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  1. Hi,
    I’m a regular reader of RealClimate. I have nothing to add about climate science – you are doing a great job communicating that. But in relation to this article I must mention something on a different subject: The American (or other European-colonized areas) concept “indigenous” people does not really work in relation to the Scandinavian Sami people. They are as indigenous as most of the rest of us (when you abstract from the historical migrations that every people have done through the times and climate changes). I don’t know if there’s any better word, because surely they “fit in” to the same category as many indigenous people in colonized areas in relation to life-style and the way they’ve been (mis-)treated by the political entities, but the term “indigenous” is rather strange when applied to an area full of indigenous people. There are many countries in the world that were not created by the Spanish or English Empire a few hundred years ago. On the other hand, as I said, I don’t know a better word right now.

    Comment by Ole — 24 Jan 2009 @ 6:56 AM

  2. slightly off topic..

    I have seen the last days of shishmaref a few weeks ago..

    I found it an interesting movie with far more depth than you see on the tube…

    But i do not think it can hit the box office with the youth.

    They were yawning and eeeewing behind me..

    Even the youth of Shishmaref listens to MTV and plays Nintendo..

    Still there is a lot of original culture in the movie..

    Climate change science has a message that is extremely difficult to visualize in an Joe Public friendly movie..

    This is a first attempt..certainly worth to watch when you get a chance..

    http://www.thelastdaysofshishmaref.nl/

    Comment by Harmen — 24 Jan 2009 @ 7:00 AM

  3. In northern Norway the most serious problem for the Sámi reindeer herds is the gross overpopulation. This leads to overgrazing and hence badly reduced production of the reindeer’s staple food – heather, grass and lichen. The ample use of 4-wheelers etc makes the problem even worse. This has been a major problem for years.

    May be the Sámi should concentrate on problems that can be solved within a short period of time among the Sami themselves?

    Comment by Knut Witberg — 24 Jan 2009 @ 7:50 AM

  4. Some places heat up faster than other places…

    Looking at the the polar regions now might be a good indicator whats in store for many of us later…

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090116111135.htm

    Comment by Harmen — 24 Jan 2009 @ 8:27 AM

  5. Rasmus, I appreciate the way you mentioned the several different factors actually of potentially affecting the people and the herds. As with most issues, climate change exacerbates pre-existing problems, and/or creates new ones on top of them. And I agree that combining on-the-ground knowledge/data with remotely sensed imagery is vital.

    Comment by Jim Bouldin — 24 Jan 2009 @ 9:08 AM

  6. You said “I was told that the Sámi have about 300 words for snow”. Come on guys, Real Climate is supposed to stand for solid science, and even though this is a “soft article”, I think you ought to check your facts instead of reporting on “what someone told me”.

    Think about it for a moment: does it even make sense that any people would have 300 words for snow? The thing is that Sami languages are agglutinative, and therefore a world like “snow” can appear in very different guises depending on its grammatical function. It’s like if someone counted “snow”, “snows”, “snowed”, “snowing”, etc as different English words for snow. Hardly a fair way of counting, isn’t it?

    [Response: Fair enough. The myth that the Inuit have 100 words for snow is probably right, but only in the sense that we do too. Glaciologists and backcountry skiers can think of hundreds of words for snow in English. Powder, corn, depth hoar, etc…the list goes on and on.–eric]

    Comment by dario — 24 Jan 2009 @ 9:26 AM

  7. Of interest to you readers. Just today, I published my first book. The title is: NOTES FOR THE AURORA SOCIETY.

    The book is about my 2003 walk across Finland. During the 5-month, 1500 mile walk, I interviewed Finns about thier relationship to nature. I also wrote about Finnish history, nature protection and more. Its a damn good book, I have to say. Remember, this was the summer of the big heat wave. I saw things then that may become much more common.

    The book can be purchased here: http://www.buybooksontheweb.com/product.aspx?ISBN=0-7414-5102-6

    Jim O’Donnell
    B-007

    Comment by Jim O'Donnell — 24 Jan 2009 @ 10:33 AM

  8. Having lived in northwest Germany, Eli can attest that there are 300 words for rain in Plattdeutsch.

    Comment by Eli Rabett — 24 Jan 2009 @ 10:35 AM

  9. dario Says (24 January 2009 at 9:26 AM):

    “Think about it for a moment: does it even make sense that any people would have 300 words for snow?”

    Why not? Think of the many different words English has for liquid water occuring in the landscape: everything from ocean to rivulet and all inbetween, sometimes with very subtle shades of meaning attached. “It’s a funny old language. We talk about a salmon river and a trout stream and they may be the same bit of water.” (Gerald Hammond) I’ve never tried to count, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me there were 300 or more. Why shouldn’t people whose lives are as intimately bound up with snow have as many words for it?

    Comment by James — 24 Jan 2009 @ 1:35 PM

  10. Amazing; in this modern age people are still replying to the question “does it even make sense that …?” with “Why not?”

    You remember what happened to Galileo when he tried that answer.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=eskimo+words+for+snow

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 24 Jan 2009 @ 2:41 PM

  11. P.S.:

    “And finally, just because I can, a list of all the variant spellings of icicle, icicles in the OED:

    hyse-hykylle, icecles, ice-ickel, ice-schokkill, ice-schoklis, ice-seekles, ice-seskel, ice-shackle, ice-shockles, ice-shog, ice-shoggle, ice-shogle, iceshogles, ice-shoglin, ice-shokle, ice-sickel, icesicles, iceycel, iceycle, icicles, icikle, isch schoklis, ische-schokkill, ische-shackle, ische-shockle, ische-shog, ische-shoggle, ische-shogle, ische-shoglin, ische-shokle, isch-schokkill, isch-shackle, isch-shockle, isch-shog, isch-shoggle, isch-shogle, isch-shoglin, isch-shokle, ise3kille, isechele, isecle, ise-sickel(s), ise-sickle, ise-sicklels, ise-yokel, isickles, isicle, isikle, isykle, izekelle, ycicle, yese-ikkle, ysckeles, yse sycles, ysekele, yse-schokkill, yse-shackle, yse-shockle, yse-shog, yse-shoggle, yse-shogle, yse-shoglin, yse-shokle, yse-yckel, ysicles, ysse-ikkles.”

    From: A spelling demonology
    http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/008777.html#008777

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 24 Jan 2009 @ 2:44 PM

  12. Is Sami the same as Lapplander?

    Comment by Edward Greisch — 24 Jan 2009 @ 4:20 PM

  13. It is not that there are lots of differant words for snow, as much as there really are that many differant forms of snow & ice.

    It is only after living and working closely with all the differant types of snow conditions, that one begins to appreciate them.

    Comment by Andrew — 24 Jan 2009 @ 4:57 PM

  14. @Edward Greisch

    yes, but now the word Lapplander (or similar in almost all european languages) is considered derogatory. We should try to avoid its use.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sami_people#Etymologies

    Comment by Sir Francis — 24 Jan 2009 @ 5:00 PM

  15. Note to Hank Roberts: I find it a bit disingenuous to be counting icicles that way. You lump together multiple spellings, regional variations, etc. By those criteria, you can easily find dozens of variations for *any* concept in *any* language.

    Note to Edward: yes, Sami is the same as Lapplander, though I reckon the latter is perceived as pejorative in some contexts.

    And a final note: I don’t doubt the Sami may have a few dozen words (or better yet, morphemes) for snow. English itself has a sizable number. However, just like in the related Eskimo myth, I guess the word count has been greatly exaggerated by a misunderstanding of the grammar of Sami languages and because it makes for a compelling story.

    Comment by dario — 24 Jan 2009 @ 5:10 PM

  16. Re # 12 “Is Sami the same as Lapplander?”

    The Sámi people, (also known as Lapps, although this term is considered derogatory…are the indigenous people of northern Europe inhabiting Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Their ancestral lands span across an area the size of Sweden in the Nordic countries. The Sámi people are among the largest indigenous ethnic groups in Europe. Their languages are the Sámi languages, which are classified as Finnic in the Finno-Ugric group….
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sami_people

    A few additional web sites on the Saami (Sami) and their culture:

    http://www.allthingsarctic.com/people/saami.aspx
    http://boreale.konto.itv.se/samieng.htm
    http://arcticcircle.uconn.edu/HistoryCulture/samiindex.html
    http://www.omniglot.com/writing/saami.htm

    Comment by Chuck Booth — 24 Jan 2009 @ 5:22 PM

  17. However there are many well-meaning people that think the Arctic regions will be better off with warming. I listened with disbelief a radio interview with Freeman Dyson where he states such an opinion and says that global warming will be a good thing (listen at http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/current/audioonly/ssw_20081213_1215.mp3). I hope that this story will get some coverage.

    Comment by M Magnuson — 24 Jan 2009 @ 6:47 PM

  18. As I understand it, the ‘eskimo words for snow’ myth arises because of the way the language is formed: words are modified with (analogues to?) prefixes, suffixes, and cases to create words that represent highly specific concepts in the way the we use sentences. This means that they may readily create a ‘word’ meaning’the snow you get when a three day thaw is followed by a light frost and a seven-hour snow shower’, but equally they can readily coin a single-word lexeme meaning ‘the glisten of firelight reflecting on the lingering perspiration on the deluxe model inflatable woman (the one with the real hair)’.

    Equally, there must be an inuit word for the frustration felt by a RealClimate writer who sees five timesas many comments about his use of a snowclone as about the actual message of his post… Whether that holds true in Sami I do not venture to guess…

    Comment by Outeast — 24 Jan 2009 @ 6:49 PM

  19. Unfortunately, the end of the tradition way of life that the Sami – who I’ve always seen as the last of the ‘tribal’ Europeans, which both amuses some of my Native American friends as well as making them go ‘Hmmm’ (they rarely think of US White Folks that way, you see) – have been leading for so many thousands of years, is probably nearing it’s end.
    This is also so for many of the Tribal African Peoples, just as it has already beecome so for the Sioux, the Arrapaho, the Iroqouis, etc., with only the Puebla Peoples – like the Navajo, the Hopi, & the Yuni – being able to maintain something of a semblence of their original ways; which has been so only because those ways were already based on an argrarian village-based (that’s what a Pueblo is) way of life.
    Will this be so bad, though? After all, many of these colorful and ancient cultures incorporate such unsustainable things as using large numbers of cattle as dowries; and we Real Climate readers all know that cattle belch and fart out copious quantities of Methane.
    I love to take part in many of the Celtic/Druidic/Ren-Fair type activities and festivals that are so abundant in Oregon, U.S.A. (I almost never miss a Solstice Celebration, with my Earth Goddess Worshiper Friends!); but I would no more go back wearing nothing but ‘Home-spun’, to suffering from Rubela and Small Pox, or to watching 6 out of 10 women die in Childbirth than I would go back to living in a Mud Hut or a Cave.
    Still, there are things that we can learn from these ancient and not-quite-dead cultures – as well as from the effects of the late arrival of the Technological Age in some of these parts of the world; with the way that Cell Phones have allowed African Nations to avoid laying down a fortune to hard-wire up their countries being a really good example.
    Just think of the Carbon Footprint of that one!

    Comment by James Staples — 24 Jan 2009 @ 7:21 PM

  20. > we all know … methane
    Chuckle. But what do dowry cattle eat? Probably not feedlot grain, and that makes a difference: “… mitigation options such as changing source of carbohydrate or addition of fat to reduce methane …”
    http://jas.fass.org/cgi/content/abstract/jas.2008-0960v1

    Anyone have an actual source for the blog-prevalent story that the native Alaskans have had to learn words for “butterfly” and “robin” recently? I can’t find one, but I don’t know where the scientific reports of observations are.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 24 Jan 2009 @ 7:52 PM

  21. Slightly offtopic: can someone point me to an explanation of why warming (or climate change more generally) is amplified at the poles? I’m aware that warming is currently more pronounced in the Arctic, and recall (perhaps incorrectly) that polar amplification is often observed in models, so I’m assuming there’s a geophysical theory (or at least a few leading hypotheses) for this, but I don’t know.

    [Response: This is actually a very good question, and while it is often said that polar amplifcation is simply due to the ice-albedo feedback, it’s actually more complex than that. We’ve done a post on this here, which is a good place to start.–eric]

    Comment by Tom Roche — 24 Jan 2009 @ 8:00 PM

  22. Speaking of Shismaref, I lived in Nome and Shishmaref in the 1980s, working for a local
    community college there. Flew all over the region. In the future, 500 years from now, there\
    may very well be a “polar city” located in the highlands of Nome’s back mountain country, and for sure,
    Shishmaref will be no more. Here is a Graduation Speech to the Shismaref High School Class of 2099 that is now online, read it and weep.

    http://www.care2.com/news/member/996156587/1025283

    Comment by Danny Bloom — 24 Jan 2009 @ 8:44 PM

  23. Re #6 (and Eric’s response): The statement that I have heard made is that the Inuit have words used everyday that distinguish between things such as snow that is falling and snow that is on the ground. And, although we may have lots of different terms that experts or skiers will use to describe snow, I think it still is true that in everyday life we use the term “snow” to stand for a variety of different things that would be useful to distinguish between if snow was a more dominant part of your existence.

    In fact, living in Rochester, NY, I find myself wishing there were more distinctions. So, for example, when my parents call up and ask if we have snow, I can understand if they are trying to ask if it is snowing now, if we have gotten any recently, or just whether we still have the foot or so on the ground that has been hanging around most of the winter. I do think our language is pretty indeterminate in its use of the word.

    So, without being an expert on Inuit (or Sami) language, I could still imagine that there might be a qualitative difference between how their everyday vocabulary handles “snow” compared to how ours handles it.

    Comment by Joel Shore — 24 Jan 2009 @ 11:06 PM

  24. \Lapplander\ encompasses all people, regardless of origin, who live in the area. \Sami\ are the people with their own culture. Many people in Lapland have some Sami ancestry, but whether they endorse it is their own decision. \The mixing between peoples in the north has happened before exactly kept records, sometimes it was friendly, sometimes not so.\, to quote a book on Finland’s history.

    Comment by jyyh — 24 Jan 2009 @ 11:40 PM

  25. In short, i guess the problem has been, how do you tell a tame reindeer from a wild forest deer? (earmarks)

    Comment by jyyh — 25 Jan 2009 @ 12:02 AM

  26. Hank Roberts Says (24 January 2009 at 2:41 PM):

    “Amazing; in this modern age people are still replying to the question “does it even make sense that …?” with “Why not?””

    More amazing still, in this day & age, is that some people still accept the result of a quick Google search as ultimate authority on a subject :-) Your link piqued my curiousity, so I took the trouble to skim through a random dozen or so of the first several pages. Most seem to be paraphrasing from just two sources, an article here http://www.princeton.edu/~browning/snow.html citing Steven A. Jacobson’s (1984) Yup’ik Eskimo dictionary (I’ve found dictionaries to be either incomplete or OED-sized), and Geoffrey Pullum’s book “The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax”. None of the pages I looked at were by, or cited, native speakers of Inuit languages. One, by an anthropologist with direct experience, suggests that if ice is included, there are possibly more than 100 words: http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/5/5-1293.html

    Of course, the Inuit/Eskimo languages weren’t the question. I don’t speak the Sami language, or know anyone who has more than a few words, but repeating your search with “sami” instead of “eskimo”, you’ll find some apparently reputable sources such as this http://www.utexas.edu/courses/sami/diehtu/siida/herding/herding-nr.htm citing many words that make distinctions between types of snow. Finnish, which is somewhat related to the Sami languages, has a good many: http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1201359

    And just off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of dozen English words for snow, without even getting into scientific terms or resorting to a thesarus. For frozen water falling out of the sky: hail, sleet, flurry, snowsquall, snowshower, blizzard. For shapes and ways of movement: drift, bank, mogul, cornice, avalanche, snowfield, glacier. For differences in consistency: slush, powder, corn, flour, crystal, crust, ice. Add adjectives for distinctions I’d make in ordinary conversation (which the Inuit languages would agglutinate into a single word), and I’d easily have more than a hundred distinct types.

    [Response: The problem is that the sami words for snow have not yet been documented. So Google will be of no help. But, prart of EALAT is to document the words. I was told by a sami there are about 300 words, but I guess many of these will be different cases, with the same word-stem, but I’m not expert on the sami language either. -rasmus]

    Comment by James — 25 Jan 2009 @ 12:33 AM

  27. Yep, and that’s why pointed to the page that quotes the Oxford English Dictionary. I’m not arguing with you, just saying, “why not?” is less convincing. Found words for ‘Robin’ and ‘butterfly’?

    We see people using “Why not?” all the time in science — there might be a secret force causing warming, why not? There might be a hidden factor affecting speciation, why not? It might be teleological, why not? The only answer is “bother.”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 25 Jan 2009 @ 12:56 AM

  28. Hi!
    I am a regular reader of Real Climate but as a layman I havent been commenting discussions of climatechange because my knowledge is too narrow for that. As a finn, I do have some backround to comment this discussion. Sami is finnougrig language and allthough finns doesnt understand sami, are languages rather close. In finnish langauge we have several words for snow (lumi) but not hundreds. In saami there are over hundred words for snow and ice, for example:
    (text in parentes are finnish translations, I’m sorry, but I cant translate those in english)
    áinnahas ‘koskematon lumi’
    cinus ‘kova, ei kantava lumi’
    earbmi ‘hienoa lunta satava lumisade’
    gaskageardni ‘jäätynyt lumenpinta ennen varsinaista hankea’
    jassa ‘viipymälumi tunturissa’
    luoskkumuohta ‘pehmeä, upottava lumi’
    movllahat ‘niin paksu lumi, ettei ajoporo ulotu lumen läpi tällä alueella’
    muohta ‘lumen yleisnimi’
    ritni ‘huurre’
    sealli ‘puissa talvella oleva lumettomuus’
    vahca ‘viti, uusi, kevyt lumi’
    vuojáhat ‘porojen ajojälki lumessa’

    Comment by Osmo Jussila — 25 Jan 2009 @ 10:22 AM

  29. The Sámi came to northern Norway, Sweden and Finland after the last ice age, They took the way over Finland as there was an early opening in the Scandinavian ice plateau over Finland. Their language is closely related to Finnish and Hungarian. Many (but less than half) of the now-a-days Sámi population has a special marker in their DNA – “The Sámii Motif” that is found also in Finland but not elsewhere in Norway and Sweden. The Sámi population is not in any way related to the Inuits of the polar region. The rest of the first inhabitants of Norway arrived about at the same time as the first Sámi, but they followed the ice as it melted from the south and west. To be classified as a Sámi person does not depend on genetics, physical features or even culture. It generally depends on a personal claim to be a Sámi person or not. Only a small minority of the Sámi population are reindeer herding, very roughly 1000 people (families) using 40 % of the land area of Norway and producing around 1700 tons of meat a year (weight of slaughter) with a value of around 20 millions USD a year. They get almost the same amount from the Norwegian state. The use of resources of reindeer herding is approximately the same as the value of the production, hence the contribution to the Norwegian economy is very close to zero.

    The claim that the Inuit and Sámi languages have 300 words for snow is an old claim that keeps coming back. From time to time it is disclaimed by language experts. When I was young it was 100 words… However, for obvious reasons all of the languages of the northern populations have many words for different qualities of snow.

    It is not difficult to know whether a reindeer is wild or domestic, it generally depends on where you are in Scandinavia:
    Southern Norway: Mostly wild, but a few small areas with domestic herds.
    Northern Norway: Only domestic herds.
    Svalbard (Norway): Only wild animals.
    Sweden: Only domestic animals that belongs to the Sámi population, even if many of them never have seen a human before in their lives!

    Comment by Knut — 25 Jan 2009 @ 11:32 AM

  30. I am a Mechanical Engineer who spent my career in gas dynamics and heat transfer. Since retiring I have been investigating AGW through courses in the Meteorological Dept at my local University. You are losing the argument about AGW with anybody that seriously considers the data.

    Jim Norvell

    Comment by Jim Norvell — 25 Jan 2009 @ 2:39 PM

  31. Let’s not have a pc debate on terms. Indigenous is not a dirty word. The Sami do not have a recognized territory or nation, and thus, like the Kurds, there is a need to use language that reflects the truth of their situation. Although, I’m certainly in favor of the concept and need for their own political territory. It is more of a concern, politically, however, that all polar peoples are going to suffer severe changes in climate and vegetation–perhaps enough to wipe them out as a people and culture. The reindeer are as threatened as the polar bears. It is unreasonable to expect any people to not adopt modern technology, even if it is also detrimental to their traditional way of life–who hasn’t? We’re all human beings, and we all make the same choices, on the whole. There’s no stopping the consequences of our collective impulses.

    Comment by markr — 25 Jan 2009 @ 3:12 PM

  32. Jim Norvell (30) — Read “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart, first link in the science section of the sidebar.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 25 Jan 2009 @ 3:44 PM

  33. Hank Roberts Says (25 January 2009 at 12:56 AM):

    “We see people using “Why not?” all the time in science — there might be a secret force causing warming, why not? There might be a hidden factor affecting speciation, why not? It might be teleological, why not? The only answer is “bother.””

    Nope, the answer is to check facts or use logic. In this case, we lack data – apparently no one has yet found a number of cooperative Sami-speakers and counted words (or at least haven’t placed the results where Google can find them) so we can’t give a categorical yes or no answer. We can only think about how reasonable it might be, and to that end look at other languages. However, pointing to a bunch of recycled references stating that the Inuit languages (which are unrelated to Sami) don’t have that many is no sort of answer at all, let alone a categorical one. It’s like claiming that AGW is not happening because Romans raised wine grapes in Britain.

    Comment by James — 25 Jan 2009 @ 3:49 PM

  34. Re Jim Norvell, I could have *sworn* I seriously considered the data!

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 25 Jan 2009 @ 3:55 PM

  35. A quantitative experiment could be done with the words and symbols used by the people and could in fact get a valuable insight into climate change. Get the frequency of words used 50 years ago and compare the frequency of the same words today. If some words are used more today than fifty years ago, and in fact some words are not used at all today, that could tell you a little about the changes over the last fifty years. Of course, you would need a large sample of words and the definitions, say for snow, and the context as well. This is one way the linguistical variations of “snow” could be used to gain an understanding of changes through the years.

    Comment by PaulM — 25 Jan 2009 @ 4:07 PM

  36. I am a Mechanical Engineer who spent my career in gas dynamics and heat transfer. Since retiring I have been investigating AGW through courses in the Meteorological Dept at my local University. You are losing the argument about AGW with anybody that seriously considers the data.

    Oh, my, another engineer who has single-handedly disproven climate science.

    Without, of course, revealing how he has done so …

    Comment by dhogaza — 25 Jan 2009 @ 4:19 PM

  37. In this case, we lack data – apparently no one has yet found a number of cooperative Sami-speakers and counted words (or at least haven’t placed the results where Google can find them) so we can’t give a categorical yes or no answer.

    It’s interesting to see Google presented as an ultimate authority in the matter.

    I’ll take Geoffrey Pullam, myself.

    Comment by dhogaza — 25 Jan 2009 @ 4:21 PM

  38. James, “bother” is to make the effort, as you describe.
    Try to read what I write and imagine a world in which I could be agreeing with you.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 25 Jan 2009 @ 4:22 PM

  39. > courses in the Meteorological Dept
    This may be your problem. Did they mention this award?
    http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2009/hansen_ams.html

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 25 Jan 2009 @ 4:26 PM

  40. OK, Pullam was writing about the Inuit language, not the linguistically unrelated Sámi.

    My bad. But James … you brought him into the conversation to start :)

    Of course, Pullam’s book isn’t about the number of words in Inuit for snow, but how the linguistic myth came to be, and to gain currency, in the first place.

    Anyway, enough of the off-topic how many words for snow question.

    More pertinent … how many words for “denialist” can we introduce into the english language? :)

    Comment by dhogaza — 25 Jan 2009 @ 4:26 PM

  41. The author’s use of “climatic fluctuations” seems wrong.
    Weather fluctuations make more sense in the short term.
    Climate trends make sense in the long term but not “climate fluctuations”.

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 25 Jan 2009 @ 4:39 PM

  42. > climatic fluctuations

    “Weather” is moving from summer to winter pasture. But as I recall we’ve had about ten thousand years of unusually stable climate, so people had time to settle down and invent agricultura rather than needing to move with the animals they hunted.

    I’d believe “climatic fluctuations” — changes that over 30 years or so would require moving far enough to preclude returning to the same place annually. That is what kept humans, for a hundred thousand years or more, from building up the experience needed to do agriculture. Always moving.

    Agriculture doesn’t need to be “farming” in fields and rows — most likely it was what the native Americans were doing til recently, wildland gardening in a way that enriched the area with useful plants.

    That works better in temperate climates, I’m just saying that even for Arctic herders, being able to know where your herds will prosper over many generations is better than having to follow climate variation across large distances.

    Can’t do that when the climate is changing every, say, 30 years.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 25 Jan 2009 @ 5:53 PM

  43. A Seattle-based couple (photographer and writer) is working on a long-term project called Facing Climate Change. Their first installment looked at Arctic communities and climate change, including the Sami. Here’s the direct link to their shorter online media on the Sami and climate: http://www.bendrum.com/facing_climate_change/multimedia/nordic/

    I highly recommend looking at all their project pieces and, if you can, attending an event. Their presentations are beautiful, fascinating, and have a more personal touch than us science people usually do (graph anyone?).

    Comment by Twila M. — 25 Jan 2009 @ 7:42 PM

  44. Sometimes people who weigh in here make me downright embarrassed to admit that I am an engineer.

    For example, Jim Norvell (30): “You are losing the argument about AGW with anybody that seriously considers the data.”

    What data would that be?

    Comment by Ron Taylor — 25 Jan 2009 @ 8:49 PM

  45. I keep getting kicked out, I guess by re captcha, so this may be a repeat. But, Jim Norvell(30), you make me embarrassed to admit that I am an engineer with statements like this: “…I have been investigating AGW through courses in the Meteorological Dept at my local University. You are losing the argument about AGW with anybody that seriously considers the data.”

    What data would that be? And why on earth are you studying climate science in the meteorological department?

    Comment by Ron Taylor — 25 Jan 2009 @ 8:56 PM

  46. dhogaza, maybe about the same number as “alarmist”. :-P Though you’ll have to get the word “denialist” itself accepted into the English language first. ;-)

    Comment by Rod B — 25 Jan 2009 @ 9:16 PM

  47. RE #30, & “I have been investigating AGW through courses in the Meteorological Dept at my local University”

    I wouldn’t trust anything a university has to teach, esp in the hard sciences. Many are heavily funded by big industries & have to dance to their tunes. Check and see who contributes. Many public universities are getting less and less from their states, and have to rely more and more on private contributions. My U, for instance, only gets 12% now from the state & more and more from industries. I don’t think they will ever take climate change seriously….

    As for community colleges, well, they have boards from industries that have lots of power to block enviro messages — I’ve seen it happen.

    Whatever “civil society” we may have had in the past is quickly vanishing.

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 25 Jan 2009 @ 9:37 PM

  48. In an attempt to move the subject back towards climate change in the arctic/subarctic. My understanding is that one of the dynamical feedback effects, has been vegetation changes, such as tundra shrubs growing taller, thus decreasing the albedo enhancing effects of snowcover. Presumably herding activity affects the detailed distribution of plants, plant density and height. For now this is strictly a collateral result of some other human purpose. Might it be possible that some subtle changes in management could counteract (at least to some degree), the climate change amplifying effects of vegetation changes?

    Comment by Thomas — 25 Jan 2009 @ 9:41 PM

  49. Hank Roberts asks:

    Anyone have an actual source for the blog-prevalent story that the native Alaskans have had to learn words for “butterfly” and “robin” recently?

    About 6 months ago I saw an Inuit on television (CBC The National?) say that in recent years they had seen robins that were previously completely unknown. I’m sorry, I can’t remember any more details but at least it suggests that the story is not a total fabrication.

    Comment by Richard Simons — 25 Jan 2009 @ 11:00 PM

  50. dhogaza

    “More pertinent … how many words for “denialist” can we introduce into the english language? :)”

    Initially misreading your statement made me think of something else…

    What do you think is more permanent…

    Claiming change denial campaigns or permafrost in the sub arctic?

    taking bets..

    its about our future…,i think its relevant…

    Comment by Harmen — 26 Jan 2009 @ 1:49 AM

  51. If you can have mosquitoes in Alaska you can have robins.
    Their migration is more likely due to habitat loss in lower latitudes than global warming.

    Comment by spangled drongo — 26 Jan 2009 @ 3:15 AM

  52. Lynn writes:

    I wouldn’t trust anything a university has to teach, esp in the hard sciences.

    This may be the most anti-intellectual thing I have ever heard from you. A lot of the people who run this blog teach at universities, and most the readers, including guys like me, learned their hard science at universities (Pitt in my case). Are Newton’s Laws a corporate scam? Are the big corporations behind relativity or thermodynamics? What do you think is true instead — Velikovskian catastrophism and astrology? The Electric Universe Theory?

    I usually respect your contributions here, but this one doesn’t deserve any respect.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 26 Jan 2009 @ 5:39 AM

  53. Hello,

    In Finnish wikipedia I calculated around 50 Finnish words for snow. Many of these are very rarely used and not known to all Finns even. Maybe the Sami have more, but 300 sounds like a lot…

    I have not heard of climate change affecting reindeer herding. The biggest problem is land ownership.

    Comment by Joe — 26 Jan 2009 @ 8:20 AM

  54. Jim Norvell claims: “You are losing the argument about AGW with anybody that seriously considers the data.”

    No, only with those who don’t understand it or choose not to understand it. I’d love to hear you explain simultaneous tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling without a greenhouse mechanism.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 26 Jan 2009 @ 8:35 AM

  55. The problem is which data set do you believe. I can pull up papers from many reputable Journals that come to opposite conclusions. The argument that “the Science is settled” is not true.

    Jim N

    [Response: “Belief” in data is a highly non-scientific issue. Data are what they are – imperfect reflections of underlying reality, each with their own issues. Working out what is going on requires finding a consistent picture that includes as much of the data as possible. And who here has ever said ‘the science is settled’? What science is that any way? – gavin]

    Comment by Jim Norvell — 26 Jan 2009 @ 1:08 PM

  56. Jim Norvell, You might be able to find dueling papers on issues like whether climate change will strengthen hurricanes. I defy you to pull up a paper from a peer-reviewed journal that dissents from a core issue of the consensus position–and which managed to survive a month without being thoroughly debunked.
    Methinks, Jim, that you are talking our of an orifice other than the one usually used in polite conversation.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 26 Jan 2009 @ 1:54 PM

  57. It’s a bit odd that reindeer and polar bear are described as threatened. Not presently at least!

    The population in Northern Norway of reindeer are more than twice as big as it was 60 years ago – and far too big for the grazing capacity. When there is little vegetation left on the ground, ice will be formed directly on the earth. That’s the problem.

    The population of polar bears are 5 times bigger than 60 years ago. That it is reduced in certain areas are a result of hunting – the Inuits are not happy to see their children threatened of becoming bear snacks.

    Alarmists are the real danger.

    Comment by Knut — 26 Jan 2009 @ 2:00 PM

  58. Jim Norvell

    Splitting this into a “settled/non-settled” dichotomy makes no sense. There are a few things that are settled as much as anything in science can be settled…CO2 is a greenhouse gas, greenhouse gases keep the planet warmer than without them, the global temperature has risen over the last century, human being are emitting CO2…The only places where these things are disputed are blogs, facebook and myspace type forums, opinion pieces, and the like.

    There are lots of things which are still disputed in real academic settings, probably because there is little theoretical, experimental, or observational evidence for deifnitive claims. How ecosystems will shift in a warmer climate, hurricane changes in a warmer climate, what the best solutions are to climate change, etc.

    Comment by Chris Colose — 26 Jan 2009 @ 3:09 PM

  59. Re Jim Norvell @30, we’ve had more than few engineers drop by to tell us that the “data” doesn’t support the theory of anthropogenic caused warming. I believe the last one was an electrical engineer who just couldn’t get his head around the fact that trapping and retaining sensible heat is not at all what CO2 and other greenhouse gases do. So, for starters, as a mechanical engineer, what is your understanding of the radiative physics of greenhouse gases, CO2 in particular?

    Comment by Jim Eager — 26 Jan 2009 @ 3:42 PM

  60. Knut, current polar bear populations are not uniformly up by a factor of five in the Canadian Arctic. Some regional populations are actually in decline. And I have to wonder if some measured increases are actually temporary greater concentrations locally as more bears congregate while to waiting longer for freeze up.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 26 Jan 2009 @ 3:48 PM

  61. Jim Eager, 60+59, here’s one for your engineers:

    THE IRRELEVANCE OF SATURATION: WHY CARBON DIOXIDE MATTERS

    The link has a hyphen needing removal as geo-cities is considered spam [edit – fixed].

    Comment by Sekerob — 26 Jan 2009 @ 4:31 PM

  62. Chris C (58), I would agree with 95% of your settled science items, but I would argue that the marginal increase in warming from a marginal increase GHG emissions is not settled — among the other things you mentioned.

    Comment by Rod B — 26 Jan 2009 @ 5:34 PM

  63. Sekerob, I know Hank understands the physics of the greenhouse effect. I was wondering if Jim Norvell does, and if this is the source of his problem with the “data.”

    Captcha suggests: employ hours,
    presumably reading Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming, and David Archer’s Global Warming; Understanding the Forecast, IMO two essential books for understanding the greenhouse effect.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 26 Jan 2009 @ 5:48 PM

  64. > migration is more likely due to habitat loss
    > in lower latitudes than global warming.

    Nope. Look it up. You know how.

    (That’s for next reader along, just to say, don’t believe everything anyone posts at RC. We have our share of opinionators without citations.)

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 26 Jan 2009 @ 6:45 PM

  65. Rod B. says, “…I would argue that the marginal increase in warming from a marginal increase GHG emissions is not settled…”

    Actually, Rod, that’s one of the things we know best. If that’s wrong, it’s all wrong–unless you believe in a magical negative feedback that stops warming at our current temperature.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 26 Jan 2009 @ 7:56 PM

  66. Rod B, what on earth are you talking about in 62? What you say makes so sense at all.

    Comment by Ron Taylor — 26 Jan 2009 @ 9:07 PM

  67. Here is GISS data from Sodankylä which lies in the Finnish Lapland. I do not see any great change in the temperature that might seriously affect the reindeer. However, maybe you guys see something significant.

    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/gistemp/gistemp_station.py?id=614028360003&data_set=1&num_neighbors=1

    Comment by Joe — 27 Jan 2009 @ 5:55 AM

  68. Ray (65), The area of band spreading for example is quite less than settled, compared to, say, GHG absorption of infrared radiation in general. We know GHGs absorb energy from radiation; this is what I would call something “we know best.” It’s just not certain by how much gets absorbed in different situations and environments even though there are reasonably good ideas. Also the concentration-to-forcing-to-temperature physics and math is less than certain. They change the log multiplier empirically occasionally (at least once of late) to “better match experience.” That’s a reasonable thing to do, but not indicative of a “best known” part of the science. Even the log factor itself is variable: sometimes with simple concentration ratios, sometimes not; sometimes linear instead of log; etc. Again, reasonable science given what we know, but which is not “best known”.

    Comment by Rod B — 27 Jan 2009 @ 12:31 PM

  69. RE #52, all the basic science at universities is legit, I’m sure. Corporations want experts who get them results, after all. It’s just the controversial knowledge (especially about enviro issues) that may harm corporate bottom lines — like pesticides are poisonous, or global warming is caused by our GHG emissions — that gets twisted, suppressed, defunded, or ignored.

    I’ve read of lots of such cases over the years, & experienced some myself or know others who have been suppressed. I can’t remember them all off-hand, but a good book to start would be TOXIC DECEPTION, and maybe THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE (tho I don’t remember if that one also implicates universities). I remember reading about twisted scientistific study finding pesticides are not hormone disrupters at some university funded by the pesticide company.

    There are lots of way to “do science” that cover up the underlying scientific truth with varying degrees of dishonesty, and some scientists have even been put in prison for out-and-out fraudulent science.

    The tobacco cover up is just the tip of a big ice berg.

    All I can say is that Foucault’s dictum, “power is knowledge,” is more true than Foucault ever imagined.

    That’s why when RealClimate started up, I was actually very heartened to see many scientists who not only do their science honestly on this controversial issue, but also speak out publically, and some who even suffer for it from the powers that be.

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 28 Jan 2009 @ 10:42 PM

  70. Could local piling up of CO2 also play a role?

    I am thinking about CFC’s…

    http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE50T0AV20090130

    Comment by Harmen — 30 Jan 2009 @ 1:44 AM

  71. The yearly temperatures do not tell much how different organisms react. Some have different cold tolerances to extreme winter temperatures, some require a spring with none or little refreezes, some can spread in new areas during a warm enough autumn, and some might even need a summer that is very cool and still a midnight that is sunny to thrive. The point is that every species, including humans, react differently to various changes in the environment.

    Comment by jyyh — 30 Jan 2009 @ 2:36 PM

  72. Harmen, that’s a recent observation; there haven’t been enough observations to describe a baseline against which you could conclude there were a trend. Watch for another report in six months.

    Further on the same link you gave:
    “… Much of this may have to do with yearly biological changes in plants, Stephens said …”

    CFCs matter because they are new and extremely stable in groundside conditions — so don’t break down in the time it takes for mixing to carry them to the stratosphere where their chemistry becomes a problem. That’s not ‘piling up’

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 30 Jan 2009 @ 4:14 PM

  73. The sami supposedly have knowledge of environment that the rest of us are missing (because we do nto have the status of “indigenous”). Well, let me tell you a secret: the sami do not have any innate knowledge about the environment. They are not some backward people who still maintain the traditional way of living. They are using snowmobiles instead of dogs and sleighs. They live in houses.

    Comment by Joe — 30 Jan 2009 @ 4:31 PM

  74. Hank,

    CFC’s are relevant because these gases do not distribute evenly over the globe.. Piling at the poles..creating two ozon holes…

    You are talking about persisent gases…CO2 is very persistent..it remains in the atmosphere an average 100 years once emitted…CFC’s are much more persistent, they remain in the atmoisphere for thousands of years…Concentrations are much lower though…

    I still think the question is relevant..

    385 parts per million…does that imply..

    385 parts per million evenly distributed around the globe?..

    or..for example..

    390 parts per million at the poles and 380 parts per million at the equator?…

    But i guess you already answered my questions..

    We will know more this summer…

    [Response: Both CO2 and CFCs are very evenly spread in the atmosphere. For CO2 differences are on the order of maybe 10 ppm or so (out of 385ppm) as a function of the age of air (older air in the stratosphere has lower CO2). For CFCs there are some gradients in the stratosphere – but you have the sign wrong – there are less CFCs in the polar air because they have been partially photolysised in the tropical upper stratosphere prior to descending over the pole. – gavin]

    Comment by Harmen — 30 Jan 2009 @ 10:56 PM

  75. The number of snow-words in a Sami dialect (remember there are several dialects that are not reliably mutually intelligible) has been pegged at 200 by a Sami writer named Kerttu Vuolab.

    http://www.turunsanomat.fi/kulttuuri/?ts=1,3:1005:0:0,4:5:0:1:2006-06-12,104:5:384921,1:0:0:0:0:0:

    Comment by Runsasluminen — 6 Feb 2009 @ 7:35 AM

  76. Harmen, 74. I say you’re male. Of course, there may be some chimerism in your body. And hormones in the beef are feminime hormones, so you aren’t actually 100% male anyway. And there’s the difference in the relative amounts of male properties that vary amongst hominids like us.

    So when I say “you’re a male”, someone can argue that it is wrong. But then again, just calling someone male or female is correct enough to deal with most humans.

    Just like 380ppm is close enough to correct for the purposes of climatological effects. After all, even a long lasting high pressure ridge dies well within the 30 years averaging used for climate. So a high pressure zone having a non-median composition has little effect on the climate, irrespective of its effect on weather.

    Comment by Mark — 6 Feb 2009 @ 10:18 AM

  77. Joe, #73. They also live on the edge. At the edges the change is more apparent. Like people living near but not IN a dessert will notice the growth of the dessert whilst someone in New York will not be able to tell.

    Living in a house and owning a snowmobile doesn’t change that the land is edge land. Barely habitable to humans.

    Comment by Mark — 6 Feb 2009 @ 10:20 AM

  78. Rod B Says:
    27 January 2009 at 12:31 PM
    Ray (65), The area of band spreading for example is quite less than settled, compared to, say, GHG absorption of infrared radiation in general. We know GHGs absorb energy from radiation; this is what I would call something “we know best.” It’s just not certain by how much gets absorbed in different situations and environments even though there are reasonably good ideas. Also the concentration-to-forcing-to-temperature physics and math is less than certain. They change the log multiplier empirically occasionally (at least once of late) to “better match experience.” That’s a reasonable thing to do, but not indicative of a “best known” part of the science. Even the log factor itself is variable: sometimes with simple concentration ratios, sometimes not; sometimes linear instead of log; etc. Again, reasonable science given what we know, but which is not “best known”.

    Analytically we get a linear response for weak absorption and squareroot for strong absorption transitioning through a log regime. Which is appropriate depends on the molecule, its concentration etc. In the present atmosphere for CO2 log is right, but for CFCs it’s linear. It’s ‘well known’ but very complex.

    Comment by Phil. Felton — 6 Feb 2009 @ 1:24 PM

  79. Phil (78), It’s all relative. Some things are best known, some well known, some pretty good, some fairly close, some a good guess, and some with no clue. The absorption forcing relationship and the band spreading with different concentrations are not “most well known” as Ray contended (though I might be taking Ray more literally than he meant), but more in the middle of the pack. Stuff like a = F/m is in the top class.

    We don’t know why or how or when exactly the forcing function changes from linear to log to square root; nor the exact coefficients that goes with each. On the surface this looks odd since the function progresses from C1 to C~5 to C1/2 (C being concentration ratios) in the above sequence. Though the coefficients with the linear and square root functions might mitigate the seeming anomaly; or it might actually be correct — there is lab work that points in that direction; but the most well known?? Nor is how and by how much the spreading absorption increases with higher concentrations known with precision. Shoot, we don’t even really know the precise process of radiation absorption by gases per se – it’s been billed by climatologists as arguably the most difficult part of the science.

    Comment by Rod B — 12 Feb 2009 @ 2:06 PM

  80. ps that was C to the “about 5″ power…

    Comment by Rod B — 12 Feb 2009 @ 2:08 PM

  81. And further reply to Harmen — you should read up on why there are ozone holes at the poles. No “pile up” — Gavin pointed out you have the sign wrong; sunlight breaks down the CFCs; there’s sunlight every day outside the polar areas. The ozone holes occur at the poles. What do we know about the poles? Sunlight and temperature conditions differ from the rest of the globe. There can be temperatures low enough for high ice clouds; circular wind patterns; and the change in chemistry that happens with the transition from 6 months of dark to 6 months of sunlight. Read about it.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 12 Feb 2009 @ 6:01 PM

  82. Gee, my post 79 didn’t look that wordy when I was drafting it. Sorry. I need to take some Hank brevity lessons, I guess. ;-)

    Comment by Rod B — 15 Feb 2009 @ 5:41 PM

  83. Just found this blog entry. Benj and I have a short multimedia piece about Sámi reindeer herdsmen and climate change on our Website. It features some of the folks involved with the Ealát project.

    http://www.bendrum.com/facing_climate_change/multimedia/nordic/

    Comment by Sara Joy Steele — 6 Mar 2009 @ 3:48 PM

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