Tuesday, April 15, 2014

An Age-Old Argument

The Daily Goulash

A definite read: Kerry Emanuel on low-probability "tail risk" climate change impacts, at the Yale Forum

Ken Caldiera was on KQED today talking about geoengineering, and three of the call-in questions were about chemtrails.... (Click here if you haven't heard about this particular bit of lunacy from the conspiracy theorists.)

Oh, yeah, now there are Hillary shoethrowing truthers, too. 

Let's just call this the age of the "truth truthers."

This is good: an article in Business Insider about Google's advanced projects, one of which was a space elevator, says Google abandoned it because "the team did find one material that could work, carbon nanotubes, but no one has successfully made a perfectly formed carbon nanotube strand longer than a meter." Duh, space elevator enthusiasts have known this since, almost literally, the day carbon nanotubes were discovered in the early 1990s....

All that Asian pollution may be making Pacific storms stronger. Haiyan?

"...roughly 1,550 volcanoes that have erupted in the recent geologic past."

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has endorsed a revenue-neutral carbon tax: "Reducing emissions, especially from power plants and vehicles, remains a priority. Technology can help with that, but probably the best way to push that technology is to impose a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Such a tax would encourage the fossil fuel industry to search for other ways to provide energy; the money could be used to reduce the deficit or as rebates to taxpayers."

Here is a mnemonic for the decimal expansion of π, where the number of letters in each word is the digit: "How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics. All of thy geometry, Herr Planck, is fairly hard...:" [3.14159265358979323846264...]

Did you know the Bible says π = 3? Here is I Kings 7:23 (King James Version): "And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about." (π = circumference/diameter = 30 cu/10 cu = 3.)

In junior high school we were taught to use 22/7 for π, and it wasn't until 10th grade trigonometry that I realized that was just an approximation, and not until I was a freshman in college until I realized it can't be expressed as a fraction in any case. Duh.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wheat's Nutritive Value Decreases Under Elevated CO2

Amber waves of less nutritious grain
Lately you hear a lot of, well, trash talk about how CO2 is good for plants and CO2 fertilization will be a boon for agriculture, and all that. (If you can't deny climate change, then you argue it will be beneficial.) In reality the changes to plants under climate change are complicated, with higher CO2, higher temperatures and changes in precipitation comingling in complex ways.

Plant tissues also change, and this recent paper in Nature Climate Change is very interesting:

“Nitrate assimilation is inhibited by elevated CO2 in field-grown wheat,” Arnold J. Bloom et al, Nature Climate Change, April 6 2014.

This paper presents a direct test of the hypothesis, pointed to by meta-analyses, that more CO2 inhibits nitrogen assimilation into proteins. Higher CO2 increases yields, but protein concentrations decrease. Who wins?

In a trial of field-grown wheat in Arizona, under conditions of elevated CO2 (up to 559 ppmv), this research group found that nitrate assimilation was indeed slower under elevated than ambient CO2. The authors conclude
These findings imply that food quality will suffer under the CO2 levels anticipated during this century unless more sophisticated approaches to nitrogen fertilization are employed.
The Times of India quotes the lead author, Arnold Bloom of UC Davis:
"Food quality is declining under the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide that we are experiencing," said lead author Arnold Bloom, a professor in the department of plant sciences at University of California, Davis.

"Several explanations for this decline have been put forward, but this is the first study to demonstrate that elevated carbon dioxide inhibits the conversion of nitrate into protein in a field-grown crop," he said.
The article says that wheat "provides nearly one-fourth of all protein in the global human diet." It concludes:
Bloom noted that other studies also have shown that protein concentrations in the grain of wheat, rice and barley — as well as in potato tubers — decline, on average, by approximately 8 per cent under elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

"When this decline is factored into the respective portion of dietary protein that humans derive from these various crops, it becomes clear that the overall amount of protein available for human consumption may drop by about 3 per cent as atmospheric carbon dioxide reaches the levels anticipated to occur during the next few decades," Bloom said.
That is, 3% is the difference between the increase from CO2 fertilization and the decrease in protein density.

Of course it's possible that scientists and farmers will find better methods of nitrogen fertilization to overcome this decrease. And now it's starting to look necessary....

The Langley, A Useful But Forgotten Unit

I like to collect units (like the Sverdrup), and came across an interesting one today -- the langley (ly), which is a unit of energy per unit area. Climate scientists back in the '60s used to use it for solar irradiance, and here's why -- it makes it easy to express the solar energy incident on the Earth.

The langley's definition is

1 ly = 1 calorie/cm2
where, as usual

1 calorie (cal) = the amount of heat required to raise one gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.

If you convert this to SI units, you get
1 ly = 41,840 Joule/m2
1 langley per minute = 1 ly/min = 697.3 Watts/m2

so the Earth's solar constant is
S = 1365 W/m2 = 1.96 ly/min ≈ 2 ly/min

which is a nice small, round number.

Going further, the "dietary calorie" -- how we measure the energy content of food -- is the Calorie (= 1000 cal). So

≈ 20 Cal/min per square meter

Now, 20 Cal is the energy content of a lime (or 5 spears of asparagus, or 3/4ths of a cup of green beans, or 1/2 of a medium summer squash), so

≈ 1 lime per minute per square meter

which is an interesting way to think about the solar constant (which isn't really a constant, but the name sticks.) If the average person eats 2,000 Calories per day (call it one "eat"), then, if I did the conversions right

S ≈ 10,000 eats/min per square kilometer

But the average person lives about 20,000 days (hence the Moody Blues song), so the amount of food they will eat in one "lifetime" is about 20,000 eats. So

S ≈ 0.5 lifetimes/min per square kilometer

So a couple eating about average, and living about the average number of years, will together eat about as much food as the energy the sun delivers to a square kilometer in one minute.

At the top of the atmosphere, of course. The amount at the surface will depend on their culinary albedo.

When Data Doesn't Fit

Here's an interesting thought from Spencer Weart's book.... He's writing about those who claim connections between sunspots and climate. Emphasis mine:
"Some found the connections plausible, but to most scientists the speculation sounded just like one more of the countless sunspot correlations that had been announced only to be rejected sooner or later. Even if the evidence had been stronger, it would have met with deep skepticism, for scientists cannot well fit data into their thinking unless theory meanwhile prepares a place."
It reminded me of this slide from somebody's symposium:

Sunday, April 13, 2014


"And finally, please please just stop saying it is the responsibility of ‘environmentalists’ to come up with tactics to persuade the rest of us, who by implication are perfectly entitled to sit back and not take our responsibilities on this issue seriously unless and until ‘environmentalists’ come up with arguments that are appealing to us in every way. Gaaaaah!"

-- Tom Toles, "Environmentalists Doing It Wrong, Again," Washington Post 4/10/13

Mental Biology

In the mail: Mental Biology: The New Science of How the Brain and Mind Relate by W.R. Klemm, published by Prometheus Books.

I'm especially looking forward to reading Chapter 3 - The Nature of Consciousness. I'm currently reading The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil, and not at all convinced (at least, yet) that building a machine with the computing power of the human brain (~1015 operations per second) will give a machine with the capabilities of the human brain. Or that any machine ever will. But I don't really know why I suspect this. Maybe Klemm's book will help.

The Coming El Nino and Surface Temperatures

So if the coming (probably) El Nino peaks with a Nino3.4 sea surface temperature anomaly of about 0.8-1.0°C, as NOAA's models are currently projecting (on average), what might that mean for the peak in surface temperature?

Recent history doens't offer much help. Below are the peak surface temperature anomalies (Cowtan & Way dataset) plotted as a function of peak Nino3.4 SSTAs I plotted yesterday.

There's no correlation. Some recent El Ninos have caused even warmer surface temperatures than did the monster 1997-98 El Nino, even though the surface water in the equatorial Pacific never got as warm.

But some did not.

And of those that did, both (2007 and 2010), the latter happened despite the Pacific ocean being in the negative (cold) phase of the PDO.

So the current cold phase might not matter, as some have speculated.

But there is somewhat of a correlation between peak UAH lower tropospheric temperatures as a function of  peak Nino3.4 temperatures:

which is a little surprising, but the correlation between surface temperatures and lower tropospheric temperatures is not perfect (especially, it seems, after El Ninos):

(The correlation is only slightly better (R2 = 0.72) for a 1-month lag, and it degrades with higher lags after that.)

So again, it look iffy to guess what the coming El Nino might bring to atmospheric warming.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

How Might The Coming El Niño Compare to 1997-98?

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center's latest ENSO advisory has a more than 50% chance of an El Niño developing by summer:
Synopsis: While ENSO-neutral is favored for Northern Hemisphere spring, the chances of El Niño increase during the remainder of the year, exceeding 50% by summer.
with "the oceanic heat content to the largest March value in the historical record back to 1979" [graph].

How might it compare to the monster El Niño of 1997-98?

I took the CPC's "plume" of model predictions for the upcoming Nino3.4 sea surface temperature anomalies, and added the same region's SSTAs from the Big One. (Niño3.4 is a particular region in the equatorial Pacific ocean where heat values have historically been useful in classifying ENSOs.)

In the figure to the right, the solid green line above the others is the 1997-98 El Niño, plotted from March 1997 to December 1997. December saw the peak of that El Niño, with a Niño3.4 SSTA of 2.8°C.

The Big El Niño of 97-98 was significantly larger than the current predictions for the predicted El Niño, with SST anomalies over twice as large.

Of course there's a lot of uncertaintly; NOAA says their models aren't so good this far away:
Despite this greater model consensus, there remains considerable uncertainty as to when El Niño will develop and how strong it may become. This uncertainty is amplified by the inherently lower forecast skill of the models for forecasts made in the spring.
Will definitely be fun to watch. Roy Spencer says after past El Niños, peak tropospheric warmth occurs about 2 to 4 months into the next year.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Journalists Cheer Glenn Greenwald's Arrival in US

How often does this happen? -- From the NY Times:

Here's hoping Glenn Greenwald (at least) wins a Pulitzer Prize when they're announced on Monday. It's hard for me to imagine anyone more deserving -- and that the Pulitzers have more to lose if they don't give him one.

Correction and Clarification Regarding Anthony Watts

Anthony Watts tells me I made a mistake in my post about him and his financing the other day.

He says the $44,000 was for not for blogging, but for one-half of this web site: http://climatereferencenetwork.org/

The other half, he says, never came, because "the donor bailed after Gleick’s crime of impersonation and the subsequent hullabaloo."

GISS: 4th-warmest March

GISS found March to be the 4th-warmest March in their records, with an anomaly of +0.70°C, and the 25-warmest month overall, out of 1,611 months (134.25 years) since 1850.

Their 30-year trend remains at 0.17°C/decade, and their 15-year trend at 0.09°C/decade.

In the Northern Hemisphere is was the 3rd-warmest March, and 8th-warmest month since 1850, at +1.09°C. Yes, the Northern Hemisphere is seeing anomalies above +1°C. (The first occurred only in 1995.)

The Southern Hemisphere was only the 20-warmest March, at +0.30°C, and the 266th-warmest month there, again out of 1,611 months.

Maybe someday we will all end up moving to the Southern Hemisphere to escape climate change. At present the Northern Hemisphere has 3.9 times the population density of the Southern Hemisphere.

John von Neumann on CO2, From 1955

"The carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by industry's burning of coal and oil--more than half of it during the last generation--may have changed the atmosphere's composition sufficiently to account for a general warming of the world by about one degree Fahrenheit."

-- John von Neumann, "Can we survive technology?" Forbes, June 1955.
Here's a compilation of many more early papers and articles on CO2 and climate that I've been gathering....

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Anthony Watts Admits to Taking the Money

Update 4/11: Correction and clarification.

Maybe this is old news to everyone else, but it isn't to me: Anthony Watts just recently admitted to taking money from a Heartland Institute-ish donor.

You'll notice he can't come clean and say who funded him.

Or by how much.

{Aside: isn't it hilarious that Watts thinks people want him in jail? That ego knows no bounds....}

This, as far as I know, is the first major admission by Watts since he told me a year and a half ago that he got $44,000 in January 2012, from an "independent donor."

Perhaps it's the same donation he's referring to here.

Since he's not up-front about his funding sources, like scientists are, we really don't know.

In any case, $44K is quite a large sum just to blog. I guess it never occurred to him to blog out of conviction.

Patrick Moore Admits What He Left Out of His Congressional Testimony

I asked Patrick Moore, in email (identifying myself as a journalist), why he left out of his Congressional testimony the fact that the Sun's intensity is increasing by about 1% every 110 million years -- and so was about 4% lower 450 million years ago. His response:
If you had 5 minutes in the Senate I’m sure you would leave a few things out too.
Of course, that's a very major thing to leave out of the story. It's a HUGELY important fact to leave out of the story -- the most important thing, by far.....

Yet Moore left it out.

That's what he told me. Though his email was pretty confused, as you might expect:

Or, at least, it sure seems confusing to me.

Frankly, I don't believe Patrick Moore knew that the Sun was much weaker in the past. I think he had his (false and incomplete) CO2 story, and was going to go with it no matter what, not because he knew there was more to the story, but because he didn't, and was mostly ignorance of a deep understanding of deep time.

By the way, some scientists think that the dawn of the age of plants sucked enough CO2 out of the Earth's atmosphere to help cause the Ordovician–Silurian ice age. But Patrick Moore finds that too complicated to think about, I'm sure -- let alone mention to the U.S. Congress.

Over 70% Chance of an El Nino, Says Oz Bureau of Meteorology

Today's ENSO Wrap-up by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology estimates a greater than 70% chance an El Nino will develop this summer (Northern hemisphere summer; their winter), although they say it's too early to estimate its strength.

Some people are already trying to spin away the impact of this coming El Nino; Roy Spencer wrote:
Of course, an El Nino at the end of the record will increase the global temperature trend…at least temporarily…but El Nino is often followed by a cool La Nina, which would basically cancel out that effect.
UAH_LT_1979_thru_March_2014_v5Of course, a El Nino La Nina at the end of the record will increase decrease the global temperature trend…at least temporarily…but El Nino La Nina is often followed by a cool warm La Nina El Nino, which would basically cancel out that effect.

Though the world never did cool much after the 1997-98 El Nino, did it?

Notice how Spencer labels his graph with "El Nino Warming," but doesn't label the "La Nina Coolings." No bias there.

Monday, April 07, 2014

UAH (but not RSS) Again At Record (5yr) High

Both UAH and RSS have put up their temperature anomalies for the lower troposphere for March. For UAH the last 5 years are again at a record high, but the difference between them is growing:

(MA = moving average.) I've adjusted for baseline differences, so both sets of anomalies are relative to the UAH baseline of January 1981 - December 2010.