Friday, August 28, 2009

13 National Academies of Science joint statement!

The National Academies of Science of Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America have agreed that
"...climate change is happening even faster than previously estimated; global CO2 emissions since 2000 have been higher than even the highest predictions, Arctic sea ice has been melting at rates much faster than predicted, and the rise in the sea level has become more rapid. Feedbacks in the climate system might lead to much more rapid climate changes."

They go on to claim that "The need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable."

This is not the press release of a group of people who jump to conclusions.

The full 2-page report, issued in May 2009, may be found here:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century!!!

This is from the L.A. Times for August 25, 2009:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, trying to ward off potentially sweeping federal emissions regulations, is pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to hold a rare public hearing on the scientific evidence for man-made climate change.

Chamber officials say it would be "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century" -- complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect.

"It would be evolution versus creationism," said William Kovacs, the chamber's senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs. "

Does anyone else see just how appropriate the analogy is to the Scopes monkey trial, where creation was pitted against evolution, religion against science? So the U.S. Chamber of Commerce likes comparing its push to challenge the science of global warming to a religious crusade? I understand their bias, but that they would admit it up front is surprising.

Full L.A. Times story here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

2009 Year-to-date Land and Sea Temperatures

I've heard the climate change skeptics are excited that there has been a cooling trend that might appear to call into doubt forecasts of global warming. Not sure where they are getting their data, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released it's July 2009 State of the Climate Global Analysis. There does not appear to be much of a cooling trend. If you look at their graph reproduced above, it shows the dramatic warming recorded in the combined global sea surface and land surface temperatures over the last 130 years.

They have also produced a graph separating the sea surface and land surface temperature record over the same 1880 to 2009 time period. You can see in the image below that both ocean and land surfaces show this warming trend. I wish there were a cooling trend overall, but it just isn't there.

The entire July 2009 report (including the two graphs above) may be found at the following link:

State of the Climate - Global Analysis - July 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No words, just enjoy!

This view along the Boone Fork Trail in Price Lake Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway might make a nice screensaver image.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sun and Clouds

Turns out that the impacts of water vapor and water droplets in the air pose some of the biggest unknowns when it comes to understanding global climate change. This picture of sunset over Bogue Sound, North Carolina, taken this past Saturday evening, makes clear that water droplets, that is, cloud, blocks sunlight, reflecting it back into space and preventing it from warming the earth. However, water vapor, which does not form cloud, acts as a powerful greenhouse gas, transparent to sunlight just like the glass window on a greenhouse, but absorbing the heat produced by that sunlight when it hits the earth's surface. As the earth warms, more water of course evaporates. The big unknown concerns what will happen to all that extra water vapor in the air. Will it form more clouds, blocking sunlight and providing for a net cooling effect on the earth? Or will that extra water vapor stay in the vapor phase, that is, not form more clouds, allow sunlight to reach the earth's surface, and hold in the resulting heat making the earth even warmer? This latter possibility goes by the term, positive feedback loop. Warmer temperatures cause more water evaporation - in turn the greater amount of water vapor, though transparent to sunlight, holds in the heat generated by that sunlight, and causes the earth to get warmer still - in turn causing more water evaporation, over and over and over.

Climate scientists have long considered this issue, as you can read at At least one recent report suggests that the positive feedback loop may predominate, see Strong evidence that cloud changes may exacerbate global warming

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Scanning the horizon at the beach

Just returned from a week at the beach, Emerald Isle specifically, in North Carolina between Swansboro and Morehead City. Last night the air was quite clear, giving us great distance visibility. We picked out the Cape Lookout lighthouse beacon on the horizon, which raised the question how far is the horizon?

We found an online tool to help answer this question, namely,
Distance to Horizon Calculator. You plug in how many feet you are above sea level, and it calculates the distance in miles to an object that appears on the horizon. If the object is also some distance above sea level, you could just add its height to yours.

For example, if you are standing on the beach, about six feet above the water, an object just on the horizon would be about three miles away. As we sat on the porch of the place we were staying in, about 50 feet above sea level, we could see about 9 miles to the horizon. The Cape Lookout lighthouse, with its rotating beacon 150 feet above sea level, appeared to be on the horizon from our porch location 50 above sea level, suggesting it was about 17 miles away. This estimate matches that made using a map of the area.

It was interesting to watch the ocean change during the week as the weather changed from very windy and bright to calm and cloudy, with lots of other combinations in between, including lightning, thunder, and lots of rain. But you know what they say about a rainy day at the beach.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Constructing Earth

Sculpture at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City
June, 2009

Since no one has managed to dig beneath Earth's crust to view the insides of our planet, one could assume this to be a hypothesis of what you might find. Good questions about such a hypothesis would be how to test it, and what the implications of such an interior would be for those of us living on the surface. What does this image conjure up for you?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

How to tell a biased source of online information?

Left out an important piece of information in the News and Observer article. The key to figuring out whether you are informed or misinformed on something complex like climate change is knowing how to evaluate your sources of information. The U.C. Berkeley Library has a nice guide to Evaluating Web Pages for reliability and trustworthiness. When it comes down to who are you going to believe, you need to have a rational way to answer that question, and this is it. If you want to know whether you can rely on what you are reading or not, it's essential. Take a look.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Irresponsible Climate Skepticism

George Will is at it again, spinning more irresponsible climate skepticism It's lonely, caring about carbon. The following response appeared in the News and Observer on August 3, 2009.

The skeptics are all wet


RALEIGH - Writers such as columnist George Will would like to credit the state of climate science and the ineptitude of the current administration in Washington for India and China's reluctance to commit to significant carbon emissions reductions. To the contrary, Will and others deserve some credit for the behavior of the world's two population superpowers.

The global warming skepticism of Will and other climate critics has helped keep the United States on the sidelines for the past decade. The U.S. and other wealthy nations must lead before the poorer nations of the world will follow, and leadership does not happen overnight with one election.

One recent Friday evening in a local pizzeria, a friend told me that either climate science is still quite unsettled about the existence and causes of global warming, or that climate scientists are not doing a good job communicating what they knew.

But again, the climate critics should take the credit. It is easy to make the case that a complex problem such as climate change is still an unsolved, controversial issue worthy of continued public debate. Just look at what some of South Africa's leaders did to the spread of HIV-AIDS when they gave support to mavericks who were skeptical that the HIV virus causes AIDS.

There is no scientific doubt that the HIV virus causes AIDS. However, a few scientists initially doubted that a single virus could cause the array of symptoms and diseases attributed to AIDS. Leaders such as South Africa's Thabo Mbeki took these AIDS denialists seriously, and with government support their irresponsible skepticism led to widespread avoidance of effective drug treatments and safe sex practices. Thousands lost their lives -- years after the scientific community had demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the HIV virus causes AIDS.

In a democratic society with a free press, scientific findings with political and public policy consequences depend upon the good judgment of citizens for resolution. If advocates choose to misrepresent scientific uncertainties -- and there are always uncertainties in any science -- then they will likely succeed at confusing citizens. For a public with neither the time nor the expertise to do the in-depth research, media reports of any debate or controversy are simply accepted as evidence that the science is indeed unsettled and not yet ready to inform significant action.

So George Will and other climate skeptics continue to spin the evidence irresponsibly and convince themselves and the public that we need more definitive research before taking action on global warming. They may well continue to succeed, but they will still be wrong.

Climate researchers (please see Climate Change at the National Academies and RealClimate) have many questions and continue to explore for urgently needed answers. But they no longer question the dominant role that human-generated carbon dioxide plays in global warming. The evidence, like that for HIV and AIDS, is overwhelming and clear. They no longer doubt the catastrophic effects unchecked climate change will wreak on the planet, because they can already detect the earliest signals of those effects.

Everyone -- scientist and nonscientist, environmentalist and skeptic -- needs to help answer a basic climate change question: What do we plan to do about it? We must quit questioning the scientific facts and start talking about what we will do about them.

Are we willing to let the poorest peoples of the world take the major hits from climate change without any help from us? Are we willing to allow climate change to alter our coastlines, our weather patterns and biological communities in ways we cannot easily predict and at speeds that will likely overwhelm everyone's capacity to adapt?

Energy legislation recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives is a weak attempt to begin to answer these legitimate policy questions. We can hope that the Senate will not only view the House bill as a start in the right direction but will strengthen that first step with a bill more worthy of a compassionate and capable nation. We can help make our future, and the future for our children, safer, more secure and richer in many ways by embracing sources of energy that do not release carbon dioxide and other air pollutants, and by conserving our use of energy in every way imaginable.