Category Archives: Climate change

Amusing Monday: Wearing data to show changes in climate

Ed Hawkins, a professor of climate science who brought us climate spirals (see Water Ways, May 28, 2016) has inspired a line of products with his “warming stripes” that connect global temperature to a straight-line visual pattern.

Climate change tie and related items: Zazzle

Neckties, pendants, coffee mugs and more are based on Hawkins’ striped design that helps people visualize how the Earth has warmed since the late 1800s. Each stripe represents a range of temperatures, from shades of blue in cooler years to shades of red in warmer years.

The tie on the model (shown here on Zazzle) presents the average temperatures for the entire globe, while the second image is Hawkins’ graphic for the contiguous United States. Hawkins, a professor at the University of Reading in England, is always looking for new ways to convey climate change to average people.

On the first day of summer in June, many television meteorologists across the country wore neckties bearing the warming stripes, according to a story by Jason Samenow in the Washington Post’s blog Capital Weather Gang.

Lines show annual temperatures for the contiguous U.S. // Graphic: Ed Hawkins

“It struck me as an opportunity to communicate climate change in the simplest way possible,” said Jeff Berardelli, a meteorologist at the CBS affiliate in Palm Beach, Fla., who organized the event. Check out #MetsUnite on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Climate Museum, an organization based in New York, is using the design on a black T-shirt to celebrate its third year of existence and to raise money to create a permanent home for the museum. The museum will “cultivate a shared identity for a new and inspiring climate citizenship,” according to its vision statement.

The creative approach of using weather data and observations to create works of art apparently goes back many years. One of my favorite ideas comes from Lea Redmond of Leafcutter Designs, who knitted a scarf by observing the color of the sky each day and adding a row using that color. The result is a beautiful work of art with a natural connection to the real world. Check out the video above and another video by Lea that provides more details.

One can also use the daily temperature to create rows in an afghan or blanket. Sharon MacDermaid of Grand Rapids, Mich., said it took her between 30 and 45 minutes a day to crochet one row. That’s around 200 hours or more to complete the entire blanket showing daily temperatures for an entire year. The second video shows the blanket during a television interview with Sharon. Instructions and video tutorials on creating these kinds of afghans are available on The Crochet Crowd.

Another example is a “globally warm scarf” as described by Joan Sheldon of Sheldon Fiber Designs. Joan is a marine scientist who infuses her discussions about yarn and crochet techniques with references to scientific data. As she describes on her webpage:

“One of the things I learned during this project was that, even though I was already familiar with this dataset scientifically, I experienced it in a new and more personal way while creating my scarf: putting a yarn color away because I wouldn’t need it again, or getting out a new color that I hadn’t needed before, really drove home the changes as I worked through the timeline.

“I enjoyed sharing this more emotional connection to the science when I exhibited my scarf in November 2015 at the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation meeting during an experimental session called ‘Artistic Pathways to Scientific Understanding.’ We had a wonderful time learning about how other researchers integrate their scientific and artistic interests, and it was interesting to see how many different ways a scientific study could be presented without losing its core messages.”

Amusing Monday: Words cannot dampen the essence of rain and snow

After I woke up one morning last week, I noticed that there was a thin layer of water coating the outdoor furniture and concrete around our house. I stepped outside and felt a fine mist in the air. I wondered, could this be the “scattered showers” that weather forecasters had talked about?

Surely, a “mist” is different from “showers,” which is also different from “rain.” But where does one end and another begin according to the experts? A little help from the glossary of the American Meteorological Society revealed that the proper term for a very light precipitation is “drizzle.”

My curiosity got the better of me, and I found myself going deeper and deeper into the terminology for precipitation, both official and unofficial, first in English and then in other languages.

Starting with the lightest precipitation, we have fog, which is not really precipitation, because the condensed water vapor is not falling. The same goes for mist, which consists of water droplets too fine to fall, so they drift about suspended in the air. To qualify as mist, the visibility must be greater than 1 kilometer, or 5/8 mile. Less than that is fog.

With drizzle, the water droplets are small — less than 0.5 millimeters (0.02 inches) — and they may appear to float on air currents, but they eventually fall to the ground. Mizzle, also known as Scotch mist, is a “combination of thick mist and heavy drizzle occurring frequently in Scotland and in parts of England,” according to the AMS glossary. Scotland also gives us Haar, a “cold mist coming from the ocean to the east of Scotland or England.”

Rain comes into play when the droplets are larger than 0.5 millimeter. The intensity of rain is defined as light rainfall when accumulation is no more than 0.10 inch per hour and never more than 0.01 inch in six minutes. Moderate rainfall is between 0.11 and 0.30 inch per hour and never more than 0.03 inch in six minutes. Heavy rainfall is more than 0.30 inch per hour or 0.30 inch in six minutes.

Showers, which have always had me confused, are derived from a cumuliform (vertical-forming) cloud and characterized by sudden onset and ending, usually with large droplets and accompanied by a rapid change in sky conditions. We can have rain showers, snow showers and sleet showers. There are also sprinkles, when the showers are light.

That brings us to the category of frozen precipitation. Freezing drizzle consists of tiny droplets that fall as liquid but freeze upon impact to form a frozen glaze. Freezing rain is basically the same with larger drops, while freezing fog forms the glaze when it comes into contact with exposed objects. The temperature of the water droplets for all three types is generally below freezing, so ice forms the instant they hit a surface. Again, fog is not really precipitation, but there is such a thing as ice fog, which occurs when the condensation freezes and hangs in midair.

When objects on the ground are cooler than the air but not below freezing, we get dew. When objects on the ground are cooler than the air and below freezing, we get frost. Like fog, these are not precipitation.

A snowflake forms when a multitude of ice crystals come together. When snowflakes grow heavy enough, they fall to the ground as snow. If they melt on the way down, we get rain. Sleet, which is frozen rain, forms when snow refreezes or when rain freezes on its way down. Graupel, an official term in the glossary, consists of snow particles surrounded by ice. Often called snow pellets, graupel is smaller than hail.

Hail is basically ice balls between 5 and 50 millimeters (0.2 to 2 inches) across, usually forming when the wind keeps the ice balls aloft to take on more and more moisture.

Besides all the types of precipitation, meteorologists have definitions for precipitation events. Besides showers, we have storms, in which winds rise to between 56 and 63 knots (64 to 72 mph). Snow flurries are technically snow showers, especially when snows are light and brief. Blizzards are at the opposite end of the spectrum, with heavy snow, low temperatures and strong winds.

Some events don’t fall within the standard definitions. “Cloudburst” and “downpour” are unofficial terms for heavy rain. A deluge generally refers to flooding, but it can mean an extended downpour. “Virga” is an official term, meaning precipitation that falls from a cloud, often in streaks, but evaporating before reaching the ground. A squall is a strong and sudden onset of wind, so a rain squall includes the element of rain.

A monsoon is a seasonal wind persisting in one direction. I thought it had something to do with rain, but that is only a recent interpretation. “Monsoon” is from the Arabic word “mausim,” meaning season. It was first applied to the winds over the Arabian Sea, blowing six months from the northeast and six months from the southwest. The word has become popular throughout the world, and monsoons in India are well known for their heavy rains.

I was amused by the ongoing debate over the word “thundershower.” For example, one TV viewer in Cleveland took local meteorologist Mark Johnson to task for using the term while talking about the weather on TV station WEWS, the local ABC affiliate.

“What meteorology school did Mark Johnson go to?” the viewer demanded to know. “The one in the bottom of a Cracker Jacks box???? WHAT in the world is a THUNDERSHOWER…? Is he insane, because he certainly is not funny. Annoying would be a more fitting description…. Time to teach the ole man some new, technically-correct terminology or just replace him altogether with someone who knows how to speak properly. Thank you.”

Mark Johnson took the comment in stride, saying he rarely uses the term — which does not officially exist — but he tries to connect with viewers who may invision “thunderstorm” as something severe.

“Technically,” he said, “every rumble of thunder is logged as a TRW, a thunderstorm. But who am I forecasting for? Other scientists or the general public? Is a light rain shower with a brief rumble of thunder really a storm to you? Probably not.

“Broadcast meteorology is about taking information that can be very technical, and changing it into language and images that viewers can more readily understand and, more importantly, use to plan their daily lives,” he added.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with thundershower, which conveys thoughts of a smattering of lighting and thunder amidst a moderate downpour. Officially, a thunderstorm is a local storm from a cumulonimbus cloud with lightning and thunder, usually with strong winds and heavy rain or hail. After all, the AMS glossary recognizes thundersnow, which is simply snow at the surface accompanied by lightning and thunder in the sky. It seems that the glossary simply needs a new definition for thundershower.

By the way, there is a great article in Grist magazine about new words coming about from the increasing number of extreme weather events. We now have “heat dome,” a huge high-pressure system that traps hot air; “rain bombs,” which are extreme downpours officially called wet microbursts (first video on this page); and “corn sweat,” a humid condition caused by planting lots of corn.

The Dutch have some interesting words for different kinds of weather, as described in “Dutch Review” magazine. Rory, a self-described “Irish guy,” provides us an interesting perspective on Irish weather in the second video on this page.

The third video provides an interesting perspective on the weather from Quark, the extra-terrestrial Ferengi character from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

The final video is from a list of 119 songs about rain posted by Flourish Anyway, with videos for most of those high on the list.

Map of sea level predictions can assist waterfront owners

A sophisticated analysis of sea-level rise in Puget Sound and along the Washington Coast offers shoreline residents and land-use planners a new map-based tool to assess potential flood hazards for the coming years.

Click on map to access online interactive map
Map: Washington Coastal Hazards Resilience Network

Sea-level rise depends on two factors: how fast the oceans rise and the rate of vertical land shifts. Uplift, such as what occurs along the Washington Coast, slows the rate of sea-level rise relative to waterfront property. Subsidence, which occurs in Central Puget Sound, results in elevated tides sooner than in stable or uplifting areas. One map on this page shows the measured uplift and subsidence and another shows the uncertainty in that measurement.

Ian Miller, a coastal hazards specialist at Washington Sea Grant, has worked on studies that describe sea-level rise in Island County and on the Olympic Peninsula. The new report, titled “Projected Sea Level Rise for Washington State” (PDF 10.4 mb) goes well beyond what he and his colleagues have done before. It takes a more detailed look at where the land is uplifting and subsiding, according to Miller, the lead author on the new report that involves work by scientists at Sea Grant and the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group.

The result is a prediction of sea-level rise at 171 locations, covering every shoreline in Washington state — as opposed to more general predictions made in previous studies, including regional and national studies by others.

The goal this time, Ian told me, was to develop an analysis that could be used for predicting future high tides at any shoreline segment in the state. Actual sea-level rise will depend on how much humans can reduce greenhouse gases in the coming years and other factors. Results in the report are given for both high and low scenarios based on climate models, and the findings are presented as probabilities of occurrence.

In Bremerton, for example, the analysis predicts that there is a 90 percent chance that the sea level will rise by 6 inches or more by 2070. At the same time, the probability is 50 percent that the rise will be at least 1 foot by 2070 and 10 percent that it will reach 1.7 feet by that year. That’s under the low greenhouse gas scenario.

Under the high scenario, there is a 90 percent chance that the sea level in Bremerton will reach 7 inches by 2070, a 50 percent chance that it will reach 1.2 feet and a 10 percent change that it will reach 1.9 feet.

In some cases, a rise in the high tide level by just 6 inches can result in serious property damage, especially if winds and waves increase as a result of more intense storms. For Bremerton, there is a 16 percent chance that this level will be reached by 2030, a 50 percent chance it will be reached by 2040 and a 75 percent chance it will be reached by 2050, according to the report.

The new report can help landowners think more clearly when deciding where to locate new buildings on their property, whether to move existing buildings and what to do about failing bulkheads. I covered the issue of planning for sea-level rise for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. Check out:

And in Watching Our Water Ways:

Clicking on the map at the top of this page will take you to the online interactive map. Looking at the online map, click on any shoreline location to download the data tables, which may look a little intimidating at first. But don’t worry. Just use the tabs at the bottom to pick a high (RCP 8.5) or low (RCP 4.5) greenhouse gas scenario. You will see two tables for each scenario. In the top table, pick a year (vertical list) and a probability (horizontal list) to get the projected sea level rise (in feet). In the bottom table, pick a year along with sea level rise to get the probability of that level being reached.

Sea-level rise is accelerating as time goes on, as predicted by climate models and supported by recent studies. (See the report on satellite readings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.) One hundred years from now, there is a 90 percent chance that sea level will be at least one foot higher in Central Puget Sound and a 50 percent chance that it will be at least two feet higher.

Unlike any previous report in Washington, predictions for changes in vertical land movement in the new report are based on three different sources of information: variations in tide gauges, “leveling surveys” used by highway engineers and data from continuous global positioning satellites. For the satellite data, the analysis of sea-level rise took into account separate assessments of land movement calculated by five different organizations.

By analyzing the sources of data for vertical changes across the landscape, the researchers were able to provide a range of uncertainty for each of their 171 shoreline locations. Knowing the level of confidence for water reaching a given level in a specified amount of time can help people decide whether they are willing to accept the risk or begin planning for the future.

I’ve gone through the map, looking at a variety of waterfront locations in Washington state. In the lists below, I’ve grouped the cities to show how much the sea level is expected to rise by 2050, using a 50 percent probability and a high greenhouse gas scenario.

0.1 foot
Neah Bay

0.3 foot

0.4 foot
Ocean Shores, Ozette

0.5 foot
Aberdeen, Point Roberts, Port Angeles

0.6 foot
Bellingham, La Push, Queets, San Juan Island

0.7 foot
Anacortes, Hoodsport, La Conner, Sequim

0.8 foot
Bremerton-Port Orchard-Silverdale, Everett, Gig Harbor, Hansville, Port Townsend, Poulsbo-Suquamish-Bainbridge, Seattle, Shelton, Tacoma, Vashon Island (most), Whidbey Island

0.9 foot
Ballard, Edmonds, East Vashon-Des Moines, Federal Way, Port Ludlow, Shelton

1.0 foot
Kingston, Olympia

Additional information on this project:

Starfish continue to baffle researchers with mysterious disease

Five years after a mysterious disease began killing millions of starfish and turning their tissues to mush, the decimated population has yet to recover. Meanwhile, researchers continue to struggle to identify a cause for the disease, which appears to have uncertain ties to viruses and possibly environmental conditions.

In Puget Sound, it’s not as easy as it once was to find a diseased sea star, which seems to be a promising sign until you consider how many have died. As I learned last week during an outing to Lofall in North Kitsap, the total number of starfish remains low compared to four years ago, and recovery has been minimal, if at all.

Under the Lofall dock, volunteers have observed that the number of sea stars is still low, but sick ones are no longer common.
Photo: Christopher Dunagan

Local volunteers have been observing sea stars at Lofall since the beginning of 2014. I first visited the site the following summer with three retired women who lead the monitoring effort there. (See Water Ways , June 17, 2014.) They are still making regular trips at low tide, counting and measuring the starfish and looking for signs of disease.

“The numbers are way down,” noted volunteer Barb Erickson as we stood beneath the Lofall dock last Friday, “but we haven’t seen many sick ones. We also aren’t seeing the little ones.”

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Is there any hope for coming together on climate change?

Not long ago, I was having dinner at a restaurant with some friends. We were talking about environmental concerns when someone mentioned climate change.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” said the man seated to my right. “We are actually going into the next ice age, and the weather is getting colder.”

Stunned, all I could say was, “I don’t even know how to respond to that.” I was not in the mood to give a scientific lecture, nor did it seem like the time to engage in an angry debate — so I changed the subject.

Ever since, I’ve been wondering what I should have said. I’m sure I could have discussed whether humans are to blame for the fact that temperatures are becoming more extreme. For example, the average annual temperature has exceeded the 138-year average every year since 1976. (See NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.) The evidence of human influence is pretty compelling, but even if you find fault with the data or want to blame natural causes, the warming trend is clear.

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Dry weather started early this year amid cloudy conditions

July 5. Greg Johnson, who lives in Hansville and manages the Skunk Bay Weather station there, said the unusually high rainfall in June for Hansville, compared to the rest of the peninsula, was the result of the Puget Sound convergence zone settling over the area on several occasions. Weather conditions brought localized squalls during the month, he said, adding, “This is very unusual for us.”

The reading at Greg’s weather station, 1.98 inches for the month of June, was somewhat lower than the 2.26 inches recorded at Kitsap PUD’s weather station in Hansville.

Cool, often cloudy conditions have helped obscure the fact that very little rain has fallen on the Kitsap Peninsula over the past two months.

Precipitation in Holly (click to enlarge)

Now that we are in the fourth quarter of the water year, we can see that rainfall levels for this year will be close to average for most areas on the peninsula. What might not be recognized, however, is that April was well above average, while May and June were well below average.

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Amusing Monday: Value of water featured in art contest for students

More than 1,300 students entered this year’s Water Resources Art and Poetry Contest, sponsored by New York City’s water utility, known as the Department of Environmental Protection. Some 60 winners were named as “Water Champions” by a panel of judges.

Art by Lily H., grades 6–7.
Photo: New York City DEQ Art and Poetry Contest

“For more than three decades, DEP’s annual Art and Poetry Contest has given young New Yorkers a wonderful opportunity to use their artistic abilities to learn about and express the importance of protecting our environment and water resources,” DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza said in a press release announcing the contest winners. “Nearly half the State of New York relies on the city’s water supply system, so this is a terrific way for students in both New York City and beyond to celebrate our shared natural resources.”

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Amusing Monday: Tying gentrification to climate change with humor

“The North Pole,” a seven-part online political comedy, provides some amusing social connections between climate change and the gentrification of aging neighborhoods.

Set in North Oakland, Calif., the story revolves around close friends who have grown up in the area and find themselves struggling against landlords, corporate greed and ultimately their own social consciences. The setting could just as easily have been Seattle or any other city in which low-income housing is being displaced by condos and cute corner malls.

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World ocean researcher traces his interests back to Puget Sound

Marine geologist Peter Harris, a 1976 graduate of North Kitsap High School, has been awarded the prestigious Francis P. Shepard Medal for Sustained Excellence in Marine Geology.

Peter Harris

The annual award, from the Society for Sedimentary Geology, recognizes Peter’s 30 years of research accomplishments — “from the polar to the tropical,” as the judges described it — including his discovery of new coral reefs off Australia.

Also noteworthy is his work documenting the margins of the Antarctic continent; describing the prehistoric formation of the Fly River Delta in Papua New Guinea; and explaining changes in the “Antarctic bottom water,” a dense water mass surrounding Antarctica. Peter has published more than 100 research papers in scientific journals.

After an awards ceremony in Salt Lake City, Utah, Peter returned last week to Kitsap County, where he spoke to me about his current efforts on upcoming state-of-the-environment report for the United Nations. He is working on an oceans chapter for the “Sixth Global Environmental Outlook,” known as GEO-6, which will be used to advance environmental policies around the world.

“There are so many environmental issues in the ocean,” he told me, “but we were asked to identify three things that are the most urgent.”

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Amusing Monday: Methane emissions from a moo-ving source

My wife Sue and I just returned from a two-week vacation that included a road trip through several western states. In addition to wildlife, we noticed thousands of little methane factories scattered across public and private lands.

I’m talking about cattle, of course, and their role in climate change. I have to admit that gaseous emissions from cows seems like a often-told joke. (Question: What do you call a cow fart? Answer: dairy-air.) But methane from cattle is a serious problem with worldwide effects. The millions of dollars in research being conducted to reduce bovine emissions is strong testimony to the level of concern.

Stories I have read on this topic often relate the amount of gases coming from a single cow to the effects of driving a car.

In fact, so much has been written about cow farts and climate change — mainly for the sake of humor — that I thought that the rear of the cow was the source of the biggest problems. It turns out that far more methane gets released from the other end, in the form of gaseous burps from the mouth.

A recent study, funded by NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System, concluded that the worldwide problem of methane from cattle is 11 percent worse than estimates reported in 2006 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The new study involved more precise estimates of methane production in a cow’s gut as well as that produced during manure management.

In the U.S. and Canada, methane production from total cattle operations was found to be 24 percent higher than previous estimates, largely because of open-air manure management. In Europe, more farmers are using methods that contain the methane, often using it for energy. The study was published in the journal “Carbon Balance and Management” and reviewed in “Popular Science.”

As greenhouse gases, methane is more potent than carbon dioxide, yet the amount released into the atmosphere is far less. The international goal is to reduce emissions of both gases to slow the average warming of the planet.

Researchers have found that feeding cattle different types of grains or silage can reduce the amount of methane produced by bacteria in the stomachs of cattle. Feedstocks effective in reducing methane include garlic and onions, but a major problem for dairy farmers is that those products can change the taste of the milk that cows produce.

One farm in Vermont began supplementing its cattle feed with cooked flax. The result was not only less methane coming from the cows, but the milk itself contained a higher level of beneficial omega 3 fatty acids.

Ongoing research is finding that a diet for cattle high in carbohydrates and/or fats can result in less methane production. Using ground or pellet forms of forage may reduce the time of passage through the cow, thus reducing methane production. See news release from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.

A story published last week in the online “Feed Navigator” discusses the complexity of the issue. Changing feedstocks can affect cattle and their emissions in different ways. One must account for the effects of growing the feedstocks, handling the manure generated and the health for both the cattle eating the forage and the humans consuming the milk or meat, according to the article by Aerin Einstein-Curtis.

“We have it very tight where we follow the diets, and we know the diets produce a certain type of manure, with certain emissions, and this is what you get out of it,” said Michael Wattiaux, professor of dairy systems management at the University of Wisconsin, who was quoted in the article. “One thing that I could see in terms of practical recommendations is maybe you want to have the agronomist and soil scientist and nutritionist all in the same room at the same time.”