Saturday, February 28, 2015

Let's Rename Geoengineering Something Like "Climate Improvement"


A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the move to change the name of global warming to something like "pollution death" in an attempt to make it sound scarier. Now some scientists are suggesting changing the name of geoengineering to something less scary.

The concern is that the word geoengineering is frightening  and confusing, and also gives the wrong impression about what exactly what us planetary geoengineers are considering doing. The problem, some say, is that the term "geo" refers to the earth rather than just to climate, and the word engineering conjures up images of an engineer designing a bridge or a man operating a train---something that is much simpler than the complex global climate system. Professor Raymond Pierrehumbert recently wrote:

“Engineering is something you do to a system you understand very well, where you can try out new techniques thoroughly at a small scale before staking peoples’ lives on them.....Hacking the climate is different—we have only one planet to live on, and can’t afford any big mistakes.”

Personally, I like the term geoengineering----most geoengineering ideas involve modifying or augmenting some natural earth process in the ocean, land, biosphere or atmosphere, and so clearly involve the earth. Other geoengineering concepts involve storing CO
2 in some natural repository in the Earth. For instance, my own CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown geoengineering proposal would store the CO2 in the cryosphere. The term "geo" therefore perfectly fits the actual nature of geoengineering. And as far as the term engineering----one definition of engineering is the scientific manipulation of large systems.  Its exactly right.

Still, if we are going to stop using the term "geoengineering" lets be smart about the term we replace it with.  Some scientists who want the term "geoengineering" to be abandoned have suggesting replacing it with “climate intervention.” However the term "climate intervention" is even more misleading, in my opinion. "Climate Intervention" sounds like our good friend Mr. Climate has had too much to drink again and is falling down the stairs so we are going to do a "climate intervention" and put Mr. Climate in a cab and take him to a detox clinic.

If we are going to replace geoengineering with something less scary, then we can find a phrase that's better than "climate intervention".  We want a term that describes the process of manipulating Earth's climate in a way that sounds harmless and helpful and friendly and inviting.  We want a term that nobody can say they are against.  And I've thought of the perfect term----lets replace geoengineering with the term "climate improvement."

How could anyone be against climate improvement*?

*pssst---just don't tell anyone that it actually means "geoengineering".

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Good Reason to Drop Everything and go Snorkeling in Australia

                                                                      You'll be sorry when it's gone....
Go right now.  

Go to your closet, find your snorkeling gear, dust it off, pack it up with a sunhat, your swimsuit and  flip flops, buy a plane ticket, fly to the western Pacific and settle into a bungalow by a tropical beach.  Then wake up, get on your swimsuit, walk out to the beach,  put on your snorkeling gear and flippers, and slip into the water.   Swim out a bit, stop, spit in your mask and poke it around with your finger until the glass is clear, put the mask back on and adjust it so fits well, and then swim out farther.  When you get to the reef, put your head down and dive down to look at the coral and the fish.  See how many colors you can find---red, yellow, orange, purple, mauve, blue.  Then find even more colors.

Go right now or it might be too late.

Go to Hawaii and Palau and Australia and Tahiti and New Guinea and the Phillipines.  Go to the Coral Sea Islands.  Go to the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Go to the Red Sea.  Go to Aruba, Bonaire, Antigua and the Cayman Islands.  Go to the Line Islands, Belize, New Caledonia, Andros and Nassau.  Go to the Zhongshan Island, the Great Chagos Bank, Saya Del Malha and the Reed Bank.   Go now. 

A global coral bleaching event is going on right now
. The world reached a record warm temperature in 2014, and the oceans are now so warm that corals can't take it. The corals are stressed, vast areas of corals are bleaching and losing their colors, and some corals will die. Small, local coral bleaching events happen every few years, but this coral bleaching event will be global. It will be the worst coral bleaching event in 20 years.

Bleaching started months ago on reefs in the Northern Marianas Islands, Guam, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Hawaii, Kiribati and Florida. Right now bleaching is going on in the Southern Pacific Ocean, including on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

What are you waiting for?  
We're in the middle of a massive global coral bleaching event, and even stronger bleaching events are likely to occur in future years as global warming intensifies---doesn't it make you want to put on your snorkeling gear and paddle out to a coral reef to see the incredible colors of the corals and the fish right now?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

As I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air

                                                        ......Are melted into air, into thin air

In Shakespeare's play "The Tempest" Prospero brings the play to a conclusion by saying:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air

The bad actor in global warming is CO2 coming from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.  Altogether, it is estimated that humans have put about 350 gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began.  And this CO2 has indeed melted into air, into thin air, as its' build-up in the atmosphere is literally invisible.   

The global warming theory predicts that the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere will increase the greenhouse effect, trapping more solar energy and producing a gradual warming of the Earth.  Up until now scientists have had to point at the temperature record to prove that the greenhouse effect was growing stronger---there was no way to directly measure changes in the greenhouse effect.  But now, for the first time, scientists have now directly measured the magnitude of the Greenhouse Effect caused by CO2 buildup in the atmosphere.

Using incredibly sensitive instruments located in Alaska and in Oklahoma, atmospheric scientists measured the amount of extra heat being trapped in the atmosphere due to the build-up of CO2.  Their measurements indicate that an additional 0.2 Watts per square meter in infrared energy is being released by the excess CO2---about  10% more heat then would be trapped and emitted if CO2 concentrations were still at natural levels.  The data also clearly shows that this number is increasing each year as the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to rise. 

So the debate over the effect of atmospheric CO2 on the Earth's greenhouse effect is now resolved.  The scientific data now clearly shows that increased CO2 in the atmosphere is causing an increase in the greenhouse effect.  This brings to mind more words from William Shakespeare, who wrote:  

                   Be sure of it; give me the ocular proof

When it comes to the greenhouse effect and global warming, we now have ocular proof.  Even better, we've got the numbers to prove it.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Alaskan Forest Fires Cause Global Cooling

                                                   NASA Satellite image of smoke from forest fires 
                                                                covering central Alaska, July 2005

A new study published in Nature Geoscience suggests that huge forest fires in the Boreal Forests of Alaska, Canada and Siberia are causing global cooling.  The basic idea is that after forest fires consume blocks of the Boreal Forest, they leave behind a land surface with a higher albedo, which cools the planet.   In winter the burned over land is covered with snow (albedo = 0.9) and in summer the trees are replaced with bare ground, wildflowers, and shrubs (albedo = 0.6).  In contrast, Boreal forest has an albedo of ca. 0.08-0.12, so that areas of burned over forests reflect 6 to 9 times more sunlight then a standing Boreal Forest.  The smoke from forest fires also blocks some sunlight, and locally cools the ground.

The exact amount of global cooling caused by forest fires probably isn't very large, as even the largest forest fires in Alaska burn much less than 0.01% of the standing Boreal Forest, and forests become re-established in even the largest burned areas after a few decades.

These forest fires are an interesting example of the side effects of Global Warming.  Temperatures in Alaska, Canada, Siberia and other high latitude areas are increasing much more rapidly then average global temperatures.  Warmer air temperatures in Alaska are drying out the soil and making the forests more susceptible to forest fires.

The link between Global Warming and forest fires suggests that huge fires will become more common as global temperatures continue to rise.  This is obviously bad news for the forests,  but Alaskans don't like it either.   Up until the late 1990s, it was rare for forest fires to cover the entire state with smoke.  But since then, huge forest fires have become a regular and unwanted feature of summers in Alaska, and heavy smoke is often present for weeks over large parts of the state during June, July and August.

                                  Large Forest Fires Have Become Common During the Summer in Alaska

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why Simple Minds Run Hot: Debunking the Climate Change Debunkers

                                                How to Model Global Climate Change on your 1991 PC Junior

A recent scientific paper published in the peer-reviewed Chinese "Science Journal" purports to debunk the theory of Global Climate Change.   This paper, entitled "Why models run hot: results from an irreducibly simple climate modelwas authored by four well known opponents of the idea that the Earth is undergoing global warming in response to CO2 buildup in the atmosphere.  

While I applaud the thread of independent thinking that these four exhibit in going against the vast majority of scientists on the global warming question, unfortunately their paper reveals that these four scientists have a very poor understanding of the climate system of the earth.

The "irreducibly simple" climate model they rely upon is nothing new---it is what is commonly known as a "black box" model and similar models have been used for decades in Freshman Physics and Meteorology courses at universities. There are even dozens of PC and video games that incorporate the same kind of simple model.   The first computer game with a black box model of climate was called "Sim Earth" --- it came out in 1990.  It ran on a PC Junior and the original Macintosh, and it produced the same kind of results that these authors are relying upon.

I don't know if the four authors actually based their simple model on the 35 year old Sim Earth video game or not, but its basically the same model.  Black box models assume that earth is a big black box filled with air, that solar heating of the atmosphere is constant, and that as more CO
2 accumulates in the earth's atmosphere the atmospheric temperature rises in response to the Greenhouse Effect. So far so good. They then calculate a "sensitivity factor" showing how much the Earth's temperature rises in response to given increments in atmospheric CO2 ---- and thats where they go wildly wrong.

The authors conclusions can only make sense if the Earth actually did consist of nothing but some atmosphere gases in a planet-sized black box. But of course the earth also has oceans and ice sheets, and these huge features have much different "sensitivity factors" to solar heating then the atmosphere does.

Anyone who has ever visited the seashore has experienced this for themselves.  When the sun comes up and the beach gets hot, you cool off by swimming in the ocean and catching the cool sea-breeze.  And people who have gone hiking in the mountains know that even on hot sunny days snowfields and glaciers remain icy cold.  

Oceans and glaciers don't warm up in response to solar energy as rapidly as the atmosphere does.  The earth's temperature is being buffered by its oceans and glaciers.  Study after scientific study have shown that Greenhouse Warming is not only warming the atmosphere, it is also heating up the oceans and melting glaciers and ice sheets all over the earth, and the atmosphere, hydrosphere and cryosphere are interacting together in complex ways in response to global warming.    It may be difficult for some simple minds to grasp, but the complexity of the earth's climate system cannot be successfully modeled with an "irreducibly simple climate model"  that is a dead ringer for an old video game that ran on a 1991 8-bit PC junior.

The authors of the paper Why models run hot: results from an irreducibly simple climate model

Christopher Monckton1, Willie W.-H. Soon2, David R. Legates3, William M. Briggs4
1. Science and Public Policy Institute, Haymarket, VA 20169, USA;
2. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA;
3. Department of Geography, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716, USA;
4. New York, NY 10021, USA

Monday, February 23, 2015

New Methane Gas Explosion Craters Found in Siberia

                                             Now Methane Explosion Craters are Forming in Siberia

Last summer Russian scientists reported discovering several large craters that had been recently blasted out of the Siberian permafrost.  The craters had steep sides and were surrounded by rings of sediment that had  been ejected from the permafrost.   Russian scientists who visited the craters reported that there was no sign of any kind of volcanic activity.  They did find elevated levels of methane gas (CH4) in the craters, and proposed that the craters formed by the eruption of huge amounts of methane.  They suggested that frozen methane hydrates buried below the permafrost had been destabilized by warming temperatures, and suddenly released large amounts of methane that blasted its way to the surface.

Now Russian scientists are reporting the discovery of four more methane explosion craters  on the Yamal Peninsula in northern Siberia.   Like the previously identified craters, the four new ones are fresh-appearing and unvegetated (see above) and probably formed at most a few months before being located.    The Russians suggest there may now be many methane explosion craters like these being blasted out through permafrost in other parts of Siberia.

Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said  

"there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know. And..... it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones."

Scientists studying global warming know exactly how CO2 contributes to the Greenhouse effect in the Earth's atmosphere --- it is a known known.  And we know that we don't know exactly how future global warming will affect the earth.  Yes, temperatures will go up, but the precise effects on things like the monsoons, droughts, cloud cover, seasonality cannot be precisely determined---these are known unknowns.

But the sudden occurrence of methane explosion craters from permafrost constitutes an unknown unknown in studies of Global Warming.   This phenomena has never been seen before by any permafrost scientist and never reported by any native or inhabitant of the Arctic.  These methane explosions were not predicted by global warming models.  We don't know what is triggering these explosions  and we don't know how much methane is being vented to the atmosphere by these explosions and we don't know if these explosions will become increasingly common in Siberia as global warming continues to heat up the Arctic.  We don't know if methane explosion craters will eventually start to form in Alaska, northern Greenland, and other permafrost areas.  We don't know.

These methane explosion craters are a previously unforeseen side effect of Global Warming.   As Gomer Pyle was fond of saying...."surprise surprise."


Thursday, February 19, 2015

20 Reasons why Geoengineering is a Good Idea

In 2008 Prof. Alan Robock of Rutgers published a paper in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists entitled "20 Reasons why Geoengineering may be a bad idea."    Prof. Robock's article is mostly a criticism of the well known atmospheric sulphuric acid aerosol geoengineering proposal, but he manages to tar all geoengineering proposals with the same brush.  

I've listed each of Prof. Robock's 20 points below, and then evaluated the CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown (CAP) geoengineering proposal that I am advocating in light of Prof. Robock's concerns.  

1.   Effects on regional climate

Prof. Robock raises the concern that loading the atmosphere with aerosols will cause droughts and other damaging local climate effects.  However, the CAP proposal does not involve loading the atmosphere with aerosols.  The main effect of the CAP concept will be to reduce GLOBAL CO2 levels, counteracting  Global Warming on a planet-wide basis.

2.  Continued Ocean acidification

The CAP proposal would REDUCE ocean acidification by reducing CO2 in the atmosphere.  

3.  Ozone depletion

Prof. Robock is concerned that geoengineering proposal that call for loading the upper atmosphere with sulfuric acid will cause ozone depletion.  However, the CAP proposal would have no effect on the ozone.  

4.  Effects on plants

The CAP proposal would have no direct effect on plants.  Removal of CO2 from the atmosphere would tend  to reduce the effects of extra CO2 on plant growth.

5.  More acid deposition

The CAP proposal does NOT involve putting acid into the atmosphere and would not entail more acid deposition

6.  Effects on cirrus clouds

The CAP proposal has no effect on cirrus clouds.

7.  Whitening of the skies

The CAP proposal would have no effect on global skies, other than removing CO2.

8.  Less sun for solar power

The CAP proposal does not dim or block sunlight in any way.

9.  Environmental impacts of implementation 

Some industrial capacity would have to be dedicated to manufacturing tons of buckyballs and the appropriate chemicals used in the CAP process.  However, because the buckyballs and the captured CO2 would be buried in snow and captured in the Antarctic Ice Sheet, local environmental damage would be minimal.

10.  Rapid Warming if Deployment stops

If the CAP process is started and then stopped, the CO2 that has been removed from the atmosphere and stored in the cryosphere will remain in storage.  No additional upkeep or maintenance is needed to keep the CO2 safe in the geologic reservoir.

11.  There's no going back

This isn't true for the CAP concept.  It would be relatively easy to retrieve the CO2 from the cryosphere by drilling down to the zones where CO2 and buckyballs would be found.  Of course this wouldn't be done unless a better storage concept was developed later.

12.  Human error

Always possible.  

13.  Undermining emissions mitigation

It would be difficult to imagine anything undermining emissions mitigation more then the collapse of the UN  process towards a binding post-Kyoto treaty which occurred in Copenhagen in 2010, unless it was the recent bilateral "climate change" agreement between the US and China which placed no limits on China's rapidly growing CO2 emissions.   

It is precisely the failure of emissions mitigation efforts that create a need for geoengineering.

14.   Cost

The CAP geoengineering concept would be hugely expensive to implement.  But the cost of allowing CO2 to reach ever higher levels in the atmosphere has a considerably greater cost.

15.  Commercial control of technology

Prof. Robock is concerned that individuals or corporations might patent certain aspects of geoengineering technology and even profit from it.  However, certainly this is minor problem compared to the climate catastrophe that unchecked global warming represents.

16.  Military use of the technology

There are no military applications of the CAP concept.  Removing CO2 from the atmosphere does not constitute an attack on any country or region.

17.  Conflicts with current treaties

Prof. Robock notes that the US is party to treaties that outlaw hostile climate modification.  But the CAP concept reduces GLOBAL CO2 levels and therefore does not constitute "hostile climate modification."   If anything the continuing release of CO2 into the atmosphere might be considered to be "hostile climate modification".

18.  Control of the thermostat

The CAP geoengineering concept does not directly change the temperature of the earth--it simply reduces atmosphere CO2 levels.  Given that every country on earth is dumping their waste CO2 into the atmosphere, removing some of the CO2 simply returns the earth to a more natural condition where climate variability returns to its natural condition.

19.  Questions of moral authority

Dr. Robock notes that now that humans are aware that CO2 emissions into the atmosphere are causing global warming, it can be seen as immoral to continue emitting CO2.  By the same logic, however, it is immoral not to take steps to remove anthropogenic CO2  from the atmosphere through geoenginering.

20.  Unexpected Consequences

Prof. Robock raises concerns that geoengineering may result in unexpected consequences.  But by the same token, allowing CO2 to build up in the atmosphere is going to have some terrible consequences that we can predict with certainty, like rising sea level.  And no doubt allowing the buildup of CO2  to continue in earth's atmosphere will produce additional unexpected and unpleasant consequences that we haven't foreseen.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Charles Darwin and Rising Sea Levels

                                          Darwin's 1842 illustration showing how a coral atoll grows 
                                         above an island as sea level rises from level "A" to level "A'"

Over the next 100 years rising sea levels will inundate low-lying deltas and other areas of the earth's surface that lie only a few meters above current sea levels.  Some of the areas thought to be most at risk of disappearing are small coral reefs and atolls in the Pacific Ocean that lie at or just above sea level.  Some small island nations in the western Pacific Ocean, like the Marshall Islands and Kiribati worry that their atolls might be drowned and wiped off the map if sea level continues rising. 

A new study of changes in the extent of these low-lying islands over historic times shows that some of these islands have actually increased slightly in area over the last 100 years.   This is raising hopes that sedimentation associated with rising sea levels around these islands nations may actually result in the land surface keeping pace and maybe even gaining ground and producing BIGGER islands as sea level rises.

So which is it---will rising sea level drown islands or create bigger islands?  Fortunately Charles Darwin already figured this out.  After Darwin discovered the principles of natural selection and evolution through his studies of birds on the Galapagos Islands, he voyaged on with the Beagle across the western Pacific, and studied the history of atolls.  While not as famous as his theory of evolution, Darwin's theory of atoll formation is nonetheless still considered valid today.  Darwin realized that the coral atolls of the western Pacific were constructed on sunken volcanic islands, and he determined that the atolls had been able to keep up with rising sea level in the past as the islands sunk below the waves.  

Darwin's theory of atoll formation therefore predicts that rising sea levels caused by Global Warming today will result in upward growth of corals and coral atolls, just as occurred in the past in response to natural sea level changes at the end of the last ice age.  Over the next few hundred years some islands may grow slightly or shrink slightly in response to local sedimentation changes, but the western Pacific coral reefs and atolls probably won't be drowned and disappear.    If Darwin came back 200 years now, the reefs and  unpopulated atolls of the western Pacific will look much the same as they did in the 19th century.

Unfortunately, this good news doesn't apply to the houses, roads, airports, power plants and businesses in cities and towns built on the low-lying Pacific islands.  Even if the buildings and infrastructure built within a couple meters of modern sea level on these low lying islands aren't inundated by the sea, they still face being buried by beach sands or other sediments as the atolls slowly grow upwards in response to sea level change.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Watching Geoengineering Watch

                      Spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt about Geoengineering

A group of folks who call themselves Geoengineering Watch purport to be dedicated to averting what they call "Weather Warfare".   They run a website, put up billboards, host a radio program, and hold conventions all dedicated to spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about Global Climate Change and Geoengineering.  The folks at "Geoengineering Watch" are suffering from at least two serious delusions.  First, they discount the idea that CO2 pollution of the atmosphere is causing progressive global warming.   Second, they believe that believe that intentional geoengineering of the earth's climate is already in progress, and the folks doing it are up to no good and are using jet contrails to do their evil deeds.  For instance, the people at Geoengineering Watch believe that the drought in California is the result of an intentional program of Geoengineering and climate modification.  They declare on their web site:

Geoengineers Wage All Out Weather Warfare As The Climate System Unravels 
How long will populations remain oblivious to the relentless weather warfare and biological warfare assault being waged against them by the global power structure?

Of course, while there is no doubt that the earth's climate is changing, Greenhouse Warming is a product of non-directed and unintentional pollution of the Earth's atmosphere caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels rather than something contrived by Planetary geoengineers.  Carbon dioxide build-up in the earth's atmosphere started almost two hundred years ago at the beginning of the industrial revolution.  The climate changes we are seeing today and which will continue into the future are entirely due to short-sightedness and ignorance of the unintended side effects of 170 years of burning coal, oil and natural gas rather then anything done by some mysterious cabal out for world domination via geoengineering. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

How Global Warming Makes it Snow in Boston

                                            The warmest ocean temperature anomaly on earth is found
                                                            in the Atlantic ocean east of Boston

The winter of 2014-15 has been a rough one in Boston.  Snowstorm after snowstorm have hit Boston and the rest of New England, taking the city to the edge of an all-time record for total winter snowfall.  

Why oh why is this happening?  Wasn't global warming supposed to result in warmer winters?

Well, the Boston area IS having a warmer winter.  Or at least the Atlantic Ocean east of Boston and New England is having a very very warm winter. On the Feb. 16, 2015 sea surface anomaly map based on the latest NOAA data (above), the largest temperature anomaly on the entire planet occurs in the north western Atlantic Ocean just east of New England, with ocean surface temperates reaching more than 4° C (7.2° F) above normal over an area reaching from the Virginia coast all the way north to Greenland.

When warm wet air meets cold dry air, you get snow.  When record warm air with record amounts of moisture from the record warm Atlantic Ocean encounters cold air over New Engalnd, you get a record snow year in Boston.  And yet another snow storm is scheduled for Boston later in the week.   

Look out Beantown ---- more  global warming is coming your way.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Federal Reserve Bank endorses Geoengineering

The Federal Reserve Bank, best known for its Quantitative Easing programs (QE I, QE 2, and QE III), has come out in favor  of Planetary Geoengineering.  And the bankers in Washington DC have even decided precisely which Geoengineering plan they will back---- the bankers are in favor of shooting many tons of sulfuric acid into the upper atmosphere in hopes it will reflect enough sunlight back into outer space to cool the planet and counteract the warming effects of the many tons of CO2 humans have put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.

The Federal Rrserve Bsnk's approach to fixing global climate change bears a curious resemblance to their approach to fixing the U.S. Economy after the 2009 financial crisis.  Rather than identifying and correcting the problems in the U.S. Economy the Fed instead has injected hundreds of billions of dollars into banks in the U.S. and around the world every month to mask underlying structural economic problems.  

Similarly, rather removing CO2 from the atmosphere and solving the climate change problem as the CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown concept would do, the bankers of the Federal Reserve Bank have chosen to endorse a plan that would require dousing earth's upper with tons of sulfuric acid every month to mask the global warming problem.

The acid treatments would have to be continued for a thousand years because this scheme leaves ALL the extra CO2 in the atmosphere  where it's residence time is about a thousand years.  Other problems caused by excess CO2, like ocean acidification, wouldn't be helped at all because all the CO2 would remain in the atmosphere.   In fact there's a good chance  some of the sulfuric acid the bankers want to put into the atmosphere would eventually find its way down back down as acid rain

I urge the Federal Reserve Bank to reconsider their support for a plan that calls for loading the atmosphere with sulfuric acid to go along with the CO2 that's already there.  Please consider the possibility of REMOVING the CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in a secure geologic repository like, maybe, ummmm.....well, how about Antarctica?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Dr. Research discusses Global Warming in 1958

                             Dr. Research explains global warming to the American people in 1958

In 1958 the Bell Telephone Science Hour was the biggest thing on American TV, featuring films made by the talented movie director, Frank Capra.  TV viewers saw an avuncular scientist named "Dr. Research" answering questions from a character named "Mr. Fiction Writer."  Mr. Fiction Writer was played by an actor named Eddie Albert, while Dr. Research was a Professor at USC named Frank Baxter.  

On one show Mr. Fiction Writer asked Dr. Research about climate change.   And Dr. Research knew all about it----60 years ago.

The Beaches are Moving

                                                                       The beaches are moving

In 1979 a famous popular science book entitled "The Beaches are Moving" was published.   This book was the first attempt to explain to the general public the science behind coastal erosion, and to educate the public about the dangers of building in coastal sites.  Curiously, there is not a word in this well-known science book about climate change or about global sea level rise.  Today it is generally accepted that sea level is rising,  but as the 1979 edition of this book shows, the scientific concepts of global warming and global sea level rise were mostly unknown just 36 years ago, even within the scientific community.

Just six years after "The Beaches are Moving" was published, an international scientific Conference on the "Assessment of the Role of Carbon Dioxide and Other Greenhouse Gases in Climate Variations and Associated Impacts" reviewed the available science and predicted  that greenhouse gases would cause significant warming in the future.  A few years later in 1988, Prof. James E. Hansen reported that global climate change had already started.  Later in 1988, scientists met at the "World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security" and released a report that said  the buildup of atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases "represent a major threat to international security and are already having harmful consequences over many parts of the globe."  The year 1988 also saw the establishment of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), with a mission to document global climate change and to predict the effects of future global warming.  

In the years from 1979 to 1988 a revolution began in the scientific community.  The concept of global climate change began to be accepted, first among scientists and then within the general public.  The idea that human-caused global climate change is underway is still not universally accepted, but then its only been 27 years since scientists themselves starting to publicize the concept.    By comparison, it took until 1765--- 150 years after Galileo started advocating the idea that the earth rotates around the sun in 1615 --for the ban on his writings instituted by the Holy Inquisition to be lifted.


My copy of "The Beaches are Moving" is 35 years old.  It looks good on my library shelf, but I rarely refer to it.  Almost nobody actually reads old science books.  Literature is timeless, and people will read and reread the novels of Dickens, Proust, Homer, Dumas, Chaucer, Ovid and other long dead authors forever.  The stories are still powerful, the writing is still great, and the books contain eternal truths.  Old science books are different because eventually they are superseded by newer, more modern, and more accurate books, and what were though to be eternal truths in the old science books are replaced with somewhat different eternal truths in newer science books.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

When Glaciers Speed Up

                                                    The Austfonna Ice Cap flows into the Barents Sea

To move at a "glacial pace" means to move slowly.  But glaciers themselves are mysteriously starting to speed up.  

The northernmost glacier in Europe is the  Austfonna Ice Cap on Svalbard.  Recent satellite photos show that part of the Austfonna Glacier is flowing 25 times faster then it did 20 years ago.  Glaciers often speed up for a year or so in an event called a "surge", but the Austfonna Ice Cap has been flowing at an unusually rapid speed for over a decade.  So much ice is travelling down the glacier and dumping into the Barents Sea that the ice cap itself is shrinking.  Parts of the glacier are now 50 meters (165 feet) lower then they were before glacier flow accelerated.

Many glaciologists think glaciers like the Austfonna Ice Cap are speeding up because of global warming.  Several factors control ice flow velocities.  The rate at which ice deforms increases with temperature.  And where glaciers slide along their beds, increased temperatures can produce more meltwater, which allows even faster sliding.  And for tidewater glaciers like the Austfonna, warmer ocean temperatures may also be triggering faster flow by melting the glacier from underneath.

The Austfonna Ice cap holds about 2500 cubic km of ice, or less than 0.01% of the estimated ~29,960,000 cubic kms of ice currently frozen in the earth's glaciers.  If the entire Austfonna Ice Cap flows into the sea and disappears, global sea level will go up about about 5 cm, roughly equivalent to about 16 months of current sea level rise.    

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Lets rename "Global Warming" something like "Pollution Death"

                                                      Oh NO!  Its the Dreaded Pollution Death!

In places like Alaska, when temperatures drop to -40° in the winter, its hard to get too upset about "global warming."  In fact global warming starts to sound pretty good.  Alaskans often joke about it in the winter saying things like "Where's that global warming?"   And "Sure could use some of that global warming"

The same thing happens in Chicago and the Midwest, or Scandinavia, or New England, or Canada, or just about anywhere that gets cold in the winter.  When you are out in some cold winter weather, global warming sounds about as scary as a warm fireplace and a hot chocolate drink.

Maybe its time to change the name of global warming to something .... scarier.  Something that will get people's attention.

The first person to complain about the term "global warming" was James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis.  Lovelock hated the term global warming because  Warming is something that’s kind of cozy and comfortable. You think of a nice duvet on a cold winter’s day.   Lovelock, after considerable thought, argued that it would be better to call it "global heating" because "Heating is something you want to get away from.”   

Well, pardon me, but the term "global heating" really isn't any scarier then "global warming."  When its -40° outside I'll take either global warming or global heating......or both at once.   No----if we want to scare people about global warming we've got to do better than "global heating."

 Harvard Professor John Holden gave a speech a few years ago at the American Association for the Advance of Science and suggested changing global warming to "global climate disruption".  Then a few months later he changed his mind and said global climate disruption isn't scary enough and suggested using "global climate instability" instead.    Uhh......what was that scary term again? Global climate ...indecision???

Maybe re-naming global warming actually isn't a job for a scientist.  Maybe we need a political spinmeister or an advertising guru like Seth Godin.  Well, Mr. Godin has already offered his suggestions---he says scientists need to stop talking about global warming and start talking about either "atmospheric cancer" or "pollution death."

OK.....that works.  No way people are going to joke about wanting more "pollution death" no matter how cold it gets in the winter.  

Monday, February 2, 2015

Stop the Hiatus!

     There have been several hiatuses in global warming since 1880

One of the main points of evidence cited by climate change skeptics has been the hiatus in global warming observed since  1998.  For fifteen years mean annual temperatures stayed at very high levels but never exceeded the mean annual temperature the earth reached in 1998.  Climate change skeptics said that this hiatus in warming debunked the idea that the earth was warming in response to the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Finally, in 2014, global annual temperatures reached a new record high.  

Looking at the instrumental record of global temperatures since 1880, its apparent that there have been several hiatuses (hiati?) during the last 130 years.  A very long hiatus in the rise of global temperatures occurred from the 1940s into the late 1970s, a period of almost 40 years when global temperatures never exceeded record high temperatures set in the early 1940s, and another hiatus occurred at the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th century.

There are several reasons why temperatures on a warming earth should rise and then intermittently pause, rather then warming by steady increments each year.  Perhaps the most important reason is that global warming is affecting both the atmosphere and the oceans, and the oceans can absorb huge amounts of thermal energy without greatly warming.  By some measures about 90% of the global warming that has occurred over the last century has occurred in the oceans.  The huge amounts of ocean warming have so far acted to mitigate warming in the atmosphere.

Another possible reason for the observed hiatuses in global warming may have to do with the inherent randomness of year to year weather variations.  A new climate modeling study shows that natural weather variability will tend to produce periods of hiatus in global warming even as the Greenhouse forcing increases each year due to CO2 buildup in the atmosphere.

Either way, global warming eventually will kick in again and terminate the hiatus.  The new record global temperature set in 2014 suggests the hiatus in global warming seen since the start of the new millennium is over.  If so, the Earth will start warming again, and will return to setting ever higher temperature records in the coming years.