Saturday, December 19, 2009

Acid oceans, the "evil twin" of climate change

In this photo taken Oct. 30, 2009, Research Director for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Andrew DeVogelaere paddles his kayak at the sanctuary in Monterey, Calif. Far from Copenhagen's turbulent climate talks, the sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters reposing along the shoreline and kelp forests of this protected marine area stand to gain from any global deal to cut greenhouse gases. (AP Photo/John Helprin)

MONTEREY BAY NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY, Calif. — Far from Copenhagen's turbulent climate talks, the sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters reposing along the shoreline and kelp forests of this protected marine area stand to gain from any global deal to cut greenhouse gases.

These foragers of the sanctuary's frigid waters, flipping in and out of sight of California's coastal kayakers, may not seem like obvious beneficiaries of a climate treaty crafted in the Danish capital. But reducing carbon emissions worldwide also would help mend a lesser-known environmental problem: ocean acidification.

"We're having a change in water chemistry, so 20 years from now the system we're looking at could be affected dramatically but we're not really sure how. So we see a train wreck coming," said Andrew DeVogelaere, the sanctuary's research director, while out kayaking this fall with a reporter in the cold waters.

Nothing in the treaty negotiations specifically addresses the effects of carbon absorption in the oceans on marine life, which studies show is damaging key creatures' hard shells or skeletons.

Oceans absorb about 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere from human activities each year, says a new U.N. report released at the Copenhagen talks this week. That helps slow global warming in the atmosphere, the focus of the Copenhagen talks.

But carbon dissolving in oceans also forms carbonic acid, raising waters' acidity that damages all manner of hard-shelled creatures, and setting off a chain reaction that threatens the food chain supporting marine life, including the lumbering sea mammals along the 276-mile coast of the California sanctuary and the rest of the U.S. West Coast.

By 2100, the report said, some 70 percent of cold water corals — a key refuge and feeding ground for commercially popular fish that also are food for the seals and otters — will be exposed to the harmful effects.

Click here for the complete article.

Wind shear determines whether man-made pollution strengthens thunderstorms

ScienceDaily (Dec. 17, 2009) — New climate research reveals how wind shear -- the same atmospheric conditions that cause bumpy airplane rides -- affects how pollution contributes to isolated thunderstorm clouds. Under strong wind shear conditions, pollution hampers thunderhead formation. But with weak wind shear, pollution does the opposite and makes storms stronger.

The work improves climate scientists' understanding of how aerosols -- tiny unseen particles that make up pollution -- contribute to isolated thunderstorms and the climate cycle. How aerosols and clouds interact is one of the least understood aspects of climate, and this work allows researchers to better model clouds and precipitation.

"This finding may provide some guidelines on how man-made aerosols affect the local climate and precipitation, especially for the places where 'afternoon showers' happen frequently and affect the weather system and hydrological cycle," said atmospheric scientist Jiwen Fan of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "Aerosols in the air change the cloud properties, but the changes vary from case to case. With detailed cloud modeling, we found an important factor regulating how aerosols change storms and precipitation."

The rest of this fascinating article is here.

Many goals remain unmet in 5 nations's climate deal

President Obama with Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao, across from him, the prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, right, and other world leaders at the Copenhagen climate summit on Friday.

COPENHAGEN. President Obama announced here on Friday night that five major nations, including the United States, had together forged a climate deal. He called it “an unprecedented breakthrough” but acknowledged that it still fell short of what was required to combat global warming

The agreement addresses many of the issues that leaders came here to settle. But it has left many of the participants in the climate talks unhappy, from the Europeans, who now have the only binding carbon control regime in the world, to the delegates from the poorest nations, who objected to being left out of the critical negotiations.

By the early hours of Saturday, representatives of the 193 countries who have negotiated here for nearly two weeks had not yet approved the deal and there were signs they might not. But Mr. Obama, who left before the conference considered the accord because of a major storm descending on Washington, noted that the agreement was merely a political statement and not a legally binding treaty and might not need ratification by the entire conference.

The three-page accord that Mr. Obama negotiated with the leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa and then presented to the conference did not meet even the modest expectations that leaders set for this meeting, notably by failing to set a 2010 goal for reaching a binding international treaty to seal the provisions of the accord.

The complete New York Times article is here.

Click here for the full text of President Obama's statement, announcing a preliminary climate change agreement.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Weathering a storm of stupidity

Children try to catch fish at a partially dried-up pond in Yingtan, Jiangxi province August 13, 2009.

The spread of secondary and latterly tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought. --P.B. Medawar

So what's next? A series of essays by Sarah Palin about the Large Hadron Collider and the mysteries of dark matter? An MIT lecture series by Rush Limbaugh regarding the thermodynamics of black holes? A Festschrift of Sean Hannity's scholarly articles on plate tectonics and volcano formation? Glenn Beck performing live heart-lung transplants on Fox News?

Everybody understands that these things couldn't happen. That when it comes to serious scientific endeavor, years of study and professional apprenticeship are required. In a word, expertise.

Ex-beauty contestants, drive-time DJs, TV sports announcers, hairstylists, newspaper columnists -- basically anybody whose math skills topped out in the 10th grade -- rarely have anything substantive to add to the sum of technical and scientific knowledge. That's what they most resent about it.

It's not impossible that such persons could educate themselves sufficiently to have an informed opinion, but it's rare. Most of us, most of the time, are like historian and blogger Josh Marshall: "The fact that the vast majority of people with specialized knowledge in the field think there's a problem is good enough for me," he wrote. "I can't be knowledgeable about everything. And I'm comfortable with the modern system in which the opinions of really knowledgeable people with expertise counts more in cases like this than people who know nothing at all."

Unless and until, that is, scientific endeavor impinges upon either A) religious belief, or B) the ability of tycoons to keep making money in precisely the way they or their ancestors have always made their money. Then it's every man and woman a climatologist, and every genuine expert an "elitist" enemy of God and the American way -- creationism with a thermometer.

(As a born-again Christian I see a need for religion and science. Each has it's place. What is troubling, terrifying to me, and many others who respect the scientific method, is the willingness of so many otherwise thoughtful, rational, logical people to "look away" and grasp at straws, rather than confronting what the evidence and science is telling us. Turning this into a political litmus test, a test of one's conservatism or liberalism, totally misses the point. The climate is changing, morphing. Some of this may be "natural", yes, but I don't find it far-fetched that a 38% increase in greenhouse gases correlates well with the 10 warmest years on record, all observed since 1998. The rest of the article is here).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dome homes could be hurricane-proof

By Adam Hooper

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) – It is not your typical looking home. But, according to builder David Smith, when it is all finished, your home could begin to save you money.

"This is energy efficient. It will save you any where from 50 percent or better on your electricity costs alone," said David Smith of Smith Family Dome Home Builders.

Besides looking different, a dome home is constructed quite different as well.

"We take a material and we inflate it like a balloon. Then we spray it with a polyurethane foam. We run rebar, and then we spray three and a half to five and a half inches of concrete on the inside," said David Smith.

According to David, dome homes are rated to withstand a category 5 hurricane, and an F5 tornado. For people living along the coast, this could be the answer.

"If you don't want to have to pack your things up and travel, if you want to protect your family and your belongings, you can stay in this house through anything," said David Smith.

And, for those who may be apprehensive about living in a concrete dome, when it is all done, it can look as normal as any other home.

"You can come out from the dome itself and make any kind of designs that you want. You can make the aesthetic appearance anything that you want," said David Smith.

(Call me crazy, but I don't think I want to live in a place where the only way to survive a category 4-5 hurricane is by living in a dome-home. Be sure to send this article to any friends/family in Florida.)