmites from the Buckeye Creek Cave provide an excellent record of climate cycles, he said, because West Virginia is affected by the jet streams and moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

Other studies have gleaned climate cycle data from lakes, but fish and other critters tend to churn the sediment, muddying the geological record there, said study co-author Harold Rowe, an assistant professor of geological sciences at the University of Texas at Arlington.

"(The caves) haven't been disturbed by anything. We can see what happened on the scale of a few decades. In lakes of the Appalachian region, you're looking more at the scale of a millennium," Rowe said.

Strontium occurs naturally in the soil, and rain washes the element through the limestone. During dry periods, it is concentrated in stalagmites, making them good markers of drought, Rowe explained. Carbon isotopes also record drought, Springer added, because drier soils slow biological activity. This causes the soil to "breathe less, changing the mix of light and heavy carbon atoms in it," he said.

In the recent study, the scientists cut and polished the stalagmite, examined the growth layers and then used a drill to take 200 samples along the growth axis. They weighed and analyzed the metals and isotopes to determine their concentrations over time.

The data are consistent with the Bond events, which showed the connection between weak solar activity and ice rafting, the researchers said. But the study also confirmed that this climate cycle triggers droughts, including some that were particularly pronounced during the mid-Holocene period, about 6,300 to 4,200 years ago. These droughts lasted for decades or even entire centuries.

Though modern records show that a cooling North Atlantic Ocean actually increases moisture and precipitation, the historic climate events were different, Springer said. In the past, the tropical regions of the Atlantic Ocean also grew colder, creating a drier climate and prompting the series of droughts, he explained.

The climate record suggests that North America could face a major drought event again in 500 to 1,000 years, though Springer said that manmade global warming could offset the cycle.

"Global warming will leave things like this in the dust. The natural oscillations here are nothing like what we would expect to see with global warming," he said.

Though some climate and drought records exist for the Western and Midwest areas of North America, the eastern Appalachian region hasn't been studied much to date, Rowe said. The research team plans to examine additional stalagmite records from West Virginia and Tennessee to paint a better picture of North American climate cycles.



Benny Pieser's CCNet brings our attention to this Globe and Mail item today. In it, the authors note some of the repercussions to Europe's own energy strategy from Russia's bloody Georgian gambit, which is the latest move in its expanding play to recover lost influence through energy (read this book for a discussion of how the Bolshies actually did the same thing to solidify their initial, not-so-dissimilar coup into a recognized nation-state).

The impacts go further, as I detail in a forthcoming Energy Tribune piece. Without spoiling it: Brussels' Kyoto agenda demands that Poland, the Czechs, and everyone else with very good reasons to distrust the Russians leave their coal in the ground and rely instead on gas . . . which in practice would be mostly Russian gas. As I have detailed in this space before, the EU was already having a hard time wrestling those pesky new member states to the ground on this dangerous proposal. Now, they can forget about it.

Russia turned off the supply to Poland more than a decade before pulling the plug on Ukraine. For the reasons I cite in ET, those who are in the business of finding silver linings have Russia to thank for finally slaying the Kyoto beast.


Global cooling hits New Zealand

Records continue to fall as fast as the snow in New Zealand, with Turoa on Mt Ruapehu yesterday recording the deepest snow base in the history of commercial skiing in the Shaky Isles. Turoa's snow stake at 2000m measured 455cm, and with yet another storm brewing for this weekend, an incredible 5m upper-mountain base is possible for spring.

More snow is also on the way locally today as this impressive winter continues, with the flakes to fall to low levels (around 900m) overnight, continuing through to early Saturday. The weekend should feature sunshine and light winds.


Climate awareness really goes awry! 'Too cold' for global warming torch relay

Who says that Mother Nature doesn't have a sense of humor? First we have an August 14 report from the Lithgow Mercury in Australia announcing a Climate Torch relay to draw attention to the importance of global warming:
The Olympic torch relay might not have made it to our part of the world but tomorrow Lithgow will share in another torch relay of global importance. And you are invited to take part.

An organisation called GetUp! has arranged a Climate Torch relay from Hassans Walls lookout to Queen Elizabeth Park as part of a nation-wide campaign to focus even more attention on the impact and urgency of global warming. A spokesman said that through GetUp! the community has an opportunity to show the nation's leaders how important the issue is to the man and woman in the street. "By taking part in this Australia wide campaign the people of Lithgow can show the rest of the country that we are prepared to stand up - and walk -for what we believe in," she said.

Anyone who can't make it to Hassans Walls for the start is welcome to join in anywhere along the route to the park.

The Climate Torch was designed by the same people who designed the Olympic Torch. "It is solar and wind powered, just in case the pollies need a hint, and people power will get it to its final destination in Canberra," she said.

Climate events coordinator Richie Merzien said Lithgow had been chosen to be part of the relay because of its unique environmental significance.

So how effective was this relay in stressing the importance of global warming? You can get an idea of how it turned out by reading the August 19 headline of the same Lithgow Mercury: "Too cold for global warming relay." Here is their report on actual relay field conditions as written by Len Ashworth:
Climate change may be THE hot international issue of the moment but enthusiasm for the cause clearly wanes on a freezing Friday afternoon when the campaign moves to a mountain top where the wind chill factor is below zero.

This was perhaps the predictably disappointing outcome when the GetUp! climate change lobby group organised an enviro torch relay from Hassans Walls Lookout to Queen Elizabeth Park to focus public attention on the issue.

Ironically, global warming would probably have been welcomed by the handful of hardy souls who turned up to lend their support to the campaign on one of the coldest Lithgow days of this or any other year.

It is unknown if Al Gore was one of those carrying the global warming relay torch in the freezing weather.


Old King Coal may be our saviour yet

Britain is not alone in finding it hard to come to grips with reconciling the need for energy to fuel economic growth with the emerging consensus that something must be done about global warming, while moving away from the dependence on oil. The Democratic-controlled Congress slunk out of Washington last week without even voting on the various policy proposals before it.

So be kind to your own politicians. Making energy policy is a tough job, made tougher by politicians' refusal to acknowledge facts. The most basic is that the promotion of nuclear, solar, wind and other forms will do nothing in the near or medium term to end reliance on oil to propel cars and lorries. For as far ahead as a planner should try to see, we will depend on oil to move ourselves and our products around the country.

You can't fill up at a wind machine or a nuclear plant - and won't be able to until the electric car becomes economic, and that is a long way off. Which means that one ingredient of energy policy is the ability to defend oil supply routes, a job that the world has so far largely out-sourced to America.

No good saying Britain has plenty of oil in the North Sea - which might prove to be the case if oil prices stay high enough to make development of smaller, more difficult-to-access fields profitable, and if the Government resists the siren call of windfall taxes.

Oil markets are international, and if the Iranians try to close the Straits of Hormuz, or the crazies take over Saudi Arabia, prices would reach levels that will have us pining for the good old days of $150 oil.

Which is why the Government's decision to go ahead with the construction of new aircraft carriers is a sensible form of energy policy, assuming it does not come out of an already stretched military budget.

The next reality check is to accept that nuclear power is far dearer than the Government is anticipating. The cost of a nuclear plant is now estimated to be significantly more than twice the figure put about by the industry only five years ago - and rising. Many nuclear advocates have been pinning their hopes for cost reductions on the next-generation nuclear plant being built in Finland by Areva, a French company that Gordon Brown has announced might be allowed a monopoly of nuclear plant construction.

The Finnish project is two years behind schedule and $1.5 billion-plus over budget. High construction costs mean that electricity from nuclear plants can be competitive with the output of fossil fuel plants only if the price of carbon emissions rises and if investors are somehow guaranteed that those prices will stay high for the 20- to 40-year life of the nuclear plants. No such guarantee is possible, given the volatility of carbon markets, so pay no heed to industry promises that it will not seek subsidies.

Most likely, owners of the massive amounts of capital required to build these facilities will insist that they be guaranteed above-market prices for their power, a covert subsidy that will be hidden on electricity bills.

Nuclear's need for subsidies is not unique. Wind and solar, currently receiving large inflows of investment capital, also remain heavily dependent on subsidies. As does ethanol, part of the programme that has contributed to soaring food prices by giving farmers an incentive to transfer acreage to growing fuel.

Which leaves only natural gas, an efficient fuel, but one on which western Europe is overly dependent, to Vladimir Putin's delight - and coal. The world has limitless supplies of coal, most located in nations friendly to the West. But coal is an abomination in the eyes of environmentalists because of its alleged contribution to global warming.

Nevertheless, it will be a key ingredient in the world's energy future: India and China between them have 700 plants planned or under construction; the Government has sensibly authorised a new plant in Kent; and European countries plan to build 50 new coal stations in the next five years.


Dark green barbarians

By Craig Emerson (Craig Emerson is the Minister for Small Business in Australia's Rudd Government)

When we look around the world and find that prosperity is rising strongly in some countries but not in others, seekers of the secret formula for success ask why. Lots of temporary causes come into play: oil discoveries, tourism fads such as safari experiences and even countries setting themselves up as tax havens. But these passing influences don't really tell us what overall government policy approaches will give a country its best chance of success in the prosperity stakes.

Since about 1990 a new body of economic thinking has attributed rising prosperity to the development and application of new ideas. These new growth theorists point out that if the history of the human race were represented by the length of a football field, then living standards were basically unchanged for the entire length of the field other than the last 5cm before the far goal line. But over that last few centimetres, living standards have increased astronomically.

This period of rapidly improving living standards began with the Enlightenment in Europe in the 18th century. New ideas were encouraged and a critical mass of thinkers and inventors was achieved. Enlightenment thinkers repudiated the mysticism and superstition of pre-Enlightenment Europe, advocating instead personal freedom, open, competitive markets and scientific endeavour.

David Hume, one of the Enlightenment figures, and a close friend of Adam Smith, summed up with his statement that a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. Isaac Newton understood the cumulative power of ideas when he said: "If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." James Watt's steam engine ushered in the Industrial Revolution and the rest, as they say, is history.

Deadly diseases were conquered and life expectancy increased. Yes it was a blood-stained 5cm, fouled by slavery, the exploitation of child labour, two world wars, state-sponsored mass starvation and genocide. Yet through the period living standards rose inexorably.

But now mysticism and superstition are making a comeback. Their revival began in the '80s with attacks on economic rationalism. Rational economic thinking was condemned in favour of economic irrationalism: ongoing protectionism, deficit financing by printing money, maintaining airlines and banks in public ownership and expanding the role of the state in the commercial world through clever devices such as WA Inc and the Tricontinental merchant bank.

By the '90s, economic irrationalists had declared competition as the new heresy, attacking the Keating government's National Competition Policy which is estimated to have increased household incomes by $3500 per annum. Twenty-first century mysticism and superstition is finding expression in the big environmental debates. Deep green extremists yearn for a return to a pre-industrial society, before the Enlightenment when faith and dogma prevailed over rational thinking and evidence-based science. In this gentle agrarian society (absent environmentally destructive hard-hoofed farm animals), human beings are tolerated, as long as they leave no carbon footprint. These deep-green crusaders have declared their opposition to coalmining even if emerging technologies were to reduce its emissions to zero, since coal is regarded as an ugly reminder of an industrial society.

Governments of Europe and the US have draped a green cloak of respectability over their farm-subsidising biofuels policies that divert massive amounts of food grain into the production of ethanol. In the name of saving the Earth from ecological disaster, these brutal policies have been responsible for an estimated 70 per cent of the sharp increases in world food prices over the past few years, plunging an extra 100 million people into poverty.

Recycling, we are told, is a good way to do our bit saving the environment. Anyone questioning the environmental benefits of recycling is branded a heretic. In some cities, up to 80 per cent of glass collected for recycling actually ends up in landfill because the cost of separating the different colours of glass is too high. But we feel good.

As director-general of the Queensland environment department in the early '90s I inquired into the life-cycle benefits of container deposit legislation. Glass bottles destined for reuse need to be many times the thickness of those that are melted down or disposed of in landfill. We discovered that by the time account was taken of the energy and water costs of collecting, transporting and washing the bottles, reuse of bottles was bad for the environment. We dared not release the results of the study for fear of being howled down as environmental vandals.

Recycling of some materials makes good environmental sense but of others it does not. Recycling proposals should be evaluated on the basis of good scientific evidence and not pursued simply because they make us feel good.

Consumer magazines such as Choice have begun to expose as greenwash the claims companies make about their products in an attempt to cash in on environmental ignorance. A bottle of air freshener is claimed to be biodegradable, but only the cardboard packet is. Products are promoted as being CFC-free, a true but irrelevant claim since all CFCs were banned in the late '90s. Some items are said to be made from renewable forest products, as if some species of trees are non-renewable.

Free-range chickens and organic fruit are good. But watch out for the next innovation: free-range fruit. Can you imagine the advertisement featuring dancing fruit trees all singing in harmony: "give me land, lots of land 'neath the starry skies above, don't fence me in." And remember, when you're told a product is 90 per cent fat-free, they're really telling you it's 10 per cent pure fat. The message is clear: irrationality sells and any questioning of spurious environmental claims is an act of heresy. It's time for an Australian Enlightenment, where once again reason and facts prevail over mysticism and ignorance.

Criticised for changing his mind on monetary policy during the Depression, John Maynard Keynes retorted: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

An Australian Enlightenment would demand the best available facts as a basis for public debate and public policy making. It would find no place for hired guns: any business consultancies that are willing to distort the facts to suit the requirements of their commercial clients and to promote them on the basis of the result of computer modelling. In computer modelling the enduring truth applies: garbage in, garbage out.

Self-serving consultants who change their assumptions to suit their clients do a great disservice to any endeavour to raise evidence-based policy over policy based on faith and superstition. One of the Enlightenment figures enthused that an army cannot defeat a good idea.

An Australian Enlightenment would restore ideas to the place they have occupied over the last 5cm of the football field: creating prosperity and raising living standards, including those of the most vulnerable in our society.



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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