Friday, September 11, 2009

Arctic shortcut beckons shippers as arctic thaws

MOSCOW — For hundreds of years, mariners have dreamed of an Arctic shortcut that would allow them to speed trade between Asia and the West. Two German ships are poised to complete that transit for the first time, aided by the retreat of Arctic ice that scientists have linked to global warming.

The ships started their voyage in South Korea in late July and will begin the last leg of the trip this week, leaving a Siberian port for Rotterdam in the Netherlands carrying 3,500 tons of construction materials.

Russian ships have long moved goods along the country’s sprawling Arctic coastline. And two tankers, one Finnish and the other Latvian, hauled fuel between Russian ports using the route, which is variously called the Northern Sea Route or the Northeast Passage.

But the Russians hope that the transit of the German ships will inaugurate the passage as a reliable shipping route, and that the combination of the melting ice and the economic benefits of the shortcut — it is thousands of miles shorter than various southerly routes — will eventually make the Arctic passage a summer competitor with the Suez Canal.

“It is global warming that enables us to think about using that route,” Verena Beckhusen, a spokeswoman for the shipping company, the Beluga Group of Bremen, Germany, said in a telephone interview.

(I wonder how the deniers are going to explain this one. Click here for the rest of the article in the Science section of the New York Times).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Widespead arctic wildlife changes seen with global warming

Scientists carrying out studies of wildlife in the Arctic say global warming is causing dramatic changes in animal and plant life, threatening some species with extinction.

The report is a compilation of studies of Arctic eco-systems by an international team of scientists who have been collaborating during the fourth International Polar Year,which ended in 2008.

Eric Post, a professor of biology at Penn State University and leader of the study team, says previous research has focused on the non-living or abiotic effects of global warming on the Arctic, including the melting of sea ice and subsequent rises in seawater levels. But Post says this is the first comprehensive report investigating the sweeping impacts of climate change on eco-systems and living creatures in the north polar region, including:

"Fresh water systems, terrestrial systems, resident species, migratory species, birds, mammals, plants, pretty much everything. It seems like wherever you look in the Arctic right now, things are changing quite rapidly," he said.

The rest of the article from the Voice of America can be found here.

Station fire 71% contained as weather turns in firefighters favor

Aftermath. From NASA's low-orbiting "Terra" satellite you can easily see the thousands of acres of land blackened, scorched by the recent fires. Less wind and higher relative humidity from an onshore wind flow in recent days has helped firefighters get the conflagration under control.

The Station fire is now 71% contained, fire officials said today, as cooler weather allow firefighters to set back fires on the massive blaze's eastern flank.

Officials also said the number of dwellings destroyed in the fire was 81, up from 78.

The fire battle has been hampered in recent days by winds. As a result, firefighters were not able to conduct a scheduled burnout operation east of Mt. Wilson on Wednesday.

“Most of the work is really being done inch by inch,” said David Ortiz, a Station fire spokesman. “It’s really steep terrain.”

Despite the winds, officials increased containment Wednesday from 62% to 71%.

The fire killed two Los Angeles County firefighters. Officials have classified the fire as arson.

(Source: L.A. Times)

As Gulf hurricanes get larger, tornado threat increases

Tornadoes that occur from hurricanes moving inland from the Gulf Coast are increasing in frequency, according to researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology. This increase seems to reflect the increase in size and frequency among large hurricanes that make landfall from the Gulf of Mexico. The findings can be found in Geophysical Research Letters online and in print in the September 3, 2009 issue.

“As the size of landfalling hurricanes from the Gulf of Mexico increases, we’re seeing more tornadoes than we did in the past that can occur up to two days and several hundred miles inland from the landfall location,” said James Belanger, doctoral student in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech and lead author of the paper.

Currently, it’s well known that when hurricanes hit land, there’s a risk that tornadoes may form in the area. Until now, no one has quantified that risk because observations of tornadoes were too sporadic prior to the installation of the NEXRAD Doppler Radar Network in 1995. Belanger along with co-authors Judith Curry, professor and chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Tech and research scientist Carlos Hoyos, decided to see if they could create a model using the more reliable tornado record that’s existed since 1995.

Click here for the rest of the article.

Research suggests urban sprawl, wet falls & winters affect severe weather

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., Sept. 8 (AScribe Newswire) -- Previously rare big city storms - like a tornado Aug. 19 that downed trees and ripped off roofs in downtown Minneapolis and the powerful thunderstorms in New York City a day earlier - may not be so unusual anymore.

As large urban areas continue to expand, they appear to influence tornadoes and other severe weather, research suggests. Cities could be even more at risk if located in a region experiencing a wet fall or winter, according to researchers from Purdue University and the University of Georgia.

One study by professors Dev Niyogi at Purdue and Marshall Shepherd at Georgia found that drought in the fall and winter appears to decrease the number of spring and summer tornadoes in the U.S. Southeast. It is possible that particularly wet fall and winter seasons may lead to more tornado activity but this is less conclusive and is the subject of ongoing research.

The research could eventually contribute to a system for predicting the severity of tornado season in the same way meteorologists and climatologists project hurricane season.

The rest of this fascinating article is here. Interesting theory - time will tell whether there really is a firm, undeniable connection.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Weather presenters grapple with uncertain climate

GENEVA — Familiar faces and voices took to the stage at the World Climate Conference over the past week as weather presenters grappled with a core issue, how best to inform their audience about climate change.

Wedged between the pondered complexity of climate scientists and the demands of the average viewer or listener for certainty come rain or shine, the weather men and women act as a go-between -- and the scapegoat if the forecast errs.

"The truth is we're the ones out there and the face they trust," remarked US TV weather anchor and meteorologist John Toohey-Morales during the Climate Broadcasts Forum in Geneva.

After two decades in the geopolitical and research arena, the science behind climate change is more conclusive and reliable than ever, meteorologists and officials said.

"Imagine farmers being able to determine what to plant and where based on drought forecasts three to five years out," said Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Weather forecasts have gained a degree of reliability that allows presenters to give their audience an idea how to dress or tend livestock for the next day or five.

But climate predictions seasons, years or decades down the road are another matter.

(Very interesting article - meteorologists, who specialize in weather, looking out the next 7 days or so, are not - automatically - experts on climate. It would be a little like saying a doctor who is a general practitioner is, by default, a gifted surgeon. That's a tough leap to make. BTW, I've never pretended to be a climatologist, either. I've been following the science (peer-reviewed science, not blogs and talking points put out by industry groups with a strong desire to maintain the status quo).

Click here for the rest of the article.

Arctic offers more evidence of human influences on climate change

A new study indicates that Arctic temperatures suddenly increased during the last 50 years of the period from A.D. 1 to the year 2000. Because this warming occurred abruptly during the 20th century while atmospheric greenhouse gases were accumulating, these findings provide additional evidence that humans are influencing climate.

Incorporating geologic records, biologic records and computer simulations, the study reconstructed Arctic summer temperatures at a resolution down to decades, and thereby extends the climate record a full 1,600 years beyond the 400 year-long record that was previously available at that resolution. This newly lengthened record shows that recent warming was preceded by a cooling trend that lasted at least 1,900 years and should have continued throughout the 20th century. These results indicate that recent warming is more anomalous than previously documented, says Darrell Kaufman of Northern Arizona University—the lead author of the study.

Click here for the complete article in U.S. News & World Report.