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Climate change and consequences on the ground

Filed under: — rasmus @ 13 March 2013

The link between extreme weather events, climate change, and national security is discussed in Extreme Realities, a new episode in PBS’ series Journey To Planet Earth hosted by Matt Damon.

The video features a number of extreme weather phenomena: hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wild fires, and flooding. The discussion is about climate change and the consequences on the ground – or, how climate change may affect you.

It is important to ask what is the story behind the assertions made in the video. What scientific support is there for the link between such extremes and climate change?

Linking global warming to some of these extreme weather and climate phenomena has been tricky in the past. In some cases the record of past events may not be sufficiently complete to identify whether there is a dependency to the global state, mainly because many extremes are both rare and take place at irregular intervals. However, there has been substantial progress over the recent years.

Global climate models may provide a tool for studying such links, but they are designed to provide a picture of general large-scale features such as the greenhouse effect and how the air moves around, rather than local extreme phenomena. For some types of extremes such as heat waves, they can nevertheless provide valuable insight (Hansen et al., 2012).

Heat waves and droughts often extend over space and time, and the global climate models may provide a good representation of droughts and heat waves if they manage to predict the frequency and duration of high-pressure systems and the soil moisture associated with these events.

The way the air flows is in some circumstances difficult to predict, for instance where the storms move (storm tracks) and changes in the large-scale atmospheric circulation. The reason for this is described in earlier posts on chaos and climate, and was first discussed by Lorenz.

The climate models manage to reproduce the Hadley cell, El Nino Southern Oscillation, the Jet streams, the Trades, and the westerlies, but not tornadoes, derechoes, and thunderstorms. They do not provide the details needed to describe the local climate and many extreme phenomena affecting society and ecosystems.

Our knowledge about extremes and climate is based on more evidence than just climate model results. One elegant example is the recent paper in PNAS by Petoukhov et al., (2013) based on mathematics, physics, and measured air flow.

From physics, we know that different conditions such as soil moisture and cloud micro-physics both affect weather extremes, although different types and on different scales. Convective storms and tornadoes, as opposed to heat waves, have in the past gone undetected and tend to pass below the radar of the global climate models.

New studies, such as Petoukhov et al., (2013), are emerging in the scientific literature that provide additional support for a link between climate change and a wider range of extreme phenomena. These are based on our physical understanding, observational data, new ways of analysing data, and attribution studies (Coumou and Rahmstorf, 2012).

We are also learning more about local convective storms, and a recent example is provided by the Swedish Rossby Centre, reporting that showery convective rainfall type intensifies faster than the more spatially extensive stratiform type in response to warmer temperatures (Berg et al., 2013).

The analysis of the past observations has not always given a clear picture. So far, no clear connection has been found between the global warming and mid-latitude storms (or wind speed), and efforts comparing different ways to analyse past storm observations have only recently been published (Neu et al. (2012). If we understand why some analytical methods give different results for past storms, then we will be in a better position to detect potential dependencies to the state of the global climate.

Extreme events are a natural part of the climate system, and a climate change means that their frequencies and intensities may change. Detecting the changes in probabilities in rare events is statistically challenging. However, counting the recurrence of record-breaking extremes can provide an indication of whether the extreme values are changing (Benestad, 2008).

The consequences of a climate change involves some known aspects as well as some which we cannot predict. Extreme phenomena take place in certain environmental conditions, favourable for forming e.g. tornadoes, storms, or droughts. We also know that our models have their limitations, and that the range of possible outcomes can be fairly wide.

The incomplete knowledge is no different to any other field, as the future always seems to involve some surprises. Societies have traditionally tackled the absence of complete certainties by adopting various forms for risk analyses, e.g. fire brigades, police, defence, hospitals, and so on.

Better safe than sorry. Here, there are some known connections of concern. The bottom line is that we need pragmatic ways of dealing with issues that may have devastating effects for people or societies – and this is the red thread in ‘Extreme Realities‘.


  1. J. Hansen, M. Sato, and R. Ruedy, "Perception of climate change", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 109, pp. E2415-E2423, 2012.
  2. D. Coumou, and S. Rahmstorf, "A decade of weather extremes", Nature Climate Change, vol. 2, pp. 491-496, 2012.
  3. P. Berg, C. Moseley, and J.O. Haerter, "Strong increase in convective precipitation in response to higher temperatures", Nature Geoscience, vol. 6, pp. 181-185, 2013.
  4. U. Neu, M.G. Akperov, N. Bellenbaum, R. Benestad, R. Blender, R. Caballero, A. Cocozza, H.F. Dacre, Y. Feng, K. Fraedrich, J. Grieger, S. Gulev, J. Hanley, T. Hewson, M. Inatsu, K. Keay, S.F. Kew, I. Kindem, G.C. Leckebusch, M.L.R. Liberato, P. Lionello, I.I. Mokhov, J.G. Pinto, C.C. Raible, M. Reale, I. Rudeva, M. Schuster, I. Simmonds, M. Sinclair, M. Sprenger, N.D. Tilinina, I.F. Trigo, S. Ulbrich, U. Ulbrich, X.L. Wang, and H. Wernli, "IMILAST: A Community Effort to Intercompare Extratropical Cyclone Detection and Tracking Algorithms", Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, vol. 94, pp. 529-547, 2013.
  5. R.E. Benestad, "A Simple Test for Changes in Statistical Distributions", Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union, vol. 89, pp. 389, 2008.

118 Responses to “Climate change and consequences on the ground”

  1. 51
    Jim Larsen says:

    45ish SBR said, “What I’m really hoping to find out, here and at other sources, is just how bad things are going to get in the next 100 years.”

    In a way that’s a bad visualization because our future isn’t likely to be sigmoid with stability returned in 2113. One problem is that Humans Die Last. And not just Die Last, but Everything Else Dies Before Humans Get Terribly Uncomfortable. (except weeds and pest species, which tend to thrive on disaster)

    So, if things are “this” bad in 2113, then by 2123, 2113 could be a fond memory while we desperately mine hydrocarbons with which to build pesticides and dead zones – so you and I (or our descendants) can sit in air-conditioned comfort and lament the end of the world (but MY thermostat, well, I pay my electric bill, why should I suffer in heat? Seriously, dude, are YOU willing to disconnect your AC today? If not, then how can you expect your grandson to do it when it’s 10 degrees hotter outside?) Remember, we got from ice ages to interglacials with itsy bitsy orbital changes. Yeah, whaddaya think doubling CO2 BEFORE feedbacks will do? We’re still counting on a net negative feedback from the planetary system. “So far it’s absorbing half our emissions…” Oooooo, and for all of 100 years of ramp-up of emissions. You really want to bet on the natural feedbacks over the next 100 years? And that’s what it is. Scientists are smart, but this planetary system is ever so complex. Consequences on the ground? How about the Greenland Ice Sheet winter melt scare? If ALL scientists missed that, well, I’m guessing that there’s some more surprises out there…..

    It’s getting so one’s entire mindset about the future relies on a willingness or reluctance to go Climate Rogue and envision an artificial planet geoengineered specifically to prevent our demise. I see robots grinding mountains into dust and dumping them in the ocean to try to adjust the pH of the World….

    50 Para talked about greening. Just a layman, but I’ve got a TON of experience with plants, and their growth is usually limited by pH or some nutrient which simply doesn’t exist in nature in sufficient quantities. You have to bring in manure or fossil fertilizers. GIVEN that we’re talking about a post-fossil world, and there’s only so much manure, then all the greening caused by fertilizer (in fields and in runoff) is IRRELEVANT, and all the greening caused by a bit-o-warming is “just-the-past” and no indication of future changes via further warming. Warm your garden to 75F and things thrive. GREENING!!! Go a few more degrees, and everything dies. The downside of warming comes quickly and brutally when the plant’s capacity (and the soil’s availability) to evaporate water fails to keep up with cooling requirements.

    We don’t (usually) toss CO2 on plants even though it is dang near free. If CO2 were so grand, we’d just put rows of greenhouses at power plants and absorb all the CO2. Nope, we toss NPK, all of which are fossil. And then there’s temperature and humidity. Raise temps a bit and the growing season widens. Raise them a bit more and it starts narrowing and moving away from the solar max of June 21. When water availability and temperatures are best for plants in December and CO2 levels are double or triple the amount usable by plants without fertilizer and irrigation, then Houston, We Have A Problem.

    Yeah, your link smells very conclusiony and past-tense. Kind of like “YOU MISSED ME! GO AHEAD AND SHOOT ANOTHER 100 BULLETS!

  2. 52
    Jim Larsen says:

    SusanA said, ” I find a tilde “~” indicating “approximately” does the job, with the name. The numbers do change, so using them without a name is not helpful.”

    I’m one of those strange folks who think that a 10 minute programming fix is worth doing to save hundreds or thousands of folks many minutes of time. I can’t imagine any programmer above 6th grade installing a key field that changes essentially randomly. I surely can’t imagine ANY programmer actually paid to do their job leaving such a horrendous and EMBARRASSING bug in their product.

    I suppose I have different standards than most folks….

    dudes of RC, that bug really debases your site. You shouldn’t stand for it.

  3. 53
    T Marvell says:

    49 and others – about the 5 sigma standard – The question is what researchers want to push as a standard for publicing research results. The probabilities associated with sigmas are understated, mainly because it’s humans who are producing the data and statistical relationships, not neutral data generators. #49 gives one of many reasons why human actions make significance tests misleading (other common examples are ideological bias, publication bias, and conformation bias).
    It was argued that climate science is too uncertan, and policy issues too important, to use anything like a 5s standard. I agree that policy concerns are important when setting the standard, but I would stress another policy concern – the ability of climate scientists to persuade others of the AGW threat. The relationship between CO2 and temperature is easily a 5s relationship, and it is important to get that relationship across to the public. There is no reasonable disagreement about it. Discussion of weaker relationships should remain in the academic literature, because there is too high a likelihood that these weaker relationship will prove to be wrong. There is no need to confuse the public and risk climate science getting an egg on its face, expecially over issues that are less crucial than the overall AGW effect. I cringe whenever I hear broadcasts about how climate warming is affecting specific parts of the country or increasing hurricanes or the like.

  4. 54
    Susan Anderson says:

    Jim Larsen @~52, I prefer not to be associated with your quibble about numbering. I’m happy to have the odd off-the-wall post removed at unpredictable intervals, and here because I’m interested in climate science. I am grateful to our hosts who have plenty to do are willing to share their knowledge and put in long hours to create a community here. I’m fine with the numbers changing. Commenters sometimes seem to get a magnified idea of the place of comments in blogs. If one takes salt at someone’s table, it’s still appropriate to remember it’s their table.

  5. 55
    Susan Anderson says:

    ps. If anyone wishes to “link” to a comment, that is always at the date and does not change.

  6. 56
    Hank Roberts says:

    > we’d just put rows of greenhouses at power plants and absorb all the CO2

    Make clean exhaust without the toxics available, just the CO2 and H20, and I’m sure there will be a great number of uses lining up to capture the stuff.

    It’s that other stuff in the output that would cost the earth to remove at the point source, they’ll tell you.

  7. 57
    Jim Larsen says:

    Excuse me Susan. I tried to dissassociate RC from the guy who installed that bug, but apparently I failed. My point is simply that it’s a pure-t-BUG that WASN’T created by RC, but it reflects badly and causes harm. My hope was that RC would simply contact the programmer and submit a bug-fix request. For such a simple bug, I can’t fathom it not being handled in a day or so (OK, here I’m projecting my standards on others)

    Yep, removing a post or boreholing it is grand, but that has NOTHING to do with what a key field displays. it actually adds information when the numbers go 51…52…54…

    Suggesting improvements is ALWAYS a good thing, regardless of who owns the table. Scientists understand – as science is all about ripping your best friend’s best work to shreds.

  8. 58
    flxible says:

    Jim, There is no “bug”. The post sequence is simply set by the date and time of the submission, the numbering happens when the posts are approved and so not always added to [or removed from] the stream in temporal order, some take more thought or scrutiny by a 2nd member. As others suggest, use the date and time perma-link

  9. 59
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Jim Larsen — 22 Mar 2013 @ 9:54 PM

    Changing post numbers is not a bug. When the numbers go up, the number of posts actually goes up. I believe that this happens when a post is held up by filter software or for the purpose of making an inline comment and this takes time, so when added into the queue later the numbers bump up. I have been keeping track of this because I find it educational to see which posts require special attention.

    As mentioned by Hank Roberts and Susan Anderson, the date and time stamp is sequential like numbers and searchable (the numbers are not searchable). If everybody referred to posts by the time stamp then it is easy to find what is being referred to. Notice how I referred to yours. Highlight the date and time and hit CTRL + F to bring up the find window with the highlighted text in it. Click the up arrow to locate the stamp you are looking at that refers to a previous post. Click the up arrow again to find the original post. Click the down arrow to return to where you were. It’s easy if you know your interface! Why don’t you practice it now?


  10. 60
    Hank Roberts says:

    Just for the record: for OSX/Firefox: hilight the timestamp; right-mouseclick; View Selection Source; Select (all, or part, YMMV); Copy; Click in the comment; right-mouseclick; Past; annotate ….

    As Steve suggested 23 Mar 2013 at 10:00 AM

  11. 61
    Jim Larsen says:

    To all, on Key Fields:

    Yep, there is a workaround (nearly all bugs have workarounds), though it is not intuitive and to work would require the IMPOSSIBLE scenario where every single user digs through thousands of comments to find Hank’s 60 and then memorizes a sequence of OS/browser specific instructions.

    As a programmer and systems analyst, I know that “what a reasonable user would expect” is the standard, one which should only be violated with Good Cause. So, folks, if ANY of you didn’t first assume the number was an unchanging key [reasonable user], or (you can find a better use for the number than as an unchanging key -OR- its use as an unchanging key would cause some Problem [Good Cause] ), speak up.

    Calling a bug a feature is a classic dodge used by Tightrope Programmers. Myself, I don’t think thousands of users should be required to become highwire experts. Instead, a programer’s JOB is to provide guide rails so users CAN’T make “errors”. Either remove the display of the field (thus promoting/enabling the use of timestamp) or make the field useful. Spending many manhours defending a stupid decision (disclosure: I make just as many stupid decisions as anybody else) “just because” when making the improvement would only take a few minutes, well, that ain’t efficient, eh?

    Reminds me of my programming career. I can’t remember how many times I sat through 3 hour meetings with a dozen people agonizing over whether I would be allowed to do 15 minutes of productive work.

  12. 62
    Jim Larsen says:

    56 HankR said, “Make clean exhaust without the toxics available, just the CO2 and H20, and I’m sure there will be a great number of uses lining up to capture the stuff. It’s that other stuff in the output that would cost the earth to remove at the point source, they’ll tell you.”

    Good point, though [some folks at] MIT disagrees. They think both the waste heat and the CO2 are up for grabs. I’ve both read a bit on the subject and done experiments using CH4-powered generators. Given that future fossil plants will be CH4 instead of coal, the exhaust won’t be nearly as toxic, but you are absolutely correct that plants aren’t happy breathing fumes, even the relatively clean fumes from a CH4 IC engine. My guess is that’s due to carbon monoxide, though NOx could also be an issue. AFAIK, there are no other significant toxins in CH4 IC exhaust. CH4 turbines are even cleaner.

    In any case, if we’re going to build any more fossil electrical production systems, we HAVE to go way beyond 50% CH4 to CO2 efficiency. (150% might be a reasonable wintertime target – 45% electrical efficiency plus 50% waste heat recovery, plus absorbing much of the resulting CO2) I like the idea of replacing household furnaces and water heaters with cogeneration systems which use the CH4 to BOTH generate electricity AND provide water and space heating, with a miniature version of MIT’s greenhouse system sucking up some of the resulting CO2. The alternative is ground-source-heat-pumps, which have the advantage of automatically transitioning to CO2-free as the grid decarbonizes. And we must remember that choosing any residential or commercial power system locks us into the use of that system for half a century. If the planet can’t take a half century’s worth of the results of our decisions to build, then those decisions are wrong.

  13. 63
    Edward Greisch says:

    62 Jim Larsen: 1. Coal contains: URANIUM and all of the decay products of uranium, ARSENIC, LEAD, MERCURY, Antimony, Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Selenium, Barium, Fluorine, Silver, Beryllium, Iron, Sulfur, Boron, Titanium, Cadmium, Magnesium, THORIUM, Calcium, Manganese, Vanadium, Chlorine, Aluminum, Chromium, Molybdenum and Zinc. There is so much of these elements in coal that cinders and coal smoke are actually valuable ores.

    2. Natural gas is certainly cleaner than coal, but it is too late for natural gas to do us any good with respect to GW.

    3. Freewatts aren’t exactly free. An engine is much more complicated/ expensive/ maintenance prone than a furnace.

  14. 64


    Co-generation seems to be a valuable tool in nations where it has been suitably encouraged. Ways of doing that vary:

    I find the Danish model particularly interesting in that their extensive District Heating grids are now affording them to a tool to help manage the increasing market share of wind: a DH can add an electrode boiler to the plant. At times of high wind output, the electrode boilers can then ‘sink’ a lot of that power to create steam for heating. Grid stabilization and cheap heat at one go–electrode boiler efficiencies are very high.

    It seems unanticipated consequences aren’t always bad ones–this virtue was surely not anticipated when the DH system was being built, back in the 70s.

    To be sure, there are other strategies:

    “The Danish Energy Association report ‘Smart Grid in Denmark’ explicitly acknowledges the central role boilers will play in meeting the needs for intelligent electricity distribution. “A power system featuring demand response [is needed], for example in the form of electric boilers, electric vehicles and heat pumps, so that wind energy can be used when it is available in ample volumes,” the report says.”

    But there’s something inherently attractive about taking the ‘waste’ out of ‘waste heat,’ however the heat may be initially generated.

  15. 65
    Russell says:


    Greisch’s Gish Gallop through the unholy elements found in coal neglects to add that the same is true of rocks in general.

    Get used to it- geochemistry happens.

    The Clarke of elemental concentration in the Earth’s crust dictates that all the above have been environmentally ubiquitous
    throughout evolutionary history.

  16. 66
    Chris Dudley says:

    To follow my #37, this quotation from the introduction of Hansen et al. (2012) indicates that they are not using models.

    “Although we were motivated in this research by an objective to expose effects of human-made global warming as soon as possible, we use an empirical approach that does not require knowledge of the causes of observed climate change. We also avoid any use of global climate models, instead dealing only with real world data. Moreover, although the location, extent, and duration of regional temperature anomalies is affected by atmospheric blocking situations, El Niños, La Niñas, and other meteorological events, there is no need to understand and analyze the role of these phenomena in our purely empirical approach. Theories for the cause of observed global temperature change are thus separated as an independent matter.”

    Thus, the citation above cannot be correct. As they note in the cited reference, they do have scores of publications on both observations and model analysis. But this one is just on observations. Further, there are attribution papers that use model analysis for individual heatwaves. A list of these would certainly make the point better than citing Hansen et al. (2012) inappropriately.

  17. 67
    Bob Loblaw says:


    How many of those “rocks in general” do we make a habit of digging up and burning in large quantities, so that the “unholy elements” are floating around where we can easily breath them in?

  18. 68

    T Marvel #53: I don’t think a 5-sigma test is relevant here. If you bash billions of particles together and get something that could be a random effect, or evidence of a new particle, that’s the scenario where you need very high statistical confidence. Here, we are dealing with observations that fit the theory with measurement techniques with relatively low uncertainty. And we have many independent lines of evidence that point the same way. What we are dealing with here is more like the law of large numbers.

    And in any case, the error in models has consistently over time skewed towards nature being worse than the models. For example, ocean heat content is trending towards greater warming of the deep ocean than predicted, and the amount of Antarctic ice grounded below sea level turns out to be much more than previously thought. What are the odds that those two facts are cause for serious concern?

  19. 69
    Russell says:


    ‘Rocks in general’ are the stuff of soil and dust,

    The scale on which they naturally weather into respirable particles is such that aeolian transport figures in biogeochemical cycles on transcontinental and transoceanic scales . Explosive vucanism generates stratospheric aerosols, and fumarolic acivity, including hot springs, famously provides a larger mercury flux into the environment than human activity .

    Last but not least, most of the world’s roads are unpaved =, and driving electric vehicles, or riding even horses, over crushed rock inevitably grinds ther rough edges into micron dust. Sextus Empiricus got it right about the mills of the gods grinding eslow but exceeding fine.

  20. 70
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I take it you are not a fisherman. If you were, you would know that we cannot eat the fish we catch here on the east coast due to Hg and other toxins from the smoke stacks of midwestern coal-fired power plants.

  21. 71
    Russell says:

    Ray, I keep a rod up island, where, to tell a fish story , the month after Canada made the limit of mercury detectability the legal limit for fish sold in Canada, a trawler set out from Menemsha late one morning and returned well before sunset loaded to the gunnels with enough fresh swordfish to sustain the Vineyard through the whole 4th of July weekend.

    Watching them land the monster fish, we saw the mate unload as well a pallet of plastic packed smoked salmon, a species of fish seldom caught in these waters.

    Such transactions at sea ended when the Canadians repealed thier draconian legislation in favor of a law with numbers in it, the problem being that between the original bill’s drafting and passage, improvements in mass spectoscopy dropped the limit of detection to parts per trillion, temporarily making all the fish in the world too high in Hg to sell in Canada. Whereupon the Halifax men returned to selling their offshore quota catch to Yankee vacationers in Nova Scotia, instead of their fishermen cousins coastwise.

    The quatitatively illiterate elision of the methyl mercury problem downstream from former chloralakali plants with that from upwind coal emissions in a region whose dentists and crematoria contibute more of a local flux , attests to the power of the press more than geochemical reality – hot springs and vulcanism really do dominate the Hg term.

    I look forward by the way, to the NYTimes, which raises this question annually, around the time of the zuccini glut. siccing its reporter on the free use of cinnabar paint slathered about kitchens with blast furnace woks, to improve the feng shui of restaurants reportly frequented by the editors.

  22. 72
    Ray Ladbury says:

    There is no more certainty to a 5 sigma result in particle physics than a 2-3 sigma result in most fields. I’ve see 5-sigma results evaporate.

    One may be the loneliest number, but 9s and 0s are the most expensive when it comes to reliability.

  23. 73
    Russell says:

    OTOH, I have a duty to caution Ray to shun the Caney Fork of the Tennessee rivers, which drains former zinc minng sites of an Occidental Petroleum subsiduiary, concentrating methylcadmium prodigiously in many delicious creatures , and so putting countless Appalachian citizens at Lord knows what risk?

    David Guggenheim really ought to do a film about it ?

  24. 74
    simon abingdon says:

    @Ray Ladbury #70 “One may be the loneliest number, but 9s and 0s are the most expensive when it comes to reliability.”

    This Delphic utterance deserves at least some elaboration for the benefit of the unwashed (which category I alas inhabit).

  25. 75
    Phil Scadden says:

    I would also say to Russell, that the peat environments from coal originates concentrate various elements due to both physical and chemical processes – just like the processes that form zinc concentrations. Noone is saying coal necessarily worse than other mining, but in general mining is an activity we want to minimize where possible.

  26. 76
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Simon Abingdon,

    One expresses reliabilities as .9999–4 “nines” of reliability or failure rates as 0.0001. Adding nines and zeros to a system is a costly process. It kinda loses something when you have to ‘splain it. ;-)

  27. 77
    Jim Larsen says:

    71 Russell said, “hot springs and vulcanism really do dominate the Hg term.”

    I don’t think so, as: shows that Mercury emissions around 2002 were 2/3rds anthropogenic.

    Mercury isn’t all the same and Mercury depends on pH. Make surface waters more acidic, and you increase Methylmercury (the harmful kind of Mercury). ” If elemental mercury is ingested, it is absorbed relatively slowly and may pass through the digestive system without causing damage. Ingestion of other common forms of mercury, such as the salt HgCl2, which damages the gastrointestinal tract and causes kidney failure, is unlikely from environmental sources.”

    “From pre-industrial times to today, mercury levels in sediments have generally increased by a factor of three.”

  28. 78
    Hank Roberts says:

    > quatitatively illiterate elision

    Hey, that’s the name of my new band!

    “Methylmercury is the only form of mercury that biomagnifies in the food web. Concentrations of methylmercury in fish are generally on the order of a million times the methylmercury concentration in water.”

    Look what the fishing industry calls ‘sustainable swordfish’ — itty bitty fish, probably not even reproductively mature; if they don’t get a few decades to reproduce, how’s a population sustainable? Of course it hasn’t had much time to accumulate the crap that bioaccumulates. Remember, 90 percent of the big fish are gone. Look at the swordfish here page down — a ways to see it.

  29. 79
    Hank Roberts says:

    Aside, from that last (mostly swordfish) PDF link I posted above, this:


    “… there is remarkable consistency in the history of resource exploitation.
    We suggest that such consistency is in part due to the following:
    Large levels of natural variability mask effects of overexploitation.
    Thus, initial overexploitation is not detectable until it is severe …”
    — Uncertainty, Resource Exploitation, and Conservation:
    — Lessons from History (Ludwig et al. 1993)
    Furthermore… sliding baselines influence our attitutes towards nature

    ——–end excerpt—-

    That describes treating climate as a resource (a resource that was assumed to be limitless, like the forest, buffalo, whales, and ozone layer)
    — natural variability masks the effects of overexploitation … until it is severe …

  30. 80
    Hank Roberts says:

    Ya know, this ought to be “Climate Change and Consequences on the Ground, in the Air, and in and over the oceans ….”

    We’re currently harvesting krill to feed people and whatever else they’re doing with it — competing with the reduced number of whales and other filter and plankton feeders.

    What if …. some plankton is more equal than others?

    Will we see PR, papers, and eventually ads from AgriGlob promoting the new Roundmeup-responsive farmable plankton — so superior to all those other wild type planktons that dosing the Southern Ocean with Roundmeup — treating the ocean like a factory farm state — is clearly the only next thing to do.

    Seriously, consequences in addition to those “on the ground” need attention. Think of your old mother, will you?

  31. 81
    Jim Larsen says:

    Thanks, Hank. It’s also important to remember that bigger fish eat smaller fish. Thus, small fish eat baby swordfish and bluefin tuna by the millions. This is naturally limited by adult swordfish and tuna eating small fish. Remove most of the adults, and the percentage of babies that survive to adulthood will decline as other species, especially those not fished for, scarf up baby tuna. (Thus opening up the “solution” of vacuuming the ocean to eliminate all those “baby-killers”)

    Then there’s the size limits. I’ve long pondered that size limits might be backwards. Instead of saying that small swordfish must be thrown back, throw back all large swordfish. That a particular female lives long enough to lay her first tiny batch of eggs is feel-good, but seems scientifically irrelevant. Your link said, “Reproduction:Females produce variable number of eggs: from 1-16 million in a 370-pound female to 29 million in a 600-pound female”

    Thus, harvesting a 600lb swordfish is probably more harmful than harvesting two 300-pounders or ten sixty-pounders. IIRC the Maine lobster fishery has taken this into account by having a maximum harvestable size. (I couldn’t find any info on swordfish maximum lifespan, just that it’s at least 12 years. Lobsters have no maximum lifespan, so the comparison might be flawed)

    When the average size harvested is less than 1/3 the effective reproductive size even when we’re trying our hardest to catch the (more valuable) biggest fish (if the link’s numbers and my simplistic interpretation are correct), Houston, we have a Problem.

    Your link was a bit frustrating. It listed the Official Position, that swordfish fishing became “perfect” for the available biomass by 2009, then almost started down a path of refutation by mentioning age at harvesting, but immediately took a strange turn into talking about Kansas and roller coasters.

    My band’s name would be Hot Shade.

  32. 82
    Jim Larsen says:

    79 HankR quoted, ” natural variability masks the effects of overexploitation … until it is severe …”

    Yeah, but in the case of fishing, I think that effect is less important than human desire and ability. We remember the pounds caught last decade and will ponder and think and improve so as to ensure we catch at least as much next decade. That the effort (measured in horsepower-hours, not man-hours) goes up by a sigma (see unforced variations) is irrelevant other than as a price determinant.

    But in reality, if effort goes up by a factor of 10, then the simplistic no-other-knowledge conclusion is that the resource has declined by a similar factor. If you want to measure the health of the (insert species here) fishery, go out in old boats with old routes and old tackle. See what you catch, and compare it to what a similar boat brought back in 1800 or 1920 or whenever.

    So yes, we can send more and more bigger and bigger boats out and maintain the harvest. Until we can’t.

  33. 83
    Jim Larsen says:

    76 RayL said, “One expresses reliabilities as .9999–4 “nines” of reliability or failure rates as 0.0001. Adding nines and zeros to a system is a costly process. It kinda loses something when you have to ‘splain it. ;-)”

    Being a natural fool who’s attracted to such challenges, I’ll waste some bandwidth!

    The easiest explanation is money. Full time minimum wage is $15k. Become a basic doctor and you’re a mere ONE sigma higher at $150k.

    Learn to suck up Other People’s Money on Wall Street, and you MIGHT get ONE sigma higher at $1.5 mil.

    Become a Ruler of the Universe and you’ll rake in $15 mil a year. ONE sigma.

    So here we are, a mere three sigma above pure-t-failure.

    Now, figure out the effort/luck/evil/good/whatever it would take to get to 4 sigma on the human income scale….

  34. 84
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Jim Larsen — 28 Mar 2013 @ 2:54 PM

    You are confusing orders of magnitude with standard deviation.


  35. 85
    Russell says:

    77 that’s not right , Jim

    Look at the numbers in the link you provide and you will find that the annual natural atmospheric flux of Hg is estimated to be, on average, some 1,200 tonnes greater globally than the anthropogenic flux, re-emissions included.

    While it is cautionary that there is a roughly threefold uncertainty in both sets of estimates , the North American natural flux exceeds that from coal combustion in the Midwest roughly an order of magnitude

  36. 86

    #83-Jim, a good simile, but I’ve got to say that mere Ruler of the Pop Charts can pull $15 mil–and Dr. Dre is reportedly pushing toward 4 sigma at $110 mil. Just sayin.’

  37. 87
    Hank Roberts says:

    > on average
    >> methylmercury

    And on average, no worries to speak of. It’s those pesky food chains …

  38. 88
    flxible says:

    Kevin McKinney, Don’t forget the Hunts, who went from bankruptcy awhile back over their silver fiasco, to billionaires just recently by selling some Bakken fracking land, how many sigma is that? ;)

  39. 89
    Jim Larsen says:

    84 SteveFish, oops, you’re right and thanks. My muddled mind now says that using the word “sigma” was wrong. We’re talking 9s and 0s, as in orders of magnitude. The visual should still work if one substitutes the correct words.

    85 Russell, are you talking about the chart on page 13? It (using first column/estimate) shows total natural emissions from land and ocean (I assume volcanoes et al would be included based on where they are?) to be 1.4kt, and total emissions to be 4.4kt, so I’m confused as to what you’re saying. And the sediment data sure seems like the Gold Standard. Measuring fluxes is HARD and subject to tremendous error, but digging a core and measuring mercury is just standard science….

  40. 90
    Quercetum says:

    What I get from rasmus’s article is that the link between global warming and extreme weather remains uncertain, but concludes with a precautionary approach in “better safe than sorry”.

    This weak link is in line with the conclusions of the IPCC SREX report (2012). But it is in contrast to many other messages we get – from Al Gore, James Hansen, the film Greedy Lying Bastards, etc.

    The “elegant example” of Petroukhov et al 2013 doesn’t provide any strong conclusions with its Abstract using phrases like “Here, we propose a common mechanism …”, “We show that these patterns might result from…” and “Such midlatitude waveguides, however, may favor…”.

    This demonstrates to me that the debate on whether extreme events can be linked to global warming / climate change remains wide open.

    What would be concerning is if the intention were to ‘keep looking until we find the link’, whereas an equally viable conclusion could be ‘we’ve looked but conclude there is no clear link’.

  41. 91
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I would say that the mechanisms of linkage are fields of active research. However, data clearly show increased drought, increasing heat waves and, with less certainty, increased impulsive precipitation events. No single event is climate. Climate can load the dice to favor some extremes more than others. That is quite consistent with what Hansen et al. are saying.

  42. 92
    Chuck Hughes says:

    So has the warming slowed down over the last decade as this article suggests?


  43. 93

    Jim Larsen #81: I went to a talk by an expert on marine ecology and your point is pretty much on the money. A small fraction of baby fish survive to add to the gene pool; each adult fish has made it despite all manner of obstacles, and represents a huge investment. Taking out one fully grown adult fish is generally a much higher cost to the environment than its weight in juveniles.

  44. 94
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Quercetum … what I get … weak link … the debate …

    Nah. You’re comparing PR language to scientific journal language as though they were being used in the same conversation, and getting doubt and skepticism reinforced because the journals aren’t using the PR language. They won’t.

    The PR will always be definite! conclusive! punchy!! headline-grabbing, by intent.

    What’s the world telling us? Looked at this?

    How often do you see a March storm this big, moving as slowly as this one is?
    A bit of atmospheric blocking, perhaps, at work here?

  45. 95
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Dammit! There is a metric shite-ton of weapons grade stupid in the comments section of that Economist article.

  46. 96
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Chuck Hughes says … So has the warming slowed down over the last decade
    > as this article suggests?

    Be careful about “the warming” — that’s not about global warming, it’s about air temperature.

    The article says that particular measure/graph shows slower increase, and asks where the heat could be going that doesn’t show up in that measure.

    The article explains that the deep ocean water change isn’t in that chart; it says the heat may be going there, for a while, referencing:

  47. 97

    #90–“What would be concerning is if the intention were to ‘keep looking until we find the link’, whereas an equally viable conclusion could be ‘we’ve looked but conclude there is no clear link’.”

    A lot less concerning than if the intention were to give up looking because looking is hard work or something–with large practical consequences potentially on the line, ‘equally viable conclusions’ is just another term for ‘uncertainty.’

    Luckily, giving up looking at this point is about probability zero.

  48. 98
  49. 99
    Phil. says:

    Jim Larsen says:
    27 Mar 2013 at 10:07 PM
    Thanks, Hank. It’s also important to remember that bigger fish eat smaller fish. Thus, small fish eat baby swordfish and bluefin tuna by the millions. This is naturally limited by adult swordfish and tuna eating small fish. Remove most of the adults, and the percentage of babies that survive to adulthood will decline as other species, especially those not fished for, scarf up baby tuna. (Thus opening up the “solution” of vacuuming the ocean to eliminate all those “baby-killers”)

    Then there’s the size limits. I’ve long pondered that size limits might be backwards. Instead of saying that small swordfish must be thrown back, throw back all large swordfish. That a particular female lives long enough to lay her first tiny batch of eggs is feel-good, but seems scientifically irrelevant. Your link said, “Reproduction:Females produce variable number of eggs: from 1-16 million in a 370-pound female to 29 million in a 600-pound female”
    What you describe are slot limits which are frequently used for that very reason. Bluefin tuna have different regulations for different size classes for example:

  50. 100
    Russell says:

    Hank, the point in this region is that most of the mercury those pesky bacteria convert into the methylmercury that those pesky food chains concentrate comes from natural sources, not smokestacks, and that the preindustrial flux, and attendent food chain toxicity issues, were accordingly of the same magnitude as today’s

    Whole valleys in epithermal volcanic areas of Melanesia and NZ are tapu to hunters because the locals have realized their fauna are charged with drop dead heavy metal levels- one Kiwi hot spring gained Victorian fame for depositing mirrorlike deposits of mercury on iron shovels stuck in the ground nearby.