You may have seen the Cadillac Electric Hybrid Ad. I think it premiered during the Super Bowl, and has been bouncing around virally since then. I’m all about it because it sends the positive message that you can drive an electric car, care about the environment, and still be a smug, self absorbed a-hole. And that’s an important demographic to get on board.

Now Ford has a complimentary Ad, with a Detroit downtown feel, a more 21st century demographic, and a slightly different take on success.

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Dana Nuccitelli in The Guardian:

Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight blog have grown quickly in prestige and popularity due to successful predictions of American political election outcomes, especially after biased “unskewed” analysis based on wishful thinking predicted the opposite of data-driven sites like Silver’s and were proven wrong.

Silver recently launched a new FiveThirtyEight blog with the intent of applying this data-driven approach to a wide variety of subjects. He hired a variety of contributors to write about the subjects that are outside his expertise and comfort zone. For the topic of climate change, Silver decided to hire Roger Pielke, Jr.

Overall, the newly launched FiveThirtyEight seems to be taking a Freakonomics-style approach, looking for results that seem counter-intuitive. This approach worked well for Silver on the subjects of politics and sports, where much of the traditional analysis has been based on ‘gut feelings’ rather than on crunching data.

While data-driven analysis is laudable, when it comes to science, that’s already the norm. Scientific research is based on crunching data, and scientists additionally have the expertise necessary to correctly interpret the results. The approach of looking for counter-intuitive results without first understanding the underlying science led to inaccurate climate chapters in SuperFreakonomics and Silver’s The Signal and the Noise.

Thus many climate experts were concerned when they learned that Silver had hired Pielke. As Paul Krugman noted,

“…climate science has been developed by many careful researchers who are every bit as good at data analysis as Silver, and know the physics too, so ignoring them and hiring a known irresponsible skeptic [Pielke] to cover the field is a very good way to discredit your enterprise … Basically, it looks as if Silver is working from the premise that the supposed experts in every field are just like the political analysts at Politico, and that there is no real expertise he needs to take on board.”

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Above, graph from James Hansen illustrating the shifting bell curve of extremes as mean global temperatures rise.
Although the rise is only about a degree C for now, the shift in extreme events on the warm side means more and more occasions where human systems and infrastructure are hit by conditions not seen in human experience.

Stefan Rahmstorf in RealClimate:

Does global warming make extreme weather events worse? Here is the #1 flawed reasoning you will have seen about this question: it is the classic confusion between absence of evidence and evidence for absence of an effect of global warming on extreme weather events. Sounds complicated? It isn’t. I’ll first explain it in simple terms and then give some real-life examples.

The two most fundamental properties of extreme events are that they are rare (by definition) and highly random. These two aspects (together with limitations in the data we have) make it very hard to demonstrate any significant changes. And they make it very easy to find all sorts of statistics that do not show an effect of global warming – even if it exists and is quite large.

Would you have been fooled by this?

Imagine you’re in a sleazy, smoky pub and a stranger offers you a game of dice, for serious money. You’ve been warned and have reason to suspect they’re using a loaded dice here that rolls a six twice as often as normal. But the stranger says: “Look here, I’ll show you: this is a perfectly normal dice!” And he rolls it a dozen times. There are two sixes in those twelve trials – as you’d expect on average in a normal dice. Are you convinced all is normal?

You shouldn’t be, because this experiment is simply inconclusive. It shows no evidence for the dice being loaded, but neither does it provide real evidence against your prior suspicion that the dice is loaded. There is a good chance for this outcome even if the dice is massively loaded (i.e. with 1 in 3 chance to roll a six). On average you’d expect 4 sixes then, but 2 is not uncommon either. With normal dice, the chance to get exactly two sixes in this experiment is 30%, with the loaded dice it is 13%[i]. From twelve tries you simply don’t have enough data to tell.

Hurricanes

In 2005, leading hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel (MIT) published an analysis showing that the power of Atlantic hurricanes has strongly increased over the past decades, in step with temperature. His paper in the journal Nature happened to come out on the 4th of August – just weeks before hurricane Katrina struck. Critics were quick to point out that the power of hurricanes that made landfall in the US had not increased. While at first sight that might appear to be the more relevant statistic, it actually is a case like rolling the dice only twelve times: as Emanuel’s calculations showed, the number of landfalling storms is simply far too small to get a meaningful result, as those data represent “less than a tenth of a percent of the data for global hurricanes over their whole lifetimes”. Emanuel wrote at the time (and later confirmed in a study): “While we can already detect trends in data for global hurricane activity considering the whole life of each storm, we estimate that it would take at least another 50 years to detect any long-term trend in U.S. landfalling hurricane statistics, so powerful is the role of chance in these numbers.” Like with the dice this is not because the effect is small, but because it is masked by a lot of ‘noise’ in the data, spoiling the signal-to-noise ratio.

Heat records

The number of record-breaking hot months (e.g. ‘hottest July in New York’) around the world is now five times as big as it would be in an unchanging climate. This has been shown by simply counting the heat records in 150,000 series of monthly temperature data from around the globe, starting in the year 1880. Five times. For each such record that occurs just by chance, four have been added thanks to global warming.

You may be surprised (like I was at first) that the change is so big after less than 1 °C global warming – but if you do the maths, you find it is exactly as expected. In 2011, in the Proceedings of the National Academy we described a statistical method for calculating the expected number of monthly heat records given the observed gradual changes in climate. It turns out to be five times the number expected in a stationary climate.

Given that this change is so large, that it is just what is expected and that it can be confirmed by simple counting, you’d expect this to be uncontroversial. Not so. Our paper was attacked with astounding vitriol by Roger Pielke Jr., with repeated false allegations about our method (more on this here).

European summer temperatures for 1500–2010. Vertical lines show the temperature deviations from average of individual summers, the five coldest and the five warmest are highlighted. The grey histogram shows the distribution for the 1500–2002 period with a Gaussian fit shown in black. That 2010, 2003, 2002, 2006 and 2007 are the warmest summers on record is clearly not just random but a systematic result of a warming climate. But some invariably will rush to the media to proclaim that the 2010 heat wave was a natural phenomenon not linked to global warming. (Graph from Barriopedro et al., Science 2011.)

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James Cameron’s long awaited Climate special on Showtime will premier April 13. I’m told it’s pretty good.
Have reservations about Hollywood stars as messengers, but it seems to work for some.

Mashable:

The Showtime documentary series “Years of Living Dangerously,” executive produced by James Cameron, features an exclusive interview with Barack Obama, Mashable has learned — a segment that may provide rare insight into the President’s thinking on climate science and policy.

The interview was taped during the week of March 16, individuals with knowledge of the segment said. The show premieres April 13.

While he has given speeches on climate change, including one address in June at which he rolled out the administration’s Climate Action Plan, Obama has not given lengthy interviews solely on this subject.

The White House has not responded to a request for comment.

The interview is in keeping with the mission of the series, which is to take a science-based deep dive into the multifaceted threats climate change poses, as well as the array of available solutions. The series, which was funded in part by Cameron, was shot in far-flung locations as varied as the Greenland ice sheet, Indonesia, and the burning forests of the American West.

Episodes feature celebrity correspondents including former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also is credited as a producer, Matt Damon, Ian Somerhalder, Jessica Alba, and TV newscasters Chris Hayes of MSNBC and Leslie Stahl of CBS’ 60 Minutes

Scientific American:

Last weekend weather forecasters were marveling wide-eyed about a potentially unheard-of storm caused by two colliding weather systems that could wallop the entire Northeast with extremely low temperatures and feet of snow. The collision is occurring further out into the Atlantic Ocean as of today, sparing much of the nation, but it will still slap Cape Cod, Boston and eastern Maine, as well as eastern Canada.

So were the forecasters using made-up language—an issue of late, with weather services pasting names on every snow flurry and windy day? Nope, Rex and the bomb are legit meteorological terms.

A “bomb” is when the atmospheric pressure in a weather system drops by more than 24 millibars in 24 hours. For perspective, a typical pressure over the Northeast coast might be around 1,012 millibars, but it doesn’t take much of a drop to intensify a storm. The lowest pressures in the biggest hurricanes on Earth, such as Sandy, reach down to the 940s. So a 24 millibar drop is a lot, and when it happens in less than 24 hours, meteorologists get excited, because that’s rare.

In this case, the storm was fixing to be a Nor’easter—a low-pressure center off the Northeastern coast that circulates counterclockwise, sending winds inland from the Atlantic. So the dynamic duo was termed a Nor’easter bomb. The pressure was forecast to drop to the 980s or even 960s. Whether or not it gets that low, the drop in pressure is steep and confined, which causes strong winds, perhaps greater than 60 mph for the Cape and Maine.

Why did all this happen? The moisture came north in a system from the Gulf of Mexico, but the cold was created by—yep, the Rex block. That term describes an enormous pressure center that can get stuck in place. In this case, that place was over Alaska and the upper West Coast, which forced the jet stream to take a deep dive from the Arctic over the east-central U.S. When that system collided with the moist one from the Gulf, the two combined and began spinning, dropping the pressure inside and pulling up the moisture, turning it into snow. If you want more details about Rex, see a nice blog from last week by Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes for Slate.

This latest bomb is just one more example of the jet stream acting weird, as our climate changes. And as Holthaus notes, although the Northeast is cold, the rest of the planet is not. Average global temperatures are expected to be higher than normal in the next few weeks, he says.

Accuweather:

Despite the official start of spring, lingering effects of the winter season will cause planting delays this year.
While the South will be right on schedule weather-wise for prime planting with looming frost concerns, delays will become more and more likely with every mile heading north.

Coming off a frigid, snow-filled winter for areas from the Great Lakes to the Ohio Valley and Northeast, spring will shape up to be mostly cool and wet.
“Damp soil leftover from winter, melting snow and lagging temperatures mean a lot of places are going to have a slow planting period across the Midwest, northern Plains and the Great Lakes,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dale Mohler said.
With corn and soybeans being the largest crops in the Midwest and Plains, which are planted typically in April and May, one of the most influential factors in when to plant is soil temperature.
“Soil temperatures must be warm enough to support whatever crop you are planting,” Mohler said. “For corn that’s 50 F or above and for soybeans it’s 54 F or above.”
After this year’s harsh winter with record-breaking cold and snow, meteorologists are concerned that because the ground is still frozen in the Ohio Valley and Upper Midwest, it will take longer for the frost to thaw out of the ground and as a result, keep soil temperatures lower longer.
In these areas, the ground is not expected to heat up quickly, as wetness in the early spring and summer is expected across the regions.

accujet0326

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Above, Mike Mann discusses his new piece in Scientific American, which outlines critical thresholds in climate warming in the not-too-far-off future.

Scientific American:

Most scientists concur that two degrees C of warming above the temperature during preindustrial time would harm all sectors of civilization—food, water, health, land, national security, energy and economic prosperity. ECS is a guide to when that will happen if we continue emitting CO2 at our business-as-usual pace.

I recently calculated hypothetical future temperatures by plugging different ECS values into a so-called energy balance model, which scientists use to investigate possible climate scenarios. The computer model determines how the average surface temperature responds to changing natural factors, such as volcanoes and the sun, and human factors—greenhouse gases, aerosol pollutants, and so on. (Although climate models have critics, they reflect our best ability to describe how the climate system works, based on physics, chemistry and biology. And they have a proved track record: for example, the actual warming in recent years was accurately predicted by the models decades ago.)

mannsciam

 

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Today’s essay question:

Compare and contrast the recent oil spills around the country, and consider recent international crises in the Ukraine, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Are their any threads linking these catastrophes together?

Justify your answer with examples.

Someone with way too much time on their hands noticed that if you slow Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s tribute to Isaac Newton down – he sounds, like, really high.

There’s a lot of speculation that the coming year may produce a new El Nino event, even a strong one.

El Nino is an oscillation characterized by warm surface waters in the Eastern Pacific, which comes and goes on about a 3 to 5 year cycle with its opposite number, La Nina – known for cooler eastern Pacific waters.
Globally, El Nino years tend to push surface temperatures higher, and in a warming world, we expect our new temp records to be set in those years.
In 1997-98, the strongest El Nino ever observed produced a very warm year globally in ’98. Since then, we’ve had a few somewhat weaker El Nino years, like 2010, which also produced warm years, but not the record smashing kind that 1998 was, and that we can expect when a large event really starts pumping heat out of the Pacific.

Sydney Morning Herald:

The prospects for a hotter and drier than usual year for much of Australia are increasing, with the Bureau of Meteorology confirming more signs that an El Nino climate pattern is forming in the tropical Pacific Ocean.
Surface waters in the equatorial Pacific “have warmed significantly over the past two months”, with further warming expected in coming months, the bureau said in its fortnightly update.
Temperatures in some areas have risen half a degree in the past two weeks alone and are as much as 5 or 6 degrees above normal, said David Jones, head of climate monitoring at the bureau.
“Things are starting to move,” said Dr Jones. “1997 was probably the last time we’ve seen such [a temperature] anomaly.”

Andrew Freedman in Mashable:

Since climate forecasters declared an “El Niño Watch” on March 6, the odds of such an event in the tropical Pacific Ocean have increased, and based on recent developments, some scientists think this event may even rival the record El Niño event of 1997-1998. If that does happen, then 2015 would almost be guaranteed to set a record for the warmest year on Earth, depending on the timing of the El Niño conditions.

El Niño and La Niña events refer to fluctuations in air and ocean conditions in the tropical Pacific. El Niño events are characterized by warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, and they add heat to the atmosphere, thereby warming global average temperatures. They typically occur once every three to seven years and can also alter weather patterns around the world, causing droughts and floods from the West Coast of the U.S. to Papua New Guinea.

El Niño events tend to dampen hurricane activity in the North Atlantic, and some research has even linked El Niño events to civil conflicts in Africa.

When combined with global warming from greenhouse gas emissions and other sources, El Niño events greatly increase the odds that a given year will set a new global temperature record, as occurred in 1998, and subsequent el nino years.

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Oil spills in the news again. Some things, like big oil killing defenseless wild life,  never change.

Instead of pictures of dead, oil soaked birds, how about this piece with Jim Carrey from “In Living Color”, made not long after the Exxon Valdez spill.