Tag Archives: climate

Prehistoric greenhouse data from ocean floor could predict Earth's future

Prehistoric greenhouse data from ocean floor could predict Earth’s future, study finds.

ScienceDaily (Oct. 27, 2011) — New research from the University of Missouri indicates that Atlantic Ocean temperatures during the greenhouse climate of the Late Cretaceous Epoch were influenced by circulation in the deep ocean. These changes in circulation patterns 70 million years ago could help scientists understand the consequences of modern increases in greenhouse gases.

“We are examining ocean conditions from several past greenhouse climate intervals so that we can understand better the interactions among the atmosphere, the oceans, the biosphere, and climate,” said Kenneth MacLeod, professor of geological sciences in the College of Arts and Science. “The Late Cretaceous Epoch is a textbook example of a greenhouse climate on earth, and we have evidence that a northern water mass expanded southwards while the climate was cooling. At the same time, a warm, salty water mass that had been present throughout the greenhouse interval disappeared from the tropical Atlantic.”

The study found that at the end of the Late Cretaceous greenhouse interval, water sinking around Greenland was replaced by surface water flowing north from the South Atlantic. This change caused the North Atlantic to warm while the rest of the globe cooled. The change started about five million years before the asteroid impact that ended the Cretaceous Period.

To track circulation patterns, the researchers focused on “neodymium,” an element that is taken up by fish teeth and bones when a fish dies and falls to the ocean floor. MacLeod said the ratio of two isotopes of neodymium acts as a natural tracking system for water masses. In the area where a water mass forms, the water takes on a neodymium ratio like that in rocks on nearby land. As the water moves through the ocean, though, that ratio changes little. Because the fish take up the neodymium from water at the seafloor, the ratio in the fish fossils reflects the values in the area where the water sank into the deep ocean. Looking at changes through time and at many sites allowed the scientists to track water mass movements.

While high atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide caused Late Cretaceous warmth, MacLeod notes that ocean circulation influenced how that warmth was distributed around the globe. Further, ocean circulation patterns changed significantly as the climate warmed and cooled.

“Understanding the degree to which climate influences circulation and vice versa is important today because carbon dioxide levels are rapidly approaching levels most recently seen during ancient greenhouse times,” said MacLeod. “In just a few decades, humans are causing changes in the composition of the atmosphere that are as large as the changes that took millions of years to occur during geological climate cycles.”

The paper, “Changes in North Atlantic circulation at the end of the Cretaceous greenhouse interval,” was published in the October online edition of the journal Nature Geoscience. Coauthors include C. Isaza Londoño of the University of Missouri; E.E. Martin and C. Basak of the University of Florida, and A. Jiménez Berrocoso of the Unviersity of Manchester, United Kingdom. The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Missouri-Columbia.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. K. G. MacLeod, C. Isaza Londoño, E. E. Martin, Á. Jiménez Berrocoso, C. Basak. Changes in North Atlantic circulation at the end of the Cretaceous greenhouse interval. Nature Geoscience, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1284

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MLA

University of Missouri-Columbia (2011, October 27). Prehistoric greenhouse data from ocean floor could predict Earth’s future, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 1, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2011/10/111027150213.htm

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

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'Dangerous' heat wave creeps eastward

‘Dangerous’ heat wave creeps eastward – CNN.

Take me out to the ball game? For some dealing with this relentless heat wave, that idea could make you think twice.

The heat wave that has taken hold of much of the upper Midwest over the past few days is taking its toll on just about everyone — including those who may be used to working up a sweat outdoors.

Case in point: Monday’s Philadelphia Phillies vs. Chicago Cubs baseball game. Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay was forced to leave the game early as temperatures at Chicago’s Wrigley Field soared into the 90s. The heat index during game time was far more than 100 degrees.

Halladay, his face beet-red and his off-white jersey soaked, left the game in the fifth inning.

Chicago isn’t alone. The “dangerous” heat wave baking the central United States is expected to extend to the East Coast by the end of this week, the National Weather Service said Tuesday.

The weather service on Tuesday declared “excessive-heat” warnings in 13 states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin — through Friday.

Parts of six other states — Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas — are under heat advisories through at least Wednesday, the weather service said.

Cities already are under heat watches for the rest of the week include Grand Rapids, Michigan; Memphis, Tennessee; Taunton, Massachusetts; Wilmington, Ohio; Detroit and Pontiac, Michigan; State College, Pennsylvania; New York City; Baltimore and Washington.

“Heat-index values” — how hot it feels outside — have been running more than 125 degrees in the worst-hit areas. The scale designed to describe how intense the heat feels takes relative humidity into account along with temperature.

Two factors contribute to making this current heat wave especially dangerous: the lack of a significant drop in temperatures overnight to allow people’s bodies to cool and relatively high humidity, which makes the air feel appreciably hotter than the thermometer may indicate, said Jacob Beitlich, a Des Moines, Iowa-based meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

In Iowa, for instance, he noted that the impact of mid-90s temperatures has been compounded by dew points — or saturation temperatures — in the upper 70s and low 80s. These combine to make the heat index spike so that it feels as hot as 126 degrees, the weather service said.

What's to Blame for Wild Weather? "La Nada" – NASA Science

What’s to Blame for Wild Weather? “La Nada” – NASA Science.

Such sheets of fire, such bursts of horrid thunder,
Such groans of roaring wind and rain, I never
Remember to have heard; man’s nature cannot carry
The affliction nor the fear
from Shakespeare’s Tragedy of King Lear

June 21, 2011: Record snowfall, killer tornadoes, devastating floods: There’s no doubt about it. Since Dec. 2010, the weather in the USA has been positively wild. But why?

Some recent news reports have attributed the phenomenon to an extreme “La Niña,” a band of cold water stretching across the Pacific Ocean with global repercussions for climate and weather. But NASA climatologist Bill Patzert names a different suspect: “La Nada.”

“La Niña was strong in December,” he says. “But back in January it pulled a disappearing act and left us with nothing – La Nada – to constrain the jet stream. Like an unruly teenager, the jet stream took advantage of the newfound freedom–and the results were disastrous.”

La Niña and El Niño are opposite extremes of a great Pacific oscillation. Every 2 to 7 years, surface waters across the equatorial Pacific warm up (El Niño) and then they cool down again (La Niña). Each condition has its own distinct effects on weather.

Wild Weather (La Nina, 558px)

The blue and purple band in this satellite image of the Pacific Ocean traces the cool waters of the La Niña phenomenon in December 2010. (from Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 satellite, Credit: NASA JPL)

The winter of 2010 began with La Niña conditions taking hold. A “normal” La Niña would have pushed the jet stream northward, pushing cold arctic air (one of the ingredients of severe weather) away from the lower US. But this La Niña petered out quickly, and no El Niño rose up to replace it. The jet stream was free to misbehave.

“By mid-January 2011, La Niña weakened rapidly and by mid-February it was ‘adios La Niña,’ allowing the jet stream to meander wildly around the US. Consequently the weather pattern became dominated by strong outbreaks of frigid polar air, producing blizzards across the West, Upper Midwest, and northeast US.”1

The situation lingered into spring — and things got ugly. Russell Schneider, Director of the NOAA-NWS Storm Prediction Center, explains:

“First, very strong winds out of the south carrying warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico met cold jet stream winds racing in from the west. Stacking these two air masses on top of each other created the degree of instability that fuels intense thunderstorms.”

Extreme contrasts in wind speeds and directions of the upper and lower atmosphere transformed ordinary thunderstorms into long-lived rotating supercells capable of producing violent tornadoes.2

In Patzert’s words, “The jet stream — on steroids — acted as an atmospheric mix master, causing tornadoes to explode across Dixie and Tornado Alleys, and even into Massachusetts.”

Wild Weather (La Nada, 558px)

This satellite image, taken in April 2011, reveals La Niña’s rapid exit from the equator near the US coast. The cool (false-color blue) water was gone by early spring. (from Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 satellite, Credit: NASA JPL)

All this because of a flaky La Niña?

“La Niña and El Niño affect the atmosphere’s energy balance because they determine the location of warm water in the Pacific, and that in turn determines where huge clusters of tropical thunderstorms form,” explains Schneider. “These storms are the main energy source from the tropics influencing the large scale pattern of the jet stream that flows through the US.”

In agreement with Patzert, he notes that the very strong and active jet stream across the lower US in April “may have been related to the weakening La Niña conditions observed over the tropical Pacific.”

And of course there’s this million dollar question: “Does any research point to climate change as a cause of this wild weather?”

“Global warming is certainly happening,” asserts Patzert, “but we can’t discount global warming or blame it for the 2011 tornado season. We just don’t know … Yet.”3

What will happen next? And please don’t say, “La Nada.”

Author: Dauna Coulter | Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

End Notes
(1) Other atmospheric factors also contributed to the inflow of frigid polar air, says Patzert. One of the most significant was a weakening in the whirlpool motion of the air around the North Pole. As a result of this weakening, more cold air flowed away from the pole and down toward the states. Climatologists call this an “arctic oscillation.”

(2) Imagine a paddle wheel oriented like a Ferris wheel and placed in winds that that are much stronger at the top than at the bottom. The wheel will spin in the direction of the strong winds above. This spring, these strong, turning winds led to ongoing rotation of the supercells themselves. So we ended up with intense rotation and updraft close to Earth’s surface — conditions ripe for strong tornadoes.

(3) On May 26, 2011, Patzert posted a comment about this topic on Andrew Revkin’s The New York Times’ DOT EARTH Blog, “Demography, Design, Atom Bombs and Tornado Deaths.” See comment 6 at this URL.

Global warming not to blame for 2011 droughts

Global warming not to blame for 2011 droughts – environment – 15 June 2011 – New Scientist.

ADD one more to the list: after the driest spring in more than 20 years, parts of eastern England are officially in a state of drought, according to the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This comes hard on the heels of some of the worst droughts on record across the globe, from Texas to China.

While global warming is an obvious suspect, there’s no evidence that it is to blame. Though climate change models predict extended droughts and periods of intense rainfall for the end of the 21st century, they don’t explain the current droughts, says Martin Hoerling at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “A lot of these extreme conditions are natural variations of the climate. Extremes happen, heat waves happen, heavy rains happen,” he says.

Drought across the southern US – and heavy rains across the north of the country – are a result of La Niña, says Michael Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. An extended holding pattern in the jet stream, the same type of “blocking event” that caused last summer’s heat wave in Russia, is responsible for this year’s European droughts, says Michael Blackburn of the University of Reading, UK.

As for the apparent convergence of droughts worldwide, Mark Saunders of University College London says current conditions aren’t that unusual. News media may simply be more tuned in to reporting extreme weather events.

Doctors Prepare to Explain and Treat Climate-Related Symptoms: Scientific American

Doctors Prepare to Explain and Treat Climate-Related Symptoms: Scientific American.

Climate change is beginning to impact public health

allergies, health, climate change PUBLIC HEALTH: Prolonged allergy seasons, the resurgence of certain diseases and extreme weather events are spurred by climate change and affect human health. Image: lighttable/Flickr

Dr. Anthony Szema is used to seeing patients with red eyes and runny noses. But in the past couple of years, the New York-based allergist has been faced with an onslaught of patients complaining their symptoms are starting earlier and hitting harder than ever before.

Szema believes climate change is a culprit in the extended severe allergy seasons. And he is one of a small number of physicians who are beginning to talk to their patients about it.

“I don’t go on a soapbox making a scientific case, but by the time patients come to my office, they pretty much understand something is going on,” he said. “They want to know why they are wheezing, why they have watery eyes and why their throats are swelling up. They understand the pollen season is worse this year.”

“I give multiple etiologies,” he said, referring to the causes of illness, “but climate change is one of them.”

As scientists solidify the links between climate change and health issues like tropical ailments that infect Americans on the backs of whipping winds and warming ocean tides, top medical associations are becoming a high-profile lobbying force for climate regulations.

Prolonged allergy seasons, re-emerging illnesses and more extreme weather events are spurred on by climate change and will systematically affect human health, they argue.

Now, health advocates say physicians like Szema need to study up on the environment and bring conversations about the fingerprints of climate change right down to the doctor-patient level.

Most individual doctors remain reluctant to speak out on climate-health links. But top medical associations leapt into the fray this past year as U.S. EPA’s climate regulations became a target of GOP-led attacks in Congress.

Medical associations join the fight for regulations
The American Medical Association and American Lung Association, for example, were part of a coalition that coordinated a defense for reining in the emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes. Their argument: Protect human health.

For that fight, they offered up a cadre of experts to speak out on the connections between greenhouse gas emissions and higher rates of asthma or other serious illnesses. Some health advocates see this as a preview of what is to come.

“The challenge for groups like the American Thoracic Society is that we are professional organizations designed to talk to ourselves. We are not well-structured to effectively communicate with the public on issues as large as this. We can certainly publish opinion pieces in our journals that make the case, but we don’t have a direct line to The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal,” said Gary Ewart, director of government relations at the American Thoracic Society.

At the moment, he added, primary care physicians are also not well-positioned to squeeze talks about climate change and associated threats into 10-minute patient visits.

“In most patient encounters, you need to get the family history, and most of our physicians are seeing patients with complex problems and prescribing drugs and other lifestyle interventions … doing that in a 10- to 15-minute discussion is a lot to cover,” he said.

But Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said doctors still have a special responsibility to read up on these issues, verify the facts for themselves and help inform their communities and policymakers.

“Every physician has a role in prevention, and if we can help improve the environment, why shouldn’t we?” he said. “If we saw a river was infected, we would tell our patients that they shouldn’t drink the water from that river or bathe in that river, and I hope they would do work as good citizens to make sure whatever was polluting that river was taken care of.”

elivering a message that takes more than 10 minutes
Clinicians can slide into the chasm between climate science and public understanding — connecting the dots for communities about why they should care about rising greenhouse gas emissions and acting as trusted interpreters on how these changes could affect their own families’ health and what they see in their own backyards, he said.

So far, it hasn’t really happened yet on any large scale. But Epstein hopes that will change.

“Physicians are getting more involved, and we are getting a clear message from health groups and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that these are real issues we need to know about,” he said.

Now, in the aftermath of the most recent round of international climate talks and after the demise of U.S. climate change legislation, Epstein and journalist Dan Ferber have released a new book geared toward educating the public about the human consequences to health if climate change goes unaddressed.

The book, “Changing Planet, Changing Health,” caps the sweeping change in the last couple of years as more doctors and medical professionals have chimed in on the dangers of climate change — with multiple public health groups issuing treatises on the topic in the past few years.

The foundation for more physician involvement may already be set. Several hundred health groups have banded together to boost physicians’ knowledge on issues of environmental health — including climate change.

The coalition, which calls itself Health Care Without Harm, has crafted PowerPoint presentations for clinicians and hospital administrators that offer advice about how to “green” hospitals and educate other doctors about this topic.

Allergists at the ‘forefront’
“What we have found with our trainings is if clinicians are given more information about these topics, they tend to bring them up more in regular clinical visits,” she said, pointing to anecdotal evidence.

“You would assume clinicians know about this, but they don’t unless they are personally interested. They don’t receive any training on this,” she said.

Dr. Mark Windt, a New Hampshire-based allergist, immunologist and pulmonologist, underscores that point. He reports that he weaves climate change into his meetings with patients on a regular basis, but as a specialist with his own private practice, he acknowledges he may be somewhat unique.

“Training as an allergist and immunologist puts me at the forefront of exposure to allergens and people with allergies, and we are seeing increases in cases,” he said.

Windt has seen an uptick in workshops and seminars on these issues for specialists in his field, he said. The American Medical Association, too, has been increasing its offerings on this topic, thanks to funding from the Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment. But ultimately, the drive to dig deeply on these topics continues to come from personal interest.

Cynthia Romero, a doctor with a family practice in Virginia Beach, Virginia, said she started peppering her patients’ visits with discussions about climate change in the past couple of years — after she started hearing more about it in the news and at conferences.

When patients bring up their allergies, they often ask about climate change, she said. But beyond treating allergy symptoms, she said, those talks often become about what they can do to mitigate change through recycling and energy efficiency.

“Even though my interactions with patients may be short and focused on a particular disease or condition when they come in, I am able to initiate conversations we can continue the next time they come in. … It is really an ongoing conversation,” she said.

Pushing treatment, not an agenda
But for some physicians, these types of conversations — on climate change and a host of other topics — are also fraught with concerns about espousing political views that may alienate patients, she said.

“It is a common theme that physicians really are not in favor of using their office as an opportunity to communicate a political agenda. I think physicians are really geared toward focusing on patient care and trying not to be judgmental on political views,” she said.

One stumbling block for physicians and scientists is that pinpointing a clear cause for specific diseases is complex.

“It is always tough to tease out when we are talking about the exact relationship between climate change and an illness, because it is always multifactorial,” explained Kim Knowlton, senior scientist at the Health and Environment Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“It is never just climate change or temperature or humidity or changing rainfall — it is also people’s level of development, socioeconomic status and access to health care,” she said. Unforeseen circumstances like antibiotic resistance also play a key role in disease outbreak.

Another challenge is that science takes time to develop and even longer to evaluate.

For Epstein and like-minded medical professionals, however, climate change is like any other health issue that requires fast and preventive treatment.

To help make communities more climate-ready, the Centers for Disease Control already has taken steps in the past year to help communities prepare for climate related-health threats. That agency is providing more than $5 million for 10 states and cities to begin to adapt to extreme heat and more vector-borne diseases and respiratory illnesses.

Lyme disease soars in Maine
Outside extended allergy seasons and air pollution concerns, other health impacts linked with climate change are already readily apparent.

Scientists are already documenting how insects that infect people with malaria or dengue fever are surviving and thriving in higher altitudes than ever before — expanding their range and moving northward in Africa and Latin America. Changing migration patterns are also enabling dengue-infected mosquitoes to circulate in Florida.

“You have to look at the whole picture — it’s not just a question of if just these particular mosquitoes are here or there,” said Epstein.

In New England alone, Epstein notes, Lyme disease is on the rise, and he believes climate change is propelling it. More than 700 cases of Lyme disease were reported in 2010 in Maine. A decade earlier, fewer than 100 cases were reported within that state’s borders.

Richard Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York, said that while climate change is likely a factor driving Lyme disease, the science on the climate change connection is not as robust as it is with dengue fever or malaria.

Trees coming back after they were cleared to become farmlands in the 1800s may also be a driver for the increase in Lyme disease, since the bacteria may have lain dormant in pockets of those areas the whole time, he said.

How and where climate change could help trigger epidemics remains uncertain, since illnesses rest on multi-variable factors, but scientists agree that some of the calling cards of climate change — heavy rains, prolonged drought and unusual warmth — are ultimately setting the stage for diseases to prosper.

And extreme weather events and their aftermath leave communities with problems that simmer below the surface such as trauma and depression. They also exacerbate other physical maladies, including high blood pressure and heart disease.

“When is this going to wake people up?” said Epstein. “We are talking about fundamental assaults on health systems.”

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

The sun joins the climate club

The sun joins the climate club – environment – 23 September 2010 – New Scientist.

Editorial: The sun’s activity has a place in climate science

THE idea that changes in the sun’s activity can influence the climate is making a comeback, after years of scientific vilification, thanks to major advances in our understanding of the atmosphere.

The findings do not suggest – as climate sceptics frequently do – that we can blame the rise of global temperatures since the early 20th century on the sun. “There are extravagant claims for the effects of the sun on global climate,” says Giles Harrison, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Reading, UK. “They are not supported.”

Where solar effects may play a role is in influencing regional weather patterns over the coming decades. Predictions on these scales of time and space are crucial for nations seeking to prepare for the future.

Over the famous 11-year solar cycle, the sun’s brightness varies by just 0.1 per cent. This was seen as too small a change to impinge on the global climate system, so solar effects have generally been left out of climate models. However, the latest research has changed this view, and the next report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due in 2013, will include solar effects in its models.

So far, three mechanisms have come to light (see diagram). The best understood is what is known as the top-down effect, described by Mike Lockwood, also at the University of Reading, and Joanna Haigh of Imperial College London. Although the sun’s brightness does not change much during solar maxima and minima, the type of radiation it emits does. During maxima the sun emits more ultraviolet radiation, which is absorbed by the stratosphere.This warms up, generating high-altitude winds. Although the exact mechanism is unclear, this appears to have knock-on effects on regional weather: strong stratospheric winds lead to a strong jet stream.

The sun’s brightness does not change much during solar maxima, but the type of radiation it emits does

The reverse is true in solar minima, and the effect is particularly evident in Europe, where minima increase the chances of extreme weather. Indeed, this year’s cold winter and the Russian heatwave in July have been linked to the sun’s current lull, which froze weather systems in place for longer than normal.

The second effect is bottom-up, in which additional visible radiation during a solar maximum warms the tropical oceans, causing more evaporation and therefore more rain, especially close to the equator.

On its own, the effect may not be sufficient to cause noticeable differences. “It’s too weak a forcing,” says Tim Woollings of the University of Reading. But a study by Katja Matthes at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam and colleagues suggests the two effects could work together to greater effect. For example, observations show that monsoon rains in south-east Asia tend to be stronger during peak solar years. The researchers found that they were only able to reproduce this in models if they included both effects (Science, vol 325, p 1114).

The third solar influence on climate is extraterrestrial. Earth is bombarded by cosmic rays from exploding stars, which are largely deflected by the solar wind during solar maxima and to a slightly lesser degree in minima.

One theory held that cosmic rays cool the planet by helping to form airborne particles that water vapour condenses onto, increasing cloud cover. However, models suggest the effect is tiny (Nature, vol 460, p 332). Just to be sure, though, the idea is being tested by the CLOUD experiment at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. Initial results are expected in the next six months.

A theory that has more traction with climate scientists says the rays may change cloud behaviour rather than formation. Using weather balloon measurements, Harrison has shown that clouds have charged layers at their top and bottom, and he suggests that ions produced by cosmic rays might be responsible (Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1029/2010GL043605). “The charge might make it easier for larger water droplets to form,” he says, causing rain to fall sooner during solar minima. “But that’s just one of many possibilities.”

Cosmic rays might be responsible for the charged layers at the top and bottom of clouds

So how large are these effects? In its 2007 report, the IPCC stated that changes in solar irradiance accounted for less than 5 per cent of planet warming since 1750. The scale of the effect is unlikely to change. But having established that global average temperatures are rising and will continue to rise over the 21st century, the key task for the next IPCC report will be to refine regional and medium-term forecasts. For this, including the upper atmosphere in climate models will be key. “We have known for a while that this makes a difference,” says Gavin Schmidt of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, “especially for solar effects.”

Global Temperature Anomalies, July 2010

Global Temperature Anomalies, July 2010 : Image of the Day.

Global Temperature Anomalies, July 2010

Posted August 18, 2010

Global Temperature Anomalies, July 2010

Color bar for Global Temperature Anomalies, July 2010
download large image (375 KB, PDF) acquired July 1 – 31, 2010
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// In early August 2010, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) released its analysis of global temperatures for the previous month. In July 2010, GISS found, the global average temperature was 0.55 degrees Celsius (almost 1 degree Fahrenheit) warmer than climatology—defined as average temperatures for the same month from 1951 to 1980. July 2010 was practically in a three-way tie for the warmest July on record, tied with July 1998 and July 2005.

This color-coded map shows global surface temperature anomalies for July 2010 compared to average temperatures for the same time of year from 1951 to 1980. Above-normal temperatures appear in shades of red, and below-normal temperatures appear in shades of blue. Red-hued Greenland, for example, experienced above-normal temperatures while the blue-hued Pacific Northwest experienced below-normal temperatures. Gray patches indicate areas of insufficient data.

The GISS analysis found temperatures more than 5 degrees Celsius (about 10 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than climatology in the region of Eastern Europe, including Moscow, and in Eastern Asia. (Both Moscow and Eastern Siberia faced severe wildfires and smoke in July 2010.) The eastern United States also experienced unusual heat, although not as severe as the heat in parts of Eurasia.

Substantial areas, however, showed below-normal temperatures, including central Asia and southern South America. Parts of South America suffered through sub-freezing temperatures and heavy snow, leading to hundreds of cold-related deaths, ruined crops and livestock, and contaminated rivers after millions of fish froze, said news reports. Temperatures were below normal across much of East Antarctica, although they were well above normal over the Antarctic Peninsula.

In the GISS analysis, the 12-month running mean temperature reached a record high in the Northern Hemisphere summer of 2010. The GISS release pointed out, however, that the nascent La Niña was moderately strong, would probably strengthen, and would likely affect temperatures throughout the remainder of 2010. (Note the long band of cooler-than-normal water over the Eastern Pacific, immediately off South America, characteristic of La Niña.) Just as a strong El Niño tends to nudge global temperatures upwards, La Niña can have the opposite effect. GISS anticipated that La Niña would cause the 12-month running mean temperature to decline over the rest of the year.

The extreme weather events in Russia and Pakistan have fueled speculation about the role of climate. The GISS release stated, “The location of extreme events in any particular month depends on specific weather patterns, which are unpredictable except on short time scales. The weather patterns next summer will be different than this year. It could be a cooler than average summer in Moscow in 2011.” The GISS release went on to explain, however, that global warming does affect the probability and intensity of extreme events. Climate can drive precipitation because temperature affects the amount of water vapor that air can carry. Likewise, in areas experiencing drought, global warming can increase temperature extremes that exacerbate wildfires.

  1. References

  2. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. (2010, August 12). July 2010—What Global Warming Looks Like. Accessed August 17, 2010.
  3. UPI. (2010, August 5). S. America having bitter winter weather. Accessed August 17, 2010.

NASA image by Robert Simmon, based on GISS surface temperature analysis data including ship and buoy data from the Hadley Centre. Caption by Michon Scott.

Instrument:
In situ Measurement

t r u t h o u t | Jim Boyce | Essentials of Smart Climate Policy

t r u t h o u t | Jim Boyce | Essentials of Smart Climate Policy.

some interesting proposals, including for reference for our stuff….

by: Jim Boyce  |  RealClimateEconomics.org

In one of the more memorable moments of the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama explained why he rejected John McCain’s call to postpone their September debate in Oxford, Mississippi, during the negotiations on the first financial bailout package. “It’s going to be part of the president’s job,” Obama declared, “to be able to deal with more than one thing at once.”

Something similar can be said about climate policy. A variety of proposals – for public investment, carbon pricing, regulatory standards – are cooking in Washington’s political stew. Sometimes the proponents of specific policies are tempted to oversell their merits, while dismissing other policies as unnecessary or even counterproductive. But if Congress and the Obama administration are going to get smart on climate change, part of their job is to deal with more than one policy at once.

Climate change cannot be reduced to single-issue politics. The challenge of weaning the United States from its dependence on fossil fuels that spew carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere is inseparable from the challenges of reviving our economy, generating decent jobs, and restoring our leadership in the international community.

Nor can climate change be treated effectively as a single-policy issue. Public investment is crucial, but it will not solve the problem alone. Ditto carbon pricing. Ditto regulatory standards. Each must be part of the solution, and each will enhance the effectiveness of the others. Choosing more than one thing from the toolkit is the essence of smart climate policy.

Public Investment

Today, with the economy in its deepest crisis since the Great Depression – at a time when banks aren’t lending, firms aren’t investing, consumers aren’t spending, and jobs are disappearing – a big program of public investment occupies the center of the political stage.

Public spending, unlike tax cuts, directly boosts demand for goods and services. And unlike private consumption, a sizeable fraction of which goes into buying imports, public spending can be targeted to spur demand for goods and services produced at home.

As critics are quick to point out, public spending can be wasteful in the sense of creating nothing of lasting value. The government can inject a short-run stimulus into the economy simply by paying people to dig holes in the ground and fill them up. If instead we pay people to build things of lasting value – that is, if we invest well and wisely – we can benefit twice, not only rebooting the economy in the short term but also strengthening the economy for the years ahead.

At this juncture in history, some of the most strategic public investments we can make are in energy efficiency and renewable energy. These investments are necessary, first and foremost, to insure our grandchildren against the threat of catastrophic climate change. These investments also will reduce our reliance on imported oil and the regimes that supply it. At the same time, they will curtail the many other damages inflicted by the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, from “mountaintop removal” in Appalachia to toxic air pollution in communities located near refineries and highways.

Dollar-for-dollar, investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy scores much higher in job creation than investment in fossil fuels. Every million dollars spent on retrofitting buildings generates 7 jobs directly, plus 11 more jobs indirectly through the purchases of supplies and consumption by the workers – 18 jobs in total. In mass transit and freight rail, the total is even higher: nearly 22 jobs per $1 million spending. The corresponding total in the coal industry is 9 jobs. In oil and gas it’s even less: fewer than 6 jobs per $1 million.

Public investments, and private investments “crowded in” by public investments, can not only spur net job growth, but also can target areas of the country where job creation is needed most – including areas that will ultimately experience losses of jobs in the fossil fuel industries as we move to the post-carbon economy of the future.

The green recovery program proposed by my colleagues at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) calls for public investment totaling $100 billion over two years in retrofitting buildings, mass transit and freight rail, a “smart” electrical grid, wind and solar power, next-generation biofuels, and loan guarantees to encourage more private investment in energy efficiency and renewables. The stimulus bill signed into law by President Obama contains similar provisions.

By definition, a stimulus program increases demand for goods and services, rather than simply reshuffling demand from one sector of the economy to another. Public investment in a stimulus package is not financed by taxes, or sales of carbon permits, or cuts in other public expenditures: it is financed by deficit spending, including both borrowing and Federal Reserve purchases of Treasury bills (or “printing money” in the language of the pre-electronic era).

In future years, once the economy recovers and stimulus spending draws down, we will need to find other ways to pay for ongoing public investments in the clean energy transition. One possibility is to reallocate the federal subsidies currently lavished upon the oil, coal, and natural gas industries – subsidies that amount to some $50 billion per year, according to an inventory by Doug Koplow of Earth Track, Inc. Whether Washington has the political stomach to end these handouts is an open question. But it makes no sense to subsidize with one hand the same activities that we are trying to phase out with the other.

Carbon Pricing

Putting a price on carbon is a second key element of smart climate policy. An underlying reason for our current situation is that we have treated the Earth’s limited capacity to absorb and recycle carbon emissions as if it was infinite. When useful things are in infinite supply, they’re free. When useful things are scarce, they have a price. To send the proper market signals to consumers and producers, we need to correct this mistake by putting a price on carbon emissions.

There are two ways to do so. The first is to levy a carbon tax (or euphemistically, a “carbon charge”), set as a fixed dollar amount per ton of carbon emissions. The quantity of emissions will vary depending on demand and the business cycle, but it will certainly be lower than in the absence of the tax.

The second way to price carbon is to put a cap on the total quantity of emissions, an objective most easily achieved by limiting the amount of carbon entering the economy in coal, oil, and natural gas. A fixed number of permits, their total quantity being set by the cap, are made available to the firms that extract fossil fuels at home or import them from abroad. The permits could be given away free or they could be auctioned at the price set by market demand.

No matter whether carbon permits are given away, auctioned, or distributed by some mix of the two methods, an inevitable effect of a cap (and likewise, of a carbon tax) is a rise in the price of gasoline, heating oil, natural gas, coal-fired electricity, and everything that uses fossil fuels in its production or distribution. In other words, the permit price (or tax) is “passed through” to the end-users. This is Economics 101: lower supply results in a higher price. These higher prices give firms and households a stronger incentive to invest in energy efficiency and alternative fuels.

The higher prices that come with carbon pricing are a cost to individual consumers but not a cost to the economy as a whole. The reason is that every dollar paid in higher prices winds up in someone else’s hands. In economic terminology, the result of carbon pricing is a “transfer,” not a “cost.” This raises the trillion-dollar question: Who gets the money?

The answer depends on the design of the policy. The money could go to energy corporations as windfall profit. It could go to the government as revenue from permit sales or taxes. It could be refunded to the public as equal payments to every woman, man and child in the country. Or it could be distributed via some combination of the three.

The windfall profit scenario is what happens if carbon permits are simply given away for free to corporations. Prices at the pump will rise regardless of whether permits are auctioned or given away – just as rents in housing markets are the same regardless of whether the owner paid for the house or inherited it. Under the give-away option, energy corporations “inherit” the new property rights created by carbon permits (the property in question being the carbon absorptive capacity of the planet). In effect, this option legitimizes the prior capture of this scarce resource by polluters.

The government revenue scenario is attractive to those seeking ways to fund new or existing government programs, including public investment in the clean energy transition. However, what the government will actually do with the money is always an open question – the answer to which will change with shifts in Washington’s political climate. Under this option, the new property rights belong to the government, which collects the rent.

The public refund scenario, sometimes called “cap and dividend,” is now attracting much attention in Congress and the media. Instead of be treated as government revenue, the money from permit auctions (or carbon taxes) is deposited into a stand-alone trust fund, akin to the Social Security trust fund, from which dividends are paid to the public (for example, in quarterly installments). The simplest way to do this is to issue “Carbon Trust Cards” that can be used like ATM cards to check individual balances and withdraw cash – a system that is already available for Social Security payments. Under this option, rights to the Earth’s capacity to absorb carbon belong equally to all.

In the latter two scenarios, there is no need for a “cap and trade” apparatus where carbon permits can be bought and sold in markets after they are issued. Carbon permits would be purchased at auction by the firms that want them. Like other familiar sorts of permits – building permits, parking permits, driver’s licenses – they would not have to be tradable. The need for tradable permits arises only if permits are given away free to corporations (based on their historic emissions or some other formula), leading to situations where some firms have more permits than they need, others have fewer, and trading is needed to get an efficient allocation. If the permits are instead auctioned, we get the same efficient outcome without the added cost of traders’ profit margins and without the risk of speculation and market manipulation.

Apart from the intuitive philosophical appeal of the premise that the gifts of Nature belong equally to all persons, a compelling political case can be made for the public refund option. Carbon pricing will be politically sustainable only if the higher fuel prices that result do not spark a furious backlash from a public already hard-pressed to make ends meet. While attending U.N. climate talks in Poznan, Poland, in December 2008, Wisconsin congressman James Sensenbrenner, the ranking Republican on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, spelled out the political implications: “If people on the other side of the aisle want to push a doubling to tripling of electricity bills and $10 a gallon gas, I can guarantee you that the Republicans may very well be in the majority after the 2010 election.”

While $10/gallon gasoline is not imminent under any likely policy scenario, there can be little doubt that any serious effort to curtail fossil fuel consumption will mean higher prices for gasoline, heating oil, and coal-fired electricity. How much higher will depend on the tightness of the emissions cap; the state of the economy (in a recession the increase will be less than during a boom economy); and the extent to which complementary investments and regulatory policies reduce demand for fossil fuels. But unless and until the transition to a post-carbon economy is well underway, carbon pricing policies will surely translate into higher fuel prices.

There is one and only one way to avoid a public backlash against higher prices for gasoline, heating oil, and electricity: refund the money to the people. Equal per person refunds will completely offset the impact of higher fuel prices on the average household budget. At the same time, higher fuel prices will give everyone an incentive to economize on fuel consumption. Households with lower-than-average carbon footprints – including most low-income households, because they consume less of just about everything – come out ahead in monetary terms, not even counting the benefits of saving the planet. The only way I can imagine to make Americans happy about higher prices at the pump is to give them certain knowledge that those same prices mean more money in their pockets.

Smart Regulatory Standards

The third leg of smart climate policy, alongside public investment and carbon pricing, is regulatory standards. Before the recent financial meltdown, “regulation” was often treated as a dirty word in American politics. Today, it has been rehabilitated as it becomes more and more evident that without rules (a.k.a. regulations), the logic of self-interest can run amok, turning Adam Smith’s celebrated “invisible hand” into a colossal pickpocket.

To say that rules are necessary is not, of course, to say that all rules are good. As critics are quick to point out, some regulations are of questionable benefit, and some are pretty dumb. That is not an argument against regulation. It is an argument for smart regulatory standards.

Smart regulatory standards are an important part of smart climate policy for three reasons. First, “getting prices right” through permits or carbon taxes will not automatically ensure that the private sector makes all of the desirable and feasible investments in energy efficiency and renewables. The market works only when investors are smart enough to read the market-signal tea leaves. One thing we have learned from the history of the American automobile industry in recent decades is that some folks – including some very powerful market players – are remarkably obtuse. When myopia, inertia, ignorance, or just plain stupidity dim the power of price signals, we need to use the power of rules. Does anyone doubt today that Detroit would be in far better shape if the automakers had not subverted Congressional efforts to impose stricter fuel efficiency standards on vehicles?

Detroit’s performance is symptomatic of a more widespread phenomenon: market signals are not always sufficient to change behavior. Energy experts have long pointed out the paradoxical fact that there is much scope for energy-saving investments that would quickly pay for themselves, including building insulation and more efficient lighting, heating, air conditioning, and appliances. A December 2007 study by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that substantial reductions in U.S. carbon emissions could be achieved at negative cost simply by taking advantage of existing opportunities at existing prices. If the magic of the market was all that was needed, these profitable options wouldn’t exist – they would already have been fully exploited.

Fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, energy efficiency standards for appliances, and “green” building codes are examples of regulatory standards that can kick in when market players fail to read the price signals.

The second reason we need smart regulatory standards is to take account of social benefits and costs that are not captured in the price signals of the marketplace. Even with carbon pricing, for example, wind and solar-generated electricity may not be competitive in many locations until their costs are brought down by further research and development and greater economies of scale in production. In the meantime, we can learn from European countries such as Germany and Spain, that have enacted rules that require utilities to buy power from small-scale generators at remunerative “feed-in tariff” prices.

Similarly, one way to boost private investment for renewables and energy efficiency is to channel bank lending towards green projects through asset-based reserve requirements, stipulating that a certain percentage of every bank’s loan portfolio should be channeled to such purposes. If 5% of private lending in the United States was channeled into green investments, this would amount to roughly $100 billion per year.

The third reason that regulatory standards must be part of the climate policy mix is that we need to curb not only carbon emissions but also other environmental damages caused by the fossil fuel industry. From the standpoint of climate change, all carbon dioxide emissions are equal; it doesn’t matter where they are reduced. From the standpoint of human health, however, it can matter a great deal. Some places – often communities with high percentages of minorities and low-income families – are severely affected by dirty air, contaminated water, and devastated landscapes that result from activities such as oil refining and coal mining. It makes economic sense as well as moral sense to target the carbon reductions to the locations where the “co-benefits” of these reductions are greatest. Smart regulatory standards on airborne particulate matter, toxic air and water pollution, and environmentally dreadful mining practices are a vital ingredient of smart climate policy.

The United States cannot solve the problem of global warming on its own, to be sure. Global problems require global solutions. But along with other industrialized countries, the U.S. has the capacity and responsibility to help developing countries shift to a low-carbon growth path. To become a credible leader in the global struggle against climate change, the U.S. must begin by implementing a smart climate policy at home.

James K. Boyce, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Soaring Arctic temperatures – a warning from history

Soaring Arctic temperatures – a warning from history – environment – 09 July 2010 – New Scientist.

With carbon dioxide levels close to our own, the Arctic of the Pliocene epoch may have warmed much more than previously thought – and the modern Arctic could go the same way.

Ashley Ballantyne at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and colleagues analysed 4-million-year-old Pliocene peat samples from Ellesmere Island in the Arctic archipelago to find out what the climate was like when the peat formed.

At that time, CO2 levels are thought to have been close to current levels – around 390 parts per million – but global temperatures were around 2 to 3 °C warmer than today. It was the last warm period before the onset of the Pleistocene glaciation, and is used by climate researchers as a model for our future climate.

Previous studies using computer models have suggested that the Pliocene Arctic was also warmer than it is today – up to 10 °C warmer. A little warming can trigger a lot more in the Arctic because the loss of light-reflecting sea ice and the spread of plants across the land increase the amount of solar energy that is absorbed.

Peat heat

Ballantyne’s team estimated the temperature of the period at which the peat formed by measuring three things that are affected by temperature: the concentration of various chemical compounds, levels of a certain isotope in tree rings and the amount and types of fossilised vegetation.

The group’s analysis suggests the samples formed when average local temperatures were about -0.5 °C. That is 19 °C warmer than temperatures today – more than the previous computer models had estimated.

“These results should be alarming,” says Ballantyne. Although it could take centuries for current global temperatures to respond to rising CO2 levels, we can expect the Arctic to warm much more than the rest of the planet, he says.

Marci Robinson of the US Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia, agrees that Arctic warming is of concern, but doesn’t think it will match that of the Pliocene.

In a model study now in review, Robinson mathematically removed a seabed ridge that now stretches from Greenland to Scotland because it was much lower in the Pliocene. Without the ridge obstruction, warm water would have been able to travel more freely from lower latitudes to Arctic regions, allowing more warming, says Robinson. This would suggest that modern Arctic warming might fall about 5 °C short of that of the Pliocene. Even so, Robinson’s estimate means Arctic temperatures would rise by 14 °C.