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On record-breaking extremes

Filed under: — stefan @ 6 November 2011

It is a good tradition in science to gain insights and build intuition with the help of thought-experiments. Let’s perform a couple of thought-experiments that shed light on some basic properties of the statistics of record-breaking events, like unprecedented heat waves. I promise it won’t be complicated, but I can’t promise you won’t be surprised.
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Conference conversations

Rasmus & Gavin

The reason why scientists like going to conferences (despite them often being held in stuffy hotel basements) is because of the conversations. People can be found who know what they are talking about, and discussions can be focused clearly on what is important, rather than what is trivial. The atmosphere at these conferences is a mix of excitement and expectations as well as pleasure at seeing old friends and colleagues.

The two of us just got back from the excellent ‘Open Science Conference‘ organised by the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) in Denver Colorado. More than 1900 scientists participated from 86 different countries, and the speakers included the biggest names in climate research and many past and present IPCC authors.

Open Science Conference

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Keystone XL: Game over?

Filed under: — raypierre @ 2 November 2011 - (Deutsch) (Español)

The impending Obama administration decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would tap into the Athabasca Oil Sands production of Canada, has given rise to a vigorous grassroots opposition movement, leading to the arrests so far of over a thousand activists. At the very least, the protests have increased awareness of the implications of developing the oil sands deposits. Statements about the pipeline abound.

Jim Hansen has said that if the Athabasca Oil Sands are tapped, it’s “essentially game over” for any hope of achieving a stable climate. The same news article quotes Bill McKibben as saying that the pipeline represents “the fuse to biggest carbon bomb on the planet.” Others say the pipeline is no big deal, and that the brouhaha is sidetracking us from thinking about bigger climate issues. David Keith, energy and climate pundit at Calgary University, expresses that sentiment here, and Andy Revkin says “it’s a distraction from core issues and opportunities on energy and largely insignificant if your concern is averting a disruptive buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”. There’s something to be said in favor of each point of view, but on the whole, I think Bill McKibben has the better of the argument, with some important qualifications. Let’s do the arithmetic.

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MJO Conversations

Filed under: — gavin @ 1 November 2011

There is a (relatively) new blog from scientists involved in a big research program (DYNAMO) looking into the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO). Called Madden-Julian Conversations, it is run by Adam Sobel and Daehyun Kim (Columbia), Zhiming Kuang (Harvard) and Eric Maloney (Colorado State).

A schematic of the MJO from

The MJO can be seen in eastward propagating systems of rainfall and deep convection near the equator and influencing the Indian monsoon and El Niño dynamics. Each MJO cycle takes around 30-60 days, so these events can be seen in high frequency diagnostics of cloud cover, LW radiation, rainfall etc. The blog goes into a little more detail of what the MJO is (part i, and parts ii, iii, iv and v), (note that is sometimes referred to as the Intra-seasonal Oscillation or ISO), as well as descriptions of the DYNAMO program and what atmospheric scientists working in the field actually get up to.

(but note that apparently a helmet is not actually required for modelers to launch radiosondes).

This is exactly the kind of thing that should become more common – scientists actually showing the world directly what their research involves and the process that we follow to find stuff out. This will make a great backdrop to the rather dryer contributions to the technical literature that will come from this.