Log in | Jump |

CEJournal

News & Perspective from the Center for Environmental Journalism

Western water: running toward empty part 2

Posted on January 19th by Tom Yulsman. One Comment

The Green River, seen here at the mouth of Horseshoe Canyon in Utah, is a major tributary of the Colorado. The two rivers come together about xx miles as the crow flies from this point. (Copyright Tom Yulsman)

By Brendon Bosworth and Tom Yulsman

In part one of this series published first at Climate Central and cross-posted in part here, we examined what’s happening now in the Colorado River Basin, including the impact of a protracted, multi-year drought on the region. Today, we take a look at what the future might bring.

Climate change research offers little reason to believe that the gloriously snowy start to the year in the mountains of the Colorado Basin are a harbinger of wetter times to come.

To begin with, some research suggests that changes to the climate, thanks in part to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, are already responsible for at least a portion of the drought that has been plaguing the region since 2000.

During the past few decades of rapid growth in water use, “the hydrological cycle in the region began to change,” write Tim Barnett and David Pierce of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in a 2009 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Snowpack declined in the western mountains, temperatures increased, and many streams gradually shifted their peak flow to earlier in the year,” they continued. “It has been shown, with very high statistical confidence, that a substantial portion of these changes are attributable to human-induced effects on the climate.”

But Brad Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment of the University of Colorado, is a bit more cautious: “The way science and statistics work is that there’s a really high bar set to say, ‘Okay, this particular event is actually climate change and not just natural variability.’ In fact that bar is so high, frequently all you can say is, ‘hey, this is consistent with what we think climate change will bring.’ I think this is in many ways is where we are in the Colorado River.”

Regardless of whether the recent drought has a man-made component or not, computer modeling of the climate system is not reassuring about the future. It indicates that the Colorado River basin will become warmer and more arid in coming decades. In fact, this is one of the more robust findings shared among most of the climate models.

Continue reading “Western water: running toward empty part 2″ →

Share

BREAKING NEWS: details on major Pakistan earthquake

Posted on January 18th by Tom Yulsman.

Roger Bilham

This morning I interviewed Roger Bilham, an earthquake expert here at the University of Colorado, for KGNU radio’s How on Earth Science Show. Toward the end we got into the fact that fairly sizable earthquakes are overdue along the Himalayan front in Pakistan, India, Bhutan and other countries.

A few hours later, an earthquake estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey at 7.2 magnitude occurred in Baluchistan, Pakistan. It struck near Pakistan’s nuclear test site, Bilham told me in an email message. The test site is near Chāghai, and I believe the epicenter of the earthquake is a bit south of there.

He says the intensity of shaking at the site should be low. “The predicted shaking is intensity six — accelerations less than 10% g at the site (whose location is not well known). So I doubt anything bad has happened.”

But that probably is not the case for civilians.  ”Villagers in adobe structures in the epicenter may have been killed,” Bilham says.

The quake occurred on the Arabian tectonic plate, which is subducting under the Asian plate. As it plunges into the Earth’s interior, it bends. And according to Bilham, the plate apparently broke at that bending point. Here’s a graphic that explains it:

In my interview with Bilham this morning, I mentioned his research showing that large earthquakes were overdue along Himalyan front, and I brought up Pakistan. Here’s what he said in the interview this morning:

In India, Pakistan, Bhutan, and so on, there is a real problem with earthquakes. The very largest earthquakes, magnitude 8.8 and larger, have not occurred in recent history. In fact, the last great earthquake in the Himalaya was probably in 1505. And since then, enormous changes in building style have occurred, and the infrastructure that has been constructed has only recently been constructed with earthqake resistance in mind. So there is a huge pool of buildings just waiting to fall in the next earthquake. Now we need to ask when will the next earthquake be?

The very large earthquakes probably have return times on the order of 1,000 years, according to Bilham. But smaller ones, of magnitude 7.5 to 8 probably recur at 100-year intervals.

We’re now well into the cycle when these will occur. We believe there are earthquakes overdue between Kashmir and the western part of India, and also in the Assam region. And I think this is probably where we’re first going to hear about disasters from these Himalayan earthquakes.

I’ve asked him by email whether the tectonic setting is different for the Pakistan quake that just occurred. I’ll report on that when I hear from him.

UPDATE: Roger has answered this question:

The Arabian plate is moving slightly slower northward than the Indian plate.  Both are colliding with Asia.

The big difference is that the India collision is two continents colliding whereas this is a collision between an oceanic plate and a continental one.  THe result is that volcanoes continue to be active.  The last big earthquake Mw=8 occurred in 1945 south of the recent earthquake on the surface between the descending Arabian plate and the upper Asian plate.

Share

Western Water: Running toward empty?

Posted on January 18th by Tom Yulsman. One Comment

By Tom Yulsman & Brendon Bosworth

Heading toward an uncertain future? A snow-covered track in Colorado's Front Range. Copyright Tom Yulsman

It may not be too much of an exaggeration to say that for many people in the drought-plagued West, the status of mountain snowpack is as eagerly awaited as the stats from college sports matches. That’s because much more than team pride is on the line.

After all, there is skiing to be done, and when the snow melts and the water tumbles into streams every spring, many Westerners like to kayak or tube in it, and others to cast their fly lines into the icy, trout-filled waters.

On a more practical level, water plummeting from mountains to plains is used to generate renewable electricity. And of course, more than anything else, Westerners drink it and use it to turn their sere landscapes green.

None of the river basins in the West garner more attention than the Colorado. The waterways of the basin drain nearly 246,000 square miles of territory.

They also serve nearly 30 million people in seven states and Mexico, including residents of Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, Denver, and Albuquerque, and irrigate more than three million acres of crops and pasture.

The Colorado River quite literally is the lifeblood of this region.

But now, an emerging new reality in the river basin has both scientists and water mangers concerned about the future. It is unfolding thanks to ever-increasing demand for the Colorado’s water, combined with drought — which may become more frequent and severe in the future thanks to climate change from human activities.

And so without long-term changes to water use, the challenge of matching supply and demand in an increasingly parched region will only grow more acute. This is the subject of a two-part feature at Climate Central, and cross-posted in part here at CEJournal. In this first story, we examine what’s happening now in the Colorado River Basin. We’ll also look at the impact of a continuing multi-year drought on the region, and what it means for those 30 million users of Colorado River Basin water. And in part two, we’ll explore what the future may bring.

* * * * *

In recent weeks, water managers, skiers and farmers, if not city folk, from California all the way to Colorado were breathing a little easier with the news that storms have significantly boosted both mountain snowpack and the water supply outlook in the Colorado River Basin.

As of January 6, the average snow water equivalent for most of the basin was at 141 percent of the long-term average. (Snow water equivalent is the depth of the water you’d collect if you melted a given amount of snow instantaneously). This is the very best start to the year since 1997, according to the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Most importantly, it is a dramatic — but not necessarily permanent — turn-around from the situation as it looked last October. At that point, 11 long years of debilitating drought in the region, combined with growing demand on the river, had helped drain Lake Mead, the giant reservoir on the lower Colorado near Las Vegas, to a record low level. (For the current level of Lake Mead, click here.) Now, with early winter storms, the lake level has come up by a foot. Water managers view this as a hopeful sign, but one that does not by itself indicate a more durable turnaround.

They are scraping for every inch they can get to keep the reservoir’s surface higher than 1,075 feet above sea level. Should it fall below that marker, the federal government would be forced to declare a shortage, requiring Arizona and Nevada to cut back on their use of Colorado River water.

Continue reading “Western Water: Running toward empty?” →

Share

Brisbane floods: a tale of two stories

Posted on January 15th by Tom Yulsman. 14 Comments

Were they linked to global warming? Two news outlets offer different answers

Update: After reading this post, some readers might conclude that I think we should wait to take action to reduce our vulnerability to climate change. Nothing is further from the truth. I believe we have enough knowledge right now to justify reducing carbon emissions, and taking action to adapt to climatic disruptions — which are obviously occurring, right now.

Have a look at the ABC News evening news broadcast above, and the network’s more in-depth article here. It’s extraordinary these days for American television news to cover climate change in any way, as the recent analysis by Robert Brulle of Drexel University has shown. So it’s heartening to see at least one network news division wake up again to what still is a huge story.

That said,, the broadcast unequivocally tied the flooding in Australia, as well as in Brazil and Sri Lanka, to global warming. And in its headline on the web, ABC also made no bones about it:”Raging Waters in Australia and Brazil Product of Global Warming.” That’s as strong a cause and effect statement as you could make.

Reuters wouldn’t go quite so far, as this dispatch carried by MSNBC on the web shows:

SINGAPORE — Climate change has likely intensified the monsoon rains that have triggered record floods in Australia’s Queensland state, scientists said on Wednesday, with several months of heavy rain and storms still to come.

But while scientists say a warmer world is predicted to lead to more intense droughts and floods, it wasn’t yet possible to say if climate change would trigger stronger La Niña and El Niño weather patterns that can cause weather chaos across the globe.

Which story is more accurate?

Continue reading “Brisbane floods: a tale of two stories” →

Share

A hard rain fallin’

Posted on January 12th by Tom Yulsman. 5 Comments

With the recent images of parts of Queensland, Australia underwater (like the one above), the news today that 2010 was the wettest year globally on record, and by NOAA’s accounting tied for the warmest year on record, it was perhaps inevitable that Bob Dylan’s lyrics would start rattling around in my head:

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son ?
And what did you hear, my darling young one ?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
I heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’

Is anyone listening today? To this?:

Continue reading “A hard rain fallin’” →

Share

The climate mirror

Posted on January 9th by Tom Yulsman. 2 Comments

Keith Kloor has put together a terrific post at his Collide-a-Scape blog consisting almost entirely of comments by readers of blogs on opposite sides of the climate change wars. Despite their bitter differences on climate, they seem to agree on one thing: utter disdain for the news media.

This is in keeping with some of the things I’ve been saying here at CEJournal lately. So here is a little taste of Keith’s post:

It turns out that readers at popular climate blogs on opposite ends of the spectrum have similar complaints about the media.

From a commenter at WUWT:

The LA Times has been a socialist rag, suitable mostly for lining the bottom of a parrot’s cage, for decades. When their marketers used to call to ask me to subscribe, I’d just tell them, “I don’t need the Times; I subscribe to Pravda and get everything a day earlier, including your editorials!”

From a commenter at Climate Progress:

Our mainstream media is clearly hopeless…for whatever reasons- mostly money, of course- our major media outlets are staffed by hopeless whores, beyond contempt and incapable of communicating facts that are central to the public interest.

From  a commenter at WUWT:

Why should we be surprised that the ‘journalists’ at the NYT do not understand basic physics or science?
They believe in climate apocalypse, after all.

From a commenter at Climate Progress:

We’re in big trouble if the nation’s best newspaper [NYT] is scientifically illiterate, with the Washington Post, LA Times, and Chicago Tribune no better.

There’s much more over at Keith’s blog, so click here now and head on over.

Share

There they go again

Posted on January 7th by Tom Yulsman. 10 Comments

I’m talking about Forbes magazine, which today published another howler

Yesterday, Real Climate deconstructed a post at Forbes in which Larry Bell bludgeoned journalists for failing to report “good news” about climate change. The trouble was, almost all the alleged good news Bell referred to was absolutely bogus.

Today, Forbes is at it again, this time with a blog post by William Pentland (that’s him to the left) in which he asks:

Does a liberal democracy have sufficient resolve to stomach the economic and political sacrifices required to stabilize global warming?

Here’s his answer:

A growing number of climate scientists believe the answer is “no.” In their view, democratic institutions are perpetuating climate change by precluding implementation of the politically unpalatable actions needed to reduce the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

His evidence that a “growing number” of climate scientists believe this? The text from the jacket blurb of a book published three years ago and co-authored by a man who appears to be an Australian MD. I’m not kidding. That’s it.

Here’s what Pentland says:

Continue reading “There they go again” →

Share

RealClimate refutes ludicrous column in Forbes magazine

Posted on January 6th by Tom Yulsman. 31 Comments

Then directs ludicrous attack on the target of Forbes’ ludicrous attack

Yesterday, I bemoaned the fact that I can’t get no respect — or, more precisely, that my fellow environmental journalists can’t. We’ve found ourselves attacked from both the Left and the Right over our coverage of climate change.

Today, a RealClimate post brought to my attention yet another attack, this one in Forbes by Larry Bell. He accuses the “mainstream media” generally (not environmental specialists per se) of ignoring “good news” about climate. And in their guest commentary, Michael Tobis and Scott Mandia do an artful take-down of Bell, showing how 10 of his 11 assertions of good news are pretty much nonsense. For the details, see their commentary.

But lest my fellow journalists take comfort in two scientists springing to our defense, consider their blistering conclusion:

Ultimately, though, the criticism of the press is ludicrous. The naysayers ought to be thrilled at the lack of interest in climate change shown in the press, at least in North America. The longer we delay, the bigger the topic gets, and the more ridiculous the refusal of the press and policy sector to grapple with it becomes.

I have a mixed reaction to this charge, to say the least.

Continue reading “RealClimate refutes ludicrous column in Forbes magazine” →

Share

Environmental journalists: Are we really that awful?

Posted on January 5th by Tom Yulsman. 11 Comments

As an environmental journalist, I just can’t get no respect. On the one hand, I’m part of a “cabal” that has been manipulated by propagandists. On the other hand, my woeful scientific ignorance is getting in the way of accurate reporting.

Well, none of these things were actually said about me personally. But they have been said about some of my colleagues, and I think the critics meant it about environmental journalists generally — a group I am very proud to associate myself with.

But guess who said which of these things? When it comes to the “cabal” comment, how many hands do I see for climate change contrarians like Anthony Watts? And concerning scientific ignorance, who votes for the Rommulans?

I’ll get to the answer in a minute. But first, I have to point out that during this past year, environmental journalists have been the subject of lots of criticism, often vituperative, from both sides in the climate change wars.

If you read any number of partisan climate bloggers who claim to carry the torch of scientific truth, we’re mostly stupid, we’re hopelessly biased, we’re carrying water for warmist scientists, or we’re stenographers who copy down whatever the denialists have to say because we’re too dumb to know what false balance is.

It might be tempting to conclude that since we’re catching hell from both sides, on balance we’re probably getting it about right. But I think the topic is too overwhelmingly complex, and there are too many people covering the issue in myriad ways (daily reporters, magazine writers, bloggers, documentarians, even formerly ink-stained-wretch academics like me), to make such a sweeping generalization.

The fact is that there is some downright dreadful coverage of climate change. But even among those who are trying to get it right, now more than ever journalism is the first draft of history. And with such a complex and contested topic as climate change, it shouldn’t be surprising that we don’t always get it just right the first time around.

So we need to take criticism of our coverage seriously. But as with any story that we cover, we also need to carefully consider the sources of criticism and their evidence.

So who were the sources of the criticism I mentioned at the outset of this post?

It was Anthony Watts who attacked an environmental journalist about his alleged scientific ignorance. He did it in a recent post excoriating Time Magazine’s Bryan Walsh for a piece he wrote on the possible connection between global warming and snowstorms. Here’s an excerpt:

Bryan Walsh deserves a giant watermelon for his journalistic efforts this Time around in his annual piece on global warming causing blizzards.

He comes out swinging right away:  ”A big winter snowstorm provides more fodder for the global-warming skeptics. But they’re wrong

Oh really?  Bryan, if you can find any (credible) scientist that [sic] wants to go on record supporting your contortionist logic with respect to this holiday blizzard, please quote them directly on the record, and do not cherry-pick their blog postings or opinion-editorials.  Is this the type of new “green journalism” expertise that we can expect from the vaunted and much lauded Climate Science Rapid Response Team?  Preemptive straw man arguments that would make the master blush?  This article is just another in a long line of really speculative pieces that reek of scientific ignorance.   Enough of it, please!

Let’s put aside the fact that Walsh probably didn’t write the “But they’re wrong” bit. (It was the subhed for the piece, so it almost certainly was written by an editor.) And the fact that the “much lauded Climate Science Rapid Response Team” is not a journalistic endeavor, let alone “green journalism.”

Walsh’s actual blog posting examines several theories for how colder and snowier winters in Northern mid-latitudes may be linked to a warming atmosphere. And to my eye, he explains those complex scientific theories well. He also makes this essential point:

The systems that govern weather on this planet are incredibly complex, and our ability to understand why individual events occur — and to forecast them for the future — is still imperfect.

That more than anything is what drives — and distorts — so much of the stubborn debate over climate change. Just because climate models predict that the planet will continue to heat up in the future as we continue to pour greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere doesn’t mean that warming will be a steady, even process. Far from it — and as parts of the planet warm far faster than others, extreme events, including winter ones, may become more common.

Walsh should be applauded, not excoriated, for such a careful and nuanced treatment of the subject. The fact that it enraged Watts so much says much more about him that it does about the quality of Walsh’s journalism.

So what about the “cabal” comment?

It came in the comments section of  Joe Romm’s recent “2010 Citizen Kane award for non-excellence in climate journalism” post. Let’s put aside the fact that in his post, Romm lists Anthony Watts as a journalist (not even remotely close) and instead get right to the comment in question. It came from Brad Johnson, “Climate Editor” at the Center for American Progress:

The interesting question, of course, is to understand *why* the journalism is so bad. For the explicit propaganda organs (FoxNews, Watts) it’s easy to understand — they have a partisan, pro-pollution agenda. But NYT and BBC don’t. They demonstrate the influence of the less visible efforts of the propaganda campaign against climate science — particularly the influence of economists, for whom global warming doesn’t exist, or even for ones like Stern and Krugman, the damages are entirely manageable even under catastrophic scenarios.

There’s also the enviro-journalist cabal that have complicated reasons for muddying the science, that reflect decades of being manipulated by propagandists.

Johnson did not elaborate, even after he was asked to clarify who he felt was part of the “cabal” and what their “complicated reasons for muddying the science” might be.

I believe that in Johnson’s view, I am part of that “cabal.” That’s because I cover climate science in terms of risk, uncertainty, complexity, and nuance, and that my writing often is cast in shades of gray.

UPDATE 1/5/10: The journal Nature has just published a piece headlined “Why dire climate warnings boost climate skepticism.” Does it vindicate a more nuanced style of coverage? Have a look at the paper and then leave a comment here. (Not surprisingly, Joe Romm doesn’t think so. He was quick to say that Nature “blew” the story.)

I am not at all surprised to hear that partisans like Romm and Johnson consider nuance to be a “muddying of the science.” But I never expected to be accused of being part of a politically motivated conspiracy. I expect that from the Right, not the Left. Now I realize that they view anything other than simplistic black and white coverage of climate change as being the enemy of action, and thus their enemy.

Based on what I know about the science, I earnestly believe that societies need to do much more to respond to the increasing risks posed by climate change. That said, as a journalist, my primary mission is to get as close as possible to the unvarnished truth, whether the facts dictate that it be painted in black and white, which is sometimes the case, or shades of gray, which is necessary at other times.

And if that means I can’t get no respect, so be it.

UPDATE 1/15/10: So speaking of respect, I may or may not deserve any (comments welcome!), but new research suggests that reporters at major newspapers in the U.S. and the U.K. do.

My colleagues Max Boykoff and Roger Pielke, Jr. in collaboration with Ursula Rick, have just published a study appearing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, evaluating a final set of more than 200 articles on sea level rise. The stories appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, The Times (of London), the Guardian and the Telegraph.

Major papers like these are, according to the researchers, “important indicators of larger media trends.” Moreover, they are “frequent sources for stories that cascade through other media such as television, internet, and radio outlets.”

As part of the study, they compared the content of the articles to the actual peer reviewed scientific literature. And here’s what they found:

. . . reporting on sea level rise among the sources that we have examined has been consistent with scientific literature on the issue. While there have been challenges over time regarding US and UK media coverage of anthropogenic climate change (e.g. Boykoff and Mansfield 2008), this study has found general success in media portrayals of this facet of climate science.

After reading an earlier version of this post, Pielke emailed me to say that he thought the new paper he co-authored with Boykoff and Rick was “directly relevant.” And he added this:

Watts and Romm define the “goodness” of journalism according to how well journalists help to advance their agendas, and in both cases there are in fact journalists happy to do so.

In our paper we apply a different standard of evaluation — how well does the reporting actually reflect the content of the science, and we report some good news.

If you want respect, then you have to be clear about what it is you are doing.  I think that many journalists are not so clear about what their role in fact is – are they Advocates?  Educators? Scribes? Mirrors?

Share

December: the cool got chillier, the warm even toastier

Posted on January 3rd by Tom Yulsman. 5 Comments

Climatic seeds planted in September blossom into a fascinating pattern by December

When the next round of monthly updates on global temperature trends comes out, my guess is that the record or near-record warmth of 2010 recorded through the end of November will be tempered a bit by cooling in December.

That’s what the maps above suggest to my eye. Produced by Remote Sensing Systems, they show how global temperatures near the surface, as determined by satellite, varied from the 1979-1998 average. September’s anomalies are on the left; December’s on the right. Anomalously warm areas are depicted in appropriately warm colors, and visa versa.

But I’m struck even more by the pattern of warm and cold, which may well be more significant.

Continue reading “December: the cool got chillier, the warm even toastier” →

Share

The West gets hosed

Posted on December 29th by Tom Yulsman. 4 Comments

Forecast details at the bottom of this post

A gusher of precipitable water in the atmosphere spewing from the Pacific, seen in this image from the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, has hosed almost the entire West Coast. Click on the image for an animation of the gusher. (But beware: It’s a memory hog!)

The gusher has triggered heavy rain in Southern California and into Arizona. Meanwhile, cold air pouring down from the north has triggered snow pretty much throughout the interior West, including Northern Arizona.

Below is a map with the weather warnings for the West, posted by the National Weather Service. Wherever you see pink and orange expect extreme winter weather.

Continue reading “The West gets hosed” →

Share

Is it cold because it’s warm?

Posted on December 29th by Tom Yulsman.

As a new monster storm gathers, the debate rages on

The reverberations from Judah Cohen’s it’s cold-because-it’s-warm N.Y. Times op-ed are still being heard around the blogosphere — as this cartoon from the Spokane Spokesman-Review nicely encapsulates.

In a post at the American Thinker, Timothy Birdnow says the Times “is self-destructing on Global Warming.” At the same time, the piece by Cohen “knocks the underpinning of climate change alarmism right out from under the whole movement.”

Cohen’s theory has done this, Birdnow claims, by showing that climate feedbacks are not positive, as the “alarmists” claim, but are actually negative, as the righteous skeptics have argued all along.

Don’t ask me. If you’d like an explanation of this mental jiu jitsu, just go have a look at Birdnow’s post.

But if you’re interested in a fair and accurate journalistic analysis of Cohen’s theory, take a look at Andy Revkin’s follow-up post on the subject.

Meanwhile, a fire hose of water vapor has sprayed the West Coast yet again, and it looks to me like another Pineapple Express — which will be the subject of my next post, coming right after this one. And all that water is now starting to move inland, creating blizzard conditions across parts of the interior West.

As the storm moves east, expect a continuation of the “it’s-cold-because-it’s-warm” debate. At the same time, remember what the debate was about last summer: Was the extreme heat in many parts of the globe due to global warming?

And I’ll leave you with this, published just this week by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center:

According to the NCDC’s State of the Climate Global Analysis for November, for the year to date (January through November), “the combined global land and ocean surface temperature was 0.64°C (1.15°F) above the 20th century average—the warmest such period since records began in 1880.”

Share

Weather happens

Posted on December 27th by Tom Yulsman. 3 Comments

Winter does too

People made their way through Times Square on Sunday evening as the Northeastern blizzard pushed into New York. (Photo courtesy of asterix611 via Flickr Creative Commons)

Global warming causes an increased chance of snowstorms like the one that has been pummeling the Northeast?

That was the red meat thrown out by the New York Times today Christmas Day in an Op Ed column by Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting for Atmospheric and Environmental Research. Not surprisingly, the climate contrarians are gnashing and feasting.

Cohen’s theory is actually pretty interesting. But I have no idea whether he’s right — and his theory is not the point of my post today. (If you’re interested in what other climate scientists have to say about it, check out Andy Revkin’s post today at DotEarth.)

Update 12/27/10: Deja vu all over again? Last February, there was snow in all 50 states, and frigid conditions extended all the way down to the Gulf Coast. I wrote about it in this article, and I mentioned that the Arctic Oscillation was in a particularly intense negative phase. When that happens, the Arctic tends to be warmer and lower latitudes tend to be colder than normal. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And guess what’s happening with the Arctic Oscillation right now? It has been in a persistent negative phase since November — and it reached quite a low level just eight days ago.

So, what is the overall point of this post? The graphic at the bottom makes it quite nicely. But first . . .

Consider Prins Christian Sund near the southern tip of Greenland, where it’s currently 34 degrees and sunny. That’s almost warm enough to go swimming!

Continue reading “Weather happens” →

Share

Mercury Rising

Posted on December 22nd by Tom Yulsman. 5 Comments

How will we know if 2010 was the warmest year on record?

I’m guessing it won’t come down to this — urban hipsters lounging on a rooftop with the sea rising all around them. We’ll know whether 2010 was the warmest on record in another, less dramatic way.


How? In a story just published at Climate Central, I answer that question, explaining how different groups of scientists using much the same data come up with independent assessments of the Earth’s changing temperature. Keep reading for the first part of that article. Then click on the link at the bottom of this post to head over to Climate Central for the rest of the story . . .



Earlier this month, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) announced that November was the warmest such month in its record books — and that 2010 overall may well turn out to be the warmest year ever.

Now, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has published the results of its own calculations, showing that November was thesecond warmest, not the first.

Such conflicts in global temperature rankings aren’t terribly unusual. In fact, NASA-GISS and NOAA-NCDC rank 2005 as the warmest year on record. But a third group, a collaboration of the U.K. Met Office’s Hadley Center and the Climatic Research Unit known as “HadCRUT,” gives the title to 1998. (When December hits the record books, it’s possible that 2010 will be crowned warmest year by all three.)

Each of the three groups calculates temperatures at the surface of the land and sea. But two other groups, one at the University of Alabama and the other at Remote Systems Sensing, use microwave sensors on satellites to estimate the temperature of the lowest part of the atmosphere.

And guess what? Their findings differ a bit from each other, and from those of the other groups as well.

What’s going on here? And do these discrepancies cast doubt on the conclusion that the world is warming?

What’s going on is quite simple, scientists say: normal science. The groups come up with somewhat different results because each one approaches the complex task of determining global temperature trends in a different way.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the two satellite records tend to differ from the others — because they use a completely different technology and analytical method.  Their approach tends to exaggerate the impact of ocean-atmosphere phenomena like El Niño (which causes warming) and volcanic eruptions (which cause cooling).

But it may be less obvious why the three groups that use much the same basic surface temperature data still diverge in their findings.

“Each group tries to do the best job possible,” says Richard Reynolds, a scientist with NOAA, now semi-retired, who helped refine that agency’s approach. “Different decisions on the data processing cause the final numbers to differ. However, the differences are very useful to help define the uncertainty in the results.”

Despite those uncertainties, a consistent picture has emerged: Since 1970, each decade has been warmer than the one before — and 2000 to 2010 has been the warmest one on record.

Map of global average temperature anomalies from 2000-2009, showing the most rapid warming in the Arctic and a small portion of Antarctica. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory.


Of course, the subject of global temperature trends has become intensely politicized. This has been especially true in the aftermath of the controversy surrounding the unauthorized release of hundreds of email messages between some climate scientists, including Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit.

To many climate change skeptics, the emails suggested that Jones and his colleagues at the CRU deliberately manipulated data to concoct a global warming trend, and also stonewalled critics, preventing them from accessing CRU data.

Since then, an independent review, headed by Sir Muir Russell, found that while CRU scientists failed to show the appropriate degree of openness, the accusations of fabrication, dishonesty and lack of rigor were groundless. Other reviews also found accusations of data-rigging to be groundless. And there is now a move afoot to make surface temperature data much more easily accessible.

Even so, some public doubt remains about assessments of global temperature trends. A Yale Universitysurvey found, for example, that 40 percent of Americans still believe there is significant disagreement among scientists over whether global warming is occurring.

Gavin Schmidt, a scientist with the NASA-GISS team, argues that even though they differ somewhat, the independent assessments of Earth’s temperature trends “are exactly what is needed to reassure people. The differences reflect real uncertainties,” he says, “but the similarity in the bottom line, despite variations in approach, should increase credibility in the overall warming trend.”

To understand why different answers to the same question can be perfectly normal from a scientific perspective — and how they all actually add up to the same overall trend — it helps to know how the different groups go about their work.

To read the rest of this post, please check out the entire story over at Climate Central.

Share

EarthArt: What are you looking at?

Posted on December 18th by Tom Yulsman. 4 Comments

I came across the image above while doing some research for my next post (which, by the way, will explain the differences between the three major analyses of global temperature anomalies — look for it Tuesday). The graphic is related to climate change research. But that’s the only hint I’ll provide.

Can yo figure out what it portrays? Share your ideas in the comments section. The first person to guess correctly will get a free, lifetime subscription to CEJournal!

Okay, I jest.  The first person to guess correctly will be prominently mentioned here, earning the accolades of, well, at least hundreds, and with a bit of luck, maybe even thousands!

Share