Stories tagged climate

Jun
29
2008

The Sun in more active times: Sunspot activity, which is linked to weather and other phenomena on Earth, peaked in 2001. But for the last two years there’s been almost nothing.
The Sun in more active times: Sunspot activity, which is linked to weather and other phenomena on Earth, peaked in 2001. But for the last two years there’s been almost nothing.Courtesy NASA

Occasionally, intense magnetic activity in the Sun creates sunspots, dark regions on the surface of the Sun. Sunspot activity rises and falls roughly every 11 years – the last maximum was in 2001, and activity slowly fell off to zero by 2006.

And since then…almost nothing. Scientists had expected sunspot activity to start increasing by now, but it hasn’t. No one knows why, or when the cycle will pick up again.

Why is this important?

Sunspots, created by intense magnetic activity, are associated with solar flares, enormous streams of high-energy particles sent shooting out into the Solar System. These play havoc with satellites and other electronic communication. So, no sunspots in this case would be a good thing.

Solar flares also create the beautiful northern and southern lights. In this case, no sunspots is a bad thing.

Perhaps most important, sunspots seem to be an indicator of solar activity. And low activity can mean lower temperatures here on Earth. The Sun once went 50 years without producing any spots – from 1650 to 1700 – and these years were some of the coldest in recorded history. Today they are known as the little Ice Age.

Are we on the brink of a new Ice Age? It’s wayyyy to early to tell. But scientists are keeping an eye on the Sun, to see if it reveals any clues.

Australian scientists studying albedo--the amount of sunlight reflected off the Earth—have created a flat cardboard kangaroo 105 feet tall. Photographing the image from space will give clues to how the Earth’s atmosphere heats up and cools down.

Happy Earth Day

by Liza on Apr. 22nd, 2008

Today's the 38th national celebration of Earth Day. Step outside, Buzzers, and appreciate this blue planet of ours, and then make a pledge to yourself to do more reducing, reusing, and recycling.

Jan
07
2008

Looks like we may not need such a big thermometer after all: Despite ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, global temperatures have not gone up in nine years.  What gives?
Looks like we may not need such a big thermometer after all: Despite ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, global temperatures have not gone up in nine years. What gives?Courtesy arbyreed

Y’know, it’s been a while since we’ve had a good dust-up over global warming here at the Buzz. Last month, 10,000 delegates attended the UN’s climate conference in Bali (most of them traveling by jet and producing more of the carbon they’re supposed to be reducing), and there was hardly a peep. Even when 100 scientists signed a letter poking holes in the popular conception of global warming, nobody here said a word.

Oh well, what can I say? Holiday rush, end-of-the-year malaise…we had other things on our minds. But today, as the Midwest in experiencing record-shattering warmth (62° in mid-Michigan on January 7!), comes news that global warming…has stopped! It seems that global temps peaked in 1998, settled down a bit, and have been basically unchanged since 2001. So, for the past nine years, while humans continue to pump more and more carbon into the atmosphere, global temperatures have… done nothing.

How to explain this phenomenon? Well, there are a couple of wacky European scientists who argue that climate is driven by the Sun rather than by humans, but that’s obviously just crazy talk. The mystery of the missing warming continues.

New fossil evidence indicates that the ancestors of modern kangaroos walked on four legs, had fangs and climbed trees -- a sobering thought. Meanwhile, scientists studying marsupial flatulence have discovered that kangaroo gas contains no methane, and thus does not contribute to greenhouse gasses. A spokesman for kangaroos said he was glad no kangaroos were involved in changing the Earth's climate.

Dec
01
2007

All hail to the beer fridge!: Canadian beer drinkers are destroying the planet, but having too good a time to notice.
All hail to the beer fridge!: Canadian beer drinkers are destroying the planet, but having too good a time to notice.Courtesy Brian Warren

Canadians love their beer. However, possessing only the standard number of kidneys (2), they must drink it slowly, and store it until they are ready. To keep their cold ones, er, cold, they have developed the tradition of the “beer fridge” – an old, used refrigerator, kept in the garage or the basement, and used just for beer and snacks. (Newer, nicer fridges go in the kitchen.)

But a new study by the Canadian government claims that this piece of native culture is wrecking the environment. The old refrigerators use more energy than newer models. Researchers have suggested buy-back programs, which basically amounts to taxpayers buying me a new fridge. Finally, a government subsidy we can all get behind!

There’s no reliable data on the energy consumption of the beer-launching fridge, clearly the greatest achievement in the history of civilization.

Nov
30
2007

Is the number of hurricanes rising, or are we just getting better at counting them?
Is the number of hurricanes rising, or are we just getting better at counting them?Courtesy NASA

The 2007 hurricane season ends today, and by most accounts it was fairly typical, with 14 named storms and 5 hurricanes. But Neil Frank, former director of the National Hurricane Center, thinks those numbers are inflated. He argues that several of the named storms were not, in fact, strong enough to merit special designation.

According to the article, better storm-tracking technology has allowed scientists to identify and accurately measure weather events which, in years past, might not have merited “storm” designation, or might have been missed altogether.

Some people argue that this is an example of “climate change hype” – exaggerating the number of strong storms to make climate change look more severe than it actually is. Blogger Glenn Reynolds has perhaps a more charitable explanation: people in any profession want their field to seem important. If you’re in the hurricane business, then you get more attention – and more funding – if there are more hurricanes.

Earlier Buzz discussions of the 2007 Hurricane season can be found here and here.

Oct
04
2007

The author personally investigates Indonesian flora: Photo by Ranti Junus
The author personally investigates Indonesian flora: Photo by Ranti Junus

And Borneo. And Bali. And Banjarmasin. The southeast Asian country of Indonesia plans to plant 79 million trees on a single day -- November 28. The event will take place ahead of a UN climate change meeting on Bali the following month.

Indonesia has cut down more tropical forests since 2000 than any other country. It is also the world's third-largest producer of greenhouse gases. It is hoped that this massive planting project will reverse these trends.

Many of the rainforests have been cut down to make room for palm oil plantations, which are expanding to produce raw material for biofuel -- another example of how everything is interconnected, and trying to solve a problem in one area can create a problem in another.

(Indonesia's entry into the biofuel market strikes me as odd, since they are a major oil-producing nation and a member of OPEC.)

Jun
21
2007

Tidal surge from the 1938 hurricane: Image courtesy NOAA/NWS Historic Collection.
Tidal surge from the 1938 hurricane: Image courtesy NOAA/NWS Historic Collection.
Over on our thread about a crazy catfish skull, "brandon" recently left a rather off topic, yet still intriguing question:

hi there! i was wondering if there was a hurricane in new york in 1930???????

Why, yes, there was. Technically, it happened in 1938, and it was quite the whopper. On Friday, September 16th, 1938, a Brazilian ship reported a huge storm in the Atlantic and weather forecasters expected it to make landfall near Miami. Luckily for Miami, the storm turned north and everyone expected it to head out to sea. Remember: this was long before satellite images allowed us to track these huge storms in real-time.

Unluckily for people who lived in New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, though, the storm had just temporarily headed out to sea and was about to make landfall in New England. On the 21st, with no warning, one of the fastest-moving hurricanes ever recorded slammed into the New England coast. It caused massive damage in Long Island, giving the storm the name "The Long Island Express." Nearly 600 people died by the time it was all over.

Can you imagine what a storm like that would do to this area today? In 1938, Long Island was still somewhat rural and undeveloped. Today it's a densely-packed urban area full of millions of people, homes, and businesses. And, quite honestly, I hadn't ever even heard of this storm until today. I often think of New York as immune to these sorts of major storms. But it's actually very likely that a major storm will affect this region again in the next 50 years.

1938 Hurricane Links

The Great Hurricane of 1938 - a very in-depth history of the storm.
History Reveals Hurricane Threat to New York City - A modern perspective on the risks to New York city.
The regional perspective on the 1938 hurricane - Lots of great pictures of the destruction in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Do you know anyone who remembers the 1938 hurricane? Do you live in this area and have a hurricane story? Share your stories.

Jun
04
2007

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin: What climate is the "best" climate?  (Photo from NASA.)
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin: What climate is the "best" climate? (Photo from NASA.)

Several months ago, political columnist George Will argued that global warming was nothing to worry about. The Earth has warmed and cooled many times before. Even if the current warming is caused by humans (a point which Will is skeptical on), so what? What makes the current climate so special that it needs to be preserved?

Nobody paid much attention at the time. But now NASA administrator Michael Griffin has made a similar pronouncement.

"I have no doubt that a trend of global warming exists.... I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change — I guess I would ask which human beings, where and when, are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate...is the best climate for all other human beings."

This statement outraged many scientists, who feel that global warming is a crisis and needs to be dealt with. Griffin later clarified his remarks, saying that NASA’s job is to collect climate information. It does not set policy. Thus, his comments should not be seen as officially endorsing any particular course of action (or inaction).