Thursday, 29 November 2012

Pine Beetles at it again - causing warming this time!

Yale Environment 360 tells us that Pine Beetle Attacks Cause Temperature Rise in Canadian Forests. Is it the beating of all those tiny wings creating heat? Their black carapaces (the shiny bits) absorbing more heat from the sun? No it's because trees naturally cool their environment. More beetles, fewer trees; fewer trees less cooling; less cooling, higher temperatures. Simple really, or so the researchers would have us believe. I just had to put down my dog-eared copy of "Only 100 days left to save the World - 101 things you didn't know about Global Warming" and read on.
The decimation of trees by mountain pine beetles in British Columbia has caused air temperatures in affected areas to climb by an average of 1 degree Celsius during the summer months, according to a new study. In an analysis of satellite and forest data collected between 1999 and 2010, scientists from the University of Toronto and University of California, Berkeley calculated that areas hit hardest by widespread pine beetle infestations have experienced even sharper temperature increases of several degrees Celsius, as regions are increasingly deprived of the natural cooling effect of trees. Since the evaporation of water through leaves prevents some of the sun’s radiation from heating the ground surface, the widespread loss of trees causes the temperature increases, said Holly Maness, a researcher at UC Berkeley and co-author of the study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience. And because warming temperatures and milder winters have helped pine beetles to flourish, these infestations are creating a feedback effect that is making the forests even more vulnerable. According to scientists, mountain beetles have affected 66,000 square miles in British Columbia, or 20 percent of the province’s total area.
That's pretty straightforward and convincing isn't it? What possible criticisms could I have? Well, for a start there's the chicken and egg business. (What's he talking about? - ed.). Did the pine beetles cause the warming or did the warming encourage the pine beetles to do what pine beetles do best (reproduce and eat, not necessarily in that order)? I ask only because "Global warming threatens pine forests, forcing federal officials to shift strategy" which I'd interpret as chicken -> egg whereas this paper seems to be claiming egg -> chicken -> bigger egg -> bigger chicken (feedback).

The thing that caught my eye was the apparently plausible warming mechanism outlined by Holly Maness - "Since the evaporation of water through leaves prevents some of the sun’s radiation from heating the ground surface, the widespread loss of trees causes the temperature increases". Now call me a sceptic, but I understood, as do many (most?) scientists and authors, that it was evapotranspiration wot dun it? Also, it's the leaves themselves which shade the ground below (simple really), and green chlorophyll absorbs sunlight, especially ultraviolet and infrared - the leaves are darker than grass, it's called the albedo effect. In a nutshell (how appropriate!)
Forests also influence local climate. Dependant on the latitude forest influences the temperature in a region: in the tropics forest have a net cooling effect through evapotranspiration while at higher altitudes, mainly boreal forests, there is a net warming effect because the relative dark colour of the canopies absorbs warmth from the sun (albedo effect).
When water evaporates through leaf pores, it absorbs heat (a lot of heat) thus cooling the leaves and the tree (and forest) canopy. Holly seems to think otherwise. It's true that the evaporated water vapour would absorb some short-wave infra-red from the Sun, but there's not a great deal of that radiation left by the time sunlight reaches the treetops; most is absorbed on its way through the atmosphere - by water vapour - lots more water vapour than the trees expire. Secondly, water vapour is the most abundant greenhouse gas (hasn't Holly heard that?), and absorption and emission of upward radiation from the forest canopy would certainly outweigh the small absorption of solar infra-red by the evaporated water vapour.

just a minute - surely the paper itself can't possibly say this can it?
The present mountain pine beetle infestation in forests in British Columbia ranks among the largest ecological disturbances recorded in Canada so far. These recent outbreaks are thought to have been favoured by large-scale climatic shifts, and may foreshadow outbreaks of a similar magnitude in North American forests over the coming decades. The associated forest dieback could result in substantial shifts in evapotranspiration and albedo, thereby altering the local surface energy balance, and in turn regional temperature and climate. Here we quantify the impact of the Canadian pine beetle disturbance on the local summertime surface energy budget, using measurements of evapotranspiration, albedo and surface temperature, obtained primarily through remote sensing. 
We show that over the 170,000 km2 of affected forest, the typical decrease in summertime evapotranspiration is 19%. Changes to the absorbed short-wave flux are negligible, in comparison. As a result, outgoing sensible and radiative heat fluxes increased by 8% and 1%, respectively, corresponding to a typical increase in surface temperature of 1°C. These changes are comparable to those observed for other types of disturbance, such as wildfire, and may have secondary consequences for climate, including modifications to circulation, cloud cover and precipitation.
That would seem to set the record straight. Perhaps the article's author and one of the co-authors should have read the paper, or at least the abstract.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

"Thawing Permafrost" - more bullshit than I've ever seen in one article

The Sydney Morning Herald has broken new ground with more bullshit in one article than I've ever seen on one news webpage before. "Where even the earth is melting" wails Environment Editor Ben Cubby who's exercised his brain with the threat to mankind from thawing permafrost.
THE world is on the cusp of a "tipping point" into dangerous climate change, according to new data gathered by scientists measuring methane leaking from the Arctic permafrost and a report presented to the United Nations on Tuesday.
The garbage count begins to rise even before the text begins. There's an interactive graphic at the top "The permafrost carbon feedback loop", the first caption reading "More of the sun's heat reaches the earth because of human contributions to global warming". Really? How does that work, Ben? Do those "contributions" make the days longer and the nights shorter?

Source: SMH
"Permafrost thaws and is consumed by micro-organisms more quickly than soil closer to the surface". Really? Where did you get that from Ben? Just how is soil "consumed" by micro-organisms? Then a couple of actual facts "If oxygen is present, micro-organisms produce carbon dioxide. If not, they produce methane. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide". And finally "The released gases rise into the atmosphere where they amplify the effects, causing more permafrost to thaw" - you mean by allowing more of the Sun's heat to reach the surface, Ben? There's enough bovine excrement already to earn Ben and his article the button:

That's just for the graphic - much more textual bullshit emerges from the frozen layers of Ben's brain, seemingly in a feedback loop driven by alarmist drivel from a few who call themselves "scientists".
Human-induced emissions now appear to have warmed the Arctic enough to unlock this vast carbon bank, with stark implications for international efforts to hold global warming to a safe level. Ancient forests locked under ice tens of thousands of years ago are beginning to melt and rot, releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the air.
"Appear to have" - have they or haven't they?
Until very recently permafrost was thought to have been melting too slowly to make a meaningful difference to temperatures this century, so it was left out of the Kyoto Protocol, and ignored by many climate change models.
"Permafrost emissions could ultimately account for up to 39 per cent of total emissions," said the report's lead author, Kevin Schaefer, of the University of Colorado, who presented it at climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar. "This must be factored in to treaty negotiations expected to replace the Kyoto Protocol."
What isn't known is the precise rate and scale of the melt, and that is being tackled in a remarkable NASA experiment that hardly anyone has heard of, but which could prove to be one of the most crucial pieces of scientific field work undertaken this century.
You mean no-one knows, Ben?
The findings, for now, are still under wraps. "But I think 'tantalising' is probably the right word," said Charles Miller, the principal investigator in NASA's Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment, or CARVE.
Not conclusive or even indicative then, but just "tantalising"? Charles means that he doesn't precisely know what the results mean. After a touching little anecdote concerning caribou and grizzly bears (scientists have feelings too, dontcha know?) Charles finally gets down to the nitty-gritty (or is it the nitty-slushy?).
"We're finding very, very interesting changes, particularly in terms of methane concentrations," he said. "When scientists say 'interesting', it usually means 'not what we expected'. We're seeing biological activity in various places in Alaska that's much more active than I would have expected, and also much more variable from place to place ... There are changes as much as 10 to 12 parts per million for CO2 – so that's telling us that the local biology is doing something like five or six years worth of change in the space of a few hundred metres."
You've just earned your self a button Charlie boy!

Is Charlie telling us that CO2 doesn't vary much from place to place? I have news for him which might be "interesting" in that it might not be what he expected - CO2 varies all over the globe. Locally it'll vary a lot more. "...that's telling us that the local biology is doing something like five or six years worth of change in the space of a few hundred metres. That's pure and unadulterated bullshit Charlie. Highly localised sources and sinks exist just about everywhere. That 10 or 12 ppm is, when compared with the global average of 395 ppm just a 3% variation.
The findings of the first year of the experiment are so complex that Professor Miller and his team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are still trying to work out exactly what they have found. The results are being kept secret, which is standard practice while the numbers are crunched and the work is submitted to a peer-review process.
They're still trying to work out what they've found - that means they don't know.
"What we can say is that methane is significantly elevated in places – about 2000 parts per billion, against a normal background of about 1850 parts per billion," he said. "It's interesting because the models are predicting one thing and what we are observing is something fairly different."
Is that it? A 6% increase over the global average? There's no such thing as a "normal background" - methane, like CO2, varies across the globe, so it's hardly surprising to find a slight elevation "in places", and not all places then? So there we have it - they went looking for additional methane and CO2 in places where they expected to find higher levels, and where higher levels must be found even if permafrost isn't melting much at all, and found a little more "in places". Earth shattering.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

An idea for surviving future storms: Raise coast

The San Antonio Express reports on a wizard wheeze to raise the coastline to combat "more frequent, intense storms and the kind of devastation recently seen with Superstorm Sandy" (alright, I know, I know).
People along the coast have a few options in an era of global warming expected to bring more frequent, intense storms and the kind of devastation recently seen with Superstorm Sandy: They can move back from the shore, elevate buildings or build levees to keep the floods at bay.
But a pair of scientists at Georgia Tech and Clemson suggest another alternative, although it sounds a bit like science fiction. Their research shows it is possible to raise the coastline itself.
Yes, it does sound "a bit like science fiction", as do all geo-engineering "wizard wheezes". This one's a real "cracker" - literally.
Leonid Germanovich of Georgia Tech and Lawrence Murdoch of Clemson, both environmental engineers, have worked out the math and are proposing a method of flood protection they call SIRGE, or solid injection for raising ground elevation.
The idea is relatively straightforward. They envision injecting sediment-laden slurry into hydraulic fractures in the ground. If repeated in adjacent areas and over a wide area, it works to push up the surface of the earth. They suggest a series of pumps and wells to force the material underground.
What could possibly go wrong?
After a 1900 hurricane devastated Galveston, Texas, killing an estimated 8,000 people, the city rebuilt after the ground level was raised as much as 17 feet. "It's been shown with the Galveston example, if you can increase elevations, that is your best bet in safeguarding areas against flood," Murdoch said.
While you can't elevate every building in a community, another approach might be to raise the level of the ground below it. A similar technique has been used on smaller scales.For example, when a tunnel is drilled under a city, a technique called compensation grouting is used above it, injecting material to keep the surface above stable so it doesn't sink. Perhaps the best-known example is the grouting done under Big Ben in London when a subway tunnel was built, Germanovich said.
Using SIRGE, the sediment would likely need to be projected 300 or more feet below the surface. The paper suggests that, in theory, at the upper end, it might be possible to raise the coast 10 meters, about 33 feet.
Ten metres? Along the entire coast, and over "a wide area"? Have they worked out just how much "sediment-laden slurry" would be needed, and how many "hydraulic fractures in the ground" would be required? The article does say they've "worked out the math", and presumably are not totally overawed by their figures.

"Fracking" involved in oil and gas extraction costs a lot of dollars, and for all the care taken, results in earth tremors and minor subsidence. If the pumping operations resulted in even a centimetre or so of difference in adjacent ground surface levels, water mains would fracture, roads and buildings and bridges would crack. How could local authorities possibly get permission from all land and building owners? What financial insurance would be needed? The cost of detailed geological surveys to identify possible problem "spots" would be immense.

First floor - future earthquakes, localised subsidence and endless litigation - Going up!

Rising Seas, Vanishing Coastlines? Extreme metaphors from someone who calls himself a scientist

Benjamin Strauss and Robert Kopp write in an op-ed in the NY Times:
Rising Seas, Vanishing Coastlines 
The oceans have risen and fallen throughout Earth’s history, following the planet’s natural temperature cycles. Twenty thousand years ago, what is now New York City was at the edge of a giant ice sheet, and the sea was roughly 400 feet lower. But as the last ice age thawed, the sea rose to where it is today.
I can't argue with that statement, but I can argue about "Vanishing Coastlines" - they don't vanish, they move (doh!) and also with this
Now we are in a new warming phase, and the oceans are rising again after thousands of years of stability. As scientists who study sea level change and storm surge, we fear that Hurricane Sandy gave only a modest preview of the dangers to come, as we continue to power our global economy by burning fuels that pollute the air with heat-trapping gases.
"Thousands of years of stability"? Where did they get that from? I thought they were "scientists who study sea level change". Global sea level has been rising at a relatively low rate over the last few centuries, but rising it has been, rising currently at about the same rate as between the 1930s and the 1960s - the last short-term "warming phase" which many, including "scientists who study sea level change" conveniently forget. "pollute the air with heat-trapping gases" - now that's really an extreme metaphor, and unbecoming a scientist, even those who only "study sea level change".
More than six million Americans live on land less than five feet above the local high tide. (Searchable maps and analyses are available at for every low-lying coastal community in the contiguous United States.) Worse, rising seas raise the launching pad for storm surge, the thick wall of water that the wind can drive ahead of a storm. In a world with oceans that are five feet higher, our calculations show that New York City would average one flood as high as Hurricane Sandy’s about every 15 years, even without accounting for the stronger storms and bigger surges that are likely to result from warming.
A storm surge is a "thick wall of water"? Have you ever seen a picture of one? Extreme metaphors don't help sell your case in the long run, and where's the scientific evidence for "the stronger storms and bigger surges that are likely to result from warming"? No-one knows what the climate will do next year, let alone decades from now. No-one knows what changes in sea-level will occur over the decades and centuries to come. Models provide "best guesses" only. and are continually being revised and "tuned" to improve their hind-casting of reality, let alone improve their "projections" of the future.

The paper (pdf) the op-ed refers to is "Long-term sea-level rise implied by 1.5°C and 2°C warming levels" by Michiel Schaeffer, William Hare, Stefan Rahmstorf (yes, that one) and Martin Vermeer, 2012. It states in it's conclusions "Projecting sea level into the future is still associated with large uncertainties", but of course still predicts armageddon.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

At last! Greenland research confirms common sense

We've been told for years that the Greenland ice-sheet is "melting faster than expected", so contributing more meltwater to sea-level rise. We've been told that meltwater percolates to the base of glaciers, providing lubrication that speeds up movement of the ice towards the sea. This last claim has always seemed to me to be counter-intuitive - glaciers may be melting at the surface in summer, but surely the ice temperature drops with depth? Surely the meltwater would freeze before it reached the rock at the base of the ice? It seems that simple common sense backed by actual research (none of the "experts" postulating meltwater lubrication had taken any measurements) has triumphed over scientific supposition. A paper published in Nature just over a week ago (9th. November 2012) is revealingly titled Greenland ice-sheet contribution to sea-level rise buffered by meltwater storage in firn (J. Harper, N. Humphrey, W. T. Pfeffer, J. Brown & X. Fettweis). The abstract reads
Surface melt on the Greenland ice sheet has shown increasing trends in areal extent and duration since the beginning of the satellite era. Records for melt were broken in 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2012. Much of the increased surface melt is occurring in the percolation zone, a region of the accumulation area that is perennially covered by snow and firn (partly compacted snow). The fate of melt water in the percolation zone is poorly constrained: some may travel away from its point of origin and eventually influence the ice sheet’s flow dynamics and mass balance and the global sea level, whereas some may simply infiltrate into cold snow or firn and refreeze with none of these effects. Here we quantify the existing water storage capacity of the percolation zone of the Greenland ice sheet and show the potential for hundreds of gigatonnes of meltwater storage. We collected in situ observations of firn structure and meltwater retention along a roughly 85-kilometre-long transect of the melting accumulation area. Our data show that repeated infiltration events in which melt water penetrates deeply (more than 10 metres) eventually fill all pore space with water. As future surface melt intensifies under Arctic warming, a fraction of melt water that would otherwise contribute to sea-level rise will fill existing pore space of the percolation zone. We estimate the lower and upper bounds of this storage sink to be 322±44 gigatonnes and 1,285(+388-262) gigatonnes, respectively. Furthermore, we find that decades are required to fill this pore space under a range of plausible future climate conditions. Hence, routing of surface melt water into filling the pore space of the firn column will delay expansion of the area contributing to sea-level rise, although once the pore space is filled it cannot quickly be regenerated.
Co-author Neil Humphrey of Wyoming University is quoted in the university news sheet
“We’re not saying Greenland is not melting,” Humphrey says. “What we’re saying is it will be one to two decades longer before we start seeing the melt.”
That’s because Humphrey and other researchers’ data -- collected on the western flank of the Greenland Ice Sheet from 2007-2009 -- shows that the water generated by repeated recent melt events penetrates deeply into the snow and firn (partially compact snow). This fills the pore space and diminishes the amount of meltwater that actually runs off into the ocean.
As future surface melt intensifies due to Arctic warming, a fraction of meltwater -- that would otherwise add to the rise in sea levels -- fills tens of meters of existing pore space of the percolation zone. The percolation zone is a region of the accumulation area that is perennially covered by snow and firn, Humphrey says.
What happens to the water that "penetrates deeply into the snow and firn"?
“The snow is so deep and so cold that, even though it’s melting, the melt infiltrates into the lower, colder snow and refreezes,” Humphrey says. “We calculate there is one to two decades of pore space within the snowpack. You get denser snowpack. After 10 or 20 years, it (the pore space) fills up.”
However, after this healthy dose of science, the prof. drops into the realm of fantasy (is he concerned about protecting his funding?)
“While other people (scientists) are predicting up to a one-half foot sea rise by 2050, we’re actually saying our data shows that any rise that will occur will be delayed by one or two decades,” says Humphrey of the paper he termed as “controversial.” “A half-foot rise is significant. Half of Florida would be under water. New Orleans would be gone.”
A "half-foot" is of course six inches, or 15 cm. Is he really suggesting that half of Florida is just 15 cm above current high tides? Just when I thought that scientists were abandoning advocacy in favour of traditional research and actual fact.....

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Mother Nature Network on Sandy - hyperbole too small a word for it

While perusing the alarmist and inaccurate claims about the cause(s) of hurricane-for-a-while Sandy, I came across an article on Mother Nature Network, not a site I visit regularly, if at all. Hurricane Sandy wreaks agricultural havoc wails the headline - not something I'd generally been aware of.
While it mostly missed the fall harvest, Sandy still decimated crops from Cuba to Canada, including major damage to some urban farms in New York City.
2012 has already been a rough year for farming in North America, as crops withered under record heat, drought and wildfire, while others washed away in Hurricane Isaac's torrential rains. This followed similar problems in 2011, ranging from the historic Texas drought to Mississippi River floods and Hurricane Irene.
I hadn't heard of many crops being grown in the forests hit by wildfires in the 'States so far this year (mushrooms maybe?), but we'll let that one lie (appropriate word?) there, as the writer relates his tale of woe.
Despite all the recent setbacks, however, farmers were dealt yet another blow this week as Superstorm Sandy flogged and flooded a swath of crops along its 2,000-mile path. The post-tropical cyclone hit in late October, when many U.S. growers have already harvested summer produce, but it still found ways to wreak havoc.
I'm learning such a lot from this article - first it's farms in the middle of forests, now it's farms hundreds of miles off the coast "along its 2,000-mile path". Isn't the 'net wonderful? The blogger even has a neat satellite pic of Sandy hitting those farms some 600 miles off the US coast.

Source: MNM
The caption btw, says "Hurricane Sandy slams the U.S. East Coast, as seen by NASA's GOES-13 satellite". I think not - The eye is well to the east, and clouds don't equal hurricane, not by a long swath.
Damage assessments remain underway in the U.S., with many areas still in disaster-relief mode. At least 70 deaths are confirmed so far, and some estimates suggest damage could reach $50 billion. Yet the overall impact on U.S. agriculture may be less severe than in the Caribbean, since the summer growing season is over in cooler climates and many farmers sped up harvesting ahead of the storm. "Sandy is a big weather story, but it's mainly a human life issue on the East Coast — no real impact on crops or harvest," John Dee of Global Weather Monitoring tells the Economic Times.
That doesn't sound much like "agricultural havoc" to me - in fact the story gets thinner line-by-line.
Yet the overall impact on U.S. agriculture may be less severe than in the Caribbean, since the summer growing season is over in cooler climates and many farmers sped up harvesting ahead of the storm. "Sandy is a big weather story, but it's mainly a human life issue on the East Coast — no real impact on crops or harvest," John Dee of Global Weather Monitoring tells the Economic Times.
"no real impact on crops or harvest" - does that equal "agricultural havoc"? So what's the extent of the damage discovered by this intrepid seeker-after-truth?
That's not the case everywhere, though. Localized crop damage has been severe, including at some New York City outfits like Red Hook Community Farm and Battery Urban Farm, which were flooded by several feet of seawater.
A couple of urban farms? That's it? What about the rest of the 2,000-mile swath from "Cuba to Canada"? Cuba took a hit, so did Haiti, and the Bahamas reported some damage. that leaves a rather big gap between those islands and New Jersey and the "Localized crop damage" at the urban farms. There's a fairly big gap between the farms in NY and Canada too. What's the real message this article is peddling?
While no one can directly link a single storm to global warming, the wild weather of 2011 and 2012 is exactly what climate models have been predicting for years: longer droughts and stronger storms. "Before, climate change was talked about as an abstraction, something that would happen in the future," Apfelbaum says. "But the changes we're experiencing now are not abstract at all. They're very real."
And there we have it - US crops not "flogged and flooded" along a "2,000-mile path", not even the part of that path over the NE states, but in a few urban farms, and some other undocumented damege, and a photo which doesn't show what is claimed - it shows Sandy hundred of miles out to sea. Climate models haven't been predicting stronger storms at all - that's a lie, pure and simple. Climate models don't predict storms, they predict (or rather are claimed to predict) climate - doh! Steven Apfelbaum is an ecologist - what does he now about climate science? He has apparently been involved in "industrial projects and parks that help clients save money while increasing ecological functionality", whatever "ecological functionality" means. What does the "alternative stormwater management" he's been involved in entail exactly? Digging big holes? And no, climate change was not "talked about as an abstraction" - it's been happening since our Earth had a climate, it's happening now, and it'll continue long after our civilisation has returned to the dust from whence it came.

This article is just an excuse for presenting the "weather is climate" message at the end. As my title says "hyperbole too small a word for it" - I can't think of a single word for this kind of "journalism" - any suggestions?

Friday, 2 November 2012

Lies, Damned Lies, and Environmental Group Reports

That bastion of truth and objectivity the Salt Lake Tribune says
Utah lags perilously behind in preparing for the impacts of climate change on its water and other natural resources, according to a new report by the environmental group Utah Rivers Council.
Perilously behind whom precisely, as there are no national, state, or local authorities who actually know what climate change might occur in the years and decades to come? Even if they knew, they'd have their work cut out in "preparing" for the as yet unquantified impacts of unquantified climate change, in common with all such authorities who have virtually no idea whatsoever what any climate change might bring.
"What you love about Utah might be at risk because of changing temperatures," Zach Frankel, executive director of the environmental group, said in presenting the report Thursday.
Indeed it might, but what "changing temperatures"? (As if we didn't know!)
The report summarizes regional data that shows Utah’s average temperatures are increasing at more than double the national rate, rising by as much as 8 degrees by the end of the century. The snowpack responsible for 80 percent of the state’s water supply could shrink by half. Meanwhile, the added heat will drive an increase in extreme weather events, such as storms and flooding.
Indeed? "are increasing at more than double the national rate"? That's a bold assertion, and one which is easily checked. "regional data" must mean temperature data (not model "projections"). "are increasing" has to mean "now and in the recent past". Let's check some Utah temperature data for now and the recent past:
Source: NCDC
The rate of recent "increase" is -0.8°F per decade, or -8°F by the end of the century. Some say that globally, that's enough to push the world into another ice age. Nothing more need be said.