Daily Archives: January 7, 2013

The Australian Heat Wave

Australia is experiencing a heat spell. The Climate Information Services of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has issued a special statement (I’ll provide some details below). This is not unexpected, since over the last few years global warming due to the human release of large amounts of fossil Carbon into the atmosphere has been heating everything up. In fact, a paper that came out mid (southern) winter 2008 predicted that by the end of the century, extreme high temperatures in Australia would reach 50 degrees or more. I’ll provide some data for that too. But first, since most of the readers of this blog live in the US I’ll provide a table showing the relationship between degrees F an degrees C.

20 68
30 86
40 104
50 122

So, when you reach 50C … well, there are recipes that are called “cooking” that use temperatures in that range.

ResearchBlogging.orgThe 2008 paper found the that we can expect extreme high temperature “values in excess of 50°C in Australia, India, the Middle East, North Africa, the Sahel and equatorial and subtropical South America at the end of the century.” The paper simulates future climate by looking at past and present conditions and factoring in the expected temperature changes from the ECHAM5/MPI-OM climate model which is a combination of the IPCC atmospheric general circulation model (ECHAM5) and MPI-OM ocean-sea ice component developed at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology. You can read the gory details here (PDF).

That work was done a few years ago, and one of the things I’ve noticed about predictions of future climate change done over the last five or six years is that they are under-estiamtes. If a 2008 paper says Australia will be hitting highs of 50 degrees C by 2095, then based on this heuristic (and it is merely a heuristic but so far one that is working pretty well) you might expect regular extremes higher than 50 degrees C in Oz by 2030 or so. (That uses the Thumsuck Climate Model technique in which we divide all the conservative estimates by three.)

We’ll see. I’m sure that work will be revised and updated soon enough and we’ll have a better model to work with. Meanwhile, climate science denialists are already cooking up a conspiracy theory in which evidence of an extremely warm period in the 19th century was erased by the Australian Scientists and NASA so we would think things are warmer now than today when in fact the warmest period was prior to WW I. Look for that, and laugh, because it is funny. (Not “funny ha ha,” so much. More like “funny, why are they still doing this?”)

So, what has been going on in Australia over the last few months and what is going to happen over the next several days? It’s been hot and it is going to be hot. From the BoM:

Large parts of central and southern Australia are currently under the influence of a persistent and widespread heatwave event. This event is ongoing with further significant records likely to be set. …

The last four months of 2012 were abnormally hot across Australia, and particularly so for maximum (day-time) temperatures. For September to December … the average Australian maximum temperature was the highest on record with a national anomaly of +1.61 °C, slightly ahead of the previous record of 1.60 °C set in 2002 (national records go back to 1910). In this context the current heatwave event extends a four month spell of record hot conditions affecting Australia. These hot conditions have been exacerbated by very dry conditions affecting much of Australia since mid 2012 and a delayed start to a weak Australian monsoon. … The current heatwave event commenced with a build up of extreme heat in the southwest of Western Australia from 25-30 December 2012 … Particularly hot conditions were observed on the 30th, with Cape Naturaliste observing 37.7 °C, its hottest December day in 56 years of record. From 31 December the high pressure system began to shift eastward … Temperatures reached 47.7 °C at Eyre on the 2nd its hottest day in 24 years of record, while Eucla recorded 48.2 °C on the 3rd, its hottest day since records began in 1957. … Hobart experienced a minimum temperature of 23.4 °C on the 4th (its hottest January night on record), followed by a maximum of 41.8 °C (its hottest maximum temperature on record for any month in 130 years of records) and the highest temperature observed anywhere in southern Tasmania.

The report includes the following two figures:

The maximum temperature anomaly from the 1961-1990 average for the last week of December (the start of the heatwave event in Western Australia). Units are °C.
The maximum temperature anomaly from the1961-1990 average for January 1 to 6. Units are °C.

According to the most recent news reports, things are pretty hard for people in Australia but there have been few deaths, possibly only one so far, due to heat as yet recorded. This is probably because Australia is in fact a fairly hot and dry country. This is not the same as a heatwave in the Upper Midwest in the US where conditions are different, the population may be more vulnerable, and there are a lot more people per unit area and heat waves often result in dozens, sometimes hundreds, of deaths.

As mentioned in an earlier post, fires have also been an issue in Australia. For example:

Fires are already burning in five states as a search continued for people missing after devastating wildfires in the island state of Tasmania.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard toured Tasmanian townships and promised emergency aid for survivors.

Residents told of a “fireball” that engulfed communities across the thinly-populated state at the weekend.
“The trees just exploded,” local man Ashley Zanol told Australian radio, recounting a wall of flames that surrounded his truck as he carted water to assist fire crews in Murdunna.

The township was largely levelled in the inferno.

Global warming. Not just a theory any more.

More discussion of climate change here.


SPECIAL CLIMATE STATEMENT 43: Extreme January heat. Last update 7 January, 2013. Climate Information Services. Bureau of Meteorology

Sterl, A., Severijns, C., Dijkstra, H., Hazeleger, W., Jan van Oldenborgh, G., van den Broeke, M., Burgers, G., van den Hurk, B., Jan van Leeuwen, P., & van Velthoven, P. (2008). When can we expect extremely high surface temperatures? Geophysical Research Letters, 35 (14) DOI: 10.1029/2008GL034071

What the heck is Vocal Fry?

Until a few minutes ago, I didn’t even know what the heck Vocal Fry is. Apparently some people have gotten really annoyed about it, as it is a speech mannerism that has emerged among young folks, who are always annoying, and especially females, who are always annoying. Apparently. (I also did not know that until a few minutes ago! I’m learning a lot of new stuff today!)

It’s been written up in a scientific journal (see below), in popular media, and it was brought to my attention by a facebook post of Debby Goddard’s. But of all the sources I’ve seen, the following video best describes the phenomenon for those who don’t already know what it is:

Speech mannerisms come and go, and they seem to be part of the cultural process of ever-shifting styles. Some have suggested (Trigger warning: Possible Pop Psychology!) that this is an ingroup-outgroup mechanism. If you don’t know the current mannerisms, you can’t sit at the Middle School lunch table with the other cool kids.

Here’s an interesting thing about speech mannerisms: When we Westerners see them in other cultures, we (well, not you and me, but those other Westerners) often glom onto them as markers for primitivism or as indicators of less than fully developed culture or even language. A great example for those who know it is the banter of the men in the film The Feast, a Chagnon film depicting a Yanomamo Feast (more about the feast here). The men are bartering, arguing, making alliances, and showing off, and it is done with a cadence almost as though they were rapping. This is on top of the already highly nasalized language, and with face and hand gestures that vaguely resemble Western children complaining about things. This makes them look like children. Of course, they are talking about important matters of local economy, about death and warfare, about relationships, marriage, and so on. They are not acting like children in their own culture but they are heavily invested in a highly stylized set of vocal mannerisms that are not easy for a Westerner (well, those other Westerners) to interpret.

ResearchBlogging.orgIt has been said that Vocal Fry is the new Valley Speech, and if so we can see the lilting rise at the end of every single sentence replaced with a dropping of tone and glottalization at the end of every sentence, on certain TV ads and in certain sitcoms.

Language log has a discussion here. Slate has something here. And, here it is in Science Now.

The Journal of Voice reports a study, Habitual Use of Vocal Fry in Young Adult Female Speakers.

The purpose of this study was to examine the use of vocal fry in young adult Standard American-English (SAE) speakers. This was a preliminary attempt to determine the prevalence of the use of this register in young adult college-aged American speakers and to describe the acoustic characteristics of vocal fry in these speakers. Subjects were 34 female college students. They were native SAE speakers aged 18–25 years. Data collection procedures included high quality recordings of two speaking conditions, (1) sustained isolated vowel /a/ and (2) sentence reading task. Data analyses included both perceptual and acoustic evaluations. Results showed that approximately two-thirds of this population used vocal fry and that it was most likely to occur at the end of sentences. In addition, statistically significant differences between vocal fry and normal register were found for mean F0 minimum, F0 maximum, F0 range, and jitter local. Preliminary findings were taken to suggest that use of the vocal fry register may be common in some adult SAE speakers.

You can access that paper here.

I think the most interesting finding may be one they are not too sure of based on the available data. Fry has been around a while, and has in the past been reported as a marker for larger scale chunks of speech, like paragraph-size utterances, but the new use is simply to fry-out the ends of sentences. If this turns out to be the case it constitutes an arbitrary re-use of an extant vocalization tool as a purely stylistic form rather than as a marker of meaning, since we probably already could tell where sentences ended. Also, it needs to be noted (as they do in the study) that this particular research does not identify focal fry as a thing done by females of a certain age. This study simply looked at females of a certain age, and did not attempt to identify the demographic parameters of the mannerism’s use.

More about Language here.

Wolk, L., Abdelli-Beruh, N., & Slavin, D. (2012). Habitual Use of Vocal Fry in Young Adult Female Speakers Journal of Voice, 26 (3) DOI: 10.1016/j.jvoice.2011.04.007

Photo of fries by Fklickr user Gudlyf

Global Warming Moves South #BigAussieHeat

Summer is coming on strong south of the Equator, and in Australia this has meant unprecedented record high temperatures, and in the state of Tasmania, severe brush fires that have destroyed numerous homes, adding to the bad news from fires in the southeastern mainland. Prime Minister Julia Gillard said “And while you would not put any one event down to climate change … we do know that over time as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events.” That is not exactly true, of course. There are no climate related events that lack the fingerprint of global climate change. Certain events would have occurred in some for or another in the absence of climate change but the chance of any given event is increased, and the potential severity of every single event is increased because of the Earth’s increased temperature from the human release of fossil Carbon into the atmosphere and other related causes.

My colleague Stephan Lewandowsky, of the University of Western Australia just sent me these observations, which have not yet been made public but will be verified shortly: “Never before in recorded history has Australia experienced 5 consecutive days of national-average maximum temperatures above 39C. Until today. And this heat is expected to continue for another 24-48 hours, extending the new record run to 6 or even 7 days. For context, the previous record of 4 days occurred once only (1973) and 3 days has occurred only twice (1972,2002).”

Here’s a map of the temperatures country wide yesterday:

Weather Data from Australia

More on Climate Change and Global Warming

Stories from the field: Jon Kalb’s Newest Book

People who do a lot of field work end up with interesting stories to tell, especially if the fieldwork is diverse and the conditions are adverse. Often, the sort of thing people want to know about is very different from the repertoire of available stories, but as long as the expectations of the audience is not too rigid, experienced fieldworkers in the various sciences that do field work make the best cocktail party extras.

I never met Jon Kalb, but we have a lot of colleagues in common. I first heard of him as one of the scientists on the same expedition that found the famous fossil “Lucy” (and her various friends and families). The whole Ethiopian foray was interesting as stories go. Research in the Afar region as well as down in the Omo basis was linked to numerous interesting stories worthy of a great deal of lecture time in any reasonable course on human evolution, or several pages of descriptive prose in any book on human evolution. And this is entirely aside from the actual discovery of any actual fossils.

I recalled that Kalb was the guy who was accused of being a CIA agent and thus tossed out of the country (Ethiopia) after doing quite a bit of work there. The person who told me that also assured me that it was not true; he was not a CIA agent. But that particular story goes with a lesson: don’t ever let anyone think you are a CIA agent because they’ll toss you out of the damn country.

The reason I’m telling you all this is because Joh Kalb has written a book, perhaps I can fairly call it a memoir if that term has not been broken into a million little pieces by some other author, of his time in the field. The Ethiopian bit is part of the story, but only a small part, as Jon had done quite a bit of work both before and after. Much of the attraction of books on human evolution and other field sciences is the fieldwork stories, and that’s what Jon’s book is all about. There are stories from North America, South America, Africa, from the driest regions of the world to under the sea. The research is all over the map as Jon was himself, with human origins work being only part of it. (Jon is a geologist so he is not bounded by taxon!)

Hunting Tapir During the Great Flood and Other Tales of Exploration and High Adventure is a rollicking adventure very much worth the read.

Kalb is also the author of Adventures in the Bone Trade: The Race to Discover Human Ancestors in Ethiopia’s Afar Depression.

More on Human Evolution

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