Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Is there liquid water on Mars?

National Geographic thinks that there is, based on a paper published by a NASA scientist and seven others. Before going into details, first a few facts about conditions on the surface. The maximum surface temperature is 20°C in direct sunlight, and the minimum is 140°C near the poles. The atmospheric pressure is less than 1% of that on Earth, at about 0.007 bar, or 600 pascals against 101.3 Kpa on Earth. I note that the paper, titled Spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurring slope lineae on Mars, doesn't mention pressure at all, but does mention temperatures which might allow the presence of liquid water. Let's get this straight, despite media hype, the authors didn't find evidence for liquid water on Mars, but as their paper title says, hydrated salts. They hypothesise that there may be evidence for highly-saturated solutions of salts in the seasonal dark streaks observed on the slopes of Gale Crater. They say "These results strongly support the hypothesis that seasonal warm slopes are forming liquid water on contemporary Mars, but also say "The origin of water forming the RSL is not understood". RSL (Recurring slope lineae) are the "seasonal dark streaks" observed from orbiting satellites.

The strange thing (or is it?) is that several of the authors and other scientists seem to be far more certain of  compelling evidence in interviews than is evident in the published paper. As I said earlier, the paper mentions atmospheric pressure absolutely nowhere. At a pressure of ).007 bar, the boiling point of pure water is 2°C, and temperatures can reach 20°C on the observed crater slopes. Even strong salt solutions would evaporate water at temperatures well below 2°C, and ice (which would be pure water of course) would sublimate - evaporate without melting.

The jury is definitely out on this one, but the press and media are having a field day, presenting what I see from actually reading the paper to be a rather thin hypothesis as confirmed fact.

All you need to know about glaciers, or maybe not

I could dedicate an entire  separate blog to rubbishing Guardian articles about the environment, climate change and the like. But for now, it amuses me to just pick the worst articles for this blog. Take today's article for instance, by one Wendell Tangborn. Who he? The Guardian has a mini résumé:
Wendell Tangborn has worked with glaciers for 55 years, beginning with South Cascade Glacier in Washington in 1960. Currently, his main interest is mass balance. He has developed a computer model that calculates a glacier's mass balance from routine weather observations and has published over 40 papers in glaciology. He lives on Vashon Island in Washington State.
He's "worked with glaciers"? I'll let that one pass, but it conjures up all sorts of strange images...
I don't doubt he's published over 40 papers in glaciology, but a Google Scholar search reveals that most of them concern the North and South Cascade Mountains that stretch from just over the Canadian border west of Vancouver (Canadian Cascades), through Washington and Oregon and into northern California. He is not an expert on glaciers worldwide, as the record of his published papers shows.
Glacier melt shows a climate change tipping point. We must pay attention 
Fossil fuel burning must taper off dramatically and be replaced with renewable sources of energy if we are going to survive as a species on this planet 
Mountain glaciers and humans have coexisted for roughly 200,000 years, but that long idyll appears to be ending. The earth’s 190,000 glaciers, sentinels of climate change that appear to be more sensitive to the climate than are humans, are disappearing at an unprecedented pace, the canaries in climate change’s coal mine.
There is evidence for many glaciers worldwide being in retreat, and there are estimates, but no one actually knows how many. Wendell's being rather less than truthful by implying here that all are in retreat. To cap it all, the "canary in the coal mine" appears here too. That coal mine must have hundreds of canaries in it by now, put there by many dozens of claims about climate, sea-level rise, coral reefs, glaciers - the list goes on and on. They can't all be "the canary in the coal mine".
It is all being driven by human activities, and it has been happening for three decades. The fate of both humans and glaciers will depend on drastically reducing carbon dioxide emissions during the next decade. 
Most of the world’s glaciers began changing in the late 1980s from relative stability to negative mass balances. Mass balance is the difference between growth from snow accumulation and shrinkage from snow and ice melting. The relatively abrupt change to negative glacier mass balances strongly suggests a climate tipping point, when the climate changes from one stable state to another.
Total rubbish - it's been happening at an increasing pace since the end of the "Little Ice Age" in the mid 19th. century. The World Glacier Inventory says that systematic glacier monitoring on a large scale began in 1894. The World Glacier Monitoring Service published a comprehensive report in 2008 titled "Global Glacier Changes: facts and figures" available here. On page 14 of the pdf is shown this figure:
     Fig. 5.9 The cumulative specific mass balance curves are shown for
     the mean of all glaciers and 30 ‘reference’ glaciers with (almost)
     continuous series since 1976. Source: Data from WGMS.

It should be obvious that "Most of the world’s glaciers began changing in the late 1980s from relative stability to negative mass balances." is baloney. There was no "relatively abrupt change" at all, hence no "climate tipping point". This is not science at all - it's politics. Perhaps it's true of some, or even all of the glaciers he's studied - the list isn't very long, judging by the abstracts of his papers, and certainly far, very far, from global.
There are other compelling signs that a climate tipping point has been reached. One of the most critical is the loss of the floating sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean. In 2014, the late-summer extent of sea ice in the north polar seas was the lowest since satellite measurements began in 1979. Before 1979, evidence based on shipping and whaling charts suggests it has not been this low for at least hundreds of years. Paleo climatologists believe that Arctic sea ice cover last melted completely during summers about 125,000 years ago, during a warm period between ice ages.
More rubbish - in fact there is plenty of evidence pre-1979 that large parts of  the Arctic currently under ice were ice-free in late summer; newspaper articles and reports from ship's captains, whalers and explorers.
Reduction of northern-hemisphere sea ice means that more incoming sunlight is absorbed into darker ocean water instead of being reflected by ice and then re-radiated into the atmosphere as heat. This, in turn, reduces the extent of the annual northern-hemisphere snow cover, which further accelerates global warming. A related effect that could be even more environmentally devastating is the release of methane from permafrost and seafloor hydrates as the ocean warms. Another tipping-point indicator is the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, which have shown signs of disintegrating during the past two decades. Just partial melting of these ice sheets will raise sea level several meters.
There is evidence that the warmer ocean water actually freezes quicker next winter precisely because it does radiate into the atmosphere, but not as heat, Wendell, but as long-wave infrared. He really knows his stuff, this Wendell.

He then says "Just partial melting of these ice sheets will raise sea level several meters". Depends just how much "partial" means, don't it? I've found out a little more about our Wendell - try this:
Tracking glaciers the Tangborn way 
Wendell Tangborn thinks he has invented a better mousetrap. He's still waiting for the scientific world to beat a path to his door. 
Sitting in a cramped home office overlooking the (rising) waters of Puget Sound, Tangborn talks about his plan to monitor 200 glaciers around the world to see whether or not — and, if so, how quickly — they're melting away. He has already done detailed reports on seven, including Juneau's incredible shrinking Mendenhall Glacier. He's working on 40 more, and hoping one or more foundations will supply enough money to hire the three people he'd need to keep track of all 200. 
People often cite the waxing or waning of glaciers to prove that the earth is or is not getting warmer. But according to Tangborn, no one is looking systematically at a large number of glaciers so that trends become obvious and the glaciers which are behaving contrary to the trends can be seen clearly as outliers.
What? "No one is looking systematically..."? The man's an ostrich with his head in the sand, or perhaps in a glacier crevasse. So in 2013 he'd reported on just seven glaciers out of his target 200. That target, using his own figure above of  190,000 would be just 0.1% of the total. Just how does he do it with his "better mousetrap"?
Basically, he uses temperature and precipitation data from fixed weather stations to calculate a glacier's "mass balance" — that is, the difference between the winter accumulation of snow and the summer melting of snow and ice. A positive balance means the glacier is growing; negative means it's shrinking. 
The program must be customized for every glacier. Tangborn must take account of the topography and total area of the glacier's surface. Once he plugs that into the program, he can sit in his office and get information that's as reliable as the data produced the old-fashioned way — the way he did it for many years — by climbing around on the ice with probing rods and shovels. 
For each glacier, Tangborn has to find a weather station that produces results in line with actual observations. That isn't necessarily the weather station right next door to the ice. Austrian scientists can't believe that Tangborn's using a weather station in Innsbruck to monitor the Vernagtferner glacier, which is 100 kilometers away, rather than a station close to the site. But, says Tangborn, somehow local weather phenomena keep the closer station from producing useful numbers.
This is clearly his "mass balance model", but he doesn't always use local weather data, but scratches around until he gets a fit with reality, or his reality at least. Innsbruck's elevation is 574m, the lowest point (the snout) of the Vernagtferner glacier is 2790m above sea level. He's using a weather station 100 km away, and more than 2000 metres lower, because "local weather phenomena keep the closer station from producing useful numbers". But it's the "local weather phenomena" which directly affect the glacier; no other weather phenomena can possibly affect it. Remember "He's still waiting for the scientific world to beat a path to his door.", and they haven't. I wonder why. Perhaps you can work it out for yourself.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Huge, I mean HUGE rally for "Climate Justice" in Washington

I've absolutely no idea what "Climate Justice" means, I suspect most people don't, and I suspect many who claim to support it don't know either. Back in August, WaPo (The Washington Post) breathlessly told us that "For Pope Francis’s D.C. visit, environmental rally of up to 200K planned".
Several environmental groups are planning a major climate rally that will draw hundreds of thousands to the National Mall on Sept. 24, the day Pope Francis speaks to Congress and is expected to address the public afterwards. 
The permit for the gathering — which will make the moral case for reducing greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming — is for 200,000 people. The Moral Action on Climate Network, along with the Earth Day Network, League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club and other groups, have timed the rally on the Mall  the same day of the pope’s speech.  House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the pope “has expressed an interest” in making an appearance on the Capitol’s West Front.
Wow - "hundreds of thousands" that must have been some sight last Thursday! Well no, apparently "Climate Justice" is such a burning issue on a nice, warm day in Washington that "hundreds" turned up, or so ThinkProgress estimated - "Pope’s Visit To D.C. Inspires Hundreds To Rally For Climate Justice".

Source: Think Progress

On Thursday morning — as Pope Francis prepared to make history by addressing Congress — hundreds of activists gathered on the National Mall. Holding signs, petitioning for signatures, and offering spirited remarks to an expectant crowd, the activists represented a spectrum of causes and religious denominations, from young evangelicals to Black Lives Matter leaders. And they all came together for a common purpose: to demand action on climate change. “We realize that climate change is the upstream issue, and that downstream, it affects all of us. It is a global an issue as you’ll ever want to encounter. If you’re concerned about immigration, then you realize climate change creates so many climate refugees. If you’re a person who is interested in protecting animals, then you realize that if we didn’t eat animals, we’d be reducing our carbon emissions by almost as much as the entire transportation sector,” Lise Van Susteren, head of Moral Action on Climate Justice, the organization responsible for the rally, told ThinkProgress. “Each group recognizes that we have so much common ground, and that if we put our energies together, that we can see some real differences.”

WaPo was a little more generous with an estimate of 2,000.
For pope-cheering climate rally, a modest crowd. 
The faith-based climate rally that took place Thursday in Washington drew a much smaller crowd than anticipated, though organizers say they still managed to convey their message. 
The Moral Action on Climate Justice network, which worked with the Earth Day Network, League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club. Friends of of the Earth and other groups to organize the event, originally asked the National Park Service for a permit for 50,000 attendees. But Park Service countered the permit should be closer to 200,000, organizers said, given the popularity of Pope Francis. 
In the end, according to several observers, the overall attendance was closer to 2,000. Think Progress — which is published by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress — estimated there were “hundreds of activists” on the Mall for the event, which started early Friday.
Apparently, erstwhile supporters were put off by "traffic".
According to Moral Action on Climate Justice’s head Lise Van Susteren, crowds were deterred by media reports and government warnings that downtown traffic would be snarled by road closures related to the pope’s visit.
“Everybody was saying it was going to be traffic armageddon,” she said in an interview Friday. “Traffic armageddon was the tornado.”
But Van Susteren said the fact that 100 journalists were credentialed for the event, and disparate groups including evangelical and Black Lives Matter activists came together on stage is what matters.
“It’s not how many people are on the ground, really. That’s like how many people come to my birthday, party,” she said. “The issue is people who do count are there.”
Silly me thought that it was precisely "how many people are on the ground" which mattered to the organisers and the press and media for a rally or public protest. Lise continued:
“The point is to bring in evangelicals” into the climate debate, Van Susteren added. “You’ve got to show it’s a big tent.”
Indeed, and the metaphorical "big tent" was almost empty. The article ends:
Van Susteren declined to disclose the total cost of the rally, which was shared among several environmental groups, but said the Park Service required organizers pay for a range of costs on the assumption that nearly 200,000 people would come. That included one portable toilet for every 300 people, multiple jumbotrons, security fees and insurance.
Now lemme see; estimated 200,000, one portaloo for every 300 attendees, which makes a total of 666 toilets. One for every three of the estimated 2,000 who turned up. Taking the piss is so easy and hygenic with so many portaloos on the ground.

Just one last soundbite from ThinkProgress by someone called "Moby", who's a Vegan (who woulda guessed?)
“Any other issue that’s important to anyone, be they progressive or conservative, pales in comparison to climate change. Nothing else that we care about can exist if the climate changes. If there’s no food and there are hurricanes with 250 mph winds, and if half the world’s population is displaced, and if political systems start to fail, everything else we care about just falls by the wayside,” he told ThinkProgress. “It’s almost like we have to fix climate change and then get back to all the other issues that we care about.”
"Nothing else that we care about can exist if the climate changes" - well no, it matters more than just a jot how much the climate changes, and in which direction. Don't these muppets realise the climate is always changing and has always changed? Into and out of ice-ages is a lotta change, and early humans managed to survive the last glacial, without apparently too much trouble. "If there's no food..." - then we'll all be dead. If there's no food, there won't be half the world's population to be displaced, and no political systems either. All dead, including of course the 198,000 "traffic refugees" who cared so much about "Climate Justice" they couldn't be bothered to turn up on a nice sunny day in Washington.

The Big Freeze, or How I Learned to Love Big Oil

With a number of predictions that the Earth might be heading into a temperature minimum, rather than a much hotter future, I thought I'd reprint a Spoof article of mine from 2012:

This January of 2051 marks the 30th anniversary of the start of the "Big Freeze" which began in the winter of 2020-21.

We know now, and have known for more than two decades, that it was the misguided campaign of "Big Green" in the late 20th century and early this century which led to this near-catastrophe for the world. Only this week, The International Panel for Carbon Combustion (IPCC) published its fourth assessment report. In the Summary for Policy Makers, the message is clear. The Earth is cooling and mankind is to blame. From their headquarters in Beijing, China, their chairman Bernie Oyle (also chief executive of Athabasca Oil Corp., president of Friends of the Keystone Pipelines, and editor of Nature, Fracking News) said "The message is Burn, Baby, Burn!, and if I can make a few yen out of saving mankind, who's to blame me?". World leaders are due to meet next month to ratify and sign the Alberta Protocol, which commits nations to a 10% year-on-year growth in greenhouse gas emissions. China is so far the only nation meeting its obligation in advance of the summit, to be held on one of the huge BP oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

97% of climate scientists who can stop their teeth chattering have said that the evidence for Anthropogenic Global Cooling is irrefutable. The slowing of growth in greenhouse gas emissions in the second decade this century, reinforced by a reduction in cosmic rays and solar radiation triggered a "tipping point", after which global temperatures plummeted. Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere declined further as the oceans cooled, and they absorbed even more of the trace gas essential to life on Earth. Several forms of geo-engineering are already widespread, including "cloud-seeding" to induce precipitation and thin the cloud to "let the sun shine through". NASA has already deployed two giant mirrors in space to reflect solar radiation onto northern and southern extremities of the Earth. Twenty more are planned, with five already in construction.

Worldwide, government subsidies for production and sale of electric vehicles have been increased after it was discovered that they indirectly cause more CO2 emissions than any other form of transport, and are the least efficient in energy use. In the US, the EPA is lobbying the Black House (formerly Disneyworld, Florida) and Congress to introduce legislation to further reduce fuel efficiency below the current 10 miles-per-gallon enforced. Corn and other grain-based generation of CO2 was stopped in 2029, as world food production declined with decreasing CO2 levels, but the growth in cellulistic (plant-matter) use has increased, as forests are felled for burning, and more land is cleared for food production.

The iconic Polar bear is under threat. Populations in Maryland, northern California and Britain are said to be in decline as the sea ice is too thick for them to dig holes to catch fish and inattentive seals. Plans to use Air Force planes to bomb holes in the ice were abandoned after it was realised the bears are difficult to see against the ice. There is some good news - Penguin populations in Australia are doing well, after numbers declined during the long trek from Antarctica 20 years ago.

Perhaps it's fitting to end with a round-up on "climate refugees", and with news of one of the smallest nations in the world - Tuvalu. The 30-metre drop in sea levels has been a disaster for the people of Funafuti, which used to be an atoll with a central lagoon, but is now a large island with a depression in the middle. The port facilities are high and dry, and tourists shun the island, especially the capital, where they face a 10-minute taxi ride to the sea in one direction, and an hour-long ride in the other. To highlight the plight of the islanders, the president recently held a cabinet meeting on the top of Mount Fongafale, a 34-metre-high hill in the centre of the capital. He is in negotiation with the president of Bangladesh, which has increased in area by more than three times, to send incoming climate refugees to Tuvalu, to attempt a similar strategy to that employed on Guam. There, the combined weight of several hundred thousand refugees and their vehicles has resulted in the island sinking by 10 metres, allowing several of the fishing ports to be dredged to operate at high tide.

Cuba has recently erected a 10-metre-high fence across the land bridge to Florida, to help stop climate refugees entering the country illegally. The fence is fronted by the existing 50-metre-wide shark-infested moat. The Coast Guard patrols the northern shores to intercept and turn back "boat people", mainly from Texas and Louisiana. Mexico has reinforced its border with the states of California, Arizona, and Texas. Regular patrols by the Mexico Immigration Force in trucks and helicopters are backed up by unmanned drones. These are fitted with infrared cameras said to be able to detect a "greenback" (as illegal immigrants from the USA are known there) from 20 km at night. "Using GPS, the drone locates the greenbacks precisely, and we can activate a ring of land-mines around them" says Eduardo Chavez, senior MIF commander. "If they heed the warnings broadcast by the mines, we go in and pick 'em up for deportation. If they don't we just replace the mines they set off".

Finally, a campaign I support totally, and which, in a small way, can "make a difference" - Earth Hour. Citizens of the world should do their bit to support the campaign, by together turning on all the lights, electrical and gas appliances in their houses, and running their vehicle engines. After all, it's only once a week, and energy is cheap, so remember each Friday between 8 and 9 PM - Earth Hour!


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

"Hotspot of accelerated sea-level rise on the Atlantic coast of North America" - finally laid to rest. RIP

There's been some discussion about sea-level rise on the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. in the comments on the recent "Doubling up the sea level scare for Paris using the old ‘one-two punch’ line" post at WUWT. I posted a couple of charts there, and I intend to return to the Sallenger et al article in this post's title. They used windows of  60, 50 and 40 years for their analysis, and showed this chart for New York; incidentally the only time-series chart in the entire article - rather surprising since they analysed dozens of gauge stations around North America.
Supplementary Figure S7.  New York City annual average sea level data with three
regression results used in this study for the most recent 60-year subsample (1950-2009).
The mean elevation of the annual NYC sea level data (1893-2009) was removed and time
t = 0 was set at year 1950 (t = year – 1950) for these regressions.

I'm in the habit of using a variety of techniques to analyse gauge records, especially long ones like New York, as I did in a previous post about the "Hotspot". Those two 30-year regression lines above prompted me to plot a 30-year sliding window for New York, using the data from 1893-2013, slightly longer than Sallenger et al, who used PSMSL annual average data to 2009 - I've used annual averages calculated from monthly data. Their data had three recent years missing because a few monthly data points are missing, and PSMSL exclude such years. I suspect the differences are small though.

Data from PSMSL

The first thing that's obvious is that 30-year periods ending in the 1950s actually had rates higher than the 1980-2009 period shown on their chart above. So the modern acceleration is nothing new; in fact the earlier acceleration was more rapid. It also shows that projecting a 30-year rate forward to 2100 is both unscientific and ignoring history completely. I certainly don't expect future years to mirror the big fall in rates after the mid 1950s, but I do expect something of a drop. Sallenger et al just didn't look for any cyclical pattern in the gauge data. They mentioned it was possible that there were such patterns, but their analysis was effectively designed to mask it by comparing differences in rate between adjacent windows. If that was plotted, the 1950s peak above would be a trough! Why do I expect a gradual drop in rate? Because it's already underway!

Rates (mm/year) for 10 year (121 month) sliding windows.

Note how irregular peaks "kicked in" at the end of the 1960s; the latest peaked after Sallenger et al's 2009 end date, in 2010/11. Sandy Hook is an island S of the entrance to NY harbour. A more up-to-date (to 2014) plot shows the descent from the last peak more clearly:

Rates (mm/year) for 10 year (121 month) sliding windows.

Finally, here's the rate evolution, Rates are computed from 1950; the final point is 2014. When I've time, I'll update all my NY charts to date, and replace any above that need it.

In 2009, the rate was still rising; now it's levelled off. Sallenger et al's projection is already out-of-date. RIP

Monday, 21 September 2015

The 2015 El Niño and some super-hype from a couple of niños in the Grauniad

I've taken an unannounced break from blogging; the reasons I won't bore you with. I've decided to restart with a post about the current El Niño. First an update of the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI).

SOI 1990 - Aug 2015 (Source data BOM)        Click to enlarge
As you can see, the index has dropped from a high in 2010/11 into a strong El Niño (data to Aug 2015). However, there's some doubt as to the likely duration and strength. A couple of people are quite certain, however, as in this Guardian article. Please read it - it's either going to make you laugh (as I did) or cry, or both.
El Niño: a global weather event that may save California — and destroy the tropics 
The last time a really large El Niño occurred was during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter of 1997-98. Droughts, floods and outbreaks of infectious diseases plagued villages across Africa. Floods inundated Peru. Megafires rampaged through Indonesia. Fisheries collapsed off the coast of South America. Crops failed across much of the tropics and global food prices rose. Civil conflicts broke out in Africa and Asia.
Today, in all likelihood, we stand about a month away from another major El Niño. Current state-of-the-art forecasts tell us that an event similar to 1997-98 is likely to return this winter. Our own research on the human toll of El Niño suggests that households in the tropics will begin to feel the heat as early as September.
Do those linked forecasts tell us "that an event similar to 1997-98 is likely to return this winter"? No they don't - they don't mention 1997-98 anywhere, because they're forecasts, which are predicting a strong El Niño. The authors are hyping it up - to forecast doom and gloom, death and destruction, floods, drought and pestilence (I added in the pestilence myself - what's sauce for the goose....), and "the destruction of the tropics" apparently. Last time I heard, the tropics were still there after the 1997-8 El Niño, though a little frayed round the edges in one or two places.

Who are the authors of this apocalyptic treatise? They are Kyle Meng, who is "assistant professor in the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and in the Department of Economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.", and Solomon Hsiang is "associate professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He coauthored Economic Risks of Climate Change (just published) the analysis behind the Risky Business report by Michael Bloomberg, Hank Paulson & Thomas Steyer.".

Not climate scientists, nor meteorologists, but economists. Economists who actually understand less about El Niño and its effects and consequences than I do. Not only that, they manage to contradict themselves in their lurid and doom-laden article. Read it and spot the contradictions for yourself. An El Niño creates weather and climate disparities in the Pacific both east-west and north-south, and not just in the tropics, as these two economists-with-an-agenda would have us believe. Their linked forecasts (do they want us to actually read them? I did, most won't) make those disparities in temperature and precipitation quite clear.

Try this quote for a schoolboy howler "The fundamental physics of El Niño and its unequal effects have been around as long as civilization.". Really? and I, in my ignorance thought that the causes and effects were only recognised in the late 20th. century, and only begun to be fully understood as a result of the intensive recording and study of the 1997-8 event. You really are a couple of niños (Spanish for kids, children) aren't you? Stick to economics, guys, you may even be able to make a living out of it.