Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hanging around

Originally uploaded by pdecell
Saw this wonderful mantid at Prairie Park this afternoon. Just hanging out reminding me it's time to check up on climate change.

First off in California we have a voter initiative called Proposition 23 which attempts to roll back California's ambitious goals in the area of reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Who are main backers funding this proposition? If you guessed oil companies..you would be right according to this source:


By the way remember that Western Kansas representative that said global warming will be good for plant growth? Makes sense since more carbon dioxide leads to more photosynthesis, right? Well not so fast according to research reported on NASA's web site:


Apparently between 2000-2009 over all net plant growth world wide has been negative. Gains in plant growth in some areas are offset by losses due to drought in other areas. So like so many things in our grand uncontrolled experiment on enriching the atmosphere with extra carbon dioxide the outcome is a bit murky.

Speaking of murky, seemingly subtle changes in ocean characteristics may have big effects. A couple of interesting papers point out how the ocean's color and murkiness may relate to ocean temperatures and indirectly the severity of hurricanes. In a study reported in Science (http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2010/08/sea-murkiness-affects-hurricanes.html), scientists fortuitously found that areas of the ocean with less phytoplankton in surface waters seem to have fewer hurricane type storms. This is believed to be because phytoplankton absorb light and raise the temperature of the surface waters which in turn affects the development of tropical storms. In the absence of phytoplankton light can penetrate deeper into the ocean so the surface waters don't heat up so much.

Now there may be a complex tie in with climate change. Another study discussed in Scientific American (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=phytoplankton-population)looking at long term trends in phytoplankton abundance using a long term global data set suggests that phytoplankton abundance has declined by 40% since 1950. The scientists suspect that the decline is linked to warmer ocean temperatures because warmer surface temps reduce the exchange of water between the surface layers where the phytoplankton grows and cooler nutrient rich layers. To me this seems plausible since exactly this type of "stratification" is extremely well documented in the scientific literature.

The disturbing thing about this apparent reduction in phytoplankton abundance is that much of the oxygen in our atmosphere is produced by phytoplankton and phytoplankton are the base of oceanic food chains.
There is an interesting blog entry on the Accuweather web site (http://www.accuweather.com/blogs/climatechange/story/34446/global-temperature-trends-with-1.asp) looking at global temperature trends and decrying cherry picking of data by all sides in the climate change debate. Lots of graphs so you can judge for yourself.

By the way, Accuweather presents an analysis of the data for July 2010 in terms of how that fits in with long term climate trends: http://www.accuweather.com/blogs/climatechange/story/35467/observed-temperatures-from-jul-2.asp. The conclusions seems to be that July 2010 was the fifth warmest on record. To me this suggests that the much anticipated cooling trend has not been happening. Other researchers (http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/2010july/) are reporting that the first 6 months of 2010 are the warmest on record.

The NASA report says:

"The 12-month running mean of global temperature achieved a record high level during the past few months. Because the current La NiƱa will continue at least several months, and likely strengthen somewhat, the 12-month running mean temperature is expected to decline during the second half of 2010."

Note that they draw this conclusion from the 12 month running mean which includes the last five months of 2006 along with the first seven months of 2010. But again no suggestion of a long term cooling trend.

By the way, remember climate gate? Well the scientists involved have been basically cleared of any wrong doing by a British panel as explained in this article (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/08/science/earth/08climate.html?_r=2&src=mv) from the NY Times.

There were some problems noted by the panel that cleared the scientists.

Quoting from the Times article:

"But the panel also rebuked the scientists for several aspects of their behavior, especially their reluctance to release computer files supporting their scientific work. And it declared that a chart they produced in 1999 about past climate was “misleading.”

Personally I think there are some major issues that need to be addressed about the management and access to large data sets of all sorts, not just those related to climate change but that's a whole other topic!

cross posted from http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/dangerous-ideas/2010/aug/22/just-hanging-around-and-c/
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