mellowtigger: (snow)
backyard snowIt's been colder than usual in Minnesota this winter.  We've also received a respectable amount of snow.  Here's the view outside my window now.  The snow (after shoveling and snow blowing since December) is as tall as my car.

Minnesota Public Radio aired a 5-minute story saying that we haven't had a winter like this one since 1981.  We've had 5 ground blizzards this winter, ice covering 91% of Lake Superior, frost depth to 1.2 meters (4 feet), and 40 consecutive days of subzero Fahrenheit temperatures here in the Twin Cities.

I've never known Minnesota to simply "shut down" because of the cold, but it happened on January 3rd this winter because of the deadly windchill.  That Monday morning, I tried driving to work when it was -27C/-16F (-39C/-38F windchill).  My engine soon overheated, though, because the radiator was frozen. I turned around to drive back home, but I had to stop 4 times to let the engine cool down before continuing.  Unfortunately, the frozen radiator meant that I had no heat inside the car either, so my hands and feet were bitterly cold by the time I made it home again.

T'Reese licking condensationOne side effect of the cold temperature is the condensation.  All of the windows drip with air moisture that has condensed onto the cold glass.  Occasionally, I'll hear a leak that spills water out, but when I go to investigate I just find that a window sill has collected too much water and it finally leaks over the edge in a small torrent.  Both of the cats have learned to enjoy it, though.  T'Reese favors licking the water from the sill (pictured here), while Hope licks the water directly off of the window panes... both the upper and lower panes.  They keep my bedroom window from spilling any water.

Later that cold day, when I drove a short distance to the repair shop to have my radiator fluid flushed and replaced with something more cold-hardy, I heard a guy there parrot word-for-word the conservative media talking points about global warming being nonsense because, you know, it's cold now.  I see 3 problems with this opinion.

First, it's winter.  Give me a break.  Of course this time of year is when you'd expect it to be cold, and especially here in Minnesota.  Second, this kind of weather used to be typical for Minnesota, back decades ago before climate change had become so noticeable.  Now, weather that used to be common for this area has instead not been seen in an entire generation... until finally this year.  Third, while Minnesota experienced its burst of cold, Alaska was baking in a comparative heatwave.  Places there have actually lost their snow cover to the melting... in Alaska... in winter.

As I keep saying, an atmosphere with more energy will become "well mixed", with currents breaking usual patterns of air circulation to spiral off into unusual locations.  The more heat you add, the more frenetic those eddies become.  I expect it to behave much like the phenomenon you see while watching a pot of boiling water.  So, yeah, it's cold; yet climate change is real.  At least the conspiracists this time made an interesting observation.  We briefly saw the meme that fake snow was falling on Georgia because it wouldn't melt over a flame.  My first thought was to wonder if the ice somehow sublimated, but the water simply absorbs into the snowball, instead.

Me, I think this winter is really cold.  I've pondered a time or two the idea of throwing a pot of boiling water into the subzero air to watch it burst into snowflakes, but... it's cold out there!  I'll just stay inside and watch the cats lick the windows instead.
mellowtigger: (flameproof)
AustralianMeteorologyPurpleIt's summer in Australia. Unlike other summers, bats fall from the sky, gasoline vaporizes inside the gas pump, wildfires burn the most-populated regions and produce mushroom clouds and fire tornadoes, and temperatures are going so high that their Bureau of Meteorology had to add a new color to their temperature chart.

I'm getting depressed by the inability of humanity to change its consumptive behavior. I've changed my own behavior over the course of my lifetime. I use my limited, individual influence on the "free market" to reduce carbon dioxide generation.
  • I once refused for a month to send any of my trash to the dumpster, so I could collect it and see how much (and what types) of waste I generated. Afterwards, I changed my buying habits to reduce my consumption of unnecessary packaging.
  • I have 2 weeks worth of dress shirts for work, I wash them only once per month which means that I wear them twice between washings, but I wear them once and then hang them to "air out" for two weeks until their 2nd use.
  • I use a washing machine for my dress shirts, but then I hang them in the basement to air dry instead of using the electric dryer.
  • I occasionally bicycle to work. This behavior is new. I started at age 43. I should have started long ago.
  • I choose when possible to buy low-energy computer hardware. Performance is not quite as good in some areas, but I adjust to any limitations.
I could do more. I should do more. It's difficult to self-limit behavior, though, when our society is constructed for easy gratification. Just flip a switch, turn a key, or push a button, then get whatever you want. A 2012 November report from the World Bank (pdf) puts the issue in stark terms. Scientists have been warning about 2C changes and how disruptive it would be to human activity.

However, even if global warming is limited to 2C, global mean sea level could continue to rise, with some estimates ranging between 1.5 and 4 meters above present-day levels by the year 2300. (page xv)

Submersion of American cities has already been projected.  I expect my birthplace in the Navy port of Jacksonville Beach, Florida, to be entirely underwater.  We've almost reached the 2C mark already. They're examining now what 4C warming would do to us, and they're saying that humans will have to abandon some parts of the planet because of effects on our sources of food and water.

The impacts of the extreme heat waves projected for a 4C world have not been evaluated, but they could be expected to vastly exceed the consequences experienced to date and potentially exceed the adaptive capacities of many societies and natural systems. (page xv)
In fact, in a 4C world climate change seems likely to become the dominant driver of ecosystem shifts, surpassing habitat destruction as the greatest threat to biodiversity. Recent research suggests that large-scale loss of biodiversity is likely to occur in a 4C world, with climate change and high CO2 concentration driving a transition of the Earth's ecosystems into a state unknown in human experience. (page xvi)
Similarly, stresses on human health, such as heat waves, malnutrition, and decreasing quality of drinking water due to seawater intrusion, have the potential to overburden health-care systems to a point where adaptation is no longer possible, and dislocation is forced. Thus, given that uncertainty remains about the full nature and scale of impacts, there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4C world is possible. (page xviii)

So 2C is bad, and 4C is catastrophic. Scientists say that we are headed for 6C warming if we continue doing nothing. *dejected sigh*

I want to do more, but I need help staying focused on my own behavioral change. So many Americans choose willful ignorance, though, that I'm losing faith that our democratic institution can respond in time to provide any useful framework for encouraging collective behavioral change.

"More, faster" goes the chant of exponential growth. Nature always, in all circumstances, ends exponential growth.  She is harsh.
mellowtigger: (gardening)
NOAA.2012.01-10My first winters in Minnesota included air temperatures down to -39C/-38F, and that cold was harsh for a guy who grew up in a desert.  I've said again and again that every winter I've spent here has been milder than the previous winter.  Apparently it's not just me growing accustomed to the cold.  I've lived in Minnesota for 15 years, but the consecutive warming may have started a decade before I arrived.

NOAA releases monthly climate statistics, and for some reason the October report has spurred articles in Grist and Wired about global warming. This particular quote is drawing all of the new attention:

"This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature. The last below-average month was February 1985."

So if you are now 27 years or younger (born March 1985 or later), then you have never lived in a world that experienced below-average temperatures for your century.  Let that anomaly sink in. It's what warranted the special attention.

The first Lake Wobegon book was published in 1985.  Its radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, has been around Minnesota Public Radio for much longer.  The first radio episode aired in 1976.  Still, though, the familiar closing line of each Lake Wobegon story gains new relevance: 'That's the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above-average.'  And so is the planetary temperature.
mellowtigger: (astronomy)
Did you know that Earth has "stripes" in its atmosphere, like the big planets have? They're related to those air blowers that hang over the gate entrances to some stores. No, really.

Moving air can be used as a barrier to the cross-flow of other air. Air curtains are not as effective as physical doors for separating cold and warm air, but they do actually work nevertheless. It's easy to find descriptions here and there that explain how to configure the air curtain for maximum efficiency. The important thing is that they do have a strong effect.

The region of a planet that directly faces its sun will heat up faster than elsewhere on a planet. The atmosphere there will grow hotter, expand, and rush upward to equalize the air pressure. That one region of updraft is important in setting up cycles of air movement across the rest of the planet. On Earth, our equator is generally the most sunward-facing latitude, and that's where our primary updraft begins. As that air rushes upwards, it does two important things.

First, the air cools as it rises, and that cooling leads to rainfall. On Earth, we call this region of rainfall the Tropics. Generally, this region is where we find our rainforests. That updraft has to go somewhere, but it can go only so high. Eventually it pushes outwards instead. That up-and-out motion sets up the second big effect, because it leads to the necessary down-and-in motion of replacement air.

Second, the updraft feeds a perpetual cycle of rotating air. The air rises at the hottest points along the equator, and it falls around 30 degrees north and south of the equator. On Earth, we call these regions of downward air the Subtropics. Remember that this air previously rained out its moisture at the equator. As it comes down to the ground in the subtropics, the air is very dry. These two regions are where we find our deserts.

HadleyCell.diagramThis first loop of air current is called a Hadley cell. While its immediate environmental effects are already important, let's consider a consequence of its movement. Remember the air curtain at the store entrance? The downward motion of the air curtain inside the store (the primary loop) leads to a similar downward motion of the air outside the store (a secondary loop). The two loops interact very little, so the air temperatures don't "mix" along their interface.

Earth has these secondary loops too. Each of them is called a mid-latitude cell. They are influenced by the motion of the primary loop, although they are weaker. Those secondary loops influence the creation of even weaker tertiary loops closer to the poles. The interfaces between the different loops have the same effect on Earth as they do at the storefronts. Cold air (farther from the equator) is kept separated from warm air (closer to the equator). This separation is important to global climate change forecasts.

As one science writer points out, if the loop effect is weak, then air mixes much faster between the equator and the poles. That mixing would lead to polar regions experiencing much warmer weather than usual, which would lead to much faster glacier melt than predicted by current models. In fact, much faster melting is exactly what's happening right now in Greenland.

Other news, however, points to a strengthening of the cells. If the cells are expanding their territory range, though, then this change could actually be bad news instead of good. It would fundamentally change the local climates if the air loop interfaces moved to new areas of the planet.

Earth has atmospheric bands like other planets with thick atmospheres, and they're very important to our climate forecast. They are yet another "moving part" to the complicated machinery that have kept our ecosystems in their recent (very enjoyable) state. As you already know, I advocate against tinkering with our biosphere.  I commute by bicycle to help reduce my own carbon dioxide addition to our atmosphere, hopefully reducing the impact of humanity's effect on climate change.  I hope that education about Earth's complex systems will help encourage other people to consider their personal and collective influence on global climate.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
It's -24C (-11F) today with windchill about 10C (20F) degrees colder. That's what winter in Minnesota is supposed to be like. It conjures ideas of the next ice age, which the planet is supposed to be entering now based on planetary cycles. That was the prediction 30 years ago. I know, because I was reading the articles and wondering how we would adapt to the cold.

Then we noticed that the ice age wasn't coming. Our atmosphere's high carbon dioxide concentration has interrupted the cycle.

The temperate stretch in between global freezes can be longer or shorter depending on a number of factors, but with the last ice age having ended 11,600 years ago the arrival of another already appears overdue. ... Separate research has shown that even if we cut our carbon emissions instantly, concentrations in our atmosphere would remain artificially high for the next 1,000 years.
- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/9002131/Carbon-emissions-to-block-next-ice-age.html

Minnesota has experienced record or near-record high temperatures for many months now. The last half of 2011 was outmatched only by the year of the dust bowl for high temperatures. Some winter festivals here have already had to cancel their annual plans for ice fishing in favor of other cool-weather activities.

Here are photos of the snow pile in the back yard from some previous years by this time of the winter.
snow 2011 Feb 21snow 2010 Feb 27

And here's what it looked like on 2012 January 10. Notice the profound lack of snow.
january 2012

Global warming will be good to Minnesota. Not so good elsewhere, though. The president of Maldives is buying up land in foreign countries and warning their governments to prepare for an influx of refugees.

Eighty per cent of the Maldivian land mass - a string of more than 1200 islands, 200 inhabited, running 750 kilometres north-south in the Indian Ocean - is less than a metre above sea level. The highest point in the entire country is 2.4 metres above sea level, and already, 14 islands have had to be abandoned because of massive erosion by the sea.
- http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/climate-change-castaways-consider-move-to-australia-20120106-1pobf.html

Meanwhile, starving arctic polar bears are cannibalizing their young, the Doomsday Clock has moved one minute closer to midnight, and some people are beginning their back-of-the-napkin calculations for worst case scenarios that include temperature rise of 20C (40F) degrees that ends human life on Earth.

But winters in Minnesota will be sweet for the remainder of my lifetime.  And, really, does anybody ever care what happens to the rest of the world after their own death?
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Wow, "news" agencies sure have gotten lazy. I find many reports of the entire state of Texas as a drought disaster area (213 counties out of 254, so 84% of them actually), but nobody bothers to link to the primary source of the actual government announcement.

WASHINGTON, June 27, 2011 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated 213 counties in Texas as primary natural disaster areas after one of the worst droughts in more than a century. The state sustained excessive heat, high winds and wildfires that burned hundreds of thousands of acres. ... The drought, wildfires and other natural disasters - which began Jan. 1, 2011, and continues - caused 30 percent or more loss of forage crops, pasture, corn, oats and wheat in the following counties...
- http://www.apfo.usda.gov/FSA/newsReleases?area=newsroom&subject=landing&topic=edn&newstype=ednewsrel&type=detail&item=ed_20110628_rel_0061.html

The obvious point to liberal treehuggers like me is that global warming deniers are finally getting to roast in their own juices as U.S. weather goes haywire this year. There's even a good-but-scary video making the rounds that makes it seem ludicrous for deniers to continue denying.


Objective scientists are more hesitant to make such declarations, but they're obviously leaning to the same conclusion.

Epic floods, massive wildfires, drought and the deadliest tornado season in 60 years are ravaging the United States, with scientists warning that climate change will bring even more extreme weather. ...

"This spring was one of the most extreme springs that we've seen in the last century since we've had good records," said Deke Arndt, chief of climate monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). While it's not possible to tie a specific weather event or pattern to climate change, Arndt said this spring's extreme weather is in line with what is forecast for the future. "In general, but not everywhere, it is expected that the wetter places will get wetter and the drier places will tend to see more prolonged dry periods," he told AFP.
- http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-06-experts-epic-weather-ravaging-worsen.html

The connection is so obvious that even people who would normally know better than to associate a single instance (the year 2011) with a long-term trend (global climate change) find themselves unable to outright evade the possibility.

And of course there's this million dollar question: "Does any research point to climate change as a cause of this wild weather?"

"Global warming is certainly happening," asserts Patzert, "but we can't discount global warming or blame it for the 2011 tornado season. We just don't know ... Yet."
- http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-06-blame-wild-weather-la-nada.html

And this is just short-term speculation.  The long-term forecasting is much worse, even if you take into account solar decline.

It's hard to deny the link when you try to imagine a potential "teachable moment" about global warming, and you end up with scenarios exactly like what we're really experiencing already.  I'm glad I've managed to commute by bicycle this month.  I regret that I plan to go back to gasoline-guzzling transportation before the summer ends.  I offer my lame apologies to future generations of humans (and plants and other animals) who will have to suffer for my convenience.
mellowtigger: (coprolite)
The winds here in Minneapolis are still strong tonight.  It didn't get as bad as feared.  I did read one news account that stated we set a new Minnesota record for low barometric pressure reading.

Still, though, can anyone tell me if we noticed a hurricane-force cyclonic storm forming in the middle of the North American continent prior to that big-lie-promoted-by-liberal-biased-media that we now call "Global Warming"?  Googling anything with the phrase "chiclone" (Chicago cyclone?) gets me page after page of links to today's weather story but nothing older.

Really, I'm asking.  Has this happened before?  We've had high winds here during the past 12 years that I've lived in Minnesota, of course, but I don't remember ever hearing it mentioned as part of a large cyclonic weather formation with a low-pressure center.

If we're lucky, the word "chiclone" will die a quick and painless death within 3 days of the news cycle moving on to some other shiny new tragedy.  If we're unlucky, though, then "bombogenesis" will replace it in the English vocabulary.
mellowtigger: (Default)
Global warming is definitely making headlines throughout the scientific community. Still, though, you don't hear much in the daily press about the changes that are already here. The year 2010 is already on track to being the warmest since human record keeping began in 1880. Digging up ocean sediment cores up to 2.7 million years into the past confirm that carbon dioxide is still the primary culprit in global temperature change throughout the ages.

So what else is changing besides the thermometer reading?

The sky is changing.  Noctilucent clouds form high up in the atmosphere, up at the edge of space. They used to be a rare phenomenon, but now they are appearing with curious frequency. Scientists who study them are finally beginning to understand them, even making predictions about their appearance. The guess so far is that global warming has something to do with their rise in the night sky.

I'm also finding hole punch clouds being mentioned more frequently in articles and videos. Most mentions refer to UFOs because of the formation's circular appearance in otherwise normal clouds, but I expect persistent observation to eventually reveal their real atmospheric cause. I won't be surprised if their rise in frequency is also linked to global warming.

The water is changing.  The scary news recently is that plankton are declining globally at a rate of about 1% per year. These tiny creatures form the base of the aquatic food chain. Their departure will produce ripples of decline throughout the oceans. The current guess is that the warming waters are developing temperature zones in larger layers than before. The taller layers are keeping chemical nutrients from below separated from the upper levels where sunlight is available.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves into ocean water. It creates carbonic acid which is the same stuff that gives fizziness to carbonated beverages. The effect of ocean acidification on aquatic life has been catastrophic in ages past. I'm still waiting for the news stories about global coral bleaching.  Such stories are still isolated for the moment.

The earth is changing.  Volcanic hazards will increase because the earth's crust is changing shape. As massive amounts of ice melt off of land masses in Iceland and Antarctica, the weight of it shifts off of the rock there to be distributed more equally across large areas of ocean. The rock left behind shifts upward, and those shifts cause large scale movement among tectonic plates as they try to reach a new equilibrium of pressures.

The marmot is changing.  The yellow-bellied marmots of Colorado are rising in both population and size. The link to global warming is the earlier snow melt. When these hibernating creatures wake earlier in the year, they have more time to eat and breed.  They are exploding in size and number. Even ten years ago, such changes were becoming apparent.

Everything is changing.  As weather patterns change, so does everything else. Migrating microbes, hitching rides on dust particles, are appearing far distant from their usual areas. Once they arrive with the strong winds, they still require a suitable environment to thrive. With changing temperatures and humidities, though, ranges of suitability appear to be expanding. Cryptococcus gattii and eastern equine encephalitis are present in the USA and thought to be influenced by global warming changes.

As everything moves into new territory suitable for its habitat, expect lots of disruption to human activities.  Coffee is already needing to migrate, but humans may soon follow that example. Even hurricanes seem inclined to bend toward human cities because of the air friction that they provide.  I haven't read stories yet about the increasing demands of irrigation for crops, but such an effect is expected.  Increasing temperatures cause water to evaporate faster, leaving soil drier, requiring more irrigation water than before to accommodate the same crops. Expect lawsuits and actual wars over freshwater sources. The siphoning of entire water basins to quench Los Angeles was just the prelude. Wait until the city has to decide between water or food.

I have a hard time imagining why denial continues, even as the whole world changes in front of our eyes. These changes can be predicted and planned for, but naysayers are still able to block institutional changes.
mellowtigger: (coprolite)
Some people trust either government or industry (but not the other) to manage tremendously complex situations.  I trust/distrust both in equal measure.  Progressive complexity, however, will still continue.

It's not like the U.S. government has the tools to fix the Deepwater Horizon problem.  Supposedly, even nuclear submarines can't go deep enough to visit that blown oil well.  BP still retains sole discretion on the cleanup effort in the Gulf.  *exasperated sigh*  They have decided NOT to use the volunteer-crafted booms made from donated natural fibers like hair, fur, and wool.  So the booms are now sitting unused in warehouses around the Gulf while oil continues to wash up on beaches.  I'm also told (by an oceanographer who will remain nameless because I expect that he likes his job) that a scientific research vessel approaching the area has been told by its government agency funder that its data might be "quarantined".  I expected a lot more transparency and engagement from the Obama presidency.  The problem, once again, seems to be that industrial organizations have legal rights that supercede citizen-taxpayer interests.  I'm more than ready to change that balance by adding an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to clarify this point.

Diatribe cut for brevity's sake... )

The anthropocene extinction event continues apace.
mellowtigger: (economy)
Another creative work that tries to explain why exponential economies are bad.  I've officially joined the Impossible Hamster Club.


There's also a 146-page article (which I have only briefly skimmed) with the succinct title, "Growth Isn't Possible".
http://www.neweconomics.org/sites/neweconomics.org/files/Growth_Isnt_Possible.pdf

Maybe the One Hundred Months clock will finally get me to work on my bearlyinvolved.org website?
mellowtigger: (coprolite)
What scientists have to say on the matter is deeply complex.  Many people have no patience or interest in hearing the details.  So here's the shorter, "Farmer John" version of the narrative.

zone changesArbor Day Foundation: If you won't believe global scientists, then will you believe the people whose only interest is in getting trees to grow?  The Arbor Day Foundation shows this U.S. map with different graphics depicting the plant hardiness zones in 1990 and 2006.  This graphic on the right shows how the zone borders have changed during those 16 years.

These zones are meant to indicate winter temperatures which affect plant survival.  Notice how all of the zones have expanded northwards, increasing the zone number for about half of the U.S. territory.  A few pockets have increased by two zone numbers, while a few southwest areas actually decreased their zone number.  (I wonder if it has anything to do with these desert areas losing their rivers and lakes as California siphons the remaining drinkable water from these regions?)

Animal Shelters:  If you won't believe global scientists, then will you believe the people whose only interest is in the welfare of domesticated pets in our cities?  Animal shelters across the nation have seen a rise in animal counts in recent years, especially cats.  One theory is that global warming has extended the animal breeding season, resulting in this growth spurt as cats breed 3 times per year instead of only 2 times.  One long time Minnesota shelter employee has noted that "cat season" (when the most cats and kittens are surrendered to shelters) used to peak in June or July but now lasts into October.

Saint Paul Winter Carnival: If you won't believe global scientists, then will you believe the people whose only interest is in hosting a fun winter carnival for more than a century?  I've said before that every winter that I've been in Minnesota has been milder than the one before.  A few years ago, I heard on the radio that planners had to move the annual winter carnival to late-January because there was no longer enough cold weather to keep the ice safe in early February.  (It has been held as late as March, many decades ago. See the buttons for 1886 and 1946 for a date comparison.)  When is ice not "safe"?  When it's used to build ice castles.  Public safety is definitely an issue when your big tourist attraction is melting above your customers' heads.

This season, it has actually rained (liquid water, truly) in both December and January!  I don't remember that happening previously in the 12 winters that I've been here.  This winter is again milder than the ones that came before.

polar bear on melting icebergPolar Explorer:
  If you won't believe global scientists, then will you believe a Minnesotan who has spent his life exploring the arctic?  Sure, the guy has become a vocal global warming proponent, but he has interesting anecdotes to share.  Like the story of Inuit ice fishers falling into ice cracks in areas that had been safe for decades.  Like the story of hungry polar bears coming into villages looking for food.  These incidents happened a lot farther north than Minnesota, but they are still useful accounts that detail how life is changing because of planetary warming.

Department Of Natural Resources:  If you won't believe global scientists, then will you believe Minnesotans who are responsible for keeping our public lands economically valuable and personally enjoyable?  One of their essays says that Lake Superior has been changing since the 1970s.  It has seen declining ice cover and increasing summer surface temperature.  Researchers say that the loss of ice cover extends the summer seasons, resulting in ever greater temperature increases.  They're now studying the long term effects of these changes.  One effect (text with auto-play audio) is the inability of the warmer water to contain as much dissolved oxygen.  As temperature and oxygen changes, the species of fish that can live in that water will also change.

University of Minnesota (Morris) and University of Wisconsin (Madison):  If you won't believe global scientists, then will you believe the people whose only interest is in watching trees grow to add data to their spreadsheets?  Professors from these universities measured growth rates of nearly a thousand trees (from age 5 to age 76) in the area.  Comparing tree growth with air chemistry, they were able to see as much as 50% increased growth rate of aspens (but not oak or pine) resulting from increased carbon dioxide in the air.  That's air chemistry, not air temperature, but it's another sign that our environment is actively responding to greenhouse gas.  The composition of our forests will change.

In conclusion:  Science is open-minded, but it is not democratic.  We don't vote on raw data.  Theories must be continuously examined as new data arrives.  Falsification of data is a high crime, and human error is still quite common.  No flawed study will change the observation (observation, remember, not theory) that glaciers worldwide are melting, oceans worldwide are rising, and greenhouse gas levels are rising.  All three of these realities are bad for our global civilization.  Here are nice photos of two icebergs that broke off of Antarctica and are now floating past Australia.  The square one is said to be bigger than Hong Kong.  Observations don't need to be attributed to causes; observations merely are.  One does not have to understand the science behind the theory to appreciate the urgency suggested by the observations.

Separate from observation, however, is our human response.  Our response is a result of our forecasting (science), choice (ethics), and enforcement (politics).  These three fields of endeavor can be flawed, opinionated, and manipulated.  I think it better, considering the irrefutable observations noted above, to err on the side of caution.  There's a lot at stake.
mellowtigger: (dna mouse)
The world is a hugely complex place. Pretty much by definition, each species has its own unique place within this maelstrom of activity. If two animals served precisely the same role within the system, they would essentially be the same species. Instead, each plant, animal, and microbe exploits some unique way of conserving, acquiring, or transferring energy in the complex dance of life (and death).

With countless species in the world, there are lots of biochemical and engineering lessons to be learned from each of them. Each page in the vast library of knowledge is out there, walking or flying or crawling through our environment. No creature is too small or insignificant to offer us an important insight. For example...

Alaska beetle teaches us a new formula for an antifreeze molecule. (link) This trick could teach us to save human lives in hospitals, or it could prepare us for long distance journeys in space while in suspended animation.

Microbe shows us how it "breathes" from iron-containing minerals in rock. (link) This trick could teach us how to build "living" batteries that produce electricity for us.

Zebrafish reveals that it retains its telomeres regardless of its age or regeneration. (link) This trick could teach us how to prevent or cure some forms of cancer, and it could lead to greatly increased lifespans for humans. (Also, this study came out of the University of Minnesota, just a few miles down the road from where I live.)

Fescue grass produces an herbicide that inhibits growth of other plants. (link) This trick could give us industrial farming without the use of dangerous chemicals laced with mercury or arsenic.

Algae is more efficient than it needs to be at converting light into sugar. (link)  This trick could be exploited to create new algae that uses its excess capacity to produce large amounts of hydrogen gas or other fuels or even plastics.

Southern copperhead snake administers venom that can inhibit tumor growth and migration. (link) This trick could help us cure breast cancer. Meanwhile, rattlesnake venom may be able to treat victims of stroke.

Each of these species is an already-worked-out solution to a real-world problem. The fact that species worldwide are going extinct before we have an opportunity to learn their wisdom is a problem worth a great deal of excitement. They arrived at their specialties after millions of years of trial and error. We could learn valuable lessons in years or centuries instead, except that our "mentors" are dieing from our neglect.

Be concerned about endangered or threatened species. Worry when once-thought-extinct animals are rediscovered... and then promptly eaten. Which pages of the library of knowledge are we sacrificing when we dine on the meat of a simple bird that we find in the forest? Does that quail's bone marrow contain instructions on how to build a new lightweight structure of surprising strength? Does its blood contain a cure for a fungal infection common to its environment?

Whether it is pond scum or rodent, each lost species is a lost lesson.  Go Green. It matters.

Many months ago, I purchased the domain name bearlyinvolved.org as a location for encouraging conservation activities amongst the Bear crowd. I really need to get off of my lazy butt and do something with it... before nature's unexplored processes turn around and bite us all in the butt.
mellowtigger: (coprolite)
The sky is falling.

Scientists are working to identify measures that can be used to determine safe (translation: livable) levels of activity in 10 planetary systems that are affected by human industry. Their findings are discussed in a Scientific American article titled, "Grappling with the Anthropocene".

They have announced the safety thresholds for 8 of these 10 systems.

We already fail 3 of them.
Earth SystemThreshold MeasureBoundaryCurrent LevelPreindustrial
Climate ChangeCO2 Concentration350 ppm387 ppm280 ppm
Biodiversity LossExtinction Rate10 pm>100 pm*0.1-one pm
Nitrogen CycleN2 Tonnage35 mmt**121 mmt0
Phosphorous CycleLevel in Ocean11 mmt8.5-9.5 mmt–1 mmt
Ozone LayerO3 Concentration276 DU#283 DU290 DU
Ocean AcidificationAragonite^^ Levels2.752.903.44
Freshwater UsageConsumption4,000 km3^2,600 km3415 km3
Land Use ChangeCropland Conversion15 km311.7 km3Low
AerosolsSoot ConcentrationTBDTBDTBD
Chemical PollutionTBDTBDTBDTBD
*pm=per million
**mmt=millions of metric tons
#DU=dobson unit
^km3=cubic kilometers
^^Aragonite is a form of calcium carbonate. Measurement is in global mean saturation state.
earth thresholds

Sometimes I read too much when I should instead be spending my time digging in the garden drinking blueberry lager.

I need a boyfriend.
mellowtigger: (Default)
The big problem with global warming is not just changing rainfall patterns. Another issue is that warmer soil will evaporate its moisture at a faster pace. So even if rainfall patterns remain constant (which they won't), the soil still dries out sooner than it would have in the past. So existing farmland requires more water than it did before just to maintain the same crop cycle.

The thing is, though.... the water (rainfall and snowmelt) are also changing.

Now that we have actual scientists reporting on... you know... science-y things, here's what our new U.S. energy secretary, Stephen Wu (Nobel-prize winning physicist, but not a climatologist), has to say about our dire need to change our energy needs away from fossil fuel resources which are causing global warming.
"I don't think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen," he said. "We're looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California." And, he added, "I don't actually see how they can keep their cities going" either.
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-warming4-2009feb04,0,7454963.story
Much of California is actually desert, as I learned in my geology class a few years ago. With dwindling water resources for people to dump (in ever-increasing frequency, remember) onto their false, human-planted ecosystem, it will certainly return to its native condition: desert.  There goes America's most productive domestic food supplier.  Similar crop-loss changes are already happening in Australia, where they have a farm area nearly twice the size of France, according to this article:
http://www.grist.org/news/2009/02/04/AustraliaHeat/index.html?source=rss

So what's the solution?  In my opinion, it's already too late to reverse global warming in any profound way before these changes take effect.  The only alternative is to relocate our farmlands and train a new generation to produce food at higher latitudes.  In an interesting twist, something like this plan is already underway.

Montana is trying out a lease-to-own program that tries to match people who want to become farmers with old farmers who want to give up their business to someone who will continue farming it.  Here's a perfect opportunity to have new people try out new methods and new crops.
http://www.newwest.net/city/article/land_link_montana_launches_to_match_farmers_with_ground/C8/L8/
http://missoulian.com/articles/2009/02/04/news/local/news01.txt

With changing energy needs and changing climate, I hope that more states (especially northern states) adopt programs like this!  I'd certainly do it if I knew how to navigate the bureaucracy.
mellowtigger: (Default)
That landing against the tree seems to require more repair than I had initially figured. I've been very tired and sleepy since then, seeming to rest up so my body can spend its energy on undoing some unseen damage. My lower back still hurts, but it's getting better. I have spackled skin where the tree bark roughed my back, but I see no sign of any serious harm. Still, I've slept 1.5 times as much as usual, and I blame my energy level for today's pessimism.

We're changing the content of our biosphere in so many ways:
  • atmosphere (through combustion vehicle exhaust and factory exhaust)
  • soil (though mass ranching, and with pesticides through mass farming, maybe even with electricity)
  • water (with chemicals carried by rain runoff from our cities, and with pharmaceuticals from our sewers, noise from our sonar)
  • biodiversity (simply by carrying macro/micro living organisms across every spot of land on the globe every day, or by mechanizing the destruction of one local ecology to replace it with a new local ecology)
I'm not surprised that a fungal disease is ravaging the world's frog population, or that the north pole may be ice-free this summer for the first time in recorded human history, or that bees (whose species outnumber mammals and birds combined) are suffering colony collapse disorder apparently as a result of a viral infection and their loss will cause even more food shortage for humans.

No, all of that I could believe without getting depressed.

But now even NASA is getting desperate to ring the alarms, primarily as a result of the efforts of Dr. James Hansen, the director of the Goddard Institute of Space Sciences. This man has his own collection of worrying notes, but the pertinent one today is his look back at his last 20 years (pdf) working on just the issue of climate change. Part of me wishes that Homo sapiens would be included in the list of casualties in this now-unfolding 6th occurence of mass extinction in earth's history, as it would seem the only just outcome of our own influence. Or, at the very least, that we evolve into a less-intelligent (and less influential) species, as described by Kurt Vonnegut in his story, Galapagos.

If we ascribe agency to the anthropomorphic Mother Nature... maybe that's what She's preparing for.  One can hope.  (In such a pessimistic mood.)
mellowtigger: (Default)
Jupiter has been behind the sun (and so impossible to photograph) for a while now. It's finally come back around far enough that new photos are available. What's new? Well, yet another red spot.

Astronomers have already seen one of the many white spots evolve into a larger storm system, changing color to red by a process that is not yet fully understood.  They think it has something to do with molecules dredged up from deeper inside Jupiter and then being exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.  Why all the "new" storm activity on Jupiter? More theory: global climate change.

No, not the same kind on Earth, where natural variation has been left behind in favor of new spikes of abrupt change. The idea on Jupiter is that this is part of a natural 60-year cycle (or 100-year cycle, depending on who you ask).

The path of the 3rd storm will take it to the Great Red Spot around August here on Earth.  We'll see then if the winds repel each other or if the smaller storm gets absorbed by the larger one. 

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