Tag Archives: Climatology

Computer model shows colorful swirls as winds blow carbon dioxide

An ultra-high-resolution computer model ties weather into greenhouse gas emissions, and the resulting animation shows whirling and shifting plumes of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Ultimately, the greenhouse gases disperse into the atmosphere, increasing concentrations across the globe and contributing to global warming. It’s almost too complex to comprehend, but it is a fascinating process.

As you can see from the video, carbon dioxide levels are more significant in the Northern Hemisphere, where the emissions are out of phase with the Southern Hemisphere. That’s because the seasons are opposite, with the maximum growth of vegetation taking place at different times.

The reds and purples are the highest concentrations of carbon dioxide. The dark grays denote the highest levels of carbon monoxide, caused mainly by large forest fires.

Bill Putman, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said it a prepared statement:

“While the presence of carbon dioxide has dramatic global consequences, it’s fascinating to see how local emission sources and weather systems produce gradients of its concentration on a very regional scale. Simulations like this, combined with data from observations, will help improve our understanding of both human emissions of carbon dioxide and natural fluxes across the globe.”

The animation was produced with data from measurements of atmospheric conditions plus the emission of greenhouse gases, both natural and man-made. The simulation, called “Nature Run,” covers a period May 2005 to June 2007. Engineers can use the model, called GEOS-5, to test satellite observations.

In July, NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite to make global, space-based carbon observations. The additional data will add to Earth-based measurements. See also OCO-2 Mission Overview.

According to studies, last spring was the first time in modern history that carbon dioxide levels reached 400 parts per million across most of the Northern Hemisphere. Concentrations are continuing to rise, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels. Levels were about 270 ppm before the Industrial Revolution.

The GEOS-5 computer model is being used in tests known as Observing System Simulation Experiments (OSSE), which can help satellite observations tie into weather and climate forecasts.

Said Putnam:

“While researchers working on OSSEs have had to rely on regional models to provide such high-resolution Nature Run simulations in the past, this global simulation now provides a new source of experimentation in a comprehensive global context. This will provide critical value for the design of Earth-orbiting satellite instruments.”

For more detailed views involving various parts of the world, see “A Closer Look at Carbon Dioxide” on NASA’s website for “Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2.” For information about modeling, visit the website of the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office.

Washington leading on ocean acidification

Ocean acidification is hitting Washington’s shellfish industry even before we begin to experience the full effects of climate change, and Gov. Chris Gregoire placed this state in the forefront of action Tuesday when she signed an executive order on the issue.

The order supports the findings of the governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification. Check out the story I wrote for yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

The panel released the report during an hour-long presentation of the findings. If you have time, I recommend watching the informative presentation, provided by TVW in the player at right.

The executive summary of the report, as well as the full report, its appendices and the governor’s order, can be downloaded from panel’s webpage on the Washington Department of Ecology website.

Gregoire’s order is considered the first state-level action on ocean acidification — and that has attracted attention from across the country. For example, stories were written by environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post and by Virginia Gewin of Nature magazine.

Ocean acidification has been called the “evil twin” of global warming, because the effects can be more swift and more severe than gradual warming of the Earth. That’s not to discount other serious effects of climate change, including increased frequency of severe storms, sea level rise with increasing flooding, and heat waves with crippling effects on agriculture. But acidification affects organisms at the base of the entire food web.

The effects of ocean acidification will not be reversed for a long, long time, even if greenhouse gas emissions are brought under control. The upwelling of old water along the coast brings this problem right to our doorstep now and for the foreseeable future.

The shift from coal to natural gas, along with the downturn in the economy, has significantly reduced emissions of carbon dioxide in this country the past couple years, but the levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases continue to go up.

“Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general for the World Meteorological Association, in a press release issued yesterday.

The WMA reported that the years 2001–2011 were all among the warmest on record, and it appears that 2012 will continue the trend, despite a cooling influence from La Niña early this year.

“Naturally occurring climate variability due to phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña impact on temperatures and precipitation on a seasonal to annual scale,” Jarraud said. “But they do not alter the underlying long-term trend of rising temperatures due to climate change as a result of human activities.

“The extent of Arctic sea ice reached a new record low. The alarming rate of its melt this year highlighted the far-reaching changes taking place on Earth’s oceans and biosphere,” he added.

Environmental correspondent Alister Doyle reported today for Reuters that the United Nations Panel on Climate Change now believes that it is more certain than ever that humans are the primary cause of global warming.

In its 2007 report, the panel pegged the certainty at more than 90 percent. Now, it appears likely that the scientists will increase that certainty in the next report in 2013, said Rajendra Pachauri, head of the panel who spoke with Doyle at a climate conference in Qatar.

“We certainly have a substantial amount of information available by which I hope we can narrow the gaps, increase the level of certainty of our findings,” he said, adding that analyses also will increase the predicted rate of sea-level rise.

Meanwhile, the “Draft National Ocean Policy and Implementation Plan” is still undergoing review by the National Ocean Council. The report contains a chapter called “Resiliency and Adaptation to Climate Change and Ocean Acidification” (PDF 732 kb). That chapter contains some of the same recommendations offered by Washington state’s Blue Ribbon Panel, but the state plan is more specific and comes with a recommended $3.3 million budget to begin work on the problem.

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is attempting to derail the plan, saying it creates an unnecessary bureaucracy and asserts federal controls not approved by Congress. Read the news release about House action against the plan.

I have not talked to anyone on the council lately, but it appears that President Obama’s election campaign over the past year effectively derailed any movement on this issue. In his first press conference after the election, he pledged to jump-start the climate-change effort, but no mention was made of the ocean policy. Review the video below at 42:20.

U.S. Navy becomes serious about climate change

If the world’s leaders were to learn that all civilizations on Earth were going to be attacked by alien beings from outer space, and if they knew they had only a few years to respond, what do you think they would do?

Would they search for evidence to show that aliens could not possibly exist, declare the idea a hoax and insist that any defense of our planet would not be worth the cost? Or would they study ALL the evidence, analyze the risks and look for the best way to address the uncertain crisis?

I keep thinking about this hypothetical alien scenario when I hear certain members of Congress ignoring climate change and essentially spitting in the face of climate scientists by calling their best research a “hoax.”

Greenhouse warming may seem like an alien concept to some people, but here’s my point: If you run and hide until the aliens have landed, you face a much greater peril than if you face the problem in a practical way.

Now I’m all for discussing the many uncertainties — such as how high ocean waters may rise under various assumptions. But please don’t tell me that some basement scientist has disproved the idea that temperatures are rising or has shown that humans could not possibly affect the Earth’s climate.

Here’s what I’m wondering: Would those who turn their backs on climate change act the same way if the entire Earth were under attack from a common enemy? Maybe our nation’s leaders would be better able to deal with a direct attack, uncomplicated by the uncertainties of science.

That’s more than I wanted to say about people who choose to ignore climate change. What I really wanted to write about is the U.S. Navy’s serious approach to the topic, which can provide an example for the rest of us.

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Rising global temperatures portend uncertain future

Global temperatures continue on a rising trend, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. The implications of this trend are quite serious, and I’ll discuss some new studies after reviewing the temperature data for 2010.

The worldwide average surface temperature for the past year tied with 2005 as the warmest year on record, a record that goes back to 1880. And the year 2010 was the 34th consecutive year in which temperatures were above the 20th century average, according to a preliminary analysis by NCDC.

The decade of 2001–2010 was the warmest ever recorded for the surface of the Earth during that 130-year time period. It was some 1.01 degree F. above the 20th century average. The previous record for a full decade was also recent, 1991-2000, when the temperature was .65 degrees F. above the average.
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Guardian report examines ‘Climategate’

I hate to say it, but on rare occasions it is difficult to figure out where science ends and politics begins. I have always believed there is a clear distinction between scientific findings and public policy. But a few members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change blurred the line, whether we like it or not.

I just finished reading a 12-part series about Climategate published in The Guardian, a British publication. The series includes annotated comments written by those close to the issue.

If you care about climate change, you probably should pay attention to politics surrounding this issue. That means you probably should know about the controversy surrounding the stolen e-mails of a few key climate scientists.

This series, by reporter Fred Pearce, offers context that one cannot get by reading the e-mails alone. I was impressed by the balance that Pearce brings to the issue, neither defending nor attacking the scientists for their apparent failings. But he does comment on the personalities of the scientists as well as the skeptics who constantly stirred the pot.
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