The news release promoting the latest edition of Britain’s influential Times Comprehension Atlas of the World hailed it as “the Greatest Book on Earth.”
Not the way climate scientists see it.
“Fiasco” was the word chosen by one scientist in an e-mail to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., alerting his colleagues to erroneous claims made by the publishers of the atlas (whose name derives from The Times of London) about the speed at which Greenland’s glaciers are melting.
He also feared that a map in the atlas, along with news accounts repeating an error in the news release, could pull climate scientists into another vortex of damaging controversy.
The news release, echoed by the news media, claimed that Greenland had lost 15 percent of its permanent ice cover from 1999 to 2011. That translates to 125,000 cubic miles, according to a rough calculation by Etienne Berthier, a glaciologist with the University of Toulouse, enough melted ice to raise sea levels three to five feet.
The corresponding map in the atlas itself indicated that significant portions of Greenland’s coastline had become ice-free.
Glaciologists, previously bruised by an exaggerated claim about the melting of Himalayan glaciers in a 2007 United Nations report that became fodder for global warming skeptics, mobilized as a truth squad.
On blogs, on radio programs and in newspaper columns, they stated emphatically that Greenland has not lost 15 percent of its ice cover in recent years. The retreat, they said, is more like one-tenth of 1 percent. They were quick to add that nobody at the atlas had consulted them.
Continue reading “Scientists Want Publisher to Refreeze Greenland”
Nasa has released the first global map of ocean surface salinity acquired by the Aquarius/SAC-D satellite, which was launched in June this year.
Knowing the saltiness of seawater will improve scientists’ understanding of some key climatic processes. Variations in salinity help drive ocean circulation and their measurement can also reveal how freshwater is moving around the planet. The mission is a joint venture with the space agency of Argentina (Conae).
The new map incorporates just the first two-and-a-half weeks of data since Aquarius became operational on 25 August. Red and yellow colours denote areas of higher salinity; blues and purples represent areas of lower salinity. Areas coloured black represent gaps in the data. The map picks up well-established, large-scale features such as the differences in salinity between the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.
Continue reading “Aquarius Satellite Comes of Age”
The mystery of Earth’s missing heat may have been solved: it could lurk deep in oceans, temporarily masking the climate-warming effects of greenhouse gas emissions, researchers reported on Sunday.
Climate scientists have long wondered where this so-called missing heat was going, especially over the last decade, when greenhouse emissions kept increasing but world air temperatures did not rise correspondingly.
The build-up of energy and heat in Earth’s system is important to track because of its bearing on current weather and future climate.
The temperatures were still high — the decade between 2000 and 2010 was Earth’s warmest in more than a century — but the single-year mark for warmest global temperature was stuck at 1998, until 2010 matched it.
The world temperature should have risen more than it did, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research reckoned.
They knew greenhouse gas emissions were rising during the decade and satellites showed there was a growing gap between how much sunlight was coming in and how much radiation was going out. Some heat was coming to Earth but not leaving, and yet temperatures were not going up as much as projected.
So where did the missing heat go?
Continue reading ““Missing” Global Heat May Hide in Deep Oceans”
Distinguishing between science and pseudoscience is problematic
Climate deniers are accused of practicing pseudoscience, as are intelligent design creationists, astrologers, UFOlogists, parapsychologists, practitioners of alternative medicine, and often anyone who strays far from the scientific mainstream. The boundary problem between science and pseudoscience, in fact, is notoriously fraught with definitional disagreements because the categories are too broad and fuzzy on the edges, and the term “pseudoscience” is subject to adjectival abuse against any claim one happens to dislike for any reason. In his 2010 book Nonsense on Stilts (University of Chicago Press), philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci concedes that there is “no litmus test,” because “the boundaries separating science, nonscience, and pseudoscience are much fuzzier and more permeable than Popper (or, for that matter, most scientists) would have us believe.”
It was Karl Popper who first identified what he called “the demarcation problem” of finding a criterion to distinguish between empirical science, such as the successful 1919 test of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and pseudoscience, such as Freud’s theories, whose adherents sought only confirming evidence while ignoring disconfirming cases. Einstein’s theory might have been falsified had solar-eclipse data not shown the requisite deflection of starlight bent by the sun’s gravitational field. Freud’s theories, however, could never be disproved, because there was no testable hypothesis open to refutability. Thus, Popper famously declared “falsifiability” as the ultimate criterion of demarcation.
The problem is that many sciences are nonfalsifiable, such as string theory, the neuroscience surrounding consciousness, grand economic models and the extraterrestrial hypothesis. On the last, short of searching every planet around every star in every galaxy in the cosmos, can we ever say with certainty that E.T.s do not exist?
Continue reading “What Is Pseudoscience?”
Update 14 September 2011: The field test will be conducted at an abandoned airfield in Sculthorpe, UK. Matthew Watson of the University of Bristol, UK, presented details of the project at the British Science Festival in Bradford, UK.
Original article, posted 9 September 2011
FIELD trials for experiments to engineer the climate have begun. Next month a team of UK researchers will hoist one end of a 1-kilometre-long hose aloft using a balloon, then attempt to pump water up it and spray it into the atmosphere (see diagram).
The water will not affect the climate. Rather, the experiment is a proof of principle to show that we can pump large quantities of material to great heights. If it succeeds, a larger-scale version could one day pump sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere, creating a sunshade that will offset the greenhouse effect.
The trial, led by Matthew Watson of the University of Bristol, UK, is part of a £2 million project called Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE). Funded by two UK research councils, it also aims to find out the ideal particles to use in an atmospheric sunshade and will attempt to model their effects in greater detail than ever before. The test is not alone: a string of other technologies that could be used to “geoengineer” our environment are being field-tested (see “Coping with emissions”).
Continue reading “Geoengineering Trials Get Under Way”
The UK is set to miss climate change targets it is legally bound to meet, according to an independent analysis.
Cambridge Econometrics says the UK will narrowly miss carbon budgets up to 2017, and by bigger margins after that. The government is legally bound to keep emissions within its carbon budgets. Separately, a report from a coalition of green groups says the government is not living up to its “greenest ever” pledge. The government says it is making progress on a number of fronts.
It points out that emissions from the government’s own activities, in Westminster, Whitehall and around the country, have fallen by nearly 14% in a single year. But emissions from the nation as a whole actually grew during 2010, as the economy began a modest recovery from the recession. According to analysts Cambridge Econometrics, this has helped to put the UK off the trajectory required to stay within its carbon budgets.
“The unmistakable lesson from the effect of emissions reduction policies 1997-2010 is that policies tend to have a lower impact than forecast, and therefore their strength needs to be increased if targets are to be achieved,” said Paul Ekins from the Energy Institute at University College London, senior consultant to Cambridge Econometrics. The country has also missed the target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2010 that was set by Labour before coming to power in 1997.
Continue reading “UK ‘Set to Miss’ Climate Targets”
The potential negative consequences of geoengineering the planetary climate remain too unclear to risk deployment at this point
No geoengineering methods are ready for use to combat climate change, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released late last month, citing concerns about cost, effectiveness and adverse consequences.
“Climate engineering technologies do not now offer a viable response to global climate change,” GAO said in the report commissioned by former House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.).
Interest in the technologies has grown amid the difficulty of enacting national and international policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many scientists believe that geoengineering could be a planetary “Plan B,” a tool to use only if steep cuts to the world’s greenhouse gas output fail to blunt global warming.
In its report, GAO said that “the majority of experts we consulted support starting significant climate engineering research now.” But as it stands, geoengineering methods are “currently immature, with many potentially negative consequences,” the report adds.
Continue reading “Geoengineering Too “Immature” to Combat Climate Change”
WASHINGTON—The Securities and Exchange Commission is asking oil and gas companies to provide it with detailed information—including chemicals used and efforts to minimize environmental impact—about their use of a controversial drilling process used to crack open natural gas trapped in rocks.
The federal government’s investor-and-markets watchdog is stepping into the heated environmental debate surrounding hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” according to government and industry officials, even as state and federal environmental officials have begun to bring greater pressure on the industry. The process, which involves pumping water, chemicals and sand underground to free difficult-to-reach natural gas in shale basins, has come under criticism from environmental groups ad some lawmakers over concerns toxins in the mix may contaminate air and water.
The SEC move shows the broad interest among Washington regulators in taking a closer look at fracking and suggests companies that are betting billions of dollars on the technology will increasingly need to weigh disclosing techniques they often consider proprietary. Battles over disclosure have already broken out at the state level, including in states such as New York and Pennsylvania that sit on the giant Marcellus Shale, an underground formation that has become a fracking hotbed because of the large quantities of natural gas there. Just last week, Noble Energy Inc. paid $3.4 billion for a stake in developing 663,350 acres there.
Continue reading “SEC Bears Down on Fracking”
Current called North Icelandic Jet contributes to key component of ocean circulation
If you’d like to cool off fast in hot summer weather, take a dip in a newly discovered ocean current called the North Icelandic Jet (NIJ). You’d need to be far, far below the sea’s surface near Iceland, however, to reach it. Scientists have confirmed the presence of the NIJ, a deep-ocean circulation system off Iceland. It could significantly influence the ocean’s response to climate change. The NIJ contributes to a key component of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), critically important for regulating Earth’s climate. As part of the planet’s reciprocal relationship between ocean circulation and climate, the AMOC transports warm surface water to high latitudes where the water warms the air, then cools, sinks and returns toward the equator as a deep flow.
Crucial to this warm-to-cold oceanographic choreography is the Denmark Strait Overflow Water (DSOW), the largest of the deep, overflow plumes that feed the lower limb of the AMOC and return the dense water south through gaps in the Greenland-Scotland Ridge. For years it has been thought that the primary source of the Denmark Overflow was a current adjacent to Greenland known as the East Greenland Current. However, this view was recently called into question by two oceanographers from Iceland who discovered a deep current flowing southward along the continental slope of Iceland. They named the current the North Icelandic Jet and hypothesized that it formed a significant part of the overflow water.
Continue reading “Newly Discovered Icelandic Current Could Change Climate Picture”
YOKOSUKA, Japan — The half-century-old, oil-fueled power generators here had been idle for more than a year when, a day after the nuclear accident in March, orders came from Tokyo Electric Power headquarters to fire them up.
“They asked me how long it would take,” said Masatake Koseki, head of the Yokosuka plant, which is 40 miles south of Tokyo and run by Tokyo Electric. “The facilities are old, so I told them six months. But they said, ‘No, you must ready them by summer to prepare for an energy shortage.’ ”
Now, at summer’s peak, Yokosuka’s two fuel-oil and two gas turbines are cranking out a total of 900,000 kilowatts of electricity — and an abundance of fumes.
The generators are helping to replace the 400 million kilowatt-hours of daily electricity production lost this summer because of the shutdown of all but 15 of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.
Continue reading “Japan Quake Is Causing Costly Shift to Fossil Fuels”