New for the Yale Forum.

I spent some time trying to figure out how to translate the impact of my interview with Charles Miller of NASA JPL.

Dr Miller is lead scientist of NASA’s CARVE mission, (covered below in a Weather Channel spot, encouraging sign of better coverage for climate issues in that venue)..

CARVE stands for Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment, and it consists of an ongoing series of flights over permafrost regions in the remote Alaskan arctic, to measure at low altitude, and high resolution the offgassing of CO2 and methane from decaying permafrost.

When I spoke to him at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in December, what was most striking were the even, calm, measured tones of his responses in discussing some of the most intense and alarming information imaginable about a critical climate feedback.

The story came together with last week’s publication of new data that helps zero in on exactly at what temperature regions of continuous permafrost will begin to break down.

Scientific American:

Geoscientist Anton Vaks of the University of Oxford led an international team of experts—including the Arabica Caving Club in Irkutsk—in sampling the spindly cave growths known as stalagmites and stalactites across Siberia and down into the Gobi Desert of China. Taking samples of such speleothems from six caves, the researchers then reconstructed the last roughly 500,000 years of climate via the decay of radioactive particles in the stone. When the ground is frozen above a cave no water seeps into it, making such formations “relicts from warmer periods before permafrost formed,” the researchers wrote in a study published online in Science on 21 February.

The details of the study reveal that conditions were warm enough even in Siberia for these mineral deposits to form roughly 400,000 years ago, when the global average temperature was 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than present. It also suggests that there was no permafrost in the Lena River region at that time, because enough water seeped into the northernmost cave to enable roughly eight centimeters of growth in the formations.

I spoke to Dr. Vaks by Skype, and included a brief clip from that in the video above. I’ll be editing, cleaning up and posting the extended interview soon.

For now, check out the video above. I apologize in advance if you don’t sleep well tonight.

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Above, 5 minute clip from Dr. Jennifer Francis’ most recent lecture online, discussing jet stream dynamics.

As followers of these videos know, Dr. Francis has been on the cutting edge of new research showing how newly open arctic ocean water has affected jet stream movement, and may be causing a dramatic shift to to a new state in temperate zone weather conditions.


Global warming may have caused extreme events such as a 2011 drought in the United States and a 2003 heatwave in Europe by slowing vast, wave-like weather flows in the northern hemisphere, scientists said on Tuesday.

The study of meandering air systems that encircle the planet adds to understanding of extremes that have killed thousands of people and driven up food prices in the past decade.

Such planetary air flows, which suck warm air from the tropics when they swing north and draw cold air from the Arctic when they swing south, seem to be have slowed more often in recent summers and left some regions sweltering, they said.

“During several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks,” wrote Vladimir Petoukhov, lead author of the study at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

“So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays,” he said in a statement of the findings in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A difference in temperatures between the Arctic and areas to the south is usually the main driver of the wave flows, which typically stretch 2,500 and 4,000 km (1,550-2,500 miles) from crest to crest.

But a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, blamed on human activities led by use of fossil fuels, is heating the Arctic faster than other regions and slowing the mechanism that drives the waves, the study suggested.

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research:

The world has suffered from severe regional weather extremes in recent years, such as the heat wave in the United States in 2011 or the one in Russia 2010 coinciding with the unprecedented Pakistan flood. Behind these devastating individual events there is a common physical cause, propose scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). The study will be published this week in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and suggests that man-made climate change repeatedly disturbs the patterns of atmospheric flow around the globe’s Northern hemisphere through a subtle resonance mechanism.

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I have one word for you. Graphene.

Institute of Photonic Science:

The most recent addition to the long list of the amazing properties of graphene was announced in Nature Physics in a paper authored by ICFO researchers, in collaboration with researchers from MIT, Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, and Graphenea S.L. The paper demonstrates that graphene is able to convert a single photon that it absorbs into multiple hot electrons, and that the higher photon’s energy, the larger the number of hot electrons created. Since these light-induced electrons can drive currents, hot-electron multiplication is an essential ingredient for light harvesting with very low energy loss. Moreover, the combination of broadband absorption and hot-carrier multiplication enables graphene to efficiently convert light energy from the full solar spectrum into electricity.


A new discovery by researchers at the Institute of Photonic Science (ICFO) has revealed that graphene is even more efficient at converting light into electricity than previously known. Graphene is capable of converting a single photon of light into multiple electrons able to drive electric current. The discovery is an important one for next-generation solar cells, as well as other light-detecting and light-harvesting technologies.

A paradigm shift in the materials industry is likely within the near-future as a variety of unique materials replaces those that we commonly use today, such as plastics. Among these new materials, graphene stands out. The single-atom-thick sheet of pure carbon has an enormous number of potential applications across a variety of fields. Its potential use in high-efficiency, flexible, and transparent solar cells is among the potential applications. Some of the other most discussed applications include: foldable batteries/cellphones/computers, extremely thin computers/displays, desalination and water purification technology, fuel distillation, integrated circuits, single-molecule gas sensors, etc.

“In most materials, one absorbed photon generates one electron, but in the case of graphene, we have seen that one absorbed photon is able to produce many excited electrons, and therefore generate larger electrical signals,” says Frank Koppens, group leader at ICFO.

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Trends in forest canopy green cover over the eastern U. S. region from 2000 to 2010 derived from NASA MODIS satellite sensor data. Green shades indicate a positive trend of increasing growing season green cover, whereas brown shades indicate a negative trend of decreasing growing season green cover. Four forest sub-regions of interest are outlined in red, north to south as: Great Lakes, Southern Appalachian, Mid-Atlantic, and southeastern Coastal Plain.

Trends in forest canopy green cover over the eastern U. S. region from 2000 to 2010 derived from NASA MODIS satellite sensor data. Green shades indicate a positive trend of increasing growing season green cover, whereas brown shades indicate a negative trend of decreasing growing season green cover. Four forest sub-regions of interest are outlined in red, north to south as: Great Lakes, Southern Appalachian, Mid-Atlantic, and southeastern Coastal Plain.

Stupid trees. Don’t they know CO2 is plant food?


NASA scientists report that warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation locally and regionally have altered the growth of large forest areas in the eastern United States over the past 10 years. Using NASA’s Terra satellite, scientists examined the relationship between natural plant growth trends, as monitored by NASA satellite images, and variations in climate over the eastern United States from 2000 to 2010.

Monthly satellite images from the MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) showed declining density of the green forest cover during summer in four sub-regions, the Upper Great Lakes, southern Appalachian, mid-Atlantic, and southeastern Coastal Plain. More than 20 percent of the non-agricultural area in the four sub-regions that showed decline during the growing season, were covered by forests. Nearly 40 percent of the forested area within the mid-Atlantic sub-region alone showed a significant decline in forest canopy cover.

“We looked next at the relationships between warmer temperatures, rainfall patterns, and reduced forest greenness across these “We looked next at the relationships between warmer temperatures, rainfall patterns, and reduced forest greenness across these regions,” said Christopher Potter, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. “This comprehensive data set gave us the evidence to conclude that a series of relatively dry years since 2000 has been unfavorable for vigorous growth of forest cover over much of the Eastern U. S. this past decade.” Potter is the first author of the paper titled “Declining Vegetation Growth Rates in the Eastern United States from 2000 to 2010,” published by Natural Resources, Dec. 2012, (3), 184-190.

In the past, scientists were uncertain about what was causing the changes in the forests in the eastern U. S. Based on small-scale field site measurements since 1970, forest growth was thought to be increasing in regions where soil nutrients and water were in good supply. At the same time, there were fewer wildfires throughout the eastern U.S., which scientists believe contributed to the transformation of more open lands into closed-canopy forests with more shade-tolerant, fire-sensitive plants.

More recent studies indicate that climate change could be having many adverse and interrelated impacts on the region. The warming climate this century has caused new stresses on trees, such as insect pest outbreaks and the introduction of new pathogens. Scientists consider both climate change and disease to be dominant driving forces in the health of forests in this region.

NASA’s technology is revealing an entirely new picture of these complex impacts. The MODIS satellite captures very broad regional patterns of change in forests, wetlands, and grasslands by continuous monitoring of the natural plant cover over extended time periods. Now, with over a decade of “baseline” data to show how trees typically go through a yearly cycle of leaves blooming, summer growth, and leaves falling, scientists are detecting subtle deviations from the average cycle to provide early warning signs of change at the resolution of a few miles for the entire country.

“The next studies at NASA Ames will research areas that appear most affected by drought and warming to map out changes in forest growth at a resolution of several acres,” said Potter.

Andy Lee Robinson created one of the new graphic icons of climate, illustrating the PIOMAS arctic sea ice mass graph in three dimensions. All the more powerful now that PIOMAS has been verified by the satellite.

In a comment post at Tamino’s Open Mind, he describes the process. Important insights here for technical folk interested in communicating what they do. Computer and graphics aces weigh in.

I’m an independent Linux system administrator and consultant, have designed server infrastructure for social networking sites and am semi-retired. I am beholden to nobody and nothing except the love of science, truth, beauty and honour. Something that all of us here share.

Tamino’s original. Click it for the animated gif.

Last year, I noticed a tweet by Richard Betts with Professor Michael Mann commenting on Tamino’s above piomas gif, wondering why the y-axis didn’t extend to zero, as it could possibly be seized on it as an attempt to mislead.
I thought I could fix that easily there and then, so deconstructed the animated gif, edited each frame individually with a photoshop macro to extend the axis, reassembled and uploaded the result. Being helpful and being acknowledged is all the motivation I need.

Scientists love dry graphs – purity conveying beautiful unobfuscated data intuitive to us, but only because we have years of training to develop the abstract and spacial abilities to interpret that data, and as those skills become natural and transparent, we become less conscious of them.

The public, on the other hand, don’t in general have this ability to interpret graphs properly without some effort. It takes time for someone new to understand and quantify axes and build concepts required to create a contextual framework in which to assess, compare and digest the data, and as the average person now has less attention span and inclination to invest that time, the message and implications can be missed.
(One effect of having fantastic tools like google, is that it can supplant our brains, making them lazier with a consequent tendency to atrophy with lack of exercise. All we need to know is how to find something, without actually having to remember it. There’s a study somewhere about this.)

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Musicians at the beating heart of the community agriculture and wholistic movement in the Midwest.

Bumper Sticker of the Week

February 23, 2013

foxbumperMaking the rounds on mugs, tees, and posters as well.

Here’s another one that resonates.



“I  think you start out with this idea of what it’s going to be like…and then when you do finally look at the Earth for the first time…you’re overwhelmed by how much more beautiful it really is, when you see it for real.

It’s just like its this dynamic, alive place, ..that you see glowing all the time..”

-Nicole Stott, Shuttle, ISS Astronaut

“When we look down on the Earth from space, we see this amazing, indescribably beautiful planet, looks like a living, breathing organism..”

– Ron Garan, Suttle, ISS Astronaut

Stewart Brand

About 40 years ago I wore a button that said, “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?” Then we finally saw the pictures. What did it do for us?

The shift that has happened in 40 years which mainly has to do with climate change. Forty years ago, I could say in the Whole Earth Catalog, “we are as gods, we might as well get good at it”. Photographs of earth from space had that god-like perspective.

The most widely reproduced photograph of all time.

What I’m saying now is we are as gods and have to get good at it. Necessity comes from climate change, potentially disastrous for civilization. The planet will be okay, life will be okay. We will lose vast quantities of species, probably lose the rain forests if the climate keeps heating up. So it’s a global issue, a global phenomenon. It doesn’t happen in just one area. The planetary perspective now is not just aesthetic. It’s not just perspective. It’s actually a world-sized problem that will take world sized solutions that involves forms of governance we don’t have yet. It involves technologies we are just glimpsing. It involves what ecologists call ecosystem engineering. Beavers do it, earthworms do it. They don’t usually do it at a planetary scale. We have to do it at a planetary scale. A lot of sentiments and aesthetics of the environmental movement stand in the way of that.

Seems like a long way to go to come around to what indigenous people have known for a very long time. But, if that’s what it takes, I’m for it.  We need to get our global leaders up there as a group, and begin the discussion of what it will take to make a sustainable planet – with the luminous blue ball shining thru the cupola.

Currently working on a new video around the theme of permafrost melt and feedback.  In the course of googling around, it was a nice surprise to come across the video above, by Laurena, a self-described “indie hipster poser” from Montreal.

I was thinking about stealing the song for my video – turns out Laurena’s on board with the youtube ethic (“Yes! you may use my songs in your projects/videos…”) but for now the music is going another direction. We’ll see – since the topic is so huge, it may require several videos, and so devastating, I might need a sensitive singer-songwriter’s input to help me process  the angst.

On the same day, I got an email bump from a friend pointing me to the kickstarter project of a very talented, confident and self assured young lady, fittingly titled “Standing Tall”.

One of the not-very-well-known-to-outsiders secrets of this area, and one of the things that’s kept me here close to home, is a rich and lively indie/folky music scene in Central and Northern Michigan. Anchored, nurtured, and inspired by the legendary, beloved, and now 40 year old Wheatland Music Festival,  a terrific network of WCMU public radio stations keeping the flame alive and letting people hear each other, as well as Ann Arbor’s mythical Ark acoustic club, and East Lansing’s renowned Elderly Instruments, the area is kitchen and campfire-picker friendly.

Now a new generation of confident young musicians are coming up, and hearing from someone like Sonya Shoup makes one hope we’ll have the kind of songs we’ll need in the future to keep turning things around. This is her kickstarter video for a CD project. (already funded!)

Fox News Latino:

Following President Obama’s comments about climate change in his state of the union address, a national poll was conducted by the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) to gauge how Latinos responded.

“In light of state of the union, we wanted to see where Latinos stood on Obama’s comments about climate change,” Adrianna Quintero, director of Voces Verdes, a group that worked with the NRDC on the poll, told Fox News Latino.

The poll showed 74 percent of Latinos — 1,218 were polled — believe climate change is a very serious problem.

This number is almost 10 percent higher than the national average among all American adults.

Sacramento Bee:

The survey findings are a clear rejection of the dismissive tone taken by Senator Marco Rubio in his response to Obama’s State of the Union address. Rubio shrugged off the need for action on climate change, saying “our government can’t control the weather.”

Latinos clearly disagree with Rubio, with a strong majority convinced that action is needed soon to reduce a real threat of climate disruption.

Released on the heels of the hottest year ever in the U.S. and one marked by extreme weather, the poll of Latinos conducted by Public Policy Polling for NRDC found:

  • 74 percent of Latinos believe climate change is a serious or very serious problem, a higher level than the 65 percent among all American adults.
  • 68 percent of Latinos support the president using his authority to reduce dangerous carbon pollution, including 60 percent of all American adults.
  • 69 percent of Latinos agree with the president’s statement that “for the sake of our children” and our future, we must do more to combat climate change, compared to 62 percent of all American adults.