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Unforced Variations: Sep 2011

Filed under: — group @ 1 September 2011

This month’s open thread…

352 Responses to “Unforced Variations: Sep 2011”

  1. 51
    Edward Greisch says:

    To add to your list of web sites: energy

  2. 52
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    New topic: Tar Sands Action, day 14.

    Author Naomi Klein and Indigenous Leaders Join Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline Protest

    Protest Numbers Reach More Than 1,000

    Washington DC – On the day that President Obama refused to tighten air-quality rules, American Indian and Canadian Native leaders, author and activist Naomi Klein, actor Omar Metwally, and Maryland State Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Hyattsville) were arrested today in front of the White House protesting a proposed oil pipeline.

    In total, 166 people were arrested on Day 12 of the Keystone XL pipeline protest. The demonstration has now seen 1,009 people arrested.

    The protestors, many wearing their Obama ’08 buttons, are demanding that the President must live up to his campaign promises to fight climate change and get the country off of oil. The Keystone XL pipeline is a key test of his commitment before the 2012 election. If he chooses to permit the pipeline, he risks alienating a key voting block—youth and environmentalists.

  3. 53
    Edward Greisch says:

    To add to your list of web sites:

  4. 54
    Septic Matthew says:

    45, Secular Animist: Because the Texas drought is a near-perfect example of exactly the sort of extreme weather event that climate science has been telling us for years will result from anthropogenic global warming.

    You agree with me: actual predictions were made, so it makes sense to tote up the confirmations and disconfirmations.

  5. 55
    Hank Roberts says:

    > editor of Remote Sensing resigns

    The resignation letter is ambiguous; “After having become aware of the situation … I would like to take the responsibility …. ” might even mean this editor didn’t see the paper until it had already been published. Anyone know more than what’s in print there able to speak up?

  6. 56
    Septic Matthew says:

    44, Secular Animist: That’s not true.

    The quote that you disagree with was quoted from a post by ccpo.

  7. 57
    Edward Greisch says:

    moderator: 40 Septic Matthew has started the renewables vs nuclear debate again. See:

  8. 58
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Sou @ 48, thanks for that!

    Susan Anderson, this Arctic temperatures link ought to work:

  9. 59
  10. 60
    Septic Matthew says:

    57, Edward Greisch: moderator: 40 Septic Matthew has started the renewables vs nuclear debate again. See:

    I disagree. There is a minor (parenthetical!) point in a post that is overwhelmingly supportive of renewables.

  11. 61

    #57–I don’t see how; he mentioned a fusion breakthrough as “unlikely” and stated that by 2020 we’d have a better idea of the role of nuclear power “if any.”

    I think advocacy has to be “read in.”

  12. 62
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Hank Roberts #55. Particularly gratifying on a personal level, since I have recently had Spencer’s paper waved in my face as ‘proof’ against AGW. Richard Black covers it here. At the time my initial reaction was “Remote Sensing? Doesn’t sound like a climate journal.” In this day and age of ducking and shucking responsibility, Wolfgang Wagner is obviously made of sterner stuff.

  13. 63
    Edward Greisch says:

    60 Septic Matthew and 61 Kevin McKinney: Overwhelmingly supporting renewables IS restarting the dabate over renewables vs nuclear. STAY OFF OF ENERGY ENTIRELY or you have restarted the debate. We could have and should have shut down the coal industry half a century ago, if your type had left it alone. What would the CO2 level be now if we had not burned any coal after 1960?

  14. 64
    Martin Vermeer says:

    More on the disastrous ideological muddle of “information wants to be free”, this time by Wikileaks and the Guardian, and this time with human lives in the balance. Piltdown Mosher must be happy.

  15. 65
    Michael J says:

    Re: 31
    The Spencer and Braswell paper has not been withdrawn.

  16. 66
    J Bowers says:

    Storm Lee could unleash torrential rains and floods in Gulf coast states

    Mississippi declared a state of emergency in seven counties on Friday as it prepares for tropical storm Lee. The storm has formed in the waters off Louisiana and is expected to unleash torrential rains along the Gulf coast over the Labor Day weekend. Some areas could receive up to 20 inches of rainfall.

    Louisiana has also declared a state of emergency, expecting flash flooding. In New Orleans, mayor Mitch Landrieu has taken similar measures for the city.

  17. 67

    “Overwhelmingly supporting renewables IS restarting the dabate over renewables vs nuclear.”

    With all due respect, I must disagree. Simply noting a climate change-relevant news item on an open thread as a fact does NOT equal ‘overwhelmingly supporting.’ (Or even ‘supporting’ at all–do we assume that every time someone quotes a particularly dumb piece of denialist buffoonery that they are thereby ‘supporting’ it?)

    Ed, I really think you are mistaking your own sensitivities on this issue for the intent of others. But if I unwittingly contributed to that, then I regret doing so.

    Though I’ll admit that I do think that the item about Germany I linked is a small piece of good news, “I swear, I di’n’t mean nuttin’ bad by it!”

    Can we move on now? This meta-debate is considerably more tedious than the original endless back and forth about renewables vs. nuclear was.

  18. 68
    Macro Tel says:

    I’m unsatisfied with the speed of research through Universities, Grants, and careers. Permafrost will be melted by end of century; I can research faster but don’t know how to attain some grants or get others to take the ball…
    One problem with afforesting fuscum peat using silt over clay or rolled silt under silt, is that flooding silt might bury acrotelm. If looking towards drier areas; sub 600mm. Don’t know if it is a problem but a bathtub experiment might help. Cranberries are the only artificial perched aquifers I’ve found so far.
    This paper troubles me. The “klei” 1/2m soil layer doesn’t contain the water table. Is a 1m water table during dry periods, yet 700mm+/yr precipitation. 35% clay, 55% silt (3% organic)…shouldn’t the water table be closer to surface? Is it the remaining sand amount that is acting as macropores? Silt has a similiar hydraulic conductivity as catotelm (10^7-ish m/s), yet for that level of precipitation peat hold water closer to surface. Is the VWC of peat higher by nature? Peat moss needs 30cm or so to stay alive…Rolling soil in EU cost $60/ha, maybe cheaper than laying clay. Why not alternate clay and other similiar layers when making garbage dumps and nuke waste sites instead of homo clay?

  19. 69
    Pete Helseth says:

    Pete D. #52 –

    Those activists followed none other than James Hansen himself, who was also arrested at the Tar Sands Pipeline protest, in his case on Day 10.

    Also, you pondered earlier “what is climate?” This isn’t the scientific definition you sought, but is handy in general discussions: “Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.” (Credit to Prof T Weiskel of Harvard and Cambridge Climate Research Associates,

  20. 70
    Septic Matthew says:

    63, Edward Greisch: STAY OFF OF ENERGY ENTIRELY … .

    Each of my posts awaited moderation before being approved by the moderators. Have a little respect for their judgment.

    Kevin McKinney, in fact I did more than list news items. I expressed opinions based on them: the energy industry will be a lot different by 2020; almost all industrial energy will be derived from renewable sources by 2100; we should persist in developing these renewable energy sources.

    I hate it when people tell me that, as a skeptic, I support DOING NOTHING. I support developing all energy sources possible to replace coal and petroleum and natural gas, in that order (with what might be termed “all deliberate speed”, or at least “deliberated” and “debated” speed); while collecting as much evidence as possible relevant to AGW. I don’t expect the scientific case for or against AGW to be clear before 2030.

  21. 71
    SecularAnimist says:

    [edit – please leave out the criticisms of individual commenters, as opposed to comments]

  22. 72
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Kevin McKinney:
    Can we move on now? This meta-debate is considerably more tedious…

    Begging the question, should continuing arguments about whether a given post was inciting a renewables versus nuclear festival of fratricidal slagging also be proscribed?

    Perhaps in addition to “The Borehole” there should be a “Verbal High Level Waste disposal facility.”

  23. 73

    “Begging the question, should continuing arguments about whether a given post was inciting a renewables versus nuclear festival of fratricidal slagging also be proscribed?”

    I don’t know about “proscribed,” but “eschewed” seems like a good idea!

    (Which is why I’m determinedly not responding/elaborating on #69.)

  24. 74
    u.k.(us) says:

    Hunt #1,

    Dunno about stock imagery in general, but I’m quite taken with this photo. It sums up both problem and cause with a hint of poetic justice.

    Comment by CM — 1 Sep 2011 @ 12:02 PM
    Cool photo.
    Looks like an engineering problem, not likely to be solved by windmill construction.

  25. 75
    David B. Benson says:

    Pete Dunkelberg @33 asks what is climate? The usual definition gives a moving average, hence lagging, indicator. I opine it still suffices.

  26. 76
    Hunt Janin says:

    Re the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS):

    I know that climate scientists are not prone to engage in speculative thought but, that said, I’m still wondering what dramatic, unexpected events might possibly trigger a more rapid collapse of the WAIS than is now thought likely.

    Any heretical ideas?

  27. 77
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    David Benson, thanks for responding to # 33. But you acknowledge the problem I pointed to: the usual definition in our unusual circumstances is never right. A moving average becomes a lagging indicator when there is a directional trend. In particular a 15 year lagging indicator.

    But that is long enough for what was a shock fifteen years ago to have become the new normal (see Climate quiz @ 47). So the official “climate” is in human terms the climate of the past.

    What is climate in real time?

  28. 78
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Another way that the climate of the past does not tell us about the climate of today: there has been so much rain in the last couple of years that water is accumulating on land – so much that sea level is declining!

    In order to explain to real people what is really happening we a concept of climate that is not fifteen years out of date.

  29. 79
    Hank Roberts says:

    > sea level is declining!

    Ah, but there’s a physics-based prediction quoted there:

    “Willis cautions that sea level drops such as this one cannot last, and over the long-run, the trend remains solidly up. Water flows downhill ….”

    Reminds me of a paper I ask about every year or two:

    Abrupt increase in seasonal extreme precipitation at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary
    Birger Schmitz, Victoriano Pujalte

    “…. during the early, most intense phase of CO2 rise, normal, semiarid coastal plains with few river channels of 10–200 m width were abruptly replaced by a vast conglomeratic braid plain, covering at least 500 km2 and most likely more than 2000 km2. This braid plain is interpreted as the proximal parts of a megafan. Carbonate nodules in the megafan deposits attest to seasonally dry periods and together with megafan development imply a dramatic increase in seasonal rain and an increased intra-annual humidity gradient. The megafan formed over a few thousand years to ~10 k.y. directly after the Paleocene-Eocene boundary. Only repeated severe floods and rainstorms could have contributed the water energy required to transport the enormous amounts of large boulders and gravel of the megafan during this short time span. The findings represent evidence for considerable changes in regional hydrological cycles following greenhouse gas emissions….”

    Are we there yet?

  30. 80
    wili says:

    Does anyone know what significance to place on this:

    “Russian, U.S. scientists set to study methane release in Arctic”

    “A group of Russian and U.S. scientists will leave the port of Vladivostok on Friday on board a Russian research ship to study methane emissions in the eastern part of the Arctic.

    “This expedition was organized on a short notice by the Russian Fund of Fundamental Research and the U.S. National Science Foundation following the discovery of a dramatic increase in the leakage of methane gas from the seabed in the eastern part of the Arctic, said Professor Igor Semiletov, the head of the expedition.”

    Is it just me, or does ‘on short notice’ and ‘following the discover of a dramatic increase in the leakage of methane gas from the seabed’ sound a bit…disquieting??

    The sst anomaly maps show that area as quite warm by historical standards. How long has it been ice free this year?

  31. 81
    J Bowers says:

    80 wili — “Is it just me, or does ‘on short notice’ and ‘following the discover of a dramatic increase in the leakage of methane gas from the seabed’ sound a bit…disquieting??”


  32. 82
    Hank Roberts says:

    > methane
    hasn’t showed up here yet:

    But remember what’s detected — the amount measured in the air (or sometimes in the water).

    Just speculating, but the pattern over the past decade — an increase then a level for a handful of years then another increase — could mean that some organism that eats methane started to reproduce really quickly with the first increase in available methane, and continued to grow and consume methane as fast as it became available — until said hypothetical organism hit some other limit on what it needs and quit keeping up.

    If that happened it would delay our ability to detect the increase in the atmosphere — until whatever was consuming it started leaving more to detect.

    Anyone noticed an increase in smelly slime somewhere?

  33. 83
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hm. Well, there are some known limits on methanogens; here’s a suggestion that they need nickel to be competitive:

    “Nickel is a key metal cofactor in several enzymes of methanogens7 and we propose that its decline would have stifled their activity in the ancient oceans and disrupted the supply of biogenic methane. A decline in biogenic methane production therefore could have occurred before increasing environmental oxygenation and not necessarily be related to it. The enzymatic reliance of methanogens on a diminishing supply of volcanic nickel links mantle evolution to the redox state of the atmosphere.”

    So methanogen populations collapsed (2.5 million years ago), allowing oxygen-breathers to take over.

    I wonder how much nickel we’re washing into the oceans compared to natural background erosion. Perhaps their time will come again?

    Pure speculation on my part.

  34. 84
    Hank Roberts says:

    (aside — I’d look for changes in populations of methane eaters, and what else might limit their growth) — like this beast:

    “Globally, acidic environments such as marshes and peat bogs generate significant quantities of methane. Scientists have always suspected that a proportion of this methane was being consumed by bacteria living in these environments.

    “Our discovery has demonstrated that methane-consuming organisms do live in highly acidic environments. Without them, the amount of methane entering the atmosphere would be much greater….”

    and for changes in populations of methane-producing organisms as well, which might vary along with them.

  35. 85
    David B. Benson says:

    Pete Dunkelberg @77&78 — Your are asking for that which doesn’t exist or even make sense. Just use the WMO definition of climate and then point to recent anomolies. Works for those willing to actually look at the evidence.

  36. 86
    wili says:

    @ JBowers–good to hear that someone else shares my disquiet.

    @HR–interesting about the nickel. Perhaps they should be looking at spraying the area with nickle? Unfortunately, much of the continental shelf is so shallow up there, there is little time for the microbes to do their methane munching work. And if the stuff is escaping in large quantities very suddenly, the quantities of methane would likely overwhelm their capacity to gobble it up.

  37. 87
    Harmen says:

    I checked out:
    Climate Insights 101 Module 1: Climate Science Basics by the the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions…

    I think its very good…

    What do you think?

  38. 88
    Hank Roberts says:

    Oh, here’s a loose end — has anyone calculated whether the increase in nickel runoff on the north side of Russia could be boosting methanogens in the Arctic seabed mud?

    That would be another way — besides warming permafrost — to get more methane.

    The carbon isotope content would distinguish methane from warming old clathrate from new methane produced by methanogens near the surface.

    Attributing some of the methane to increasing nickel is a faint hope. But:

    “Major man-made sources of release of nickel are the combustion of coal and heavy fuel oil. Emissions from refineries and from refinery products (including road tar) are particularly important because of the large amount of refinery fuel oil and residues burnt which contain nickel from the original crude oil. Other sources include emissions from mining and refining operations, municipal waste incineration, and windblown dust….”

  39. 89
    David B. Benson says:

    Pete Dunkelberg — Such as
    It was really hot in Houston last month!

  40. 90
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    “So methanogen populations collapsed (2.5 million years ago), allowing oxygen-breathers to take over.”

    My ancestors have been breathing oxygen for a lot longer than that. ;)

  41. 91
    wili says:

    Oops, read to fast. I see now that it is methanogens that need nickel, not methanophages. What would encourage growth of the latter?

  42. 92
    Hank Roberts says:

    > million
    D’oh. “the progressive rise of atmospheric oxygen, the so-called Great Oxidation Event, about 2.4 Gyr ago ….”

    Yeah, a bit longer. Thanks Pete.

  43. 93
  44. 94
    David Miller says:

    Methane is often said to have somewhere around a 20 year lifetime in the atmosphere. Methane is broken down through a number of complex reactions involving OH radicals, eventually yielding CO2 and H2O.

    What is the source of OH radicals? IE, if the concentration of methane goes up by, say, a factor of 100 will it overwhelm the available OH and have a longer average lifetime?


  45. 95
    wili says:

    “if the concentration of methane goes up by, say, a factor of 100 will it overwhelm the available OH and have a longer average lifetime?”

    That’s what I understand (limited though my understanding may be). But that would have to be quite a rise in methane concentration.
    Methane also reacts with ozone. In your scenario, more of it would get up to the level of stratospheric ozone layer, and so more water vapor would be produced at this crucial level of the atmosphere.

  46. 96
    Larry says:

    Others here should find this new paper of interest:

    Guirguis K, Gershunov A, Schwartz R, Bennett S (2011). Recent warm and cold daily winter temperature extremes in the Northern Hemisphere. Geophys. Res. Lett. (38:17; p.L17701).

    Abstract: The winters of 2009–2010 and 2010–2011 brought frigid temperatures to parts of Europe, Russia, and the U.S. We analyzed regional and Northern Hemispheric (NH) daily temperature extremes for these two consecutive winters in the historical context of the past 63 years. While some parts clearly experienced very cold temperatures, the NH was not anomalously cold. Extreme warm events were much more prevalent in both magnitude and spatial extent. Importantly, the persistent negative state of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) explained the bulk of the observed cold anomalies, however the warm extremes were anomalous even accounting for the NAO and also considering the states of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). These winters’ widespread and intense warm extremes together with a continuing hemispheric decline in cold snap activity was a pattern fully consistent with a continuation of the warming trend observed in recent decades.

  47. 97
    Doug Bostrom says:

    New field of research, wide-open, apparently untrammeled by scientific inquiry. In the New York Times, concerning floods in the NE US, we read:

    Recent studies have asserted that the region’s weather is getting more severe, including heavier rainfall and more frequent and intense flooding.

    Reading the rest of the Times article on increasingly frequent and violent flooding in the NE region, it appears we have no idea why this is happening. Residents are surprised, confused, wondering what to do, but if coverage by the Times is any indication nobody’s bothered to look into this flooding problem, what may be causing it to happen, or what an appropriate response may be. Should folks rebuild in floodplains, for the third time in decade? Nobody knows!

    What a shocking blind spot, eh? Somebody ought to do some research on climate so the New York Times can report on it.

    On Flood Plain, Pondering Wisdom of Rebuilding Anew

  48. 98
    Hank Roberts says:

    Lots; multiple sources too (knock a water molecule apart)

    “We infer a small interannual OH variability as a result, indicating that global OH is generally well buffered against perturbations. This small variability is consistent with measurements of methane and other trace gases oxidized primarily by OH, as well as global photochemical model calculations.”
    Science 7 January 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6013 pp. 67-69
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1197640

    Small Interannual Variability of Global Atmospheric Hydroxyl

  49. 99
    Russell says:


    Hank, I’m puzzled here is a lot of porphyrin nickel in Cretaceous marine crude oil. but it probably pales relative to the inorganic Ni in the smelter fumes from Norilsk- and what has it got to do with clathrate CH4 ??

  50. 100
    Theo Kurtén says:

    David Miller: yes, increasing CH4 will decrease OH and thus increase methane lifetime – this has been looked at in a number of studies. Though the changes are not quite as dramatic as what one might expect – one reason for this is that some OH is regenerated if NOx is present. For the “100 x” methane case, we calculated (Atmos. Chem. Phys. 2011) a lifetime increase of about a factor of 3. So given a current methane lifetime of a bit more than 12 years, that would give about 40 years in the 100x scenario. Caveat: this was computed with atmospheric chemistry models that might lack some of the more recently discovered features of OH chemistry, e.g. the large role of HONO, as well as the observations in the link Hank gave. Hope this gives you a ballpark idea of the magnitude of the changes…