British winemakers credit climate change for boom in bubbly sales
GRAHAM BARCLAY/BLOOMBERG NEWS – Sparkling wine undergoes an early fermentation process at the Ridgeview Wine Estate in East Sussex, England. Warmer summers are producing wines competitive with some from France.
The effect on the ski industry has already been significant. Between 1999 and 2010, low snowfall years cost the industry $1 billion and up to 27,000 jobs. Oregon took the biggest hit out West, with 31 percent fewer skier visits during low snow years. Next was Washington at 28 percent, Utah at 14 percent and Colorado at 7.7 percent.
The facts are straightforward: The planet is getting hotter. Snow melts above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The Alps are warming two to three times faster than the worldwide average, possibly because of global circulation patterns. Since 1970, the rate of winter warming per decade in the United States has been triple the rate of the previous 75 years, with the strongest trends in the Northern regions of the country. Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, and this winter is already looking to be one of the driest on record — with California at just 12 percent of its average snowpack in January, and the Pacific Northwest at around 50 percent.
I was floored by how much snow had already disappeared from the planet, not to mention how much was predicted to melt in my lifetime. The ski season in parts of British Columbia is four to five weeks shorter than it was 50 years ago, and in eastern Canada, the season is predicted to drop to less than two months by midcentury. At Lake Tahoe, spring now arrives two and a half weeks earlier, and some computer models predict that the Pacific Northwest will receive 40 to 70 percent less snow by 2050. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise — they grew 41 percent between 1990 and 2008 — then snowfall, winter and skiing will no longer exist as we know them by the end of the century.
Icicles from melting water form on ice in the Arctic. Scientists claim the ice is disappearing faster than previously thought
Rate of Arctic summer sea ice loss is 50% higher than predicted
New satellite images show polar ice coverage dwindling in extent and thickness
Arctic ice melting to a record low, scientists warn
Global warming and a huge storm are blamed for the fastest decrease in sea coverage ever seen
“If those pictures of towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.”
Dictyocoryne truncatum, normally found near the equator, was one of nearly 100 species of protozoa found living in the Arctic Ocean
Heating Arctic Sea prompts ‘instant evolution’: Single-cell organisms drift from the Tropics to the frigid waters of Norway – and adapt along the way
Torrid Heat: 4,500 Record Highs and Counting
Sampling of Record Highs on July 8
Sampling of Record Highs on July 7
Sampling of Record Highs on July 6
Sampling of Record Highs on July Fourth
Worst heat wave ever? Washington, D.C. ties record for most straight 95+ days, more coming
“…Americans continue to see climate change as a threat, caused in part by human activity, and they think government and businesses should do more to address it. Nearly three-quarters say the Earth is warming, and just as many say they believe that temperatures will continue to rise if nothing is done, according to the poll.”
Devastating Heat Wave Continues Kansas City to DC
Is it now possible to blame extreme weather on global warming?
Wildfires, heatwaves and storms witnessed in the US are ‘what global warming looks like’, say climate scientists
Tundra Shrubs turn into Trees as Arctic Warms
Wynn Parry, Live Science Senior Writer
Date: 03 June 2012 Time: 02:11 PM ET
Tundra is by definition a cold, treeless landscape. But scientists have found that in a part of the Eurasian Arctic, willow and alder shrubs, once stunted by harsh weather, have been growing upward to the height of trees in recent decades.
The reason for the change: the warming Arctic climate, they say.
Roughly 30 years ago, trees were nearly unknown there. Now, 10 percent to 15 percent of the land in the southern part of the northwestern Eurasian tundra, which stretches between Finland and western Siberia, is covered by new tree-size shrubs, which stand higher than 6.6 feet (2 meters), new research indicates.
“What we have found essentially is that the growth of these shrubs is really linked to temperatures,” said study researcher Marc Macias-Fauria of Oxford University’s Biodiversity Institute. “They are reacting to warming temperatures by growing more.”
The change first came to the attention of scientists when nomadic reindeer herdsmen, the indigenous Nenets, said they were losing sight of their reindeer in the new trees, Macias-Fauria said.
Until recently the shrubs common in this part of the Arctic stood at most about 3.3 feet (1 meter) high, too low to obscure a reindeer.
To better understand the climate dynamics associated with the increase in growth in the northwestern Eurasian tundra, he and colleagues studied information from the herdsmen’s observations, temperature data, growth rings in the wood of shrubs and satellite data, including observations of the amount of green covering the landscape during the growing season.
They found the shrubs grew most in years with warm Julys.
To determine how much of the land is now covered by the treelike shrubs, they used high-resolution satellite images, verifying what they saw in these with trips out into the field. Satellites Gallery: Science from Above]
Shrubs are common in the southern parts of treeless tundra regions, giving way to more grasses, lichens and mosses farther north. Harsh Arctic weather generally prevents the shrubs from growing up —”the bigger you are, the more exposed you are to the atmospheric conditions,” Macias-Fauria said.
This Eurasian piece of the Arctic is among the mildest Arctic regions, so it may offer a hint as to what is to come in other places, he and his colleagues point out.
Were the treelike shrubs to become widespread, this change could exacerbate global warming through what is known as the albedo effect, he said. When snow falls on the tundra’s shrubs, it creates a continuous white blanket that reflects the sun’s energy back out into space. Trees, however, rise above the snow, breaking up the white and darkening the land surface. As a result, less energy is reflected back into space and more is absorbed, resulting in warming.
The loss of Arctic white sea ice over dark ocean has a similar effect.
Eventually, it is believed that warming will cause the forest to the south to creep north into what is now tundra. However, that process is expected to take much longer.
This research is detailed online today (June 3) in the journal Nature Climate Chang
The Arctic’s getting greener: Global warming is ‘causing vegetation to grow ever taller’
Higher temperatures have also seen the proportion of bare ground decrease, according to a study
Researchers working on the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) have been gathering data from vegetation in the Arctic region for almost 30 years
Chihuahua: Where the rain doesn’t fall any more
A record drought in northern Mexico has prompted warnings that the region’s climate may have changed for good
Connecting the dots of this climate change crisis
Across the world, people are seeing and believing the evidence of manmade global warming. Only the media don’t get it
Bill McKibben for TomDispatch, part of the Guardian Comment Network
guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 May 2012 04.00 EDT
The Williams river was so languid and lovely last Saturday morning that it was almost impossible to imagine the violence with which it must have been running on 28 August 2011. Yet the evidence was all around: sand piled high on its banks, trees still scattered as if by a giant’s fist, and most obvious of all, a utilitarian temporary bridge where, for 140 years, a graceful covered bridge had spanned the water.
The YouTube video of that bridge crashing into the raging river was Vermont’s iconic image from its worst disaster in memory, the record flooding that followed Hurricane Irene’s rampage through the state in August 2011. It claimed dozens of lives, as it cut a more than $1bn swath of destruction across the eastern US.
I watched it on TV in Washington, DC, just after emerging from jail, having been arrested at the White House during mass protests of the Keystone XL pipeline. Since Vermont is my home, it took the theoretical – the ever more turbulent, erratic, and dangerous weather that the tar sands pipeline from Canada would help ensure – and made it all too concrete. It shook me bad. And I am not the only one.
New data (pdf) released last month by researchers at Yale and George Mason universities show that a lot of Americans are growing far more concerned about climate change, precisely because they are drawing the links between freaky weather, a climate kicked off-kilter by a fossil-fuel guzzling civilization, and their own lives. After a year with a record number of multibillion dollar weather disasters, seven in ten Americans now believe that “global warming is affecting the weather.”
No less striking, 35% of the respondents reported that extreme weather had affected them personally in 2011. As Yale’s Anthony Laiserowitz told the New York Times, “People are starting to connect the dots.”
Which is what we must do. As long as this remains one abstract problem in the long list of problems, we will never get to it. There will always be something going on each day that is more important, including, if you are facing flood or drought, the immediate danger.
But in reality, climate change is actually the biggest thing that is going on every single day. If we could only see that pattern, we would have a fighting chance. It is like one of those trompe l’oeil puzzles where you can only catch sight of the real picture by holding it a certain way.
So, this weekend, we will be doing our best to hold our planet a certain way so that the most essential pattern is evident. At 350.org, we are organizing a global day of action that is all about dot-connecting; in fact, you can follow the action at climatedots.org.
The day will begin in the Marshall Islands of the far Pacific, where the sun first rises on our planet, and where locals will hold a daybreak underwater demonstration on their coral reef already threatened by rising seas. They will hold, in essence, a giant dot – and so will our friends in Bujumbura, Burundi, where March flooding destroyed 500 homes. In Dakar, Senegal, they’ll mark the tidal margins of recent storm surges. In Adelaide, Australia, activists will host a “dry creek regatta” to highlight the spreading drought down under.
Pakistani farmers – some of the millions driven from their homes by unprecedented flooding over the last two years – will mark the day on the banks of the Indus; in Ayuthaya, Thailand, Buddhist monks will protest next to a temple destroyed by December’s epic deluges that also left the capital, Bangkok, awash.
Activists in Ulanbataar will focus on the ongoing effects of drought in Mongolia. In Daegu, South Korea, students will gather with bags of rice and umbrellas to connect the dots between climate change, heavy rains, and the damage caused to South Korea’s rice crop in recent years. In Amman, Jordan, Friends of the Earth Middle East will be forming a climate dot on the shores of the Dead Sea to draw attention to how climate change-induced drought has been shrinking that sea.
In Herzliya, Israel, people will form a dot on the beach to stand in solidarity with island nations and coastal communities around the world that are feeling the impact of climate change. In newly-freed Libya, students will hold a teach-in. In Oman, elders will explain how the weather along the Persian Gulf has shifted in their lifetimes.
There will be actions in the cloud forests of Costa Rica, and in the highlands of Peru where drought has wrecked the lives of local farmers. In Monterrey, Mexico, they’ll recall last year’s floods that did nearly $2bn in damage. In Chamonix, France, climbers will put a giant red dot on the melting glaciers of the Alps.
And across North America, as the sun moves westward, activists in Halifax, Canada, will “swim for survival” across its bay to highlight rising sea levels, while high school students in Nashville, Tennessee will gather on a football field inundated by 2011′s historic killer floods.
In Portland, Oregon, city dwellers will hold an umbrella-decorating party to commemorate March’s record rains. In Bandelier, New Mexico, firefighters in full uniform will remember last year’s record forest fires and unveil the new solar panels on their fire station. In Miami, Manhattan, and Maui, citizens will line streets that scientists say will eventually be underwater. In the high Sierra, on one of the glaciers steadily melting away, protesters will unveil a giant banner with just two words, a quote from that classic of western children’s literature, The Wizard of Oz: “I’m melting” it will say, in letters three-stories high.
This is a full-on fight between information and disinformation, between the urge to witness and the urge to cover up. The fossil fuel industry has funded endless efforts to confuse people, to leave an impression that nothing much is going on. But as with the tobacco industry before them, the evidence has simply gotten too strong. Once you saw enough people die of lung cancer, you made the connection.
The situation is the same today. Now, it is not just the scientists and theinsurance industry; it is your neighbors. Even pleasant weather starts to seem weird. Fifteen thousand US temperature records were broken, mainly in the east and midwest, in the month of March alone, as a completely unprecedented heat wave moved across the continent. Most people I met enjoyed the rare experience of wearing shorts in winter, but they were still shaking their heads. Something was clearly wrong and they knew it.
The one institution in our society that is not likely to be much help in spreading the news is … the news. Studies show our newspapers and TV channels paying ever less attention to our shifting climate. In fact, in 2011, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox spent twice as much time discussing Donald Trump as climate change. Do not expect representatives from Saturday’s Connect the Dots day to show up on Sunday’s talk shows. Over the last three years, those inside-the-Beltway extravaganzas have devoted 98 minutes total to the planet’s biggest challenge. Last year, in fact, all the Sunday talk shows spent exactly nine minutes of Sunday talking time on climate change – and here is a shock: all of it was given over to Republican politicians in the great denial sweepstakes.
So, here’s a prediction: next Sunday, no matter how big and beautiful the demonstrations may be that we’re mounting across the world, “Face the Nation” and “Meet the Press” won’t be connecting the dots. They will be gassing along about Newt Gingrich’s retirement from the presidential race or Mitt Romney’s coming nomination, and many of the commercials will come from oil companies lying about their environmental efforts.
If we are going to tell this story – and it is the most important story of our time – we are going to have to tell it ourselves.
Global warming: second thoughts of an environmentalist
Fritz Vahrenholt, one of Germany’s earliest green energy investors, is not convinced that humanity is causing catastrophic global warming.
By Fritz Vahrenholt
1:59PM BST 18 Jun 2012
Scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are quite certain: by using fossil fuels man is currently destroying the climate and our future. We have one last chance, we are told: quickly renounce modern industrial society – painfully but for a good cause.
For many years, I was an active supporter of the IPCC and its CO2 theory. Recent experience with the UN’s climate panel, however, forced me to reassess my position. In February 2010, I was invited as a reviewer for the IPCC report on renewable energy. I realised that the drafting of the report was done in anything but a scientific manner. The report was littered with errors and a member of Greenpeace edited the final version. These developments shocked me. I thought, if such things can happen in this report, then they might happen in other IPCC reports too.
Good practice requires double-checking the facts. After all, geoscientists have checked the pre-industrial climate, over the past 10,000 years: this isolates natural climate drivers. According to the IPCC, natural factors hardly play any role in today’s climate so we would expect a rather flat and boring climate history.
Far from it: real, hard data from ice cores, dripstones, tree rings and ocean or lake sediment cores reveal significant temperature changes of more than 1°C, with warm and cold phases alternating in a 1,000-year cycle. These include the Minoan Warm Period 3,000 years ago and the Roman Warm Period 2,000 years ago. During the Medieval Warm Phase around 1,000 years ago, Greenland was colonised and grapes for wine grew in England. The Little Ice Age lasted from the 15th to the 19th century. All these fluctuations occurred before man-made CO2.
Based on climate reconstructions from North Atlantic deep-sea sediment cores, Professor Gerard Bond discovered that the millennial-scale climate cycles ran largely parallel to solar cycles, including the Eddy Cycle which is – guess what – 1,000 years long. So it is really the Sun that shaped the temperature roller-coaster of the past 10,000 years.
But then coal, oil and gas arrived: from the 1850s onwards, Man pumped large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the CO2 level today stands at 0.039%,compared to 0.028% previously.
With our empirically proven natural pre-industrial pattern, however, we would predict that solar activity had risen since 1850, more or less in parallel with an increase in temperatures. Indeed, both timing and amount of warming of nearly 1°C fit nicely into this natural scheme. The solar magnetic field more than doubled over the past 100 years.
Remember, there are three climate parameters that go up at the same time: solar activity, CO2 and temperature. Modern climate is likely to be driven by both anthropogenic and natural processes, so CO2 will undoubtedly have contributed to the warming, but the question is just how much?
Yet the IPCC’s computer models consider the solar-forcing as negligible, requiring an unknown amplifying mechanism to explain the observed temperature variations. A promising model is proposed by Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark but is still under research.
Whether this mechanism is understood or not, the IPCC’s current climate models cannot explain the climate history of the past 10,000 years. But if these models fail so dramatically in the past, how can they help to predict the future?
Furthermore, what is little known is that CO2 also requires a strong amplifier if it were to aggressively shape future climate as envisaged by the IPCC. CO2 alone, without so-called feedbacks, would only generate a moderate warming of 1.1°C per CO2 doubling. The IPCC assume in their models that there are strong amplification processes, including water vapour and cloud effects which, however, are also still poorly understood, like solar amplification. These are the shaky foundations for the IPCC’s alarming prognoses of a temperature rise of up to 4.5°C for a doubling of CO2.
In the last 10 years the solar magnetic field dropped to one of its lowest levels in the last 150 years, indicating lower intensity in the decades ahead. This may have contributed to the halt in global warming and is likely to continue for a while, until it may resume gradually around 2030/2040. Based on the past natural climate pattern, we should expect that by 2100 temperatures will not have risen more than 1°C, significantly less than proposed by the IPCC.
Climate catastrophe would have been called off and the fear of a dangerously overheated planet would go down in history as a classic science error. Rather than being largely settled, there are more and more open climate questions which need to be addressed in an impartial and open-minded way.
Firstly, we need comprehensive research on the underestimated role of natural climate drivers. Secondly, the likely warming pause over the coming decades gives us time to convert our energy supply in a planned and sustainable way, without the massive poverty currently planned.
In the UK and Germany, for example, power-station closures and huge expenditure for backup of volatile wind or solar energy or harmful ethanol production will raise energy prices massively and even threaten power cuts: the economic cost will be crippling, all driven by fear.
We now have time for rational decarbonising. This may be achieved by cost-improved and competitive renewable technologies at the best European sites, through higher energy efficiency and by improving the use of conventional fossil energy.
The choice is no longer between global warming catastrophe and economic growth but between economic catastrophe and climate sense.
Professor Fritz Vahrenholt is one of the fathers of Germany’s environmental movement and the director of RWE Innogy, one of Europe’s largest renewable energy companies. Last Wednesday, he delivered the 3rd Global Warming Policy Foundation Annual Lecture at the Royal Society, London
Glaciergate part II: climate chief reheats Himalayas row
Head of IPCC’s claim of meltdown caused outcry two years ago – now he’s repeated the warning
Humans have played ‘dominant role’ in the warming of the oceans over the past 50 years, says new study
Glacier at Neko Harbor, Antarctica: The warming of the oceans is contributing to the loss of the ice caps and the gradual raising of global sea levels
Clouds’ Effect on Climate Change Is Last Bastion for Dissenters
By JUSTIN GILLIS
Published: April 30, 2012
LAMONT, Okla. — For decades, a small group of scientific dissenters has been trying to shoot holes in the prevailing science of climate change, offering one reason after another why the outlook simply must be wrong.
Over time, nearly every one of their arguments has been knocked down by accumulating evidence, and polls say 97 percent of working climate scientists now see global warming as a serious risk.
Yet in recent years, the climate change skeptics have seized on one last argument that cannot be so readily dismissed. Their theory is that clouds will save us.
They acknowledge that the human release of greenhouse gases will cause the planet to warm. But they assert that clouds — which can either warm or cool the earth, depending on the type and location — will shift in such a way as to counter much of the expected temperature rise and preserve the equable climate on which civilization depends.
Their theory exploits the greatest remaining mystery in climate science, the difficulty that researchers have had in predicting how clouds will change. The scientific majority believes that clouds will most likely have a neutral effect or will even amplify the warming, perhaps strongly, but the lack of unambiguous proof has left room for dissent.
“Clouds really are the biggest uncertainty,” said Andrew E. Dessler, a climate researcher at Texas A&M. “If you listen to the credible climate skeptics, they’ve really pushed all their chips onto clouds.”
Richard S. Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the leading proponent of the view that clouds will save the day. His stature in the field — he has been making seminal contributions to climate science since the 1960s — has amplified his influence.
Dr. Lindzen says the earth is not especially sensitive to greenhouse gases because clouds will react to counter them, and he believes he has identified a specific mechanism. On a warming planet, he says, less coverage by high clouds in the tropics will allow more heat to escape to space, countering the temperature increase.
His idea has drawn withering criticism from other scientists, who cite errors in his papers and say proof is lacking. Enough evidence is already in hand, they say, to rule out the powerful cooling effect from clouds that would be needed to offset the increase of greenhouse gases.
However, politicians looking for reasons not to tackle climate change have embraced Dr. Lindzen and other skeptics, elevating their role in the public debate.
Dr. Lindzen has obliged by assuring them that they are running no risks by refusing to enact emission limits. “There’s been a lot of scare stuff put out that just doesn’t make sense,” he said in an interview.
Some politicians have welcomed that message, regularly calling Dr. Lindzen and a handful of other contrarian scientists before Congressional committees. During a hearing before a House subcommittee, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican and vocal global warming skeptic, complained that “in the scientific community, there are people trying to tell us that we have got to accept draconian changes in our way of life mandated by law because the CO2 that we are emitting is going to cause drastic consequences to the planet’s climate.”
He repeatedly sought affirmation from Dr. Lindzen for his views, and got it.
At gatherings of climate change skeptics on both sides of the Atlantic, Dr. Lindzen has been treated as a star. During a debate in Australia over carbon taxes, his work was cited repeatedly. When he appears at conferences of the Heartland Institute, the primary American organization pushing climate change skepticism, he is greeted by thunderous applause.
While the scientific majority acknowledges that the lingering uncertainty about clouds plays into the hands of skeptics like Dr. Lindzen, they say that he has gone beyond any reasonable reading of the evidence to provide a dangerous alibi for inaction.
Dr. Lindzen is “feeding upon an audience that wants to hear a certain message, and wants to hear it put forth by people with enough scientific reputation that it can be sustained for a while, even if it’s wrong science,” said Christopher S. Bretherton, an atmospheric researcher at the University of Washington. “I don’t think it’s intellectually honest at all.”
With climate policy nearly paralyzed in the United States, many other governments have also declined to take action, and worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases are soaring.
Clouds are so familiar they are easy to take for granted, but scientists point out that they have an enormous effect on the climate.
The energy that drives life on earth arrives as sunlight. To remain at a steady temperature, the earth has to return the energy it receives back to space, primarily as heat. Clouds alter the energy flow in both directions.
On balance, in today’s climate, clouds cool the earth. Dense, low-lying clouds are responsible for most of that effect, because they reflect considerable sunlight back to space. Many high, thin clouds have the opposite influence, allowing incoming sunshine to pass through but effectively trapping heat that is trying to escape.
“It’s like putting a lid on a pot on the stove,” said Andreas Muhlbauer, a cloud researcher at the University of Washington.
Humans are perturbing the earth’s heat balance by releasing greenhouse gases. Chemists proved in the 19th century that these gases, especially the carbon dioxide that results from burning fossil fuels, work like an invisible blanket in the atmosphere, blocking some heat that is attempting to escape to space. In the mid-20th century, as it became clear how fast carbon dioxide levels were rising, some scientists began to predict a warming of the planet. But they also realized that an exact forecast was difficult for several reasons, especially the question of how clouds would react.
Researchers are virtually certain the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere will rise with temperature, and evidence suggests this is already happening. But that does not say much about the type or location of clouds that will condense from the vapor.
Scientists use sophisticated computer programs to forecast future climate, but the computers are not yet powerful enough to predict the behavior of individual clouds across the whole earth over a century, which forces the researchers to use rough approximations.
The most elaborate computer programs have agreed on a broad conclusion: clouds are not likely to change enough to offset the bulk of the human-caused warming. Some of the analyses predict that clouds could actually amplify the warming trend sharply through several mechanisms, including a reduction of some of the low clouds that reflect a lot of sunlight back to space. Other computer analyses foresee a largely neutral effect. The result is a big spread in forecasts of future temperature, one that scientists have not been able to narrow much in 30 years of effort.
The earth’s surface has already warmed about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since the Industrial Revolution, most of that in the last 40 years. Modest as it sounds, it is an average for the whole planet, representing an enormous addition of heat. An even larger amount is being absorbed by the oceans. The increase has caused some of the world’s land ice to melt and the oceans to rise.
By midcentury, the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is expected to double compared with the value that prevailed before the Industrial Revolution. At the low end, computers predict that the earth could warm in response by another 2 degrees Fahrenheit. The likelier figure, the analyses say, is 4 degrees. At the high end of projections, the warming could exceed 8 degrees. In all possible outcomes, the warming over land would be roughly twice the global average, and the warming in the Arctic greater still.
Even in the low projection, many scientists say, the damage could be substantial. In the high projection, some polar regions could heat up by 20 or 25 degrees Fahrenheit — more than enough, over centuries or longer, to melt the Greenland ice sheet, raising sea level by a catastrophic 20 feet or more. Vast changes in rainfall, heat waves and other weather patterns would most likely accompany such a large warming.
“The big damages come if the climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases turns out to be high,” said Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, a climate scientist at the University of Chicago. “Then it’s not a bullet headed at us, but a thermonuclear warhead.”
A major goal of climate research is to improve the way clouds are represented in the computer analyses, which should narrow the range of predicted temperatures. And some of the most important data that researchers need to do so are streaming from a hilltop in rural Oklahoma, near the town of Lamont, where the Department of Energy runs the world’s largest facility for measuring the behavior of clouds.
Accuracy is an overriding goal there. One recent morning, Patrick Dowell, a technician, worked his way across the hill with a rag in hand, carefully dusting dozens of instruments pointed at the sky. When his fingers knocked one gauge off kilter, tiny motors whirred and the device snapped back to position, as though annoyed with him.
“When you clean it,” Mr. Dowell said, “it kind of fights you.”
The questions that scientists still need to answer are voluminous. For instance, they want a better idea of how clouds form at a microscopic scale, how their behavior varies under different atmospheric conditions, and how sensitive they are to higher temperatures.
Recently, $30 million worth of new radars have been installed in Oklahoma and at other research facilities, promising a better view of the innards of clouds. Satellites are also supplying better data, and theories of the atmosphere are improving. “I feel like we’re on our way to doing a lot better,” said Anthony D. Del Genio, a researcher with NASA.
But the problem of how clouds will behave in a future climate is not yet solved — making the unheralded field of cloud research one of the most important pursuits of modern science.
A Feedback Loop?
Among the many climate skeptics who plaster the Internet with their writings, hardly any have serious credentials in the physics of the atmosphere. But a handful of contrarian scientists do. The most influential is Dr. Lindzen.
Dr. Lindzen accepts the elementary tenets of climate science. He agrees that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, calling people who dispute that point “nutty.” He agrees that the level of it is rising because of human activity and that this should warm the climate.
But for more than a decade, Dr. Lindzen has said that when surface temperature increases, the columns of moist air rising in the tropics will rain out more of their moisture, leaving less available to be thrown off as ice, which forms the thin, high clouds known as cirrus. Just like greenhouse gases, these cirrus clouds act to reduce the cooling of the earth, and a decrease of them would counteract the increase of greenhouse gases.
Dr. Lindzen calls his mechanism the iris effect, after the iris of the eye, which opens at night to let in more light. In this case, the earth’s “iris” of high clouds would be opening to let more heat escape.
When Dr. Lindzen first published this theory, in 2001, he said it was supported by satellite records over the Pacific Ocean. But other researchers quickly published work saying that the methods he had used to analyze the data were flawed and that his theory made assumptions that were inconsistent with known facts. Using what they considered more realistic assumptions, they said they could not verify his claims.
Today, most mainstream researchers consider Dr. Lindzen’s theory discredited. He does not agree, but he has had difficulty establishing his case in the scientific literature. Dr. Lindzen published a paper in 2009 offering more support for his case that the earth’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases is low, but once again scientists identified errors, including a failure to account for known inaccuracies in satellite measurements.
Dr. Lindzen acknowledged that the 2009 paper contained “some stupid mistakes” in his handling of the satellite data. “It was just embarrassing,” he said in an interview. “The technical details of satellite measurements are really sort of grotesque.”
Dr. Lindzen blames groupthink among climate scientists for his publication difficulties, saying the majority is determined to suppress any dissenting views. They, in turn, contend that he routinely misrepresents the work of other researchers.
“If I’m right, we’ll have saved money” by avoiding measures to limit emissions, Dr. Lindzen said in the interview. “If I’m wrong, we’ll know it in 50 years and can do something.”
But mainstream scientists counter that society’s impulse to wait only heightens the risks.
Ultimately, as the climate continues warming and more data accumulate, it will become obvious how clouds are reacting. But that could take decades, scientists say, and if the answer turns out to be that catastrophe looms, it would most likely be too late. By then, they say, the atmosphere would contain so much carbon dioxide as to make a substantial warming inevitable, and the gas would not return to a normal level for thousands of years.
Researchers are trying various shortcuts to get a rapid answer. One of those is to use short-term natural variations, such as the El Niño cycle, to see how clouds react to higher ocean temperatures. Dr. Dessler, the Texas A&M researcher, did that recently. His analysis, while not definitive, offered some evidence that clouds will exacerbate the long-term planetary warming, just as many of the computer programs have predicted. Most, but not all, papers relying on the historical cloud record have come to similar conclusions.
In his Congressional appearances, speeches and popular writings, Dr. Lindzen offers little hint of how thin the published science supporting his position is. Instead, starting from his disputed iris mechanism, he makes what many of his colleagues see as an unwarranted leap of logic, professing near-certainty that climate change is not a problem society needs to worry about.
“You have politicians who are being told if they question this, they are anti-science,” Dr. Lindzen said. “We are trying to tell them, no, questioning is never anti-science.”
Among the experts most offended by Dr. Lindzen’s stance are many of his colleagues in the M.I.T. atmospheric sciences department, some of whom were once as skeptical as he about climate change.
“Even if there were no political implications, it just seems deeply unprofessional and irresponsible to look at this and say, ‘We’re sure it’s not a problem,’” said Kerry A. Emanuel, another M.I.T. scientist. “It’s a special kind of risk, because it’s a risk to the collective civilization.”
An early spring
Researchers track plant, tree blooms to examine how climate affects seasons
By Spencer Hunt
The Columbus DispatchSunday May 6, 2012 8:50 AM
Phenologists don’t rely on a calendar to tell them spring has arrived.
For these researchers who study the timing of animal and plant life cycles, the season begins when wildflowers sprout, insects emerge and leaves “burst” on trees.
By that last measurement, Ohio’s spring arrived a month early this year for some species. Kellen Calinger, an Ohio State University doctoral candidate studying biology, has been tracking seasonal changes among seven tree species in northwestern Ohio for two years.
Leaves began to emerge from buds on black oaks this year on April 6 — 30 days ahead of schedule.
“That is a really significant advancement of spring,” Calinger said.
Her results reflect a national trend in which a warming climate is increasingly creating “early springs.”
A study published last week in the journal Nature suggests that every increase of 1 degree on the Celsius scale would cause flowers and leafs to bloom a half day to 1.6 days earlier.
The study, supported by the U.S.A. National Phenology Network, was based on an analysis of more than 1,600 plant species on four continents.
“They have a big initiative looking at indicators (of climate change),” said Carolyn Enquist, a conservation ecologist with the national network.
“We are seeing a strong trend toward earlier blooming.”
Early spring isn’t necessarily a good thing for wildlife. Early leafing in trees, for example, could shade out wild flowers and other plants that bloom fast in sunlit forest floors.
In western states, early blooming drains groundwater supplies faster, which can lead to early wildfire seasons.
When these kinds of observations are made over many years, the data can be used to track changes and forecast trends.
“In Europe, they have 500 years of records related to grapevines,” Enquist said. “In Japan, they have a thousand years related to cherry blossoms.”
Calinger’s research, for example, is rooted in the observations of Wauseon, Ohio, farmer and phenologist Thomas Mikesell. From 1883 to 1912, Mikesell recorded daily observations of 140 plant species, including 40 shrub and tree species.
“He recorded more detail, particularly when it came to trees, than almost any other of his contemporary observers,” said Peter Curtis, an OSU biology professor and Calinger’s adviser.
For the past two years, Calinger has made twice-weekly visits to the area near Mikesell’s old farm to make similar recordings in the seasonal cycles of seven tree species.
When compared with Mikesell’s data, spring this year arrived 22 days early for elms, 31 days early for staghorn sumacs and 28 days early for white oaks. Calinger is still compiling data for black walnut, cottonwood and sassafras trees.
The early bud bursts follow a warm spring. From March 12 through March 25, daily high temperatures reported by the National Weather Service were at least 11 degrees warmer than normal.
From March 20 through March 22, temperatures exceeded 80 degrees.
Spring also came early in 2010, following high temperatures from April 1 through April 7. That year, spring arrived six days to 22 days early for the trees Calinger follows.
The bud-burst schedule during the cold, wet spring last year resembled Mikesell’s observations.
The link to higher temperatures is common across the United States. Phenologists looking to tie these events to climate change, however, analyze averages over several years.
The Phenology Network drew data from 30 years of recorded lilac leafing and blooming taken from New Hampshire to Washington state.
From 1960 to 1991, the average onset of lilac blooming in Ohio was April 1. But the more recent average, from 1991 through 2010, is March 31.
“When you are looking at a long-term trend, that’s exactly what you need,” Enquist said.Phenology isn’t only about timing; it can also involve plant diversity.
Theresa Crimmins, a University of Arizona plant ecologist and phenology network member, has tracked changes in plant communities at Mount Kimball, near Tucson.
The work was done with the help of resident Dave Bertelsen, who carefully recorded changes in 601 plant species dating back to the 1980s.
“Together, they represent over 200,000 separate observations.” Crimmins said.
An analysis of Bertelsen’s records show 25 percent of the plant species he tracked extended their ranges up the 4,000-foot slope of the mountain. The results were published in the journal Global Change Biology in January 2009.
“It’s a predicted response to warming temperatures,” Crimmins said.
For Ohio’s early springs, Calinger plans to continue her observations through 2013. By that time, she’ll have four seasons of data to help determine “which specific temperatures at which specific times of the year are driving these events.”
Danger from the deep: New climate threat as methane rises from cracks in Arctic ice
Scientists shocked to find greenhouse gas 70 times more potent than CO2 bubbling from deep ocean
A new source of methane – a greenhouse gas many times more powerful than carbon dioxide – has been identified by scientists flying over areas in the Arctic where the sea ice has melted.
The researchers found significant amounts of methane being released from the ocean into the atmosphere through cracks in the melting sea ice. They said the quantities could be large enough to affect the global climate. Previous observations have pointed to large methane plumes being released from the seabed in the relatively shallow sea off the northern coast of Siberia but the latest findings were made far away from land in the deep, open ocean where the surface is usually capped by ice.
Eric Kort of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said that he and his colleagues were surprised to see methane levels rise so dramatically each time their research aircraft flew over cracks in the sea ice.
“When we flew over completely solid sea ice, we didn’t see anything in terms of methane. But when we flew over areas were the sea ice had melted, or where there were cracks in the ice, we saw the methane levels increase,” Dr Kort said. “We were surprised to see these enhanced methane levels at these high latitudes. Our observations really point to the ocean surface as the source, which was not what we had expected,” he said.
“Other scientists had seen high concentrations of methane in the sea surface but nobody had expected to see it being released into the atmosphere in this way,” he added.
Methane is about 70 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat. However, because methane is broken down more quickly in the atmosphere, scientists calculate that it is 20 times more powerful over a 100-year cycle. The latest methane measurements were made from the American HIPPO research programme where a research aircraft loaded with scientific instruments flies for long distances at varying altitudes, measuring and recording gas levels at different heights.
The study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, covered several flights into the Arctic at different times of the year. They covered an area about 950 miles north of the coast of Alaska and about 350 miles south of the North Pole. Dr Kort said that the levels of methane coming off this region were about the same as the quantities measured by other scientists monitoring methane levels above the shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.
“We suggest that the surface waters of the Arctic Ocean represent a potentially important source of methane, which could prove sensitive to changes in sea ice cover,” the researchers write. “The association with sea ice makes this methane source likely to be sensitive to changing Arctic ice cover and dynamics, providing an unrecognised feedback process in the global atmosphere-climate system,” they say.
Climate scientists are concerned that rising temperatures in the Arctic could trigger climate-feedbacks, where melting ice results in the release of methane which in turn results in a further increase in temperatures.
“We should be concerned because there’s so many things in the Arctic where the warming feeds further warming. There are many things in the Arctic that do respond to warming,” said Euan Nisbet, a methane expert at Royal Holloway University of London.
Unhappy feet: Global warming and melting sea ice risk wiping out the Antarctic’s Emperor penguins, scientists warn
Cute: At present, there are about 3,000 breeding pairs, but this could fall to roughly 500 to 600 by 2100, scientists warn
Additional links provided by
Jim MilksJune 27, 2012 at 7:30am
There’s also the
site for current Arctic sea ice conditions and
for current Arctic sea ice volume. Looks like sea ice is currently tracking well below the 2007 record low extent and probably will set a new record low for ice volume as well.
j l mcdonaldJune 27, 2012 at 4:27am
Reasonable enough as far as it goes, but compare to the NASA site:
Or a good site for debunking denialist myths:
Or a good collection of graphical presentations of data about the Arctic:
Or a good collection of pointers to raw data worldwide: