Monthly Archives: July 2015

Catastrophic Sea Level Rise: More and sooner

What is not new

Ultimately sea levels will rise several feet, given the present levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. We already knew this by examining paleo data, and finding periods in the past with similar surface temperatures and/or similar atmospheric CO2 levels as today.

I put a graphic from a paper by Gavin Foster and Eelco Rohling at the top of the post. It does a good job of summarizing the paleo data.

If we keep pumping CO2 into the atmosphere at current, or even somewhat reduced, levels for a few more decades, the ultimate increase in sea levels will be significant. Find the 400–500 ppm CO2 range on the map and notice that the average sea level rise in times past, indicated by the horizontal orange-reddish line, is 14 meters.

Let me rephrase that to make it clear. We have already caused something like 14 meters of sea level rise. Like the horrifically sad words uttered by a movie or TV character who has received a fatal wound and turns to the killer, uttering “You’ve killed me” (then they die), we’ve done this. It is just going to take some time to play out. But it will play out.

A conservative estimate is that likely sea levels will rise 8 meters or more, quite possibly considerably more. But generally, people who talk about sea level tend to suggest that this will take centuries. Part of the reason for that is that it takes a long(ish) time for the added CO2 to heat up the surface, then it takes a while for that heat to melt the ice sheets. However, there is no firm reason to put a time frame on this melting.

A new paper that is making a great deal of news, and that is still in peer review, suggests that the time frame may be shorter than man have suggested. We may see several meters of sea level rise during the lifetime of most people living today.

What is not known

We don’t really how long this will take. Looking at the paleo record, we are lucky to get two data points showing different ancient sea levels that are less than a thousand years apart. There are a few moments during the end of the last glaciation where we have data points several centuries apart during which sea levels went up several meters. We don’t have a good estimate for the maximum rate at which polar ice caps and other ice can melt.

The current situation is, notably, very different from those periods of rapid sea level rise. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is approximately double the Pleistocene average, and the rate at which CO2 levels and temperatures have gone up has not been seen in tens of millions of years. Whatever rate of sea level rise over the last several tens of thousands of years must be regarded as a minimum, perhaps a very low minimum.

What is new

The new paper argues for more sea level rise, ultimately, than many others have suggested, but it is still within the range of what we had already guessed from the paleo record. Most current research on the rate of glacial melting show relatively slow levels compared to what the new paper suggests. In particular, the new paper suggests that this is wrong, and that we may see three meters of sea level rise over the next fifty years.

The paper is very complex and covers a lot of ground that I will not attempt to address here. The tl;dr is that the researchers model the current melting of ice, and finds that the rate is accelerating over time. This means that current rates are a gross underestimate of the rate of sea level rise.

Here are two interviews with Michael Mann on the new work.

See also this by Joe Romm. Climate Crocks has Hansen, lead author, on CNN, here. See also this explainer by the paper’s first author.

Mann talks about some of the effects of sea level rise, including global effects. We are already seeing food prices being affected now and then by climate catastrophes. Consider the fact that much of the rice grown in southeast Asia is grown on land that will be inundated by this sea level rise. This applies to the US as well. This combined with increased drought in places that are not flooding, and social unrest such as occurred in Syria when crops fail – causing further agriculture in those areas to simply stop happening – will cause a major food crisis in the near future. Our children and grandchildren will be hungry, at war, living in a post-civilization world. That is the world those who deny climate science and stand in the way of taking action are causing.

Here is the abstract of the paper:

There is evidence of ice melt, sea level rise to +5–9 meters, and extreme storms in the prior interglacial period that was less than 1°C warmer than today. Human-made climate forcing is stronger and more rapid than paleo forcings, but much can be learned by combining insights from paleoclimate, climate modeling, and on-going observations. We argue that ice sheets in contact with the ocean are vulnerable to non-linear disintegration in response to ocean warming, and we posit that ice sheet mass loss can be approximated by a doubling time up to sea level rise of at least several meters. Doubling times of 10, 20 or 40 years yield sea level rise of several meters in 50, 100 or 200 years. Paleoclimate data reveal that subsurface ocean warming causes ice shelf melt and ice sheet discharge. Our climate model exposes amplifying feedbacks in the Southern Ocean that slow Antarctic bottom water formation and increase ocean temperature near ice shelf grounding lines, while cooling the surface ocean and increasing sea ice cover and water column stability. Ocean surface cooling, in the North Atlantic as well as the Southern Ocean, increases tropospheric horizontal temperature gradients, eddy kinetic energy and baroclinicity, which drive more powerful storms. We focus attention on the Southern Ocean’s role in affecting atmospheric CO2 amount, which in turn is a tight control knob on global climate. The millennial (500–2000 year) time scale of deep ocean ventilation affects the time scale for natural CO2 change, thus the time scale for paleo global climate, ice sheet and sea level changes. This millennial carbon cycle time scale should not be misinterpreted as the ice sheet time scale for response to a rapid human-made climate forcing. Recent ice sheet melt rates have a doubling time near the lower end of the 10–40 year range. We conclude that 2°C global warming above the preindustrial level, which would spur more ice shelf melt, is highly dangerous. Earth’s energy imbalance, which must be eliminated to stabilize climate, provides a crucial metric.

And here is a key graphic:

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 1.55.25 PM

The reference for the paper: Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms: Evidence from Paleoclimate Data, Climate Modeling, and Modern Observations that 2°C Global Warming is Highly Dangerous, by James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Paul Hearty, Reto Ruedy, Maxwell Kelley, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Gary Russell, George Tselioudis, Junji Cao, Eric Rignot, Isabella Velicogna, Evgeniya Kandiano, Karina von Schuckmann, Pushker Kharecha, Allegra N. Legrande, Michael Bauer, Kwak-Wai Lo.

June 2015 was warm

Every month NASA GISS comes out with the new data for the prior month’s global surface temperature, and I generally grab that data set and make a graph or two. In a way this is a futile effort because the actual global surface temperature month by month is not as important as the long term trend. But at the same time it is a worthy exercise because it is news, and especially lately, we seem to be breaking records of one kind or another every month.

This month I was out of town and actually traveling sans computer, when the NASA GISS data became available. So, for me to produce the graphs and report the news at this point is not that interesting. But, I do want to keep you updated.

June was, it turns out, a warm month. But also, there were corrections to the original data set this month that may cause some confusion. There are often, nearly monthly, but generally tiny corrections in the data, but this month the corrections were more extensive and involved changes in the way the monthly temperature anomalies are calculated.

June 2015 turns out to be the hottest June on record, at a whopping 0.80 degrees C above the 1951-1980 baseline used by NASA. That baseline is, of course, already well above the pre-industrial baseline. We are clearly above 1 full degree C above that.

Sou from Hot Whopper has produced a nice bullet list of results from the NASA GISS data as corrected, most of which I reproduce here:

  • No other month this year was hottest on record.
  • The highest anomaly this year is now March at 0.90°C, which makes it the third hottest March after March 2010, at 0.92°C and March 2002 at 0.91°C.
  • 2015 is still hottest on record so far. With the adoption of ERSST v4, some of the temperatures are higher. So are those of some other years, particularly in 2010, temperatures have been upped quite a bit. But all have changed.
  • April and May are still relatively cool, unlike in some other data sets. By cool I don’t mean cold. May was 0.76C above the 1951-1980 mean. It’s just that most people thought it would be among the hottest of Mays, particularly since ERSSTv4 was very high in May this year.
  • The lowest anomaly was in April this year, at 0.74°C above the 1951-1980 mean. 
  • The progressive year to date average up to and including June is 0.82°C above the 1951-1980 mean. In June 2010 it was 0.78°C above. (In June 2014, the hottest full year to date, it was 0.72°C above.)

Sou also has an update of her famous month to date chart, here. Go have a look.

The main change in the NASA GISS data is the use of ERSST v4 data for sea surface temperature. This changes all the NASA GISS data and requires that we throw out all our old graphs and make new ones. I’ll do that eventually. NOAA has also made this change.

One of the most important features of the new, and improved, data is that the so called “pause” in global warming looks a lot less like a pause than it did before, and it didn’t look much like a pause anyway. This of course has got the denialosphere all in a tizzy. And about that, we should really care not one bit. So that’s all I’ll say about it.

John Abraham, who has been making highly accurate predictions among his friends of what each month’s NASA GISS data will look like (I occasionally help him with this) has some bad news about the ocean:

As I have said many times on this blog, if you want to know how much “global warming” is happening, you really have to be able to measure “ocean warming”. That is because more than 90% of the excess energy coming to the Earth from greenhouse gases goes into the ocean waters. My colleagues and I have a new publication, which better characterizes this heating and also compares climate model predictions with actual measurements. It turns out models have under-predicted ocean warming over the past few decades. …

We separated the world’s oceans into the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian. All three of these oceans are warming with the Atlantic warming the most. We also calculated the ocean heating by using 40 state-of-the-art climate models. Over the period from 1970, the climate models have under-predicted the warming by 15%.

I’ve put the graphic from that study above, and it has this caption:

(a) Upper (0–700 m) OHC, calculated using 40 CMIP5 models (gray lines; black line is the ensemble mean). The CMIP5 results are compared with the observation-based estimate using the strategies presented in this study (red line) and NODC mapping (dashed blue line). Two major volcanic eruptions are marked by the black arrows. (b) Annual global-averaged upper ocean warming rates from the CMIP5 model results (gray lines; red line is the ensemble mean) and from observations (blue line), computed from the first differences of OHC at 700 m (units: °C yr?1). Source: Institute of Atmospheric Physics.

Why is Pluto not a planet?

Short answer: Pluto has only two of the three necessary characteristics to be called a planet. Pluto has not cleared its neighborhood, or orbit. But, of course, there are additional details.

The simplest reason that Pluto is not a planet is that planet experts say so, and this is their job. But you may be looking for a more detailed explanation.

Let’s look at what defines a planet. This could be a very long and tedious discussion, because “planet” is an ancient concept used long before scientists knew very much about them. Also, frankly, in many areas of science the definition of a thing, perhaps counter-intuitively to non-scientists, is often pretty irrelevant to its study. Definitions that change over time that are never quite in line with the phenomenon being observed, etc. may seem like an impediment to science, but they often are not. The definition of a “gene” has changed dramatically as we’ve learned more about them, but this shifting description has not hampered genetic research. To some extent this may be the same with planets. A “planetologist” who studied Pluto back when it was still counted as a planet would not have to find a new job when our solar system went from 9 to 8.

The International Astronomical Union has settled on a set of definitions of solar system bodies, which includes planets, dwarf planets (which are mostly minor planets), small solar system bodies, trans-Neptunian objects which also might be called plutoids (those are also minor planets) and some small solar system bodies (including some comets) and satellites, and satellites are, of course, things that go around things that are not the Sun. Confused? Probably, but that is not a big problem because while these various identified flying objects have complex overlapping categorical status, one type of object does not. Planets are planets and they are not anything other than planets.

To be a planet, you have to be in orbit around the Sun. This would rule out the Moon, which, if it was in orbit around the Sun instead of the Earth, could well be a planet.

To be a planet the object has to have sufficient mass to have been shaped by gravity to be (mostly) a globe. This depends on various things so at the low end of the mass spectrum there will be different masses and different sizes of things that don’t quite make it to globular status.

To be a planet the object has to have cleared its orbit. In other words, as an object orbits around the sun, it is likely to bump into other objects. Over a period of time, the object has finished bumping into everything it is likely to bump into, and thereafter has only a low probability of bumping into something. That does not rule out something bumping into the object, of course.

A globe shaped object that goes around the sun but that has not cleared its orbit is classified as a “dwarf planet.” This is of course historically contingent. In the early days of a solar system, perhaps there would be large star-circleing round things that have not yet cleared their orbit. This speaks to the strangeness of definitions alluded to above. The definition we use today to classify our solar system’s objects applies to a solar system developed to the extent ours is developed. The IAU nomenclature would probably need revisions if applied to all planetary-star systems in the Universe.

This scheme is not without its critics and there is indeed debate. Some of that debate is a bit nitpicky but still interesting. For example, Alan Stern, with NASA, notes that many planets have not really cleared their orbit, noting in relation to the Pluto controversy, “If Neptune had cleared its zone, Pluto wouldn’t be there.” Yes, apparently heavenly bodies have irony.

Anyway, as implied, Pluto is not classed as a planet because it has not cleared its orbit. Therefore it is a Dwarf Planet. Since it is far away (farther than Neptune) it also gets classed as a Trans-Neptunian Object. Furthermore, it is a Plutoid. That is simply a newer term applied to Trans-Neptuina dwarf planets.

The term Plutoid, then, refers to a dwarf planet, which for various reasons is apparently always specifically an ice dwarf, which is a trans-Neptunian body (orbiting most of the time beyond Neptune) that is sufficiently massive to be shaped like a globe. This term, plutoid, is officially adopted A plutoid or ice dwarf is a trans-Neptunian dwarf planet, i.e. a body orbiting beyond Neptune that is large enough to be rounded in shape. The term plutoid was adopted by the International Astronomical Union’s Committee on Small Bodies Nomenclature, but not by the working group on Planetary System Nomenclature. So you can use Plutoid or Dwarf Planet, or Ice Dwarf, depending on whom you wish to annoy.

Pluto, Eris, Haumea, and Makemake are the only known Plutoids. They are small enough and far enough away that more could be discovered.

Suddenly, The Atlantic. And Delores.

But first a word bout Chan-Hom. That typhoon messed with China but not as badly as originally feared, because the storm turned to the east a bit. Now, Chan-Hom is heading for North Korea where it will come ashore as a wet tropical storm. I would not be surprised if more bad stuff happened there than with Chan-Hom’s glancing blow over the last 24 hours or so.

Now I’d like to direct your attention the Atlantic Ocean for a moment. Due to vertical wind shear and aridification-induced North African dust, we have been expecting that one effect of climate change would be that most (but not all) Atlantic Hurricane seasons would be attenuated. Add in El Niño and you get more of that attenuation. On the other hand, with Weather Weirding also associated with climate change, may be we’ll see more oddities than previously in the basin. This year, the Atlantic Hurricane season has been very anemic, maybe even more anemic than last year.

But suddenly, something might be happening and it might be a little odd.

two_atl_2d0

Disturbance Number 1 is way far from the area where hurricanes normally form, and is classified as a non-tropical system. It is not likely to do anything. But it is sufficiently active that it got a mention by the National Weather Service and they are watching it closely.

Yes, folks, that’s all we’ve got in the Atlantic.

Meanwhile there have been many often quite active storms in the Pacific, including Chan-Hom of course, and now there is a named storm in the Eastern Pacific. It is Dolores (see image above). Delores is likely to turn into a hurricane some time tomorrow, and the storm will continue wet northwest out to sea, staying away from Mexico, through the work week. It is not going to become a very powerful hurricane (though all hurricanes are of course powerful) during that time. After that it all depends on how far north Delores drifts. The farther north, the more likely to weaken.

Meanwhile from the Weather Underground, we have this amazing graphic showing seven notable tropical energy blobs, including several named storms, some hurricanes.

gl_sst_mm

Super Typhoon Chan-hom

UPDATE: There are significant changes (as of Friday mid day Middle America Time) in the track and strength of the storm, mostly good news for china. See here for updates.

A large typhoon (hurricane) is heading for China and is expected to make landfall in the vicinity of Shanghai. The image above is from the Japan Meteorological agency, and the image below is from JAM via Jeff Masters Blog.

"Typhoon Chan-hom as seen by radar on Okinawa at 7:45 pm EDT Thursday (08:45 JST Friday, July 10), 2015. At the time, Chan-hom was a Category 4 storm with 130 mph winds."
“Typhoon Chan-hom as seen by radar on Okinawa at 7:45 pm EDT Thursday (08:45 JST Friday, July 10), 2015. At the time, Chan-hom was a Category 4 storm with 130 mph winds.”

Apparently Chan-hom will make landfall in a region that very rarely sees typhoons. Chan-hom will be, according to Masters,

… one of the strongest typhoons on record for a portion of the country unused to strong typhoons. Of particular concern is Chan-hom’s storm surge, which has the potential to bring the highest water levels ever observed into Shanghai, China’s most populous city, with 23 million people in the metro area.

This is all going to happen Saturday US time, in the wee hours of the morning, but PM locally. The storm, now a category 4, will likely be a category 2 at the time of landfall, which is still a problem.

The region has real tides, so a storm surge of several feet during low tide may be not such a big deal, while a storm surge on top of high tide could be devastating. In 1956 a storm came through with a nearly 6 foot storm surge but the normally 7+ foot tide was not high. In 1997, Winnie, a mere Category 1, struck near Shanghai. According to Jeff Masters,

the storm surge from Winnie was only 5.5″ (14 cm) below the top of the 19.2-foot (5.86 meter) Suzhou Creek floodgate that protects downtown Shanghai on the Huangpu River, which flows through the center of town. This floodwall was rated to protect against a 1-in-200 year flood, and was overtopped by about one foot (30 cm) along a 8.5 mile (13.7 km) section inland from the downtown area, flooding over 400 homes

The tied, therefore, will make a huge difference, and it is probably too early to say much about the co-occurrence of high tide and Chan-hom’s landfall.

Jeff has a LOT more on this storm and several related issues such as sea level rise in the area at his post.

Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse: Apple Magic Mouse Replacement

Problems with the Apple Magic Mouse

I had been using the stock Apple Magic Mouse on an iMac. The right click often didn’t work properly. Also, selecting and dragging files in Finder, or the Finder replacement I use (PathFinder) often failed. I figured the former was related to the mouse but assumed the latter was related to the OS. That turns out to not be the case.

The Magic Mouse will run on any AA batteries but if you don’t want to change the batteries a lot and have other problems, you need to use super-duper electronic device batteries. I think I was spending at least $50 a year on batteries. That Magic Mouse is a great piece of design and innovated in being a device that could handle gestures as well as act like a normal mouse.

But eventually my Magic Mouse started to get old, started burning through batteries more quickly, and most importantly, started disconnecting or otherwise giving problems. No big deal, mice get old and die. Time to get a new one.

In considering replacing it with a new Magic Mouse, I looked into alternatives and found the Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse t631 (not to be confused with the t630). It is explicitly a replacement for the Magic Mouse, but officially also runs on a Windows machine. Checking further, I also found, as is the case with so many devices including those made by Logitech, that it also works on a Linux machine, though the manufacturer does not support it.

Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse t631

Knowing that the mouse works on Linux and knowing that I needed a new mouse for my Linux laptop anyway, I went ahead and bought the Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse T631 for Mac (for somwhere south of $60, which I think is cheaper than a new Magic Mouse).

The problem I had with double clicking is gone. So, too, is the problem I had with selecting files. Had I known that was the mouse, I would have gotten a new mouse a long time ago (I doubt this is a Magic Mouse problem, probably something wrong with my specific mouse from the get-go).

The Logitech mouse will not be liked by everyone. When I first started using the Magic Mouse I found the touch was way to sensitive. But in short order I got used to that. People who like the fact that the Magic Mouse has a hair trigger on the click may be annoyed by the fact that you have to push harder to click with the Logitech Ultrathin. Personally, I’m fine with that and probably prefer it.

The Logitech Ultrathin is, well, ultra thin, and generally, much smaller than the Magic Mouse (but about the same width, which is important for gestures). Given Apple’s trend towards extreme smallness, this should actually excite Apple Ecosystem denizens. For me, again, the smallness is fine. Personally, I prefer to move back and forth between mice of very different sizes, shapes, and overall feel as I move between computers. That is probably just a quirk of mine but I think not ensuring that my hands are always configured in the same exact way no matter what reduces muscle and joint fatigue, decreased the chance of carpel tunnel syndrome, etc.

The mouse has all the usual gestures. Oddly, even though the Logitech Ultrathin is designed as a Magic Mouse replacement, it has several gesture features that don’t apply to the Mac, but do work with Windows to do various things. For example, there is a left and right edge swipe. It also has an app espose gesture that works on the Mac. The gestures are highly configurable and can be disabled.
Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 9.22.25 AM
Seeing this extra gesture functionality makes me want to try it out on Linux sooner than later. Note, for example, that the Logitech Ultrathin has a middle click. Yay for the middle click! (This especially applies to emacs users.) Again, I’ve not tried it out yet, but I’m sure it will work on Linux with a little tweaking.

The Logitech Ultrathin is a Bluetooth mouse, so your device is going to have to be a bluetooth device. Also, it has a button on the bottom that effectively changes the mouse’s identity, so you can pair one identity with one computer, the other with a different computer. This allows you to easily switch between two computers. All the literature with the mouse talks about doing this with two different Macs, but I don’t know why that wouldn’t work in general. I’ve not tried to pair it with my android phone yet… or an iPad … We’ll see.

ultrathin-touch-mouse-t631 (1)The mouse runs off an internal rechargeable battery, so that 50 bucks a year I’m spending on batteries for the Magic Mouse paid for the Logitech Ultrathin, assuming it lasts just over a year. It has a fast charge, so one minute of charge is said to produce one hour of use-juice. The company says that one and a half hour of charge gives you about ten days of use. So, remembering to plug it in all night now and then will do it. Which, of course, I won’t remember, but it is a nice thought.

There is a design flaw, in my opinion, that I want to mention. You plug the charge cord, a micro-USB (which is highly convenient) into the bottom of the mouse. So you can’t use it while it is charging. I’d rather have the mouse hook up to the charger and still be usable, even if it has a cable hanging off it, for those moments when I have to keep working but forgot to charge it. I’m not sure why they made it this way.

And another thing, one of those strange quirks of the Magic Mouse, now solved. For reasons I did not understand at the time, Google Maps were useless on my iMac. When trying to navigate (using the mouse) by dragging the map, the zoom mode would activate and the map would start growing and shrinking rapidly and randomly. I’d be looking at the distance between my hope and my son’s new grade school, and suddenly I was comparing the distance between Coon Rapids, Minnesota and Bognor Regis, England. With the new mouse, that does not happen. So that is yet another quirk that was the Magic Mouse’s fault, now solved.

The mouse does not require installing configuration software but you will probably regret not doing so. So do that. Easily done on a Mac, and it works. If I experiment with Linux, I’ll write something up on what esoteric command line magic you will need to make the mouse sing on that OS.

Conspiracies all the way down: Is your local climate contrarian a kook or a crook?

A new paper has just been published. This paper is going to cause an uproar in the science denialist community. Mud will be thrown. Tin hats will be donned. Somebody better check the oil pressure.

Conspiracies everywhere

I see conspiracies everywhere. It’s true.

Look at any internet site that talks about health, disease, diet, or anything related. Some of those sites will be legit science based sites. The majority will be sites feeding you woo. The anti-Vaxers, the anti-Milkers, the Homeopaths, man of the “natural food” sites. Now look more closely at those sites to find out what they provide as proof of their main arguments. In there with that proof you will find, each and every time, a reference to somebody conspiring with somebody to keep the truth away from you.

There is an interesting research project by Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, and others, that has emerged in written form in a few places, that looks at conspiracy ideation in relation to science denial. An earlier version of this research was subjected to significant and somewhat effective attacks (effective as in a monkey is effective at getting attention when it throws poop at you) against this research by conspiracy driven anti science activists involved in some sort of conspiracy! Against the people studying conspiracy!

Now, there is a brand new paper by Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, Klaus Oberauer, Scott Brophy, Elisabeth A. Lloyd, and Michael Marriott, called
Recurrent Fury: Conspiratorial Discourse in the Blogosphere Triggered by Research on the Role of Conspiracist Ideation in Climate Denial, in the current or upcoming issue of the Journal of Social and Political Psychology. The abstract reads:

A growing body of evidence has implicated conspiracist ideation in the rejection of scientific propositions. Internet blogs in particular have become the staging ground for conspiracy theories that challenge the link between HIV and AIDS, the benefits of vaccinations, or the reality of climate change. A recent study involving visitors to climate blogs found that conspiracist ideation was associated with the rejection of climate science and other scientific propositions such as the link between lung cancer and smoking, and between HIV and AIDS. That article stimulated considerable discursive activity in the climate blogosphere—i.e., the numerous blogs dedicated to climate “skepticism”—that was critical of the study. The blogosphere discourse was ideally suited for analysis because its focus was clearly circumscribed, it had a well-defined onset, and it largely discontinued after several months. We identify and classify the hypotheses that questioned the validity of the paper’s conclusions using well-established criteria for conspiracist ideation. In two behavioral studies involving naive participants we show that those criteria and classifications were reconstructed in a blind test. Our findings extend a growing body of literature that has examined the important, but not always constructive, role of the blogosphere in public and scientific discourse.

The authors note that there are generally two reasons someone would reject established consensus climate science. One is their politics (climate change is truly, an inconvenient truth for them). The other is conspiracist ideation, or “…person’s propensity to explain a significant political or social event as a secret plot by powerful individuals or organizations.” They point out that there is a sensible link between rejecting an area of science and believing in a conspiracy. In essence, a significant conspiracy is required in order for thousands of research scientists working in hundreds of institutions across dozens of countries to all be saying essentially the same thing about a major area of science. Conspiracy is not enough. Massive conspiracy is required. “In the case of climate change, several qualitative analyses have shown that denial is suffused with conspiratorial themes, for example when dissenters are celebrated as “Galileos” who oppose a corrupt scientific “establishment”.” Consider this:

Smith and Leiserowitz (2012) found that among people who reject the findings from climate science, up to 40% of affective imagery invoked conspiracy theories. That is, when asked to provide the first word, thought, or image that came to mind in the climate context, statements such as “the biggest scam in the world to date” would be classified as conspiracist.

The authors describe two previous studies that form the basis for the current project.

The first study, which took its sample from visitors to climate science blogs, is known as LOG13. A pre publication version of the paper along with the data was made available in Summer 2012. The second paper is known as GLO13.

These papers replicated prior research, identifying a link between preferences for laissez-faire free market economics and the rejection of climate science. Conspiracy played a role in a different group.

Conspiracist ideation, measured by endorsement of items such as “A powerful and secretive group known as the New World Order are planning to eventually rule the world” constituted another but lesser contributing factor. Notably, notwithstanding the rather different pools of participants and differences in methodology, the size of the effect of conspiracist ideation on rejection of climate science … was virtually identical across both studies.

LOG12 caused a great deal of discussion on anti-climate change science blogs.

It wasn’t just conversation. There were intensive efforts to stop the publication of LO12. In fact, a real life conspiracy was organized by nefarious conspirational (is that a word?) individuals who tried very hard to keep a paper about conspiratorial ideation from being published in a peer reviewed journal. It got really nasty and if it wasn’t for the rather scary nature of some of the kooks who carried out this activity it would have been really funny. It is also worth noting that the publisher that was attacked by the conspiracy to stop the conspiracy paper from being published had apparently had their cojones removed at birth and totally caved. That was not their only problem. The paper, widely known as “Recursive Fury,” was eventually withdrawn, though made available elsewhere by agreement with the publishers.

To our knowledge this article, called Re- cursive Fury from here on, became the most-read article in psychology ever published by that journal (approximately 65,000 page views and 10,000 downloads at the time of this writing). Recursive Fury also received some media attention, including in the New York Times (Gillis, 2013). After the journal received a barrage of complaints from a small number of individuals, the article was eventually withdrawn (in March 2014) for legal, but not academic or ethical reasons. The publisher deemed the legal risk posed by a non-anonymized thematic analysis too great.

There was fallout. Editors resigned. Other bad stuff happened. Other publishers of scientific journals around the world will not do what the Recursive Fury paper publsihers-withdrawers did because of lessoned learned. That particular kerfuffle changed the world a little.

From Recursive Fury to Recurrent Fury

Anyway where was quite a conversation over Recursive Fury, and the current paper, Recurrent Fury, is a study of that conversation.

This paper consists of three separate but related studies, and is best summarized by Stephan Lewandowsky in a blog post:

In a nutshell the new article applies criteria from the scholarly literature on conspiracist ideation to the public discourse in the blogosphere in response to the publication of LOG12. The first study reports a thematic analysis that establishes the presence of various potentially conspiracist hypotheses in the blogosphere in response to LOG12. The second study shows that when “naïve” judges (i.e., people who are not conversant with any of the issues and are blind to the purpose of the study) are given the blogosphere content material, they reproduce the structure of hypotheses uncovered in our thematic analysis. In a final study, naïve participants were presented with a sample of anonymized blogosphere content and rated it on various attributes that are typical of conspiracist discourse. This final study found that blogosphere content was judged extremely high on all those attributes. For comparison, the study also included material written by junior scholars who were instructed to be as critical as possible of LOG12. This comparison material was rated lower on all conspiracist attributes than the blogosphere content, but it was rated higher on an item that related to “reasonable scholarly critique”—in a nutshell, the blogosphere discourse was identified by blind and naïve participants as being high on conspiracism but low on scholarship.

These results add to a growing body of research on the nature of internet discourse and the role of the blogosphere in climate denial. It also confirms that conspiratorial elements are readily identifiable in blogosphere discourse, which should not be altogether surprising in light of the fact that a U.S. Senator has written a book entitled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

See also: Curses! It’s a conspiracy! The Fury is Back Thrice Over at HotWhopper

The new article goes beyond Recursive Fury in two important ways:

(1) All content is anonymized and all quotations have been extensively paraphrased to prevent identification of authors. Similarly, the corpus of text underlying the analysis is no longer publically available. These step was undertaken to guard against intimidation of the journal, even though Frontiers’ own expert panel had confirmed our right to subject non-anonymized public speech to scholarly analysis, and even though the initial article was written and conducted with ethics approval from the University of Western Australia.

(2) In the new paper, the thematic analysis is confirmed by two behavioural studies involving naïve participants who were blind to the identity of all parties involved and unaware of the source of the statements they were processing.

Stephan also has an FAQ on the paper here.


Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J., Oberauer, K., Brophy, S., Lloyd, E. A., & Marriott, M. (2015). Recurrent fury: Conspiratorial discourse in the blogosphere triggered by research on the role of conspiracist ideation in climate denial. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 3 (1). doi: 10.5964/jspp.v3i1.443.

Global Warming: Earth, Wind, Fire, and Ice

Focusing on Earth, but also a few tidbits on wind, fire, and ice, some current news and observations about global warming.

Earth

As humans release greenhouse gas pollutants (mainly CO2) into the atmosphere, the surface of the Earth, and the top 2000 meters of the ocean, heat up. But some of the CO2 is absorbed into plant tissues and soil, as well as in the ocean or other standing water. Historically, about 30% of the extra CO2 is absorbed into the ocean, and another 30% converted into (mainly) plant tissue. We hope that enough CO2 is absorbed that the effects of greenhouse gas pollution is attenuated, at least a little. Unfortunately, there are two things that can go wrong. First, these “Carbon sinks” — places where the CO2 is either stored or converted into Carbon-based tissue, could stop working. Second, some of these Carbon sinks could reverse course and start releasing, rather than absorbing, Carbon.

The CO2 released in the atmosphere during any given time period starts a process of warming that takes years to finish. We know how much CO2 we have added to the atmosphere (we went from the mid 200’s ppm, parts per million, before this all started to 400ppm). We know how much we are currently releasing and we can estimate how much we will be releasing in coming years. Putting this all together with some very fancy physics and math, we can estimate the amount of surface warming over coming years. This calculation includes the Carbon sinks. If the Carbon sinks stop sinking Carbon, or worse, start releasing previously trapped Carbon, then future warming (next year, next decade, over the next century) will be greater than previously expected.

And there is now evidence that this is happening.

Andy Skuce has written up two pieces, here and here, that explain this. It is also written up here, and the original research is here.

This research suggests that some natural Carbon sinks are slowing down in the amount of Carbon they take in, or perhaps switching to releasing Carbon.

The problem is actually very simple to understand. In order for CO2 to be converted to O2 (free oxygen) and some combination of C and other elements (to make plant tissue), the other elements have to be available in sufficient quantity. For many terrestrial ecosystems, CO2 was a limiting factor (keeping water and sunlight out of the picture or constant). So, adding CO2 means more plant growth. But at some point, the other elements that are required to make plant tissue, such as Nitrogen and Phosphorous (otherwise known as fertilizer) are insufficient in abundance to allow plants to use that CO2. This would reduce or flatten out the amount of extra CO2 that can be trapped in solid form. At this point, the terrestrial biomass starts to release, rather than absorb, CO2.

Why would the terrestrial Carbon sink not simply stop absorbing Carbon, and start to release it? Well, because I as fibbing a little when I said this is simple. The more realistic version of the system has Carbon going in and out of the different parts of the system (atmosphere, ocean water, plant tissue, etc.). With warming temperatures, we expect the release of Carbon from terrestrial systems to increase in rate. So, before nutrient limitation is released, there is Carbon going in and Carbon going out, but on average, mostly going in. With Nutrient limitation on the system, when there isn’t enough Nitrogen or Phosphorus to match up with the CO2, the release continues while the absorption stops. But because of warming, the release not only continues, but increases. So, in coming decades, the net effect is that parts of the terrestrial ecosystem contributes to atmospheric CO2.

At present, climate scientists (mainly in the context of the IPCC) have estimates of future warming that involve estimates of how much CO2 we add to the atmosphere. All the known factors have been taken into account, including the Carbon cycle (which includes Carbon moving between the atmosphere, the ocean, and the plant and soil system at the surface. This research indicates that the numbers have to be changed to account for nutrient saturation.

This graph shows how it works. The black line is the increase in plant growth as originally modeled under a “high-emissions” scenario. This shows a 63% increase in plant growth by the end of the century owing to CO2 fertilization. The red line indicates the amount of extra plant growth that would actually happen due to limitations of Nitrogen. The blue lie indicates the amount of plant growth due to the limitation of Phosphorus. These are 29% and 20%, respectively.

wieder-et-al-2015-fig1a_599x329

If we include the increase in release of Carbon due to warming conditions (basically, more and faster rotting of dead plant tissue), the existing models produce the black line in the graph below. There is still an increase in plant growth, and the plant-based Carbon sink is still working. If limitations on nitrogen and phosphorus are considered, we get the red and blue lines.

wieder-et-al-2015-fig1b_600x329

This amounts, approximately, to adding about 14 years of human greenhouse gas pollution (at the current rate) to the time period under consideration (from now to 2100).

So that’s the news when it comes to climate change and the Earth. But what about the wind?

Wind

No new research here, just an observation. Where does wind really matter? Where do you really feel the wind? Wind is the expression of the large scale climate system (modified by local conditions) which is in turn the result of the spinning of the Earth and the heating of the planet unevenly by the sun, like it does. A valid rule of thumb is more heat, more wind, but that is a gross oversimplification. At a more complex level, more heat equals more wind doing different things in different places than usual, and also more water vapor in the air, and all this has to do with those times and places where we really feel the wind the most: Storms.

Tenney Naumer (of Climate Change: The Next Generation fame) came across an amazing graphic of the Earth, looking mainly at the Pacific, showing some wind.

StormWorld

The graphic is from here, and I added the “Storm World” just for fun. Except it isn’t really fun. The date of this graphic is, I think, July 5th or 6th.

Your homework assignment is to identify the named tropical storms shown in the graphic.

Fire

A few years ago there were some big fires. Australia burned, there were fires in California, Texas, Arizona, various parts of Canada, etc. Climate change and fire experts noted that there is an increase in fires because of global warming, but others argued that there was no significant increase, and we had had periods of abundant fires in the past. In truth, there was evidence of an increase, though maybe not very convincing to some. Also, past inclement conditions are a thing … recent global warming did not invent bad weather or extensive wildfires. But some of those past periods, like the 1930s in the US, are not evidence against current climate change, but rather, evidence of what to expect with climate change. Those periods are only barely as severe as the present state, are usually regional and not global, happened after greenhouse gas pollution was very much a thing and between periods of suppression of warming by aerosols (from volcanoes or industrial pollution). So they matter, but not because they disprove climate change (they don’t) but rather because these past events are windows into the future. But I digress.

The point is, a few years ago, those who are rightfully alarmed about climate change were pointing out the problem of increased wild fires referring mainly to research indicating a dramatic increase in wildfire potential, along with some evidence of actual increased wildfires. And others argued that until there were a lot more flames, there was not a problem.

Well, now we have the flames.

Yesterday (anecdote warning, this is not data) I went outside to check the mail and was assailed by a bank of smoke moving through my neighborhood. It smelled really bad. Assuming there was a house on fire, I dashed back into the house to grab my cell phone, in case I had to dial 911. Returning outside, I walked around and did not see anything obvious burning, but the smoke was coming in from the north. That ruled out a burning oil tank train (the tracks are from the south) and the local munitions dump on fire (that is to the west). But I still couldn’t see where the smoke was coming from. So, I hopped in the car and drove north a couple of blocks, and by the time I got to the nearby Interstate, it became clear that the smoke was simply everywhere, pretty uniformly.

I then guessed at the cause, and returned to my computer where I checked the Wundermap and some other sources. Yup: it was Canada and Alaska, thousands of miles away, pretty much on fire. Here are two graphics to illustrate this.

From the Wundermap:

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 5.35.22 PM

And from here:

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.23.35 PM

Ice

Glacial ice is melting, and it is melting faster every year. Earlier in the year we learned that Alaska (on fire, see above) has been losing mountain glacier and ice sheet water at an alarming rate. Now, we are seeing an amazing spike in melting on the surface of Greenland. From here:

greenland_melt_area_plot

The graph is of ice melt extent so far this year. The blue dotted line is the average over recent decades as in dicated. The grey area is 2 standard deviations around that average. The vast majority of observations (nearly 100%) would be in that grey area. The red line is this year. This is what you call unprecedented melting.

Why is this melting happening? Because Greenland is unusually warm, but as expected under global warming. Some of this melted ice will refreeze in the winter. Much of it, however, is going into the sea.

A new novel, Star Wars: Dark Disciple

A Guest Review by John Abraham

Wow! I just put down the best science fiction book I’ve read in a long time, and certainly the best Star Wars book I’ve ever read. Just like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones have made fantasy stories hip, the rebooted Star Wars franchise is making science fiction cool again for audiences of all ages.

The new book, which goes on sale today (July 7th), is called Star Wars: Dark Disciple (written by Christie Golden). It is part of a new series of stories that are part of the Star Wars canon and it involves nearly all of the characters we’ve come to cherish. It is a story about friends and enemies, good and evil, and relationships that evolve as we turn the pages. This book transforms how we view the Star Wars characters.

But let’s take a step back. For those of you not fully integrated into the Star Wars universe, all you need to know is that there are the six movies and two animated television series (Clone Wars and Rebels). And of course, there are new movies in the works now, with Episode 7 to be released December 2016.

Dark Disciple takes place between movie episodes 2 and 3, just before the conversion of Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader. It is set during the infamous Clone Wars which was a multi-year battle between Jedi-led Republic and the Sith-led Separatists. The Clone Wars is devastating the galaxy, resulting in uncountable deaths of innocents. The Jedi leaders are desperate to try anything to bring the war to an end; this desperation led them to initiate a very un-Jedi-like assassination attempt. Perhaps removing the Sith leader (Count Dooku) would spare future bloodshed?

And it is here that this story gets into high gear. A very fast-passed story, it leaves the reader holding and then gasping for breath as events unfold rapidly. We witness many of the Jedi we’ve come to know over the years, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, Plo Koon, and others deliberating whether and how to accomplish this assassination. Their decision requires the selection of a Jedi who is skilled enough to penetrate the evil circle around Dooku; someone with a history of subterfuge and clandestine skill; someone named Quinlan Vos.

For serious Star Wars fans, Quinlan Vos is a favorite. He is a Kiffar male (very much human like with a unique facial tattoo and dark skin) with a special skill. He can “read” objects by touching them, seeing, hearing and feeling the history of the object, witnessing scenes that have long since faded into history.

But the Jedi leaders are not convinced that Quinlan can complete this task himself so they launch a plan to obtain the help of a former student of Dooku, Asajj Ventress. Asajj was trained in the Dark Side by Dooku but then later was betrayed by her master. Because of the betrayal, she holds a bitter resentment and has twice before attempted to kill Dooku herself. Asajj Ventress is a major character in the Clone Wars animated series and she too is a fan favorite. Cunning and conflicted, physically powerful yet lithe, she presents contradictions that we see in the real world. She has carried out horrific acts in her past and is supremely ruthless to accomplish her tasks. However, she also has a strange code of ethics and a sense of fairness which is informed by her troubled past as a child. Asajj was born on a planet called Dathomir which is inhabited by only the female gender of her species. The Dathomir females are known for their warrior-like nature, ability to use magic, and their connection to nature and the force. Her entire clan was wiped out by Count Dooku; a fact which has formed and shaped Asajj’s hatred toward her former master. Finding herself alone in the galaxy, Asajj has become completely self-reliant and shuns alliances and relationships which have only led to pain and suffering.

So we see Quinlan has great hurdles to overcome if he wants to complete his task. The plot setup puts Quinlan and Asajj in the center of an “ends justify the means” pathway of the Jedi – a pathway that threatens the very nature of the force users. It is also a pathway the puts the two main characters in situations that try their inner person. A crucible from which the real Quinlan and Asajj emerge.

Christie_GoldenFor an audience that reads star wars novels, this book is unique for a number of reasons. First, many stories are told in three-book trilogies. This single book is necessarily packed with action. There are very few slow moments, but at the same time, the author does a fantastic job of developing the story and the characters in an engaging way. She also balances telegraphing with surprise. Throughout the book, I found myself saying, “oh no, she is not going to do this… this can’t happen…. It did!” Other times, quick twists and turns occurred in the story that kept me guessing.

What was particularly nice to a Star Wars fan is that this book fills in important gaps for some of our favorite characters. Because this book is considered canon, the plot line may interfere with other story lines from other books or comics. Initially I was concerned about this; would my other favorite stories and characters be written out of history with Dark Disciple? It turns out not really; Dark Disciple may introduce only small changes to our favorite characters and their past.

For people who aren’t as devoted to Star Wars as I am, this book is a great way to get acquainted (or reacquainted) with characters in advance of the new movies. Since this book is largely self-contained, readers won’t have to worry about learning the backstory of its main characters. Finally, because the story is contained in a single book, readers can get through its entirety quickly (I read it in one sitting); you don’t have to commit to a more typical three-book trilogy.

So, for those of you who want to try something new, revisit past stories, or prepare for the next generation of a great science fiction story line, this is where you want to begin.

Dr. John Abraham
University of St. Thomas