In the ebb and flow of climate information, there seems, lately, to be a pulse of new findings relevant to the accelerating melt of ice sheets.

Scientific American:

As happens so often in science, Mike Willis wasn’t actually looking for what he ended up discovering. The glaciologist was combing through satellite and GPS data to see what small, local effects could be clouding satellite measurements of larger changes in Earth’s gravity from ice loss.

What he did not expect to find was a hole twice the size of Central Park in a small ice cap in the northern reaches of Greenland.

“What the heck is that?” he thought when he saw it.

He didn’t think he could possibly be the first person to have spotted it. “Surely someone’s noticed a gigantic hole in northern Greenland before,” he said, but there were no records of it.

Trying to guess what it could be, he and his colleagues ruled out a meteor crater, a volcano, and, as they joked, Dr. Evil’s sub-ice lair. Ultimately, “the thing that fits it best is that it’s a subglacial lake,” he said.

Such lakes of water pool at the bottom of an ice sheet or glacier, and were known to be scattered under parts of Antarctica. But they hadn’t been found yet in Greenland.

Looking through satellite data going back to the 1970s, Willis couldn’t find any sign of the hole until 2006. At that point surface water in the area was flowing in an unexpected direction and disappearing down a moulin right in the spot Willis was looking at. That flow pattern repeated every few years, and then in 2011, “Boom! A big hole appears in the place where the water disappeared,” he said.

Ohio State University:

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Researchers who are building the highest-resolution map of the Greenland Ice Sheet to date have made a surprising discovery: two lakes of meltwater that pooled beneath the ice and rapidly drained away.

One lake once held billions of gallons of water and emptied to form a mile-wide crater in just a few weeks. The other lake has filled and emptied twice in the last two years.

Researchers at The Ohio State University published findings on each lake separately: the first in the open-access journal The Cryosphere and the second in the journal Nature.

Ian Howat, associate professor of earth sciences at Ohio State, leads the team that discovered the cratered lake described in The Cryosphere. To him, the find adds to a growing body of evidence that meltwater has started overflowing the ice sheet’s natural plumbing system and is causing “blowouts” that simply drain lakes away.

“The fact that our lake appears to have been stable for at least several decades, and then drained in a matter of weeks—or less—after a few very hot summers, may signal a fundamental change happening in the ice sheet,” Howat said.


The planet’s two largest ice sheets – in Greenland and Antarctica – are now being depleted at an astonishing rate of 120 cubic miles each year. That is the discovery made by scientists using data from CryoSat-2, the European probe that has been measuring the thickness of Earth’s ice sheets and glaciers since it was launched by the European Space Agency in 2010.

Read the rest of this entry »

Safety drills for children in areas impacted by swarms of earthquakes, which could be related to fracking for oil and gas, or underground disposal of fracking related wastes.
The images bring up memories of civil defense “duck and cover” drills from the cold war 1950s.

Here, the original 1950’s “Duck and Cover” film.


Senaida Martinez throws her head back and points a finger up.  She makes her way carefully around her kitchen table, eyes fixed above, finger tracing in the air the long winding route of a thin fracture that runs across the ceiling and out into the hallway.

“This one was old. We patched it up. But then it got opened again, so that’s new,” she says.

The new crack doesn’t bother her; the house is old and besides she’s only renting it. But it means there’s been another earthquake, and that’s starting to get on her nerves.

There have been dozens of earthquakes in the past few months. They now average about one a day, although some days bring many more. Martinez says she recently felt 12 earthquakes in one day.  They’ve all been small, usually less than magnitude 3.0, the kind of earthquakes Californians shrug off all the time.But Martinez lives in Irving, Texas, known for floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires, not earthquakes.

So something has changed to suddenly set the ground trembling. Martinez thinks it’s the stepped-up fracking.

Fracking is the hydraulic fracturing of rock and shale with millions of litres of high-pressure water mixed with chemicals to help unlock the oil and gas underground. It has led to an impressively bankable energy boom in Texas and other parts of the United States. The wastewater from fracking is injected into disposal wells. Geophysicists say if that water finds its way into an underground fault it can lead to the fault slipping, possibly resulting in an earthquake.

It’s not clear whether that’s happening in Irving, but the possibility has raised further questions in the Martinez household.

Senaida Martinez says the earthquakes may be a tipoff that underground chemical-laden wastewater from fracking is not only slipping into fault lines but also seeping into the groundwater.

North Texas is in the clutch of a surprising cluster of earthquakes, leaving many searching for a root cause.

In 2008, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex suffered its first earthquakes in recorded history, and since then, as the Dallas Morning News reports, there have been over 120 minor quakes in the area.

Read the rest of this entry »

Powerful idea, powerfully stated.

Wall Street Journal:

LAS VEGAS—Net-zero homes are going mainstream, if the home-building industry has anything to do with it.

The homes, which generate more electricity in a year than they use, have long been viewed as a niche product for the affluent who can afford custom homes. The chief problem is that it is expensive to get a home to net-zero status, and many customers aren’t willing to wait several years for their electricity-bill savings to cover the thousands of dollars they would have to spend on net-zero features such as solar panels and energy-efficient windows, doors and appliances.

But some builders, motivated by what they deem as rising demand from home buyers and state and local regulators, are aiming to change those perceptions by designing such homes for the mass market. Such a model home—the latest in the National Association of Home Builders’ annual New American Home series showcasing new-home designs —is on display this week in a hillside neighborhood 7 miles from the Las Vegas Strip as part of the trade group’s International Builders Show.

Most net-zero homes generate much of their own electricity through rooftop solar systems, though they are still connected to the public power grid for the times, such as nights, when their system isn’t generating all the electricity needed. At other times, such as intensely sunny periods of the day, those solar systems generate more electricity than a given house needs, so the excess is sent to the public power grid. The homeowner receives credit for the excess electricity, the amount of which varies depending on the state and the utility company, that typically shows up on their monthly or annual bill.

Achieving net-zero status typically requires builders to install spray-on foam insulation to seal the house of leaks and adding energy-efficient doors, windows, appliances and lighting, among numerous other features. Net-zero homes also need high-performance heating and ventilation systems and other equipment to regulate humidity, air quality and air flow.


Chattanooga Times Free-Press:

Solar energy will power them. Rain barrels will capture water from their roofs. So will bioswales, slowly returning replenishing groundwater reserves. Architecture will make the most of wind patterns and sun angles. Building materials will be kind to human health and, in many cases, sourced locally.

Read the rest of this entry »


Before this latest storm, we’ve seen a long-term pattern of more extreme precipitation, particularly in New England winters. Climate scientists had long predicted this would happen in a warming world. Here’s why.

Percent changes in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (the heaviest 1%) from 1958 to 2012″ by region,” via the 2014 National Climate Assessment. “There is a clear national trend toward a greater amount of precipitation being concentrated in very heavy events, particularly in the Northeast,” driven by a warming climate.


Via Climate Nexus:

Dr. Jennifer Francis:

Strong winter nor’easters along the NE coast of the U.S. are certainly not anything new or unusual, and when they occur, a strong jet stream with a trough over the eastern U.S. is always the culprit. That said, there are a few climate-change related factors that are likely conspiring to make this storm potentially one for the record books.

First, the ocean temperatures in the NW Atlantic are well above normal. This provides both a strong land-ocean temperature contrast to help fuel the jet stream and also additional oceanic moisture, which provides energy and moisture for the storm.

Second, global water vapor content is higher now (about 7% on average) than it was several decades ago (a direct result of global warming), which again, provides additional energy and moisture for this and any storm that forms today.

Third, the western ridge/eastern trough pattern of the jet stream that is in place now has also been very persistent most of this winter as well as most of last year. This very wavy and persistent pattern is consistent with my hypothesis for the atmosphere’s response to Arctic amplification, but the jury is still out as to whether the Arctic has played a direct role in causing these recent patterns. The ridge in the west is directly responsible for the drought out west, the cold in the upper midwest, and the stormy western N. Atlantic this winter.


Dr. Michael Mann:

Climate change is making these sorts of storms more common, much as it is making Sandy-like Superstorms and unusually intense hurricanes more common. Asking whether these storms were caused by climate change, however, is asking the wrong question. What we *can* say is that they were likely made worse by climate change.

Dr. Kevin Trenberth:

The number 1 cause of this is that it is winter. In winter it is cold over the continent. But it is warm over the oceans and the contrast between the cold continent and the warm Gulf Stream and surrounding waters is increasing. At present sea surface temperatures are more than 2F above normal over huge expanses (1000 miles) off the east coast and water vapor in the atmosphere is about 10% higher as a result. About half of this can be attributed to climate change.

Greg Laden’s Blog:

Storms of roughly this magnitude, in this the New York City area, have occurred in 1888, 1947, 1978, 1993, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2010. A similar pattern would emerge if the focal area was Boston. Weather Wunderground lists these snow events for New York City, indicating that half of the heavy events since the mid nineteenth century have occurred in the last 12 years:

1. 26.9″ Feb 11-12, 2006
2. 25.8″ Dec 26-27, 1947
3. 21.0″ Mar 12-14, 1888
4. 20.9″ Feb 25-26, 2010
5. 20.2″ Jan 7-8, 1996
6. 20.0″ Dec 26-27, 2010
7. 19.8″ Feb 16-17, 2003
8. 19.0″ Jan 26-27, 2011
9. 18.1″ Jan 22-24, 1935
9. 18.1″ Mar 7-8, 1941

Both the odd jet stream and the warm sea surface temperatures can be pegged as likely effects of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). This added to the clear pattern of more of these storms happening very recently strongly suggest that it is reasonable to characterize this storm as a “global warming amplified storm.” This is not unexpected.

A recent favorite talking point of climate deniers spreads to other flim-flammers.


During an impromptu news conference on Saturday, Coach Bill Belichick reiterated the New England Patriots’ innocence in what has become known as Deflategate.

On at least two occasions as he lectured reporters about the physics of a football’s natural weight loss, Belichick qualified his description of the process with the disclaimer “I am not a scientist.”

Charles Liu is a scientist — an astrophysics professor at the College of Staten Island, part of the City University of New York. Liu, an associate with the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, is also an avid football fan, and after listening to Belichick’s explanation, he concluded, “It’s a cop-out.”

“Just because you’re not a scientist does not mean you can’t know what to do,” Liu said. “It’s kind of like saying, Well, I see somebody about to burn down your house, but since I’m not a firefighter, I don’t know whether I should stop them or not.”

At issue are the game balls the Patriots provided for last Sunday’s A.F.C. championship game; 11 of the 12 balls, which by rule are inspected and verified by the referee before kickoff, were later mysteriously underinflated by about 2 pounds per square inch, according to an ESPN report on the N.F.L.’s investigation.

Does this sound like what we hear on Fox News or what?

Belichick explained that “atmospheric conditions” might have caused the change. But Liu said, “Barring any very unusual natural situations, you just can’t get the ball down 2 p.s.i., from 12.5, by natural causes.”

“You could have inflated the ball in a sauna and then brought it out and it was cold and rainy, and then yes, you could drop 2 p.s.i.s that way,” he added. “Or if a ball was leaking, that it wasn’t quite full.”


Now – India

January 26, 2015


Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Indiais ready to expand its use of renewable energy as a way to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, a signal that his government is moving toward joining an international deal on global warming.

After a meeting with U.S. PresidentBarack Obama in New Delhi, the prime minister said that his nation along with all others has an obligation to act on reducing the fossil-fuel emissions blamed for damaging the climate.


The remarks represent a shift in India’s tone on global warming. It previously emphasized the historical responsibility of industrial nations for creating the problem, and the Indian government has been ambiguous about whether it will adopt domestic targets for reducing greenhouse gases. Modi’s comments suggest he’s ready to work with Obama on a deal in Paris in December that would for the first time require all nations, rich and poor alike, to restrain emissions.

“When we think about the future generations and what kind of a world we are going to give them, then there is pressure,” Modi said in a news conference with Obama on Sunday. “Global warming is a huge pressure.”


President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Sunday that the two countries will work together to fight global climate change, laying out a set of goals that the two countries hope “will expand policy dialogues and technical work on clean energy and low greenhouse gas emissions technologies.”

While not a concrete emissions reductions agreement like the one Obama reached with China this past November, the deal includes efforts to cooperate on reducing emissions of fluorinated gases, invigorate India’s promotion of clean energy investment, and partner to reduce the debilitating air pollution that has plagued many of India’s cities.

The agreement also emphasized that the countries would “cooperate closely” for a “successful and ambitious” agreement at the Paris climate talks at the end of the year. During that conference, 196 nations are expected to meet and tentatively agree a course of action to respond to climate change. It is widely considered the last chance for a global agreement that could feasibly keep the rise in global average temperatures under 2°C.

“India’s voice is very important on this issue,” Obama said at a press meeting on Sunday, the Times of India reported. “Perhaps no country could potentially be more affected by the impacts of climate change and no country is going to be more important in moving forward a strong agreement than India.”

As ThinkProgress reported last week, there was very little expectation among analysts that the U.S. would achieve a deal like the one it achieved in China, wherein the country would actually pledge to reduce its overall carbon emissions. In the China deal, the U.S. committed to cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels by 2025 and China agreed to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil-fuel sources by 2030 and to peak greenhouse gas emissions that same year. Many said that it would be unfair to expect India — the world’s third largest carbon emitter behind the U.S. and China — to announce a similar target, considering the hundreds of millions of rural poor.

Still a developing country, climate change stands to impact India more severely than other parts of the world, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. India also has a particularly bad air pollution problem — a recent World Health Organization report found that India has 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world with the capital, Delhi, being the most polluted of all. The report also found that Delhi had six times the level of airborne particulate matter considered safe. Another investigation found that the levels could be up to eight times higher in heavily trafficked corridors.

Here, my recent video on China’s motivations for joining a climate agreement with the US – perhaps the most historic achievement of the Obama administration. Too little? At this point we’ll take what we can get.

he United States and India agreed on:

  • Enhancing Bilateral Climate Change Cooperation: President Obama and Prime Minister Modi, stressing the importance of working together and with other countries on climate change, plan to cooperate closely this year to achieve a successful and ambitious agreement in Paris. Read the rest of this entry »

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