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Unforced variations: Oct 2014

Filed under: — group @ 4 October 2014

This month’s open thread.

197 Responses to “Unforced variations: Oct 2014”

  1. 151
    sidd says:

    do i need dollar signs ?
    lets try without

     \dot {Q} = \frac{dQ}{dt}


  2. 152
    wili says:

    hank, thanks for the perspective.

    Yes, we don’t know if it is new or if its prevalence in these soils is new (I didn’t claim it was, or that this is a ‘change in the world’). But the knowledge of its dominance in these soils _is_ new. And new information is, well, new information. Every bit of new info has the potential to change, however greatly or slightly, our current understanding. Biology of most areas does, of course, change over time, so I so no reason to just assume that this microbe existed in exactly the same form at exactly the same quantities in earlier relevant periods, many of which are hundreds of thousands of years back, iirc.

    It seems odd at a scientific site to complain about people bringing up new scientific information.

    I am touched that you are so concerned about my emotional state, but I don’t recall mentioning anything about being ‘worried,’ though I would be more concerned about someones emotional state who _wasn’t_ worried about our future prospects.

    Thanks for the info on grasses, though. I’m a big fan (though not of lawn grass). I have about twenty native species in my yard.

  3. 153
    Walt Rainboth says:

    I have been incorporating the latest IPCC info into my lecture on global warming when I ran across the updated radiative forcing table in the summary for policymakers. It showed a generally negative forcing in aerosols with huge error bars. The error bar in the cloud adjustments is over twice the length of the estimate. Yes it is the only “L” confidence number there. Is this due to the fact that we don’t really know the extent of the effect of geoengineering by spraying aerosols? When I watched the NOVA “Dimming the Sun” produced a decade ago, it seemed obvious that contrails, whatever their origin, produced an over-all outcome of slowing the global temperature rise. Yet there are people who insist that because the geoengineering programs were developed to warm places like the Arctic, that warming is their purpose, then all the spraying is to scare us about global warming. I think the spraying is in fact privately contracted today and is meant to cool temperatures and confuse people about the actual warming that is occurring. It looks to me like warming regions by spraying was a bust and so it was dropped, at least by the military. This thing is an elephant in the room.

  4. 154
    Hank Roberts says:

    > no reason to just assume that this microbe existed in exactly
    > the same form at exactly the same quantities in earlier relevant periods

    Oh, I quite agree.

    > concerned about my emotional state

    Not yours. Later readers, especially kids, who see lots of worry that’s got little or no basis and the real issues get lost in the non-issues, all too often.

    I’m always concerned about distinguishing stories about new discoveries from worries about new and unexpected consequences. For the paleo record, we are finding out a lot about what’s lived on the planet — but so far, not finding anything especially novel that’s making the past an unreliable guide. H. sap. excepted of course.

    The ice age cycle isn’t that long ago, and the ice age cycles for a long time were quite similar.

    Would it seem reasonable to take as a first assumption that the only organism that has changed significantly is, well, us? Since only this latest cycle looks very different.

    Sure, could be some beastie somewhere has also had some dramatic change in the past 10,000 years, invalidating all our assumptions about using the paleo record. If so, well, that would be unfortunate.

    But — it looks like the past ice ages cycles, for a long time, went about the same. You know:

    I see no way modelers would change the models yet. The biologists can map when something evolved from whatever it’s related to — and for climate purposes whether genes involved in methane metabolism changed, or populations changed. I’d guess these show up in core samples now that they know what to look for. Someone will be looking into it.

    I’m thinking of the fifth graders (and, yes, they _are_ reading, those who are both clever and interested are reading this stuff). Just making the point that for climate (and climate sensitivity, which does seem pretty consistent over the long term) a new discovery doesn’t likely mean a newly existing forcing. The paleo record remains a reliable reflection of what lives on Earth, but for us.

    Most of what’s new to us has been around a long while, through many glacial cycles.

    But you know I’m an amateur. I toss this stuff out hoping one of the scientists who knows something will have comments eventually.

  5. 155
    Hank Roberts says:
    finds four hits for me today.

    This is reassuring, I think: it’s not a newly evolved beastie, unlike humans. It’s among the archaea, been around a long time.

    Archaea in general and methanogens specifically can dominate these environments at species level. The discovery of a novel methanogen of the RCII archaeal lineage at up to 70% relative abundance of the community allowed recovery of a population genome. The environmentally recovered genome and proteome of this archaea, Candidatus Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis, indicates that methane production is its main energy conservation pathway. Meta-analysis of community surveys, 16S rRNA and mcrA genes, suggested that ‘Methanoflorens spp.’ are dominant and ubiquitous methanogens in permafrost and peat land soils. This lineage had until recently only been identified as significant in temperate peatlands and was thought to be a negligible contributor to methanogenesis at high latitudes. ‘Methanoflorens spp.’ dominance may therefore be an indicator of circumpolar warming and thawing of permafrost.

  6. 156
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Walt Rainboth — 26 Oct 2014 @ 4:28 PM, ~#153

    Walt, there is nobody currently spraying aerosols for geoengineering. Chemtrails is just an internet legend conspiracy theory that has no believable evidence whatsoever. If you are lecturing to students, I hope you are not teaching anti-science.


    [Response: This topic is off topic, even for an open thread. Replies and follow-ups go straight to the bore-hole. – gavin]

  7. 157
    wili says:

    ” I toss this stuff out hoping one of the scientists who knows something will have comments eventually.”

    As do I, Hank, as do I.

    And, much as I appreciate your concern for 5th graders, I’m sure we would not be able to have quite as valuable a conversation on these threads if we always set ourselves the task of keeping it at the intellectual and emotional level of 5th graders.

    In any case, I would like to hear from someone who has read and comprehended the whole original article, since it is likely as not that I have mis-interpreted the whole thing.

    Walt R. @ 153: I must thank you, since after that string of random guesses and wild hypotheses, my meager questions will likely look quite tame, modest, sober and harmless by comparison.

  8. 158
    sidd says:

    whee! neato keen!

    pushing my luck

     \int \frac {d(cabin)}{cabin} = log(cabin) + C = houseboat

    sorry bout that, just needed to quote Pynchon
    altho it might be relevant in sea level rise discussion

    nyhoo, this is very nice and useful, thanx to the hosts.


  9. 159
    Chris Dudley says:


    If we had regulatory power over China’s emissions choices, if Chinese sovereignty did not get in the way, then these thoughts about exported emissions might make some strange kind of sense. But, we don’t control their policy. We can now promote onshoring of manufacturing in the Pacific Northwest where hydro is well developed by imposing GATT Article XX tariffs on imports from China now that we are regulating our own emissions. That is control over our own trade policy which was unavailable to us until we began to regulate ourselves. Overriding Chinese sovereignty would be difficult owing to the size of their standing army so exported emissions accounting is a particularly impractical and flawed concept.

  10. 160
    Chris Dudley says:


    Those who think that historic emissions count for something do so under the misapprehension that they will be responsible for future warming. They will not be. China became the largest emitter just as climate damage became manifest, and the EU and now the US are cutting emissions, not increasing them, providing them safe harbor. That leaves China holding the bag and liable for inflicting the climate damage we are experiencing. Their external revenue streams must be targeted for reparations for existing damage and for making adaptation efforts for the future.

  11. 161
    Hank Roberts says:

    Chris Dudley reposts that same debating point repeatedly.
    It’s a political argument.
    It amounts to the kid who claims “I only ate half of the cake, there’s plenty left for the rest of the family if they only share nicely.”

    > historic emissions … will be responsible for future warming.
    What Is So Unique About CO2?

  12. 162
    wili says:

    Hank @ #161: Well put.

  13. 163
    Hank Roberts says:

    You have to account for holding soil — logging is often followed a decade or so later — once the roots have died and rotted — by landslides. It’s become well understood:

  14. 164
    DP says:

    Re 161 the links miss the point. Even as late as the early 20th century co2 concentrations were only marginally above pre industrial levels. They mushroomed in the post war decades as more and more countries industrialised and have done so since. Apportioning historical blame is ridiculous.

  15. 165
    steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by DP — 27 Oct 2014 @ 2:22 PM, ~#164

    Unfortunately you don’t get the point that it is Chris Dudley is the one who is inappropriately apportioning blame.


  16. 166

    #160–I hope we’re not going to re-moot this question! I thought the last time around more or less exhausted the topic, if not the participants.

  17. 167
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Kevin McKinney — 27 Oct 2014 @ 5:14 PM

    You are, of course, correct.


  18. 168
    Chris Dudley says:

    Hank (#161),

    You don’t understand the math on that.

  19. 169
    Chris Dudley says:

    Kevin (#166),

    You did agree, I think, that warming is wysiwyg. Ending emissions ends warming, no “inertia” in that case. Because of that, historic emissions can only cause present warming, not future warming. After that it is just a matter of who pays for the damage once the damage threshold is crossed, as has recently occurred. Those with their foot on the break are not liable for intentionally causing an accident since they are trying to avoid it. Those with their foot on the gas accelerating into the crash are liable. They must pay the damages. Usually it would be triple damages.

    Damages can be collected because China’s volume of trade is large enough that a fraction of its revenue can cover costs for now. And, a number of Annex I countries have environmental laws restricting emissions, so they may impose GATT Article XX tariffs on Chinese trade. China has already agreed to such tariffs by agreeing to GATT. There is certainly enough money there to cover the funding commitments for sustainable development that have been a stumbling block in climate negotiations, so other nations may develop cleanly and avoid liability through this mechanism.

  20. 170

    #169–Yes, Chris, that is what you said last time around, too. But as others pointed out last time, consideration of a fixed emissions ‘pie’ (I think Hank’s phrasing was excellent, BTW, and I’m pretty sure he understands the math just fine) leads to quite a different perspective.

    I’ll only add that American (and Canadian) emissions data right now look more like wavering pressure on the accelerator than like actual braking–though I have hopes the new EPA rules will change that.

  21. 171
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Chris Dudley — 28 Oct 2014 @ 6:31 AM, ~#169

    Chris, for the third time and the second rebunk, CO2 emissions are additive to the atmosphere on the human timescale, and our (US) continuing pollution will, therefore, continue to increase global warming in the future. Just because China (a nation with more than four times our population) emits slightly more CO2 than we do just makes us the second worst polluter. If China were to magically stop all CO2 pollution, we would still be making a major contribution to dangerous global warming. Your safe harbor isn’t.


  22. 172
    Hank Roberts says: “Chris Dudley” AND “China” AND “inertia”
    going on 190 posts. Always turning in the same direction.

  23. 173
    Chris Dudley says:

    Kevin (#170),

    If we are still agreed that past emissions are not responsible for future warming (this is where Hank has the math wrong) and that climate damage has started to occur, then the “cake” analogy is flawed. There is no half a cake left in terms of assigning liability for damage. So others will have to eat cobbler (as we are doing under our regulations) if they want to avoid liability.

    It is the existence of the regulations that provide the US and EU with the legal basis for imposing Article XX tariffs. Not sure Canada has the regulations to allow them that. They repudiated Kyoto.

  24. 174
    Chris Dudley says:

    Steve (#171),

    Who may impose GATT Article XX tariffs does not depend on who is the biggest polluter except secondarily. Countries that have regulations to cut emissions can impose tariffs on countries that do not have regulations. It is the intent to increase emissions which induces liability not who emits more or less. Secondarily, the country that increases emissions while everyone else is cutting must become the bigger polluter at some point. But GATT Article XX in not about that. So, countries that have regulations do have safe harbor. No one can impose tariffs on them.

    As we cut emissions, we will produce some future warming. Future emissions produce future warming. But our emissions will be regulated emissions, so we can’t be held responsible for the damage that occurs. This is a pretty typical situation for pollution. Acid rain did not end entirely with the sulfur trading scheme, but it would be very hard to sue because the emissions are allowed in the trading scheme. Power plants have a safe harbor because they are doing the legal thing.

  25. 175
    Hank Roberts says:

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many …
    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – – that’s all.

    From: Climate change commitments (2010):

    … if we define the commitment as the consequence only of past emissions, then you should set future emissions to zero before you calculate it. This is a valid point, and the consequence of that is seen in the lower lines in the figure.

    CO2 concentrations would start to fall immediately …. And subsequent temperatures (depending slightly on the model you are using) would either be flat or slightly decreasing. With this definition then, there is no climate change commitment because of climate inertia. Instead, the reason for the likely continuation of the warming is that we can’t get to zero emissions any time soon because of societal, economic or technological inertia.

    That is an interesting reframing …. because it demonstrates that adaptation (over and above what is necessary to reduce vulnerabilities to current climate conditions) is unnecessary if mitigation is dramatic enough.

    However, the practical implication of this reframing is small. We are clearly not going to get to zero emissions any time soon, and even the 60-70% cuts required to stabilise concentrations initially seem a long way off. Thus as a practical matter, it doesn’t really matter whether the inertia is climatic or societal or technological or economic because the globe will continue to warm under all realistic scenarios ….

    – See more at:

  26. 176
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Chris Dudley — 28 Oct 2014 @ 4:16 PM, ~#174

    So, you agree that we (the US) are releasing dangerous amounts of pollution that could critically damage the earth’s biosphere, but it is OK because we are in the regulatory legal “safe harbor.”

    Sheesh,and Captcha agrees- “fookian the!” This is a science website.


  27. 177
    Mal Adapted says:

    Chris Dudley:

    …historic emissions can only cause present warming, not future warming.

    On a long enough timescale that may be true, but it’s pretty clear that over decade and century scales, feedbacks will continue to amplify the warming effect of GHGs we’ve already emitted. See for example Positive feedback between global warming and atmospheric CO2 concentration inferred from past climate change

  28. 178

    If we are still agreed that past emissions are not responsible for future warming (this is where Hank has the math wrong)…>

    We aren’t, Chris. While your analysis may be correct from a physical perspective–ie., stopping emissions now (which, as I mentioned, we in the OECD haven’t!) would result in a fairly rapid cessation of warming–it is not correct from an ethical point of view. In other words, past emissions may reasonably considered not to be *physically* responsible for future warming, but they may be (and in my view, are) morally responsible. After all, had it not been for those past emissions, future ones wouldn’t be physically responsible for dangerous warming either, or at least not up to some threshold (probably arbitrary, as is the 2C benchmark, basically.)

    Since there is a finite carbon budget–and that is well-accepted as I think you know, but revisit AR5 on this if you need to–those consuming parts of that budget and deriving considerable benefits therefrom are not exempted from responsibility for that consumption, even though it occurred before warming became problematic, or widely recognized as problematic. And that is doubly the case, should alternate development pathways not be made available. Inequity among nations is dangerous from a security point of view–notice how disease, misery and war tend to be associated with the poor world?–and unacceptable from an ethical perspective.

    So, getting emissions from China, India, et cetera, down are important–indeed, crucial. But we are not off the hook. And pretending that we are strikes me as counterproductive in accomplishing the ‘crucial’ goal just mentioned. There is a very real danger that a blunt force approach instigate opposition–that reaction of ‘digging in the heels’ is a recurring human pattern. (As witness our friend Victor.)

  29. 179
    Hank Roberts says:

    > our emissions will be regulated emissions,
    > so we can’t be held responsible

    Does not follow, and that has been established for many industries:

    You’re making an old argument that has already failed in the US courts.
    Regulators, and legislators, are often captured by industry and fail to adequately manage risk.

    The courts have repeatedly recognize that and sometimes corrected them.

    What industry buys with weak legislation and regulation is delay.
    “Delay is the deadliest form of denial.” — C. Northkote Parkinson

    Delay is also the most profitable form of denial, as we’ve seen.

  30. 180
    Ric Merritt says:

    The claim, or observation, that “past emissions are not responsible for future warming” is earth-shakingly, cataclysmically, world-class-red-herring-style dumb. Or dumb on purpose, I make no judgment.

    The reason future warming, if it occurs, as seems likely (understatement alert), matters so much is because it happens on top of past warming, caused by (wait for it) past emissions. Further details you don’t need for this “topic”.

    I’m skipping over future “discussion” of this.

  31. 181

    I don’t wish to make any advocacy statements about this, or to yell “Fire!” to what I regard as a circular firing squad, but this strikes me as worth knowing about. Yes, it’s mitigation, and yes, there’s a focus on wind and solar; borehole it, moderators, if I’m out of line here.

  32. 182
    Chris Dudley says:

    Kevin (#178),

    I think you may have stepped in ethical quicksand there. If you see a carbon budget after climate damage has begun to occur, then you are basically saying that China is obligated to increase emissions to get its share. We must accept damage, mortality in heatwaves for example, to give China a chance to do intentional evil. Does not that kind of “fairness” go out the window once damage is a reality rather than a possibility?

    But I don’t quite get how assigning liability is unethical. If the money goes to clean development, it is still coming out of US or EU budgets. Those budgets are just funded by tariffs allowed under GATT. It is a really quite appropriate funding mechanism.

  33. 183
    Chris Dudley says:

    Hank (#179),

    The US is regulating, not delaying. If you are concerned about delay, consider China which is deliberately increasing emissions. Perhaps there is some mechanism that would get their attention…. Let’s see, what do they care about? Wait…. I know, trade.

    And how can countries with environmental regulations influence countries without environmental regulations using trade? Why, it is written right into the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) that they may impose tariffs. That’s part of Article XX.

    Don’t even need a court. Just do it.

    Not quite sure why you bring up tobacco though.

  34. 184
    Susan Anderson says:

    Kevin McKinney, that’s a nice looking report. Thanks. I can’t imagine people wouldn’t like to see clean energy development promoted worldwide. Looks like a good effort.

  35. 185
    wili says:

    What Ric and Hank said.

    On another front: “Arctic Methane Spikes Continue — 2666 Parts Per Billion on October 26th”

  36. 186
    Chris Dudley says:

    Steve (#176),

    I think the US could do more but likely won’t unless China also cuts emissions. The US is doing it’s fair share of cutting with its 83% cut by 2050 policy. But stronger action is needed to follow RCP2.6, which would be out of the danger zone for species extinction. China does not seem to be susceptible to internal pressure to cut emissions (anything that looks like political organizing is met with censorship and arrest or even massacre), so external pressure will have to do the job. Article XX of GATT provides a strong mechanism to apply that pressure. The safe harbor is built into that.

  37. 187
    Chris Dudley says:

    Ric (#180),

    Had we stopped emissions in 1990, there would be little of concern. The warming would not be particularly dangerous with heatwave problems of only the teeth pulling attribution type like the European heatwave rather than the now straight forward attribution of subsequent heatwaves. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide would be below 350 ppm by now. So, clearly, historic emissions were not important up to then. You seem to be attributing magical powers to historic emissions that they don’t possess.

  38. 188
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS for Wili: you link above to the claim of “ominous-arctic-methane-spikes” — which cites Yurganov’s published “methane readings for the 2009-2012 period”

    I quoted you Yurganov’s comments about that data:
    “Current methane growth in the Arctic is gradual … If a sudden venting (bubbling) of methane would happen due to hydrates destruction, IASI would be able to detect it.”

    There’s also a claim cited to arctic-news –that’s to a Sam Carana graphic from a year ago, with numbers for methane at 20,000 feet altitude attributing it to specific sources by eyeball.

    So — I urge you, again.
    Read what the scientist actually writes.
    The scientists are watching it. They’re not saying there is an “ominous methane spike” — they’re doing quality control on multiple measurements.

    They’re measuring this from satellites, measuring it in the air, and measuring it in the water. That work is underway. Watch for more recent publications, particularly by the same scientists on this.
    They are working on it and publishing.

    Remember back in 2011 when you thought you’d found a a big jump in atmospheric methane in the most recent data”— but that was the provisional data, before quality control was done. Over at Tamino’s Jo Abess asked the scientists responsible for the data set, who post the raw numbers and then clean up the data to eliminate, for example, spurious data points (data when the wind carries exhaust from a diesel generator, for example)

    The claims of sudden spikes just aren’t supported by the observations.

  39. 189
    Hank Roberts says:

    Looked around a bit and it’s remarkable how precisely satellite measurement of methane actually at ground level is being detected with these satellite instruments — for example:
    Atmos. Meas. Tech., 7, 491-506, 2014
    © Author(s) 2014. This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

    Retrieval techniques for airborne imaging of methane concentrations using high spatial and moderate spectral resolution: application to AVIRIS

    They’re measuring it downwind of oil storage tanks! And the next generation sensors are even better.

    Worth quoting:

    Abstract. Two quantitative retrieval techniques were evaluated to estimate methane (CH4) enhancement in concentrated plumes using high spatial and moderate spectral resolution data from the Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS)…. performed well for an ocean scene containing natural CH4 emissions from the Coal Oil Point (COP) seep field near Santa Barbara, California. IMAP-DOAS retrieval precision errors are expected to equal between 0.31 to 0.61 ppm CH4 over the lowest atmospheric layer (height up to 1.04 km), corresponding to about a 30 to 60 ppm error for a 10 m thick plume.
    However, IMAP-DOAS results for a terrestrial scene were adversely influenced by the underlying land cover. A hybrid approach using singular value decomposition (SVD) was particularly effective for terrestrial surfaces because it could better account for spectral variability in surface reflectance. Using this approach, a CH4 plume was observed extending 0.1 km downwind of two hydrocarbon storage tanks at the Inglewood Oil Field in Los Angeles, California (USA) with a maximum near surface enhancement of 8.45 ppm above background.
    At COP, the distinct plume had a maximum enhancement of 2.85 ppm CH4 above background, and extended more than 1 km downwind of known seep locations. A sensitivity analysis also indicates CH4 sensitivity should be more than doubled for the next generation AVIRIS sensor (AVIRISng) due to improved spectral resolution and sampling. AVIRIS-like sensors offer the potential to better constrain emissions on local and regional scales, including sources of increasing concern like industrial point source emissions and fugitive CH4 from the oil and gas industry.

    Citation: Thorpe, A. K., Frankenberg, C., and Roberts, D. A.: Retrieval techniques for airborne imaging of methane concentrations using high spatial and moderate spectral resolution: application to AVIRIS, Atmos. Meas. Tech., 7, 491-506, doi:10.5194/amt-7-491-2014, 2014.

    Watch for it.

  40. 190
    Hank Roberts says:

    Chris Dudley says: 30 Oct 2014 at 4:04 PM
    Had we stopped emissions in 1990, there would be little of concern.

    Thank you for updating us, King Canute.

    What alternative would we have switched to in 1990, in your scenario?
    Do you believe China and India could be using that now?

    Fairy dust?

  41. 191
  42. 192
    MartinJB says:

    @Hank Roberts (191): MUST be a fake. Everyone knows the Earth is bigger than the moon.

  43. 193
    SecularAnimist says:

    Chris Dudley wrote: “Had we stopped emissions in 1990, there would be little of concern.”

    Had emissions not started until 1990, there would be even less of concern.

  44. 194
    Rafael Molina Navas, Madrid says:

    Let us play for a while: in what phase do yo think is the Moon in the picture?
    Just to exercise our brains!

  45. 195
    Rafael Molina Navas, Madrid says:

    You´re also playing, but subtly

  46. 196
    Hank Roberts says:

    Explaining that picture, for anyone who missed the source:

    Chang’e 5 T1 rounds the lunar farside, returns lovely photo of Earth and the Moon together

    Posted By Emily Lakdawalla
    2014/10/28 16:15 UTC
    Chang’E program

    The Chang’e 5 test vehicle’s short mission is more than half over. It has rounded the far side of the Moon and is on its way back to Earth for a planned October 31 test of lunar sample return technology. It’s not a science mission — it’s an engineering mission — but it has managed to return an absolutely iconic photo of its distant home, seen across the very unfamiliar far side of the Moon….

  47. 197
    MARodger says:

    Rafael Molina Navas, Madrid @194.
    Five days old, I reckon, although I’m not used to seeing it from that angle. However it seems somebody has. Then, this could all be part of the fake moon landing conspiracy.