Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mega-pesky! New paper finds wildfires in the western US are at the lowest levels in 3,000 years

A recent paper reconstructs wildfire activity in the western US over the past 3,000 years and finds current fire activity is at the lowest levels of the entire 3,000 year record. According to the authors,

"there is now a forest “fire deficit” in the western United States attributable to the combined effects of human activities, ecological, and climate changes. Large fires in the late 20th and 21st century fires have begun to address the fire deficit, but it is continuing to grow."
Long-term perspective on wildfires in the western USA

By Jennifer R. Marlona et al.


Understanding the causes and consequences of wildfires in forests of the western United States requires integrated information about fire, climate changes, and human activity on multiple temporal scales. We use sedimentary charcoal accumulation rates to construct long-term variations in fire during the past 3,000 y in the American West and compare this record to independent fire-history data from historical records and fire scars. There has been a slight decline in burning over the past 3,000 y, with the lowest levels attained during the 20th century and during the Little Ice Age (LIA, ca. 1400–1700 CE [Common Era]). Prominent peaks in forest fires occurred during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (ca. 950–1250 CE) and during the 1800s. Analysis of climate reconstructions beginning from 500 CE and population data show that temperature and drought predict changes in biomass burning up to the late 1800s CE. Since the late 1800s , human activities and the ecological effects of recent high fire activity caused a large, abrupt decline in burning similar to the LIA fire decline. Consequently, there is now a forest “fire deficit” in the western United States attributable to the combined effects of human activities, ecological, and climate changes. Large fires in the late 20th and 21st century fires have begun to address the fire deficit, but it is continuing to grow.


Pesky: Satellite study of Asian mountains show that glaciers are NOT melting - and some are actually gaining new ice

Haven't the stupid things heard about global warming? Or is a large slice of Asia not part of the globe?

Huge glaciers in the area between Pakistan and China are puzzling scientists - and disproving the doom-laden predictions of some climate experts. The glaciers in the Karakoram Range between northern Pakistan and western China have actually grown, rather than shrinking.

Unlike most mountain glaciers, the Karakoram glaciers, which account for 3 percent of the total ice-covered area in the world, excluding Greenland and Antarctica, are not shrinking.

A team of French glaciologists has recently confirmed that these glaciers on average have remained stable or may have even grown slightly in recent years.

The new study used data from satellites to study the Karakoram Range of northern Pakistan and western China.

The researchers found that the ice had actually increased in thickness by 0.11 (plus or minus 0.22) meters per year between 1999 and 2008.

Experts cautioned that the gain is so small that the glaciers might not actually be growing - but what is clear is that the glaciers are not shrinking, according to a report published in Nature Geoscience.

Etienne Berthier, a glaciologist at the Université de Toulouse in France says, 'Not all glacial regions are changing in the same way.'

A Nasa study earlier this year using the gravity-sensing GRACE satellites hinted that ice loss in the high Asian mountains might be far less drastic than earlier predictions.

Previous estimates of ice loss in the high Asia mountains have ranged up to 50 billion tons a year, according to the University of Colorado Boulder University's Professor John Wahr.

Previously, it had been claimed by the UN that Himalayan glaciers would have melted to a fifth of current levels by 2035, leading to sea level rises and drought.

Those predictions used ground-based measurements, whereas the new study measured the effect of gravity on twin Nasa satellites to give an accurate measure of the mass of ice being lost.

‘The results in this region really were a surprise,’ said Wahr.

‘One possible explanation is that previous estimates were based on measurements taken primarily from some of the lower, more accessible glaciers in Asia and were extrapolated to infer the behavior of higher glaciers.'

'But unlike the lower glaciers, many of the high glaciers would still be too cold to lose mass, even in the presence of atmospheric warming.’

Around the world, melting has been overestimated. Earth's glaciers and ice caps are shedding roughly 150 billion tons of ice annually - up to 30 per cent lower than predicted.

The researchers used satellite measurements taken with the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE,, to calculate that the world's glaciers and ice caps had lost about 148 billion tons, or about 39 cubic miles of ice annually from 2003 to 2010.

Traditional estimates of Earth's ice caps and glaciers have been made using ground-based measurements from relatively few glaciers to infer what all of the unmonitored glaciers around the world were doing, he said.

Only a few hundred of the roughly 200,000 glaciers worldwide have been monitored for a decade or more.

‘The strength of GRACE is that it sees everything in the system,’ said Wahr. ‘Even though we don't have the resolution to look at individual glaciers, GRACE has proven to be an exceptional tool.’

The total does not count the mass from individual glacier and ice caps on the fringes of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets -- roughly an additional 80 billion tons.

Launched in 2002, two GRACE satellites whip around Earth in tandem 16 times a day at an altitude of about 300 miles, sensing subtle variations in Earth's mass and gravitational pull.

Separated by roughly 135 miles, the satellites measure changes in Earth's gravity field caused by regional changes in the planet's mass, including ice sheets, oceans and water stored in the soil and in underground aquifers.

A positive change in gravity during a satellite approach over Greenland, for example, tugs the lead GRACE satellite away from the trailing satellite, speeding it up and increasing the distance between the two.

A sensitive ranging system allows researchers to measure the distance of the two satellites down to as small as 1 micron- about 1/100 the width of a human hair - and to calculate ice and water amounts from particular regions of interest around the globe using their gravity fields.

‘The total amount of ice lost to Earth's oceans from 2003 to 2010 would cover the entire United States in about 1 and one-half feet of water,’ said Wahr, also a fellow at the CU-headquartered Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

According to the GRACE data, total sea level rise from all land-based ice on Earth including Greenland and Antarctica was roughly 1.5 millimeters per year annually or about 12 millimeters, or one-half inch, from 2003 to 2010, said Wahr.


Ravaged Reefs Bounce Back

In a new study of coral reefs off the Pacific coast of Panama, a team of scientists has discovered something shocking: those seemingly thriving, permanent reefs have undergone widespread devastation in the past. Even more shocking was the realization that, despite this natural destruction of coral reefs, the reefs bounced back—after laying dormant for 2,500 years. We have been told that the oh so sensitive coral reefs of the world are all going to die if the world's temperature rises due to that horrible man-made scourge, global warming. Yet it seems that nature has been happily wiping out and re-establishing reefs across all the oceans of the world since before the rise of human civilization. Once again the warmists' scare tactics founder on the reefs of actual science.

A team led by Richard Aronson, Professor and Biological Sciences Department Head at Florida Institute of Technology, studied coral reefs off the Pacific coast of Panama. The reefs in this part of the ocean are relatively untouched by the bleaching seen in other ocean locations, thriving and home to hundreds of ocean species. Just as land based researchers use tree rings to establish cronology and climatic conditions, the FIT team took core samples from a number of reefs to determine their lifespan and past health.

“We jammed 17-foot-long irrigation pipes down into the reef and pulled out a history, a section of the reef, that told us what the ups and downs of the reef had been,” Aronson said in an interview heard on America's National Public Radio and other popular news outlets. The data they gathered, along with data from other studies from around the world, were reported in a paper in Science entitled “ENSO Drove 2500-Year Collapse of Eastern Pacific Coral Reefs.” Here is the paper's abstract:
Cores of coral reef frameworks along an upwelling gradient in Panamá show that reef ecosystems in the tropical eastern Pacific collapsed for 2500 years, representing as much as 40% of their history, beginning about 4000 years ago. The principal cause of this millennial-scale hiatus in reef growth was increased variability of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and its coupling with the Intertropical Convergence Zone. The hiatus was a Pacific-wide phenomenon with an underlying climatology similar to probable scenarios for the next century. Global climate change is probably driving eastern Pacific reefs toward another regional collapse.

Ignoring for the moment the gratuitous last sentence (an obvious allusion to anthropogenic global warming) we should pause for a moment and consider what this means. The first point of interest is that nature, acting without human interference, has caused long periods of reef damage, lasting for extended periods. Aronson and his colleagues, including researchers from an array of institutions, believe that natural climate change was responsible for killing off the coral. Yet nowadays any reef that shows signs of ill health is automatically a victim of human activity. Also note, this was not some small, localized disaster either.

The second point is that this phenomenon was global, or at least “Pacific-wide,” which is near global enough. This period came a thousand years after the Holocene Climate Optimum, a period of global warming that scientists think may have led to ice free summers in the Arctic—something that now fills eco-alarmists, Hollywood airheads and media news manikins with dread. Here is more proof that climate is always changing.

Third and lastly, the reefs that had been so laid to waste have bounced back to abundant, glorious life. The standard line from the green lobby is that when the world's fragile reefs die they will never (ever!) recover. Humanity's failed stewardship of nature will be written in dead coral reefs and lifeless oceans. I guess that has been proven conclusively wrong.

To be fair, most greens have extraordinarily short attention spans, witness the agitation they exhibit when temperatures turn hot or the weather nasty. Every summer high is the hottest temperature ever, every new hurricane is the most powerful humanity has seen, every outbreak of tornadoes unprecedented. This is because they have no sense of time, even on a decade to decade scale. Nature, not being limited by faulty human memories or even ephemeral human lifespans, continues to vary on time scales of decades, centuries, millennia and longer.

It is unsurprising that reefs have come and gone, with nature the proximate cause for the waxing and waning. Instead of running to their keyboards and microphones, the chattering simpletons of the news media would be better off to spend a few moments doing research. Now that everyone has Internet access there is no excuse for such uninformed reporting on maters scientific. Reefs die, reefs will continue to die, and reefs will bounce back as environmental conditions change.

Conceptual model of reef collapse.

But what of cries that AGW induced change, unlike “natural” change, is too sudden for nature to deal with? Or that recovery, if any, will be slow and laborious? “It seemed to be fairly instantaneous,” Aronson said of the gap his team discovered in the Panama reef's history. “About 2,000 years ago or so, some corals that are not the main reef-building corals started up, and then maybe 500 years later, around 1,500 years ago, the main coral started growing again very rapidly.” I guess nature didn't read all those news releases from Greenpeace and the IPCC.

Do human activities have an impact on the world's reefs? Undoubtedly. But it is not an irreversible, unprecedented or even abnormal impact in most cases. So despite the obligatory verbal genuflecting by study's authors, paying obeisance to the gods of Political Correctness, there is precocious little difference between natural and man-made change—in either its form or impact. So remember the next time some ecological blatherskite starts going on about the death of the ocean reefs—the reefs, like Earth itself, are more resilient than we know.


Big surprise: Higher levels of CO2 are causing speedier tree growth (even if they are not warming anything)

CO2 is the basic plant food

As the scientific community worries about greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming, a new Auburn University study suggests the Southeastern U.S. absorbs more carbon than it produces. And, at least in the short term, air pollution may actually be helping to speed the growth of young, carbon-absorbing forests in the region.

“Our study actually showed that Southeast carbon uptake is much faster than other regions,” said Hanqin Tian, a professor at Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, and lead author of the study published in the journal Ecosystems. “This area has trees that are very young and the growth is very fast. So, they uptake more carbon from the atmosphere.”

While earlier studies have examined the effect of individual factors on carbon storage and climate change, Tian developed a computer model that takes into account multiple natural and manmade variables – such as land use, climate and pollution – over the past century.

The model suggests that moderate amounts of air pollution, in the form of carbon and nitrogen, had a fertilization effect on young forests. Many of these new trees appeared on abandoned agricultural land during the mid-20th century.

“In the short term, it could increase the carbon uptake,” Tian said. “But that’s not guaranteed for long.”

The Auburn study suggests the Southeast is approaching a “tipping point.” The region’s urban areas are growing. And, despite the temporary fertilization effects of atmospheric carbon and nitrogen, Tian said increasing levels of other pollutants, such as ground level ozone, threaten to do more harm than good to the environment in the long-term.

“The take-home message is we really need to do urban/land use planning and also air pollution control to help the Southern U.S. forests to become maybe a sustainable carbon sink,” Tian said.


Heat Wave Is No Reason For Alarm

Baby, it's hot outside. If it wasn't for the refreshing cold front pushing through parts of the U.S. right now, one might be tempted to think there is something to all that global warming nonsense that conveniently breaks out every time it is warm enough for a climate change alarmist to break out in a sweat.

To be fair, climate change is real. It occurs four times a year when winter turns into spring turns into summer turns into fall. Alarmists don't see it that way, so they squawk "The sky is falling" every time conditions vary outside their interpretation of what they think is normal.

If there was ever a case to be made for global warming, it would have been in 1936 - back in the days when no one worried about how cow flatulence or greenhouse gas affected the atmosphere.

Unlike anything we've experience since; the three-month long 1936 North American heat wave wiped out crops and snuffed out lives during the Great Depression's "Dust Bowl" days. The heat wave that began in June largely ended in September, leaving in its wake over 5000 deaths, drought, and widespread destruction. Even as hot as it's been, many of the record-high temperatures experienced then are unmatched today.

To make matters worse, the 1936 heat wave was preceded by one of the most severe cold waves of the 1930s. The 1936 North American cold wave included recorded wind chills of minus-100 degrees Fahrenheit in the Midwest, ending with March floods. People concentrated on how to put the next meal on the table rather than obsessing over things like air temperature fluctuations.

It's good they didn't obsess, because temperatures returned to normal that fall, just like the cold front making its way across the country is doing today as I write.

The planet spins, the seasons change, temperatures fluctuate - and mere mortals are foolish enough to think they can control the forces of nature on a global scale and believe they can turn back the tides by the sound of their voice. Four years ago, then-Senator Barack Obama proclaimed his policies would lead to future generations acclaiming "this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal," attributing zero credit to the planet's creator in whom Obama professes to believe.

It's funny how nature has a way of rebounding all by itself. The BP Gulf Oil Spill illustrates this "God Factor" in contradiction to everything alarmists believe. A most informative January 10, 2011 Time Magazine article, "After the Great Spill: How the Gulf Cleaned Itself" explains how it did just that when "microscopic bacteria" digested "much of the hydrocarbons while they were still deep under the surface." Texas A&M University chemical oceanographer John Kessler said the spill "helped us understand the capacity of a natural system to handle this kind of event by itself." Wow.

Kessler's study also found formally "significant amounts of methane" scientists thought might impact global warming and assumed "would be around for years" had "largely disappeared" when "methanotrophs (bacteria that feed off methane)" mopped up most of the mess.

Reasonable stewardship of the planet is a non-partisan no-brainer, but there is a line to be drawn at the point where choices inflict indelible injury on mankind -- making man subservient to the very things created to serve him.

According to The New Yorker, Obama has said "the most important policy he could address in his second term is climate change." Unemployment numbers are abysmal, and the economy is in tatters, so the Alarmist-In-Chief elevates his pay grade to do something a little more vexing like healing the planet. Amazing.


Energy Wars Hurt the Poor!

Summer is coming and everyone expects to pay a little more to keep the temperature in the house bearable. But do you expect to pay eight times as much as you have in previous years? Unfortunately, that is exactly what will happen to consumers in some parts of the country unless Congress stands up to the insane regulations on coal put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

During the last few years there have been hundreds of families in my denomination who have had trouble keeping basic utility bills paid. In warmer cities, the impoverished elderly routinely run the risk of heat strokes and occasional deaths in the summer. Why would the EPA enact policies that would cause many Americans, already affected by the recession, to go nearly bankrupt paying their utility bills? These problems are avoidable. Poor energy policies affect the poor disproportionately.

Nearly everyone agrees that the environment is important, but most of us also agree that it is not more important than the human beings that live in it. Taking care of your house is important, but you would not stop buying food for your children so that you could replace your windows. When looking at measures to protect our air, water and other natural resources, we must weigh the cost of those measures against the benefits we can realistically expect.

The EPA’s new Utility MACT rule is supposed to protect us from mercury emissions, and the agency readily admits it is the most expensive regulation in the EPA’s history. Let us start by looking at the projected costs and benefits. The EPA estimates the new regulations will cost $10 billion a year, and they estimate the total benefits of mercury emissions that would supposedly be reduced by compliance with the regulation to be between $500,000 and $6 million. (Other touted benefits come from reducing particulate matter emissions that are already regulated separately.)

So the EPA is already telling us that it makes sense to pay tens of billions of dollars to save hundreds of thousands of dollars. But it’s even worse than that. The estimated cost of the regulation is almost certainly an understatement. (For example, a study released last year found that the cost of a particular 1998 regulation known as the Cluster Rule was 34% higher than the EPA’s original estimates.) And the estimated benefits may be even smaller: mercury emissions circulate globally, and according to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, U.S. power plants emit less than 48 tons of mercury per year, compared to 400 tons per year from Chinese power plants (and if you want to include Mother Nature in the mix, we can also mention the 9,000 tons per year that come from volcanoes, subsea vents and other natural sources).

Although the Utility MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) rule is not set to take effect until 2015, we have already observed several negative developments in response to these new regulations. First of all, power companies confirm that the Utility MACT makes it impossible for new coal plants to be built in the United States. Current coal plants are facing closures and are already generating less power, which means higher energy costs for everyone and thousands of lost jobs. The National Economic Research Associates estimate that the EPA’s Utility MACT will cost 180,000 to 215,000 jobs over the next two and half years. Including manufacturing jobs affected by coal regulations, job losses could top 1.4 million! Although the EPA touts a few hundred jobs created by this rule, most of those jobs would be temporary manufacturing jobs, and the total number would not come close to compensating for jobs lost. In an already struggling economy, the regulation seems almost suicidal.

As I have written for years, hikes in energy prices disproportionately hurt the poor and working class. It may irritate the wealthy to pay extra to keep their summer homes cool and their winter homes warm, but it will devastate those who already pay between 20%-35% of the income just to keep the lights on. The EPA’s latest assault on coal-fired power plants and coal-fueled manufacturing merely illustrates that they are happy to force poor Americans into a Stone Age lifestyle for the possibility of a miniscule improvement in air quality. The only thing standing between us and this astronomical spike in energy costs is our legislators.

We can have both clean air AND affordable energy, but only if the EPA is willing to face the realities about the limits and costs of regulations. It’s time that we call a truce in the energy war on the poor!



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


No comments: