Stories tagged climate change


Last January, Bryan praised Barack Obama’s inaugural address for promising to make decisions based on observation, data and statistics. Bryan also said,

We will keep a watchful eye over the next four years to make sure that science policy adheres to the agenda and principles that our new president has set out.

So, how are things going so far?


Last week, the White House released a new report on climate change. Roger Pielke Jr., professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, says the study is seriously flawed. He finds the report relies on data that is old, narrow, non-peer reviewed, second- and third-hand, and contradicted by more recent, peer-reviewed studies. He specifically objects to claims that global warming is leading to more natural disasters. Such disasters are Dr. Pielke’s specialty, and he argues there is no such trend.


Back in February, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said that global warming was going to destroy agriculture in California. Dr. Pielke (who is becoming something of a one-man band in reigning in the more outrageous claims of global warming) picked apart that one as well.


In March, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar removed gray wolves in the northern Rockies from the Endangered Species list. This action was first proposed by President George W. Bush just before he left office, but suspended by the incoming administration. Two months later, they decided that Bush was right to accept the unanimous recommendation of Fish and Wildlife scientists.

Mark hates it when I point out stuff like that…


Ice sheets in Greenland
Ice sheets in GreenlandCourtesy ...Tim
Did you know that glaciers could be up to two miles thick and weigh more than a million tons? Have you ever wondered how snowflakes become ice? And what’s the albedo effect?

The Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) has the answer to such questions and much, much more. Over the past four years, CReSIS has been developing technologies, conducting field investigations and compiling data to help understand the rapid changes in the polar ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland. In conducting this research, their vision is to one day understand and predict the role of polar ice sheets in sea level change.

A total of five multi-disciplinary teams work together to conduct research allowing for efficient and well-coordinated progress. I took a closer look at the Satellite Measurements team and the instrumentation they’re using is quite fascinating. The instruments provide high-resolution information on everything from topography to temperature to surface melt. When comparing how these parameters change over time, the team can determine their effects on sea level, identify potential mechanisms controlling that effect, and then create computational models that explain these changes. You can even follow the field experiments that the center is currently conducting at their blog.

On top of all of that, CReSIS is also helping to inspire, educate and train K-12, undergrad and graduate students by encouraging the pursuit of careers in science and engineering as well as offering a variety of research opportunities. My personal favorite is the Ice, Ice, Baby lessons activities. Who cares if its designed for K-8 students! If you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day, I highly recommend making glacier goo. You can learn a lot while making a mess!

According to the Global Humanitarian Forum, the number of deaths “that result from the spread of disease, malnutrition and natural disaster caused by climate change” is roughly 300,000 people per year.

Read more about it here.

If your answer is "Nothing, yet," then you might consider stopping by the museum.

Minnesota's Water Resources: Impacts of Climate Change
Dr. Lucinda Johnson, National Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota-Duluth
Thursday, April 9, 2009
7 - 8:30 pm in the Auditorium

Over the past 150 years, Minnesota's climate has become increasingly warmer, wetter, and variable, resulting in undeniable ecological impacts. For example, more recent changes in precipitation patterns combined with urban expansion and wetland losses have resulted in an increase in the frequency and intensity of flooding in parts of Minnesota. Learn about exciting new research which will develop a prediction model for future climate changes specific to Minnesota, and discover its potential economic and civic impact.

Check it out.

Two recent headlines:

Increased Number Think Global Warming Is “Exaggerated”

Leading climate scientist: 'democratic process isn't working'

Because, y’know, if you can’t win an argument through reason, and you can’t win it through fear, you can always fall back on that old standby, force.

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.


Pacaya-Samiria NR, Amazon
Pacaya-Samiria NR, AmazonCourtesy Mark Goble
Scientists know that the Amazon rainforest can help to slow down climate change. The trees not only take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but they also are made of carbon. All living things are made of carbon, and when these things die that carbon is released.

There was an unusually severe drought in 2005, which gave scientists a preview of the Amazon's future climate. Scientists think the rainforest will see hotter and more intense dry seasons with climate change. When Oliver Phillips a professor at the University of Leeds, looked at the effects of the drought, he found that it caused carbon losses in the rainforest. This is bad for us, because we rely on the Amazon to take in carbon dioxide, not release it!

In most years the Amazon absorbs almost 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide. In 2005, the trees did not absorb that much carbon dioxide, but the forest lost more than 3 billion tons. The losses were caused by all the trees that died in the drought. The impact of the drought, 5 billion extra tons of carbon dioxide is more than the annual emissions of Europe and Japan put together.


Measuring to detect changing climate

Jack-in-the-pulpit: photo taken May 3, 2004
Jack-in-the-pulpit: photo taken May 3, 2004Courtesy ARTiFactor
One way to measure climate change would be to keep records of when different species of plants first come up or when they first flower. I often do this with my camera which automatically records the time and date.

The National Phenology Network

The National Phenology Network is recruiting people across the U.S. to record when trees bud, flowers bloom and migrating animals return. I heard the project's executive director, Jake Weltzin, explain how tracking these trends can help scientists better understand climate change on National Public Radio Friday (click link to listen to the broadcast).

Become a phenology observer

Click this link to learn how to monitor plant phenology and sign up to contribute new observations to the USA-NPN national phenology database.

The USA National Phenology Network brings together citizen scientists, government agencies, non-profit groups, educators and students of all ages to monitor the impacts of climate change on plants and animals in the United States.

Select a plant

I especially liked the "select a plant" data base. In addition to telling you how and what to measure, it also tells why a particular plant is important. Click here to see information about my jack in the pulpit.

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.

Ice Sheet - Antarctica
Ice Sheet - AntarcticaCourtesy NASA

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.