Friday, May 8, 2009

Climate change has begun, but hardly anyone has noticed

Rising sea levels have eroded much of the coastlines of the low-lying Carteret Islands situated 50 miles from Bougainville Island, in the South Pacific. Photograph: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert /Greenpeace

Journalists – they're never around when you want one. Two weeks ago a momentous event occurred: the beginning of the world's first evacuation of an entire people as a result of manmade global warming. It has been marked so far by one blog post for the Ecologist and an article in the Solomon Times*. Where is everyone?

The Carteret Islands are off the coast of Bougainville, which, in turn, is off the coast of Papua New Guinea. They are small coral atolls on which 2,600 people live. Though not for much longer. The complete text of the article in the Guardian is here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Climate change in pictures

(I think this is the start of something potentially significant. We've all seen the before/after pictures of melting glaciers around the world, but there are other, even more subtle examples of how the climate has changed over the last generation. I run into many Minnesotans who tell me how the weather patterns have changed on their farm, how new plants and flowers are sprouting in their yards, things that never used to grow here in the past. People, armed with nothing more than cameras, documenting the changes, the slow motion transformation, taking place in their yards over time).

Gavin Schmidt, a NASA climatologist, has in many ways become the news media’s conscience on climate science, exposing exaggeration and opinion in climate coverage on the blog he founded, In a recently published book, “Climate Change: Picturing the Science,” Mr. Schmidt and his co-author, the photographer Joshua Wolfe, attempt to tell the story of global warming with the same no-nonsense approach — albeit this time with photographs. “There is this tendency in the media to go for the dramatic shots with a very limited palate,” Mr. Schmidt said in a recent conversation with Green Inc. “So any time someone talks about storms, there’s a picture of a wave breaking against a beach, or a picture of a palm tree bending over in the middle of a hurricane, and if you’re talking about the Arctic, then you have to drag out a polar bear.

The article in the New York Times is here.

A web site highlighting the book "Climate Change. Picturing the Science" can be found here.

3-D Doppler: peering inside a severe storm

At WeatherNation we're taking advantage of a technological breakthrough: 3-D Doppler. It's more than just eye-candy. Now we can peer inside a severe, spinning "supercell" thunderstorm, highlighting regions producing large hail, even the rotation that usually precedes a developing tornado. In this image (taken from a severe storm near St. Cloud late this afternoon) the dark red area highlights parts of the thunderhead producing intense rain and hail > 1" in diameter. You can see this new weather technology in action at our client's sites:

Could you survive a tornado at home?

(May and June is prime time for tornadoes in Minnesota. If this is a typical year at least 25-30 tornadoes will spin up in the skies overhead. Most likely around the dinner hour, 4 pm to 7 pm, less than 1 in 500 thunderstorms will ever become severe enough to spawn a tornado. Tip-offs include large hail, a lowering [rotating] cloud base, and frequent lightning. At home the safest place to ride out a tornadic storm is still your basement, under the stairs, under a heavy piece of furniture, like a table or bench, if available. This will reduce the risk of injury from falling debris. If you don't have a basement find a small, interior room, like a closet or bathroom, away from outer walls and windows. Many people have survived tornadoes by seeking shelter in their bathtubs! One last note: don't wait for the sirens to sound to take action, keep in mind that the sirens were only ever meant to be heard outdoors. The NWS does a good job issuing watches when conditions are ripe, and warnings when tornadoes are sighted on Doppler or by professional [Skywarn} storm spotters, but they can't catch every single twister, in advance. Exercise common sense. If winds pick up suddenly, if hail reaches ping pong ball size or greater, if you see an ominous, greenish tint to the sky, better safe than sorry. Head for the basement and err on the side of safety!)

Forsyth County, NC -- Some Triad families are about to mark the anniversary of a tornado that tore apart their neighborhood. Some have been back in their rebuilt homes for just three weeks, and say they're better prepared to face this storm season.Eveline and Jim Smart won't be caught unaware if a tornado threatens again. They have weather radios upstairs and downstairs now.They've also made it harder for high winds to tear open their house, with hurricane straps in their roof. "They will hold your roof on," says Eveline. and "If the roof had held, we might not have had all the water damage."

The complete article is here.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Is global warming a crisis?

(Personally, I think this is the wrong question. I don't think we're yet at a crisis stage, but that doesn't mean we have the luxury of ignoring the science altogether and pushing this off on future generations. It's a little like insurance. Most of us acknowledge that we probably won't be involved in auto accidents or see our homes burn down, yet we continue to purchase insurance, no questions asked. Why? To prevent a ruinous, financially disastrous situation in the unlikely event we are involved in an accident. It's the same with climate science. Even if there's only a 1 in 3 chance that the atmosphere will continue to warm, with more negative consequences than positive outcomes, does it make sense to take some early, cost-effective steps today to insure that a worst-case outcome won't materialize? I'm not Chicken Little. The sky isn't falling. But it is warming, the 30 year trend is undeniable, and there are consequences to our carbon-intensive lifestyle. To ignore this altogether is reckless and some would say, immoral. What is a reasonable form of climate insurance that would make sense for America, even if global warming does turn out to be overblown? What reasonable, ultimately business-friendly steps should be taken today to foster new energy sources, new industries, new strategies that naturally reduce our reliance on carbon-based fuels over time? It's a loaded question, but I'm happy to see that government agencies, from the EPA and NASA to NOAA and the Executive Branch are taking the science seriously and taking the first, logical steps toward addressing the problem, and possible solutions).

Global warming has quickly become one of the most heated issues in America (pun intended). Rising temperatures and melting icebergs are indisputable evidence that the Earth is warming, but is this global heat wave a man-made crisis or just overblown hype? The complete article, focusing on arguments from both sides, the "Alarmists" and the "Deniers" can be found here.

It's sad that this discussion, like so many others, has become polarizing. It seems like climate change, like so many other important issues, has been taken over by the radical elements on both sides of the debate. Where is the common sense middle? Where is the compromise? We're so busy shouting at each other that we're not taking the time to talk to each other and LISTEN to each other. That's the only way that real progress is going to be made on what will probably be one of the big stories and issues of the 21st century.

The politics of climate hacking

Add this to your list of climate nightmare scenarios: In 2040, facing rising seas, the Qatari government starts polluting the stratosphere in order to cool the planet, precipitating an international crisis and possibly upsetting monsoon patterns. Freelance atmospheric modification may sound far-fetched, but the potboiler concept was on the agenda last week at an invitation-only, international workshop in Lisbon, Portugal. The private event was the first global powwow designed to explore the political aspects of geoengineering, or the deliberate manipulation of the climate. About 30 scientists and bureaucrats, representing 14 nations, mulled over the implications of global climate control in a wood-paneled conference room. The setting was the verdant grounds of an arts-and-science foundation started half a century ago by Armenian oil baron Calouste Gulbenkian.

(I know, it sounds like science fiction. But landing on the moon was considering science fiction as recently as 60 years ago. The scenario laid out in this story is not unthinkable or scientifically impossible to achieve. For a very interesting read click here).