Category Archives: Global Warming

Time-Lapse Video of Retreating Glacier

For all you climate change skeptics, check out this time-lapse video of the Columbia glacier near Valdez Alaska from National Geographic (click through for full res version.)

From the Nat Geo page:

This remarkable image sequence captures a series of massive calving events at Columbia Glacier near Valdez, Alaska. Composed of 436 frames taken between May and September of 2007, it shows the glacier rapidly retreating by about half a mile (1.6 kilometers), a volume loss of some 0.4 cubic miles (1.67 cubic kilometers) of ice or 400 billion gallons (1.5 trillion liters) of water.

The time-lapse was taken as part of the ongoing Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), an ambitious project to capture global warming-induced glacial retreat in the act. Beginning in December 2006, photographer James Balog and his colleagues set up 26 solar-powered cameras at glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, the Alps, and the Rocky Mountains. Each unit will take a photograph every daylight hour until fall 2009.

In 2008, Balog’s team began to return to each of the camera sites to collect images. In the end, they will have more than 300,000 images to analyze and stitch together to produce more dramatic videos like this one.

This kind of multiyear effort, says Balog, is necessary to “radically alter public perception of the global warming issue.”

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Climate Change Update

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this topic, and in the meantime, a few more juicy tidbits have emerged that I thought warranted attention.

The general trend of recent news and data around the melting of the polar ice caps is not a good one. In fact, the recent data shows that the thinning and melting of the western Arctic sea ice in particular is progressing more than 3 times faster than even the most pessimistic of climate models projected. According to William Chapman, et. al. at the University of Illinois, this melting is progressing so swiftly now, that:

Today [August 9, 2007], the Northern Hemisphere sea ice area broke the record for the lowest ice area in recorded history. The new record came a full month before the historic summer minimum typically occurs. There is still a month or more of melt likely this year. It is therefore almost certain that the previous 2005 record will be annihilated by the final 2007 annual minima closer to the end of this summer.

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This new data, along with other similar results has led NASA’s notable head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, to conclude that the prevalent climate models fail to account for the self-reinforcing feedback cycle that ensues from the melting ice, and as such, underestimate the rate at which the melting will likely occur.

Hansen warns (read Hansen’s full article on Sea Level Rises at New Scientist) that the likely results of ice faster-than-expected melts are huge rises in Sea levels. Hansen notes:

“Sea level is already rising at a moderate rate. In the past decade, it increased by 3 centimetres, about double the average rate during the preceding century. The rate of sea level rise over the 20th century was itself probably greater than the rate in the prior millennium, and this is due at least in part to human activity.”

Worse yet, is the very real possibility of runaway collapse.

“..the primary issue is whether global warming will reach a level such that ice sheets begin to disintegrate in a rapid, non-linear fashion on West Antarctica, Greenland or both. Once well under way, such a collapse might be impossible to stop, because there are multiple positive feedbacks. In that event, a sea level rise of several metres at least would be expected.

As an example, let us say that ice sheet melting adds 1 centimetre to sea level for the decade 2005 to 2015, and that this doubles each decade until the West Antarctic ice sheet is largely depleted. This would yield a rise in sea level of more than 5 metres by 2095.”

Hansen seems convinced that the most recent data on historical temperatures is more accurate than earlier research, and places our current global temperature within 1 degree of its highest temperature in the past million years, making the horrific prospect of a 5 meter increase in sea levels seem much more ominous.

He concludes:

“The broader picture strongly indicates that ice sheets will respond in a non-linear fashion to global warming – and are already beginning to do so. There is enough information now, in my opinion, to make it a near certainty that business-as-usual scenarios will lead to disastrous multi-metre sea level rise on the century time scale.”
According to Jeremy Weiss and Jonathan Overpeck at the University of Arizona, here is what Florida and the Netherlands would look like within 100 years under this scenario.

One would think that large-scale government action should be inevitable at this point. How can we get our nation in gear?

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Climate Change: A Guide For The Perplexed

New Scientist just published great online article debunking the 26 most common climate change myths and misconceptions. The article is very well written and includes links to all of the primary data sources. Better yet, it is very well-targeted, hitting many of the most common responses I have received personally from friends and colleagues over the past year of office-cooler debate on the topic almost verbatim. My personal top hits include the following myths:

But do link over to the main article from the top of this post to see the complete list.
Here are a couple of my favorite images from the compendium:

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Sobering Climate Change Data on Arctic Sea Ice Extent

Marika Holland, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder has published a study comparing the actual decline in the extent of Arctic sea ice with the climate change models. There is an undeniable trend of decline in the actual sea ice melting that is even more drastic than the most pessimistic computer models of the global environment. In fact, this latest data shows the melting ice is about 30 years ahead of schedule.

Sea Ice Extent

This figure illustrates the extent to which Arctic sea ice is melting faster than projected by computer models. The dotted line represents the average rate of melting indicated by computer models, with the blue area indicating the spread among the different models (shown as plus/minus one standard deviation). The red line shows the actual rate of Arctic ice loss based on observations. The observations have been particularly accurate since 1979 because of new satellite technology. (Illustration by Steve Deyo, ©UCAR, based on research by NSIDC and NCAR. News media terms of use*)

For those of you new to the global warming debate, the extent of polar ice coverage is critical to keeping temperatures low, because the ice is more reflective than the Earth or ocean beneath it. If the polar ice melts faster than expected, the bare earth or liquid water will absorb even more solar radiation and global temperatures will therefore increase faster than expected as well. This, of course, will melt more ice even faster, creating a positive feedback loop that will even further accelerate climate change.


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Global Warming Update and More Political Science

I’ve been meaning to post an update on climate change for some time now, as I have refrained from opining since I saw Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” several months ago. At that time, I posted a story, “A Convenient Supposition” which called out that from the data available and collated at the time (and presented in the film) there was still a big difference between correlation and causality. Moreover, there was a long way between correlations in CO2 levels and global temperature fluctuations and the claim that one CAUSED the other. In fact, there was some considerable evidence that over the past few million years that it was the temperature changes that preceded the CO2 concentration changes, offering a strong indication that the chain of causation was reversed from what alarmists might otherwise prefer in their supporting data.

But since that time, additional evidence has been collected by Hansen and others that, to my mind, irrefutably demonstrates and validates the hypothesis that the industrial development and emission of greenhouse gases has contributed substantially to global temperature increases.

For a more detailed look at the most recent data compilations and analysis, check out the original scientific draft report from the International Panel on Climate Change, and the IPCC’s 4th assessment report. There’s a lot of good stuff in the latter, but my favorite chart from the presentation is the following.


FIGURE SPM-4. Comparison of observed continental- and global-scale changes in surface temperature with results simulated by climate models using natural and anthropogenic forcings. Decadal averages of observations are shown for the period 1906–2005 (black line) plotted against the centre of the decade and relative to the corresponding average for 1901–1950. Lines are dashed where spatial coverage is less than 50%. Blue shaded bands show the 5–95% range for 19 simulations from 5 climate models using only the natural forcings due to solar activity and volcanoes. Red shaded bands show the 5–95% range for 58 simulations from 14 climate models using both natural and anthropogenic forcings. {FAQ 9.2, Figure 1}

Some of you may have noted that the link to the latest assessment I offered above led to a draft marked “not for distribution.” This was on purpose, because what I have offered was the output of the scientific communities BEFORE the politicians insisted on editing the more “inflammatory” wording. I will let you draw your own conclusions as to the intent of said edits by also pointing you to the finally approved version available on the IPCC web site so you might make your own line-by-line comparisons.

For those too busy to track down the details, here is an example from the original draft page 2:

“Many natural systems, on all continents and in some oceans, are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases [very high confidence].”

And in the final version:

“Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly high temperatures.”

Subsequent edits are similar.

Does anyone else find it odd that Politicians are telling scientists that they should be LESS certain? Usually it’s the other way around. And when this particular cart is in front of the horse, the politicization of science seems very dangerous to me.

If you want more details on the political monkeying with the scientific reports, see these articles from:

The Associated Press:

“Several scientists objected to the editing of the final draft by government negotiators but in the end agreed to compromises. However, some scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change vowed never to take part in the process again.”

“The authors lost,” said one participant. “A lot of authors are not going to engage in the IPCC process any more. I have had it with them,” he said on condition of anonymity because the proceedings were supposed to remain confidential. An Associated Press reporter, however, witnessed part of the final meeting.

and a more detailed report from the New York Times.

Which version do you all think the general public should be exposed to, the original scientific summary provided for policy-makers, or the watered-down version spun by the politicians?

I actually think it is important to show both, and not only get the proper technical and scientific message across, but also to expose the political maneuvering and agendas hampering action on important scientific issues.

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Will Canada Become the World’s Breadbasket?

I couldn’t escape the grand political irony exposed in this recent story entitled “New Crops Needed to Avoid Famines” from the BBC on climate change. The basic thesis is that the expected increases in global temperature will shift the regions amenable to fertile crop production northward. Worse yet, in the absence of any replacement crops, or the adoption of massive farming infrastructure in the newly fertile regions, broad famines will ensue. The shift has reportedly already begun with rice yields in Asia declining 10% per degree of average annual temperature increase.

Then it struck me. The cornerstone of political support for the Republican party lies in America’s breadbasket, the Red States. The following map from the BBC article says it all.


One would think think that such a clear and present threat to their core constituency would get a little more attention. But sadly, the Republican platform is currently opposed to both efforts at mitigating global warming AND genetic engineering which could develop more climate-proof crops. It is almost as if they are trying to guarantee the economic ruin of their constituency (and the rest of the US with them) within a couple of generations. Liberals take heart!

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300 Million and Counting

From Yahoo:

The Census Bureau projects that America’s population will hit 300 million at 7:46 a.m. EDT Tuesday. The projection is based on estimates for births, deaths and net immigration that add up to one new American every 11 seconds.

The estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. are included in official population estimates, though many demographers believe they are undercounted. The population reached its last milestone, 200 million, in 1967. That translates into a 50 percent increase in 39 years.

During the same period, the number of households nearly doubled, the number motor vehicles more than doubled and the miles driven in those vehicles nearly tripled. The average household size has shrunk from 3.3 people to 2.6 people, and the share of households with only one person has jumped from less than 16 percent to about 27 percent.

“The natural resource base that is required to support each person keeps rising,” Replogle said. “We’re heating and cooling more space, and the housing units are more spread out than ever before.”

The U.S. is the third largest country in the world, behind China and India. The U.S. is the fastest growing of the industrialized nations, adding about 2.8 million people a year, or just under 1 percent. India is growing faster but the United Nations considers it to be a less developed country. About 40 percent of U.S. population growth comes from immigration, both legal and illegal, according to the Census Bureau. The rest comes from births outnumbering deaths.

“It’s not the population, it’s the consumption that can do us in,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. “These are the luxuries we have been able to support until now. But we’re not going to be able to do it forever.”

Check the Population Clock here.

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