Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Miami Residents Discover Climate Change Costs Money

Flooding in Miami BeachFrom the Department of You-Will-Pay-For-Climate-Change-One-Way-Or-Another:
Miami Beach is proposing an 84 percent increase in storm water fees — the cost of keeping rising seas at bay — with more rises in the future.
(source: Miami  Herald). Total expected cost: $300 million.
The city hopes to pay for infrastructure projects, which include pumps to suck water out of soggy streets. About $30 million in storm water improvements are already approved. Plans call for 65 new pump stations and improvements to 21 existing wells.

“It’s just essential,” Commissioner Joy Malakoff said at a committee meeting.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Models That Predict the Pause

There's a very interesting paper out today in Nature Climate Change:
"Well-estimated global surface warming in climate projections selected for ENSO phase," James S. Risbey, Stephan Lewandowsky, Clothilde Langlais, Didier P. Monselesan, Terence J. O’Kane & Naomi Oreskes, Nature Climate Change (2014).
What they found is that those climate models that, by chance, reproduce ENSOs since 1950, do show a slowdown in surface warming for the 1998-2012 period.

Climate models make projections, not forecasts. They calculate climate over long time periods -- a few decades at least -- due to forcing variations, but aren't good at projecting internal variability like ENSOs and the PDO which take up or release heat (and which average out to zero over many decades). Slowdowns ("pauses") occur in the 15-year trends in the models, but forecasting one from, say, 1998 requires setting up a model with its ocean in that particular ENSO state.

Here, for example, is a histogram of all the model projections for two 15-year periods. Most models overpredicted the last 15 years, but overpredicted the previous 15 years (which I've called the anti-pause):

This group looked at all CMIP5 models, and culled all except for models whose internal variability was, by chance, close to the Nino3.4 surface temperature:

.To select this subset of models for any 15-year period, we calculate the 15-year trend in Niño3.4 index24 in observations and in CMIP5models and select only thosemodels with aNiño3.4 trend within a tolerance window of 0.01K/yr of the observed Niño3.4 trend. This approach ensures that we select only models with a phasing of ENSO regime and ocean heat uptake largely in line with observations. In this case we select the subset of models in phase with observations from a reduced set of 18 CMIP5 models where Niño3.4 data were available25 and for the period since 1950 when Niño3.4 indices are more reliable in observations.

Then here is their result:

So the in-phase models projections are very close to the bottom of the all-model spread. It's not perfect, as they note:
This method of phase aligning to select appropriate model trend estimates will not be perfect as the models contain errors in the forcing histories27 and errors in the simulation of ENSO (refs 25,28) and other processes. Further, ENSO is not the only process generating natural variability on these timescales and so the method used here can be only approximate. Nonetheless, the phaseselection method provides a fairer and more appropriate basis to compare model projection trends over decadal-scale periods than use of the entire multi-model envelope. When the phase of naturalvariability is taken into account, the model 15-year warming trends in CMIP5 projections well estimate the observed trends for all 15-year periods over the past half-century.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Fire Tents and Oregon Fires

This video piece about fire tents and how they saved the lives of one crew was a lot more captivating than I expected:

Fires are in the news here a great deal right now.

Besides A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean wrote an interesting book titled Young Men and Fire, the story and an analysis of the 1949 Mann Gulch fire that killed 13 people (there were only 3 survivors). Realizing they were in trouble, the firefighters raced up a steep (38°) mountainside in front of the fire; four of them made it, but only two were able to crawl though the rock ridge at the top. (Wildfires burn exceptionally fast going up hill, because the heat of the towering flames is closer to the upslope than it would be to flat ground, which pre-heats the upslope so it combusts more quickly.)

Once he realized he and several others couldn't outclimb the fire, the crew's Foreman, Wagner Dodge, famously lit the grass right in front of them and encouraged those near him to lie down in the burnt area. It was no doubt hectic and terrifying, and the others didn't realize what Dodge was doing, and they dismissed him and kept climbing. All those who ran away from Dodge's "escape fire" lost their lives, while Dodge laid in the burnt area and the main fire went around him.

Anyway, the last of the three survivors, Robert Sallee, just died a few weeks ago, which brought the book and the fire back to my mind.

Dodge's escape fire was controversial afterwards. He said he invented the idea on the spot, as it seemed "logical" to him (but maybe he had talked about it some years earlier). A lot was learned from this particular fire that was incorporated in firefighters' training.

I just noticed that Maclean's son, John Norman Maclean, wrote a book, Fire on the Mountain, that told a similar story about the South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain on July 1994 in Colorado, where 14 firefighters lost their lives. I find these stories fascinating, perhaps because they are so terrifying.

Fires are in the news here because Oregon has many burning right now, with five that just started yesterday and are large (69,000 acres) and uncontained. It's so bad the governor declared a state of emergency on Wednesday. One fire has already burned 576 square miles and is 20% contained, and another has burned 262 square miles and is 0% contained. Those two alone are 70% of the size of Rhode Island.

"Curiosity" by Rob Pyle

In the mail: Curiosity: The Inside Look at the Mars Rover Mission and the People Who Made It Happen, by science writer Rob Pyle.

Personally, I thought the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars in August 2012 was as exciting as anything fror the Apollo missions, including the first landing on the Moon (whose 45th anniversay is tomorrow). (Video is here.)

Maybe more so. Being on the Web instead of a grainy view on a black and white television made it much easier to share in the drama, I wasn't 9-years old and sleepy (Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the Moon at 10:56 pm Eastern Time) after being keyed up all day knowing what was coming, I've been at JPL to interview Steve Squyres about the earlier rovers and had seen where and how they work, and the next morning I got to interview the lead scientist, John Grotzinger, even though he'd been up all night and had to be drained.

Maybe I'm just a kid at heart, but I still get goosebumps when the JPL guy says "We're safe on Mars" and the anxious room explodes into cheers and high-fives.

So I'm sure I'll find Pyle's book interesting. It has behind-the-scenes stories, delves into the scientific reasons for the mission, and technical details on how the rover was built.

It's be a great gift for a high-schooler who is into science, and better yet, space. Are there any such kids anymore, or do they all want to work at Google instead of NASA or SpaceX? My 9-year old nephew doesn't seem aware of space travel at all, even though I've given him a couple of books on it. Are any 9-year olds nowadays?

Don't at least a few of them want to go to Mars? This book would be a good start.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Updated El Nino Review & Forecast

The International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University is out with their monthly climate review and ENSO forecast:
During June through early-July the observed ENSO conditions remained near the borderline of a weak El Niño condition in the ocean, but the atmosphere so far has shown little involvement. Most of the ENSO prediction models indicate more warming coming in the months ahead, leading to sustained El Niño conditions by the middle or late portion of northern summer.
There is a wide spread in what models are now forecasting, with none higher than a Nino3.4 anomaly of 1.6°C. (The 1997 anomaly reached 2.9°C.)

Here's my update comparing the 1997-98 El Nino to this year's fledgling attempt at an El Nino. This year's Nino3.4 index is fading for now, but it's notable that temperatures this year have, El Nino or not, so far been signficantly ahead of 1997's (by an average of 0.25°C).

By the way, here are the different Nino regions of the Pacific ocean:

Niño Regions


Via Imgur.

Nikola Tesla and the Pigeon

This Tesla item is from the Perimeter Institute, in Canada -- "What Great Scientists Did When they Weren't Doing Great Science." They have several more here.

One they didn't mention, but that I particularly like, was Arthur Eddington's method of tracking lifetime cycling progress -- the largest integer N such that one had cycled at least N miles on N different days.

He got up to at least N=77, which he reached at the age of 60.

Some people call this the "Eddington Number," which is funny because Eddington is known for (among many other things) his interest in the fine structure constant α, which he claimed was exactly equal to 1/136, and for his calculation that the exact number of protons in the universe (with an equal number of electrons) was NEDD = 136 × 2256 ∼ 1079, or, as he said in a 1938 lecture at Cambridge:
"I believe there are 15 747 724 136 275 002 577 605 653 961 181 555 468 044 717 914 527 116 709 366 231 425 076 185 631 031 296 protons in the universe and the same number of electrons."
Later, when α was experimentally found to be closer to 1/137, Eddington changed his "proof" to claim that α had to be exactly 1/137, for which Punch magazine dubbed him "Sir Arthur Adding-One."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Calling Politicans' Bluff

Here's how you do it:
TALLAHASSEE — In an effort to push Gov. Rick Scott into the debate on climate change, 10 prominent Florida scientists on Tuesday asked for an opportunity to explain to him the impact human-induced global warming will have on Florida.

"We note you have been asked several times about how, as Governor, you will handle the issue of climate change," the scientists wrote in a two-page letter to Scott. "You responded that you are 'not a scientist.' We are scientists and we would like the opportunity to explain what is at stake for our state."
via the Tampa Bay Times/Herald, which also has a copy of the letter at the end of its article.

If politicans give you lemons, make lemonade. Meet them on their home turf. Two can play at this game. Never up, never in. The best defense is a good offense. Etc.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Putting Elephant Seals to Work for Science

Clever -- in the Southern Ocean, scientists are using elephant seals like Argo buoys, attaching tags to the seals that record temperature, salinity and pressure, that they send via satellite when the seal surfaces. Here's a paper where they used these data to improve understanding of the deep ocean circulation in the Southern Ocean.

They say the tag is put on their head with a harmless glue that comes off when the animal moults.

Here are some tags on their back flippers. I think I'd prefer that, but am not totally sure.

The Internet of things now includes elephant seals. Squirrels can't be far behind.