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Unforced variations: Mar 2014. Part II

Filed under: — group @ 28 March 2014

This is mid-month open-thread for all discussions, except those related to Diogenes’ comments. People wanting to discuss with commenter Diogenes should stick to the previous UV thread. All such discussion on this thread will be moved over. Thanks.

90 Responses to “Unforced variations: Mar 2014. Part II”

  1. 51
    Hank Roberts says:

    uh oh:
    Daniel H. Rothman, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1318106111

    Methanogenic burst in the end-Permian carbon cycle

    Let’s hope nothing we’ve dumped into the atmosphere and oceans is favorable to kicking off another population explosion by this little beast or something like it. What are the odds?

  2. 52
  3. 53
    prokaryotes says:

    Archaeageddon: how gas-belching microbes could have caused mass extinction
    Study suggests gene transfer led to sudden release of methane 252 million years ago, killing most life on Earth.

  4. 54

    #47 Pete Dunkelberg,

    I’ve argued here, in line with some cited research that in the Siberian region of the sea ice pack thinning of ice is warming the atmosphere in winter.

    Cold snaps should be expected during high pressure due to the development of surface based inversions driven by infra-red emission through clear sky. Day 50 was in a period of strong high pressure across the Arctic Ocean, the centre of action being poleward of Beaufort.

    Yes clouds do back radiate infra-red and this will cause warming, cloud levels (particularly low clouds) are increasing over winter (of the order of 1% per decade). But I haven’t read that this is a substantial factor in winter warming – prepared to be educated on that. The low level signature of warming seems to me to indicate thinner ice and more leads releasing heat. As I show in the above-linked blog post the anomaly of warming is deeper in the atmosphere than the corresponing inversion, so it does not seem to be solely due to the inversion being absent.

  5. 55
  6. 56
    Mike Roddy says:

    Artists are always ahead of us. Here’s Lou Reed, anticipating the outcome of the IPCC Report:

  7. 57
    Eli Rabett says:

    WRT compressibility, Bob Grumbine has an interesting post about how salinity and temperature affect the Antarctic ice shelve and formation of deep water

  8. 58
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Chris, thanks again.

    Hank,, so it was global warming from methane?
    footnote “This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.”
    Let’s give it a couple days to percolate.

  9. 59
    Edward Greisch says:

    Millenium Alliance for Humanity & the Biosphere MAHB

    Science: Does it need promotion and defense? by Graham H. Pyke

    Absolutely, yes. It was mentioned in one other unforced variation in 2011.

  10. 60
    Dave Peters says:

    Could someone perchance have an off the top hint towards a trail to a citation for the idea attributed to MTI’s RD Lindzen, that the Manabe coefficient for water vapor amplification is more than halved by aggressive collisions with excited nitrogen? Apparently, heretofore under-scrutinized spectral characteristics of rarely achieved states of post-collision H2O, wherein the normal bond angle is eliminated via a temporary status of quantum-syzygy, deprives the molecule of its dipole moment, eliminating a total of six rotational bands, and thereby restricts certain of the small windows in the near IR, thus dramatically reducing Clausius-Clapeyron feedback.

  11. 61
    patrick says:

    @50 If the E. O. Wilson “Diversity of Life” video embedded in Bill Chameides blog post doesn’t work, this link works:

    “As the late John Sawhill…my friend, once said: “A society is defined not only by what it creates, but by what it refuses to destroy.” (48:28)

    “The complexity of its [the living world's] layered structure and the billion-year history of its construction lie beyond anything that can be unraveled or copied by us at this time. A warehouse of parallel zettabyte computers could not simulate it. The starting conditions might be guessed. Of that we can never be sure. But the magnitude of the events and all the lives of the species reverberating back and forth across the levels of biological organization, from macromolecules to ecosystems, that create natural selection through an all-but-infinite maze of possibilities, is beyond the comprehension of our still mostly paleolithic brain…” –Wilson citing his new book [April '14 ] (48:40)

    Wilson’s thoroughly coevolutionary perspective is not unlike that of Antonio Domasio, in neuroscience.

  12. 62
    Eli Rabett says:

    Dave, could you link to a place where Lindzen says that. It seems somewhere between don’t bet on it and stupid.

  13. 63
    Hank Roberts says:

    > so it was global warming from methane?

    Too general a statement; you could say it was warming from a population explosion. True, but not specific about the chain of causation described.

    Fascinating microbiology there, read the links.

    Nowadays, at the rate we’re forcing selection pressure affecting microbes, we can likely expect new great things of them.

    Perhaps they’ll be merciful.

  14. 64
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    David Peters @ 60, why not try ‘oogle scholar and
    and let us know?

  15. 65
    Hank Roberts says:

    Uh, yeah, quoting from the Nature link Prokaryotes posted:

    … a fresh picture of how the extinction occurred. Leading up to it, large quantities of organic matter accumulated in ocean sediments. It was “a pile of food sitting there”, says study co-author Gregory Fournier, an evolutionary biologist at MIT, but nothing was in a position to eat it.

    That soon changed. The oceans were also home to single-celled microbes known as archaea. Some, known as Methanosarcina, consume carbon compounds and release methane. But the microbes did not have a way to process acetate, one of the key compounds that made up the sediment reserves. That is, until they captured two acetate-processing genes from a bacterium. By comparing the genomes of 50 different living organisms, Fournier dated that gene transfer to 250 million years ago, right around the time of the mass extinction.

    And how is this eon like that previous eon?

    Once again, the ocean is full of organic matter accumulating that nothing much is in a position to eat:

    Now let me tell you a little story.

    Long long ago (back before electronic calculators had square root buttons) I heard a biologist talking about how he had wasted a handful of years in his research trying to do mass selection on microbes to find something capable of digesting DDT. Yeah, this was back in Rachel Carson’s day, if that helps.

    He took samples from farm dirt and yard dirt and city dirt, grew whatever he could get to grow in various culture media, in lots and lots of Petri dishes in various containers.

    He challenged them with DDT, killed off 99.99 percent, washed out the plate, and let what survived grew out again.

    Over and over.

    And — lo and behold — he found after a few years he had some beastie that indeed did eat DDT and thrive.

    You’d think that was a great discovery.

    But he was a biologist. So he didn’t leap into commercial production.

    Instead he started chopping dicing grinding other persistent stable organic materials and feeding those to his newly selected microbe, to see what _else_ it was going to be able to eat besides DDT.

    Turned out it would happily eat polyvinyl chloride, PVC.

    Yeah. Telephone wire insulation. It would munch right along any piece of PVC, riddling the material til it fell apart.

    He autoclaved all his samples, sterilized the lab, and — warned the rest of us wide-eyed young biology students about the risks of pushing selection really hard, if we didn’t know what we would be selecting for, or selecting against.

    He was smarter than the average hominid.

    Now, we’re doing the same experiment he did, in the oceans.
    Plastic soup, microbes, persistent organic chemicals, heat, aeration, pH change.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  16. 66
    Hank Roberts says:

    This year, NOAA issued its first forecast on 6 March, estimating a 50% chance that El Niño will develop this summer. But that early projection, and others from weather agencies and research institutions around the world, comes with lots of uncertainty. Fickle tropical winds in spring can easily quash a brewing El Niño — or strengthen it.

    Researchers say that real progress in forecasting has come from systematically comparing the outputs of groups of models, with each simulation run under a range of possible climate conditions. “Combining these various predictions — doing some crowd-sourcing, if you will — tends to lead to more reliable predictions,” says Gabriel Vecchi, a climate modeller at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey. Averaging the results of several different forecasting models tends to cancel out flaws in an individual program, he says….

    … Since 1998, the eastern Pacific has been in a cold phase that is associated with La Niña-like conditions, but every 15–30 years, as part of a cycle known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, that trend flips. Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, has theorized that a major El Niño could help to push the ocean back into a warm phase, which studies have linked to more frequent El Niños and more rapid global warming (see Nature 505, 276–278; 2014).

    But all of that depends on what happens as warm water washes across the Pacific in the next couple of months. “The system is primed,” says Trenberth. “Will it wimp out or really take off?”

  17. 67

    #64–Nice cautionary tale, that. Too bad caution seems to be in such short supply.

  18. 68
  19. 69
    SecularAnimist says:

    Hank Roberts wrote: “Nowadays, at the rate we’re forcing selection pressure affecting microbes, we can likely expect new great things of them.”

    We may also be unleashing some OLD great things:

    After at least 30,000 years trapped in time, a frozen virus has thawed from a deep layer of Siberian permafrost. This is no ordinary virus — it is the biggest virus ever found on Earth, and thought to be part of a new type of “giant virus” that can be larger than many bacteria or even cells, and is visible in a normal microscope. With climate change warming the planet and taking the “perma” out of permafrost in many polar regions, scientists may begin to unearth more previously undiscovered viruses …

  20. 70
    prokaryotes says:

    Hank Roberts: “And how is this eon like that previous eon?”

    There was only a one continent configuration at the time, Pangaea.

    Following a few quotes from

    Pangaea: This configuration severely decreased the extent of shallow aquatic environments, the most productive part of the seas, and exposed formerly isolated organisms of the rich continental shelves to competition from invaders. Pangaea’s formation would also have altered both oceanic circulation and atmospheric weather patterns, creating seasonal monsoons near the coasts and an arid climate in the vast continental interior.

    Research indicates that recovery did not begin until the start of the mid-Triassic, 4 to 6 million years after the extinction

    Interestingly, plants are relatively immune to mass extinction, with the impact of all the major mass extinctions “negligible” at a family level

    It has been suggested that new, more aggressive fungi, insects and vertebrates evolved, and killed vast numbers of trees.

    Tiny Fungus Puts Up A Mighty Fight Against Climate Change

    A Rise in Fungal Diseases is Taking Growing Toll on Wildlife

  21. 71
    Meow says:

    @60: Interesting idea. If it were true: (1) Would global average temperature be ~288K? and (2) would the Milankovitch forcing still induce ice age cycles?

  22. 72
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 Apr 2014 @ 1:15 PM

    Mutant 59: The Plastic-Eaters, Pedler and Davis, 1972.


  23. 73
  24. 74
    john byatt says:

    Clive Palmer is to decide future of Australian carbon tax

    headvice warning
    Lateline presenter Tony Jones: Clive Palmer, can I ask you a very basic question? Do you believe the consensus scientific view set out in the latest IPCC report that climate change impacts due to global warming will have especially serious impacts on Australia?
    Clive Palmer: No, I don’t believe that’s so. There’s been global warming for a long time. I mean, all of Ireland was covered by ice at one time. There were no human inhabitants in Ireland.
    That’s how the world has been going over millions and billions of years and Ross Garnaut knows that’s true, so I think that’s part of the natural cycle.
    When asked who he would take advice from in the field of climate change, Mr Palmer deflected the issue.

    “Well, I can get a group of scientists together, Tony, and pay them whatever I want to and come up with any solution. That’s what’s been happening all over the world on a whole range of things,” he said.

    Mr Palmer said scientists should be focusing on the 97 per cent of carbon dioxide that comes from nature.

    “It’s not logical. If we say it’s – 97 per cent comes from nature and we don’t even bother examining how we can reduce carbon in nature, just in industry, it’s not a proper balance,” he said.

    “I mean, if we say we want to reduce it by 1 per cent, which I think is the target globally, to do that, why can’t we take some from nature, some from industry, or maybe all from nature?”

  25. 75
    Mal Adapted says:

    Kevin McKinney:

    #64–Nice cautionary tale, that. Too bad caution seems to be in such short supply.

    My favorite metaphor for incautious techno-optimism: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

  26. 76
    Hank Roberts says:

    Watching the El Nino blog-watchers will be interesting over the next few months.
    By UAlbany’s Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences Dept.

    Over the last 40 years, there have been only two major El Niño events (1982-1983 and 1997-1998).

    Buoys deployed in the tropical Pacific Ocean, beginning mostly during the late 1980s and early 1990s, help scientists track how El Niño events are progressing. Since these buoys were mostly not available during 1982, we only have detailed data from one major El Niño event to analyze….

    … Our tiny sample says only that 100% of 1 similar event did so. We have never observed a similar sized wave that was not followed by a major El Niño event, but we don’t know what fraction of a large number of similar events would have similar outcomes.

    Another way to anticipate possible outcomes following a big Kelvin wave event is to consult computer models that attempt to simulate the physics of the event. However, none of our models seem to simulate well the development and evolution of strong Kelvin wave events. My own assessment of models statistics suggests that these models tend to under predict the amplification rates of strong El Niño events early in their lifetimes when such high amplitude Kelvin wave events occur.

    So, although I do not claim to be certain that a major El Niño event will develop this year, I think that the probability of a major event is substantially higher than that suggested by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (their most recent forecast suggests a 50% chance of El Niño developing at all, while I suggest that the chances are probably closer to around 80% for a major El Niño). My motivation to assert higher confidence is that the wind patterns presently observed that favor strong El Niño growth are favored to continue to occur: these wind signals are not completely independent from the progress toward El Niño, so the present progress towards El Niño favors their continued occurrence.

    Trouble is that in our lifetimes, we are not likely to ever experience a large enough number of major Kelvin wave events similar to the present event and that of March 1997 to be able to objectively assess through the historical record which of us is right, whether or not this potential event becomes major.

  27. 77
  28. 78
    AIC says:

    Arrest Climate-Change Deniers

    (Apologies if this has been posted before, but I didn’t see it)

  29. 79
  30. 80
  31. 81
    pete best says:

    Brilliantly explained Mike Mann – we might miss a few exists but we have to get off one of them before the slope gets to steep. Great explanation

  32. 82
  33. 83
    Walter Manny says:

    Seems as though “Frontiers” thought there were ethical issues after all:

  34. 84
    Ray Ladbury says:

    No, Walter, they simply have a [edit] editor who is afraid of lawyers. The reviewers reported positively on the piece.

  35. 85
    Hank Roberts says:

    > ethical issues


    “… the article categorizes the behaviour of identifiable individuals within the context of psychopathological characteristics.”

    The journal didn’t disagree with the diagnoses

    The editors decided to retract after deciding that people who signed names to blog posts deserved anonymity when their writing was characterized.

    Wait, what? Hm.

    I guess writing by pseuds, sock puppets, and anonymice can’t be tracked — can’t know who’s who — so those writers lack character (no way to be sure a collection of blog comments are actually by the same person using a pseud).

    Hm, maybe using tracking info that’s not public — IP addresses? — plus the sort of textual analysis used to identify anonymous authors of other works — would be acceptable to the journal.

  36. 86
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Wunderweather on possible El Niño.

    In short: quite possible, may be stronger than average.

  37. 87
    ozajh says:

    Truly terrifying juxtaposition of ideas in the comments here.

    Hank Roberts #65.

    He autoclaved all his samples, sterilized the lab, and — warned the rest of us wide-eyed young biology students about the risks of pushing selection really hard, if we didn’t know what we would be selecting for, or selecting against.

    He was smarter than the average hominid.

    Indeed he was.

    Now we have the Lateline quote from (the very, very wealthy) Clive Palmer in John Byatt #74.

    Well, I can get a group of scientists together, Tony, and pay them whatever I want to and come up with any solution. That’s what’s been happening all over the world on a whole range of things.

    I will damn well GUARANTEE you that if push really comes to shove, politics as well as business attitudes will ensure that any “solution” worked out by the technologists to ameliorate AGW will NOT be checked for side-effects before being applied.

  38. 88
    dhogaza says:

    Hank Roberts:

    “The editors decided to retract after deciding that people who signed names to blog posts deserved anonymity when their writing was characterized.”

    Well, no, their first official statement was that they retracted due to fear of lawsuit.

    When they got significant pushback from the research community for caving in to pressure despite their statement that the work was fine (including on ethical grounds), an editor wrote a *blog* post (not an official statement, thus far, at least) claiming it was for the ethical reasons now being trumpted.

    So, we don’t really know.

    Either the first, official statement was an outright lie, as it specifically said no ethical issues had been identified, or the “clarification” is one person’s opinion. For the reputation of the journal one would hope it’s the latter case …

  39. 89
    Dave Peters says:

    …”according to UN demographers…world population is now expected to peak in 2100 @ 10.9 billion, instead of the previously projected 10.1 billion.”

  40. 90
    Chuck Hughes says:

    Would someone please explain to me HOW the human population is ever going to reach 10 billion given our current situation? Under what scenario would this even be possible?

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