Uncommon Sense

politics and society are, unfortunately, much the same thing

Tempest erupts over hurricanes

Global warming debate at conference spawns name calling
October 26, 2006 Jim Erickson, Rocky Mountain News

BOULDER – The planet may be warming, but what started out as a polite discussion about hurricane trends turned plain hot here Wednesday.

At issue was the role – if any – that global warming plays in fueling monster storms.

But illustrating the volatile nature of the debate, the scientific conference descended into name calling.

Colorado State University’s William Gray, one of the nation’s preeminent hurricane forecasters, called noted Boulder climate researcher Kevin Trenberth an opportunist and a Svengali who “sold his soul to the devil to get (global warming) research funding.”

Trenberth countered that Gray is not a credible scientist.

“Not any more. He was at one time, but he’s not any more,” Trenberth said of Gray, one of a handful of prominent U.S. scientists who question whether humans play a significant role in warming the planet by burning fossil fuels that release heat-trapping gases.

“He’s one of the contrarians, some of whom get money to spread lies about global warming,” Trenberth said during a break following his presentation at the 31st annual Climate Diagnostics & Prediction Workshop. About 150 scientists from more than 10 countries are attending the weeklong meeting.

Trenberth and Gray traded barbs during Trenberth’s presentation to the group. But the harshest comments were made during interviews with a reporter afterward.

Even before last year’s record-smashing Atlantic hurricane season ended, scientists began debating global warming’s role.

Trenberth noted Wednesday that the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season spawned the greatest number of named tropical storms and the most hurricanes on record. It was the only year with three Category 5 hurricanes (winds of 156 mph and higher) and produced the most costly storm on record, Katrina, with damage estimates as high as $200 billion.

The tropical oceans, which provide the fuel for hurricanes, have warmed 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970.

Trenberth and his colleagues say there’s little doubt the warming is due in part to the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide.

At the same time, there’s been a surge over the past 35 years in the number and proportion of intense hurricanes, Trenberth said. It’s highly likely that greenhouse gases are partly to blame and that the trend will continue, he said.

“The prospects are for more intense storms, heavier rainfall and flooding, and more coastal damage,” Trenberth told the group.

He said that global warming boosted the amount of rainfall in several of the most powerful 2005 hurricanes – including Katrina and Rita – by 7 percent.

But Gray said there’s no evidence that hurricanes are intensifying and that “everything he (Trenberth) has shown can be refuted.”

And Gray wasn’t the only audience member to question some of Trenberth’s assertions.

“It’s impossible to say the exact percentage one can attribute to the impact of global warming,” said Muthuvel Chelliah of the U.S. Climate Prediction Center.

In addition, Trenberth failed to adequately explain why – if global warming continues to heat the waters that fuel powerful hurricanes – the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season has been so much wimpier than last year’s, Chelliah said.

During a break, Trenberth said the milder 2006 season was due largely to an unexpected Pacific El Niño that suppressed hurricanes in the Atlantic.

Natural climate variability – including the periodic swings between El Niño and La Niña conditions in the Pacific – will sometimes overshadow global warming’s influence on hurricanes, Trenberth said.

“Global warming is still there,” he said. “But this year, natural variability, especially El Niño, overwhelmed the contribution from global warming.”

Filed under: environment, science

Astronomy Picture of the Day

August 7, 2006 http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap060807.html

Our Sun is still very active. In the year 2000, our Sun went though Solar Maximum, the time in its 11-year cycle where the most sunspots and explosive activities occur. Sunspots, the Solar Cycle, and solar prominences are all caused by the Sun’s changing magnetic field. Pictured above is a solar prominence that erupted in 2002 July, throwing electrons and ions out into the Solar System. The above image was taken in the ultraviolet light emitted by a specific type of ionized helium, a common element on the Sun. Particularly hot areas appear in white, while relatively cool areas appear in red. Our Sun should gradually quiet down until Solar Minimum occurs, and the Sun is most quiet. No one can precisely predict when Solar Minimum will occur, although some signs indicate that it has started already!

Filed under: environment, science

Gas Escaping From Ocean Floor May Drive Global Warming

July 20, 2006 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060720103605.htm

ScienceDaily (Jul. 20, 2006) — Gas escaping from the ocean floor may provide some answers to understanding historical global warming cycles and provide information on current climate changes, according to a team of scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The findings are reported in the July 20 on-line version of the scientific journal, Global Biogeochemical Cycles.

Remarkable and unexpected support for this idea occurred when divers and scientists from UC Santa Barbara observed and videotaped a massive blowout of methane from the ocean floor. It happened in an area of gas and oil seepage coming out of small volcanoes in the ocean floor of the Santa Barbara channel –– called Shane Seep –– near an area known as the Coal Oil Point seep field. The blowout sounded like a freight train, according to the divers.

Atmospheric methane is at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide and is the most abundant organic compound in the atmosphere, according to the study’s authors, all from UC Santa Barbara.

“Other people have reported this type of methane blowout, but no one has ever checked the numbers until now,” said Ira Leifer, lead author and an associate researcher with UCSB’s Marine Science Institute. “Ours is the first set of numbers associated with a seep blowout.” Leifer was in a research boat on the surface at the time of the blowouts.

Aside from underwater measurements, a nearby meteorological station measured the methane “cloud” that emerged as being approximately 5,000 cubic feet, or equal to the volume of the entire first floor of a two-bedroom house. The research team also had a small plane in place, flown by the California Department of Conservation, shooting video of the event from the air.

Leifer explained that when this type of blowout event occurs, virtually all the gas from the seeps escapes into the atmosphere, unlike the emission of small bubbles from the ocean floor, which partially, or mostly, dissolve in the ocean water. Transporting this methane to the atmosphere affects climate, according to the researchers. The methane blowout that the UCSB team witnessed reached the sea surface 60 feet above in just seven seconds. This was clear because the divers injected green food dye into the rising bubble plume.

Co-author Bruce Luyendyk, professor of marine geophysics and geological sciences, explained that, to understand the significance of this event (which occurred in 2002), the UCSB research team turned to a numerical, bubble-propagation model. With the model, they estimated methane loss to the ocean during the upward travel of the bubble plume.

The results showed that for this shallow seep, loss would have been approximately one percent. Virtually all the methane, 99 percent of it, was transported to the atmosphere from this shallow seep during the blowout. Next, the scientists used the model to estimate methane loss for a similar size blowout at much greater depth, 250 meters. Again, the model results showed that almost all the methane would be transported up to the atmosphere.

Over geologic time scales, global climate has cycled between warmer, interglacial periods and cooler, glacial periods. Many aspects of the forces underlying these dramatic changes remain unknown. Looking at past changes is highly relevant to understanding future climate changes, particularly given the large increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere due to historically recent human activities such as burning fossil fuels.

One hypothesis, called the “Clathrate Gun” hypothesis, developed by James Kennett, professor of geological sciences at UCSB, proposes that past shifts from glacial to interglacial periods were caused by a massive decomposition of the marine methane hydrate deposits.

Methane hydrate is a form of water ice that contains a large amount of methane within its crystal structure, called a clathrate hydrate. According to Kennett’s hypothesis, climatic destabilization would cause a sharp increase in atmospheric methane –– thereby initiating a feedback cycle of abrupt atmospheric warming. This process may threaten the current climate, according to the researchers. Warmer ocean temperatures from current global climate change is likely to release methane currently trapped in vast hydrate deposits on the continental shelves. However, consumption of methane by microbes in the deep sea prevents methane gas released from hydrates from reaching the ocean surface and affecting the atmosphere.

Bubbles provide a highly efficient mechanism for transporting methane and have been observed rising from many different hydrate deposits around the world. If these bubbles escape singly, most or all of their methane would dissolve into the deep-sea and never reach the atmosphere. If instead, they escape in a dense bubble plume, or in catastrophic blowout plumes, such as the one studied by UCSB researchers, then much of the methane could reach the atmosphere. Blowout seepage could explain how methane from hydrates could reach the atmosphere, abruptly triggering global warming.

Thus, these first-ever quantitative measurements of a seep blowout and the results from the numerical model demonstrate a mechanism by which methane released from hydrates can reach the atmosphere. Studies of seabed seep features suggest such events are common in the area of the Coal Oil Point seep field and very likely occur elsewhere.

The authors explain that these results show that an important piece of the global climate puzzle may be explained by understanding bubble-plume processes during blowout events. The next important step is to measure the frequency and magnitude of these events. The UCSB seep group is working toward this goal through the development of a long-term, seep observatory in active seep areas.

Adapted from materials provided by University of California – Santa Barbara.

Filed under: environment, science

AP INCORRECTLY CLAIMS SCIENTISTS PRAISE GORE’S MOVIE

June 27, 2006 http://www.epw.senate.gov/pressitem.cfm?party=rep&id=257909

The June 27, 2006 Associated Press (AP) article titled “Scientists OK Gore’s Movie for Accuracy” by Seth Borenstein raises some serious questions about AP’s bias and methodology.

AP chose to ignore the scores of scientists who have harshly criticized the science presented in former Vice President Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth.”

In the interest of full disclosure, the AP should release the names of the “more than 100 top climate researchers” they attempted to contact to review “An Inconvenient Truth.” AP should also name all 19 scientists who gave Gore “five stars for accuracy.” AP claims 19 scientists viewed Gore’s movie, but it only quotes five of them in its article. AP should also release the names of the so-called scientific “skeptics” they claim to have contacted.

The AP article quotes Robert Correll, the chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment group. It appears from the article that Correll has a personal relationship with Gore, having viewed the film at a private screening at the invitation of the former Vice President. In addition, Correll’s reported links as an “affiliate” of a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm that provides “expert testimony” in trials and his reported sponsorship by the left-leaning Packard Foundation, were not disclosed by AP. See http://www.junkscience.com/feb06.htm

The AP also chose to ignore Gore’s reliance on the now-discredited “hockey stick” by Dr. Michael Mann, which claims that temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere remained relatively stable over 900 years, then spiked upward in the 20th century, and that the 1990’s were the warmest decade in at least 1000 years. Last week’s National Academy of Sciences report dispelled Mann’s often cited claims by reaffirming the existence of both the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. See Senator Inhofe’s statement on the broken “Hockey Stick.” (http://epw.senate.gov/pressitem.cfm?party=rep&id=257697 )

Gore’s claim that global warming is causing the snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro to disappear has also been debunked by scientific reports. For example, a 2004 study in the journal Nature makes clear that Kilimanjaro is experiencing less snowfall because there’s less moisture in the air due to deforestation around Kilimanjaro.

Here is a sampling of the views of some of the scientific critics of Gore:

Professor Bob Carter, of the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University in Australia, on Gore’s film:

“Gore’s circumstantial arguments are so weak that they are pathetic. It is simply incredible that they, and his film, are commanding public attention.”

“The man is an embarrassment to US science and its many fine practitioners, a lot of whom know (but feel unable to state publicly) that his propaganda crusade is mostly based on junk science.” – Bob Carter as quoted in the Canadian Free Press, June 12, 2006

Richard S. Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT, wrote:

“A general characteristic of Mr. Gore’s approach is to assiduously ignore the fact that the earth and its climate are dynamic; they are always changing even without any external forcing. To treat all change as something to fear is bad enough; to do so in order to exploit that fear is much worse.” – Lindzen wrote in an op-ed in the June 26, 2006 Wall Street Journal

Gore’s film also cites a review of scientific literature by the journal Science which claimed 100% consensus on global warming, but Lindzen pointed out the study was flat out incorrect.

“…A study in the journal Science by the social scientist Nancy Oreskes claimed that a search of the ISI Web of Knowledge Database for the years 1993 to 2003 under the key words “global climate change” produced 928 articles, all of whose abstracts supported what she referred to as the consensus view. A British social scientist, Benny Peiser, checked her procedure and found that only 913 of the 928 articles had abstracts at all, and that only 13 of the remaining 913 explicitly endorsed the so-called consensus view. Several actually opposed it.”- Lindzen wrote in an op-ed in the June 26, 2006 Wall Street Journal.

Roy Spencer, principal research scientist for the University of Alabama in Huntsville, wrote an open letter to Gore criticizing his presentation of climate science in the film:

“…Temperature measurements in the arctic suggest that it was just as warm there in the 1930’s…before most greenhouse gas emissions. Don’t you ever wonder whether sea ice concentrations back then were low, too?”- Roy Spencer wrote in a May 25, 2006 column.

Former University of Winnipeg climatology professor Dr. Tim Ball reacted to Gore’s claim that there has been a sharp drop-off in the thickness of the Arctic ice cap since 1970.

“The survey that Gore cites was a single transect across one part of the Arctic basin in the month of October during the 1960s when we were in the middle of the cooling period. The 1990 runs were done in the warmer month of September, using a wholly different technology,” –Tim Ball said, according to the Canadian Free Press.

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Filed under: environment, news media

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