Sea level rise more from Antarctica than from Greenland during last interglacial

Sea level rise less from Greenland, more from Antarctica, than expected during last interglacial.

Where did all that extra water come from? Mainly from melting ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica, and many scientists, including University of Wisconsin-Madison geoscience assistant professor Anders Carlson, have expected that Greenland was the main culprit.

But Carlson’s new results, published July 29 in Science, are challenging that assertion, revealing surprising patterns of melting during the last interglacial period that suggest that Greenland’s ice may be more stable — and Antarctica’s less stable — than many thought.

“The Greenland Ice Sheet is melting faster and faster,” says Carlson, who is also a member of the Center for Climatic Research in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. But despite clear observations of that fact, estimates of just how much the ice will melt and contribute to sea level rise by the end of this century are highly varied, ranging from a few centimeters to meters. “There’s a clear need to understand how it has behaved in the past, and how it has responded to warmer-than-present summers in the past.”

The ice-estimation business is rife with unknown variables and has few known physical constraints, Carlson explains, making ice sheet behavior — where they melt, how much, how quickly — the largest source of uncertainty in predicting sea level rises due to climate change.

His research team sought a way to constrain where ice remained on Greenland during the last interglacial period, around 125,000 years ago, to better define past ice sheet behavior and improve future projections.

The researchers analyzed silt from an ocean-floor core taken from a region off the southern tip of Greenland that receives sediments carried by meltwater streams off the ice sheet. They used different patterns of radiogenic isotopes to identify sources of the sediment, tracing the silt back to one of three “terranes” or regions, each with a distinct geochemical signature. The patterns of sedimentation show which terranes were still glaciated at that time.

“If the land deglaciates, you lose that sediment,” Carlson explains. But to their surprise, they found that all the terranes were still supplying sediment throughout the last interglacial period and thus still had some ice cover.

“The ice definitely retreated to smaller than present extent and definitely raised sea level to higher than present” and continued to melt throughout the warm period, he adds, but the sediment analysis indicates that “the ice sheet seems to be more stable than some of the greater retreat values that people have presented.”

The team used their results to evaluate several existing models of Greenland ice sheet melting during the last interglacial period. The models consistent with the new findings indicate that melting Greenland ice was responsible for a sea level rise of 1.6 to 2.2 meters — at most, roughly half of the minimum four-meter total increase.

Even after accounting for other Arctic ice and the thermal expansion of warmer water, most of the difference must have come from a melting Antarctic ice sheet, Carlson says.

“The implication of our results is that West Antarctica likely was much smaller than it is today,” and responsible for much more of the sea level rise than many scientists have thought, he says. “If West Antarctica collapsed, that means it’s more unstable than we expected, which is quite scary.”

Ultimately, Carlson says he hopes this line of research will improve the representation of ice sheet responses to a warming planet in future Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. Temperatures during the last interglacial period were similar to those expected by the end of this century, and present-day temps have already reached a point that Greenland’s glaciers are melting.

The Science paper was co-authored by UW-Madison colleagues Elizabeth Colville, Brian Beard, Alberto Reyes, and David Ullman and Oregon State University researchers Robert Hatfield and Joseph Stoner, and supported by UW-Madison and the National Science Foundation.

Poorer Nations Are Leaders Toward Low Carbon Energy

Poorer Nations Lead Global Movement Toward Low Carbon Energy: Scientific American.

Poor countries have spent just as much as rich ones — and in the case of China, more — to develop low-carbon energy, according to a study coming out this week. Its conclusions could turn the conventional wisdom about the differences among nations over mitigation efforts on its head.

The report by former World Bank economist David Wheeler, who now leads the climate change division at the think tank Center for Global Development, finds that China spent 94 cents of every $10,000 of average income on clean energy between 1990 and 2008. The United States, by contrast, spent 44 cents of every $10,000.

Meanwhile, all other industrialized countries combined spent only a penny more per year than their less developed counterparts.

“We all had this idea that [climate change] was a rich country problem and that poor countries shouldn’t have to do anything until they get to a certain stage of development, and that rich countries need to make it worth their while. But what I had seen suggested [was] that poor countries were already doing a lot,” Wheeler said.

The data bore that out. Wheeler examined International Energy Agency data for 174 countries on investments in six low-carbon power sources (hydro, geothermal, nuclear, biomass, wind and solar) to find the incremental costs of clean power compared to a cheaper, carbon-intensive option like a conventional coal-fired power plant. He then computed the average income share in countries to compare how much people in poor countries are paying for carbon mitigation compared to those in rich nations.

“Lo and behold, you get a world in which the shares that poor countries have been devoting to low-carbon technologies over the past 18 years is really comparable to the rich countries,” Wheeler said.

The study comes as countries continue to debate whether to develop a new international climate change treaty. Developing countries, which currently are not obligated to curb emissions, have long argued that they should not be required to help solve a problem caused by industrialized nations.

Many maintain that they also have “atmospheric rights” — that is, the right to pollute — in order to develop. Wealthy countries, meanwhile, argue that fast-growing developing countries like China and India are not doing enough to mitigate emissions. U.S. lawmakers in particular have argued that cutting carbon would put America at a competitive disadvantage to China.

Developing nations attracted to hydropower
But the fact is, countries are working steadily to develop clean energy. And, Wheeler’s study argues, they’ve been doing so for a long time.

Since 1990, developing countries have accounted for 55 percent of the global increase in low-carbon energy generation, he found. China accounted for 15 percent of it alone.

In fact, because of the growth of hydroelectric generation in particular, developing nations like the Kyrgyz Republic, Bhutan, Mozambique, Paraguay and Zimbabwe crowd out the few top-spending developed countries like Iceland, Germany and Finland.

Tajikistan actually tops the list, spending $12.27 for the incremental costs of clean energy for every $10,000. But Wheeler noted that might be an anomaly because the country underwent a civil war. A push in hydro development in 1992-1993 might have been a restart of war-idled energy capacity rather than new development, he noted.

Iceland is the only high-income country in the top 10 list. With a gross domestic product per capita of $29,752, the country spends $11.56 per person annually — mostly on geothermal power. But the Kyrgyz Republic, with a per capita GDP of just $1,634, has spent only slightly less — $11.22 per person.

Wheeler said he purposely included the controversial energy sources hydro and nuclear. While environmental groups fighting for action on climate change don’t like to include those options, Wheeler said he felt it was important to look simply at what sources produce low or zero emissions. At the same time, he argued, despite the safety risks and environmental hazards posed by nuclear and large hydro, respectively, the climate would be in far worse condition had countries not developed those sources.

 

“They’re a huge part of this story,” Wheeler said. “If poor countries hadn’t gone down that road, our carbon emissions would be now far higher than they are, and it would be growing every day much worse than it is.” He also didn’t try to tease out a country’s motive for developing low-carbon energy, since in virtually every case, it had little or nothing to do with climate change.

Flying under the accounting radar
Derek Scissors, a research fellow in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, questioned whether looking at the past decades is a useful comparison, particularly for hydro development, since industrialized countries like the United States built their dams decades ago.

But he also objected to thinking about the climate debate, or the spending necessary to reduce emissions, in terms of developed versus developing countries. Rather, he said, the discussion should be among major emitters of the past, present and future.

“Why would we think that one country should spend as much on clean energy as another country? Why should a country with low emissions do as much?” he said. “It starts from a false premise that the discussion is developing versus developed, which is just another way of saying rich versus poor. But that’s not how to address the problem. That just immediately starts this as a redistribution effort.”

Wheeler said he also thinks the equity argument needs to be put to rest, but that countries like the United States need to realize that long-held arguments that China is not doing enough to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions don’t hold water. He noted that the 94 cents per $10,000 average income that China spent compared to America’s 44 cents looks like an even wider gap when the income is factored in. China’s average GDP per capita for that time period was $2,860, while the United States’ was $37,640.

“What I see is, I have a really rich country that seems to be spending less than 20 percent per unit of income that what China is spending. There’s no possible way I can judge that as reasonable,” Wheeler said.

Developing countries as whole, he said, “have been doing a lot all along. We just haven’t been doing the accounting right.”

* Countries’ spending on low or zero-carbon energy (hydro, geothermal, nuclear, biomass, wind and solar) from 1996 to 2008, calculated as a share of their average income.

Source: Center for Global Development.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500

World population to surpass 7 billion in 2011

World population to surpass 7 billion in 2011; Explosive population growth means challenges for developing nations.

ScienceDaily (July 28, 2011) — Global population is expected to hit 7 billion later this year, up from 6 billion in 1999. Between now and 2050, an estimated 2.3 billion more people will be added — nearly as many as inhabited the planet as recently as 1950. New estimates from the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations also project that the population will reach 10.1 billion in 2100.

These sizable increases represent an unprecedented global demographic upheaval, according to David Bloom, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Economics and Demography at the Harvard School of Public Health, in a review article published July 29, 2011 in Science.

Over the next forty years, nearly all (97%) of the 2.3 billion projected increase will be in the less developed regions, with nearly half (49%) in Africa. By contrast, the populations of more developed countries will remain flat, but will age, with fewer working-age adults to support retirees living on social pensions.

“Although the issues immediately confronting developing countries are different from those facing the rich countries, in a globalized world demographic challenges anywhere are demographic challenges everywhere,” said Bloom.

The world’s population has grown slowly for most of human history. It took until 1800 for the population to hit 1 billion. However, in the past half-century, population jumped from 3 to 7 million. In 2011, approximately 135 million people will be born and 57 million will die, a net increase of 78 million people.

Considerable uncertainty about these projections remains, Bloom writes. Depending on whether the number of births per woman continues to decline, the ranges for 2050 vary from 8.1 to 10.6 billion, and the 2100 projections vary from 6.2 to 15.8 billion.

Population trends indicate a shift in the “demographic center of gravity” from more to less developed regions, Bloom writes. Already strained, many developing countries will likely face tremendous difficulties in supplying food, water, housing, and energy to their growing populations, with repercussions for health, security, and economic growth.

“The demographic picture is indeed complex, and poses some formidable challenges,” Bloom said. “Those challenges are not insurmountable, but we cannot deal with them by sticking our heads in the sand. We have to tackle some tough issues ranging from the unmet need for contraception among hundreds of millions of women and the huge knowledge-action gaps we see in the area of child survival, to the reform of retirement policy and the development of global immigration policy. It’s just plain irresponsible to sit by idly while humankind experiences full force the perils of demographic change.”

Too late to turn back Rising oceans?

Rising oceans: Too late to turn the tide?.

If sea levels rose to where they were during the Last Interglacial Period, large parts of the Gulf of Mexico region would be under water (red areas), including half of Florida and several Caribbean islands. (Credit: Illustration by Jeremy Weiss)

ScienceDaily (July 18, 2011) — Thermal expansion of seawater contributed only slightly to rising sea levels compared to melting ice sheets during the Last Interglacial Period, a University of Arizona-led team of researchers has found.

The study combined paleoclimate records with computer simulations of atmosphere-ocean interactions and the team’s co-authored paper is accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters.

As the world’s climate becomes warmer due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, sea levels are expected to rise by up to three feet by the end of this century.

But the question remains: How much of that will be due to ice sheets melting as opposed to the oceans’ 332 billion cubic miles of water increasing in volume as they warm up?

For the study, UA team members analyzed paleoceanic records of global distribution of sea surface temperatures of the warmest 5,000-year period during the Last Interglacial, a warm period that lasted from 130,000 to 120,000 years ago.

The researchers then compared the data to results of computer-based climate models simulating ocean temperatures during a 200-year snapshot as if taken 125,000 years ago and calculating the contributions from thermal expansion of sea water.

The team found that thermal expansion could have contributed no more than 40 centimeters — less than 1.5 feet — to the rising sea levels during that time, which exceeded today’s level up to eight meters or 26 feet.

At the same time, the paleoclimate data revealed average ocean temperatures that were only about 0.7 degrees Celsius, or 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit, above those of today.

“This means that even small amounts of warming may have committed us to more ice sheet melting than we previously thought. The temperature during that time of high sea levels wasn’t that much warmer than it is today,” said Nicholas McKay, a doctoral student at the UA’s department of geosciences and the paper’s lead author.

McKay pointed out that even if ocean levels rose to similar heights as during the Last Interglacial, they would do so at a rate of up to three feet per century.

“Even though the oceans are absorbing a good deal of the total global warming, the atmosphere is warming faster than the oceans,” McKay added. “Moreover, ocean warming is lagging behind the warming of the atmosphere. The melting of large polar ice sheets lags even farther behind.”

“As a result, even if we stopped greenhouse gas emissions right now, the Earth would keep warming, the oceans would keep warming, the ice sheets would keep shrinking, and sea levels would keep rising for a long time,” he explained.

They are absorbing most of that heat, but they lag behind. Especially the large ice sheets are not in equilibrium with global climate,” McKay added. ”

Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the UA’s Institute of the Environment and a professor with joint appointments in the department of geosciences and atmospheric sciences, said: “This study marks the strongest case yet made that humans — by warming the atmosphere and oceans — are pushing the Earth’s climate toward the threshold where we will likely be committed to four to six or even more meters of sea level rise in coming centuries.”

Overpeck, who is McKay’s doctoral advisor and a co-author of the study, added: “Unless we dramatically curb global warming, we are in for centuries of sea level rise at a rate of up to three feet per century, with the bulk of the water coming from the melting of the great polar ice sheets — both the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets.”

According to the authors, the new results imply that 4.1 to 5.8 meters, or 13.5 to 19 feet, of sea level rise during the Last Interglacial period was derived from the Antarctic Ice Sheet, “reemphasizing the concern that both the Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets may be more sensitive to warming temperatures than widely thought.”

“The central question we asked was, ‘What are the warmest 5,000 years we can find for all these records, and what was the corresponding sea level rise during that time?'” McKay said.

Evidence for elevated sea levels is scattered all around the globe, he added. On Barbados and the Bahamas, for example, notches cut by waves into the rock six or more meters above the present shoreline have been dated to being 125,000 years old.

“Based on previous studies, we know that the sea level during the Last Interglacial was up to 8.5 meters higher than today,” McKay explained.

“We already knew that the vast majority came from the melting of the large ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, but how much could the expansion of seawater have added to that?”

Given that sea surface temperatures were about 0.7 degrees warmer than today, the team calculated that even if the warmer temperatures reached all the way down to 2,000 meters depth — more than 6,500 feet, which is highly unlikely — expansion would have accounted for no more than 40 centimeters, less than a foot and a half.

“That means almost all of the substantial sea level rise in the Last Interglacial must have come from the large ice sheets, with only a small contribution from melted mountain glaciers and small ice caps,” McKay said.

According to co-author Bette Otto-Bliesner, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., getting the same estimate of the role ocean expansion played on sea level rise increases confidence in the data and the climate models.

“The models allow us to attribute changes we observe in the paleoclimate record to the physical mechanisms that caused those changes,” Otto-Bliesner said. “This helps tremendously in being able to distinguish mere correlations from cause-and-effect relationships.”

The authors cautioned that past evidence is not a prediction of the future, mostly because global temperatures during the Last Interglacial were driven by changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun. However, current global warming is driven by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations.

The seasonal differences between the northern and the southern hemispheres were more pronounced during the Last Interglacial than they will be in the future.

“We expect something quite different for the future because we’re not changing things seasonally, we’re warming the globe in all seasons,” McKay said.

“The question is, when we think about warming on a global scale and contemplate letting the climate system change to a new warmer state, what would we expect for the ice sheets and sea levels based on the paleoclimate record? The Last Interglacial is the most recent time when sea levels were much higher and it’s a time for which we have lots of data,” McKay added.

“The message is that the last time glaciers and ice sheets melted, sea levels rose by more than eight meters. Much of the world’s population lives relatively close to sea level. This is going to have huge impacts, especially on poor countries,” he added.

“If you live a meter above sea level, it’s irrelevant what causes the rise. Whether sea levels are rising for natural reasons or for anthropogenic reasons, you’re still going to be under water sooner or later.”

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The afterlife of our electronic waste

CultureLab: The afterlife of our electronic waste.

Is it real or wilful ignorance that permits us to foul our own planet with Styrofoam cups and rusted batteries? Would we curb our wasteful activities if only we knew the error of our ways? Technophiles from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology think so, and to equip the public with the knowledge we need to change our behaviour they’ve tagged our technological trash with GPS chips and tracked it across the globe. “Some trash is recycled, some is thrown away, some ends up where it shouldn’t end up,” says Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

(In the past, New Scientist teamed up with the Senseable City Lab for a trash-tracking project and competition in which readers followed the trail of their own rubbish.)

The lab’s video project, Backtalk (as in trash that talks back) is currently on display at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art as part of a group show about our communication with technology. In the video, batteries, cell phones and other discarded electronic devices begin as dots in Seattle, which scatter across a map of the US, leaving a web of fluorescent trails in their wake. “In one case we saw printer cartridges go from Seattle, to the east coast, to southern California,” says Assaf Biderman, associate director at the Senseable lab. “To me, that poses a question on the benefit of recycling versus the cost of travel.”

 

Backtalk also includes photos taken from laptops that had been sent to developing countries by laptop-donation programmes in the US. New users of the “discarded” laptops consented to have their photo taken. These tracked devices reveal a life that extends far beyond the original owner’s sight. “If you can get feedback about how the end of life looks for an object, it can help you become more aware so you can rethink your actions, ” Biderman says.

The MIT lab isn’t the first to point out inefficiencies in how the US handles electronic waste, of course. Debates on how to best recycle electronics have been waged since the first televisions broke – and as they continue into the present day, these disagreements expose how complex solutions are. About 53 million tons of electronic waste was generated in 2009, according to the technology market research firm, ABI Research. With a dearth of electronic waste recycling plants in the US, many companies export their toxic products to harvesting and smelting operations in Africa and Asia. And what isn’t recycled ends up in landfills, where it poses significant health risks because of leaching lead and other metals. Watchdog groups have sought to improve electronic waste recycling for years, but companies need economic or regulatory incentives to alter their current modes of operation. In Backtalk, Biderman and Ratti reiterate how inefficient the electronic waste recycling system is, and hope their new display of data will encourage people to pause before tossing out a printer cartridge – or better yet, work to fix the system.

“A moral argument is a hard one to make,” says Adam Williams, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who is studying recycling markets in China. “Successful recycling systems in China and Brazil happen when people realise they can profit off of trash,” he explains. “‘Save Mother Earth’ fails in terms of creating a system of global responsibility. Recycling needs to put money into someone’s pockets in order to work effectively.”

Yet Biderman maintains people can also be reached by driving home the concept of our interconnectedness. “After the Civil War, people realised there was a benefit to pooling their money to contribute to the common good, so they created the income tax,” he explains. “If we could create an environment where people were aware of the impact of waste or the impact of traffic, by sharing data obtained through sensors, there would be an incentive to participate in order to improve communal spaces.” Backtalk is a proof of concept that a technologically driven bottom-up approach can engage the public, he says. But if getting the message across to the broader public is anything like trying to get through to the to the over-stimulated visitors milling through the MoMA’s buzzing exhibit on communicative technologies, I’m afraid the message may be lost in digital noise.

Chaos radar uses messy signals to see through walls

Chaos radar uses messy signals to see through walls – tech – 27 July 2011 – New Scientist.

 

 

A NEW type of radar which harnesses chaos theory can see clearly through walls and could help find survivors in disasters. The technology could also make on-board radar a practical proposition for cars.

Ultra-wideband (UWB) radar is already used to “see” through walls. It can detect the presence of people on the other side of a barrier by distortions to the reflected radio waves caused by their breathing or heartbeat. However, the radar returns are often cluttered by interference, obscuring the signal.

Now, Henry Leung and colleagues at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, have found a way to sharpen the signal, which gets lost among multiple reflections within walls, known as reverberation, and by returns bouncing back via different routes.

Existing UWB radars typically use a random noise signal to avoid interference between waves of the same wavelength. But because the outgoing signal is not known it takes more processing to match it to the return. A second approach is to use a wide range of sequential frequencies; this is easier to match but more prone to interference.

Leung’s team are using a “chaotic oscillator” to generate their signal. The device creates what seems like random noise, but which is actually generated by a fixed algorithm. It is matched by a receiver using the same algorithm. Because the outgoing signal is known, it is as easy to process as spread-spectrum signals. It is also irregular, like random noise, meaning reflections are less likely to interfere with each other.

In tests, the chaotic signal produced better results than the other approaches. “It captures the desired properties of these two systems,” says Leung. This means the radar can see reliably through more layers.

Leung’s colleagues suggest that chaos radar could be used as an on-board sensor for vehicles as part of a smart traffic-management system. As chaos signals do not interfere with each other, many could operate in the same area.

Karl Woodbridge, who researches radar systems at University College London, warns that there may be some way to go before practical hardware emerges. “There are many complications in a real-world scenario which are not easy to predict in simulations.”

Solar toilet turns sewage into power

One Per Cent: Solar toilet turns sewage into power.

Combine sunlight and sewage and what do you get? Sanitation, of course.

Michael Hoffmann at the California Institute of Technology has been experimenting with solar-powered water treatment on a small scale. Now he plans to incorporate this technology into a portable toilet.

Sunlight powers an electrochemical reaction with human waste in water that generates microbe-killing oxidants and releases hydrogen gas. The researchers plan to collect the hydrogen in a fuel cell to power a light or possibly even a self-cleaning mechanism.

Solar.jpg(Image: Brian Lee)

He received a grant this week from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to build a prototype. He says he can build one toilet for $2000 and hopes to reduce the cost through design refinement and mass production.

This grant is part of the Gates Foundation’s latest global public health initiative to improve sanitation.

Several other awarded projects propose to build toilets that generate energy for the community, either processing solid waste into biological charcoal or vaporising it into plasma that generates hydrogen and carbon monoxide to run a fuel cell.

According to World Health Organization estimates, 2.6 billion people – about 40 per cent of the world’s population – do not have access to sanitation.

Peanut butter to the rescue in Somalia famine?

Peanut butter to the rescue in Somalia famine? – health – 26 July 2011 – New Scientist.

The Plumpy’Nut is coming. But will it arrive in time to save 3.5 million people who the Somali foreign minister says may starve to death?

Today the UN World Food Programme has airlifted 14 tonnes of the highly enriched “therapeutic” peanut butter to Mogadishu, the Somali capital, for immediate distribution to the 40,000 refugees who have gathered there to escape the triple crisis of drought-aggravated famine, war and escalating food prices.

Since it was recommended by the World Health Organization in 2007 as the emergency food of choice for malnourished infants, Plumpy’Nut, manufactured by French company Nutriset, has become a staple of international famine relief. Children can eat it straight from the packet instead of having to be fed intravenously. Based on peanut butter, it contains sugar, vegetable fat, and skimmed milk powder enriched with vitamins and minerals.

Now it’s at the heart of a twin-track plan agreed in Rome, Italy, today by the UN to address the famine crisis affecting 12 million people in the Horn of Africa.

Proven best

Stéphane Doyon, a nutrition expert for the charity Médecins Sans Frontières, says that sending ready-to-eat therapeutic foods like Plumpy’Nut is the best strategy to combat malnutrition in children rapidly. “It’s proven to work best against severe malnutrition, especially in situations where you don’t have the flexibility to individualise interventions,” he says. “Based on clinical science and evidence, they contain the right blend of macro and micronutrients needed to rehabilitate children from severe malnutrition.”

The crisis is particularly affecting Somalia itself and neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, where refugees from Somalia are arriving at a rate of 1500 to 2000 per day, according to the UNHCR refugee agency. The UN today agreed that the long-term solution is to invest in the future of farming in the region, but the other, much more urgent priority is to save those close to death through starvation.

“It’s vital we reach those at the epicentre of the famine with food assistance, especially the highly fortified nutritious products that are so important for vulnerable children,” WFP’s executive director Josette Sheeran said in a statement in Rome.

climate sceptics take note: raw data you wanted now available

OK, climate sceptics: here’s the raw data you wanted – environment – 28 July 2011 – New Scientist.

Anyone can now view for themselves the raw data that was at the centre of last year’s “climategate” scandal.

Temperature records going back 150 years from 5113 weather stations around the world were yesterday released to the public by the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK. The only records missing are from 19 stations in Poland, which refused to allow them to be made public.

“We released [the dataset] to dispel the myths that the data have been inappropriately manipulated, and that we are being secretive,” says Trevor Davies, the university’s pro-vice-chancellor for research. “Some sceptics argue we must have something to hide, and we’ve released the data to pull the rug out from those who say there isn’t evidence that the global temperature is increasing.”

Hand it over

The university were ordered to release data by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, following a freedom-of-information request for the raw data from researchers Jonathan Jones of the University of Oxford and Don Keiller of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK.

Davies says that the university initially refused on the grounds that the data is not owned by the CRU but by the national meteorological organisations that collect the data and share it with the CRU.

When the CRU’s refusal was overruled by the information commissioner, the UK Met Office was recruited to act as a go-between and obtain permission to release all the data.

Poland refused, and the information commissioner overruled Trinidad and Tobago’s wish for the data it supplied on latitudes between 30 degrees north and 40 degrees south to be withheld, as it had been specifically requested by Jones and Keiller in their FOI request and previously shared with other academics.

The price

The end result is that all the records are there, except for Poland’s. Davies’s only worry is that the decision to release the Trinidad and Tobago data against its wishes may discourage the open sharing of data in the future. Other research organisations may from now on be reluctant to pool data they wish to be kept private.

Thomas Peterson, chief scientist at the National Climatic Data Center of the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and president of the Commission for Climatology at the World Meteorological Organization, agrees there might be a cost to releasing the data.

“I have historic temperature data from automatic weather stations on the Greenland ice sheet that I was able to obtain from Denmark only because I agreed not to release them,” he says. “If countries come to expect that sharing of any data with anyone will eventually lead to strong pressure for them to fully release those data, will they be less willing to collaborate in the future?”

Davies is confident that genuine and proper analysis of the raw data will reproduce the same incontrovertible conclusion – that global temperatures are rising. “The conclusion is very robust,” he says, explaining that the CRU’s dataset of land temperatures tally with those from other independent research groups around the world, including those generated by the NOAA and NASA.

“Should people undertake analyses and come up with different conclusions, the way to present them is through publication in peer-reviewed journals, so we know it’s been through scientific quality control,” says Davies.

No convincing some people

Other mainstream researchers and defenders of the consensus are not so confident that the release will silence the sceptics. “One can hope this might put an end to the interminable discussion of the CRU temperatures, but the experience of GISTEMP – another database that’s been available for years – is that the criticisms will continue because there are some people who are never going to be satisfied,” says Gavin Schmidt of Columbia University in New York.

“Sadly, I think this will just lead to a new round of attacks on CRU and the Met Office,” says Bob Ward, communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. “Sceptics will pore through the data looking for ways to criticise the processing methodology in an attempt to persuade the public that there’s doubt the world has warmed significantly.”

The CRU and its leading scientist, Phil Jones, were at the centre of the so-called “climategate” storm in 2009 when the unit was accused of withholding and manipulating data. It was later cleared of the charge.

Warming Arctic releases frozen organic air pollutants

Warming Arctic releases frozen organic air pollutants – environment – 28 July 2011 – New Scientist.

  • 28 July 2011

Air pollutants emitted decades ago are coming back to haunt us. As the Arctic warms, persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, trapped in snow and ice are being re-released. This unwelcome return has been suspected for some time but is now confirmed by 16 years’ worth of data.

POPs travel around the globe on winds, build up in food and water supplies, and accumulate in animal body fat. They have also been linked to serious human health problems, including cancer, and can be passed from mother to fetus. They have been banned under the Stockholm convention since 2004.

The new study looked at air concentrations of POPs up to 2009 in Svalbard, Norway, and in Canada’s Nunavut province, and found an increase since 2000 (Nature Climate Change, DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1167).