Posts Tagged ice

Whale meat again – Slater’s climate pseudoskeptic siren songs Gareth Renowden May 06

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New Zealand’s highest traffic blog is Cameron Slater’s Whale Oil Beef Hooked (try saying it in an Irish accent) — an aggressive right-wing sensationalist blog not noted for its delicate approach to current affairs. Unsurprisingly, Slater is an outspoken climate pseudoskeptic, with a long history of posts rubbishing climate science and the reality of climate change. This morning’s effort — The Cognitive Dissonance Of The Media On Climate Change — is pretty much par for Slater’s course, but riffs on an interesting new paper about the potential for serious additional ice loss from Antarctica which has been getting quite a bit of local media coverage (Stuff, RNZ News).

Slater’s complaint is straightforward enough: he relies on Monckton’s latest temperature trend cherry pick at µWatts and Climate Depot to demonstrate that there’s “no global warming for the last 17 years and 9 months”, shows a graph of the current increase in Antarctic sea ice, and then complains that because the NZ media has given prominence to a new study by Matthias Mengel and Anders Levermann at the Potsdam Institute1 that finds that a large chunk of the East Antarctic ice sheet could be vulnerable if warming continues, then the media must be biased. As he puts it:

These scaremongering scenarios really do show the cognitive dissonance of the mainstream media and their inability to look dispassionately at the evidence before us, instead they push political lines. All of their stories have “could”, “should”, “might” and “maybe” qualifiers.

Unfortunately, Slater’s the one with the cognitive dissonance. His “dispassionate” look at the evidence is anything but, and his aggressive rejection of the new ice sheet evidence — “This report doesn’t sound plausible at all, it sounds like horse crap to me” — appears to be based entirely on his own lack of understanding of ice sheet dynamics.

Let’s look at Slater’s choice of counter evidence. Monckton’s “17 years” is straightforwardly misleading for two main reasons. The first is handily summarised by Skeptical Science’s well-known “Escalator” graph:

Picking periods of negative or no trend in the surface temperature record2 tells us nothing about the long term — in which warming is unequivocal — or about the big picture, in which heat continues to accumulate in the system. Ice melts, oceans warm, heatwaves and storms get worse.

Next Slater shows the current NSIDC graph of Antarctic sea ice extent. It’s running above average as the ice heads towards its winter maximum. He doesn’t show you the equivalent NSIDC graph of Arctic sea ice, which is running well below the 1981-2010 average, or acknowledge that Greenland and Antarctica are losing ice mass, or that the world’s glaciers are melting away rapidly. Looking at Antarctic sea ice on its own tells us nothing about the big picture. In other words, it’s another cherry ripe for the picking, designed to mislead the unwary.

Slater’s final argument amounts to little more than “it’s cold in Antarctica, so the ice won’t melt” — which shows that he doesn’t understand the key point about the new research. From the Science Daily report:

“East Antarctica’s Wilkes Basin is like a bottle on a slant,” says lead-author Matthias Mengel, “once uncorked, it empties out.” The basin is the largest region of marine ice on rocky ground in East Antarctica. Currently a rim of ice at the coast holds the ice behind in place: like a cork holding back the content of a bottle. While the air over Antarctica remains cold, warming oceans can cause ice loss on the coast. Ice melting could make this relatively small cork disappear — once lost, this would trigger a long term sea-level rise of 300-400 centimeters. “The full sea-level rise would ultimately be up to 80 times bigger than the initial melting of the ice cork,” says co-author Anders Levermann.

Warming ocean waters are already causing ice loss in West Antarctica — particularly around the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers that flow into the Amundsen Sea, which are both likely to become “unpinned” in the same way Mengel and Levermann have modelled for the Wilkes Basin — but a lot sooner.

It’s tempting to write off Slater’s misunderstandings and misrepresentation as just another example of political ideology trumping uncomfortable fact, but with his sizeable audience and hotline to key government figures such as Prime Minister John Key, recently fired cabinet minister Maurice Wilkinson and the beleaguered minister of justice Judith Collins, it’s reasonable to ask to what extent Slater’s aggressive denial of climate reality is something the government is quite happy to hide behind. They are certainly not acting as if they take the problem seriously.

  1. M. Mengel, A. Levermann. Ice plug prevents irreversible discharge from East Antarctica. Nature Climate Change, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE2226
  2. See also Colin Sharples’ superb demonstration of the effects of changing trend windows in this classic Hot Topic post from 2009.

Heartland’s Big Book Of Lies About Climate Change cuts no ice, thanks to Don Easterbrook Gareth Renowden Nov 04

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Over the weeks since the release of the first section of the IPCC’s Fifth Report, the Heartland Institute — the Chicago-based extreme right wing and free-market propaganda outfit that has done so much to promote climate denial — has been trying to get media traction for its latest Not-the-IPCC report (NIPCC: the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change), Climate Change Reconsidered 2: Physical Science. Heartland describes CCR2 as…

… an independent, comprehensive, and authoritative report on the current state of climate science.

The truth is somewhat more prosaic. CCR2, like its predecessors, is an extended effort in cherry-picking and misdirection designed to demonstrate that, as Heartland puts it:

…the human effect is likely to be small relative to natural variability, and whatever small warming is likely to occur will produce benefits as well as costs.

For a detailed take-down of the NIPCC’s main arguments, take a look at Graham Wayne’s Notes for Educators, prepared as a response to an effort by Heartland to push CCR2 to schools in the US. Wayne notes:

The NIPCC report is akin to a confidence trick. It is pseudo-science, badly presented, made difficult to assess or check, and depends on ‘blinding the reader with science’ that may look credible until you actually try to verify those claims against the peer-reviewed published literature.

Climate statistician Tamino was equally unimpressed, suggesting that the NIPCC would be better designated the ICP – for Intentional Cherry-Picking in service of a predetermined conclusion.

My interest in the latest NIPCC “report” was piqued by the discovery that Don Easterbrook, the retired geologist with a long track record of misunderstanding and misrepresenting the Greenland ice core temperature record, was the lead author of chapter 5, Observations: The Cryosphere [pdf]. The NIPCC is clearly not blessed with an overabundance of qualified authors if they have to rely on Easterbrook as an expert on the cryosphere. Worse, his co-authors are two other retired geologists with little or no domain expertise: Cliff Ollier from Western Australia, and Bob Carter, a marine stratigrapher and all-purpose climate denier who never saw an argument against warming that he didn’t like1.

My first reaction to a quick skim through the chapter was pretty much the same as everybody else: this was cherry-picking taken to an extreme. To make sure that I was on the right track, I asked two real ice experts — Greenland maven Jason Box, and glaciologist Mauri Pelto — to take a quick look. Their reaction was scathing.

Here’s Box:

Multiple independent lines of observation from satellite, aircraft, and ground surveys indicate a strong imbalance of land ice that results in the observed increasing rate of sea level. Easterbrook and co-authors lie about this fact among many others in the NIPCC report’s shameless mockery of earth science.

Pelto found a couple of amazing counterfactual statements:

NIPCC: “Research on mountain glaciers worldwide has failed to provide evidence for unnatural glacial retreat in the late twentieth century.” (p633)

Pelto: Twenty one consecutive years of global mass balance loss and the disappearance of so many glaciers, is hardly natural. See World Glacier Monitoring Service reports.

NIPCC: “Recent satellite-borne geophysical measurements suggest Greenland, like Antarctica, is in a state of approximate mass balance”. (p632)

Pelto: This is hardly borne out by Howat and Eddy (2011, pdf). “We find that 90% of the observed glaciers retreated between 2000 and 2010, approaching 100% in the northwest, with rapid retreat observed in all sectors of the ice sheet.”

So far, so bad. But what about Easterbrook? His fingerprints are all over several sections of the chapter, and many of the graphics. For example, Figure 5.12.1 (p709) bears a striking resemblance to earlier Easterbook efforts:


I first encountered that graph in an article of Easterbrook’s — Magnitude and rate of climate changes — posted at µWatts in January 2011. As I pointed out at the time, there are numerous errors in Easterbrook’s analysis of the GISP2 data — and one of them is made explicit in this two and half year old chart. If you want the full details, refer to my older post and its antecedents, but Easterbrook’s legend for the time series refers to “years before present (2000 AD)”. Unfortunately, the “present” in the time series he’s using is defined by long standing convention as 1950. This was pointed out to him at the time, both by me and in the comments under his article at µWatts. He can have no excuse, other than shoddy scholarship, for simply reusing the graph without correcting the error.

There are other interesting “parallels” between the µWatts article and the NIPCC report. Large chunks of the latter appear to be lightly edited versions of the µWatts “original”. Consider these two paragraphs:

µWatts 2011 original: The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was a time of warm climate from about 900–1300 AD when global temperatures were apparently somewhat warmer than at present. Its effects were particularly evident in Europe where grain crops flourished, alpine tree lines rose, many new cities arose, and the population more than doubled. The Vikings took advantage of the climatic amelioration to colonize Greenland, and wine grapes were grown as far north as England where growing grapes is now not feasible and about 500 km north of present vineyards in France and Germany. Grapes are presently grown in Germany up to elevations of about 560 meters, but from about 1100 to 1300 A.D., vineyards extended up to 780 meters, implying temperatures warmer by about 1.0 to 1.4° C (Oliver, 1973, Tkachuck, 1983). Wheat and oats were grown around Trondheim, Norway, suggesting climates about one degree C warmer than present (Fagan, 2007).

NIPCC 2013: The Medieval Warm Period (900–1300 AD) that followed was marked by global temperatures warmer than at present, as indicated by the flourishing of grain crops, elevation of alpine tree lines, and building of many new towns and cities as the European population more than doubled. The Vikings took advantage of the climatic amelioration to colonize Greenland in 985 AD, when milder climates allowed favorable open-ocean conditions for navigation and fishing. Wine grapes were grown about 500 km north of present vineyards in France and Germany, and also in the north of England (Oliver, 1973; Tkachuck, 1983). Wheat and oats were grown around Trondheim, Norway, suggesting climates about one degree C warmer than the present (Fagan, 2009).

The words highlighted in green are identical between the two pieces of text, and the exact sequence most of the other elements of the original are maintained in the NIPCC report version.

Most amusingly, given that the NIPCC is committed to presenting the Medieval Climate Anomaly as both global and warmer than at present, is Easterbrook’s change to his first sentence: in 2011 “global temperatures were apparently somewhat warmer than at present”, but by 2013 he has become much more certain.

However hard you look, you won’t find a reference to the µWatts original in the NIPCC report, only to Easterbrook’s 2011 remarkable2 Elsevier book, Evidence-Based Climate Science: Data opposing CO2 emissions as the primary source of global warming (Amazon listing), where the error-ridden graph appears as Fig 24 on page 24. A little later in the book, on page 26, we find the above text from Easterbrook’s µWatts article repeated in full3.

Apart from being too lazy to correct an error from the beginning of 2011 for his book published nine months later, or this year’s NIPCC report4, Easterbrook appears to be a serial self-plagiarist with little or no concern for the accuracy of the stuff he publishes.

Life is too short to dig much further into the NIPCC’s misrepresentation of the state of our knowledge about the earth’s cryosphere and its response to warming, but its reliance on the “work” of Don Easterbrook is a telling indication that it is far from being the “scholarly report” its publishers claim. It is a parody of the IPCC, an inversion of the scientific process. It is the Heartland Institute’s Big Book Of Lies About Climate Change, and will be deservedly ignored by the reality it so badly traduces.

[Thanks to Jason Box and Mauri Pelto for taking time to look over the NIPCC chapter. It's time they'll never get back...]

  1. Carter is also one of the lead authors of the full report.
  2. See my post from October 2011 on the contents and authors, who include Monckton and blogger Steven Goddard!
  3. See the Amazon listing for the book, then click on the “look inside” feature, and scroll down.
  4. Or even for a blog post published at µWatts today!

Rage, rage against the dying of the ice Gareth Renowden May 01

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Yesterday morning I climbed up the short track on the Tasman Glacier terminal moraine to the lookout, and was amazed by how much the glacier’s calving front had retreated compared with my last visit to the same spot, back in February 2008 (below – click on either picture to see a bigger version). Across the full face of the glacier there’s now a sheer cliff, where large bergs calve into the growing lake — the most recent, back in February, being rated as the largest ever.


Both pictures were taken from the same spot, but with different cameras and lenses, so a direct comparison isn’t possible, but it should be clear that the glacier front has retreated up the valley significantly over the five years. Given the dramatic scale of the landscape (those are 3,000 metre peaks up valley) it’s hard to estimate distances by eye, but recent rates of retreat have been estimated to be 400 to 800 metres per year. Glaciologist Mauri Pelto has a detailed analysis of the glacier’s recent history at his blog From A Glacier’s Perspective here.
Similar rapid rates of retreat are being seen on the nearby Mueller and Hooker glaciers, both of which have large and growing terminal lakes.

One message got home to me: rapid climate change isn’t something that happens to other people, or to other parts of the world. To see New Zealand’s largest glacier so visibly diminished in the space of a very few years brought home the reality and scale of the problem we face in a very direct manner. Sometimes we need to step away from our computers and see what’s happening with our own eyes…

Thin Ice: the inside story of climate science Gareth Renowden Apr 22

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Now showing at an Antarctic base near you (and quite a few places elsewhere), a documentary about climate science, filmed and put together by VUW geophysics professor Simon Lamb. The idea for Thin Ice – the inside story of climate science was born over a cup of tea in Wellington in 2006, when Peter Barrett of VUW suggested that Lamb, then at Oxford, make the film. Lamb went on to visit many parts of the world, and talk to a who’s who of climate scientists. Should be well worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time — especially those prone to accusing climate scientists of fraud.

Thin Ice is a joint effort between VUW, Oxford University and DOX Productions, and there are screenings in Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington today and tomorrow, as well as in Australia, Canada, the UK and USA and many other places. You can also download or stream the film to your PC or tablet. I’ll be watching on my iPad this evening. Reviews etc welcome in comments to this post…

Ice, Mice and Men Bryan Walker Aug 21

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Geoff Simmons and Gareth Morgan, with help from John McCrystal, have produced a book which one hopes will be read by many New Zealanders.  Ice, Mice and Men: The Issues Facing our Far South not only carries illuminating scientific information about the islands and seas to our south and the Antarctic continent beyond them, but it communicates it in a relaxed and engaging style which should ensure a wide general readership. The more people understand what is happening in this vital region the better, and it’s easy to see this book adding to their number.

The opening section explains why the region is important, breaking it into three zones: first, the subantarctic islands, “liferafts” of the Southern Ocean; second, the Southern Ocean itself, home to the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) and “the engine room of the global ocean and the world’s climate”; third, Antarctica, including the sea ice that surrounds it which helps drive the marine food chain and affects the transport of nutrients essential for marine life around the world. The section provides a detailed account of the function of the three zones not just in relation to each other but in crucial relation to the globe as a whole.

The treatment of the ACC, for example, explains how the mixing of its waters due to high winds carries warmer surface waters into the depths and presents colder water to the warming effect of the sun, helping to store heat from the atmosphere. It also helps store carbon as it increases the amount of water that has contact with the air, and cold water at that which can absorb more carbon dioxide.  However this service means that the Southern Ocean is acidifying more rapidly than for millions of years.  The role of the ACC in feeding nutrients into all the major oceans is another vital function described by the book, one in which it is aided by the extraordinary ecosystems of the sea ice and floating ice shelves of Antarctica.

The second section of the book deals with the question of the race for resources. It has resulted in much past damage to the subantarctic islands’ wildlife, but on a wider scale it is fortunately so far comparatively muted. However the authors adduce plenty of evidence that realpolitik considerations lurk behind the Antarctic Treaty System and urge the likely need ultimately to strike a balance between complete protection of the area and managing the worst aspects of commercial exploitation by agreeing environmental standards and setting aside some areas as complete reserves.

In reviewing the book for Hot Topic my main interest was its third section which deals with climate change issues in the region. Three years ago I reviewed Gareth Morgan’s and John McCrystal’s earlier book on climate change Poles Apart, which posited a shouting match between alarmists and sceptics and proposed to adjudicate the matter.  There was, of course, no shouting match and there was nothing that required adjudication. The science was as clear in its basics then as it is now, and the authors finally came down solidly on the side of the science. However they still allowed some accusations of a conspiracy on the part of the IPCC to send an overstated message to the public, described Michael Mann’s hockey stick thesis as a grievous overstatement and in policy matters advised against using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

I’m happy to report that the climate change section of this book is a well-assembled and unequivocal statement of the current scientific understanding, often expressing insights which readers will find helpful. Denial gets short shrift in the initial overview: “Just because a temperature rise historically precedes an increase in CO2 levels doesn’t mean it necessarily does. That is the natural order, after all, and the present warming is not natural.”

Focusing on the southern region the book points to evidence that the Southern Ocean has become warmer, fresher and slightly more acidic, and the patterns of circulation have changed. Wind speeds have increased markedly in recent decades and are shifting south. The impact of this on the ACC is as yet uncertain: whether it will make it stronger or more turbulent, whether the current itself will move further south, and how all that will impact on the role of the ACC in the planet’s ocean mixing.

Acidification alone is alarming enough. We appear headed for a bigger change in acidity than anything seen in the last 20 million years. This means serious stress for anything in the ocean which needs a shell. The shells of modern plankton called foraminifers are becoming lighter than those of their recent ancestors – and this has happened in direct proportion to the increase in acidity. They form a substantial part of the marine food chain. The warning signs of acidification are ominous, and lead the authors to remark plainly: “Along with climate change this is one hell of a risky experiment we humans are embarking on with our oceans.”

The effects of warming on the continent of Antarctica may be less apparent than what is happening in the Arctic polar region, but the book warns that this may in part be due to the now-diminishing ozone hole which has likely helped keep its locality cooler, ozone being a greenhouse gas. Yet warming impacts can be quick and dramatic as we can see in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Amundsen-Bellingshausen Sea. The most severe threats to the Antarctic ice are likely to come from the ocean and the authors acknowledge the difficulties in predicting how this may play out and what it is likely to mean for global sea level rise and for the thriving ecosystems supported by Antarctic sea ice. However geological evidence and sediment cores reveal that in the early Pliocene, with CO2 levels similar to today, temperatures eventually rose enough to melt the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, probably adding some 3.5 metres to a global sea level which was probably 10-30 metres above today including contributions from Greenland, Arctic Islands and other land-based ice.

The final section of the book looks at the conservation imperatives arising out of the damage caused by the race for resources and climate change. The threats are clearly described and useful suggestions are offered for their amelioration under the headings of basic science, fisheries management, marine protection and pest eradication.

The book is designed to be read with ease but is nevertheless packed with stimulating scientific detail and leaves the reader absolutely clear that matters of extreme seriousness for the human future are at issue in our far south.

Greenland’s extraordinary summer: melting records and ice island setting sail Gareth Renowden Jul 26

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July has been an amazing month in Greenland. The Petermann Glacier has given birth to another huge ice island — taking its terminus further back up its fjord than at any time in the last 100 years (at least), record high temperatures have been recorded at the summit of the ice sheet at 3,200 meters, initiating surface melt over the whole vast sheet, ice sheet albedo has plummeted, and the Jakobshavn Isbrae’s calving front has retreated into the ice sheet.

The best coverage of the Petermann event, as on most matters to do with the Arctic summer and sea ice melting season is to be found at Neven’s Arctic Sea Ice blog. It’s well worth reading the comments under the Petermann post there, to get a really informative picture of what’s being going on. Here’s a description by Dr Andreas Muenchow1 of what the calving would have been like:

I described the Petermann calving to some media folks as a gentle and very quiet affair similar to a rubber duckie pushed out to sea from the deck of a flat pool.

Some duckie, some pool…

Illulisatanimated2012203Further south, the the “root” of the Jakobshavn Isbrae has enlarged significantly, with the calving front of Greenland’s most productive glacier retreating further into the ice sheet. The “blink” image I’ve cobbled together (left) shows day 203 of this year compared with day 202 of last year2. The difference is large and very obvious. Greenland specialist Dr Jason Box was flying out of Ilulisat shortly after the retreat earlier this month, and snapped the photo below out of the window of his plane. As he commented on Facebook, it looks like the glacier has divided into two streams.


Up at the summit of the Greenland ice sheet at 3,200 metres, a new high temperature record of 3.6ºC was set on July 16, hard on the heels of four days in row of temperatures above freezing, from July 11 to 14. Considering that temperatures above zero had only been recorded four times in the preceding 12 years, this amounted a remarkable heatwave, and triggered an astonishing melt record.


This NASA graphic shows how the melting surface, shown in shades of red, spread over the whole surface of the ice sheet from July 8 to July 12. This amounts to “the largest extent of surface melting observed in three decades of satellite observations”, according to NASA. The last such melting event occurred in 1889, and ice cores show that they occur every 150 to 250 years. However, given the steady increase in melt area over the last decade, and the precipitous drop in ice sheet albedo (see below), especially at high altitudes, it may not be 150 years before such a melt happens again.


The last time I looked at this extraordinary summer in Greenland, it was to report Jason Box‘s view that “it is reasonable to expect 100% melt area over the ice sheet within another similar decade of warming”. It took two weeks to come true. Forgive me if I find that alarming.

  1. Andreas provides great coverage of the Petermann glacier at his blog — perhaps unsurprisingly, as he’s on his way up there to recover instrumentation soon.
  2. Source: 2012, 2011.

The Climate Show #26: All the news that fits Gareth Renowden May 04

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Aafter a busy month of harvesting (Gareth) and breakfast broadcasting (Glenn), the Climate Show returns with all the latest climate news: from the thinning of Antarctic ice shelves and the intensification of hydrological cycle (floods and drought, that is) to satellites capturing solar energy and beaming it down to earth, we’ve got it all. And if that weren’t enough, John Cook looks at a new paper that explains the apparent lag between warming and CO2 increase at the end of the last ice age, and tips us off about an excellent outtake from ABC’s recent I Can Change Your Mind about Climate documentary, featuring Naomi Oreskes.

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.

Follow The Climate Show at The Climate Show web site, and on Facebook and Twitter.

The Climate Show

News & commentary: [0:02:30]

WMO confirms 2011 as 11th warmest in long term record

’It was the warmest decade ever recorded for global land surface, sea surface and for every continent.’


Warm ocean currents cause majority of ice loss from Antarctica: Scripps, British Antarctic Survey.

“What’s really interesting is just how sensitive these glaciers seem to be,” added Pritchard. “Some ice shelves are thinning by a few metres a year and, in response, the glaciers drain billions of tons of ice into the sea. This supports the idea that ice shelves are important in slowing down the glaciers that feed them, controlling the loss of ice from the Antarctic ice sheet. It means that we can lose an awful lot of ice to the sea without ever having summers warm enough to make the snow on top of the glaciers melt – the oceans can do all the work from below.”

Climate Progress coverage.

Dry parts of the planet to get drier, wet parts wetter: The Conversation, Science Magazine.

Kiribati as a refuge for corals: Pacific Islands May Become Refuge for Corals in a Warming Climate, Study Finds

World needs to stabilise population and cut consumption, says Royal Society

Key recommendations include:

  • The international community must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty, and reduce the inequality that persists in the world today. This will require focused efforts in key policy areas including economic development, education, family planning and health.
  • The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise and then reduce material consumption levels through: dramatic improvements in resource use efficiency, including: reducing waste; investment in sustainable resources, technologies and infrastructures; and systematically decoupling economic activity from environmental impact.
  • Reproductive health and voluntary family planning programmes urgently require political leadership and financial commitment, both nationally and internationally. This is needed to continue the downward trajectory of fertility rates, especially in countries where the unmet need for contraception is high.
  • Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues. Demographic changes, and the influences on them, should be factored into economic and environmental debate and planning at international meetings, such as the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development and subsequent meetings.

Guardian coverage.

Debunking the sceptic [37:15]

John Cook from talks about I Can Change Your Mind About Climate.

The telling outtake: Naomi Oreskes with Nick Minchin:

Dealing with the “lag”:

Solutions [1:00:00]

Tinted Windows that Generate Electricity: A German company borrows the materials and manufacturing process of OLED displays to make a new kind of solar panel.

NASA Funding Satellite That Would Beam Solar Power Down to Earth

Blimp with a blower:

Solar Thermal Heating Could Eliminate CO2 Emissions from Cement Production

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

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

Not a pretty picture: recent science summarised Bryan Walker Oct 17

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A valuable review, Climate Science 2009-2010, has just been published by the World Resources Institute. It’s a summary of major peer-reviewed research in climate change science and technology during those two years. Aimed at policymakers, the NGO community, and the media, it offers succinct summaries of the findings of a wide array of scientific papers, a short discussion of the implications of each paper, and brief overviews along the way of where the research is pointing.

It’s 48 pages in length, not a quick read but tailored for easy comprehension for anyone with a general lay understanding of climate science.  A sample list of some of the findings is provided at the start, but the full survey is well worth reading through. The range of papers is a reminder of how much scientific work is being done and how the full picture is built from many studies and a great variety of detailed investigations. The review is restrained in its drawing of implications from the studies, often pointing to the need for further investigation and certainly not hyping any of the results. Nevertheless it’s apparent that the recent research continues to reveal grim prospects for humanity as emissions continue to rise.

The papers surveyed are grouped into four sections.

Physical climate: In this section the stand-out areas are climate feedbacks and sea level rise. Global temperature is clearly continuing to increase and the climate science literature of 2009 and 2010 has advanced the understanding of climate feedbacks. The review discusses a study of ocean methane hydrates as a slow tipping point in the global carbon cycle, noting the implication that if the Earth warms by 3°C, which is not beyond the scope of possibility during the next century, this feedback could add 17 percent to projected global average temperature increases.  A couple of papers look at the possible effect of climate change on ozone depletion and vice versa. Aerosol effects are examined in two papers: one allows weight to the absorptive effect of black carbon and suggests that the cooling effect of anthropogenic aerosols is less powerful than previously assumed; the other finds that the comparatively accelerated warming of the tropical North Atlantic in the past three decades is partly due to a reduction in cooling dust particles from the Sahara, itself a phenomenon which may be linked to climate change-induced changes in moisture and winds. Andrew Dessler’s important 2010 paper on cloud feedback is described as providing new evidence suggesting that the sign of the cloud feedback is moderately positive. Further papers examine feedbacks from soils, peatlands and the diminution of Arctic ice cover. The effect of the latter is already under way.

There has been considerable change in predictions of sea level rise since the last IPCC report in 2007. They are all higher than the 0.18 to 0.59 metres by 2100 nominated by the IPCC (albeit with the caveat that it could be more depending on the behaviour of polar ice sheets).  The review mentions several studies and focuses especially on two in 2010 which estimated a range between 0.59 and 1.8 metres by 2100. Another study in 2009 approached the question from the standpoint of glacier equilibrium and found that on average glaciers are 23 percent below equilibrium — that is, the area accumulating new snow is far less than that sufficient to maintain the current glacier size even without further global warming. The conclusion was that we are already committed to 1.8 meters of sea level rise resulting from ice loss, and that 3.7 meters is possible over the next century if we continue to warm without climate mitigation activities.  The vulnerability of parts of the US coastline to the uneven effects of sea level rise is addressed in other studies.

In the interests of brevity I’ll list some of the samples provided for the other three sections.

Hydrological Cycle:

  • Observations show that multi-year (MY) winter sea ice area decreased by 42 percent between 2005 and 2008 and that there was a thinning of ~0.6 m in MY ice thickness over the same 4 years (average thickness of the seasonal ice in midwinter is ~2 m)
  • As much as 12 percent of the volume of Swiss alpine glaciers was lost over the period from 1999 to 2008.
  • The rate of mass loss in the East Antarctic Ice Sheet may be greater than previously estimated.
  • Changing ice dynamics in the Arctic may be leading to an increase in observed ’winter weather’ including more snow and colder temperatures in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

Ecosystems and Ecosystem Services:

  • Ocean acidification, which only recently was recognized a threat to coral in areas such as the Great Barrier Reef (and is happening much more quickly than anticipated), is now recognized as having implications for the entire ocean food web which is critical to whales, fish, and molluscs.
  • Based on human physiological estimates, a global average temperature increase of 7° C, which is toward the extreme upper part of the range of current projections, would make large portions of the world uninhabitable.
  • The impacts of projected climate change on emperor penguin populations are likely to be significant; with a 36 percent probability of ’quasi extinction’ (greater than 95 percent decline) by 2100.
  • A 28 cm future sea level rise is projected to reduce the current Bengal tiger habitat in the Sundarban region of Bangladesh by 96 percent and would likely reduce tiger numbers to 20 breeding pairs.

Climate Change Mitigation Technologies and Geoengineering:

  • Land-use change associated with planting biofuel crops can have implications on the regional average temperatures through an albedo effect.
  • Advances in more flexible, cheaper small-scale solar photovoltaics could make it easier and less expensive to integrate solar-powered electricity generation into building materials.
  • If all urban surfaces worldwide were made reflective, the heat trapping effects of urban surfaces would be eliminated, an impact greater than eliminating the annual anthropogenic emissions of the entire globe.
  • Geoengineering is being more widely studied in terms of its potential to limit global warming if efforts to reduce emissions fail, as well as its implications. The review summarizes various proposals and preliminary findings in two categories — carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management.

When I’d finished reading the review I thought about the patient careful scientific work that it represented. The review doesn’t report any single research paper as authoritative, but there’s no denying that the credibility of climate science as a whole is only confirmed as the body of work increases.  In the political arena the strength and clarity of the science may be shouted down by blustering denial or muted by electoral timorousness, but it’s there, it’s real, and what it points to is unavoidable.

I hope a review such as this receives the attention of the policy makers for whom it is written and that our political leaders are fully aware of the science they are or are not engaging with. The media, too, owe us a proper acquaintance with the science which the review demonstrates is well within the intellectual reach of any intelligent journalist given sufficient time to absorb it.

The Climate Show #9: Barry Brook, hot spots and melting ice Gareth Renowden Mar 18

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With the terrible events in Japan uppermost in everyone’s mind, this week’s Climate Show goes nuclear, examining the prospects for the future of nuclear energy with Professor Barry Brook from the University of Adelaide. John Cook looks at what the tropical troposphere hot spot really means, and Gareth and Glenn look at mass loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, a record ozone hole over the Arctic, and review last winter’s climate numbers.

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 at The Climate Show web site, on Facebook and Twitter.

Show notes below the fold.

News & commentary:

February ranked 17th warmest, winter (Dec-Feb) 16th warmest according to NOAA. NCDC global monthly reports here.

Arctic is on the verge of massive ozone loss this spring.

Melting ice sheets becoming largest contributor to sea level rise. Coverage also by Tom Yulsman at CE Journal and the BBC. Skeptical Science’s giant ice cube here.

A couple of notable articles from Nature: Ocean acidification: Earth’s Acid Test

And: China sets ambitious five-year goals for increasing energy efficiency and curbing carbon emissions – and a reduced target for economic growth.

Germany to shut down pre 1980s power plants.

Feature interview: Professor Barry Brook holds the Foundation Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change and is Director of Climate Science at The Environment Institute, University of Adelaide. He has published three books and over 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and regularly writes opinion pieces and popular articles for the media. His blog, Brave New Climate, is one of the world’s top climate blogs, and over the last few years Barry has digging deep into nuclear energy issues…

Debunking the skeptic with John Cook from Skeptical Science.

The Tropospheric Hot Spot


Meet the zero energy transparent TV: (hat tip to John Cook)

A report says that GeoThermal energy will double by 2020 (CNET news,
report here.

Iceland thinking about exporting geothermal power to Europe: Wired.

Thanks to our media partners:, Scoop and KiwiFM.

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

The Climate Show #7: Box and Boxsters — the cryosphere special Gareth Renowden Feb 17

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Highlight of this week’s show is a fascinating — and sobering — interview with Greenland expert Professor Jason Box. His perspective on current events in the Arctic — from the dangers of permafrost methane, through rapid warming over Greenland and the potential impacts on sea level is essential listening and viewing. And he can surf, too. Glenn and Gareth discuss warm weather in New Zealand during a La Niña summer, drought in the Amazon and the complex interactions between climate and weather extremes, food production and political stability. John Cook from Skeptical Science debunks the favourite sceptic arguments about ice at both poles, and in the solutions segment we discuss the recent WWF report on renewable energy, and the new all-electric Porsche Boxster.

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 at The Climate Show web site, on Facebook and Twitter.

Show notes below the fold.

News & commentary:

NZ bakes in hottest month ever and weather in Waipara.

Russian roulette with a rainforest — Amazon suffers another severe drought, could have dire consequences for atmospheric carbon.

China prepares for ‘severe, long-lasting drought’

Starving North Korea pleads for aid

Mexico’s Corn Crop Hit Hard By Cold Temps

From The Guardian: The World Bank has given a stark warning of the impact of the rising cost of food, saying an estimated 44 million people had been pushed into poverty since last summer by soaring commodity prices. Robert Zoellick, the Bank’s president, said food prices had risen by almost 30% in the past year and were within striking distance of the record levels reached during 2008.

Graph of the FAO food price index from a story at Daily Kos.

Egypt unrest fueled by high food prices.

Feature interview: One the world’s leading experts on Greenland and its ice sheet: Jason Box, Assoc. Prof., Department of Geography, Byrd Polar Research Center, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA, currently on sabbatical as a visiting professor, University of California, Santa Cruz. We’re talking to him a few weeks before he makes his first trip of the year to Greenland.

Extreme Ice Survey

Debunking the skeptic with John Cook from Skeptical Science.
This week: popular myths about the cryosphere.
Greenland is thickening in the middle

Arctic sea ice has recovered? Harrison Schmitt: ’Artic (sic) sea ice has returned to 1989 levels of coverage’ Heartland: ’in April 2009, Arctic sea ice extent had indeed returned to and surpassed 1989 levels.”
(No it hasn’t)

Monckton’s Arctic ice loss = Antarctic ice gain

Plus: an excellent overview of the world’s melting ice.


Here comes the sun: 100% renewables by 2050 — WWF report: press release and PDF.

Porsche produces EV version of Boxster

Thanks to our media partners:, Scoop and KiwiFM.

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

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