Friday, August 31, 2012

Stochastic Observations of Climate News

My guess for the UAH global lower troposphere anomaly for August is 0.31°C, which would be the 4th-warmest August in their 34 years of records. The El Nino year 1998 is still the warmest, at 0.45°C.


Speaking of El Nino, the Queensland (Australian) Department of Environment and Resource Management says "approximately 80 per cent of international global climate models, and most models surveyed by the BoM (‘ENSO Wrap-Up’(PDF) July 31), indicate the possibility of an El Niño event developing before summer." That would be good news for relief of the US drought, bad news for global temperatures.


Some of the "fake skeptics" have been saying that Arctic sea ice records only go back to the start of the satellite era in 1979. Tamino shows that's not true.


PIOMAS has released their monthly estimates of Arctic sea ice volume early, no doubt to get in on the record-breaking. The losses in volume are stunning. Here are the losses from past years, compared to their last data point of 8/26/12:

in 5 years: -47% 
in 10 years: -68% 
in 20 years: -76% 
in 30 years: -74% 

I wonder how low it can go before their model breaks down.


I can't get too worked up about Mitt Romney's speech last night, where he made fun of global warming:
"President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans," pausing for the audience to laugh at the absurdity, "and to heal the planet. My promise ... is to help you and your family."
Let's face it, Romney will say anything to get elected, whether it's consistent with what he's said in the past or not. There has probably never been a less principled and more craven person running for president.... I actually feel kind of sorry for the guy (but will be even sorrier for the country if he is elected.)


George Monbiot goes there:
The third event was that the Republican party in the United States began its national convention in Tampa, Florida – a day late. Why? Because of the anticipated severity of hurricane Isaac, which reached the US last night.... The Republican party's leading lights either deny climate change altogether, or argue that people can adapt to whatever a changed climate may bring, so there's nothing to worry about. The deluge of reality has had no impact on the party's determination to wish the physical world away. As points out, most of the major figures lined up to speak at the convention deny that man-made climate change is happening. When your children ask how and why it all went so wrong, point them to yesterday's date, and explain that the world is not led by rational people.
One hurricane does not prove global warming! For crying out loud.... This kind of thing, like McKibben's Twitter feed that Keith Kloor called "a dutiful chronicler of weather-related bad news," does more harm than good. It turns people off and makes them dismiss you -- as they should, because it's no different than 'it was cold last week in Missoula, Montana" items that are pumped out from the likes of

Besides, to me hurricanes are far down on the list of concerns from global warming. Sure, they can be bad if you're in one, but they're local, people can always get out of the way, and they're hardly new or unprecedented. Would you rather be in 5 hurricanes today or the one back in New England in 1938 (it killed about 700 people)?

The Tea Party's Fundamental Error

William Connolley provides a succinct summary:
"I don't perceive them [Tea Partiers] as amenable to reason over [global warming] GW, which is what I'm interested in for public purposes. They have made a fundamental error:

1. I don't like govt
2. GW, if true, requires action from govt
3. Therefore GW is false

This makes them idiots. Although I doubt [Paul] Ryan is an idiot on this matter, instead my best guess is that he is dishonest."
(It's down in the comments.)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Discouraging Trendlines of US Energy Sources

Here is the percentage of U.S. energy derived from non-fossil fuels (nonFF), renewables, and nuclear power, for the last 4 decades. The trend looks somewhat encouraging:

But if you include fossil fuels, it looks much less encouraging -- in fact, I would call it positively discouraging:

What we need is to basically to switch the positions of the red and black curves. I could project them out and see where they cross, etc., but why bother -- it's clear that whatever we've been doing won't get us there for a couple of centuries.

Stunning Picture from Mars

Here's a great photograph taken by the Curiosity rover on Mars, of Mt. Sharp. The stratification shows exactly why geologists are so interested in it, and somehow the rover is going to climb up it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Climate Moving at One Foot Per Hour

Ken Caldiera has a great article in the September issue of Scientific American -- "The Great Climate Experiment" -- that takes a longer view of climate change, past 2100, over millenia and longer (hectomillenia?).

He puts it all out simple and plain, with neither alarming nor solace. For example, he writes "The outlook may be for increased crop productivity overall, with increases in the north exceeding the reductions over the equator. Global warming may not decrease overall food supply, but it may give more to the rich and less to the poor."

He notes that in the northern midlatitudes (30°N to 60°N), the annual average temperature drops about 2/3rds of a degree C with each degree of increasing latitude.
"With five degrees of warming in a century, that translates into an average poleward movement of more than 800 kilometers in that period, for an average poleward movement of temperature bands exceeding 20 meters each day. Squirrels may be able to keep up with this rate, but oak trees and earthworms have difficulty moving that fast." 
Over the last 20 years, GISS's northern hemisphere temperature has increased at a rate of 0.27°C/decade. Let's exclude the equatorial region and call it 0.2°C/decade. That implies a current rate of climate shift of over one foot each hour. Over 6 millimeters a minute. 2.1 miles a year.

You should read his article, even if you have to buy the issue, a special one themed "Beyond the Limits of Science," for your tablet or off the newstand.

"Phi" by Giulio Tononi

In the mail: Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul by Giulio Tononi. From the publisher:
From one of the most original and influential neuroscientists at work today, here is an exploration of consciousness unlike any other—as told by Galileo, who opened the way for the objectivity of science and is now intent on making subjective experience a part of science as well.

Galileo’s journey has three parts, each with a different guide. In the first, accompanied by a scientist who resembles Francis Crick, he learns why certain parts of the brain are important and not others, and why consciousness fades with sleep. In the second part, when his companion seems to be named Alturi (Galileo is hard of hearing; his companion’s name is actually Alan Turing), he sees how the facts assembled in the first part can be unified and understood through a scientific theory—a theory that links consciousness to the notion of integrated information (also known as phi). In the third part, accompanied by a bearded man who can only be Charles Darwin, he meditates on how consciousness is an evolving, developing, ever-deepening awareness of ourselves in history and culture—that it is everything we have and everything we are.

Not since Gödel, Escher, Bach has there been a book that interweaves science, art, and the imagination with such originality. This beautiful and arresting narrative will transform the way we think of ourselves and the world.
Publisher's Weekly has a short review here, and in case you can't read the above (in which case, why are you here in the first place?), here is the marketing review above read by a computer:

(I fear we may someday have everything read aloud to us like this.)

What I've Been Up To

I have a couple of articles that have come out recently: an interview in Scientific American with John Grotzinger, the Project Scientist of the Mars Curiosity rover mission, done the morning after it landed. There's also an associated podcast.

And a feature article in Physics World magazine, "When supergravity was born," that tells the story of a late-night computer calculation in 1976 that showed the existence of supergravity -- a field theory that merges Einstein's gravity with supersymmetry.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Malcolm Browne

The journalist Malcolm Browne died yesterday, at age 81. He was famous as a correspondent during the Vietnam War, where he took one of the war's most famous photographs, of a Buddist monk setting himself on fire in Saigon. Later he did science journalism (his education was in chemistry), and maybe ten years ago (or more) I read an article by him that impressed me greatly and that I still remember. It was in the Science Times, and only about 500 words, and while I don't remember all the details it was about a paper that found some flocking-like behavior in certain types of cells that might be a basis for the phenomenon in birds, fish, etc. After reading his article I went and read the scientific paper -- I think it was in Physical Review Letters, if I recall correctly -- and it was your typically dry paper with only a hint of the thrust of Browne's article. I was deeply impressed at how he had found the essence of that work and brought it out into a very readable account by, I guess, talking a lot with the researchers and others. He really made that paper come alive, and I saw how a really great journalist embeds the paper in a larger context, how they move from the paper's often narrow technical result to its larger significance, something I sometimes struggle with. I was somewhere in New Hampshire, and I can still picture the story on the page -- it was only 5 short columns, spread wide across the top of the second page of the Science section -- and probably one of the most important articles I've ever read.

The Times obituary quotes from an essay he wrote:
“After a time, a news writer may begin to sense a kind of sameness in most of the events that pass as news,” he wrote. “When that happens a lucky few of us discover that in science, almost alone among human endeavors, there is always something new under the sun.”

Will NRO Get Access to Mann's Emails?

Another thing I don't understand about the Michael Mann v. National Review conflict is why the NR side thinks they will get access to his long-sought emails.

Jonathan Adler wrote (and this sentiment has been widely written elsewhere):
A month later, the blog post is still there, and National Review is not backing down. Here’s the response from their lawyer, which notes (correctly in my view) that Mann is a public figure who would have to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that NR published “a provably false statement” with actual knowledge the statement was false or “reckless disregard” for the truth or falsity of the statement. Further, the letter notes, in order to defend itself NR would be entitled to seek discovery, and in the process obtain access to e-mails and other records that Mann has, thus far, resisted disclosing in various freedom-of-information suits prompted by ClimateGate.
(emphasis mine).
The "hockey stick papers," MBH98 and MBH99, were written when Mann was at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, before he went to the University of Virginia. It's this work that Mark Steyn called "fraudulent," and while I'm no lawyer, I can't see how a court would allow a party to troll through any and all emails, especially those that came after the work that is the focus of the suit.

Do courts really allow those sued for defamation to have access to all of the plaintiff's correspondence and records -- all postal mail, all email, all voice mail, all documents, regardless of when they occur and their relevance? I seriously doubt it.

The Arctic Records That Still Remain

Now that Arctic sea ice extent has set a new record minimum in the recorded era -- Jennifer Francis told the NY Times, “It’s hard even for people like me to believe, to see that climate change is actually doing what our worst fears dictated. It’s starting to give me chills, to tell you the truth” -- about the only records remaining are the lowest year and the 12-month moving average.

The lowest annual SIE, calculated as the average of each day in the year, still belongs to 2007, at 9.97 Mkm2. But it depends on how you interpret days with missing data -- I've chosen to linearly interpolate across any data gaps. In this way, 2011 averaged 9.98 Mkm2.

Year-to-date, 2012 ranks 4th, with 2011 the lowest (11.08 Mkm2), then 2007 (11.14 Mkm2), 2006 (11.16 Mkm2), and 2012 (11.28 Mkm2). YTD-2012 is closing in on YTD-2011 fast though, at about 0.005 Mkm2 each day, and at current rates will beat it in about two months.

The daily availability of data lends the undeniable feeling of a horserace to all this. I'm undecided if that's positive or negative. Emphasizing short-term phenomena is always risky in matters of climate change, and perhaps there's an appearance that some are cheering for the records to be broken (Marc Moreno wrote, "...Climate Depot extends congratulations to the global warming activists as they celebrate current Arctic ice conditions and try to convince the public that it is a significant event that is due to man-made global warming," but then, spin is the very essence of his business model).

On the other hand, everyone is much more aware of what's happening than all but the researchers would have been before the Web, which accelerates overall concerns where there should be concerns. At the ISEC Space Elevator Conference I just returned from, one of the speakers said we have been "criminally slow to act on the climate crisis." While more data is always needed, it surely isn't because we lack adequate information about what's happening -- we're now getting it on a daily basis.

Monday, August 27, 2012

These Aren't Merely "Negative Things"

Judith Curry writes:
"I am trying to figure out what Mann is trying to accomplish with these lawsuits.  I guess he is hoping to intimidate people into not saying negative things about him?" 
I don't get that at all. Simberg wrote that Michael Mann engaged in "data manipulation." Mark Steyn called his work "fraudulent." Those aren't merely "negative things" -- they are statements about Mann and his co-author's integrity.

Being wrong would be one thing. Being dishonest is something else entirely, and it seems to me Mann is here defending his integrity and personal reputation, not the correctness of his scientific findings. Who wouldn't do the same? Scientists, like everyone else, have the right to be wrong. That alone does not give anyone else the right to impugn their integrity.

And, just to be clear, I don't know of any evidence whatsoever that Mann et al were dishonest in their hockey stick work, or that it is obviously wrong. It seems important to me that several other groups, and completely independent mathematical methods, have found essentially the same results. Are there reasons to argue about the details of normalization, centering, etc? Sure -- that kind of thing is always part of any science and happens in science all the time. Besides the M&M papers, there is this one by Peter Huybers (and MM's reply). But Simberg and Steyn were not doing that, of course.

[I am at the point in all this where to say anything more I'd need to completely work through everyone's calculations, which isn't going to be my priority. Peter Huybers' calculations are here.]

Friday, August 24, 2012

US Emissions Are On Obama's Reduction Track

In 2009, President Obama proposed that US emissions in 2020 should be 14% below 2005's baseline, and that year the House of Representatives passed legislation that mandated a 17% reduction. (The Senate never passed the bill.)

So how is the US doing? Thanks largely to the surge in use of natural gas instead of coal, it's actually on-track to meet that target -- to meet it 3 years early, in fact:

And per capita emissions are, as of April of this year, even better: 13.2% below December 2005. 

But Obama also proposed a reduction of 80% by 2050, which, despite the chart, is much more difficult (if not impossible, without new technologies.)

Note: These are emissions from fossil fuel use; they don't include those from land changes. They also don't include emissions embedded in the products purchased by Americans that are manufactured in other countries; by one estimate, 9% of China's emissions are from goods shipped to the US, and 6% from goods shipped to Europe. (HT: The Climate Fix). In 2010 that would add 749 Mt CO2 to US emissions (13%), and 11% to Europe's emissions.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Laughing to Scorn

“Trying to predict the future is a discouraging and hazardous occupation, because the prophet invariably falls between two stools. If his predictions sound at all reasonable, you can be quite sure that in 20, or at most 50 years, the progress of science and technology has made him seem ridiculously conservative. On the other hand, if by some miracle, a prophet could describe the future exactly as it was going to take place, his predictions would sound so absurd, so far-fetched, that everybody would laugh him to scorn.

"So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I will have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.”

-- Arthur C Clarke, 1964

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Space Elevators, Carbon Nanotubes and Toxicity

This weekend I'm going up to Seattle for the ISEC Space Elevator Conference. (I went last year, which spawned this feature article for Physics World.) A realistic space elevator -- one that isn't ridiculously wide at geostationary orbit -- requires a material with an extremely high tensile strength-to-density ratio -- something on the order of 30-60 GPa/(g/cm3) [Gigapascals per gram-per-cubic-centimeter]. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are the prime (and, so far, only) candidate that meets this requirement in principle, but so far no one knows how to make them into extended structures like a rope or ribbon, let alone braid them into long pieces (a total of about 100,000 kilometers would be needed for a space elevator).

So I especially noticed this press release that just arrived: "Super-Strong, High-Tech Material Found to be Toxic to Aquatic Animals by Researchers at MU and USGS"
CNTs are microscopically thin cylinders of carbon atoms that can be hundreds of millions of times longer than they are wide, but they are not pure carbon. Nickel, chromium and other metals used in the manufacturing process can remain as impurities. Deng and his colleagues found that these metals and the CNTs themselves can reduce the growth rates or even kill some species of aquatic organisms. The four species used in the experiment were mussels (Villosa iris), small flies’ larvae (Chironomus dilutus), worms (Lumbriculus variegatus) and crustaceans (Hyalella azteca).

“One of the greatest possibilities of contamination of the environment by CNTs comes during the manufacture of composite materials,” said Hao Li, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at MU. “Good waste management and handling procedures can minimize this risk. Also, to control long-term risks, we need to understand what happens when these composite materials break down.”
A space elevator, if it can ever be built, would likely be built on an base in the ocean, for a few reasons. First, you want to built it very near the equator because you get maximum centrifugal force there (an elevator is basically a taut string hanging off a spinning object), and because few storms cross the equator, and if the elevator was ever severed and fell back to Earth you'd want to avoid killing people. (After all, the thing has a mass of about 105 kg, or over 100 tons at the Earth's surface.)

I don't have a copy yet of the above paper, so I don't know at what concentration they found CNTs to be toxic. It's a big ocean, after all. Still, you might not want to have carbon nanotubes flaking off it, or big pieces falling off and dissolving in the ocean. Maybe you coat the CNT ribbon with some polymer or something, but that adds mass and reduces your strength-to-density ratio.

And if these are toxic to marine animals, what about other animals, including human animals? I honestly don't know. I do seem to see a relatively steady stream of press releases about nanotechnology safety, and my (mostly uninformed) impression is that this area is understudied and behind the curve of nanotech R&D. I'm not even sure about nanoparticles in sunscreens, to be honest -- information like this isn't completely reassuring.

At the very least, environmental groups will likely have another target when/if a space elevator is ever seriously proposed.

We might never get off this damned planet.

Stuff I Found Here and There

National Geographic has a good article this month by Peter Miller: "Weather Gone Wild." Worth reading.


A report by the European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, assessing priorities for research in materials for energy technologies, has a section on the Fleischman & Pons
Effect -- viz. cold fusion. Apparently some in Europe are now practicing intellectual austerity in addition to financial austerity. (Via Joe Wells)


A recent article by George Will, "Apocalypse Not," crows about the failure of projections that we would be running out of some valuable commodities by now, like gold or aluminum or oil. Being George Will he uses this as a reason to bash climate projections, and being George Will he gets it completely wrong, as one commenter noted but now I can't find. The point is that people innovate and find more gold, oil, or whatever because those things have a value. Right now the atmosphere -- especially an atmosphere with a pre-industrial level of carbon dioxide -- has no value. It's a no-fee waste dump. If it is to prosper by innovation, that atmospheric state should be valued. If it were, people would apply their ingenuity and market tools to making more of it, and until it is valued, the only people doing that will be those directly supported by government funds or the extremely charitable and well-intentioned.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hipsters in Hats

I saw someone doing this just yesterday.

Funny Seasonal Ecard: Nothing ruins a beautiful summer day like seeing a hipster wearing a winter hat.

Pipeline Operators Aren't Required to Tell Them

This is dumbfounding:
"Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a report that was harshly critical of the federal government’s regulation and oversight of pipeline safety following a spill of more than one million gallons of dilbit [dilluted bitumen] into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010. The accident underscored not only how different dilbit is from conventional oil, but how unprepared we are for the impending flood of imports.

"After the dilbit gushed into the river, it began separating into its constituent parts. The heavy bitumen sank to the river bottom, leaving a mess that is still being cleaned up. Meanwhile, the chemical additives evaporated, creating a foul smell that lingered for days. People reported headaches, dizziness and nausea. No one could say with certainty what they should do. Federal officials at the scene didn’t know until weeks later that the pipeline was carrying dilbit, because federal law doesn’t require pipeline operators to reveal that information." (David Sassoon, New York Times)
Officials didn't know what to do because they didn't know what was in the pipeline.
Because the pipeline operators aren't required to tell them.

You can't get on an airplane with a bottle of water, but you can run pipelines all over creation without telling anyone what's in them.

And corporations complain about over-regulation.

In the Way of Swamping Boats

"A singular disadvantage of the sea lies in the fact that after successfully surmounting one wave you discover that there is another behind it just as important and just as nervously anxious to do something effective in the way of swamping boats."

-- Stephen Crane, The Open Boat

The Cabo Test

Here's a passage from Roger's book that gets to the essence:
"A related issue is that many advocates for action have emphasized that climate policy requires sacrifice, as economic growth and environmental progress are necessarily incompatible with one another. This perspective has even been built into the scenarios of the IPCC, and is advocated by its chairman. However, experience shows quite clearly that when environmental and economic objectives are placed into opposition with one another in public or political forums, it is the economic goals that win out. I call this the iron law of climate policy....

"Some may wail and scream about this fundamental reality, and instead demand that people around the world reorder their values such that environmental objectives trump considerations of economic growth. Considerable effort has been expended by advocates on many issues in an effort to reshape societal values. The world's religions, for example, have been trying to reorder values for millennia. While over time value reshaping certainly occurs, there is little evidence to suggest that efforts to achieve a global value restructuring offer a useful path forward on decarbonization of the global economy, or improved resilience to climate extremes. Of course, people will try. Even so, for climate policy the reality is that the iron law of climate policy will hold fast for the foreseeable future. Those interested in real progress on decarbonization of the global economy should respond accordingly."

-- Roger Pielke Jr., The Carbon Fix, pg 59
Let's call this the Cabo Test: If today someone offered you a week-long, all-expenses vacation in Cabo San Lucas, in the finest beachside resort, would you turn it down because of the carbon emissions of the plane you'd fly in? I doubt more than a few percentage of people would decline it. Even the environmentally aware would start compromising in their head: I'll fly this time but will skip a vacation next year. I'll fly but will read a book about climate change. I'll fly but will buy carbon offsets.

I just re-read The Red Badge of Courage, and it's a little like the main character Henry Fleming: he runs from his first battle, and then spends the rest of the book trying to justify why he ran and how he can live with himself. In the end he convinces himself that fleeing was, in fact, a great thing: it will reduce his egotism, it would enable him to see truths more clearly, he believes he will gain "a large sympathy for the machinery of the universe." Ok, perhaps I'm reaching...but we are all selfish at heart, and climate policy needs to reflect that.

Bringing the US Kaya Factors Up-to-Date

I obtained the US monthly energy consumption data, and updated my earlier plot of the factors in the Kaya Identity factors for the United States:

I annualized the data to get rid of seasonal squiggles in energy use. "Tech" is what Roger labels technology -- the carbon intensity of the economy:

Tech = EI*CI = C/GDP

(see this post for the acronym definitions). The story remains the same: most of our flattening carbon emissions come from using energy more efficiently, not from reducing carbon emissions per se.

Here's a plot that shows that the average American is actually using less energy than a few decades ago:

[Yes, energy isn't measured in Watts, but since we're talking about a fix period of one year, the two are directly related.] We're flat in energy not because we are trying to use less of it, but because we use it more efficiently.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why Have U.S. Emissions Dropped?

Emissions of carbon dioxide from the United States have dropped sharply in recent years, and are at what some say is a 20-year low. Why?

Is it because the economy is struggling? Because we're decarbonizing our economy?

Neither. It's largely because of energy efficiency. Here's why.

Carbon emissions can be expressed by the Kaya Identity, which Roger Pielke Jr discusses in his book (which is very good, and I should have read it earlier):

total emissions = POP * (GDP/POP) * EI * CI 

POP = population
GDP/POP = per capita GDP
EI = energy intensity = total energy consumption/GDP
CI = carbon intensity = carbon emissions/total energy consumption

You can gather up all this data: population from FRED, real GDP from FRED, energy consumption from the EIA, and carbon emissions from the EIA. [Actually the EIA shows total carbon emissions increasing by 11% over the last 20 years (1990-2010), but then the claim that they're at a 20-year low is based on the first four months of 2012.]

What you find is that, over the 20 years 1990-2010, population has increased by 24%, per capita GDP by 31%, energy intensity has decreased by 29%, and carbon intensity has decreased by 4%. Energy intensity is what's kept emissions down (relatively), not decarbonization of energy.

And, in fact, most of that decarbonization came in the last 5 years, due to fracking of natural gas -- carbon intensity decreased 4% over the five years 2005-2010. Population increased 5%, per capita GDP decreased 1%, and energy intensity decreased 6%.

I'll look for data past 2010. I have all of it except total energy consumption, which I just haven't looked for.

So the story is, our flat emissions over the last two decades are almost all due to using energy more efficiently, with only about 1/8th of the decrease due to decarbonizing energy. This has changed only in the last half-decade, where decarbonization has been responsible for about 40% of the emissions decline (of 6%).

It seems to me the lessons from this are:
1. Using energy more efficiently is very important, but something we all do anyway because we like to save money.

2. The economic crisis has somewhat exaggerated the emissions decline, but since it (hopefully) won't continue, further emissions reductions will be trickier.

3. We're doing very little to decarbonize the economy per se. But then, why would we, when we can dump carbon waste into the atmosphere for free? You can't beat free.
Update: After I did these calculations I read a little further in Roger's book, where he does the same calculations for the globe and comes to the same conclusion: energy efficiency gains have dominated the last 20 years.

Update: Here's a plot of the evolution of each factor, relative to its 1990 value:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Less Than 30% of Arctic Ice Melt is Natural

As the Arctic continues to melt -- my little model now predicts a 92% chance of 2007's record minimum being broken -- a recent paper finds that 70-95% of the decline is due to human factors.

The paper is "Sources of multi-decadal variability in Arctic sea ice extent," J J Day et al 2012 Environ. Res. Lett. 7 034011, and here's a little video clip of the lead author.

They found that the Arctic Oscillation (AO) moves ice around but doesn't diminish it, and that the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), which is currently in its warm phase, about to turn colder, accounts for 5-30% of the observed decrease in September SIE.

This strongly suggest the Arctic sea ice will not be "coming back" when the AMO turns cold sometime (likely) later this decade. But then, it's been melting since before the AMO turned warm, according to data from Cryosphere Today (below). If there's any left, it only might melt a little slower (or may only cancel out the ice-albedo feedback).

A petition the Heartland Institute has out says "sea ice in the Arctic is rebounding." That, of course, is a lie fantasy.

Molina on Feeling Global Warming

“It’s important that people are doing more than just hearing about global warming. People may be feeling it, experiencing the impact on food prices, getting a glimpse of what everyday life may be like in the future, unless we as a society take action.”

-- Mario Molina, keynote address, last next week's American Chemical Society meeting, Philadephia, PA

Friday, August 17, 2012

UAH LT Temperature at Mid-Month

At mid-month, my guess for the UAH lower troposphere anomaly is about +0.34°C. That's warm -- it would be the 3rd-warmest August among 34 years, if you think the data can distinguish among months that are 0.10°C apart. (I'm dubious.) In any case, it's up there. My simplistic method is really only good for the month as a whole (and last month it was spot-on), but in the past the anomaly at mid-month has differed from the anomaly for the entire month by at most ± 0.1°C.

As always, we will hear that global warming is over, that the AMO cool phase is coming, or the PDO flip will soon take hold, or a vastly cooler sun will ruin us for good. In the meantime the ice keeps melting, the seas rising, and the climatalogically relevant trend remains at about 0.15 - 0.20 °C/decade.

By the way, the overall trend for UAH LT is 0.14°C/decade, but if you fit the monthly numbers to something truly entertaining, like a 2nd-degree polynomial, and compute that fit's slope (the first derivative), you get a current trend of dT/dt = 0.23°C/decade.

It's also hot in Oregon -- yesterday it reached 100°F here, at 45.86° north. (Normal high for the day is 81°F.) It finally feels like summer, so any day now there will be some small but unmistakable sign that fall is just around the corner.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Probability of New Arctic Ice Record: 72% (Est.)

time series
Arctic sea ice extent as of 8/16/12
Will Arctic sea ice extent reach a record low this year?

It looks like it probably will. It's currently at 5.04 million square-kilometers (Mkm2), while 2007's low was 4.25 Mkm2. From this point in the year, the average remaining melt to minimum over the last decade is 0.92 Mkm2, with a standard deviation of 0.22 Mkm2.

So to break the low, this year only needs to be more than -0.60 standard deviations above the mean. If you assume the annual remaining melts are distributed normally, the probability of that happening is 72%.

Moreover, this probability has been growing over the last few days by about 2 percentage points a day. Like all such calculations, it's moderated by the fact that the Arctic is a place that usually defies simple-minded examinations like this one (except that over time, ice will always melt on a planet that is out of energy balance).

(Update, 8/17 a.m.: Overnight numbers have raised this probability to 82%.)

Why does this matter? Jennifer Francis of Rutgers gave a good talk about it:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Assessing climate model software quality

A couple of computer scientists assessed the software quality of some leading climate models, and find that "the climate models all have very low defect densities compared to well-known, similarly sized open-source projects."

"Assessing climate model software quality: a defect density analysis of three models"
J. Pipitone and S. Easterbrook, Geosci. Model Dev., 5, 1009-1022, 2012
They conclude:
The results of our defect density analysis of three leading climate models show that they each have a very low defect density across several releases. A low defect density suggests that the models are of high software quality, but we have only looked at one of many possible quality metrics. Knowing which metrics are relevant to climate modelling software quality, and understanding precisely how they correspond the climate modellers notions of software quality (as well as our own) is the next challenge to take on in order to achieve a more thorough assessment of climate model software quality.

Driving On a Thread of Gasoline

Here's an interesting little calculation, from the new blog on quantum information at Caltech called Quantum Frontiers:
My car gets about 30 miles per gallon of gasoline. Miles per gallon has the dimensions of inverse length squared, and the reciprocal of 30 miles per gallon is roughly the area of a circle whose diameter is 0.3 mm, or about 1/100 of an inch.

That means that when I drive my car, the fuel I consume has the same volume as a thin thread stretched along the road over the distance I travel, with a thickness just a few times the width of a human hair.

That skinny little thread of gasoline is enough to keep my car going! Thinking about it reinforces one’s appreciation for the internal combustion engine.

Cold Fusion a Result of Beer Goggles?

In his obituary of Martin Fleishmann, co-claimant to the phenomena of cold fusion, Douglas Martin of the New York Times writes:
B. Stanley Pons, a North Carolina native, arrived at Southampton to complete his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1975, and came under Dr. Fleischmann’s wing. The two went on to publish dozens of papers together. Dr. Fleischmann fell into the habit of visiting Dr. Pons once or twice a year after Dr. Pons became chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Utah.

In the early 1980s, the two were hiking in Mill Creek Canyon in Utah when their conversation turned to experimental results from the late 1960s that still puzzled them. They began to conceive a follow-up experiment and fleshed out details at Dr. Pons’s kitchen table while sipping whiskey.
(Emphasis mine.)
Perhaps Pons and Fleishmann's biggest fault was simply not taking a good, clear-headed look the next morning after the beer goggles had worn off.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Food Price Increase: Equivalent of $0.32 per Gallon of Gas

Regardless of what's causing the current US drought, it's already having an impact on food prices. The UN FAO food price index shot up 6% last month, though it's still below its peak of a year and a half ago (after the Moscow heat wave of July/August 2010). Cereals increased 17%, and sugar 12%. Meat declined slightly.

How much does such a jump cost?

The US spends about $700 billion a year on food. That works out to $190 per person per month, so a 6% increase means an additional $11 per person per month. Not too bad, but that's easily noticeable if, say, you're a family of four on a tight budget. I don't know about you, but when I shop for food I'm amazed at how expensive many things are anymore.

On the other hand, that increase is $42 B/yr, or 0.3% of GDP. If gasoline spending increased that much (the US uses about 8.8 million barrels of gasoline a day), it'd be the equivalent of $0.32 per gallon, which no doubt would get Americans steamed. We're funny like that.

Americans spend 6.9% of their budget on food, which is one of the lowest percentages of any nation. These increases are a much bigger problem for the rest of the world:

Mexico: 24%
Brazil: 25%
Russia: 28%
Indonesia: 43%
China: 33%

Much of Africa is, where it can be measured, in the 35-45% range. The blog Civil Eats has more information, and some of the comments indicate some of the subtleties of the situation. If food prices continue to increase like this in the coming months, poor people in those countries are going to suffer.

So it's good to be rich. But being rich means you emit more CO2, and if part of the drought is CO2-induced you just add to the problem. What a mess. Perhaps the bioengineers can arrange for us to feed via stomata.

HadCRUT4 Updates

I hear that the Hadley Centre expects to start updating their new (version 4) land-and-sea temperature dataset near the end of this month. The current data only goes to December 2010, but the infrastructure for monthly updates is, I'm told, nearly in place.

Here's a video they put out in March that explains the new version:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hawking Quote

"It is a tribute to how far we have come in theoretical physics that it now takes enormous machines and a great deal of money to perform an experiment [on subatomic particles] whose result we cannot predict."

-- Stephen Hawking

Monday, August 06, 2012

Great Picture from NASA

Here's a great picture from NASA, of MSL's parachute as it came into Mars, taken from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite.

The resolution is 33 cm per pixel. MRO was 340 km away from MSL when it took this picture.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Best NASA Show Ever?

Between the livestream feed, the "Eye on the Solar System" simulation, and the surface images that came almost immediately, that was the best NASA experience I've ever seen -- at least since I vaguely remember watching the Apollo 11 moon landing on a little black-and-white TV late one night long ago -- and maybe better.

It's hard to beat man's first moon landing, but the Web gave this an extra immediacy, with far more information and angles being delivered in real time -- more of a sense you're watching from the inside.

The first images should be here sometime soon.

Update: Here's one, from the rear:

Image taken by Rear Hazcam: Left A

How to Follow Tonight's Mars Landing

As you may know, the Mars Science Laboratory, with the 1 metric ton Curiosity rover, lands on Mars tonight, at 10:31 pm Pacific time. (This is the time when Earth will know the status of the landing; actual landing on the Mars surface is 14 minutes earlier.)

NASA's landing commentary starts at 8:30 pm PDT, here

NASA has a great simulation site, with a live mode, that simulates what MSL is going through on its way into Mars:

The landing sequence is rather wild -- the last step involves lowering the rover to the surface via cables, and even the NASA engineers think it looks "crazy." (At a press conference on Thursday, NASA's Adam Steltzner said "I promise you it is the least crazy of the ways you could use to land Curiousity on Mars.") This video summarizes the "seven minutes of terror":

About 50% of all missions to Mars have failed, and about 70% of surface landings have failed. The rover is the size of a compact car -- if this works, it seems to me it will be one of the most amazing technical feats in space history. I imagine the MSL engineers are pretty nervous right now, but also having the time of their lives (literally).

Added: However, the US is 6 for 7 on Mars landings.

Here We Go Again

Just two weeks later and here we are again:
Seven people have died in the shooting incident at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis., Greenfield Police Chief Bradley Wentlandt tells reporters. One of those was the shooter, he said.
If these were "terrorist" incidents, the country would be freaking out and authorities would be scrambling in a thousand directions at once. But they're not considered terrorism, so everyone will just shrug their shoulders and mouth the usual platitudes -- if they bother to do even that much.

PS: And it's not just the Colorado and Wisconsin incidents. A few days before the Aurora shooting 17 people were shot in an Arkansas bar. And as Gary Younge wrote in The Nation, "On the night after the shooting in Aurora, twenty-two people were shot, three fatally, in Chicago. But when the chaos of the hood intrudes on the security of suburbia, a moment of collective cognitive dissonance occurs." He also included this:
"America leads the world in shocks," noted the late singer Gil Scott-Heron in "We Beg Your Pardon." "Unfortunately, America does not lead the world in deciphering the cause of shock."

Predicting Breakthroughs: 1937 NAS Study

From Our Final Hour by Martin Rees:
"In 1937 the US National Academy of Sciences organised a study aimed at predicting breakthroughs; its report makes salutary reading for technological forecasters today. It came up with some wise assessments about agriculture, about synthetic gasoline, and synthetic rubber. But what is more remarkable is the things it missed. No nuclear energy, no antibiotics (though this was eight years after Alexander Fleming had discovered penicillin), no jet aircraft, no rocketry nor any use of space, no computers; certainly no transistors. The committee overlooked the technologies that actually dominated the second half of the twentieth century. Still less could they predict the social and political transformations that occurred during that time."

Saturday, August 04, 2012

What if Natural Gas Produced All Our Energy?

I was thinking about something Roger Pielke Jr wrote on his blog:
The fact of the matter is that the world will accelerate the decarbonization of its economy when clean energy is cheaper than dirty energy. The remarkable transition to natural gas shows that.
That's probably almost certainly true, at least if you ignore negative external costs (which are very difficult to get people to pay for anyway -- or, at least, to pay for up front). Anyway I was thinking, what if we got all our energy from natural gas? That is, how much carbon would we save if all the energy we now obtain from oil and coal were instead obtained from natural gas?

The carbon savings aren't that large: about 700 Mt CO2/yr less than the 5,471 Mt we emitted last year, or 13%.

The numbers: 
The CO2 numbers for energy consumption are here; in 2011 the US emitted

coal: 1,867 Mt CO2
natural gas: 1,294 Mt CO2
oil: 2,299 Mt CO2

for a total of 5,471 Mt CO2.

These can be converted into energies via conversion factors; I'll use

coal: 94 g CO2e/MJ
natural gas: 68 g CO2e/MJ
oil: 73 g CO2e/MJ

(MJ = Megajoule), which works out to 17.5 metric tons per person per year. (Incidentally, that's down 21% from 1973's 22.3 tonnes, and down significantly even from 2004's 20.4 t.) Admittedly this ignores subtleties about different types of coal, the energy required to produce energy, that we can't currently fly planes on natural gas, etc. This is good enough for blog work -- or, if you will, a gebloggen experiment.

Converting, I estimate the US used 70 trillion MJ of energy in 2011, or a power consumption of 2.2 terawatts -- 7,100 Watts per person!

Converting back, if all this energy were produced by natural gas, we'd have emitted 4,800 Mt CO2, which is still a per capita emission of 15.3 t CO2, or 13% less than what we emit today.

So we would save some significant carbon emissions. But it would not nearly be enough to stabilize climate, which requires emissions cutbacks of roughly 80% by the US.

Transitioning to natural gas is a good thing (as long as your drinking water isn't getting fracked up). But really solving the carbon problem requires a game changing technology.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Double Standards Better Than No Standards at All?

If some people didn't have double standards, they'd have no standards at all. Andrew Orlowski in The Register:
"Analysis Richard Muller's Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project, which began with goodwill from all corners of the climate debate, has made a series of bold announcements (without benefit of peer review) to the effect that global warming is definitely serious and definitely caused by humans."
(emphasis mine). Just a few paragraphs later:
"The second comment is worth taking the time to read, as new research using a much more comprehensive classification system puts the lack of rigour in dealing with the UHI effect in the spotlight. BEST appears to replicate the lack of rigour, and worse, appears not to care overmuch."
That "new research," of course, is also not peer reviewed, and it has quickly been found to have serious flaws, as the co-authors now admit. (Somehow, though, it was good enough to be presented as Senate testimony.)

Why do people make it so easy?

Liveblogging the Senate Hearing

Webcast here.

9:02 am
Sessions: "I've voted for mileage improvements and efficiences, and ethanol expansions.... If CO2 is causing an increase in temperatures, all these steps will help alleviate it. It's just a question of how much we can afford to spend."

9:00 am
Boxer: "I'm not panicked about global warming...."

8:58 am:
Christopher Field ends with perhaps the most sensible statement of all: "There are consequences to using the atmosphere as a dump" [and (paraphrasing) they're just trying to provide information to policymakers].

8:54 am
Senator Boozman (R-Arkansas) cites Y2K as an example of an imaginary problem. Hey, boatloads of money was spent to head that off -- billions!

8:49 am
Lautenberg to Christy: "You're entitled to your own bias, if you will."

8:47 am
McCarthy, on Climategate: "The scientists were [only] guilty of bad manners."
Christy: "I disagree with [McCarthy's] view of Cliamtegate."

8:34 am
Lautenberg steps back and talks about the attempts to discredit science.

8:44 am
Senator Sessions: "Can CO2 increase temperature? I would say there's some logic to that question."

8:42 am
Senator Sessions: "A forest fire is no proof of global warming -- give me a break!"

Aside: Skeptical Science has a critique of Watts et al (2012), including the Time of Observation (TOB) issue many people are talking about. (That's the kind of thing that proves this paper wasn't near ready for peer review.) Gregor Vertacnik: "As a climatologist experienced in monitoring, data quality control and also homogenisation I must say this is one of the worst papers about climate change I've ever read."

8:39 am
Inhofe quotes Lovelock. I think some Senate staffers are spending too much time reading the Internet, and not enough time reading reports.

8:37 am
John Christy: "The global warming issue is highly overblown." [Fields and McCarthy say there is no hoax. But then, they would say that if there was one, wouldn't they? :-) ]

8:33 am
John Christy: "The world has warmed in the last 20 (120?) years? I believe the question is...can you do anything about it?"

8:31 am
Senator Sanders and Inhofe are spending a lot of time telling us how much they like each other despite their disagreement on GW. I wonder.

8:29 am
Boxer to Inhofe: "Just relax, Senator."

8:29 am
John Christy: "Our ignorance of the climate system is enormous. We cannot predict much at all."

8:27 am
Inhofe calls 1940-75 an "ice age."

8:24 am
Inhofe quotes Mann as an attempt to discredit Muller. Tit-for-tat when it's useful.

Christy's written testimony cites Watts et al (2012). Wow. In response to a question from Boxer he admits it hasn't been submitted to a scientific journal yet. Blog posts are now evidence for Senate hearings?? That strikes me as a very poor choice on Christy's part.

8:14 am
(paraphrasing) There is no scientific evidence that the observed warming can be expalined by other than greenhouse warming.

8:11 am
James McCarthy emphasis ocean warming. "The ocean has warmed steadily over the last 10 years." (Avoids all the many problems in homogenizing the surface dataset too, though of course any data-gathering requires a lot of data analysis of subtle issues.)

From John Christy's testimony: "Today, affordable carbon-based energy is a key component for lifting people out of crippling poverty.  Rising CO2 emissions are, therefore, one indication of poverty-reduction which gives hope for those now living in a marginal existence without basic needs brought by electrification, transportation and  industry." Yes, but that doesn't make it an appropriate energy source for people who aren't in poverty. Why can't they pay for the damage their energy use does to the property of others and damage to the Common?

7:54 am: Judith Curry has a copy of John Christy's testimony, and a summary.

Lots of mentions of Muller's article in the NYT. (Perhaps it was aimed for this hearing instead of an IPCC deadline?)

7:44 am
Lautenberg: Taxpayers will shell out $30-40 B in crop insurance this year.

7:41 am
Lautenberg: "Our friends on the other side happen to be likable people, but they're wrong."
Inhofe interrupts: "I agree with half your statement." (laughter)
Lautenberg: "That you're likable?" (laughter)

7:40 am PDT
Senator Lautenberg calls today a "bonfire of reality." That's a phrase that might stick somewhere.

7:35 am PDT
Senator Sessions:
"We may well have some warming and it may be human caused." (After saying there has been no warming in the last 10 years.)