Watching Our Water Ways

Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

Congress throwing away the keys to problem-solving

Friday, October 25th, 2013

I have been waiting for a prominent person to step forward and compare the politics surrounding climate change to what Congress just went through with the government shutdown and debt limit. Just in time, out of the woodwork, comes former Vice President Al Gore with his droll approach to the subject.

“Congress is pathetic right now, Gore said during an interview on “Take Part Live.” He continued:

“There are some awful good people in Congress trapped in a bad system. The truth is our democracy has been hacked; big money now calls the shots. That may sound like a radical statement, but less and less to people who have been paying attention to what’s been going on there.

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Amusing Monday: A clock for all things

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

You gotta love this clock. It’s style is reminiscent of the industrial age, but it reveals lots and lots of statistics about the modern world.

The opening page begins with an ongoing count of the world population, along with a tally of births and deaths. Click on any of these elements to reveal a breakdown in the population by age and location and causes of death. Find alternate population estimates. You can also reset the births and deaths tally from the beginning of the year, month, week, day or moment you push the button. (Flash is required to view the clock. See help.)


World Clock by Poodwaddle.com

Be sure to explore the other areas, listed in the left column, including environment, energy, food, economy, crime and smile. Under environment, you’ll find a prediction of global warming and sea-level rise. Click on the top element for a further explanation of the data.


World Clock by Poodwaddle.com

I want to thank Art Schick for calling my attention to this amazing clock. The clock was created by Poodwaddle. I can’t find much about the creators of the clock, but we know that Poodwaddle has been around about six years. To view other widgets of various types, go to Poodwaddle-All.


Washington leading on ocean acidification

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

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.


Report examines sea-level rise along the West Coast

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

I’ve been on vacation this week, but I wanted to offer some brief notes on issues that have grabbed my attention.

First, a new report on sea-level rise along the West Coast is a must-read for anyone interested in climate change. The report, written by a committee of the National Research Council, is well organized to serve all levels of interest. Download the report on the National Academies website.

An initial summary at the beginning of the report provides an intriguing overview of the many factors that went into predicting future sea-level changes. Each chapter summary delves a level deeper. If you read the full report, you’ll gain an understanding of the uncertainty of every assumption that goes into calculating a range of possible scenarios.

According to the report, most of California is expected to experience a sea-level rise of a meter over the next century — greater than the worldwide average.

On the other hand, the change for Washington, Oregon and Northern California is likely to be about 60 centimeters over that same period. That is because tectonic forces are pushing up land masses north of Cape Mendocino in California — possibly faster than the sea is rising.

Over time, ocean levels in the Northwest will rise increasingly faster than uplift of the land, the report predicts. Eventually, a subduction earthquake could drop the land masses by a meter or more, suddenly raising the sea level dramatically in coastal areas.

Robert Dalrymple, who chaired the study committee, said in a news release:

“As the average sea level rises, the number and duration of extreme storm surges and high waves are expected to escalate, and this increases the risk of flooding, coastal erosion, and wetland loss.”

The report discusses effects on nearshore areas along the coast and in various estuaries. Some land areas in Puget Sound are rising while others are falling, which adds to localized variations beyond those caused by the shape and depth of the bays and tidal marshes.


A few answers regarding sea level rise

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Because of the holidays, I did not get an immediate response from several climate experts I contacted following Nels Sultan’s comments about sea level rise in a blog post regarding “king tides.”

Earth at the winter solstice, Dec. 22, 2011 / NOAA photo

If you recall, Nels was making the point that the sea level in Seattle has been rising at a steady rate of .68 feet, or about 8 inches, per century since 1898, as reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

His post included this statement:

“There is no real basis for the claims that sea levels will rise by 2.6 feet or 7 feet, or more. Globally, sea level rise has NOT accelerated. As found and reported by many researchers who specialize in this, including the eminent professor Bob Dean and other coastal experts.”

As a reporter, I’m not inclined to shoot back a response. I’d rather discuss the issue with experts in the field. That is what I did, and I think I have a better handle on the issue.

What I’m hearing is that the original estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a rise of between 7 inches and 2 feet by the end of the century — remain reasonable, but conservative given that they did not account for increased melting of the Greenland ice sheet. See this explanation by Stefan Rahmstorf soon after the release of the 2007 IPCC report. By the way, the range above accounts for the minimum and maximum across six climate-change scenarios.

Ever since, researchers have been trying to find ways to account for the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, but the uncertainties remain high. A widely cited paper by W.T. Pfeffer, J.T. Harper and S. O’Neel suggests that “most likely” starting point for further refinement is .8 meter, or 31 inches, of sea level rise by 2100.

In some ways, the authors of the Pfeffer paper were trying to limit some of the extremes being reported by others, so they concluded that sea level rise could not be more than 6 feet by 2100. Some folks have reported 6 feet as the top of the range, as unlikely as that extreme may be. Check out this explanation posed by Real Climate and this response by Pfeffer and his collaborators.

As for the Houston-Dean paper that Nels Sultan mentioned, those authors created “various problems” in their assumptions, according to Eric Steig, professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington. One major problem was the starting date of 1930, as explained by Stefan Rahmstorf in Real Climate:

“Other start dates either before or after this minimum show positive acceleration. Picking 1930 for this analysis is thus a classic cherry-pick, and according to the authors that is no accident. They write in the paper: ‘Since the worldwide data of Church and White (2006)…appear to have a linear rise since around 1930, we analyzed the period 1930 to 2010.’ The interval was thus hand-picked to show a linear rise rather than acceleration.

“Houston & Dean use their result to question the future acceleration of sea level rise predicted by Vermeer & Rahmstorf (2009) for the 21st Century as a consequence of global warming. They argue that the 1930s acceleration minimum calls into question the semi-empirical link between global temperature and global sea level proposed by us in that paper. However, it is clear they never bothered to check this, because quite the opposite is the case: our semi-empirical formula predicts this acceleration minimum, as the graph above shows. As it turns out, this is an expected outcome of the mid-20th-Century plateau in global temperature.”

I also discussed this issue of sea level rise with Lara Whitely Binder, outreach specialist for the UW’s Climate Impacts Group. While sea level rise means one thing on the world scale, she told me, the local impacts can be quite different.

If you live in Neah Bay on the Olympic Peninsula, for example, you are not likely to see any sea level rise until at least 2080. That’s because the entire land mass is uplifting as a result of movement along the tectonic plates, and the uplift is predicted to be faster than sea level rise until late in the century.

On the other hand, Central and South Puget Sound may not be uplifting at all and could be sinking, which would intensify the effects of sea level rise. Areas built on fill, including portions of Olympia, also could be sinking as the fill settles, Lara said.

In addition to global rise in sea level and local tectonic shifts, factors affecting regional sea level rise include thermal expansion of ocean waters and changes in onshore and offshore wind patterns.

During El Niño events, sea level can rise as much as 12 inches for several months at a time. The Climate Impacts Group analyzed more than 30 scenarios from global climate models and concluded that the change in wind patterns as a result of climate change could decrease sea level by as much as 1 inch or possibly increase it by as much as 6 inches. Review the white paper “Sea Level Rise in the Coastal Waters of Washington State” (PDF 2.4 mb) for more details.

How much an individual property is affected by sea level rise depends on the slope of the beach. Given the same rate of rise, water will affect a house sooner when it is built on a gradually sloping beach as opposed to a steep slope. In any case, tides and weather will always play a major role in water levels.

Lara told me that a group of West Coast researchers is working on a new report about sea level for publication later this year by the National Academy of Sciences. I’ll try to review that paper when it comes out.

I wish to thank Eric Steig, Lara Whitely Binder, Cliff Mass, David Montgomery and Nate Mantua for responding to my inquiry.


U.S. Navy becomes serious about climate change

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

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

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

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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Amusing Monday: Animations of Earth’s changes

Monday, December 27th, 2010

This week, I’d like to show you some animations from space, demonstrating an interesting way to present satellite imagery and data that change over the surface of the Earth.

While these animations are in no way humorous, I am fascinated by the ability to play around with these images for a closer look at global climate change, effects of El Nino, recovery of Mount St. Helens, water-level changes in Arizona’s Lake Powell, Amazon deforestation in Western Brazil and many other time series. There’s even one showing the surface of the sun.

The decade of 1880-89 was cooler than the baseline period of 1951-1980. This is the first slide in an animation you can find in World of Change. Click to enlarge

Go to NASA’s Earth Observatory for World of Change and check out the left column, where you will see a list of 20 animations that you can run. Some give you the option of viewing the sequence from Google Earth, although some do not work well in that format. Notice that you can click on “play” in the lower right corner to observe the animation or click on any of the time periods to advance at your own pace.

Also, the narrative beneath the images explains why certain changes appear as they do. I think it is a great way to learn about these natural and made-made alterations to our environment.

As the year comes to a close, I thought this would be a good time to feature these animations. We are about to learn whether 2010 will be the warmest year on record. Preliminary results from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center should be out in January.

The decade 2000-09 was warmer than the baseline period of 1951-1980. This is the last slide in the animation in World of Change. Click to enlarge

As Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin reported in her blog, “Post Carbon,” this year is likely to be the warmest we have ever measured, barring some temperature anomaly. Despite near-blizzard conditions on the East Coast at the moment, I don’t believe the temperature will create a dent in the average temperature worldwide.

The warmest year on record is currently 2005, according to analyses by NCDC and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which produced the animations. But 1998 was close and is considered the record-holder by a collaborative group in Great Britain. Check out Tom Yulsman’s informative article in Climate Central about how these data are interpreted.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to take a look at the changes over time in Mount St. Helens, the recovery of fire-scarred Yellowstone National Park and any of the animations in World of Change that catch your interest.


Earth Hour unites people around the world

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Here’s a quick reminder that Earth Hour is tonight from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m.

During this hour, when people throughout the world switch off their lights in a simple symbolic act, millions are showing their support for actions addressing climate change.

As I said last year in Water Ways, this may seem like a small thing, even a waste of time, but all important movements start with small actions. Participants often say they feel united with people around the world.

This year, the third year of the event, Earth Hour is sanctioned in 3,100 cities in 121 countries, according to the “My Earth Hour” Web site, sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund.
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Guardian report examines ‘Climategate’

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

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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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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