Researchers at Florida State University have found that hurricane activity, both in the North Atlantic and globally, is at a 30-year low, and the trend is expected to continue.
Many people viewed the disastrous 2005 hurricane season as evidence of global warming. Others have pointed to the calmer-than-normal years since then as evidence that global warming is just hype.
Both sides are wrong. Climate is about long-term trends. A single season -- or even a string of seasons -- is not enough to establish a pattern, especially with something as complex as weather. As the Florida report notes, further study is needed before we'll really know what's going on.
Research showing that the glaciers of Glacier National Park might be gone by 2030 was wrong. New aerial surveys of the park's glaciers found them to be retreating faster than previously thought. Park scientists with the USGS now think the park could be glacierless by 2020.
It could always be worse.
Some geologists think that 700 or so million years ago, the entire earth was one spherical skating rink. Called "Snowball Earth", it was a time when runaway ice caps covered the entire earth. They even covered the tropical oceans, making a mid-winter getaway to Hawaii less appealing, and possibly wiping out most of life on earth. The theory goes like this. Millions of years ago the sun was weaker than today. Ice started forming at the North and South poles, reflecting incoming sunlight back out to space and making it colder. So, the ice grew even more and so on in something called a positive feedback. Eventually, ice covered the entire planet, leaving rock types characteristic of glacial erosion in the tropics.
So, how do they think we got out? Well, all the time the earth was covered with ice, volcanoes were belching out carbon dioxide. Over millions of years, carbon dioxide is sucked out the atmosphere by breaking down rocks (it's much too slow a process to help us out in the current situation, though). Eventually carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached many times what they are today, temperatures soared, and there was a global ice-out that's usually described as "catastrophic."
A careful review of the existing information by two scientists from Britain suggests that things may not have been so dire. Geological evidence suggests that some parts of the ocean were not covered in ice, though there was a lot of ice in the tropics. This new view means geologists and climate scientists need to re-think "Snowball Earth" and how it could have come about. Something to think about while you're trying to get the car started.
Courtesy Liza Pryor
"Stanford creates 100 million dollar energy research center"
"Stanford University is creating a 100-million-dollar research institute that will focus on energy issues, including the search for ways to reduce global warming, officials said."
"Home turbines fail to deliver as promised, warns British study"
"Home wind turbines are only generating a fraction of electricity promised by the manufacturers while some even fail to yield enough energy to run the turbine's electronics, a British study warned on Tuesday."
"'V-wing' turbine gets study cash"
"An unusual design of wind turbine with a pair of giant vertical wings could one day be generating electricity for the UK Grid."
"China's BYD to bring plug-in hybrid, electric cars to US in 2011"
"China's BYD Auto announced plans Monday to enter the US market in 2011 with a range of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. It would likely be the first Chinese automaker to enter the highly-competitive US market and beat many established automakers in offering an extended-range electric vehicle to US consumers."
"A bicycle evangelist with the wind now at his back"
"For years, Earl Blumenauer has been on a mission, and now his work is paying off. He can tell by the way some things are deteriorating around here."
One of the most common questions I hear about climate change is "Isn't it just the sun?" Days (sun out) are warmer than nights (no sun), and sunny days are usually warmer than cloudy days. Let's be honest, it would also be much easier on the conscience. After all, we have about as much chance of controlling the sun as I do of getting my cat to do the laundry. But our actions do impact the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Scientists who are interested in climate have been looking into this. A new paper by Anja Eichler and her colleagues from Switzerland and Russia looks at this problem by comparing records of how brightly the sun has been shining to the temperature in central Asia over the last 750 or so years. Now you're probably thinking, "Hey, who had a thermometer in Siberia 750 years ago?" It turns out that the part of Siberia near Mongolia and Kazakhstan has glaciers that are actually pretty good at recording the temperature.
So what'd they find? The sun is pretty important. It explains well over half of the wiggles in the temperature curve . . . until 1850. After that the sun is still kind of important, but changes in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere do a much better job explaining the recent warming.
Other scientists have found the same story using different methods, so I think we're homing in on a solid answer.
If you want to read the paper yourself, it is in press in Geophysical Research Letters. The story's not free on-line, so you might need to head to a library to check it out.
Courtesy S. McAfee
I hate it when bad news gets confirmed.
That’s just what happened when Andrew Dessler and his colleagues at Texas A&M were able to show that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor. Unfortunately, water is a greenhouse gas, so more water vapor means the earth warms, so the atmosphere can hold more water, which is a greenhouse gas . . . I think you can see where this is going. It’s a nasty feedback circle. If the earth stays more or less the same temperature, we don’t worry about this too much because there’s a really good way to get water out of the atmosphere. In fact, it just shut down air and highway travel all over the East Coast.
It may seem like a no-brainer that warmer air holds more water, but these scientists were able to put solid numbers on the link between temperature and water vapor, which is a big deal. They used information from a satellite called the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder to measure the amount of water in the air.
Using information from 2003 to 2008, they found that for every 1 degree Celsius the earth warms, the extra water in the air traps 2 watts for every square meter of the earth. If you stored that up over a square meter for an hour, you could run a 100-watt light bulb for about a minute. Bet you wouldn’t even notice that in your electric bill. But the earth is big, so let’s put it in perspective and do the math.
The surface of the earth is 510,072,000 square kilometers. According to howstuffworks, your run-of-the-mill power plant puts out 3.5 billion kilowatts in a year. That means the extra warming that water vapor adds for every degree the earth gets warmer is about the same as the annual output of 290 power plants, give or take. That’s a lot of light bulbs.
You may have read a couple weeks ago a NASA report stating that October 2008 was the warmest October ever on record. An enormous hot spot was observed over Siberia, an incredible 10 degrees warmer than normal, raising the global average.
However, the appearance of the words “hot” and “Siberia” in the same sentence made some people suspicious. A couple of bloggers took a closer look at the data, and they found that, for dozens of reporting stations in Siberia, the average October temperature was exactly the same as the average October temperature. That’s pretty much impossible. Clearly what happened is someone copied the numbers from the wrong column, leading to greatly inflated figures, which were then eagerly reported.
So, what can we learn from this little episode?
1) Even experts make mistakes. Though this particular expert, Dr. James Hansen, seems especially prone to making mistakes that support his views. That’s only human, I suppose, but it means we should pay attention to who is publishing a study, and whether they are pushing a particular point of view.
2) Weather is not climate. One sparrow does not make a spring, and one October does not make a global warming crisis. Especially when the October in question was not actually, you know, warm.
3) Read the fine print. Just like the item below, the headline told one story, but the pesky little facts told a very different one. (One of the most important things it tells us is that the folks in charge of monitoring the world’s climate don’t even bother to double-check their own data!)
OK, Science Buzz writers! Time for a pop quiz. Let’s say you were writing a blog post based on the following two facts:
What would your headline be?
Well, you could give it a positive spin and say something like, Sea ice grows, but that would rather miss the big picture, doncha’ think?
Or you could go all negative and say Sea ice near historic lows, which again would be accurate, but overlooks the dynamics of the situation.
A nice fair-and-balanced approach would be to say Sea ice grows, but remains near record low. That covers all your bases.
The one thing you cannot do is lie and say Arctic sea ice shrinks to 2nd-lowest on record Because it’s not, actually, you know, shrinking. It’s growing.
Lying is a bad idea, even if you don’t necessarily subscribe to the Ninth Commandment.
Just a little something to keep in mind as you compose your Buzz posts. Be careful out there.
Contact: Jonathan Patz
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Waterborne disease risk upped in Great Lakes
MADISON — An anticipated increased incidence of climate-related extreme rainfall events in the Great Lakes region may raise the public health risk for the 40 million people who depend on the lakes for their drinking water, according to a new study.
In a report published today (Oct. 7, 2008) in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, a team of Wisconsin researchers reports that a trend toward extreme weather such as the monsoon-like rainfall events that occurred in many parts of the region this past spring is likely to aggravate the risk for outbreaks of waterborne disease in the Great Lakes region.
"If weather extremes do intensify, as these findings suggest, our health will be at greater risk," according to Jonathan Patz, a University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health professor of population health and an expert on the health effects of climate change.
A primary threat to human health, says Patz, are the extreme precipitation events that overwhelm the combined urban storm water and sewage systems such as those in Milwaukee and Chicago, resulting in millions of gallons of raw sewage being diverted to Lake Michigan. Adding to the risk throughout the region, Patz notes, is the growing concentration of livestock operations where heavy rainfall can wash large amounts of animal waste into the rivers and streams that drain into the Great Lakes, the world's greatest concentration of fresh surface water.
"It's the perfect storm," notes Patz. "Deteriorating urban water infrastructure, intensified livestock operations, and extreme climate change-related weather events may well put water quality, and thereby our health, at risk."
Waterborne diseases caused by pathogenic bacteria, viruses and parasites are among the most common health risks of drinking water. In 1993, Milwaukee experienced an outbreak in city drinking water of the parasite Cryptosporidium that exposed more than 400,000 people and killed more than 50.
Patz, who is also affiliated with UW-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies' Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, conducted the study with Stephen Vavrus, a climatologist and director of the UW-Madison Center for Climatic Research, also part of the Nelson Institute.
Changes in regional weather patterns and, in particular, an increase in the number and intensity of severe rainfall events are predicted to accompany global warming. Climatologists have already cataloged a decades-long trend toward more tempestuous weather, says Vavrus.
"We have seen an uptick in the incidence of severe precipitation events in the last couple of years, but this has been a trend for decades," says Vavrus, noting an increased frequency of both major storms and total precipitation in the late 20th century. "And we are expecting climate (in the Great Lakes region) to change significantly in the future, so we'll very likely see an increase in these extreme precipitation events."
Climate change, scientists know, will prompt extremes of the hydrologic cycle, causing intensified precipitation as well as drought. Using the best available computer climate models, the Wisconsin researchers found that southern Wisconsin is likely to experience a 10 to 40 percent increase in the strength of extremely heavy precipitation events, leading to greater potential for flooding and the waterborne diseases that accompany the high discharge of sewage into Lake Michigan.
Previously, Patz led a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-funded study linking outbreaks of waterborne disease in the U.S. to extreme rainfall. That study, published in 2001, showed that two-thirds of waterborne disease outbreaks between 1948 and 1994 were correlated with heavy rainfall.
The new study, say Patz and Vavrus, points to a need to strengthen pubic health infrastructure and improve aging urban drinking water and sewage systems, and to improve land use planning to reduce the amount of runoff that occurs in urban areas during major precipitation events.
"This is where climate policy, land use policy and public health come together," Patz argues.
The new study, which was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was co-authored by Christopher Uejio of UW-Madison's Nelson Institute and Sandra McLellan of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
-- Terry Devitt, (608) 262-8282, firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtesy Mark RyanBoy, times must be getting tough if NASA’s latest endeavor is any indication. Researchers from the space agency recently dropped a whole slew of rubber ducks into openings in Greenland's Jakobshaven Glacier in hopes of understanding how and where melt waters from the ice sheet ends up in Baffin Bay. They’re also trying to understand why glaciers increase their speed during the summer months. The Jakobshaven Glacier, which is suspected of calving the iceberg that sank the Titanic in 1912, is Greenland’s fastest moving glacier. The current thinking is that melt water forming on top of the ice flow during the summer months travels down narrow tubes called moulins to the glaciers base where it acts as a lubricant thus speeding up the ice sheet's movement. This isn’t exactly rocket science, is it? Anyway, each little ducky carries a label with the words "science experiment" and "reward" printed on it in three languages, along with an email address. The researchers hope that those who come across the toy quackers will contact them with information about when and where they found them. So far no one has gotten back to NASA but agency officials are confidant when they do it will add to our understanding of glaciers and their role in rising sea levels. So why has NASA has resorted to using such a low-tech approach? One source claims it's because a previous test using a metallic probe failed to return any data. Another source claims the probe is being used in conjunction with the rubber bath toys. Whatever the case it looks duck hunting season has opened.
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