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Antarctic warming is robust

Filed under: — gavin @ 4 February 2009

The difference between a single calculation and a solid paper in the technical literature is vast. A good paper examines a question from multiple angles and find ways to assess the robustness of its conclusions to all sorts of possible sources of error — in input data, in assumptions, and even occasionally in programming. If a conclusion is robust over as much of this as can be tested (and the good peer reviewers generally insist that this be shown), then the paper is likely to last the test of time. Although science proceeds by making use of the work that others have done before, it is not based on the assumption that everything that went before is correct. It is precisely because that there is always the possibility of errors that so much is based on ‘balance of evidence’ arguments’ that are mutually reinforcing.

So it is with the Steig et al paper published last week. Their conclusions that West Antarctica is warming quite strongly and that even Antarctica as a whole is warming since 1957 (the start of systematic measurements) were based on extending the long term manned weather station data (42 stations) using two different methodologies (RegEM and PCA) to interpolate to undersampled regions using correlations from two independent data sources (satellite AVHRR and the Automated Weather Stations (AWS) ), and validations based on subsets of the stations (15 vs 42 of them) etc. The answers in each of these cases are pretty much the same; thus the issues that undoubtedly exist (and that were raised in the paper) — with satellite data only being valid on clear days, with the spottiness of the AWS data, with the fundamental limits of the long term manned weather station data itself – aren’t that important to the basic conclusion.

One quick point about the reconstruction methodology. These methods are designed to fill in missing data points using as much information as possible concerning how the existing data at that point connects to the data that exists elsewhere. To give a simple example, if one station gave readings that were always the average of two other stations when it was working, then a good estimate of the value at that station when it wasn’t working, would simply be the average of the two other stations. Thus it is always the missing data points that are reconstructed; the process doesn’t affect the original input data.

This paper clearly increased the scrutiny of the various Antarctic data sources, and indeed the week, errors were found in the record from the AWS sites ‘Harry’ (West Antarctica) and ‘Racer Rock’ (Antarctic Peninsula) stored at the SCAR READER database. (There was a coincidental typo in the listing of Harry’s location in Table S2 in the supplemental information to the paper, but a trivial examination of the online resources — or the paper itself, in which Harry is shown in the correct location (Fig. S4b) — would have indicated that this was indeed only a typo). Those errors have now been fixed by the database managers at the British Antarctic Survey.

Naturally, people are interested on what affect these corrections will have on the analysis of the Steig et al paper. But before we get to that, we can think about some ‘Bayesian priors‘. Specifically, given that the results using the satellite data (the main reconstruction and source of the Nature cover image) were very similar to that using the AWS data, it is highly unlikely that a single station revision will have much of an effect on the conclusions (and clearly none at all on the main reconstruction which didn’t use AWS data). Additionally, the quality of the AWS data, particularly any trends, has been frequently questioned. The main issue is that since they are automatic and not manned, individual stations can be buried in snow, drift with the ice, fall over etc. and not be immediately fixed. Thus one of the tests Steig et al. did was a variation of the AWS reconstruction that detrended the AWS data before using them – any trend in the reconstruction would then come solely from the higher quality manned weather stations. The nature of the error in the Harry data record gave an erroneous positive trend, but this wouldn’t have affected the trend in the AWS-detrended based reconstruction.

Given all of the above, the Bayesian prior would therefore lean towards the expectation that the data corrections will not have much effect.

The trends in the AWS reconstruction in the paper are shown above. This is for the full period 1957-2006 and the dots are scaled a little smaller than they were in the paper for clarity. The biggest dot (on the Peninsula) represents about 0.5ºC/dec. The difference that you get if you use detrended data is shown next.

As we anticipated, the detrending the Harry data affects the reconstruction at Harry itself (the big blue dot in West Antarctica) reducing the trend there to about 0.2°C/dec, but there is no other significant effect (a couple of stations on the Antarctica Peninsula show small differences). (Note the scale change from the preceding figure — the blue dot represents a change of 0.2ºC/dec).

Now that we know that the trend (and much of the data) at Harry was in fact erroneous, it’s useful to see what happens when you don’t use Harry at all. The differences with the original results (at each of the other points) are almost undetectable. (Same scale as immediately above; if the scale in the first figure were used, you couldn’t see the dots at all!).

In summary, speculation that the erroneous trend at Harry was the basis of the Antarctic temperature trends reported by Steig et al. is completely specious, and could have been dismissed by even a cursory reading of the paper.

However, we are not yet done. There was erroneous input data used in the AWS reconstruction part of the study, and so it’s important to know what impact the corrections will have. Eric managed to do some of the preliminary tests on his way to the airport for his Antarctic sojourn and the trend results are as follows:

There is a big difference at Harry of course – a reduction of the trend by about half, and an increase of the trend at Racer Rock (the error there had given an erroneous cooling), but the other points are pretty much unaffected. The differences in the mean trends for Antarctica, or WAIS are very small (around 0.01ºC/decade), and the resulting new reconstruction is actually in slightly better agreement with the satellite-based reconstruction than before (which is pleasing of course).

Bayes wins again! Or should that be Laplace? ;)

Update (6/Feb/09):The corrected AWS-based reconstruction is now available. Note that the main satellite-based reconstruction is unaffected by any issues with the AWS stations since it did not use them.

375 Responses to “Antarctic warming is robust”

  1. 301
    Ike Solem says:

    Basically, the issue here seems to be about how to go about reconstructing the time-evolution of a temperature field from a limited set of point measurements of that field.

    To do that, you must have some idea of the homogeneity of the field – how does it vary spatially, roughly? For example, a lake in summer has a thin layer of warm water over much colder deeper water; measuring only the upper six inches gives an exxagerated estimate of total lake heat content.

    A similar problem exists with measurements of ocean heat content and oceanic heat transport. Direct observations are scattered through space and time, and with the ocean, organized structures can persist far longer than in the atmosphere (since the oceans are more viscous). For example, when the Gulf Stream hits the cold North Atlantic, eddy mixing occurs, and that can send rings of warm water traveling north. It’s easy for observations to miss such rings, and they are also smaller than model grid scales. Practically, that leads to larger uncertainties in heat transport estimates. Nevertheless, the estimates of ocean warming are robust and unchallenged:

    In Antarctica, the most visible result of the net warming is the thinning and breakup of ice shelves that have persisted for many thousands of years (similar to the loss of mountain glaciers of equal age). That could be due to atmospheric and/or oceanic warming, but something is causing it.

    What this paper did was attempt to improve the estimates of the Antarctic temperature field history by using satellite data to guide the data-infilling algorithm, as described:

    In essence, we use the spatial covariance structure of the surface temperature field to guide interpolation of the sparse but reliable 50-year-long records of 2-m temperature from occupied weather stations. Although it has been suggested that such interpolation is unreliable owing to the distances involved, large spatial scales are not inherently problematic if there is high spatial coherence, as is the case in continental Antarctica.

    For example, if you put a thermometer in one side of a warm bowl of water, it will read the same as on the other side – the field is homogeneous. Compared to the oceans, the Antarctic continent has “high spatial coherence” – so it’s likely that the procedures used are reliable, and the peer review process should catch any glaring technical errors – and then, you have the vanishing ice shelves as physical evidence.

    Why not also do this with ocean temperatures around Antarctica? Answer: there is so little real historical data that the exercise would be futile, since the spatial coherence is definitely lower. This lack of data leads to problems in attributing the loss of the ice shelves to either ocean or atmospheric effects, which is likely why the authors are cautious about attribution:

    Although the influence of ozone-related changes in the SAM [Southern Annular Mode] has been emphasized in recent studies of Antarctic temperature trends, the spatial and seasonal patterns of the observed temperature trends indicate that higher-order modes of atmospheric circulation, associated with regional sea-ice changes, have had a larger role in West Antarctica.

    Thus, the detected trend is robust and the attribution is complex.

    The thing to keep in mind is that this business of reconstructing fields from isolated data points is central to climate science. One of the most valuable approaches is to use types of data that average out the time-space variability. Take precipitation – one side of a mountain can get soaked while the other gets nothing, meaning that isolated rain guages are poor choices for estimating yearly precipitation. The rain guage data, however, is critical for studying the timing of seasonal variations. For getting at total precipitation, however, scientists focus on several other dependent variables – soil moisture, river flow rates, and snowpack accumulation. (Frogs, by the way, serve a similar function as indicator species). Such studies show a trend of increasing drought in subtropical regions.

    The indicator species in Antarctica are the ice shelves.

  2. 302
    Mark says:

    What did that little “nugget” of information bring to the party in #300, RodB?

    “are factors in” can also mean that there are factors in something. Are you complaining that Nick is being correct??? Or are you complaining that he isn’t ignoring other factors?

  3. 303
    Jim Eager says:

    Re Nick @290: “Multiple causation is common in complex systems. A lot of denialists seem to have problems with it.”

    Exactly. Simple minds seek out simple answers, even if they are incomplete or flat out wrong. Or mutually exclusive, as so many denier arguments are: “There is no warming, the recorded temperature rise is caused by faulty weather stations and the urban heat island effect. And besides, there’s no proof humans have caused the warming anyway, it’s the sun!”

    The fact that climate change could play a role in the rise of chytrid fungus, and in the expansion of invasive species never dawned on William. Nor the in the vertical movement of climate zones up the slopes of the cloud forest in which the golden toad lived.

    But, as Captcha councils, we do “constitutionally allow” deniers their right to make themselves look inconsistant and foolish in public.

  4. 304
    Carrick says:

    For what it’s worth, in the field of research I am in, we regularly collect 50-GB of data from multiple geographical sites and dozens of sensors.

    I am responsible for maintaining the repository, and everything is kept in a given directory for an experiment from the process-control scripts that drive the recording software, to the analysis scripts to produce different the different levels of analysis of the data.

    Any of my colleagues can log into that copy copy the directory and run the scripts (based on instructions from the enclosed Readme file) and duplicate everything I have done. When manual intervention is required (for example for data drop outs), that is stored in an exceptions file that the scripts can automatically parse, and which are human readable by my colleagues so they know what additional “massaging” of the data has been done (and even better, they are at liberty to make their own changes and see how that affects the outcome).
    We provide code+data+scripts to run the programs to interested researchers, and we don’t screen for who is a “colleague” and who is not. I use MacOSX, but the software can be compiled and run on both Windows and Linux with little fuss.

    I do not think it holds climate scientists to provide a similar “cookie cutter” template set of scripts for how they took the raw data and processed it. Languages like MATLAB are scriptable and available on all major platforms, so there is no reason that the entire process couldn’t be initiated with one or more MATLAB drivers.

    Not going to end this with a rant, but I do think more can be done in the climate community [ad hom deleted]

  5. 305
    dhogaza says:

    For what it’s worth, in the field of research I am in, we regularly collect 50-GB of data from multiple geographical sites and dozens of sensors.

    I am responsible for maintaining the repository, and everything is kept in a given directory for an experiment from the process-control scripts that drive the recording software, to the analysis scripts to produce different the different levels of analysis of the data.

    Any of my colleagues can log into that copy copy the directory and run the scripts (based on instructions from the enclosed Readme file) and duplicate everything I have done.

    Nice to have funding for software infrastructure at this level.

    Now … is every piece of work done by your researchers who are *using that data* documented to the same level of detail, including productization to the level of scripts that work on multiple unix platforms?

    Or do you think that just possibly some of those researchers have their own homebrew scripts and code lying around that they use when analyzing the data.

  6. 306
    William says:

    #303 Jim
    Please read the literature as you have the causality reversed. The chytrid fungus was introduced into untouched habitats by invasive species not by warming.
    I thought we were done with frogs?

    [Response: We are! – gavin]

  7. 307
    Jim Galasyn says:

    At least it’s not frogs:

    Global warming ‘changing balance’ of marine life in polar seas

    Global warming is changing the distribution, abundance and diversity of marine life in the polar seas with “profound” implications for creatures further up the food chain, according to scientists involved in the most comprehensive study of life in the oceans ever conducted.

  8. 308
    Hank Roberts says:

    > marine life, polar oceans
    That’s what Dr. Le Quere is studying and some climate models are including. This will get very interesting very fast.
    Is my model too complex? Evaluating model formulation using model reduction

    One for Tamino — time series:
    Contributions of long-term research and time-series observations to marine ecology …
    HW Ducklow, SC Doney, DK Steinberg – Annu. Rev. Mar. Sci, 2009 – Annual Reviews
    … top-down model is that climate change induces bottom-up responses in lower trophic level populations. Examples include changes in phytoplankton size classes …

    … Searching for ecological responses to climate mode variability enables us to formulate testable hypotheses about the mechanisms of ecosystem change.
    The CalCOFI program has sampled phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish distributions with species-level resolution, associated physical variables, primary production (PP), and nutrients over a 200,000 km2 region off Southern California since 1949….

  9. 309
    dhogaza says:

    Global warming is changing the distribution, abundance and diversity of marine life in the polar seas with “profound” implications for creatures further up the food chain, according to scientists involved in the most comprehensive study of life in the oceans ever conducted.

    Damn, the wordwide conspiracy of scientists vs. humanity has reached a new peak!

    Whatever explanation is possible for these obviously fraudulent observational results?

    It couldn’t be 20-20 vision, could it?

    (thanks for the post, and excuse the snark)

  10. 310
    Chris S says:

    >implications further up the food chain.

    In my mind this is the direction that future research needs to take, both to clarify the effects climate change is having/will have on natural systems & to add further to the body of evidence that the climate is changing for those who remain to be convinced.

    Whilst the loss of frogs in the tropics & potential extinction of charismatic species like the polar bear is regrettable, it is unlikely to cause much more than a shrug of the shoulders amongst many outside the “envirofascist” movement. What is required is evidence that changes in natural systems will affect us economically, and how. I note with amusement that certain areas of the blogosphere are trumpeting the FACE experiments that show increase in CO2 leads to increased plant growth whilst at the same time ignoring the study from the same source that demonstrates that the plant defences against insect attack are weakened. Above I have alluded to evidence that vectors of animal diseases are moving north into areas where livestock will not have previously had any contact with them (and thus lack any natural immunity). The same cannot (yet) be said for plant viruses, but there is concern that the advancing phenology of plant virus vectors like aphids will lead to diseases being introduced to crops at an earlier – more vulnerable – stage in their development.

    The exercise in proving without doubt that there is a warming trend (or not) in Antarctica has its merits but I feel that it must be getting towards the time that the debate should really be moving on to whether the effects of warming are going to be beneficial or detrimental – and where (if anywhere) the effects will be worst. There seems to be an assumption that the third world will bear the brunt of what is to come, I wonder whether that is the case, or will the agricutural powerhouses in the northern temperate zone suffer more from the ecological changes that warmer temperatures might bring?

  11. 311
    Sekerob says:

    Chris S. The discussion if AGW is beneficial or detrimental is to me sick. The implications are profound, earlier discussions and tabulation elsewhere what the effects are of just 1 meter of SLR are dramatic. Lomborg stats of less death are just beyond if it gets warmer… he’s playing on “the haves” emotions, whilst ignoring disaster costing many more lives elsewhere.

    Earth is no Petri dish to experiment with. The 2 legged bacteria called homo sapiens sapiens are doing just that. 9 billion of them by 2050? Nope, mayhem long before that.

  12. 312
    Hank Roberts says:

    George Will’s nitwittery is taken to task in the Washington Monthly online today:

    Note for Stoat, goes with the “Ice Age” collection

    February 18, 2009

    WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE NO WAY…. George Will not only published an error-filled column on global warming, Brad Johnson notes that the conservative columnist “is also recycling his own work, republishing an extended passage from a 2006 column — which Think Progress debunked — almost word for word.”*


  13. 313
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Sekerob and Chris, Personally, I think that both the polar-bear and the cost-benefit analysis have their place. Emblematic species like the polar bear remind us of what we stand to lose irreparably in our natural heritage. The cost-benefit analysis is needed to bring along homo beancountus. They both unequivocally favor addressing climate change aggressively. The only way you can cook the numbers to make it look otherwise is to ignore any semblance of competent risk analysis–the approach taken by Lomborg.

  14. 314
    Chris S says:

    #313 Ray,

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the loss of the polar bear would be tragic, but I’m also fully aware that “Joe Plumber”, “Dave Accountant” and “Jethro Farmer” would likely take the news without even blinking.

    Drawing attention to range changes of economic species (and predictions of such using (e.g.) climate envelope modelling) is much more likely to make “Dave” and especially “Jethro” sit up & take a bit more notice than pointing out the extinction of a pretty, but obscure frog/butterfly/plant or the temperature trend on a virtually uninhabited continent. “Joe” may be a lost cause however.

  15. 315
    Chris Colose says:

    The human vs. economic calculus seems to be a consistent issue in climate and enviornmental discussions. There is no consensus view in the economics community as to how one should “weigh” species loss, human suffering and displacement, and the like. Long-term climate trajectories are also ignored often. The impacts of climate change go beyond how goods are sold in markets.

    Industrialization separates community from nature. Land is an alienable commodity called “real estate,” soil a “natural resource,” and food an exchange value bought and sold by a medium called “money.” Food cultivation, exploiting fossil fuels, etc is merely a business enterprise to be operated strictly for generating profit in a market economy. It is entirely unpractical to disagree with Chris S and the need for a more personalized “motivation” for climate change action. Climate Change is, as Ray Pierrehumbert called it, a “catastrophe in slow motion.” It is small compared to daily weather fluctuations and is not discriminate to those who emit fossil fuels or those who are still developing. As such, the primary motivation for action, right now, by “big industry” is finances…not polar bear pictures.

  16. 316
    Nick Gotts says:

    “There seems to be an assumption that the third world will bear the brunt of what is to come, I wonder whether that is the case, or will the agricutural powerhouses in the northern temperate zone suffer more from the ecological changes that warmer temperatures might bring?” – Chris S.

    It’s not an assumption; it’s based on extensive research. See the AR4 report of WGII for work up to 2005. Initially, temperate agriculture will increase in productivity, while tropical agriculture (except initially in east and south-east Asia) declines. Large parts of Asia will suffer in the medium term from the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers and snowpack, which regulate river flow. Of course even in northern temperate regions there will be areas that suffer agriculturally from early on (e.g the SW and SE of the USA, southern Europe), but the population there are unlikely to starve, because they live in rich, stable states.

  17. 317
    Chris S says:

    #316 Nick Gotts

    (I’ll stop posting OT on this thread after this but I feel this point should be made clear).

    Whilst I haven’t read all of the IPCC report you mention, I have looked at the European section quite closely before now. I would point out that the (four) references for the section (well, sentence) on arboviruses concentrate mainly on the Mediterranean region and is largely out of date – as you say it reports the work up until 2005. I posted this link earlier but you may not have seen it:

    I draw your attention to reports of outbreaks of bluetongue since 2005, including an outbreak in Sweden in 2008. I’ll repeat that for effect: an outbreak of a tropical disease in Sweden in 2008.

    Bluetongue is a relatively benign disease but there will be serious economic impact if it continues to be endemic in temperate Europe. The rate it has spread in the last 3-4 years has really made people sit up & take notice. African horse sickness (with a 60-95% mortality) is a far more damaging virus that has the same vector as bluetongue and is not the only livestock disease with the potential to spread into the temperate zone.

    (reCaptcha: Ill GLOOM very apt!)

  18. 318
    Hank Roberts says:

    e360: Are you saying that the rate of acceleration of the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers is so rapid because of changes at their seaward ends, and so much more ice is coming off the continent into the water that this obviously is going to impact sea level rise?

    Bindschadler: That’s an important point and an issue that was hotly debated in the glaciological community for the last twenty years — this idea of, do the ice shelves matter to the ice upstream that is grounded, in regards to sea level rise? But in the Antarctic Peninsula, we finally got a definitive answer, because there the perfect natural experiment was run for us and we got to observe it, where these ice shelves like the Larsen B rapidly disintegrated over the course of just a few weeks. It was there, then it’s not there, and we were able to see that the glaciers that fed that ice shelf accelerated dramatically, more than 500 percent in just a couple years. So, that really settled the debate, told us that, yes, the ice shelves do buttress the ice upstream, and if you get rid of the ice shelf, the ice upstream really accelerates and it comes running into the ocean, and it will change sea level. In the case of Pine Island and Thwaites, the ice shelf hasn’t disintegrated, but it’s thinning quite rapidly, so it’s gradually going away and allowing the ice upstream to accelerate more and more.

    e360: And in the theoretical case that Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers completely dump into the ocean — obviously it’s not going to happen in the near-future — what kind of sea level rise would they contribute to?

    Bindschadler: That portion of West Antarctica, that third that flows northward primarily through those two glaciers, has the potential to raise sea level 1 ½ meters. That’s sort of an upper bound, a worst case. But the time scale is what really matters. Some say that we won’t see these ice shelves disappear in our lifetime — I’m not so sure. I think we might well.

    e360: Are you kidding?

    Bindschadler: No, no at all.
    —–end excerpt———

  19. 319
    tom says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the loss of the polar bear would be tragic”

    the extinction of almost ALL large carnivores in a relatively short time frame ( 100 years? ) is inevitable, given population growth.

    Those fictional characters you condescendingly mentioned are like you. That is, they won’t ever lay eyes on a polar bear in their lives.
    So define how the exctinction of this animal, however unlikely at this time, is a tragedy.

  20. 320

    tom, tragedy is independent of who does or does not witness it. If (God forbid) you were to cash it in tomorrow, my lack of acquaintance with you would not affect the tragic nature of the event.

  21. 321
    Mark says:

    tom 319. Tell me how your mum having a stroke and being hospital bound is a tragedy to me.

    The only reason it would be sad to hear this and for me to say “sorry to hear that” is because WE CARE.

    Without care, we are no longer social.

    The death of the polar bear would be as bad as the death of the entire United States to me. Why? Because neither should happen but then again I’m not going to be affected directly by either loss.

    So, tell me, why should I care about your family. Or a million USians (heck, why do people pay Children In Need to save children they will never even know existed and know that there will be yet more needing saving next year?

    Because we care.

    And that care is as much for the loss of the polar bear as any human I’m never going to meet. Because where do I turn off the caring? Species? Race? Family? Utility of their existence alone?

    Or should I care for any loss?

  22. 322
    tom says:

    People cash it in every day. I suppose to their immediate family, each can be tragic.

    But losing a species is not my idea of a “tragedy,” unless loss of said species affects human lives on a large scale.

    I like to watch tigers on the Nature channel as much as anyone, but if tigers were on the prowl near where my children played, the tigers would have to go. Same goes with polar bears.

    [Response: This is as clear a statement of human arrogance as I have ever read. The logical end point of such thinking is complete extinction for everyone because, though you might not like this, our species is not separate from the biosphere, and cannot live without it. Extinction is forever, but you seem to think that we know enough about the biosphere to cheerfully eliminate whole species, genera (kingdoms?) just because they bother you. I am sure proud to be sharing a planet with you. – gavin]

  23. 323
    Hank Roberts says:

    > tragedy

    It’s a statistical expression:

    “… .in the tragedies of Euripides, the protagonist’s margin of freedom grows ever smaller….” (Brittanica)

    Simplifying an ecosystem makes it less stable. Once you’ve simplified your ecosystem down to, say, animals comprising people, flies, mosquitos, rats, cockroaches, and bedbugs, you have almost no margin of freedom remaining.

    Also referred to as the “removing rivets” approach to ecological management:

    “… You look out the window and notice someone is removing rivets … There are thousands of rivets in the plane and the person is just harvesting a few of them …”

    Urban Wildlife Management
    Clark Edward Adams, Kieran Jane Lindsey, Sara J. Ash

    For a solipsist (“apres moi, rien”) tragedy is only personal inconvenience.

  24. 324
    Mark says:

    Hank, 322. “For a solipsist (”apres moi, rien”) tragedy is only personal inconvenience.”

    I would not consider someone who took that attitude to be a complete human being.

  25. 325
    Ray Ladbury says:

    You know, Tom, I do hope to see a polar bear in the wild some day–maybe not close up, but in the wild. I’ve already seen tigers in the wild–stared into their eyes from an open jeep not 8 feet away. I’ve seen lions and cheetahs hunt and leopards haul a kill into a tree to keep the hyenas away. From your response, I can only assume you have not been similarly blessed. Your loss. But to see the loss of all these magnificent animals forever will diminish us as humans, and fools like you will never know the difference.

  26. 326
    Hank Roberts says:

    Mark, Gavin, yep, thinking like that seems to be missing a few rivets.
    I hope our species doesn’t turn solipsistic There’s no line separating what we are from the life around us. I expect if we raised people for a few generations without a living world we’d find that much of what keeps us alive is borrowed, by each kid, from the world around us, and our gut commensals wouldn’t thrive if not acquired fresh from the world by each kid, by each generation. It’d be a desperate experiment.

  27. 327
    sidd says:

    “No life is an island, entire of itself; every one is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any death diminishes me, because I am involved in life, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

    paraphrasing Donne

  28. 328
    James says:

    Tom Says (24 February 2009 at 3:24 PM):

    “…if tigers were on the prowl near where my children played, the tigers would have to go.”

    I could say as much for some humans of my acquaintance, and of a great many with whom I hope not to become acquainted :-)

  29. 329
    Philippe Chantreau says:

    Tom, share with us the reasons why we would want to reproduce on a planetary scale the miserable fiasco that they called “Biosphere II.” Some tragedy you have in store for all of us…

  30. 330
    Chris S says:

    Gee tom I didn’t know it was possible to infer so much about a person and what they have and haven’t seen from a few lines of text!

    But to answer your question: if you don’t see the tragedy in this statement “the extinction of almost ALL large carnivores in a relatively short time frame ( 100 years? ) is inevitable, given population growth” then I think you may have made my point for me.

  31. 331
    pete best says:

    Re #325, Burnt some carbon seeing them then Ray, nice though they were and therein lies part of the dilemma. Its eay being wowed by the worlds amazing sites and places a vast swathe of people have seen and continue to want to see. you probably had a camera too and a laptop to look at all of the mamazing memories, a large motor vehicle to see em in and plane flight galore to get you there.

    Ah what a wonderful carbon world we live in.

  32. 332
    Nick Gotts says:

    Chris S. #317,

    Yes, I wouldn’t dispute that various animal (and crop) diseases/pests will become more prevalent in temperate zones, but crop and pasture yields are expected to rise, up to a 2K (global mean) increase; and the range of crops that can be grown to increase. These effects are already noticeable in Scotland, where I live, and the land use change of which I model: wheat can now be grown in places it couldn’t before, and the growing season for grass is longer. On the other hand, livestock (particularly cattle) farmers are, counter-intuitively, needing to bring their stock indoors where there weren’t before, because the ground doesn’t freeze for nearly so long in winter, and stock left outside churn it up. So effects in temperate regions will be mixed and complex; but in most tropical regions, there appear to be few beneficial effects even of small temperature rises; and the biggest medium-term problem is probably the expected shrinkage of Himalayan and Andean glaciers and snowpack, which currently regulate river flow.

  33. 333
    Chris S says:

    #332 Nick Gotts

    Broadly I agree with everyting you say in this post. I think there may have been some misinterpretation of the post you originally responded to – I said “There seems to be an assumption that the third world will bear the brunt of what is to come, … [will] … the northern temperate zone suffer more from the ecological changes…?” I did not state the 3rd world won’t suffer (although on reflection I can see how that inference could be drawn from what I wrote), just that the northern hemisphere will probably suffer more than is expected/predicted.

    There is an interesting page at the Warwick HRI site on potential impacts on crops ( ) I’d be interested to know whether your models take any account of predicted changes in the phenology & survival rates of pest species outlined there. Particularly, have you looked at some of the new research coming out linking insecticide resistance in aphids to a lack of cold-tolerance and the implications of the increased survival of resistant clones during warmer winters?

  34. 334
    Mark says:

    Pete, 331. So you can’t drive to see the animals, fly, or even walk (you have to breath!!!!OMG!!!) and if you don’t see the animals, you shouldn’t care about them.

    So this would be a lose-lose situation, then?

  35. 335
    tom says:

    I’m sure viewing large carnivores in their natural habitat is a nice vanity project for the privileged elite, but for those who have to deal with these creatures on a daily basis, they are not so wonderful.

    I would recommend that we relocate polar bears and tigers to YOUR neighborhoods, but we all know what the response would be, don’t we?

    [Response: Now you’re an Inuit? Give me a break. I do appreciate the way your ‘thinking’ works here – anyone who appreciates that ecosystems are fragile, necessary and irreplaceable is a vain elitist who only thinks that fauna are there for them to look at. You’re viewpoint is blinding you, my friend. – gavin]

  36. 336

    tom, how about this? If you don’t like living near the polar bears, tigers, or whatever, you move to Manhatten. Or Topeka, if the rent is too high.

    Unlike the bears, you have an option.

    [Captcha says, inscrutably, “simpleness 50.”]

  37. 337
    Nick Gotts says:

    Chris S@333,
    Up to now my models have been rather abstract, and focused on how farmers interact (imitating each other, approving/disapproving, asking/giving advice) – focused on the socio-economic rather than the biophysical – and I’m now shifting my main focus to modelling energy demand, so the land use stuff is on the back burner until I can get some more funding for it. I would then hope to go more deeply into the biophysical side. I don’t offhand know of models looking at phenological changes’ effects on pests, but I imagine there must be some. If you want to pursue this further, my work email isn’t hard to find.

  38. 338
    SecularAnimist says:

    On-topic re: Antarctic warming, from Associated Press today:

    Study: Antarctic glaciers slipping swiftly seaward
    Antarctic warming worse than thought, melting glaciers
    could raise sea levels over 3 feet
    AP News
    Feb 25, 2009 08:42 EST

    Antarctic glaciers are melting faster across a much wider area than previously thought, scientists said Wednesday — a development that could lead to an unprecedented rise in sea levels.

    A report by thousands of scientists for the 2007-2008 International Polar Year concluded that the western part of the continent is warming up, not just the Antarctic Peninsula.

    Previously most of the warming was thought to occur on the narrow stretch pointing toward South America, said Colin Summerhayes, executive director of the Britain-based Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research and a member of International Polar Year’s steering committee.

    But satellite data and automated weather stations indicate otherwise.

    “The warming we see in the peninsula also extends all the way down to what is called west Antarctica,” Summerhayes told The Associated Press. “That’s unusual and unexpected.”

    For the International Polar Year, scientists from more than 60 countries have been conducting intense Arctic and Antarctic research over the past two southern summer seasons — on the ice, at sea, and via icebreaker, submarine and surveillance satellite.

    The biggest west Antarctic glacier, the Pine Island Glacier, is moving 40 percent faster than it was in the 1970s, discharging water and ice more rapidly into the ocean, Summerhayes said.

    The Smith Glacier, also in west Antarctica, is moving 83 percent faster than it did in 1992, he said.

    All the glaciers in the area together are losing a total of around 103 billion tons (114 billion U.S. tons) per year because the discharge is much greater than the new snowfall, he said.

    “That’s equivalent to the current mass loss from the whole of the Greenland ice sheet,” Summerhayes said, adding that the glaciers’ discharge was making a significant contribution to the rise in sea levels. “We didn’t realize it was moving that fast.”

    The glaciers are slipping into the sea faster because the floating ice shelf that would normally stop them — usually 650 to 980 feet (200 to 300 meters) thick — is melting.

    The warming of western Antarctica is a real concern.

    “There’s some people who fear that this is the first signs of an incipient collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet,” Summerhayes said.

    Antarctica’s average annual temperature has increased by about 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.56 degrees Celsius) since 1957, but is still 50 degrees Fahrenheit (45.6 degrees Celsius) below zero, according to a recent study by Eric Steig of the University of Washington.

    Summerhayes said sea levels will rise faster than predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group set up by the United Nations.

    A 2007 IPCC report predicted a sea level rise of 7 to 23 inches (18 to 58 centimeters) by the end of the century, which could flood low-lying areas and force millions to flee. The group said an additional 3.9 to 7.8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) rise was possible if the recent, surprising melting of polar ice sheets continues.

    Summerhayes said the rise could be much higher.

    “If the west Antarctica sheet collapses, then we’re looking at a sea level rise of between 1 meter and 1.5 meters (3 feet, 4 inches to nearly 5 feet),” Summerhayes said.

    Ian Allison, co-chair of the International Polar Year’s steering committee, said many scientists now say the upper limit for sea level rise should be higher than predicted by IPCC.

    “That has a very large impact,” Allison said, adding that extremely large storms which might previously have occurred once in a year would start to occur on a weekly basis.

    The IPY researchers found the southern ocean around Antarctica has warmed about 0.2 degrees Celsius (0.36 degrees Fahrenheit) in the past decade, double the average warming of the rest of the Earth’s oceans over the past 30 years.

    It seems to me that pretty much every new study of the observed effects of anthropogenic global warming includes the quote: “We didn’t realize it was moving that fast.”

  39. 339
    tom says:

    A poster writes:

    “No life is an island, entire of itself; every one is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any death diminishes me, because I am involved in life, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee”

    by the way. There’s a tragedy going on in in the animal world as we speak. A group of animals is being slaughtered indiscrimiantely by the millions every day.

    They are known as cows and pigs.

    I sure hope you can sleep at night with al those bells tolling at each of those deaths that diminishes you.

    [Response: This is as textbook illogical as it comes. Now only vegetarians can care about ecosystems and the environment. Got it. – gavin]

  40. 340
    Hank Roberts says:

    Could be captioned: “Don’t let them get your goat”:

  41. 341
    Jim Eager says:

    I think tom has had more than enough opportunity to demonstrate that he has nothing constructive to add to the discussion.

  42. 342
    pete best says:

    Re #334. Are you trying to tell me that the breathing of 6.5 billion is a problem.? Well its is first in the history of the planet so all that organic tissue breathing out CO2 might be a problem but there again won’t all the cattle be. Eating meat is additional to seeing it I guess.

  43. 343
    sidd says:

    Mr. Tom writes on the 25th of February 2009 at 11:31:

    “There’s a tragedy going on in in the animal world as we speak. A group of animals is being slaughtered indiscrimiantely by the millions every day.”
    Indeed, sir, there is. I have had the misfortune to have some acquaintance with the feedlots of the Colorado plains by Greeley as well as other Confined Animal Feeding Operations in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where tens of thousands of helpless creatures are prisoned in conditions so horrific as to beggar my imagination. Perhaps someday you, Mr. Tom, might someday familiarize yourself with the reason a pig’s tail in one of these facilities is not cropped completely off…

    Mr. Tom writes further:
    “I sure hope you can sleep at night with al those bells tolling at each of those deaths that diminishes you.”

    That is the reason I converted to free range meat some years ago. And I do bow my head and spare a thought for the animals I eat. I sleep much better at night, but of course, sir, you are correct, my sleep could and will improve, as I improve my habits.

    I apologize to the moderators for the off topic comments. Please feel free to delete this post. However I felt that I ought to respond to Mr. Tom.


  44. 344
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Pete Best, My goal is to preserve civilization and make it sustainable, not to go back to a hunter-gatherer existence, or even a medieval feudalism. Like it or not, if we want people to preserve the wonders of the world, we will have to find ways for them to enjoy them.
    I learned something when I was in the Peace Corps. I was feeling guilty about my privileged lifestyle and status (at least relative to my African peers), and a wise woman who had lived her life doing development told me, “You can give away everything you have and the only thing you’d accomplish is you’d be poor too. You have to have a firm footing to give people a hand up.”
    By all means, we should conserve. That does not mean eschewing all transport or modern advantages.

  45. 345

    If tom is a vegetarian, I’ll eat my tofu. Sarcasm, pure & simple.

    Jim Eager is right; this subthread is going nowhere.

  46. 346
    Jim Eaton says:

    In Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food,” he suggests, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

    But he doesn’t go so far as to say everyone should be a vegetarian.

    But he does suggest that if you eat meat, you should get it from animals eating a natural diet. For cows, that is grass, not seeds like corn. This results in a healthier food for consumption.

    Of course, we cannot raise as many cows or other animals with this suggestion, because there is not enough land available (or we cut down yet more rain forests to convert to pasture). But it would have its benefits to the planet. Reduced consumption of meat likely would result in healthier people, and a smaller number of ungulates would reduce the amount of methane being emitted to the atmosphere.

    The eating habits of many (especially Americans) have a great impact on CO2 emissions, whether it be from feedlot cows or fruits and vegetables transported long distances. It is yet another change we all need to make, amongst many, to slow global warming.

    Oracle: Pressure lecture

  47. 347
    Mark says:

    re 342.

    Where do you think the carbon you breathe out comes from? You aren’t a nuclear thermopile so cannot be creating it from nothing.

    It comes from Your Food.


    What do you think they contain a lot of?



    Now the plant matter isn’t a fusion reactor, is it. So where does it get its Carbon from?


    I believe you’ve said in the past CO2 is plant food.

    So you breathe out CO2. Plant breathes in CO2. You eat plant. You breathe out CO2. Plant breathes in CO2. …

    It’s called the carbon cycle.

    and 6.5Billion people eat a lot of plants. And all those plants breathe CO2.

    It kind of scales itself.

  48. 348
    pete best says:

    Re #344, bit of a sloppy answer considering carbon is carbon, we all burn some but should it be less and if so how much less I wonder. The USA constructed its whole way of life on fossil fuel uage, 20 tonnes per person on average I believe or as near as damm it. So what is the solution I wonder ?

  49. 349
    Mark says:

    re: 348.

    Scotland, which is peopled by first world inhabitants and is quite a long way north uses about 1/5th the energy per household compared to the North American household.

    Maybe there’s a start.

  50. 350
    Jim Eager says:

    Pete, you obviously missed the words “Peace Corps” in Ray’s post. In other words, he didn’t go to Africa as a tourist.

    You are so far off base on this one that you can’t even see the base any more.