Thursday, September 14, 2017

Climate change is not about models

One of the most frequent claims deniers make to refute the science is that the models don't work. This is not only false, but irrelevant. The reality is, climate models are working quite well (Sorry, all of you anti-science people, but it's true.) But, climate change isn't about models, it's about the science - the data. If you doubt that, take a look at this nice series of graphics:

What's Really Warming the World?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Yes, this is the right time to talk about climate change

Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA, has stated that now is not the time to discuss whether or not Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are partly the result of climate change. This is not surprising. Scott Pruitt is one of the most corrupt people in Washington (and that's saying a lot) and is under investigation for lying during his Senate confirmation hearing. It is documented that he would take donations from fossil fuel companies, only to conduct private communications with those same companies before acting in their favor, even so far as to submit a letter to the US Interior Secretary on the letterhead of the Oklahoma Attorney General's office, which Pruitt was head of, even though it was written by Devon Energy. He is strongly anti-science and, even though he is charged with protecting it, has a record of hating the environment. It is, therefore, not surprising that he doesn't want to discuss science.

But, he's wrong. this is the right time to discuss climate change and it's effects on the twin disasters. In fact, it is our moral responsibility to discuss it in the light of what is happening. People are dying and suffering and we need to start acting to help prevent this from happening again. What the Trump administration, and anti-science people everywhere, want is to hide until the public attention moves to something else. They don't want to have to answer to the public about how they have acted all these years to prevent exactly this kind of occurrence. By denying the reality of climate change, they prevented actions from being taken to address the problems. The amount of human suffering is directly on their heads, and they know it. Now, they don't want to face reality. Why should they? They have been denying it all along.

But, the discussions are happening, whether they want them or not. The media is pointing out the science connecting the hurricanes to climate science, and this is a good thing. I'll have more to say on Harvey and Irma in a future post, but I wanted to bring your attention to a couple of well written editorials. Amazingly enough, one of them is in the fashion magazine Vogue. Even fashion people understand science better than the head of the EPA.

This is the editorial in Vogue:

And, this one is in the New York Times:

In the meantime, do what you can to help the people who are suffering from these twin hurricanes. If the anti-science right gets its way, you could be a victim of climate change yourself in the next few years. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Trump Continues His Vendetta Against Science

President Trump has made his disdain for science clear to everyone. The appointment of the strongly anti-science Scott Pruitt to head the EPA should be proof enough. But, he has continued with numerous other appointments and actions, including withdrawing from the Paris accord. Recently, he has really proven his utter hatred of science with two other nominations: Sam Clovis and Representative Jim Brindenstine.

Trump nominated Clovis to be the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education, and Economics. Essentially, this position is the chief scientist in the department and overseas the agency's $3 billion research budget. Clovis graduated from the US Air Force Academy with a bachelor's degree in political science. After graduation, he served in the USAF for 25 years as a fighter pilot and instructor, retiring with the rank of colonel. He holds an MBA from Golden Gate University and a Ph.D. in public administration from the University of Alabama. He taught economics and business at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa and hosted a radio talk show.

All very fine qualifications, but none of them are applicable to the job. By law, this position must be filled by someone who is "among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education or economics." Clovis has no qualifications to justify that distinction.

But, this isn't what qualifies Clovis as someone who hates science. His comments do.

Clovis has spoken out concerning climate change and called it "junk science." He has called climate change a "hoax" and stated that it was a "campaign to redistribute the wealth." While campaigning for the US Senate in 2014, he stated, "I have looked at the sciencenand I have enough of a science background to know when I'm being boofed. And a lot of what we see is junk science." In response, I would suggest you take another look at his credentials above. In fact, he has no science background at all. No wonder he's "boofed" by the science, he's listening to the anti-science crowd and not the climate scientists.

He has stated that homosexuality is a choice, saying the science is "unsettled." (Does that phrase sound familiar?) He stated the legalization of same-sex marriage would lead to pedophilia and pastors wouldn't be allowed to preach against the "aberration" that "alternative lifestyles" were to church doctrine. He has also claimed Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States. When asked if he thought his words might be extreme, Clovis responded, "I don't think it's extreme. I think it's a logical extension of thought. And if you cannot follow the logic then you're denying your in denial."

And, this is who Trump wants to head a massive research program. But, Trump didn't stop there. He next had to find an new NASA Administrator because the last one resigned before Trump even took office. The agency has been under an acting administrator since then. Trump finally nominated Oklahoma US Representative Jim Bridenstine.

Bridenstine graduated from Rice University with majors in Economics, Psychology, and Business and has an MBA from Cornell University. He flies E2-C Hawkeyes in the US Navy Reserve and is the former executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium. He has been a US Representative since 2013. Some nice credentials. But, none of them qualify him to lead NASA, one of the most premier science agencies in the world.

He, too, is a vocal climate change denier and has been quoted several times making false statements that do not conform to the facts, such as "if you look at the Chinese and the Russian and the Indian production of carbon emissions, it is overwhelmingly massive compared to the carbon footprint of the United States of America.” (The US is currently the second largest carbon emitter. Until recently, it was long the number one emitter.) In a 2013 speech on the House floor, Bridenstine stated, "Global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago. Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with sun output and ocean cycles.” The facts say otherwise.

Interestingly enough, both US Senators from Florida have already stated they are opposed to his appointment. NASA is big business in Florida, remember.

We can only hope these two individuals will not have their appointments confirmed. That would slow down Trump's science hate-train a little, but I'm sure he'll find plenty of other science haters to nominate if these two aren't.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Rush Limbaugh Runs From A Hoax

After calling hurricanes a liberal hoax, Rush Limbaugh has evacuated from his home in southern Florida ahead of Hurricane Irma.  I can just hear Bugs Bunny

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hurricanes Are A Hoax: Rush Limbaugh

Just how bad has it gotten in the anti-science camp? Rush Limbaugh said Monday night that hurricanes are a liberal conspiracy to convince people that climate change is real. Read about it here. Of course, that would be the liberal media's conspiracy version, so go here and listen to it for yourself. He starts talking about the hurricane at the 1:30 mark.

I'm always amazed at how incredibly ignorant the anti-science people get, but please tell me no one believes this nonsense. Just his rant about bottled and tap water is astounding. Is he really so stupid to believe the "big water" business merely pumps water out of a lake and puts it in the stores without having to worry about environmental laws?

I'm wondering if Rush ever bothered to comment on the report of the anti-science denier organization that admitted to using false data. The British-based Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) admitted that it used "erroneous" graphs. My guess is Rush isn't quite smart enough to figure out what that means.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Weather Extremes

While everyone's attention has been focused on the tragedy from Hurricane Harvey (more on that in a future posting), there are some other weather extremes that have been taking place.

I was talking to a friend who lives in San Francisco and she told me the temperature there was over 100 degrees. I was floored! Sure enough, the recorded temperature on September 1 was 106 degrees F. We have a word for temperatures like that in Texas - heat wave! And, we're use to temperatures over 100 degrees. How does this compare to normal San Francisco temperatures? It's the all time high temperature ever recorded there. The average high for September 1 is 70 degrees - 36 degrees cooler.

At the same time, there are wildfires raging in the west. Fires have been burning all summer and, as of September, there are dozens still burning.

This is not some cherry-picking, either. While it is true the Northwest US is experiencing widespread record high temperatures, it actually is a worldwide thing. Worldwide 2016 temperature averages were the highest ever recorded and by a wide margin, breaking the previous record, set in 2015, by .2 degrees C (.36 F). That makes 2016 the third year in a row to set a new record high average temperature. (What was that? There hasn't been any warming since when?)

The thing I find interesting is how as soon as a snowflake falls, climate change deniers are out laughing and asking 'where is global warming.' And yet, when temperature records are smashed, they remain silent. The amusing thing is that their posturing actually supports the scientific evidence. When deniers come out and say something along the lines of, 'This particular date in this particular city was the coldest day recorded in 30 years,' what they're really saying is that temperatures that used to be the norm haven't been experienced in 30 years. Why would that be?

Meanwhile, Bangladesh is suffering from the worst flooding in 40 years. Bangladesh is a country prone to severe flooding, so that statement is highly significant. The death toll in Bangladesh from this one event is estimated at 142, as of September 3. Stunningly, over 1200 people have perished in flooding in Nepal, India and Bangladesh since June.

Even without Hurricane Harvey, we see severe weather is becoming worse and worse. And now, Hurricane Irma is on the way.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Oceans Are Losing Oxygen

Two recent publications have shown that the oxygen level in the world's oceans has decreased over the last few decades.

Decline in global oceanic oxygen content during the past five decades, by Sunke Schmidtko, Lothar Stramma and Martin Visbeck, a letter in the scientific journal Nature in February 2017, found the average oxygen content decreased by 2% since 1960 in the zone between 100 and 1000 meters deep. Some areas experienced as much as 4% decrease with the largest decreases being measured in the tropical and North Pacific Ocean. Depths between 1000 and 2000 meters also experienced oxygen loss. While there are multiple reasons for the oxygen level to be decreasing, ocean warming is a main cause. The upper-level of the ocean is typically saturated with oxygen - even supersaturated. But, this saturation level goes down as the temperature goes up. The authors of this paper attribute 50% of the upper-level loss to thermal causes and 25% to thermal causes when the deeper layer is included. Overall, 15% of the total ocean oxygen loss is attributed to global warming, which is consistent with predictions from models. This is also consistent with reports showing the oceans have been taking up the vast majority of global warming heat.

The second paper is Upper ocean O2 trends: 1958–2015, by Takamitsu Ito, Shoshiro Minobe, Matthew C. Long, and Curtis Deutsch, and appeared in the journal Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) May 2017.They found a decrease in ocean oxygen levels since 1980 with a corresponding increase in the ocean heat content. They find that, while most of the decline can attributed to non-thermally induced changes in solubility, they find the measured changes are still beyond what can be expected from natural fluctuations alone. Their study also reveals a tight relationship between O2 inventories and the ocean heat content and these findings were consistent with models. They state the trends they have documented are suggestive of the effects of the ocean warming beginning to supersede natural variability and emerge as a recognizable signal.

So, how does a warming ocean lead to a decrease in dissolved oxygen?

As the oceans get warmer, the solubility of gases decreases. The oceans' ability to dissolve both carbon dioxide and oxygen decreases. There is very little good about this. You can point out the acidification of the oceans would decrease if less CO2 is absorbed, and that would be good. However, the acidification will continue because the oceans are not saturated with CO2, even at the higher temperatures. Instead, the amount of CO2 taken up by the oceans will decrease and the rate of increase of atmospheric CO2 will increase. 

But, the more important point is the decrease in oxygen, which the marine life needs to survive. This will impact fisheries, tourism and ocean nutrient cycles. Lower oxygen levels particularly affect larger animals, who find they don't have enough oxygen to engage in high-energy activities like feeding. Fisheries around the world are already stressed by over-fishing and pollution and now have another stress factor to make things worse. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, over one billion people worldwide (17% of the population) rely on seafood as their primary source of protein. Over 3 billion people get almost 20% of their protein from fish. So, the problem extents beyond simply warmer air temperature.

The Schmidtko, et al. paper also discusses the outgassing of N2O - nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is both a greenhouse gas and attacks the ozone layer, providing a double whammy effect, neither of which is good for us. As a greenhouse gas, it is about 300 times as effective as CO2. Nitrous is formed and destroyed in the ocean by bacteria and is normally made and destroyed at nearly the same rate. Oxygen-depleted zones create an imbalance between formation and breakdown and a surplus of nitrous is the result. Some gets absorbed by the water. The excess then gets released into the atmosphere but that amount increases with decreasing solubility. Fortunately, the concentration of atmospheric nitrous is very low - about a thousanth as dense as CO2 - and ocean production is estimated to be only about 4 million tons per year, which is much lower than worldwide CO2 production. But, these new studies indicate it may be increasing as the ocean loses its oxygen. Considering the size of the oceans, that has the potential to be a very serious problem. And, the studies indicate even a small imbalance in the bacterial formation/destruction cycle can have large effects on the amount of gas being released to the atmosphere.

Overall, these studies indicate another area of concern about global warming and climate change.