Tag Archives: Earth Science

Climate Smart and Energy Wise

Climate Smart & Energy Wise: Advancing Science Literacy, Knowledge, and Know-How by Mark McCaffrey is a book written primarily for teachers, to give them the information and tools they need to bring the topic of climate change effectively to their classrooms. It addresses the Climate Literacy and Energy Literacy frameworks, designed to guide teaching this important topic.

The book provides basics on climate and energy, approaches to teaching about climate and energy, and of special interest for teachers, syncing the topics with existing standards. The main point of the book is to get teachers up to speed, but this is not restricted to teachers at a certain level, or for that matter, a certain topic, in that climate change and energy can be incorporated in a very wide range of electives and mainstream classes. The goal of teaching climate literacy is developed by focusing on the “seven essential principles”:

  1. The sun is the primary source of energy for Earth’s climate system.
  2. Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system.
  3. Life on Earth depends on, is shaped by, and affects climate.
  4. Climate varies over space and time through both natural and human processes.
  5. Our understanding of the climate system is improved through observation, theoretical studies, and modeling.
  6. Human activities are impacting the climate system.
  7. Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives.

And, similarly, there are seven organizing concepts for teaching energy:

  1. Energy is a physical quantity that follows precise natural laws.
  2. Physical processes on Earth are the result of energy flow through the Earth system.
  3. Biological processes depend on energy flow through the Earth system.
  4. Various sources of energy can be used to power human activities, and often this energy must be transferred from source to destination.
  5. Energy decisions are influenced by economic, political, environmental, and social factors.
  6. The amount of energy used by human society depends on many factors.
  7. The quality of life of individuals and societies is affected by energy choices.

There is a chapter on countering denialism, and a chapter on mainstream activism.

Mark McCaffrey is the Programs and Policy Director for these topics at the National Center for Science Education, and this book is an NCSE project. McCaffrey has blogged about the contents of the book on the NCSE blog; his first entry is here. In his own words:

…if well presented and handled with creativity and care, climate and energy issues are ideal interdisciplinary and integrating themes, potentially linking the sciences with mathematics, language arts, geography, history, arts, social studies and civics, and at the college level, bringing in psychology, sociology, writing and rhetoric, philosophy, business…. You get the picture.

Most importantly, climate and energy are topics that are imperative to teach if we are going to effectively respond to these challenges, and make informed climate and energy decisions.

Climate Smart & Energy Wise: Advancing Science Literacy, Knowledge, and Know-How is well written, well laid out, a good read but also an excellent on-the-shelf reference book for educators designing or updating courses. It is coming out later this month and costs only $25.00. A great gift for your favorite teacher!

The figure at the top of the post is from the book.

Breatkthrough at Lake Vostok

Rumors have been in the air for days, but we now think it confirmed that Russian Scientsts have penetrated the liquid part of Antarctica’s Lake Vostok. The lake has been frozen over for something like 20 million years. Certainly there was life in it at the time. Is any of it still there? Has something new evolved? Just as interesting is question of paleoclimate data preserved, we hope, in the sediments at the bottom of the lake. The top section of the lake’s bottom probably contains sediments that have formed over the last 20 million years, in the ice-bound southern lake, but below that will be sediments reflecting the regional and global biological conditions and climate for a long period of time before ice-over.

The upper sediment will come from erosion from the lake’s sub-ice shoreline, mostly chemical in nature, settling of the finest of clays that would have been in the water at the time the ice covered the lake, but mostly, I suspect, a combination of re-settled light minerals moved by currents that may or may not have been operating there and biological materials from whatever may or may not have been living in the water.

BBC broke the news (more or less) with this:

Continue reading Breatkthrough at Lake Vostok

Melting Ice and Sea Level Rise

ResearchBlogging.orgIf all the water currently trapped in all the glaciers across the entire world melted, the sea level would rise far more than most people imagine. Almost everyone living anywhere in the world at an elevation of below about 500 feet with a direct drainage to the sea would be directly affected; The sea level rise itself might be a bit over 300 feet, but oceans tend to migrate horizontally when they rise onto previously uninnundated land surfaces. So if you lived at 500 feet above sea level in most of Maine, you’d have a much shorter walk to the rocky shoreline, but if you lived at 500 feet across much of the Gulf Coast it would only be a matter of time until the eroding sea cliff reached you incorporated you into the offshore sediments.

Having said that, Anthropogenic Global Warming has resulted in only modest sea level rise to date, and it is at this point probably true that warming of the ocean causing thermal expansion has been at the same level of magnitude (or greater) than seas rising because of the influx of melted glacial water.

The problem is, it is very difficult to measure either sea level rise or ice loss very accurately, for a number of reasons. But there is a saving grace. Or should I say, GRACE. GRACE is a NASA project; Twin satellites measure changes in the Earth’s gravity field in such a way that it is possible to identify changes in the distribution of water. From the GRACE overview statement:

Continue reading Melting Ice and Sea Level Rise

study links climate to severe habitat loss

In a world first, University of Queensland and CSIRO scientists have measured the relationship between current climate, climate change and habitat loss on plants and animals on a global scale.

Their results, published recently in Global Change Biology indicate that areas with high temperatures and where average rainfall has decreased over time increase the chance of a species being negatively affected by habitat loss and fragmentation.

“Human population growth has caused significant habitat degradation across the globe, typically in support of agriculture and urban development,” lead researcher Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle said.

“This alone has negatively impacted many species, but combined with rises in temperature and reduced rainfall as a result of a changing climate, there could be catastrophic results for some populations. Serious declines are already a reality for many species.”

I’ve not yet read the study, but I thought you’d like to see the Press Release.

The Inquisition of Climate Science

i-83328c4df9ead07f8e3ed3183519523e-inquisition_of_climate_science.jpgI’m enjoying James Lawrence Powell’s book “The Inquisition of Climate Science” Powell’s book specifically addresses the clilmate change denialist movement and the global warming deniers themselves, and does so severely. He documents and discusses who is paying for climate change denialism documents the lack of scientific credenntials of the denialists, and outlines and describes in detail events such as “climate gate.”

The book is exceptionally well documented and could actually be used as a supplementary text in a class on science policy or science and society.

Author’s bio from the pulbisher’s web site:

James Lawrence Powell was born and raised in Kentucky and graduated from Berea College. He received his Ph.D. in Geochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has had a distinguished career as a college teacher, college president, museum director, and author of books on earth science for general audiences. He serves as executive director of the National Physical Science Consortium, a partnership among government agencies and laboratories, industry, and higher education dedicated to increasing the number of American citizens with graduate degrees in the physical sciences and related engineering fields, emphasizing recruitment of a diverse applicant pool that includes women and minorities. He has taught at Oberlin College and has served as its acting president. He has also been president of Franklin and Marshall College, Reed College, the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush appointed Powell to the National Science Board.

Shawn Otto’s Book Launch Talk (with Don Shelby)

You’ll remember that I recently wrote up Shawn Otto’s talk at The Loft. The talk was filmed and is now a major motion picture!

Now that you’ve seen the talk, here’s your list of things to do:

  • Buy the book here.
  • Sign on to Science Debate.org here
  • Sign the American Science Pledge here
  • Join the Republican Party. Oh, and the NRA too!

Urban Heat Islands as Explanation for Hockey Stick Global Warming Curve

ResearchBlogging.orgUrban areas can be warmer than surrounding non-urban areas because there is a lot of combustion, pavement and other structure can collect solar heat and retain it for a while, and other factors. It is not uncommon to look at a weather map where conditions for precipitation are marginal, and everywhere but the urban zone, or only the urban zone and nothing else, is showing a weather phenomenon. Because people and airports (where weather is very important) are located in or very near urban areas, it stands to reason that a lot of the data used to estimate global temperatures would be affected by any urban effects, and if urban areas are a) warmer than surrounding areas and b) increasingly warm over time then “global warming” may well be an artifact of the urban heat island effect. That wouldn’t necessarily make it a hoax, but it would make it wrong. We would then have to revise our understanding of certain aspects of physics because we expect global warming to occur in CO2 levels go up, but physics has been revised before. Kepler was wrong, Newton was wrong, maybe the climate change scientists are wrong too.

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgSome time ago a study was funded by a number of organizations and individuals, including some who are famously skeptical of global warming (such as the Charles G. Koch foundation) in order to see if urban heat island effects could explain the famous “Hockey Stick” curve. The study was supposed to be non-biased, and it may well be, but if there are any biases they would likely be in favor off anti-Global Warming thinking, or perhaps “pro-denialist” or “anti-warmist” … pick your term.

Well, just moments ago, the study was released and the findings are quite interesting. I have to admit, I was not expecting these findings at all, and they have caused me to change my mind about certain things. Which is fine, because that is how science works, but still, I was rather shocked.
Continue reading Urban Heat Islands as Explanation for Hockey Stick Global Warming Curve

Science is always nonpartisan, but it is always political: Fool Me Twice

Fool Me Twice
Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America” was officially released last night in Minneapolis with appropriate fanfare and celebration. Everyone who gets to know Shawn likes him from the start and quickly learns to respect him and eventually hold him with a certain amount of well-earned awe, and like any book, we’ve all seen this one coming for quite some time. (I have an old pre-release copy in which every page is “00” but, surprisingly, the front cover is just like the final form.)

Shawn gave a talk at the release party, but since he is held in such high esteem, there was a problem deciding how he would be introduced. A book as important as “Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America” which examines the increasingly insignificant role science plays in the policy making process, written by the much beloved Shaw Otto would require an equally important and beloved personage to make the introduction. And, if such a person were to go on stage to introduce Shawn, there would have to be a fairly significant and widely respected person to introduce that person as well. And so on and so forth. I hear there were several meetings about this, and the UN was called in briefly to settle the evening’s program, and a solution was worked out that was more than acceptable.
Continue reading Science is always nonpartisan, but it is always political: Fool Me Twice

Gobal Warming is Melting the Ice Caps

My first job as an archaeologist in Boston (having moved there from New York) had to do with Deer Island, the northern of two islands that separate Boston’s Inner and Outer Harbors. The actual archaeology was uninteresting but the historical research was fascinating. Among the things I learned is that Boston’s Inner Harbor regularly froze over. It no longer does. When the Continental Army placed the British in Boston under Siege at the beginning of the Revolution, the idea of holding off an assault until the harbor froze over was routine. No one expected the harbor to not freeze over. More recently, the harbor is generally open all winter, and when it does freeze over, it is a significant bother.
Continue reading Gobal Warming is Melting the Ice Caps

Aquarius Yields NASA’s First Global Map of Ocean Salinity


The first global map of the salinity, or saltiness, of Earth’s ocean surface produced by NASA’s new Aquarius instrument reveals a rich tapestry of global salinity patterns, demonstrating Aquarius’ ability to resolve large-scale salinity distribution features clearly and with sharp contrast. NASA/GSFC/JPL-Caltech

One of NASA’s newest Big Sci machines has generated a high quality map of ocean salinity. It is still preliminary and a few months of calibration is needed, but soon enough Aquarius will start monitoring ocean salinity on an ongoing basis.

Ocean salinity is important because it is linked to the overall climate system. For instance, where evaporation is high, owing to atmospheric conditions, salinity goes up. Salinity is related to ocean currents … saline water sinks, drawing nearby water to itself. This can drive major ocean currents.

You can see the map and get various downloads here.

How To Do Good Climate Science Instead Of Bad Climate Science

ResearchBlogging.orgIn order to do good climate science, you have to understand and control for the sources of variation in the system. In any system that involvs metric change over time, there are four sources of variation:
Continue reading How To Do Good Climate Science Instead Of Bad Climate Science