March 7, 2014
Working on a piece about the California drought, which is, needless to say, a bit of a moving target, and more so since it has entered the political conversation after being mentioned by President Obama as evidence of climate change. So I was happy to see this clarification by a highly regarded California based expert.
Water expert Peter Gleick on his blog:
In the last few months, as the severe California drought has garnered attention among scientists, policymakers, and media, there has been a growing debate about the links between the drought and climate change. The debate has been marked by considerable controversy, confusion, and opaqueness.
The confusion stems from the failure of some scientists, bloggers, reporters, and others to distinguish among three separate questions. All three questions are scientifically interesting. But the three are different in their nuance, their importance to policy, and their interest to politicians and water managers. Here are the three different questions:
- Is the California drought caused by climate change?
- Is the California drought, no matter the cause, influenced or affected by climate changes already occurring?
- How will climate changes affect future drought risks in California?
These questions are not the same thing. Yet repeatedly, some have asked one question when they thought they were asking a different one. Some have been asked one question and intentionally or accidentally answered a different one. Some have confused an answer to one question as an answer to a different question.
March 7, 2014
A real breath of fresh air from a surprising source.
March 6, 2014
More as this develops. Nobody knowledgeable is calling this for certain, but equally nobody looks forward to the effects of a strong El Nino.
In a bulletin issued this morning, NOAA issued an El Niño Watch predicting a roughly 50% chance for development later this year. An “El Niño” is the abnormal warming of ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean along the west coast of South America near Peru and Ecuador. It can have profound influences on weather patterns around the world.
NOAA’s bulletin says “sea surface temperature anomalies have recently increased near the International Date Line” as well as “in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific,” and that “many dynamical models predict El Niño to develop during the summer or fall.”
El Niño conditions are declared when the average sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific are at least 0.5°C above average for three consecutive months. These abnormally elevated sea surface temperatures allow for the atmosphere to warm and provide instability, leading to the development of thunderstorm activity.
March 6, 2014
The story is sometimes told as a hopeful parable about the prospect for switching to renewables.
We’re told that a rapid transition to cheaper, more available petroleum products quickly killed the Whaling Industry in the 1800s – a natural progression of the free market, in effect, saved the whales.
Well, maybe not.
One hundred and fifty-five years ago, Edwin Drake stuck a pipe into a cleared patch of Pennsylvania timberland and started pumping the country’s first crude petrol. He changed the world, no question. But he didn’t save the whales.
What’s the connection? Every so often a writer or economist, usually right-leaning and supportive of an unfettered free-market, credits Drake’s discovery and the rise of kerosene as reason for the collapse of whale oil demand and the subsequent salvation of cetaceans.
The argument goes something like this: The United States didn’t need government research and subsidies to transition from whale oil to kerosene in the 1850s, and, similarly, we don’t need government intervention on energy sources in the free market today. The market saved the whales, and now it will save the Earth.
It’s a ridiculous twisting of history, but it keeps resurfacing; USA Today columnist and talk radio host Michael Medved offered the latest rendering last month.
March 6, 2014
March 6, 2014
Maybe a wild card in explaining years of big ice loss in the arctic.
A research team led by Son Nghiem of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., used satellite data to measure the surface temperature of the waters discharging from a Canadian river into the icy Beaufort Sea during the summer of 2012. They observed a sudden influx of warm river waters into the sea that rapidly warmed the surface layers of the ocean, enhancing the melting of sea ice. A paper describing the study is now published online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
This Arctic process contrasts starkly with those that occur in Antarctica, a frozen continent without any large rivers. The sea ice cover in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica has been relatively stable, while Arctic sea ice has been declining rapidly over the past decade.
“River discharge is a key factor contributing to the high sensitivity of Arctic sea ice to climate change,” said Nghiem. “We found that rivers are effective conveyers of heat across immense watersheds in the Northern Hemisphere. These watersheds undergo continental warming in summertime, unleashing an enormous amount of energy into the Arctic Ocean, and enhancing sea ice melt. You don’t have this in Antarctica.”
The team said the impacts of these warm river waters are increasing due to three factors. First, the overall volume of water discharged from rivers into the Arctic Ocean has increased. Second, rivers are getting warmer as their watersheds (drainage basins) heat up. And third, Arctic sea ice cover is becoming thinner and more fragmented, making it more vulnerable to rapid melt. In addition, as river heating contributes to earlier and greater loss of the Arctic’s reflective sea ice cover in summer, the amount of solar heat absorbed into the ocean increases, causing even more sea ice to melt.