Thursday, November 21, 2019

Another Community Grappling with Sea Level Rise

I think the press has caught on, because I'm seeing more and more stories about east coast towns and cities dealing with sea level rise. The other day was this NYT story about Virginia Beach saying no to developers that wanted to build new homes in more frequently flooding wetlands. Today is this well crafted story and video by Tom Horton at Yale e360 about a community, Money Island, on the Delaware Bay in southern New Jersey.

The video isn't embeddable, so you'll have to go there to watch it. But it's worth the 15 minutes. It's a very visceral portrait of real people dealing with the economic and emotional consequences of the rising sea level that is slowly drowning their much loved community. Trump should watch it.

New Jersey's Blue Acres program has been buying out homes there, about 300 of 1500 in five years, after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. This is going to happen along coasts everywhere -- it will be taxpayers who make home owners whole, because the homeowners can't be expected to just write off the value of their largest asset. It also shows how the demise of these communities will accelerate once it begins, as their tax base erodes as people begin leaving and the land left behind turns into tax-exempt open spaces. (Money Island has lost $15 million off their tax base so far.) That leaves less money to deal with the effects of rising tides on roads and other infrastructure. It's a downward spiral.

The operative word is "undevelopment." We're going to be seeing a lot more of that as time goes by.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

What If You Removed All Greenhouse Gases*

This animation by Chris Colose of NASA GISS shows what would happen to the Earth if all noncondensing greenhouse gases* (CO2, CH4, N2O...but not water vapor) were removed from the atmosphere: most of the planet would freeze over:

Raymond Pierrehumbert has a nice paragraph in his textbook that explains more:
"One sometimes hears it remarked cavalierly that water vapor is the 'most important' greenhouse gas in the Earth's atmosphere. The misleading nature of such statements can be inferred directly from Fig 4.31.... If water vapor were the only greenhouse gas in the Earth's atmosphere, the temperature would be a chilly 268 K [< 0°C], and that's even before taking ice-albedo feedback into account, which would most likely cause the Earth to fall into a frigid Snowball state.... With regard to Earth's habitability, it takes two [water vapor and CO2] to tango."

- Raymond Pierrehumbert, Principles of Planetary Climate, (2011) p. 271

Monday, November 18, 2019

What Bothered Serge Lang

Serge Lang.jpgBesides being a great mathematician in (but not limited to) number theory, Serge Lang was an activist who spoke out on a great many topics. For example, in 1971 he resigned his position at Columbia University to protest their treatment of anti-war protestors without having another job lined up. (A year later Yale offered him a position). He also disliked the use of sloppy mathematics in the social sciences -- for example, he successfully lobbied (twice) against a membership in the National Academy of Scientists for Harvard political scientist Samuel P Huntington, who used pseudo-mathematical arguments to prove that 1960s South Africa was a "satisfied society." In an earlier protest (1981) of the 1979 book The 1977 Survey of the American Professoriate, he wrote this, which is not just very elegant but unfortunately seems exponentially more relevant today in all areas of society:
I don't like the nonsense that passes for rational discourse so often in our society. I am very much bothered by the inaccuracies, ambiguities, code words, slogans, catch phrases, public relation devices, sweeping generalizations, and stereotypes, which are used (consciously or otherwise) to influence people.

I am bothered by the inability of many to recognize these for what they are. I am bothered by the way people fudge issues, or are unable to clarify them, sometimes because they are inhibited by "collegiality" and other forms of intimidation (sometimes subtle, sometimes not). Most people put up with the nonsense without doing anything about it (unable or unwilling, for whatever reason - inertia, lack, of energy, lack of interest, lack of time, etc.), often falling into cynicism and despair.

I am bothered by the misinformation which gets disseminated uncritically through the media and by the obstructions which prevent correct information from being disseminated. These obstructions come about in many ways - personal, institutional, through self-imposed inhibitions, through external inhibitions, through outright dishonesty, through incompetence - the list is a long one.

I am bothered by the way misinformation, disguised as scholarship, is used in social, political, and educational contexts to affect policy decisions.

I am bothered by the way misinformation is accepted uncritically, and by the way people are unable to recognize it or reject it.

Friday, November 15, 2019

GISS: Temperature Rise Accelerating?

NASA GISS reported their surface temperature numbers for October.
globally: 2nd warmest October (1.04°C)
Northern Hemisphere: warmest October (1.34°C)
Southern Hemisphere: 3rd warmest October (0.75°C)
land-only: warmest October (1.34°C)
The graphs are looking alarming. For the globe:

That sure looks like an acceleration.... So does this, also for the globe:

Land-only warming is now 1.33°C (2.39°F). It's 30-yr trend is +0.28°C. It also looks to be accelerating:

Climategate Retrospective

Tempus fugit. It's been 10 years since the hacked emails of Climategate were released. (Wikileaks has the files.)

It was an interesting chapter, and it may have scuttled anything meaningful coming out of the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, which was held only a few weeks after the hack, which was its apparent goal. IFIRC there was a lot of hope going into that conference, and maybe the world was ready then to follow Al Gore and do something meaningful to address climate change. Would it have mattered? I don't know, but given that it's 10 years later and we're still struggling to do anything meaningful about climate might indicate a solid agreement at Copenhagen wouldn't have mattered much -- or, at least, not more than the Kyoto Protocol, whose targets were blown right past. I think the world would still be doing as little as it is today to address climate change even if the hacked emails hadn't been released -- the people making the big decisions aren't motivated by the science or what scientists wrote to each other about the science, they're motivated by (it seems to me) keeping the fossil fuel industry happy. (Even Obama, who wanted it both ways.) But maybe I'm wrong.

I was mentioned four times, I think, in the Climategate emails. They were very minor and I'm not going to pretend I mattered and I only got a couple of harassing emails from it. (Who know what it would be like if it happened in today's Internet environment.)
From: "Chris de Freitas" <>
To: Inter-Research Science Publisher <>
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2003 13:45:56 +1200
Subject: Re: Climate Research
Priority: normal
X-mailer: Pegasus Mail for Win32 (v3.12c)
Otto (and copied to Mike Hulme)
I have spent a considerable amount of my time on this matter and had my integrity attacked in the process. I want to emphasize that the people leading this attack are hardly impartial observers. Mike himself refers to "politics" and political incitement involved. Both Hulme and Goodess are from the Climate Research Unit of UEA that is not particularly well known for impartial views on the climate change; The CRU has a large stake in climate change research funding as I understand it pays the salaries of most of its staff.  I understand too the journalist David Appell was leaked information to fuel a public attack.
Presumably this pertains to an article I was reporting for Scientific American about the 2003 Soon and Baliunas paper that came out 6 days after De Freitas's email. But his claim was untrue -- I was never leaked any information. (If only I was so fortunate.) Any information I had I received by simple reporting -- making phone calls and sending emails. I don't consider that article an "attack," just journalism. You can see that in another email, by Ross McKitrick:
From: Tim Osborn <>
To: "Phil Jones" <>,"Keith Briffa" <>
Subject: Fwd: Re: McIntyre-McKitrick and Mann-Bradley-Hughes
Date: Fri, 07 Nov 2003 16:12:53 +0000
>From: "Sonja.B-C" <>
>Date: Fri, 7 Nov 2003 15:58:06 +0000
>To: Steve McIntyre <>
>Subject: Re: McIntyre-McKitrick and Mann-Bradley-Hughes
>Cc:, Tim Osborn <>,
>         Ross McKitrick <>
>Priority: NORMAL
>X-Mailer: Execmail for Win32 5.1.1 Build (10)
>Dear Steve
>Please send your material for comment direct to Tim, Osborne.I
>would like to publish the whole debate early next year, but
>'respectful' comments in the meantime can only help and the CRU people
>seem genuinely interested and have integrity. I have never heard of
>such bad behaviour here as appears to have been the case between
>Sallie and Soon and the rest..the US adversarial system and too many
>As you know ,the  contact is Tim Osborn <> and I take
>the liberty to forward this to him now. You seem to suggest that this
>is welcome and are making make direct comments on his remarks to me
>concerning your paper.
>We shall get the printed proof, as a  single electronic file today, and
>shall look through it early next week. I am sure you do not want to see
>your paper again?  I think that adding anymore now (the exchanges
>between you and Mann/Bradley and perhaps now Tim as well)  is  premature
>and we shall wait until the next issue. Mann is said to be writing
>something, but he has not yet contacted me, though I just hang up on
>that journalist Appell who keeps on ringing. I told him that I will
>deal only directly with Mann. What cheek, after threatening me with
>litigation...Just keep me in the loop. Thanks.
The other mention was something I'm proud of:
From: Keith Briffa To: "Michael E. Mann" , Tom Wigley , Phil Jones
Subject: Re: Soon et al. paper
Date: Tue May 20 16:07:41 2003
Cc: Jerry Meehl
, Caspar Ammann ,

Mike and Tom and others
My silence to do with the specific issue of the Soon and Baliunas conveys general strong agreement with all the general remarks (and restatement of many in various forms ) by Tom Crowley, Mike Mann, Neville Nichols and now Tom Wigley regarding the scientific value of the paper and its obvious methodological flaws. I have to say that I tended towards the "who cares" camp , in as much as those who are concerned about the science should see through it anyway . I also admit to thinking that some of you seem a little paranoid (especially in the implication that Climate Research is a pro sceptic journal) but I am changing my mind regarding the way the "meaning" of the BS paper is being presented to the wider public - in response to some very poor recent reporting in the British press and several requests from the US that indicate that those of you who work there can not simply rely on the weight of good science eventually showing through as regards the public perception . As Tom W. states , there are uncertainties and "difficulties" with our current knowledge of Hemispheric temperature histories and valid criticisms or shortcomings in much of our work. This is the nature of the beast - and I have been loathe to become embroiled in polarised debates that force too simplistic a presentation of the state of the art or "consensus view". Having read Tom W's and Mike's latest statements I now agree about the need to make some public comment on BS . (I too have given my personal view of the work to David Appell who I assume is writing a balanced view of this paper for Scientific American).
I'm proud that a good scientist like Briffa assumed I would be writing a balanced article, because that's what I always try to do. ("Balanced" doesn't mean a 50-50, he-said she-said article type.)


Finally, when Climategate v2.0 broke in November 2011, I wrote some things that were way wrong and I don't mind admitting it. I regret not taking more time to think about things. I wrote:
On a second reading of the stolen UAE UEA emails leaked today, and just reading the README file emails, these sound worse than I thought at first – their impact will be devastating.
Their impact wasn't anything like "devastating." I should have known better.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Andrew Yang's Statistics(?)

Andrew Yang isn't going to win the Democratic presidential primary and probably not even be asked to be run as vice-president on the ticket. (Alas.) But he is doing a good job of pointing out the risks of automation.

But I can't follow some of his statistics. In an opinion piece in today's NY Times he wrote
Our economic numbers need to measure what matters. We know stock market prices don’t mean much to the 78 percent of workers in this country who are living paycheck to paycheck or the 40 percent of workers who are a $400 bill away from financial crisis.
But if 40% of workers are $400 away from a bill that will put them in a financial crisis, then 60% of workers aren't in that position -- they apparently have at least $400 in savings, so are not living paycheck to paycheck.

How then can 78% of workers be living paycheck to paycheck, if 60% of workers aren't?

Am I missing something?

PS: I sympathize greatly with anyone who can't afford the health care they need. This is just a technical question.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Movie Recommendations

I watched a couple of good sci-fi movies recently that are worth recommending.

Anymore it seems like sci-fi movies are the only movies I'm interested in. (But not books, so far.) I'm not sure why, since I didn't grow up steeped in sci-fi. I watched and liked Star Trek (the original series), and read books like 1984 and Animal Farm and Brave New World, but not Asimov's fiction or Heinlein or pulp sci fi. (I did read a lot of Asimov's nonfiction during my teens.) I never got into comic books or superheroes or such. I still can't get into them. The harder the sci-fi, the more I like it.

I did read a lot of Heinlein's fiction later in my 20s. Saw Asimov at a sci-fi con in Stony Brook. Looked kinda like a sad gig for him.

The two films I saw recently that I'll recommend are Apollo 18 and Automata.

Apollo 18 (2011) is about a last, secret Apollo mission to the Moon -- "found footage" (like the Blair Witch Trial) -- that tells the story of one last Moon landing on behalf of the Department of Defense. It's a little cliched in terms of (...spoiler alert...) what the astronauts find there, which are extraterrestrials but not an especially interesting kind. (They creep and crawl, and can exist in a vacuum. Boo.) But it's a good story with a great deal of verisimilitude, which is what these recovered footage films live or die on. This one lives. 7.5 of 10.

Automata (2014) is a film I saw a while back but forgot about, so watching it again was a pleasant surprise. It's really quite innovative with a hard, realistic edge, about (...spoiler alert...) an insurance adjuster who must find out why a robot in his dystopian era of manmade robots has started to self-repair. Such repairs and improvements are a violation of the "second protocol" of the robot's programming (similar to Asimov's laws of robotics, but with only two). But the automata have been learning and growing and evolving and getting rather creepy, with, in the end, nothing humans can do to stop them. Antonio Banderas is really excellent in this movie, and so unlike what I remember seeing of him in the '90s. He carries the entire movie, which is set in a novel environment, with some great minor characters played by pre lip job Melanie Griffith and by Dylan McDermott from The Practice. 8.5 out of 10.

Other than these, you can always watch another episode of Firefly. They never get old. Afterward you can cry (again) that so few episodes were ever made.

Ocean Acidification is Accelerating... the western north Pacific. Not a surprise:
In the Subtropical Frontal zone, we found that the mean rate of acidification tracked the acceleration of the atmospheric CO2 increase; during 2008–2017 the rate of acidification was 30% faster than during 1983–2017.
However, using the monthly Mauna Loa CO2 readings, I find its average from 2008-2017 was 395.5 ppm, while its average from 1983-2017 was 371.6 ppm. An increase of only 6.4%.


Thursday, November 07, 2019

An El Nino This Winter?

It was a very cold October here in Oregon -- the statewide average was 4th-lowest since 1895, according to NOAA's data. 2019's average temperature will very likely be below the 1980-2010 baseline, which hasn't happened since 2011.

In other news, German organizations are forecasting an El Nino this winter by the end of 2020 and spring. This is the first I've seen of such a call.
Early warning: Physicists from Giessen, Potsdam and Tel Aviv forecast "El Niño" for 2020

Researchers at Justus Liebig University Giessen (JLU), the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, find that there will probably be another "El Niño" by the end of 2020. The prediction models commonly used do not yet see any signs of this.
Take that for what it's worth. The NINO 3.4 region has been all over the place in recent months, but not above 0.5 C, the threshold for El Nino events:

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

My Apology to Nic Lewis

Today I sent the following email to Nicolas (Nic) Lewis. I'm posting it here with his permission. Also, I've amended my Nov 15th post of last year to note this apology.
Dear Mr. Lewis,

I'd like to apologize to you for a comment I made after you critiqued Resplandy et al. I wrote a blog post on Nov 15th titled "Nic Lewis Owes Resplandy et al an Apology." I thought you were quick to criticize them for a lack of a quick response, and somewhat still do, but that now seems minor in light of their retraction. I regret my blog post and extend an apology to you.

With your permission I'll post this email to on my blog, and also point to it right under the title of my Nov 15th post, so Google searches see it.


He has kindly accepted my apology.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Ocean Heat Content and a Lost Island in Chesapeake Bay

The 3rd quarter numbers for ocean heat content are in. Needless to say, the trend continues.

Both the 0-700 m region and the 0-2000 m region will very likely set records for the year, which is usually the case these days.

Also, an educational center on Fox Island in the Chesapeake Bay is closing due to sea level rise. The Fox Island Environmental Education Center run by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been on the island for 40 years, but due to "sea level rise and erosion" protective salt marshes have washed away; they had reduced the impact of wind and waves on the center. "Over the past 50 years, more than 70 percent of the island’s land area washed away."

Fox Island is only about 5 miles from Tangier Island, which is also being lost despite strong denialism there and the promises of President Trump.

Here's a 25-year comparison:

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Carbon Savings From the Internet

This is a little interesting: a plot of real US GDP (in 2012 dollars) versus miles driven by all Americans:

It shows a clear shift around 1995, just when the Internet came up -- US GDP took off relative to the miles driven by Americans.