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Unforced Variations: June 2011

Filed under: — group @ 1 June 2011

A new open thread…

487 Responses to “Unforced Variations: June 2011”

  1. 1
    Michael Doliner says:

    I don’t know where to leave this, so I will try here. Climate science is obviously very complicated with many mechanisms to consider. But it seems to me that more heat is being captured than is radiated out into space every year with the exception of some years where aerosols from something like an erupting volcano cause an exception. That heat must either increase global average temperature or be used some other way. The only other way I can think of is in the heat of vaporization or the heat of fusion–evaporating water or melting ice. Thus it seems to me that a measurement of global average humidity and global ice cover along with temperature, combined into a single statistic, should show an increase pretty much every year. If not there must be some other place for the extra heat to go. Where?

  2. 2
    Chris Colose says:

    I should shout out a congratulations to Barton Paul Levenson for publishing this paper in Advances in Space Research. It’s a pretty interesting read.

  3. 3
    wili says:

    Can we talk about the implications of the IEA report that carbon dioxide emissions rose to 30.6 Gtons this year? Does this commit us to over two degrees? Three? More?

    How about all the weird weather that’s been going on recently?

  4. 4
    Edward Greisch says:

    1 Chris Colose: Paywall! Congratulations Bart Levenson! Still hoping to see the paper on the drought time series in print. The futurology of when the crash happens under BAU is important. I’m hoping others will write confirming papers.

    Reference: “The Great Disruption” by Paul Gilding. Gilding expects there to be a “Pearl Harbor” for GW circa 2018, if I remember correctly. This is also futurology and is important to “P&S” for RC. Planning and Scheduling. What will the Pearl Harbor event be? How should RC react? Per Gilding, develop plans ahead of time so that when they ask, we can pop up with a plan.

    Holy Cow! A Plan is what we need to convince people that GW is real. Most people reason backwards and without any logic whatever. If we have a plan, then we must be right about GW! Our problem is that we are logical and methodical, doing first things first. That makes them think we are Plotting and Scheming. So do everything wrong. Then we will be OK with the others. If we have a plan, we are ordinary capitalists and making money is OK.

    When the system is about to explode and you don’t know what to do, turn any knob. You will at least learn something. We have to be creative.

  5. 5
    Anna says:

    In a different vein, I thought the recent comments from planet Earth as reported in The Onion were quite interesting.

  6. 6
    CM says:

    re #1: Congrats, BPL! I assume you still keep an eye on this site, even if (to my regret) you’ve stopped posting.

  7. 7
    Alex Costa says:

    I was checking how NOAA state of the climate reports evolved from January until now and I remembered one post talking about where 2011 would be in the ranking of the warmest years. Because of La Niña, I think the idea at that point would be that 2011 would not be able to reach the top 10. However, La Niña soon was gone (earlier than some models predicted) and 2011 is now steadily reaching higher spots in that infamous ranking… It is now the 14th warmest year in the historical records…

  8. 8
    Kevin C says:

    Maybe this is the right place to ask a question about climate models? Some of us non-experts were having an interesting discussion on the ‘Can we trust climate models’ thread at SKS, but ran into a dead end because we don’t know enough about climate models. Could someone more knowledgeable help with any of these questions?

    1. To what extent is the behaviour of current AOGCMs, constrained by the underlying physics implemented in the model, and to what extent by training against the 20th century and other data?

    1.1 What physical processes with the model are implemented using empircal parameterisations which must be trained against observed data? How many parameters are required?

    1.2 When establishing these parameters, what kind of information is used from the training data. e.g. just global averages of climate variables such as temperature and precipitation, global and local averages.

    2 Which forcings may be reliably determined from the underlying physics and/or direct observation (e.g. presumably CO2, atmospheric transparency, TSI)?

    2.1 Of those which are not well determined by these means, have any been refined by training using models and 20th century and other data?

    Obviously, the question we are trying to answer it to what extent the ability to hindcast 20th century climate provides an indication of the correctness of the models, and to what extent it is just an indication that the models have been trained against that data.

    The question gets even more murky with forcings. A contrarian might argue that the search for forcings carried on until a good match to climate was found, and stoppped there, thus potentially missing confounding factors.

    The uneasy interaction of these two issues is highlighted by Hansen’s 2011 draft paper on energy balance, which if we have understood it suggests that the models get the period over which the climate responds wrong because of an error in the forcings. This immediately raises the question of whether the mixing of heat into the deep oceans (which affects the response time) is determined by the physics or by fitting 20th century climate.

    Thanks for any help!

  9. 9
    Geoff Beacon says:

    A review of the safety of Nuclear Power is being carried out by Dr Mike Weightman, the Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations, following the trouble at the Fukushima plant. Are the following points I have sent to Dr Weightman sensible or just paranoia?

    Dear Dr Weightman,

    Firstly, changing patterns of pressure on the Earth such as that caused by melting ice caps that might cause earthquakes have a parallel with Reservoir Induced Seismicity, which is a well known phenomenon. Secondly, there has been speculation that increasing ocean temperatures may precipitate tsunamis. Here is a quote from Fire in Ice by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration :

    Below 500 m in temperate and subtropical oceans, such as those found off the continental United States, hydrate beds may lie just beneath or above the sea floor over much of the continental slope. Geologists speculate that massive submarine “slumps”, which can be likened to sea-floor avalanches, may occur when hydrates break away from the steep slope. Such massive slumps may drive the tidal waves that could drown miles of coastal shorelines.

    In your interim report you say

    A detailed study was undertaken in 2005 (Ref. 31) to evaluate the risks to the UK. The conclusions were that the maximum tsunami height around the UK would be a 1-2m increase in sea level. Typically, it is argued that this increase is accommodated within the other contributors to sea level. These arguments are broadly accepted; however, they sometimes lack the level of rigour that might be expected.

    This detailed study did not consider possible climate change effects.

    You might like also to note this recent article by Natalie Kopytko in the New Scientist of 24 May 2011. The climate change threat to nuclear power, The climate change threat to nuclear power

    Yours faithfully

    Geoff Beacon

    30th May 2011

    A previous note I wrote can be found here on the Brussels Blog: The cost of energy security

  10. 10
    wili says:


    Thanks for mentioning the hydrate beds, but in the letter you might make clearer how they might be destabilized by GW. I actually don’t know how likely it is that beds 500 m deep would feel much affect from warming of the surface, except perhaps in particular location where currents regularly take surface waters down to that level (common??).

    The basic point to me is that BAU is not going to continue. The report that we are increasing carbon emissions faster than ever suggests that we are on the road now to catastrophic global warming. This will destabilize all societies. Nuclear plants were built on the (wildly optimistic, imho) assumption that stability, prosperity, sanity, higher education…would continue forever. As societies collapse, plants will be neglected, or be objects of war, or be re-purposed for non-peaceful purposes…

    The more of this volatile material we leave lying around the landscape, the more trouble there will be. Given the vicissitudes of history, and the very long periods that they need to be cared for to remain safe, it is likely that every storage pool will eventually go into meltdown either from mismanagement, neglect, ignorance, accident, malfeasance or some combination thereof (and of course I probably neglected many possible causes of future catastrophe).

    Why leave our progeny, already beleaguered with the enormous global and local ecological messes we have so kindly bequeathed to them, with yet another set of horrors to contend with, another set of reasons for them to curse our names to the heavens.

    (OK, maybe I should just go ahead and write my own d’mn letter to the guy! ‘-)

    wili/John Harkness

  11. 11
    MARodger says:

    Wili @ #2

    There is a post today on Skeptical Science which shows the effect of long term CO2 emissions & predicted global temperature rise. It starts by showing where the 2010 rise fits onto long term tends.

  12. 12
    Icarus says:

    Edward Greisch, #3: Interesting point about planning, capitalism, making money… I was thinking, “Well maybe we need a Richard Branson figure to come up with a plan to make a fortune out of global warming, and thereby convince everyone that it’s real”, but then it occurred to me that it’s probably already happening, with oil companies already planning the exploitation of Arctic waters that were inaccessible in earlier years with greater ice cover. We already have a rig off the coast of Greenland. I’m sure people can think of other examples.

  13. 13
    Edward Greisch says:

    8 Geoff Beacon: “Are the following points I have sent to Dr Weightman sensible or just paranoia?”
    Just paranoia. You are getting far more radiation from the natural background.

    Things wrong with “The climate change threat to nuclear power” in NewScientist”
    “Fukushima serves as a warning that far from solving the climate problem, nuclear power may be highly vulnerable to it.”
    False. The power plant survived the earthquake and a 46 foot high wall of water. American containment buildings are even stronger.

    “it needs access to large volumes of water to cool the reactor and a supply of energy to move the water.”
    False. Air cooling works. Water cooling is not necessary for nuclear power. Air cooling works. Water cooling is cheap, convenient, efficient and easy to design. That doesn’t add up to necessary. There are always tradeoffs in any engineering project. Coal fired power plants need cooling one way or another as well. The cooling may be hidden from you by releasing steam to the air. Then they require fresh water input. Solar and wind may not appear to need cooling but they do. It is just that solar and wind are dispersed rather than concentrated so that the cooling is not noticeable to you.

    “New reactors could use dry or hybrid systems with lower water requirements, but the costs of running these systems are likely to be prohibitive. Considering nuclear power plants already have problems with construction cost overruns, any additional costs are likely to meet resistance.”
    False twice. I have answered that before. The price of nuclear is actually LOWER than any other source in spite of the coal industry’s half century of putting monkey wrenches in the gears.

    9 wili: “re-purposed for non-peaceful purposes”
    How? There is no way to make a nuclear bomb out of it without some very sophisticated technology such as another reactor to make plutonium239.

    “the very long periods that they need to be cared for to remain safe, it is likely that every storage pool will eventually go into meltdown either from mismanagement, neglect, ignorance, accident, malfeasance or some combination thereof ”
    Nuclear fuel should be RECYCLED.

    Fukushima has not yet gone beyond natural background radiation except temporarily very close to the reactor. Chernobyl spilled as much radiation as a coal fired power plant does in 7 years and 5 months.
    I would not evacuate the Fukushima area if I lived there.

  14. 14
    David Miller says:

    Edward Greisch, must you post the same nuclear nonsense on every open thread? All of these points have been rebutted, multiple times in the recent past with the possible exception of:

    False. The power plant survived the earthquake and a 46 foot high wall of water. American containment buildings are even stronger.

    to which I can only say that we must have very different definitions of “survived”. You appear to accept that 3 reactors with holes in the containment systems and tons of corium most likely dripping slowly out, leaking highly radioactive water until there’s no place left to put it as “survived”. I’m not sure of a context where that definition is useful.

    Can we, just maybe, use this open thread for something besides reposting the same nuclear debate?

  15. 15
    MARodger says:

    My take on nuclear power is that it truly does require the recycling of the fuel. But we don’t recycle the fuel. The recycling technology (eg THORP at Sellafield) is an immature technology. It will not be fully developed without a new generation of nuclear plants. But there is not enough uranium reserves to build much of a new generation. So recycled nuclear fuel ain’t gonna happen coz it’s too immature. Indeed, the whole nuclear industry is immature. A bit like 1940s aviation, it will fly but will it work commercially? Nobody can be sure. Add in the crazy economics, the massive up-front investments which would need 60 years operating 24/7 to pay it back (even with the higher revenues from the electricity generated) plus unspecified decommissioning costs, add it all together and without government loan guarantees the financial numbers simply won’t add up. They won’t even come close to adding up.
    And then there was Fukushima.

  16. 16
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re Solar and wind may not appear to need cooling but they do. It is just that solar and wind are dispersed rather than concentrated so that the cooling is not noticeable to you.

    I read about a design for a solar plant of the mirror / heat engine kind, and I remember that the amount of water use was small even relative to what falls as rain in some relatively arid regions. Granted, that’s because I could divide the amount of water by the area occupied. What buffer zones are around nuclear plants, then?

    Anyway, solar PV efficiency generally declines with increasing cell temperature, and waste heat is produced, but generally I don’t think any active cooling is used except if in a concentrating device or if the plant is to be cogeneration (hybrid systems) as in a solar electricity and water (pre)heating rooftop installation.

    And then water may be used for cleaning mirrors or panels. But I’d think that’s relatively little in comparison.

    Wind is not a heat engine, of course. Granted there will be frictional heating of some parts, and maybe water is used in AA-CAES or CAES – I’m not sure…

    And you need to concentrate the cooling when the power plant is concentrated, I suppose. Might distributed cooling be easier to do?

  17. 17
    Patrick 027 says:

    … of course, wind is produced by the heat engine of the Earth’s atmosphere …

  18. 18
    MalcolmT says:

    New Scientist has just mentioned ( a new study of the Greenland ice sheet by Stephen Price which revises downwards Pfeffer’s figures but their item suggests that Pfeffer’s figures were worst-case and Price’s are not. Can anyone here clarify this for us?

  19. 19
    Susan Anderson says:

    It occurred to me that many people have no idea that some of the boundaries of what science is able to study or form conclusions about are arbitrary. Things not covered are supposed to not “belong” whereas they may simply be outside the scope of scientific study by choice or circumstance. It appears to me that many scientists appear to treat things they can’t measure and understand as nonexistent. In addition, there are issues of fashion, for example string theory in physics.

    I think climate scientists are praiseworthy and face great difficulty because they have to try to measure things outside the scope of resources or choice. I’m not sure if this is a valid or useful point, but this gap is misunderstood and almost completely unrepresented in the climate “wars”. Things not quantified just that. That does not mean they don’t exist.

    In an environment where any weakness, perceived or real, is exploited, it would be nice if ordinary people could be better informed about the non-omniscience of science without needing to discredit what is available and in particular that which is clear.

  20. 20
    Patrick 027 says:

    It might also be useful to note that some of the waste heat – in some cases more than 100 % – from solar energy, would have been produced on site anyway, if the intercepted radiation had just been allowed to reach the ground. Of course, some surfaces do get plenty hot in the sun; if you replace wet surfaces with dry surfaces, tall vegetation with shorter or bare ground, etc, temperatures will tend to get higher.

    And when wind turbines are running, the wind itself might provide ventillation (?).

  21. 21
    GlenFergus says:

    #13, from Ed:

    The power plant survived the earthquake and a 46 foot high wall of water. American containment buildings are even stronger.

    I don’t suppose we want this to decend into yet another Fukushima thread, but an old AGW hand really should know the hazards of misinformation.

    Premise 1 now apears to be wrong. Critical pipework to the units 1 and 3 reactor pressure vessels may have been ruptured by the earthquake shaking. Refer Ex-SKF’s excellent blog.

    Premise 2 is obviously wrong given that the Fukushima containment design is essentially american. There are many existing US plants of this same basic design (for example, Browns Ferry).

  22. 22
    John Monro says:

    This is a query, really. James Hansen visited New Zealand a couple of weeks ago and I was lucky enough to be able to attend a lecture of his one evening, and then next day his contribution to a debate on the future of coal in New Zealand (this is being very strongly promoted by self-interested parties and our present right-wing government). I have also read his book “Storms of my Grandchildren”. I think you can safely say he is alarmist about our future. When I say “alarmist”, I am not using this in a perjorative sense, but merely echoing what he is telling us. Churchill was alarmist about Hitler, too. However, he is just one scientist. Highly regarded, a doyen of climate science, no sane or moderately intellegent person would not take serious note of what he is saying (though there are a lot of obviously insane and unintelligent people here and around the world who don’t). But all the same, when he started taking about the possibility of the “Venus Syndrome” here on Earth as a consequence of anthropogenic CO2 emissions continuing to increase, how accurately does this view reflect the view of other climate scientists? And on a lesser scale, how do other equally well qualified climate scientists agree with his calculations on sea-level rise, species extinction and all the rest? Is he taking an “extreme” position, or is are his views reasonably scientifically tenable? Can anyone here, who knows something about climate science, whereas I know almost nothing, though still probably a great deal more than most of my fellow-citizens, enlighten me? Thanks.

  23. 23
    Chris Colose says:

    John Monro,

    The “Venus” topic has come up in three or four threads over the last few months, so you might find my comments and a more lengthy discussion (some of which Dr. Ray Pierrehumbert has contributed to as well); as I’ve said before it is not currently possible to sustain a transition to a Venus world. There is a decent-sized literature on the conditions that must set up to trigger a runaway greenhouse, but I’ve not seen one that involves adding a lot of CO2 to the atmosphere, since the planet will rapidly reach radiative equilibrium when compared to the timescale over which moist greenhouse or runaway conditions can set up (such as losing an ocean).

    As far as sea level, climate sensitivity, and other things, Hansen is on much better grounds and the ballpark ranges can be supported by the scientific literature. These things, among others, give a very credible threat that comes attached with emitting CO2. We cannot rule out higher sea level rise estimates or climate sensitivity on the high end, nor can we rule out potentially “catastrophic” long-term feedbacks that might kick in should CO2 remain elevated for several centuries. All of these could be threatening to several species and to us as well…but Venus is not even close.

  24. 24
    Adam R. says:

    @John Monro: But all the same, when [Hansen] started taking about the possibility of the “Venus Syndrome” here on Earth as a consequence of anthropogenic CO2 emissions continuing to increase, how accurately does this view reflect the view of other climate scientists?

    From what I’ve seen here in RC, not very. Indeed, I have seen persuasive arguments here against the possibility of a Venus Syndrome on Earth.

    I would very much like to see Hansen vs. Schmidt in print on this subject. Surely they must have already debated it privately.

  25. 25
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 21 GlenFergus Premise 2 is obviously wrong given that the Fukushima containment design is essentially american. There are many existing US plants of this same basic design (for example, Browns Ferry).

    Yes, but I heard on the news (credible news) that the U.S. government made the corresponding plants here … adjust or add something or do something to make them safer.

  26. 26
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 22 John Monro possibility of the “Venus Syndrome”

    First it must always be emphasized that it is possible to think of scenarios far far far far far beyond what would be sufficient to wreck everything for us. Something less than all-out apocalypse could still be horrible, and a Venusian trajectory is far beyond sufficient for apocalypse.

    A runaway water vapor feedback doesn’t seem likely (in time scales of real concern to us). Chris Colose discusses this – I think it came up recently on the Nobel Laureates thread.

    Short of that, though, we have Greenland, the West Antarctic, and methane from permafrost and hydrates to worry about.

  27. 27
    dhogaza says:

    The power plant survived the earthquake and a 46 foot high wall of water.

    This is why, of course, three (at least) of the four online reactors at the complex are total write-offs.


  28. 28
    flxible says:

    People – can we please not have another month of bickering about nukes??? Everyone knows EG thinks nuclear power can save the day — everyone also knows that in the current economic and political ‘climate’, bringing online enough n-power to make a dent in the CO2 problem in time to be useful is highly unlikely — everyone should also know the problem at Fukishima was NOT the nuclear plant itself or it’s outdated and poor design, but with the backup power unit that got swamped so that cooling ability was lost. Let’s get back to climate science please – and that is not a request for more of #27’s endless and arcane algebraic formulas. ;)

  29. 29
    Edward Greisch says:

    14 David Miller: I only answer other people’s nuclear comments. I don’t start that thread. So if you don’t want me to comment on nuclear, don’t comment on nuclear either.
    “definitions of “survived”” The containment buildings are largely intact and the radiation leakage is below the natural background level averaged over a year. That is very good for being hit with a 46 foot tall wall of water. Why does jumping off a tall bridge kill you? Because water hits you like concrete if you are moving fast. The tsunami was going 500 miles per hour in the open ocean. When you jump off a bridge, your terminal velocity is 200 mph.

    15 MARodger: France recycles nuclear fuel. I think Russia recycles nuclear fuel. The US recycled nuclear fuel in the old days. We stopped because some of the spent fuel found its way to Israel. Israel now has bombs that are remarkably identical to American bombs. The technology is not immature. It works fine. But it has to be done in a “communist” Government Owned Government Operated [GOGO] plant to keep it out of Israel. I almost went to work for Numec in 1968.

    16 Patrick 027: You forgot about resistance heating in the wires in the generator. Generators can get hot, just like motors.
    Concentrated solar: Is just like a nuclear, coal, or geothermal plant. The working fluid has to be cooled and condensed so that it can be reheated.
    Solar cells: Get hot in the sun, but they have a large surface area.

    19 Susan Anderson: It is wise to choose a problem that you can solve. That way you can publish. Scientists ignore problems they can’t solve.

    21& 26 dhogaza GlenFergus: See above. Those plants were 40 years old and should have been replaced already anyway.

    24 Patrick 027: The US has higher standards for containment buildings. Look up “furherbunker.”

  30. 30
    Edward Greisch says:

    Back to “The Great Disruption” by Paul Gilding. I am now on page 209. Gilding talks about economics that does not involve growth. Even Adam Smith of “Wealth of Nations” fame talked about a time when growth would have to end. We are there now. There are 2 NGOs that are planning for non-growth economics. Gilding says GW is the easy part. Getting over growth and inequity is the hard part. Gilding hasn’t mentioned what to do with the 2 Billion extra people.

    Could we have a Gilding discussion please? I don’t agree with Gilding on all points, but this book is a starting place. We have been stalled until now, so we need a new starting place.

    12 Icarus: Drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean is NOT what I had in mind. What I had in mind was getting off of fossil fuels entirely because we have to get back to 350 ppm CO2 equivalent. What I had in mind was more like making a deal as follows: No more growth on the Earth and only 1 child per average woman on Earth. But you can grow all you want in space. We have to finish inventing the space elevator to make it real. See The galaxy is as good as infinite from our present perspective. I already lost $500 on LiftPort stock.

    The “Space” deal makes it so we are not denying the old paradigm entirely. We are only putting a condition on it. It is the spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine go down. There will still be plenty of resistance.

    Please read “The Great Disruption” so that we can discuss it as a new starting point. Perhaps it will make GW seem like a smaller problem so that it will be easier for more people to face.

  31. 31
    AIC says:

    Beginner question: Is it appropriate to use degrees Kelvin for describing global temperature increase, that is, 3 K increase would still only be about a 1% T increase?

    Meanwhile we have increased CO2 concentrations by about 390/280 ~1.4.

    Just to give non-technical audiences a concept.

  32. 32
    Snapple says:

    I am taking a look at a long interview on RIA Novosti with Nikolai Yelansky, head of the trace gas laboratory at the A.M. Obukhov Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

    I can’t really evaluate the science, but the interviewer asks about manipulating climate to damage other countries by coordinating work schedules.

    This is similar to the conspiracy theory that Andrei Areshev floated last year during the fires in Russia. Areshev claimed that U.S. scientists were causing global warming by beaming secret climate weapons at some unidentified countries, but he meant Russia.

    Yelansky didn’t accept the idea that manipulating work schedules in other countries to affect climate in another country could happen very easily unless a lot of countries collaborated.

    Maybe someone could look at the science. Does it make sense?

    RIA Novosti is the official press agency of the Russian government.

  33. 33
    David Miller says:

    This is why, of course, three (at least) of the four online reactors at the complex are total write-offs.

    In the interest of accuracy, only 3 were online at the time of the earthquake. Units 5 & 6 had been in cold shutdown for a considerable period of time, and 4 had no fuel in the reactor. The core had been transferred to SFP 4 a few months earlier (December, iirc). That’s why SFP4 was particularly prone to overheating – fresh fuel rods have far more decay heat than older rods.

    That said, it’s very likely that none of the six will ever produce power again. Which, as you point out, is an odd way to describe “survived the earthquake and tsunami just fine”.

  34. 34
    Ron R. says:

    wili — 2 Jun 2011 @ 10:00 AM

    Very important points. Very well said.

    Edward Greisch — 2 Jun 2011 @ 3:54 PM

    Fukushima has not yet gone beyond natural background radiation except temporarily very close to the reactor… I would not evacuate the Fukushima area if I lived there.

    A complete and total fabrication previously answered. Why do you persist in it?

    Here’s a good news site. The sources are generally reliable. Though the doomer comments are often extreme due to their open policy.

    Recycling? No.

    I too don’t want to see this devolve into another thread where one or two can hold the rest hostage to determined distortions. I’m not talking about nuclear discussions per se, but the repeated disruptive twisting of the facts for nuclear and against clean alternatives by one or two. Maybe RC should be more aggressive about stopping industry propaganda from wasting people’s time, patience and kbs.

  35. 35
    Geoff Beacon says:

    flxible @#20

    Point taken. But surely we need more than getting “back to climate science” this is about the politics too.

    Some say certain influences in UK government departments are not interested in climate change because the UK is too small a part of the problem now. They are more interested in energy security – but will try to keep to the letter of international agreements.

    They see energy security as nuclear power and seem to want to follow this course. I think they should be tested with all reasonable questions. (OK, I don’t really know who the collective “they” are.)

    But are the possible effects of climate induced seismicity (and subsequent tsunamis) part of a reasonable line of questioning?

    What about tsunamis from the dissociation of methane hydrates?

    Aren’t those questions science?

  36. 36
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    John Munro @ 22, “What do other scientists besides Hansen think about our future under global warming?”

    Hansen considers some of the worst cases, including trying to burn all the reduced carbon the earth holds. Most others don’t want to even think about that. Hansen’s point is that current policies are insane. There is also little discussion of the consequences, not just the possibility, of the global average temperature increasing by more than 2 or 3 degrees C. You generally see scenarios and projections based on burning different amounts of carbon by a certain year. “Business As Usual” (BAU) all the way to 2100 is particularly nasty. If atmospheric CO2 goes to around 900 ppm we will be in a situation the planet has not seen in many millions of years.

    So, what do scientists think about the consequences when they think about it? Try this special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, part A.

    What if we “only” keep on blindly burning carbon through 2030? Romm’s Memorial Day post links some research and concerns on that. Note that the US military is quite concerned about the consequences of climate change by 2030. Why might they be seemingly out in front of scientists (or at least the conservative IPPC) on this? Perhaps because they, unlike scientists, are accustomed to planning for circumstances in which if you wait until you are provably 95% certain that a problem is coming at you, you are already dead. One may relate this to the “scientific reticence” that concerns Hansen a lot but RC not so much.

  37. 37
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    AIC @ 31: When talking to people, go ahead and use units they understand. When doing thermodynamics, use kelvins. Note: “kelvin”, not capitalized, is a unit just like meter and kilogram. One does not say “degrees kelvin”.

  38. 38
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 32 Snapple – for a related phenomenon: a discussion about wind power affecting climate and/or weather:

    4-7 (Seb Tallents – some repeat comments there, It looks like – if later deleted adjust following numbers accordingly),
    10 Didactylos
    14 Seb Tallents
    15,57-58 (me – 57 has link to a paper), 61 Andrew Hobbs,

    *****especially see 72 Dan Kirk-Davidoff, 73 EFS_Junior

    40 Ken Fabos
    42 adelady
    43 Bern
    44 Tom Keen, 70 Secular Animist (this goes off on a tangent)
    46 Sou
    54 Thomas

  39. 39
    CM says:

    AIC #31,

    Here’s a long layman’s attempt to answer your beginner’s question. It’s long because I think it’s a good question for beginners to think through. Improvements welcome, as always.

    Yes, the Kelvin scale is appropriate. But so is Celsius or Fahrenheit scale, and as Pete already noted, a non-technical audience will be far better acquainted with one of those.

    But expressing global temperature change as a percentage change is not appropriate, I think. Under no circumstances is it appropriate if you’re using C or F: since those scales don’t have a natural zero, dividing one point on the scale by another is meaningless (10 °C is not “twice as warm” as 5 °C).

    The Kelvin scale does have a natural zero, but talking percentages is largely meaningless for other reasons. First, noone speaks that way or is able to relate to it, and second, it makes huge scary changes in our habitat sound really tiny and insignificant. Any audience will understand what, say a 5 °C or 41 F difference is, and should be able to grasp what a really big deal that can be. But a 1.7% change in absolute temperature?

    To calculate such a percentage change precisely you do need to know the absolute temperature you’re starting from. For example, A 5.0 K rise from 288 K — the approximate global mean temperature — would be 1.7% whereas the same 5.0 K rise from 273 K — the freezing point of water — would be 1.8%. But for good reasons, the temperature records that climate scientists prefer to use show anomalies — differences from the mean temperature of some baseline period — rather than absolute temperatures.

    Expressing the CO2 rise as a fractional or percentage change is fine.

    But the comparison you wanted to make might lead people to think that we expect a given percentage rise in CO2 to lead to a similar fixed percentage rise in temperature. This is not the case; the relationship is logarithmic: We expect a 3 °C warming, give or take a bit, at equilibrium per doubling (100% increase) of CO2.

    Hope this helps.

  40. 40
    Septic Matthew says:

    update on salt-tolerant plants:

    Called halophytes, more concise.

  41. 41
    Susan Anderson says:

    AIC @ 31: Kelvin is essentially Centigrade starting at absolute zero; .add 273(.15) to degrees C which at location of origin is 0 at freezing and 100 at boiling, so extending it down to absolute zero is just complicating. (Forgive me for referencing teaching grannies to suck eggs.)
    Perhaps one should stick with Centigrade.

  42. 42
    AIC says:

    Pete #37, CM #39, and Susan #41,

    Thank you for your replies.

    I guess I just thought it might be useful to say that we have already increased CO2 concentration by 40%, and point out to semi-technical audiences that a seemingly small 1% rise in temperature (for which we need to use Kelvin) from 288 K is 2.8 K, which is approximately 3 K.

    To me, it seems more scary that a small relative increase in temperature will lead to a big scary change in our world. It is a difference in perception. Does anybody else think that way? It winds up being a matter of communication, and maybe I should try it out on some other audiences, see if it makes a difference to them.

    (Although if I first need to spend time explaining the concept of Absolute Zero and Kelvin, maybe it would not be worth it.)

  43. 43
    flxible says:

    Geoff Beacon @35 – The only way to deal with the politics, and more importantly, the economics, involved in AGW is to get the science to a point that the impending disaster is irrefuteable – returning to some level of sustainablility is going to be economically and psychologically painful for most of humanity, especially the moneyed and powerful elite, and will require a total rejigging of our politics, none of which will even begin to take place until there is very obviously no other alternative. Time to focus on attribution to fuel a revolution.

    I personally believe that climatic events are on a path to do the convincing needed, AGW is on the march and I don’t think there’s any changes in energy supply that can be implemented on a time scale to prevent the forced reduction of human population and overconsumption. “Nature bats last”, we are as vulnerable a part of the whole as other disappearing species, the burning forests and melting ice.

    “Mitigation” and “adaptation” by building out dozens or hundreds of nuclear plants [or giant solar arrays or acres of wind generators] to supply a whole fleet of new electric vehicles and run the latest ‘energy efficient’ appliances in new ‘green buildings’ is trying to solve the problem of overconsumption by accelerated consumption!!

  44. 44
    John E. Pearson says:

    31: I’ve pondered the wisdom of describing CO2 induced warming in terms of per cent changes in the absolute temperature. I concluded that it was probably not helpful. I also concluded that what one might do is subtract off about 250K which is black body temperature the earth would have without greenhouse gases and then discuss the change in temperature above that. THe baseline temperature of, say, 300K is 50K above the black body temperature so you’d call that 50 (meaning 50K or 50C above black body temp). Then a 3K (or 3 degree C) change would be 6%. Scientifically this might make a certain amount of sense but I’m pretty sure you’d lose your average layman.

  45. 45
    John E. Pearson says:

    The NAS is now providing PDF’s of their reports for free.

    Browse around here:

    Here is one that is probably relevant to the ongoing debate about our energy future:

    Real Prospects for Energy Efficiency in the United States

  46. 46
    Lawrence McLean says:

    I would like to understand the physics why very heavy rainfall events occur in desert regions, and are becoming more common with Global warming.

    In my local area (new years eve 2006 – 2007) on the Monaro in Australia, a rain event was so intense that sheep (not in or even near any defined watercourse) were washed of the hillsides and against fences and into farm dams and drowned by the hundreds. I am not aware anything like this ever occurring before (in this area).

    I know that the absolute humidity can be higher in hot air, but why does it get dumped out so quickly?

  47. 47
    Patrick 027 says:

    29 Edward Greisch – All conversion of mechanical energy to electrical energy via a generator will have resistance heating in the wires. In addition to that, nuclear and fossil fuel power, and CSP (except where used just for heating) and geothermal power, etc, have waste heat (unless used in cogeneration) associated with the conversion of heat to work. Wind doesn’t have that. Solar PV has waste heat from that; cooling would enhance performance and it could be used in cogeneration, but generally active or engineering/building-intensive cooling is not required for plant operation (the large surface area playing a role there) (except in concentrated PV – ‘CPV’), whereas most other heat engines do and nuclear apparently requires some cooling even when not producing power. So it’s not really fair to just say that solar (aside from CSP/CPV) and especially wind need cooling, as if it’s all the same. Yes, you do point out that we don’t notice because it’s distributed, but it’s not just about whether or not we notice it, and if being distributed is helpful than that’s generally a plus for wind and solar power.

  48. 48
    Alastair says:

    AIC@31 and Susan @41

    An increase in temperature of 3K is the same as an increase of 3C, but a temperature of 3K is very different from a temperature of 3C.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  49. 49
    AIC says:

    If we can’t be smart enough to stop emissions of GHGs, we’ll have to learn to adapt to a different world.

    Cal-Adapt going live Tuesday

    From the website:
    Cal-Adapt is a web-based climate change adaptation information tool that will enable city and county planners, government agencies, and the public to identify potential climate change risks in specific areas throughout California. An overview and demonstration of the Web site will be provided.

    Cal-Adapt synthesizes volumes of climate change research and presents it in an accessible, intuitive and visual format that is intended to benefit local planning efforts as well as inform California citizens of potential climate change impacts. This tool will provide planners with detailed information regarding potential sea-level rise, wildfire dangers, temperature changes, and fluctuations in snowpack, which will help inform how to combat those impacts.

    The success of this effort is due to a common vision and collaborative effort between government agencies, universities, private industry, and non-profit organizations including UC Berkeley’s Geospatial Innovation Facility, California Energy Commission, Google, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Santa Clara University, U.S. Geological Survey, UC Merced, and Pacific Institute.

  50. 50
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Lawrence M @ 46, check out atmosphericrivers and see if that’s what happened.