Saturday, August 08, 2009

What Caused the PETM (Paleocene-Eocene Temperature Maximum)

One of the striking features of the thermal history of the earth is the unusually rapid and strong warming about 55 million years ago, termed the PETM. It was recently again discussed in a paper by Zebee et al in Nature Geoscience online: 13 July 2009. The paper brought great joy and jubilation to both climate skeptics and climate alarmists.

Skeptics latched on to the authors' statement that GH models could not explain the rapid temperature rise in relation to the observed rise of CO2. Alarmists, on the other hand, warned that such rapid and strong temperature excursions might even be possible today unless we restrain CO2 emissions.

Of course, it is difficult to be certain about the direction of cause-effect from a correlation of temperature and CO2, since the data lack adequate time resolution. It might therefore be appropriate to develop a different hypothesis, which happens to make use of two papers I already published (in 1971 and 1988).

Many authors seem to accept that the cause of the temperature rise was the rapid release of methane trapped in clathrates in ocean sediments, which then was oxidized to CO2. The problem with this simple idea is there may not be sufficient oxygen, particularly in the deep ocean, to accomplish this chemical transformation. This will be particularly true if large bursts of methane are released in bubbles that travel rapidly to the sea surface.

Once in the atmosphere, methane released in these large quantities could survive for a long time, simply by depleting the available hydroxyl (OH) radicals, which exist only in minute concentrations in the steady state. As a consequence, not only would this methane exert a strong GH effect, but large amounts of methane could percolate into the stratosphere, and there be photolyzed by solar ultraviolet radiation to eventually form both water vapor and CO2, and contribute to destruction of ozone ("Stratospheric Water Vapour Increase Due to Human Activities." Nature 233:543-547. 1971).

These large amounts of water vapor released into the normally dry stratosphere can lead to important consequences, including the formation of cirrus clouds (consisting of ice particles) in the vicinity of the cold tropopause. Tabulated physical measurements give us the 'complex refractive index' of water and ice. Therefore, a direct calculation based on Mie theory can provide the optical properties of the cirrus cloud cover ("Re-Analysis of the Nuclear Winter Phenomenon." Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics 38:228-239. 1988).

If the cloud cover is very thick, it could exhibit an appreciable optical albedo. But my analysis shows that as the cloud thins, it retains a large infrared opacity, sufficient to cut off any thermal radiation from the earth's surface in the IR window of the atmosphere (8-12 microns). Such a GH effect is quite powerful for warming the global climate; it depends, of course, also on the areal coverage of the cirrus cloud. It might be strong enough to enhance the warming of the earth and therefore accelerate a further release of methane from the ocean, a kind of positive feedback that could explain the observed large temperature increase.

But so far all of this is simply hypothesis and speculation. Some obvious questions remain: . How to test this hypothesis? One would expect to find some evidence concerning anoxic effects in the ocean, including a die-off of marine organisms. The CO2 increase observed could partly be caused by a degassing of a warming ocean....

And could such an effect happen now? Not likely. We have to remember that temperatures near the P-E boundary had been unusually high for long periods of time. In fact, the earth was completely ice-free, including also the polar regions. This is quite different from the present situation. Further, nothing of the sort has happened during the much warmer (compared to today) Holocene Temperature Optimum, 8000-5000 years ago

SEPP Science Editorial #24-2009 (8/8/09)

Global cooling! Ice choking the "open" Northwest Passage even in midsummer

But top U.S. institute still prophesies 'extreme' melting

Despite predictions from a top U.S. polar institute that the Arctic Ocean's overall ice cover is headed for another "extreme" meltdown by mid-September, the Environment Canada agency monitoring our northern waters says an unusual combination of factors is making navigation more difficult in the Northwest Passage this year after two straight summers of virtually clear sailing.

In both the wider, deep-water northern corridor and the narrower, shallower southern branches of the passage, the Canadian Ice Service says pockets of more extensive winter freezing and concentrations of thicker, older ice at several key "choke points" are complicating ship travel.

The fabled trans-Arctic sea route, zealously sought by European explorers in centuries past as a shortcut to Asia, is increasingly seen in today's era of rapidly retreating sea ice as a potential highway to resources and Arctic tourist destinations.

A record number of vessels passed through Canada's Arctic islands last year, and experts have been predicting a steady rise in ship traffic in both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route, which connects Europe to eastern Asia along Russia's Arctic coast.

In the central part of the passage where the northern and southern routes merge amid narrowings around Prince of Wales Island, the CIS has observed "greater than normal concentrations of thicker, multi-year ice. This is the result of an increased flow of older ice from the Beaufort Sea into the Canadian Arctic archipelago last year."

The result, the agency said, is that ice conditions "are delaying any potential navigability of the Northwest Passage this year. This is opposite to what Environment Canada observed in the last week of July in 2007 and 2008."

While Canada's trans-Arctic sea route remains clogged with ice, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center is predicting another near-record meltdown by the end of this year's summer thaw. Scientists believe the retreat is being driven by several factors, including rising global temperatures associated with human-induced climate change, and the associated breakup and loss of thicker, multi-year year ice that is being replaced only seasonally by a thin layer of winter ice that disappears quickly each summer.


All Politics Is Local

Senate Democratic leaders said this week that delaying votes on health care legislation until the fall will not derail the global warming express. Sure. Seriously, the question is whether health care will dominate town meetings during the August congressional recess or voters will still be angry about passage of Waxman-Markey. If enough voters still want to give their Senators an earful about cap-and-trade, then my guess is that it will have no momentum in the fall and the leadership will have a hard time rounding up sixty votes for anything related to energy rationing.

A video posted on You Tube of a town meeting that Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.) held over the Fourth of July recess is instructive in this regard. Castle was one of the eight Republicans who voted yes on final passage of the Waxman-Markey bill.

A recent whining fundraising appeal from Fred Krupp of Environmental Defense Fund confirms that the House was flooded with calls and e-mails opposing Waxman-Markey: “For some House offices, their calls overwhelmed the switchboard.” Krupp blames it on an organized conspiracy led by Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and “financed with hundreds of millions of dollars from big polluters.”

Too bad he doesn’t mention who those big polluters are. As far as I can tell, many of the biggest companies in the U.S. support cap-and-trade and a couple dozen of them belong to the U. S. Climate Action Partnership. EDF is a member of USCAP and works as a front group for big companies that hope to get rich off the backs of American consumers from the higher energy prices required by cap-and-trade. Hundreds of millions has a nice ring, but does anyone actually believe that the opponents of cap-and-trade have even a tenth of the funding of its supporters?

So here’s hoping that Senators back home in August are going to hear from lots of constituents about Waxman-Markey and what energy rationing will do to them.


British Government Pays Lobbyists to Lobby It on Climate Change

More proof that government does things better! In traditional “astroturfing,” a company would pay a PR firm to set up a fake grassroots organization aimed at promoting or fending off legislation that would affect the company. Her Majesty’s Government in the UK, however, has decided to take this a step further and fund groups that lobby it, thereby creating a groundswell of public opinion in favor of its legislation. According to a new report by the Taxpayers Alliance, it is doing this, on the issue of global warming alone, to the tune of $12 million a year*. As Matt Sinclair says:
With the government funding political campaigns as well, the voice of the public is diluted still further. Popular pressure is crowded out by well-funded professional campaigns, but those campaigns don’t even represent an actual economic interest. Instead, those campaigns represent the views of politicians and officials and allow them to push their ideological preoccupations to prominence in the public discourse. Green campaigns like the Sustainable Development Commission and the New Economics Foundation loom large in the public debate and make it easier for politicians to justify – to themselves, the media and the public – ever more draconian attempts to force cuts in emissions.

It is important that Americans understand how disconnected policy in Britain is from the preferences and priorities of the public. British politicians like to strut around on the world stage boasting about the radical action that the country is taking, for example, how we lead the world in setting carbon reduction targets. They hope that the U.S. won’t want to let the side down and can be pressured into embracing similar policies to ours. The European example might not quite have the same appeal if Americans understood that Britain is putting in place green policies not because of popular pressure but in order to satisfy a government-funded lobby. Ordinary people pay the price in the form of higher electricity bills, prices at the pump and fares for their airline tickets.

Political contempt for taxpayers and the electorate is running at record levels on both sides of the Atlantic, it seems.

*Note that this figure is above what the “well-funded” anti-alarmism groups probably spend in total on the issue even in the US, and probably globally.


Australia: High density housing hard on the poor

Greenies push for high density housing as an answer to the "sprawl" that they hate

HIGH-density housing may be the answer to Sydney's suburban sprawl, but it is increasingly forcing low-income families into unsuitable apartment blocks characterised by poor management and clashes over limited open space, research shows.

An academic survey of flat-dwellers [apartment-dwellers] in Sydney challenges the common assumption that apartments are predominantly the domain of ''yuppie'' couples and singles who choose to live there. It found that the largest single category of flat-dwellers consisted of low-income households, mostly with young children, living in units in the outer suburbs. Nearly half of this group are not living there by choice, but because of constraints such as the prohibitive cost of renting a house or the need to live close to work or childcare.

About 50 per cent of the 1597 people who took part in the survey said they would rather live in a house, while 30 per cent said that apartment living did not suit their lifestyles. This equates to 190,000 households across Sydney if the results are extrapolated.

The study raises questions about the State Government's plan to accommodate the city's population growth through urban consolidation, under which 45 per cent of Sydney's housing would be high density by 2031. The co-author of the study, Dr Bill Randolph, of the University of NSW, said: ''What we found was that the largest single category of flat-dwellers were families at the bottom of the rental market who were living in housing that is often not suited to their needs because they have no alternative. ''There could be serious long-term social consequences if we continue to pursue to plan for and build high-density housing that is based on the idea that it's only small households … who live in apartments. ''If urban consolidation is going to work it will have to be adapted to take into consideration the residential desires of the population, not just young urban professionals.''

The study, presented at the Australasian Housing Researchers' Conference in Sydney this week, found that maintenance and open space were the greatest sources of dissatisfaction. About 45 per cent were dissatisfied with the management of their block, while half said there was not enough shared open space.

''The number of apartment developments going up … which actually envisage an average-sized family is very small,'' said the director of Pro-family Perspectives, Angela Conway.. ''With everything we know about childhood obesity … we should be increasing the access children have to open space, not diminishing it. Apartment developments may be more environmentally sustainable, but they also need to be socially sustainable.''

The density of development in the city has increased greatly since strata title legislation was passed in the 1970s enabling individual apartments to be sold. The pace of urban consolidation quickened with the introduction of the Sydney Metropolitan Strategy in 2005.


Conservationists angry at wolf cull

No pity for the defenceless sheep, apparently

THE Swiss authorities have defended granting permission for the hunting of three wolves that have killed dozens of sheep after fierce criticism from environmentalists. Reinhard Schnidrig, head of hunting, wild animals and forest biodiversity at the Federal Environment Authority, said the Swiss rule was that a wolf could be hunted if it killed 25 farm animals within a month or 35 within a season. "The wolf is an internationally strongly protected animal. We must find a way to guarantee this protection while minimising the damage to farm animals," he said.

Wolves were wiped out in most of northwestern Europe a century ago, although small populations survived in Spain and Italy. Now protected, they have been returning to countries including Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Mr Schnidrig said individual male wolves had moved over the border from France and Italy in the past decade and estimated there were now at least 11 wolves living in Switzerland and possibly another six. The animals reached the north side of the Alps three years ago and formed their first pack two years ago.

With quarter of a million sheep in the pastures of the Swiss Alps each summer, Mr Schnidrig said it was critical to improve flock protection so that wolves hunted wild animals instead.

The Swiss canton of Lucerne said it had granted permission for a wolf to be hunted after it killed another three sheep. Hunters have until September 19 to kill the wolf, but it can only be shot in the area in which it attacked the sheep.

The Pro Natura environmental group said the granting of permits to kill three wolves this week made a mockery of the government's attempt to protect the animals. "It legitimises the killing of almost half the proven wolves in Switzerland," it said in a statement. "Switzerland must take care or else the wolf will become extinct for a second time."



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1 comment:

John A said...

"About 50 per cent of the 1597 people who took part in the survey said they would rather live in a house, while 30 per cent said that apartment living did not suit their lifestyles.

OK, I am in the US, not Oz.

But consider: I cannot get approval for a mortgage that would cost over $600/month (note: what I actually want would probably mortgage at roughly $400/month). Yet my landlord, seeing my same income figures, has no problem renting to me for $950/month (and after two years knows I can pay it).

Yes, I would have to pay heating and water, currently included in the rent. I suspect that would run less than $130/month in winter, even less than that spring-summer-fall. Property tax? On what I want, maybe $90/month. So, over $100-300/month maintenance to make the difference? Seems a lot, but maybe.