Monthly Archives: December 2015

Climate change: up close and personal in Missouri

This is a guest post by Larry Lazar.

If you have had the news on the last day or two you may have seen stories and images about the Missouri floods. Many of those images are from Eureka (where we live), Pacific (where my wife Kellie works) and Valley Park (which is on my commute to work). That picture of the submerged McDonald’s you may have seen on the news is in Union, Missouri, about 20 miles to the southwest of Eureka

IMG_0563We are dry, mostly, and doing okay. The basement was flooded during the initial 3 day rain event due to a failed sump pump and a couple downspouts that came unattached from the drain pipes during the heavy downfall. The hydrostatic pressure of the ground water on the foundation was simply too much to hold back. We fixed the drain spouts and had a new sump pump installed on Sunday and that stopped any more water from coming in. We are fortunate that we returned home from visiting my family in Michigan on Saturday instead of Sunday or the water would have been much higher.

Unfortunately it doesn’t take much water to ruin carpet pads and drywall. My son and I were able to get the carpets up and the pads out the back of the house with a lot of labor but not too much trouble. There are now 14 high powered and very noisy blowers and a super-sized dehumidifier running non-stop in the basement at a cost of $30 per day per machine (disaster capitalism is quite profitable). We are told everything will be dried out in 2 to 3 days.

We have learned a painful and expensive lesson about not having a sump pump rider on our home insurance. The rider would have covered damages from the failed pump. We also would have been covered if our dishwasher had overflowed but not from ground water. Fortunately, because we acted quickly, we didn’t have any significant content damage so the only costs will be drying the place out and installing new pads under the salvaged carpets. Kellie thinks she is getting some new furniture out of the deal. I have no idea how less fortunate folks that have far more damage are going to get through this financially.

IMG_0560Flood lessons to pass along: check your sump pump, downspouts and your insurance policy. Keep important stuff up off the basement floor. Purchase a generator to keep the sump pump running when the power fails.

Downtown Eureka is a true disaster. The sand bagging effort was futile against the record water levels as most of the businesses downtown have water over their front doors. O’Dell’s, our favorite Irish pub, will be out of commission for a long time so now we have to go across the freeway to have good beer from the tap. The businesses Eureka residents depend on will be out of commission for many months.

Many homes along the river have been lost and are now downstream. These homes are built on stilts and have survived many flood events in the past but stilts can only go so high. We can no longer use the climate of the past to guide our decisions on the future. The rules for the game of life have changed and we must adapt to those rules.

Eureka has now had two 500 year floods in the last 22 years. The increasing frequency of these “500 year” (or more) type events really brings home what James Hansen wrote about in “Storms of my Grandchildren”. I’m pretty sure these frequency estimates will be a meaningless descriptor in the future. It will be interesting to see what the spring brings as the climate change fueled El Nino really kicks in.

IMG_0559All the roads out of Eureka were closed except for one and that one was a parking lot most of the time. Semi tractors on curvy and hilly two lane roads are not a good combination. Many subdivisions in the area have been isolated for a couple days now. The river crested around 6 last night so water levels, and media coverage, are quickly receding and moving downriver. We are looking forward to returning to some type of normalcy, and increased urgency for action on climate change, in the New Year.

If you want to help the best thing to do is to demand increased action on climate change from your political leaders.

We will need a price on carbon (see Citizen’s Climate Lobby), increased investment in energy efficiency, renewables and nuclear, and adaptation plans for the climate changes that are unavoidable. The American Red Cross is doing great work in helping people get through these disasters. I’m sure they could use your support.

Highlights of Climate Change Research in 2015

The following is a list of posts on this blog that report new climate change research, usually but not always from the peer reviewed literature, or posts that are longer essays intended to give context to ongoing climate change research. The first few posts are from December 2014, which addresses the fact that “year end summaries” tend to be written during December, or even before, so December of any given year gets the shaft.

Weather, Climate Change, and Related Matters in 2015

I had considered writing an accounting of all the outlandish weather events of 2015, but that project quickly became a tl:dr list of untoward happenings which is both alarming and a bit boring, since it is so long. So, I decided to generate something less comprehensive, focusing more on the context and meaning of the diverse and impressive set of outcomes of anthropogenic global warming, an historically strong El Niño, and, well, weather which is already a pretty whacky thing.

See: Highlights of Climate Change Research in 2015

It should be noted right away that 2015 is the last year in which any human alive will see CO2 levels dip below 400 parts per million.

What is the biggest single weather related news of 2015?

Floods, probably. Around the world, there were a lot of floods, and a lot of them were very damaging and deadly. Also, many of these floods appeared with little warning, even in places like Texas, where the meteorology is pretty good. Those Texas floods were of special note, as were the floods in the Carolinas. But outside the US there were major floods in Asia, especially Vietnam and Myanmar, as well as Yemen. Alaska, Oklahoma, Atacama in South America, also saw severe floods.

Why were there so many floods?

I’m pretty sure it is accurate to say that there was more flooding, and more severe flooding, than typical for, say, 20th century climatology. We had many 1,000 year flood events, too many to assume that these events remain as 1,000 year events.

See: Global Warming Changing Weather in the US Northeast

There are probably two or three reasons for increased flooding, which of course is caused by increased and concentrated rainfall along with other factors such as land use changes that cause rainfall to result in more flooding. One is the simple fact that a warmer atmosphere, due to global warming, contains more water, and thus, we get more rain. How much more? Not a lot, but enough to make a difference. If you put together a bunch of weather data and plot the annual precipitation rate over the last century or so, and fit a line to the data, the line will look flat. It isn’t really flat, and in fact, a properly fitted line on good data will show a statistically significant upslope. But still, the total amount of extra precipitation is a small percentage of the usual amount of precipitation, so the slope is not impressive unless you draw it out using heavy-handed graphing methods.

A few other places are doing end of year reviews. Inside Climate is doing a series of 2015 retrospectives. Skeptical Science has an overview of the year. Environmental health news has a wish list pivoting on 2015 and a year in review. And Then There’s Physics summarizes 2015. Critical Angle takes a critical look at 2015 here. If you see any more out there in the wild, let me know. Media Matters has “The 15 Most Ridiculous Things Conservative Media Said About Climate Change In 2015.” Media Matters also has 5 New Year’s Resolutions For Reporting On Climate Change. HotWhopper has The Fake Sceptic Awards for 2015 here.

A second factor is a set of changes in how, when, and where the rain falls. Normally, in the temperate regions, rain storms move along with trade winds, guided or influenced by jet streams, fairly quickly. But if the jet streams slow down, the storms slow down, so we may see 4 inches of rain fall in one place that normally would have been spread out over a larger area, never exceeding half (or less) of that amount in any given area. The jet streams have slowed down and also become curvier, which both increases the amount of rain that falls in a give area but also may transfer moisture from and to places that are normally not involved as much in such a process. For example, the storm we are expecting today in the upper Midwest and Plains is not a typical Canadian Clipper, but rather a Gulf Coast storm related to the deadly blizzards and tornado swarms we’ve seen over the last few days to the south.

See: Does global warming destroy your house in a flood?

This clumping of rain in smaller areas also means that other areas that would normally have received some rain don’t, causing what my colleague Paul Douglas refers to as “flash droughts.” These are dry periods that don’t last long enough, and are not severe enough, to register on any official drought-o-meter, but nonetheless stress local water systems (such as farming) enough to be a nuisance.

A third factor is sea surface temperature. This really relates to, and is probably one of the main causes, of the first factor (increased precip overall), and feeds into the second factor (clumping of rain) but deserves its own consideration. Elevated sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic off the US coast last winter caused a lot more moisture than normal to feed into nor’easter storms, which in turn have become more common (because of increased sea surface temperatures and other factors), thus dumping large quantities of snow in the US Northeast. The same thing dumped lots of extra snow in a region that normally gets very little snow, the US Southeast, the winter before.

See: A selection of books on climate change

These changes have been happening for decades, and are due to global warming. The warming caused by the human release of extra greenhouse gasses, and other human effects, increase the warmth, thus the evaporation, thus the precipitation. Part of this warming trend involved increasing the warmth of the Arctic at a much higher rate than most of the rest of the planet. This, in turn, seems to have caused the jet stream to become wavy and slow down. The jet streams and trade winds are ultimately caused and controlled by the Earth spinning, which has not changed, and the temperature differential between the warm equator and the cold poles, which has changed quite a bit.

See: Weather Whiplash Is Like My Old Broken Sprinkler

But what about El Niño?

Didn’t El Niño cause these changes, and thus, aren’t these weather events unrelated to global warming?

No, and for two reasons.

First, many of these events happened during the first half of the year, before the start of the current El Niño, which is in fact the strongest El Niño so far observed directly, and possibly the strongest El Niño in millennia.

The second reason is that the heat released by the El Niño (the release of heat stored in the Pacific Ocean is what an El Niño is, in functional terms) is added to an already warmed world. It may even be that the extra severity of this year’s El Niño is upscaled by anthropogenic global warming. In any event, any records we set during the current El Niño exceed earlier El Niño years because the El Niños we experience are shorter term warming events on top of a steadily increasing global warming phenomenon.

We had a lot of fires

Last year and this year, or really, the last few years, have seen excessive, above normal rates of forest and brush fires in various regions. We have seen major fires in Australia, North America, and Southeast Asia during this period, with North America breaking several recent records this year.

See: Forest fires in Indonesia choke much of south-east Asia

These fires are caused by a combination of factors, but ultimately heat increasing evaporation, prior rainy years increasing available fuel, and warm winters increasing tree death to parasites (thus increasing fuel), all have contributed.

North America, in the old days, had much more fire-heavy years than anything recent because we were busy cutting down the forest, piling up “slash” (left over tree parts) and running sparky old fashioned coal-driven railroad engines up and down between the slash piles, catching them on fire. In addition, just burning the slash on purpose contributed to the overall amount of fire, especially when the slash fires got out of control.

We also saw some pretty impressive fires a couple of decades ago because of what we now know were bad fire management practices, which had actually grown out of those earlier decades of logging related fires. In other words, the frequency and distribution of forest and brush fires is complex. During aridification, probably global warming related, in Africa during the 70s and 80s, vast areas started to burn more regularly than usual. In those days, I would fly at night over Libya, Chad and the Sudan a couple of times a year, and could observe the entire region was burning all the time, easily visible from 26,000 feet.

The bottom line: The frequency and extent of fires is variable and chaotic, but anthropogenic global warming seems to have contributed significantly to us having more of them.

Were there more storms in 2015?

Record breaking tropical storms occurred in 2015. All of the tropical cyclone/hurricane basins saw interesting activity, with the Atlantic being the most quiet, and the Eastern Pacific, possibly, being the strangest.

There were 22 Category 4 or 5 storms this year in the Northern Hemisphere, a record number. The last record year was recent, 2004. Studies have shown overall that the total energy that forms up in tropical cyclones has increased with global warming, though the actual total number of storms is highly variable.

It is reasonable to expect an increase in the frequency and severity of tropical storms with global warming, while at the same time, in some areas, smaller storms may become less common. This is partly because smaller storms are more readily abated by some of the global-warming related changes in weather systems such as increased wind shear and increased dust in the tropical atmosphere. At the same time, extremely high sea surface temperatures, and also, high water temperatures as depth (100–200 meters) increase the potential strength of storms that do get past that initial formation.

Hurricane Patricia, in the Eastern Pacific (landfall in Mexico) was an especially important storm. It was a physically small storm, but had more powerful winds than ever seen in a tropical storm. The storm went from nothing to a full hurricane in several hours (instead of several days).

The significance of this can not be underestimated. We have a situation where the conditions that might cause a hurricane to form are extreme, because of global warming (and this year, more so because of El Niño). So, when when these conditions are in place, a hurricane can form faster, and get more powerful, than normal. Consider the prospect of a land falling Category 5+ storm forming offshore from an area with low lying terrain (not like where Patricia struck land) with a high population density (not like where Patricia struck land) and moving on shore immediately. Like for instance, an Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico version of Patricia making landfall near Miami or NOLA.

Most of the really large hurricanes of this year were in the Pacific basin, distributed across the entire region, but Hurricane Joaquin, which was a very large and powerful storm in the Atlantic, did have us on the edge of our seats for a while when some of the better weather predicting models suggested it might make landfall. Also, nearly unprecedented tropical storms formed near the Arabian Pennensula.

This was a hot year

Other than February, which was merely hot rather than really hot, globally, every month so far this year has broken or nearly broken one or more records, depending on which database one uses. The running 12-month average of surface temperatures started to break records before El Niño kicked in, and continued to do so since. This will continue for several more months, even if the El Niño phenomenon itself stops soon, because it takes several months for surface temperatures to show the El Niño effect.

More specifically, there were killer heat waves in the Western Cape of South Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. Australia recorded its hottest day ever. North America experienced numerous record breaking days, in the US and Canada. Cherry trees thought it was spring and bloomed last week in Washington. I saw birds building a nest outside my house in Minnesota two weeks ago, and our lawn was green(ish) through last weekend.

Ocean Oddness and Other Events

Let us not forget the Great Blob of Hot Water in the northern Pacific. This non El Niño phenomenon, which has been going for a couple of years no, has had El Niño like effects in the region, and probably relates to the non normal weather in along the western coast of North America, including record breaking heat in Alaska, major storms in or near Alaska, and of course, the California Drought.

A Haboob-Nado in China involved some of the strongest winds ever seen in the region, and may have, very unusually, contained an embedded tornado. We had a mild tornado season in the US, in Tornado Alley, until a few days ago when a not-very-seasonal tornado season sprung up and killed close to 50 people in just a few days. The American southeast does get winter tornadoes, but Michigan does not. But this year, there was a first ever recorded December tornado in that state.

The Arctic Sea ice has been diminishing in its minimum extent for a few decades now, and this year we saw the third lowest amount. The volume of Arctic sea ice continues to shrink.

You all know about the Syrian Refugee crisis. This is the latest chapter in the collapse of the Syrian state, which in turn happened because of long term drought in that country killing off the agricultural system and forcing farmers into the cities, where many became involved in the Syrian Civil War, which opened up the opportunity for the Islamic State to take a large amount of territory in the region. And so on. The Syrian refugee crisis is likely to be an early version of more of the same to come over future decades. And, I quickly point out, this is not likely to have been the first climate refugee situation, just much worse than prior events related to the spread of deserts in North Africa and drying out in West Asia.

Research on Climate Change

This year saw some interesting research in climate change.

One team studies major oscillations in climate that relate to oceans (of which El Niño is a shorter-term smaller part). This research suggests that the last couple of decades have seen less warming than we might expect over the long term, and further suggests that an uptick in the rate of warming is in our medium term future.

Related research also shows that accelerated melting of northern glaciers, especially Greenland, could alter Atlantic currents, so while the Earth generally warms due to increased greenhouse gasses, weather may change to a colder regime in Europe, some time over the next few dedades.

We are seeing an increased rate at which climate and weather experts are attributing bad weather to global warming. This is partly a shift in thinking and methods among the experts, and partly because of an actual increase in such events.

There has been interesting research in the Antarctic. We are seeing increased concern about, and evidence for, destabilization of huge inland glaciers that could start to fall apart and contribute to sea level rise at any time in the next several years. At the same time we saw one study that seemed to suggest that Antarctic is gaining ice, rather than losing it. If that is true, than recent decades of sea level rise are partly unexplained. Alternatively, the research, which has some known flaws, may simply be wrong. Look for some interesting results related to Antarctic glacier during 2016.

The famous #FauxPause in global warming, claimed by many climate change deniers to be a real thing (no warming in X years, etc.) was already known to be Faux, but this year saw several independent nails being driven into that coffin. Rather than a pause that disproves global warming, we have a better understood series of changed in the long term warming in the planet’s surface temperature.

See: In a blind test, economists reject the notion of a global warming pause

Sea floor biotic diversity was shown to be threatened by warming, coral bleaching is more likely and in fact happening at a higher rate, and probably mostly due to El Niño, there has been some odd ocean animal migrations.

The planting zones, the gardening and agricultural zones we use to decide which crops to plant and when, have over the last several years shifted in most places in North America by one or two zones. This year, the people who make the zone maps came out with a new one.

Sea levels continue to rise, and the rate of rise is rising. Rare nuisance flooding in coastal areas, most famously but not only Miami, have become regular events. Sales in waterproof shoes are expected to increase.

Communication and Politics

Across meteorology we see the graph and chart makers scrambling to find new colors for their maps showing heat. Y-axes are being stretched everywhere. We seem to be stuck with a five level category system for tropical cyclones/hurricanes, but we are seeing so many storms that are way stronger, bigger, more destructive than earlier Category 5 storms that talk of adding a category is no longer being responded to with angry mobs of pitchfork wielding weather forecasters who came of age with the older system.

See: How to not look like an idiot

There has been a great deal of significant climate change related activism, and COP happened, with a strong message to address the human causes of climate change sooner than later. Climate change has actually become an issue in US elections. For the first time a major world leader, President Obama, has faced off with the deniers and told them to STFU. Major news outlets such as the Washington Post and the Guardian have started to take climate change seriously. The idea that reporters must give equal weight to the “two sides of the story” (science is real, vs. science is not real) is disappearing.

Denial of climate change and climate change science reached its high water mark over the last 12 months. It will now fade away.

And that is a short and incomplete summary of weather and climate in 2015.

A note for my regular readers: Yes, I chose the burning Earth graphic to annoy the denialist. Check the comments below to see if that annoyed anyone.

STEM in 2015: Brianne Bilyeu, Maddy Love, Greg Laden and August Berkshire

Homo naledi and the Chamber of Secrets ~ Psychology’s Inner Demons ~ Chilesaurus: The One That Went Vegan ~ Neurons Alter DNA All Day, Every Day

Popular science fans may recognize some of these colorful titles from the most recent publication of Discover Magazine’s 100 Top Stories of 2015. We at Atheists Talk enjoy a good science-ing now and then, and this Sunday we’re going to talk about some of the stories shared by Discover. It’s going to be a science smorgasboard extravaganza! Join Brianne Bilyeu, August Berkshire and Maddy Love as they nerd out about the science of 2015.

Listen to the Atheist Talk Radio podcast here:

Atheist Talk Radio is a great weekly radio show that covers a wide range of topics, and often, science. However, it costs money to put the podcast on. Consider donating.

Best Of The Top Of The Science Stories Of 2015

August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists has organized an Atheist Talk radio show for tomorrow, Sunday Morning, in which various people will discuss many of the top science stories of 2015.

The idea is for each guest to take the Discover Magazine’s top 100 stories of 2015, pick a subset of ten, and have at them. Some subset of Brianne Bilyeu, August Berkshire, Maddy Love, and me will be on the show, but I think there may have been a cancellation, not sure who, other than that it wasn’t me who will not be there. Anyway, it will be an interesting show … what are the top stories, and why pick this story or that story instead of some other story?

For example, did August Berkshire pick his ten stories because he has free will? Or was there any research over the last year that suggests that free will is an illusion? Yes, there is a good chance we will be going meta on you.

Join us live at 9:00 AM Central time on the radio or listen to the podcast later.

UPDATE: The Podcast Is Here!

Antarctic Ice Melting: Tamsin Edwards Responds to Richard Alley

In November, I wrote a post describing research on Antarctic glacial melting by Catherine Ritz, Tamsin Edwards, Gaël Durand, Antony Payne, Vincent Peyaud, and Richard Hindmarsh (“Potential sea-level rise from Antarctic ice-sheet instability constrained by observations”). I had asked one of the authors, Tamsin Edwards, to address a few questions about the study. I also asked glacier expert Richard Alley a few questions. Alley got back to me right away, but Edwards was unable to do so, so I wrote up Alley’s commentary here, with the intention of covering Edwards’ response at a later time. Over the weekend, Edwards responded to my questions as well as many of Alley’s comments, and thus, this post.

In my original post, I wrote,

The study asked how much Antarctic ice sheets might contribute to global sea level by 2100 and 2200 AD. The results contradicted some earlier estimates which are on the high end, but conformed very closely to the current IPCC estimate, raising that number by a negligible amount.

To this, Edwards responds,

Our likely range (central two thirds of the distribution: 4–21 cm by 2100) is a few centimetres higher than the IPCC’s estimates of the likely range for A1B. Our extremely unlikely threshold (1 in 20 chance of exceeding 30 cm) is lower than some previous estimates of the upper bound and is also at the low end of the IPCC’s estimate of “not more than several tenths of a metre”.

I asked Edwards if it was correct to cay that the study’s results conform to expectations based on the prior summary of research from the IPCC (with a minor adjustment), but that the results also contradict some earlier higher-end estimates of Antarctic contribution to sea level rise. Her response was that it would be correct “…to conclude that our results do not contradict estimates of large potential sea level rise from instability in the long-term. Palaeodata provide information on millennial timescales about how much ice is potentially unstable, while our study focuses on how quickly that ice can be lost over the next 200 years. For example, we say, “These constraints are not absolute bounds—greater deglaciation has occurred in the past over longer time scales—but appear to limit the amount of ice that can be lost in two centuries.”

I also asked about the interplay between ice melting vs. falling off (as ice bergs, etc.) into the sea. She told me that, “this can only be evaluated with a process-based model, of course, so this is one of the strengths of our work over previous papers that extrapolated from past observations (and therefore could not account for this). Our results are also consistent with high resolution models that represent these processes in more detail.”

In my previous post I quoted Richard Alley as noting that not all of these non-melting mechanisms were accounted for. Alley had told me,

…the model does not allow loss of any ice shelves, does not allow grounding-line retreat from calving of icebergs following ice-shelf loss, and does not allow faster retreat from breakage of cliffs higher than those observed today, especially if aided by meltwater wedging in crevasses. The model restricts grounding-line retreat to the rate given by thinning of ice during viscous flow of an unbuttressed but still-present ice shelf, with a specified upper limit enforced on the rate of that retreat.

Edwards responded,

Fundamentally our study aims to represent the aggregate effects of multiple mechanisms, not to simulate each of the individual mechanisms themselves. We then use a wide range of possible representations to sample the uncertainties.

For example, regions predicted (by other studies) to be vulnerable to ice shelf collapse are given a “MISI onset” date, after which the grounding line is forced to retreat. This means the actual ice shelves in the model are, essentially, irrelevant: removing them has little effect because it is “over-ridden” by the forced retreat. The same applies to iceberg calving – we represent its effects in moving the grounding line.

Alley had said, “the model also does not allow retreat up a sloping bed under forcing.” To which, Edwards replied, “We do allow retreat along regions of up-sloping bed. I’m not sure how long a distance Richard would think was sufficient. Also, our aim was to estimate sea level rise due to MISI (a hypothesis specifically about down-sloping beds).”

Alley also noted that the model used in the study had an enforced upper limit that would not allow a very rapid retreat. To this, Edwards provided this response:

We used grounding line retreat rates of up to 3 km per year everywhere in Antarctica and tested rates up to 5 km per year – much higher than observed in the Amundsen Sea Embayment. Our projected ice losses were somewhat restricted by the limit on unbuttressed thinning (and also, in the ensemble, by testing with observations). When we turned this limit off in two of the ensemble members with the highest sea level rise, the results were only 15 cm higher at 2100; when we turned off the observational testing, we predicted the chance of exceeding half a metre increased to only 2%.

Edwards notes that cliff failure may produce higher rates of ice loss, and

by hacking ice off even faster and without the theoretical and observational constraints we used. But it was described by the authors – Dave Pollard, Rob DeConto and Richard himself – as “somewhat speculative”. There are no observations that confirm or quantify it, so we don’t think there is yet sufficient evidence to override the information we do know. It’s also not included in state-of-the-art models (with which, as I said, our results are consistent), such as the high resolution BISICLES: to my knowledge people do not see this as a limitation.

Edwards pointed out to me that the use the term “implausible,” meaning unlikely, but not impossible, and that unexpected processes may at some point emerge.

She notes,

We look forward to further papers that either confirm our results or else provide strong evidence that faster ice losses are likely over the next two centuries: for example, moving cliff failure from “somewhat speculative” into “current understanding” and estimating the probability of such an “ice swan” occurring over substantial regions on this time scale.

On a finer point of detail, Edwards took the opportunity to clarify what might seem a fine point, but one that is very important, in the research. She notes that the Guardian writeup noted that the study involved 3000 slightly different versions of the model. However, the total range of the variables were wide, but with individual similar models being only a little different from each other.

I’m not entirely sure how to interpret these apparent differences. I strongly suspect, as I wrote here, that a full understanding of the mechanisms of non-melting deterioration of ice sheets will result in higher rates of contribution to sea level rise (which is probably the main variable of concern here). And, I think Alley agrees with this. But Edwards is making the case that these factors have essentially been covered in the reported results, though allowing for the possibility that there are processes that may surprise us. I used the analogy (to which Edwards refers) of an ice sculpture swan falling apart. We can hope that the swan is understood, and that future melting of major ice sheets do not turn out to be a black swan rather than a mere ice swan.

What order should you watch Star Wars in?

With the imminent release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you might want to refresh your memory by watching the earlier Star Wars films, or even the films and other related productions.

There are two or three philosophies on this. The most obvious is to watch the films in chronological order, or story order, so you are seeing the historical development of the things that happened. This is simple. Watch Episode I first, and work your way in order through Episode VI.

There are objections to this method, however, because the way the story was told, out of historical sequence, involves certain reveals that would be ruined if you watched them in historical order.

The release order of the films, which presumably reflects the intentions of the artist, is:

Episode IV
Episode V
Episode VI
Episode I
Episode II
Episode III

Then, of course, Episode VII, and eventually Episodes VIII and IX

Software expert Rod Hilton developed what come to be known as the “Machete Order” (called that because his blog is named “Absolutely No Machete Juggling”). Hiton argues, as noted, that the historical order (he calls it the “episode order”) ruins a key reveal that so and so is so and so’s father. Hilton rightly notes that this is a key feature of the entire story, and it is not a good idea to ruin that. If anyone watching the films does not know about this reveal, then watching them in historical, or episode, order is the wrong thing to do.

He also argues that the release order is fine for the first three films has its problems as well. His suggestion is a different order from either historical or episode, and it runs like this:

Episode IV
Episode V
Episode II
Episode III
Episode VI

Notably, you don’t watch Episode I at all. The reason? It sucks. Read the original (well, updated) blog post for all the reasons.

Another dude, Ernest Rister, suggests the same order but he leaves in Episode I, so you get this:

  1. Episode IV: A New Hope
  2. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  3. Episode I: The Phantom Menace
  4. Episode II: Attack of the Clones
  5. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
  6. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

You can get the digital version of the existing films at Amazon: Star Wars: The Digital Movie Collection, or if you prefer hard copies, Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Episodes I-VI) in Blu-ray. There is also a non blue-ray version but since it is an import, I’m not sure if you want that for your DVD player.

You might want to go totally crazy and also watch and read the other things that are parts of the story but not in those movies, such as the TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, or the book A New Dawn. If you want to get those things in the right order, Tech Times has a list.

By the way, John Abraham wrote a review of the recently published novel, “Dark Disciple,” which fits near the beginning of the cannon, here.

Global Warming In November

The NASA GISS global temperature anomaly for November has been published.

October’s value was originally reported as 104, but has been corrected (it is normal to have small corrections on an ongoing basis) to 106. November’s value, just out, is 105.

This is hundreds of a degree C anomaly, the standard number used to report, off of a baseline. The baseline in the case of NASA GISS is 1951-1980, which does not represent pre-industrial levels.

The huge uptick we saw during the last part of the current year is the result of global warming, which has been pushing temperatures up, and the current El Nino, which probably started to affect these measurements in late September. Over the next few months or so, El Nino proper will start to decline, but the surface temperatures will remain elevated by El Nino (there is a lag). After that, we should see monthly temperature readings being to drop, but the overall trend is likely to continue.

The graphic at the top of the page is the 12 month moving average from the NASA GISS data base, up through November. Notice that since the 1960s there has been a very steady upward trend, with some variation. Most of the big upward spikes you see are El Nino years, and the lower troughs are typically periods with one or more La Nina events. These variations reflect the interaction between surface (air and sea surface) and the ocean, mainly the Pacific.

2015 is currently the warmest year on record, and 2014 is the second warmest year. It is virtually impossible for 2015 to drop below warmest once December values are added in. Likely, the spread between warmest and second warmest year will increase.

November 2015 is the second warmest month-by-anomaly (not actual temperature, but relative to other instances of the same month) and November 2015 is the second warmest. All the other warmest months in the top 10 are from the 90s or 80s, found during El Nino years.

As the effects of the current El Nino peak and decline, we will see the “warmest month” thing fade away until the next El Nino, but the 12 month moving average will continue to rise for quite some time, then level off, then likely decline somewhat. But overall, the trend is expected to be on average upward because, ladies and gentlemen, anthropogenic global warming is real and is happening now.

COP, Science, Denialism, Skepticism, Shawn Otto: Ikonokast

As you may know, Mike Haubrich and I have been planning to develop a podcast. Well, we did it, and you can visit the first episode here.

In this episode, Mike and I discuss some of the reasons behind why we created Ikonokast, and interview writer and science policy expert Shawn Otto. We touch on the recent Paris climate conference, Ted Cruz as the freshest face of absurd over the time science denialism, Shawn’s new novel, his forthcoming book on science policy, and the project.

Ikonokast has a web site, and each podcast will be shown presented in a blog post, at least for now. Eventually the podcast will be available through the usual other means such as iTunes, etc. (may even be there by the time you write this).

Please visit Ikonkast and let us know what you think!