Category Archives: Climate Change

Arctic Sea Ice Extent: Sprucing up a Chart

Bernard,

This important and useful chart was on the National Snow and Ice Data Center site on August 8, 2017:

But I found it unusually hard to read. Here is my spruced-up version:

No more hard-to-read vertical text. Zero-based, thus enabling one immediately to see how much lower the extent was in 2012 and is projected to be in 2017. Date of measurement prominent in the title area. Labels close to their items, so the eye doesn’t have to travel back and forth to interpret. Percentage of total ocean area on the left axis, as opposed to square km values in the original, for which one would have to know that the Arctic Ocean’s total area is 14m+ square km in order to realize that the ice extent remains nearly 100% at the start of May.

To me, the original’s main errors were 1) not being zero-based, which forces you to imagine the full picture in order to grasp the real meaning, and 2) expressing measured ice area on the left axis instead of % of total Arctic Ocean area, forcing you to look elsewhere to find out how full or empty the Arctic Ocean actually was/is of sea ice. A basic rule of user interface design is, “Don’t Make Me Think!” unnecessarily. That’s the title of my favorite user-interface book, written lightly and gracefully by Steve Krug and well worth a read.

Wayne

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Global Warming XV: The Coming Ice Age

A recent Politico report tells us that Trump’s Deputy National Security adviser, K. T. McFarland, put a copy of two Time magazine cover pages in his reading list. One cover, which showed a lone penguin on a mound of snow and ice, had the title: How To Survive the Coming Ice Age: 51 Things You Can Do to Make a Difference. It’s from April 9, 1977. The other cover, which showed a lone polar bear on a small floe, had the title: Be Worried: Be Very Worried: Climate Change isn’t some vague future problem—it’s already damaging the planet at an alarming pace. Here’s how it affects you, your kids and their kids as well. Headlines for some of the issues’ stories, shown on the cover are: Earth at the Tipping Point, How It Threatens Your Health, How China & India Can Help Save the World—Or Destroy It, and The Climate Crusaders. It’s from April 3, 2006. The point of this juxtaposition is to demonstrate that since scientists once worried us about a coming Ice Age and now they alarm us with talk of roasting, they really haven’t a clue.

In fact, the Coming Ice Age cover is a fake. Here’s Time’s own explanation. The con artist had changed the headline, three digits in the year, and a couple of the top story teasers from a 2006 Time cover. According to Politico, an unnamed White House colleague defended McFarland on the grounds that the cover was “fake, but accurate.” (?!?!?) In fact, the cover is not only fake, but it is inaccurate. The opposite of the truth.

Here’s the fake cover and the one the con artist modified, from the Time explanation.

My essay deals with the idea that in the 1970s climate scientists thought that we were heading for an Ice Age. You can read more about K. T. McFarland in Wikipedia. Word is that she will be appointed our ambassador to Singapore, and inside the beltway types are wondering if it’s a dream come true for her, or exile.

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Global Warming XIV – Florida Gov. Scott’s Beach House

Wayne,

In my Physics class at the University of Tampa, I show my students pictures of Florida Gov. Scott’s beach house in Naples, Florida. That is about 170 miles south of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf coast. These are photos I found with brief internet searches. On the mid-term exam that includes Climate Change I ask my students when the Governor’s house is likely to be flooded: next year, a few decades, a few centuries, a few thousands of years. A few decades is the correct answer, depending upon the vagaries of hurricanes and tides added to the inevitable sea level rise as Greenland and Antarctica melt and the ocean’s warm.

In the first picture, you see an aerial view of Florida Gov. Scott’s house. According to a real estate article it’s worth about $15 million. His house is the one with the black line.

You can just see a bit of the water in the lower left. The house is but a few feet above the high tide line, and the road on the inland side is also a bit lower than the house. You can’t see it, but it’s on a narrow barrier island, so there is water not far to the right too.

The second photo shows the house, water, and the road. The central house in the photo, larger than the governor’s is a ~$70 million one. That owner, I read, is in prison for some reason. Above the high tide line, barrier islands of this type often have a low, linear vegetation-covered dune. You can see it here. By the governor’s house, that is, because his neighbor seems to have removed the dune between his house and the Gulf. It’s not high, and the governor (and everyone else) has cut paths through the low dune. The lines of pilings are probably attempts to control beach erosion, as development cuts off new sources of sand and along-shore currents and storms remove the beach sand. Futile in the long run.

In this photo, probably taken by an amateur, hence the under exposure and imprecise focus, you get an idea of the high-water levels from tides, from the slight color changes in the beach sand, and you can see the height of the barrier dune. You can see the exit of one of the paths cut through the dune. The dune is a few feet high.

The governor’s house, to my eye, is lower than the top of the dune, and not much above the high-water marks.

The governor’s house is in trouble. Likely it will be wiped out the next time a hurricane or tropical storm brings a storm surge on a high tide, on top of whatever sea level rise will have occurred at the time.

Sea walls won’t work on dunes or anywhere else on peninsular Florida because the underlying rock is porous limestone.

The Governor is well-known as a global warming denier. Indeed, researchers and other employees at the state’s environmental agency say that the political leaders of that agency required them to remove any mention of global warming from official documents. The Governor and his staff deny this.

Bernard

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Bret Stephens’s NY Times Op-Ed on Climate Change: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

Bernard,

This April 28 Bret Stephens op-ed debut is way off the mark every inch of the way.

First, what Old Jew Of Galicia? Milocz wrote that epigraph and hundreds or thousands have cited it as if it’s ancient and real wisdom that transcends the folly of whomever you want to lambaste. But what Old Jew of central or western Europe would use precise figures like 55% as opposed to 60% to describe degrees of being sure that one is right? And right about what? Everything? It seems to me that’s the only possibility of the quote, given no other information than the “quote” itself. It seems to be about totalitarian regimes that rewrite truth and history to their liking and allow no dissent. But that’s a whole different world! Climate scientists are not claiming they’re 100% right about everything, only 97% right about something very important that they’ve looked at from dozens or hundreds of different angles and almost always come up with the same conclusion, which is that warming will with high likelihood accelerate and all of humanity with high likelihood will be in a peck of trouble therefrom.

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Global warming XIII – The Carbon Dioxide Control Knob

Wayne,

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box on March 9. Here’s one question and answer:

JOE KERNEN (HOST): Let me ask you this, let me ask you one other thing, just to get to the nitty gritty. Do you believe that it’s been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate? Do you believe that?

SCOTT PRUITT (EPA ADMINISTRATOR): No, I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So, no, I would not agree that’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet, as far as — we need to continue debate — continue the review and analysis.

The question is awkward, since no one asserts the premise of the first question. No one says that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate. What knowledgeable people believe is that of the various “control knobs” for the climate, humans are “turning up” the CO2 knob and warming the planet. Thus, by accident, Pruitt’s first word is correct: “No.” After another accidental correct claim, that measuring the effects of human activity on the climate is challenging, the rest of his answer is wrong.

Pruitt asserts that there is “tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact” (of human activity on the climate). This is incorrect. There is general agreement that increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere due to people burning carbon fuels is warming the Earth. In the various models, as in all scientific endeavors, models and theories produce somewhat different predictions based upon different starting points, different methods, and different interpretations. All professional studies of the effect of the increasing CO2 agree that it will increase the Earth’s temperature. Some predict an increase of, say, 2 C, in 50 years given no changes in present fossil fuel use, others 4 C. None predict no effect. None predict that there will be a cooling. Pruitt says that because some scientists say 2 C and some 4 C, they have no idea what the warming will be. This is the claim of many opponents of scientific knowledge, that if scientists don’t know everything about a phenomenon to infinite precision, then they might as well know nothing.

All climate researchers would agree that neither they, nor anyone else, knows all there is to know about the climate. Contrary to Pruitt and to many other global warming deniers, the climate researchers know plenty, and, as it typical in research, they have sought the causes of the big effects first. Those are well-known and have been for decades, some more than a century.
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Global Warming XII – cherry blossom bloom time in Kyoto

Wayne,

Climate change and global warming deniers darkly insinuate that the world’s climate researchers, in cahoots with radical pinko anti-capitalist environmentalists, are dishonest. Publishing pre-ordained conclusions backed by tendentiously selected data mis-interpreted, the scientists hope to justify increasing their, supposedly, lucrative grants. The deniers often accuse the scientists of manipulating their data, but if the scientists did not, for example, adjust their raw data for artifacts within the data, the deniers would, and do, accuse the scientists of ignoring important effects.

To come up with such an important piece of information as the global mean surface temperature is complicated, difficult, and involves an immense amount of work. For example, mid-ocean surface temperatures do not arise from continuously reporting weather stations but from ships’ logs. Someone must go through thousands of ship journeys, recording each day’s ocean temperature readings and the ship’s position at the time of the reading. Some ships measure ocean temperature with a thermometer fixed in the engine cooling water intake pipe. Others drop a canvas bucket over the side and report the temperature of the water in the bucket pulled back onto the deck. Do those give the same value? What is the relation between those two readings and the temperature of the air above the sea? These questions and others require answers, and the researchers must adjust their data before they begin averaging. What about the possible effects of changes to urbanization around airport weather stations, the heat island effect? What if the thermometer is changed from a mercury instrument, read each day or each hour by eye, to an electronic, automatically recorded one? All these and many more matters must be considered and adjusted. Complicated statistical methods applied to vast data sets require powerful computers, and the algorithms and programs must be checked and re-checked. Hand-testing is nearly impossible.

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Global Warming XI – Trump Administration Statements

Wayne,

A few weeks ago the New York Times ran Climate Change Denialists in Charge. I used the quotations for a Science in the News item in my Univ. of Tampa Physics 125 class. Remember, our textbook is Physics and Technology for Future Presidents: What Every World Leader Needs to Know. I’d like to share some of these quotations and my remarks with you and our readers. You can find the full citations in the Times article.

In November 2012, Donald Trump tweeted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U. S. manufacturing non-competitive.” At a 2015 rally in South Carolina he said “A lot of [climate change] is a hoax. It’s a hoax.”

Both assertions are blatant and outrageous falsehoods. Our president suffers from delusions, and this particular one will prove to be the most damaging to Americans and to the human race.

The claim that warnings about global warming are part of a world-wide conspiracy by climate scientists in cahoots with radical environmentalists out to destroy American capitalism is widely asserted from the political right. This claim is a pernicious and evil falsehood. Several of the others I cite below refer to this plot.

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