The relationship between rainfall, groundwater, evaporation and transpiration, vegetation, bodies of water, animal distribution, agriculture, humans, and atmospheric conditions (not to mention oceanic factors and topography) underlie many different realms of academia and policy. Almost nothing I’ve ever done in my anthropological research didn’t include the hydrologic cycle, climate, and related issues. The weather weirding we are currently watching across the globe, including the current heavy rains and tornadoes, are part of this, and the long lived California Drought, the one that ended just recently, is as well.
In Drought: An Interdisciplinary Perspective, Cook looks at the dry end of the spectrum of the hydrologic cycle, but in so doing, he really has to cover the basics of rain related climate. There is math, and there is complicated science, in this book, but all of the material presented here is accessible to anyone who wishes to learn. If you are interested in climate change or agriculture, or paleoclimate, or any of that, Cook’s book is an essential reference, filling a gap that exists in the available range of current public-facing serious science books.
Cook covers the hydrologic cycle and the relationship between the hydrologic cycle and climatology. He defines the sometimes confusing concepts and measurements known as “drought” in a non-confusing and detailed way. I’ve found that in many discussions of drought, self defined experts who also happen to be climate change deniers tend to talk past (or over or around) others, making it difficult for the average non-expert to avoid frustration. Cook will arm you with the knowledge to stand up to such shenanigans!
Cook covers drought in the Holocene, and the relationship between climate change and drought. He provides two key detailed case studies (the American dust bowl, and droughts in the Sahel of Africa). He covers landscape degradation and desertification, and irrigation.
Ben Cook is a research scientist at NASA-Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, and he teaches at Columbia’s School of Professional Studies.
An unexpected surge in global atmospheric methane is threatening to erase the anticipated gains of the Paris Climate Agreement. This past April NOAA posted preliminary data documenting an historic leap in the global level of atmospheric methane in 2018, underscoring a recent wave of science and data reporting that previously stable global methane levels have unexpectedly surged in recent years.
The scientific community recently responded to the surge into two high profile publications by calling for a reduction in methane emissions from the natural gas system…
It is not clear where this methane is coming from, but most bets are on wetlands that have shifted from being greenhouse gas sinks (or neutral) to being greenhouse gas emitters. Methane is a bad greenhouse gas while it lasts (decades) but eventually changes into CO2 and water. The CO2, of course, stays in the atmosphere for much much longer. So, this is really like CO2 release but with a giant kick in the gut right out of the gate.
I a not actually supporting a candidate for nomination for USPOTUS at this time, and I won’t for a while. I’m too engaged in the process of caucus, delegate selection, primary, etc. to do that. Let it never be said that Great Laden caused a particular candidate to be favored in their quest to get Minnesota’s convention delegates.
I will say that I am likely to discount (as in move down the list) old white guys including Biden and Sanders, but I have no intention of ruling anyone out at this time.
But, I am very concerned about climate change, and at this time, one could argue that Jay Inslee is THE climate candidate running right now. For all you Sanders fans out there, and for all you who like Sanders but want him to be a Democrat, notice that Inslee is the “I’m Sanders but an actual Democrat” candidate. Perhaps. He’s also the White Male Elizabeth Warren candidate.
Point is, I think everyone should support him with sufficient vigor to keep him in the race so he can make an impact on the debates and possibly beyond. Maybe he’s the one. Who knows?
One point Jeff makes is one I’ve been saying for years: Our food supply can handle almost any given disaster, or a reasonable set of disasters. But when two or three disasters line up just right, and they will, all hell breaks out and that could mean somebody shooting your child so they can get food for their child. And that will be your fault.
Dusting off the old meme I made a few years back, last time the Polar Vortex attacked North America:
And yes, regardless of any dispute about the term “Polar Vortex” itself (there is some confusion and disagreement), the excursion of air masses that normally reside in a particular latitudinal region (i.e, tropical, temperate, polar) can be, and likely is, caused by the effects of human release of greenhouse gasses. Ironically, the sequence of steps that go from your local coal plant or the back end of your excessively large car to an attack by the polar vortex involves a warming of the Arctic. So, I suppose, the polar air we are at present being assaulted with could be worse.
Simply put, as the Arctic warms, the age-old and somewhat complex process of heat moving from the warm equatorial regions to the poles (which you know it has to do, right?) is messed up because the longitudinal temperature gradient is messed up. This causes the giant circles of fast air known as the jet streams to bunch up and form enormous semi-stable loops known as quais-resonant Rossby waves. Once these suckers are happening, all kinds of things happen, like very wet rainy periods causing major flooding, much larger and more intense than usual blizzards, multi-year droughts, and these very annoying arctic incursions.
And that’s what we are having right now in the upper middle part of North America.
Note that when you get down that far, the difference between F and C matters little.
I’ve heard again and again the story of how we used to call it “global warming” then we called it “climate change” for one reason or another. I have honored esteemed colleagues who have their beliefs about the origins and shifts of these terms, and in some cases, they even have some documentation of how these terms came to be used, when, and why. However, my own version of this history is almost always different from theirs, and different from what I hear reporters, activists, writers, and others say.
Briefly, here is my version of the story. Originally it was called climate change, mainly because the people who studied it were looking at the long term, and warming was only one direction in which climate changed. Then a subset of people started looking much more closely at anthropogenic global warming, and started to use that term where appropriate. But even then, the basic theory and much of the empirical evidence related to the study of global warming came from the broader field of climate science, which studies change in climate and its causes (aka climate change). So, there are two axes of understanding here. One is the broader field of climate change of which global warming study is a part, and the other is the broader theoretical framework of climate change, of which global warming is a more narrowly defined application. Continue reading Global Warming vs. Climate Change: Origin Myths→
Vermont. The state where everyone lives in a yurt and drinks organic maple syrup. Bernie Sanders is their Senator and I’m pretty sure the Dalai Lama lives there. Or, at least, the yurts are lined with Llama fur.
You’d think that Vermont could get its act together to reduce greenhouse gasses more than most other states, but in fact, that has not happened, and it is probably important to know why.
Vermont had implemented one of the more aggressive greenhouse gas reduction plans, but it turns out, the state’s greenhouse gas emissions have gone up by about 16%. Like this following figure from this report shows:
“It wasn’t just disappointing and ironic, it was surprising,” said Sandra Levine, a senior attorney based in Vermont for the Conservation Law Foundation. “Many thought we were at least moving in the right direction. But we weren’t just missing the target, we were moving backward.”
The main reasons greenhouse gas emissions went up is because people, for the most part, did everything backwards. They did not buy electric cars, and they did buy bigger gas guzzling cars. They figured that as long as gas was cheap and easy to get, who cares about the planet?
Also, “Much of the blame falls on the aging pickup trucks, the state’s most commonly registered vehicles, which many residents often drive alone. The state also has a disproportionate number of tourists who clog its mountain roads on their way to ski resorts or leaf peeping.” (Boston Globe).
There is a story that I hope is not apocryphal, told among anthropologists. It goes like this. A graduate student in Cultural Anthropology went to the field, to a site in the American Southwest, where he intended to document the lifeways of a group of Native Americans living there. On arrival at the field site, he was directed by helpful locals to the home of a very old man who, they said, knew all about the group’s history and culture. This would be a great place to start his research.
You’ve heard about the “scientific method.” If your memory is excellent, and you took a lot of science classes in American schools, you learned two of them, because life science textbooks and physical science textbooks teach somewhat different concepts called “scientific method.” If you study the history of science, even at a superficial level, or do actual science, you will find that the “scientific method” you learned in high school, the very same “scientific method” people who either love or hate science, but are not scientists, and talk a lot about science, incessantly refer to, is not what scientists actually do. Neither the procedures for developing a study nor the inferential process of advancing understanding follow this method, or at least, not very often. Doing science is much more haphazard and opportunistic, nuanced and visceral, much less clean and predictable. Like the famous physicist once said, “The scientific method; that is what I fall back on when I can’t think of anything else do to.”
There is little doubt among archaeologists that the Younger Dryas, a cold snap following the initial retreat of Ice Age conditions some 11,000 years ago, had a major impact on human history. It seems that humans are highly motivated to return the impact to the Younger Dryas. Two times in recent years, evidence of an impact, a celestial object whacking into the Earth, has been suggested as the cause of the famous climatic “two step.” As sexy as impacts are, however, it is very unlikely that the Younger Dryas was caused by one. Continue reading The latest newly discovered meteor impact that did not cause the Younger Dryas→
Voters seem to have liked many candidates endorsed by environmental organizations, or who had good climate change related policies. But, they seem to have rejected ballot initiatives, in Colorado, Arizona, and Washington, that would have moved us closer to the necessary energy transition. Continue reading Did Voters Vote Climate? Yes And No→
I have been discussing on this blog for a few years not the problem of quasi-resonant amplification (QRA) of the jet stream. Let me quickly review what that is, then tell you about the new research.
The Earth is encircled by giant twisting donuts of air. The two main donuts lie side by side along the equator. Air warmed at the point where the sun is strongest (a climatological equator that moves north and south with the seasons) rises. It traverses, at altitude, either north or south, towards the polls, then drops and then circles back towards the equator. This drives wetness at the equator as moist air hits cold air aloft and thunderstorms are everywhere.
These primary giant twisting donuts, called Hadley Cells, set up a second set of twisting donuts to the north and south. These donuts, called mid-latitude cells, tend to cause a dry zone to form. Look at a map of the planet, and you can trace the dry zone across the northern hemisphere from the deserts of Central Asia, to the deserts of the US Southwest. In the south, the deserts of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa line up with dry regions of South America and, pretty much all of Australia.
There is a third cell, the Polar cell, north and south of the mid latitude cells.
These cells, as they move around the spinning earth, are the trade winds. Near junctures of the cells, at latitude, air molecules face an interesting mathematical problem. Air pressure, temperature, cell-driven winds, and all the various factors set up a situation where those air molecules sitting between the upper parts of the cells are supposed to be somewhere where they are not, pretty much all the time. In order to solve that problem, the air has to move very rapidly in one direction. This is a bit like nature abhorring a vacuum, large scale. That rapidly moving river of air is the jet stream.
A combination of trade wind effects and the jet stream tends to move storm systems around the planet in the mid latitudes. Under pre-climate change conditions, a low pressure system might ride along just south of the Jet Stream, moving across the planet at a few tens of km an hour, bringing rain followed by fair weather. But if the jet stream either slows or changes direction somewhat, that conveyor belt effect can get kinked up, and the low pressure system can sit in a giant meteorological kink, causing a large region to experience wet conditions for days or weeks at a time. Meanwhile, on the other side of the jet stream, in the counter-kink that a curved jet stream might cause, you can get a stalled high pressure system bringing dry conditions for longer than normal, causing what meteorologist Paul Douglas calls a “flash drought.”
Go back to the beginning a second. This entire process is controlled by the global process of heat accumulated in abundance at the equator moving to the north and south poles. But in recent years, the arctic has warmed considerably. Lack of snow cover in northern Canada and Siberia, loss of sea ice, and, probably, darkening of glacial ice in Greenland, combine to cause the Arctic to warm to a much greater degree than the rest of the planet.
This is a little like putting your refrigerator too close to the wall and building a cabinet around it without proper ventilation. The heat pump that runs your refrigerator will stop working. The behavior of the giant twisting donuts and the jet streams changes.
What occurs is this: The jet stream gets wavy, and that waviness can form a standing wave, like a swirl you see in a running brook that sits in one place because of an underwater obstruction like a rock or log. The wave, in a sense, resonates with the circumference of the earth, so you get a regular number of waves around the planet, and they tend to move only very slowly, or not at all, for months at a time.
There are two phenomena that have caused the plethora of wild and wicked weather we have been experiencing across the globe for the last five or six years. One is the increase in strength and possibly frequency of various storm systems as a nearly direct effect of warming. The other is this QRA system causing major weather patterns to pan out abnormally.
These two problems can interrelate, by the way, but that is a subject of a different essay, perhaps.
The result of quasi-resonant waves? The California drought, massive multi day rainfall events in Calgary, Boulder, Minnesota, China, Japan, Mediterranean Europe, and on and on and on.
Two questions arise from the research showing this effect. One: is it real, is there really a QRA effect? Two: will this persist, get worse, or get better, over time?
The answer to the first question has been getting more and more solid with the publication of research paper after research paper. There isn’t any longer a doubt, in my view, that this phenomenon is for real and seroius. The second question is harder. The paper that came out today on this topic says that the degree of extra warming in the Arctic is probably the biggest factor affecting the future of QRA effects. The research also suggest that it could get worse and it could persist. But there still is some uncertainty.
We find that the incidence of QRA events would likely continue to increase at the same rate it has in recent decades if we continue to simply add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. But there’s a catch: The future emissions scenarios used in making future climate projections must also account for factors other than greenhouse gases. Historically, for example, the use of old coal technology that predates the clean air acts produced sulphur dioxide gas which escapes into the atmosphere where it reacts with other atmospheric constituents to form what are known as aerosols.
These aerosols caused acid rain and other environmental problems in the U.S. before factories in the 1970s were required to install “scrubbers” to remove the sulphur dioxide before it leaves factory smokestacks. These aerosols also reflect incoming sunlight and so have a cooling effect on the surface in the industrial middle-latitudes where they are produced. Some countries, like China, are still engaged in the older, dirtier-form of coal burning. If we continue with business-as-usual burning of fossil fuels, but countries like China transition to more modern “cleaner” coal burning to avoid air pollution problems, we are likely to see a substantial drop in aerosols over the next half century. Such an assumption is made in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s “RCP 8.5” scenario—basically, a “business as usual” future emissions scenario which results in more than a tripling of carbon dioxide concentrations relative to pre-industrial levels (280 parts per million) and roughly 4-5C (7-9F) of planetary warming by the end of the century.
As a result, the projected disappearance of cooling aerosols in the decades ahead produces an especially large amount of warming in middle-latitudes in summer (when there is the most incoming sunlight to begin with, and, thus, the most sunlight to reflect back to space). Averaged across the various IPCC climate models there is even more warming in mid-latitudes than in the Arctic—in other words, the opposite of Arctic Amplification i.e. Arctic De-amplification (see Figure below). Later in the century after the aerosols disappear greenhouse warming once again dominates and we again see an increase in QRA events.
Author Michael Mann notes, “Most stationary jet stream disturbances will dissipate over time. However, under certain circumstances the wave disturbance is effectively constrained by an atmospheric wave guide, something similar to the way a coaxial cable guides a television signal. Disturbances then cannot easily dissipate and very large amplitude swings in the jet stream north and south can remain in place as it rounds the globe.”
From the abstract of the original paper:
Persistent episodes of extreme weather in the Northern Hemisphere summer have been associated with high-amplitude quasi-stationary atmospheric Rossby waves, with zonal wave numbers 6 to 8 resulting from the phenomenon of quasi-resonant amplification (QRA). A fingerprint for the occurrence of QRA can be defined in terms of the zonally averaged surface temperature field. Examining state-of-the-art [Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5)] climate model projections, we find that QRA events are likely to increase by ~50% this century under business-as-usual carbon emissions, but there is considerable variation among climate models. Some predict a near tripling of QRA events by the end of the century, while others predict a potential decrease. Models with amplified Arctic warming yield the most pronounced increase in QRA events. The projections are strongly dependent on assumptions regarding the nature of changes in radiative forcing associated with anthropogenic aerosols over the next century. One implication of our findings is that a reduction in midlatitude aerosol loading could actually lead to Arctic de-amplification this century, ameliorating potential increases in persistent extreme weather events.
Regulators in Minnesota made the bone headed decision to approve the building of a new natural gas plant on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border near Duluth. They are idiots. There is no calculation that requires or even strongly suggests that this is a good idea. It has already been determined that this plant is not necessary. This is just the petroleum industry getting its way. I call for an investigation of the three (out of five) individuals who voted for this lame brained scheme. I want to know what stocks they own, and I want to see their bank records for the last, and next, five years.
Meanwhile, I call on Legislators in Minnesota to pass a law stating that we can not add any more fossil fuel sources into our energy mix, in utilities within or overlapping with the state of Minnesota. We need that bill passed during the next legislative session, to stop this plant and similar ideas in the fiture.
The building of this particular natural gas plant is not inevitable. It still has to be approved on the Wisconsin side of the border. From NPR:
If Wisconsin regulators approve the plan, the new power plant would produce at least 525 megawatts of electricity. Minnesota Power and its ratepayers would be on the hook for half the $700 million cost.
Minnesota Power covers roughly a third of the state, mostly in the northeastern quadrant of Minnesota, from Little Falls in the south to International Falls in the north and over to Duluth and up to Canada. Its customers include large taconite mines and power plants.
PUC regulators heard final arguments in the case earlier this month. Commissioners also decided Monday that the plan did not need to undergo additional environmental analysis, a decision that paved the way for its approval vote.
Methane is not a bridge fuel. It is a fossil fuel, and a greenhouse gas.
Global warming is already upon us, but when was the last time you had a proper chat about it?? For Green Great Britain Week, ClimateAdam speaks to a climate communication expert (Steve) to take his conversation skills from amazing to brilliant.