Posts Tagged AGU

The Climate Show #31: Doha! Doha! Doha! Gareth Renowden Dec 07

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It’s the run up to Christmas, and the annual ritual repeats. Diplomats gather in Doha to discuss and debate action on climate change, so Glenn and Gareth talk to their correspondent on the spot, New Zealand climate media strategist Cindy Baxter to find out what’s happening in the oil kingdom’s echoing halls. At the Fall AGU meeting in San Francisco, NOAA has published its 2012 Arctic Report Card (grim reading, it has to be said). Plus Gareth talks about truffles as a bellwether for Europe’s changing climate, and the boys get all enthusiastic about nanophotonics and steampunk.

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold.

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Story references


The Fall AGU is on in San Francisco.

Today’s hot news: 2012 Arctic report card released: press release.

Graphics and articles:

French truffles being affected by heat and drought

The bigger picture: European Environment Agency report:

‘Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012′ finds that higher average temperatures have been observed across Europe as well as decreasing precipitation in southern regions and increasing precipitation in northern Europe. The Greenland ice sheet, Arctic sea ice and many glaciers across Europe are melting, snow cover has decreased and most permafrost soils have warmed.

Guest interview:

Special guest NZr Cindy Baxter, a climate media strategist who has attended just about every major international climate meeting over the last 20 years. Veteran of the talks, blogs for Hot Topic. In Doha with climate scientists.

And just to underline Cindy’s comments: NZ’s lacklustre statement to COP 18:


Solar steam: Super-Efficient Solar-Energy Technology: ‘Solar Steam’ So Effective It Can Make Steam from Icy Cold Water

The efficiency of solar steam is due to the light-capturing nanoparticles that convert sunlight into heat. When submerged in water and exposed to sunlight, the particles heat up so quickly they instantly vaporize water and create steam. Halas said the solar steam’s overall energy efficiency can probably be increased as the technology is refined.
“We’re going from heating water on the macro scale to heating it at the nanoscale,” Halas said. “Our particles are very small — even smaller than a wavelength of light — which means they have an extremely small surface area to dissipate heat. This intense heating allows us to generate steam locally, right at the surface of the particle, and the idea of generating steam locally is really counterintuitive.”

Steampunk Oamaru

Thanks to our media partners: Idealog Sustain, Sciblogs, and Scoop .

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

Arctic records tumble as ice melts: 2012 Arctic report card released at AGU Gareth Renowden Dec 06

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The latest Arctic Report Card was published yesterday at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco, and it makes grim reading. Apart from last summer’s new record low sea ice minimum, all the indicators of warming are pointing in the wrong direction. The Arctic is making a rapid transition to a new climate state. Highlights of the report (from the press release):

  • Snow cover: A new record low snow extent for the Northern Hemisphere was set in June 2012, and a new record low was reached in May over Eurasia.
  • Sea ice: Minimum Arctic sea ice extent in September 2012 set a new all-time record low.
  • Greenland ice sheet: There was a rare, nearly ice sheet-wide melt event on the Greenland ice sheet in July, covering about 97 percent of the ice sheet on a single day.
  • Vegetation: The tundra is getting greener and there’s more above-ground growth. During the period of 2003-2010, the length of the growing season increased through much of the Arctic.
  • Wildlife & food chain: In northernmost Europe, the Arctic fox is close to extinction and vulnerable to the encroaching Red fox. Massive phytoplankton blooms below the summer sea ice suggest that earlier estimates of biological production at the bottom of the marine food chain may have been ten times lower than was occurring.
  • Ocean: Sea surface temperatures in summer continue to be warmer than the long-term average at the growing ice-free margins, while upper ocean temperature and salinity show significant interannual variability with no clear trends.
  • Weather: Most of the notable weather activity in fall and winter occurred in the sub-Arctic due to a strong positive North Atlantic Oscillation, expressed as the atmospheric pressure difference between weather stations in the Azores and Iceland. There were three extreme weather events including an unusual cold spell in late January to early February 2012 across Eurasia, and two record storms characterized by very low central pressures and strong winds near western Alaska in November 2011 and north of Alaska in August 2012.

It’s well worth digging down beyond the executive summary to look at the individual reports for key elements in the Arctic — there’s a lot of detail to digest, all of it fascinating, much of it sobering, if not downright scary. This is rapid climate change, happening now. I wonder if anyone in Doha will notice?

A ton too far (more bad news) Gareth Renowden Apr 12

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At the Climate Futures Forum in Wellington a couple of weeks ago, David Karoly discussed the idea of considering carbon emissions as a “stock” problem, not a “flow” problem. If we want to give ourselves a 75 percent chance of coming in below a 2ºC rise in the global average temperature, then we (as in all humanity) can emit around one trillion tonnes of CO2 (for more see Meinshausen et al here, discussed in the context of emissions targets at HT in this post). It doesn’t much matter when we do the emitting, because CO2 hangs around in the atmosphere for a long time, but stick to that limit we must if we’re serious about avoiding damaging warming. I like that way of thinking about the issue, as I noted in my report on the Forum, but it seems that I may have been rather optimistic about the height of the ceiling we’re living under, and our chances of hitting a 2ºC target. A new study by a team of Canadian climate modellers, Arora et al, Carbon emission limits required to satisfy future representative concentration pathways of greenhouse gases in Geophysical Research Letters, 38 (5) DOI: 10.1029/2010GL046270 (pdf here), suggests that:

…we have already surpassed the cumulative emission limit and so emissions must ramp down to zero immediately. The unprecedented reduction in fossil‐fuel emissions implied by either of these scenarios suggests that it is unlikely that warming can be limited to the 2°C target agreed to in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord.


The paper (based on modelling runs for the next IPCC report, using new emissions scenarios) notes that previous estimates of the carbon budget have assumed that the cooling effects of future aerosol emissions will cancel out the warming effects of non-CO2 greenhouse gases. This, the authors suggest, is unlikely, and future carbon emissions will effectively warm the planet more:

[...] our results suggest there is little room (∼160 ± 80 Pg C) to limit the warming in 2100 to the 2.3°C associated with the RCP 2.6 concentration scenario. It would require an immediate and rapid ramp down of emissions, followed by negative emissions (sequestration) in the later half of this century.

Hitting a 2ºC target means using up all that headroom. We therefore have to move to zero emissions more or less immediately. If that sounds eminently unfeasible, then that’s probably because it is. The world is therefore heading for something a lot worse than a mere two degrees of warming. Through their failure to confront this stark reality our politicians are conspiring to condemn future generations to a living hell. If you’re reading this, Nick Smith, I would welcome your considered reply…

Hat tip: James Hrynyshyn at Class: M

[Worth noting that the AGU press release covering Arora et al makes for grim reading, with papers on ice melt and Aussie floods and droughts. See also and their interesting FAQ.]

The Climate Show #4: Peter Gleick, the AGU, and climate sensitivity Gareth Renowden Dec 20

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Our last show for 2010, and it’s over an hour of podcast/video goodness: featuring Peter H Gleick of the Pacific Institute discussing the news from the Fall AGU conference in San Francisco last week, John Cook discussing how we work out how sensitive the climate system is to the addition of heat, plus a roundup on Cancun, how French vignerons are looking to old vines to help them adapt to a warming climate, and London’s black cabs set to go electric.

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, or listen direct/download here:

The Climate Show

Follow The Climate Show on Facebook and Twitter, and (sometime soon) at The Climate Show web site.

Show notes below the fold.

Still cold in Europe: Jeff Masters on WACCy weather.

Animated global temperature history from NASA’s GISS.

2010: a record warm year? (See also NASA surface temp anomaly pic).

Cancun roundup: Guardian, Telegraph, Guardian on gap between emissions ambition and reality.

Special guest: Peter H Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, joins us from the American Geophysical Union’s Fall meeting in San Francisco. Read his excellent recent Huffington Post article here.

Lonnie Thompson’s recent paper discussed at Hot Topic here.

How rejecting market-based solutions like and cap & trade might force an increase in big government: Cockatoo Chronicles.

Debunking the skeptic with John Cook from Skeptical Science: Climate Sensitivity

Andrew Dessler’s paper on cloud feedback

Other evidence for positive feedback and high climate sensitivity:

The Scientific Guide to Global Warming Skepticism.

Solutions: Forgotten vines help wine makers fight climate change

Electric taxis for London’s cabbies. And improved batteries for a big bus.

[Gareth apologises for the intrusive phone noises!]

Thanks to our media partners: and KiwiFM.

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

World leaders pretend Bryan Walker Nov 15

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Apparently the American Geophysical Union’s readiness to speak out on climate change which I reported in a recent post was not as the LA Times portrayed it.  Joseph Romm has written of his disappointment that the AGU is constrained by a determination to veer away from anything that could be construed as advocacy. They state that the email exchange forum they have set up for journalists is designed to answer questions about the current state of scientific knowledge, with a special emphasis on the physical sciences that relate to climate change. Non-science questions such as those relating to policy, ethics, or economics will be returned to sender for refinement.

One example they provide is the question, ’Is current U.S. infrastructure adequate for sea level rise?’  Such a question will be returned to sender on the grounds that judgments of adequacy involve tradeoffs in risk and in policy. The scientists will only answer the question if it is changed to ’What amount of sea level rise might occur this century?’

It’s a stark contrast with climatologist  James Hansen, who recently delivered an open lecture in Japan on the occasion of his being awarded the prestigious Blue Planet Prize. The text and powerpoint charts can be accessed on his website. He doesn’t hold back. Here are the opening words:

’Human-made climate change is a moral issue. It pits the rich and the powerful against the young and the unborn, against the defenseless and against nature.

’Climate change is a political issue. But politics fails when there is a revolving door between government and the fossil fuel-industrial complex.

’Climate change is a legal issue. The judiciary provides the possibility of holding our governments accountable for their duty to protect the public interest.’

The accompanying slide has a footnote that statements relating to policy are personal opinion.

Of course Hansen then proceeds with the science of climate change, explaining the current position with his usual clarity.

’It is difficult for the public to recognize that we have a crisis, because human-made global warming, so far, is small compared to day-to-day weather fluctuations. Yet the fact is: we have an emergency. Because of the great inertia of the ocean, which is four kilometers deep, and the ice sheets, which are two to three kilometers thick, the climate system responds slowly to climate forcings such as increasing greenhouse gases. But this inertia is not our friend, because it increases the danger that we may pass tipping points, beyond which the dynamics of the climate system takes over and rapid changes occur out of humanity’s control.’

He offers three examples of tipping points. The ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, especially the West Antarctic ice sheet, are one. If an ice sheet is weakened to the point that it begins to collapse then the dynamics of the process take over. Another non-linear problem is the extermination of species which can accelerate because of the interdependencies among species. A third is methane hydrates, essentially frozen methane. If they begin to disintegrate the process could become self-sustaining. He notes these tipping points have all occurred during Earth’s history in conjunction with warming climates.

At this point in his lecture he again crosses into the kind of territory that the AGU eschews for its scientists.

’Climate inertia and tipping points give rise to potential intergenerational injustice. Today’s adults enjoy the benefits of fossil fuel use, but the impacts will be borne by young people and future generations. Our parents did not know that their actions would affect future generations. We do not have that excuse. We can only feign ignorance. It is called denial.’

There was a lengthy period following Hansen’s testifying to Congress in the 1980s during which he decided to concentrate on research and leave public communication to others. He tells how  it was the arrival of his grandchildren combined with the growing gap between what was understood of the science and what was known by the public that brought him back to public communication. In 2004 he gave a carefully prepared public talk titled “Dangerous anthropogenic interference: a discussion of humanity’s Faustian climate bargain and the payments coming due”.

His public lecture in Japan is the latest example of his readiness to couple the communication of the science with clear assessment of the risk and with concrete recommendations as to how that risk may yet be avoided.  As his lecture proceeds he explains the basis of our current scientific understanding. It depends most of all on Earth’s paleoclimate history, then on ongoing global observations showing how climate is responding to rapid changes of atmospheric composition, and finally on climate models and theory which are helpful in interpreting what is happening and needed to predict future changes. There’s a pile of interesting material which follows which I won’t try to summarise here, save to say that he points out that the human-caused rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide is occurring at a rate 10,000 times faster than the natural geologic change of the Cenozoic era of the past 65 million years. He also explains his assessment that a level of no more than 350ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide is required if we wish to preserve the planet on which civilisation developed.

He’s not backward in spelling out policy implications. We must halt all coal emissions in 20 years, not develop tar sands, oil shale or methane hydrates, and not pursue the last drops of oil in polar regions, deep sea drilling or pristine land. ’In other words, we must move on to the clean energy future now, rather than using all the remaining fossil fuels.’

There’s as yet no sign of our doing so:

’But what is really happening? The United States has signed an agreement with Canada for a pipeline to carry tar sands oil to Texas. New coal plants are being built all around the world, some being financed by the World Bank. Environmentally destructive mountaintop removal continues. Oil is pursued in pristine places. The environmentally destructive practice of shale fracturing is being developed and implemented to find the last bits of gas.

’There is a huge gap between government rhetoric and policy reality. Leaders say that we have a ‘planet in peril’, yet their proposed policies barely differ from business-as-usual. Greenwash is plentiful, but the leaders follow a path of appeasement of fossil fuel special interests. There is no Winston Churchill willing to stand up and tell the truth about what is needed.’

Hansen then moves to his policy prescriptions which include a rising price on carbon, government regulation, and technology development driven by the certainty of the carbon price. He is not diffident in offering them, but his audience would have no difficulty recognising when he has moved from presentation of the science to advocacy of a particular response.

The notion that a scientist’s responsibility ends where a politician’s begins is simplistic. Politicians often enough show little sign of fully appreciating the reality of the science, and even if they do they appear to have an endless capacity to shy away from appropriate action. Are scientists like Hansen supposed to stay in their sanctums and be satisfied with issuing bulletins on the state of the science? And when they see the mayhem created by industry denial and media confusion and political timidity are they supposed to just shrug their shoulders and get on with their research? Even though they know what that research indicates for the human future if we carry on as usual?

Hansen’s record makes it quite clear that advocacy doesn’t mean compromising research. His scientific work continues and wins respect in its own right. Joe Romm has  reason to be disappointed that the AGU has put such stringent limits on its scientists’ communication with journalists.


Tell it like it is Bryan Walker Nov 08

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Whether denial of climate science was what the Americans thought they were voting for when they cast their ballots for many of the Republican candidates in the mid-term election, or whether they had other things on their mind, the end result is that the US now has an apparent majority of legislators who flatly deny climate change, or, if they don’t go that far, certainly deny the need to address it. It’s an extraordinary spectacle. The science is utterly clear, more so by the day. But the clearer it gets the more sure the denial becomes in that sadly mixed-up country. Their own government scientific institutions are to the forefront in the reporting of climate change.  Their National Academies of Science produce regular accessible reports affirming the science and urging appropriate responses. Their universities provide a large number of scientists working productively on many aspects of the issue. Yet a substantial sector of their politicians are now confidently announcing that they don’t believe it’s happening. Suzanne Goldberg in the Guardian reports an investigation by a website run by the Centre for American Progress think tank which found 50% of the more than 100 Republican newcomers deny the existence of man-made climate change. An overwhelming majority, 86%, oppose legislation that would raise taxes on polluting industries.

’Climate is gone,’ was Karl Rove’s comforting message to the attendees of a shale-gas conference in Philadelphia, Brad Johnson reports. Rove told them that the incoming Republican House of Representatives ’sure as heck’ won’t pass legislation to limit greenhouse pollution from fossil fuels.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday Bracken Hendricks (pictured) put his finger on the radical nature of the conservatism which informs the Republican denial of climate science. It is conservatism at odds with itself.

’…far from being conservative, the Republican stance on global warming shows a stunning appetite for risk.

’…they are recklessly betting the farm on a single, best-case scenario: That the scientific consensus about global warming will turn out to be wrong. This is bad risk management and an irresponsible way to run anything, whether a business, an economy or a planet.’

It’s a very high risk, as he reminds readers:

’The best science available suggests that without taking action to fundamentally change how we produce and use energy, we could see temperatures rise 9 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit over much of the United States by 2090. These estimates have sometimes been called high-end predictions, but the corresponding low-end forecasts assume we will rally as a country to shift course. That hasn’t happened, so the worst case must become our best guess.’

The irony, he points out, is that the result would be not the rolled-back government that Republicans are currently espousing but a greatly expanded role for government:

’With temperature increases in this range, studies predict a permanent drought throughout the Southwest, much like the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, but this time stretching from Kansas to California. If you hate bailouts or want to end farm subsidies, this is a problem. Rising ocean acidity, meanwhile, will bring collapsing fisheries, catch restrictions – and unemployment checks. And rising sea levels will mean big bills as cash-strapped cities set about rebuilding infrastructure and repairing storm damage. With Americans in pain, the government will have to respond. And who will shoulder these new burdens? Future taxpayers.’

The sheer recklessness of denying climate change or the need for action to address it is breathtaking. It’s unfathomable considered alongside the caution with which the US guards itself against terrorism, for example.  It’s so deeply irrational that one wonders if anything can shift it. Yet the deniers won enough of the votes. Small wonder that Stephen Schneider feared democracy couldn’t cope with the confusion in which the issue of climate change has been wrapped.

The Administration, which doesn’t deny climate science, appears to have lost its nerve or not know how to speak to the public about the matter. However there are encouraging indications that American scientists are ready to enter the bruising public arena to challenge the confident denial that is echoing in political circles. The LA Times reports today that there is rising support  among climate scientists to establish a broad campaign to push back against the congressional conservatives who have vowed to kill regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

’The still-evolving efforts reveal a shift among climate scientists, many of whom have traditionally stayed out of politics and avoided the news media. Many now say they are willing to go toe-to-toe with their critics…’

The American Geophysical Union plans to announce today that 700 researchers have agreed to speak out on the issue.

Another announced pushback intention comes from John Abraham of St Thomas University in Minnesota whom Hot Topic readers will recall received enormous support here when attacked by Christopher Monckton. He is pulling together a “Climate Rapid Response Team,” which includes scientists prepared to go before what they consider potentially hostile audiences on conservative talk-radio and television shows.

Scott Mandia, professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College in New York explains:

“This group feels strongly that science and politics can’t be divorced and that we need to take bold measures to not only communicate science but also to aggressively engage the denialists and politicians who attack climate science and its scientists.

“We are taking the fight to them because we are … tired of taking the hits. The notion that truth will prevail is not working. The truth has been out there for the past two decades, and nothing has changed.”

If such developments take place on a large enough scale they could be very important. The public would better see just how strong the consensus is amongst those scientists who actually work on the issue. They would also realise the alarm that many of the scientists feel as emissions continue to rise. It’s all too easy for politicians to isolate distinguished figures like James Hansen and portray them as some kind of maverick, but phalanxes of scientists ready to speak out publicly would be a different matter. At least it would make it absolutely clear to the public that if they run with their denialist politicians on this issue they are rejecting mainstream science and exposing themselves to what the science sees as grave risks. I’m not sure that they as yet realise that is what they’re doing.

[Aaron Neville]

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