Archive for January, 2009

Published by Diana on 31 Jan 2009

How we know what we know about carbon dioxide and climate

In the 1950s, a scientist named Charles Keeling started doing the kind of scientific work that looks boring but leads to incredibly important discoveries. It can take hundreds or thousands of observations–collecting information–before a scientist sees a pattern. Imagine, for example, how long it would take to realize that the sun follows the same path through our heavens every year and that it is predictable. Humans built Stonehenge to track solar observations–just one example of how important information gathering can be.

Charles Keeling began to measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, in just one place, regularly. Sometimes he took measurements several times a day. He made his measurements at the top of the dormant Hawaiian volcano Mauna Loa, where he could be sure he wasn’t measuring carbon dioxide produced by local sources like a power plant or a fireplace. He wanted to be sure he was measuring the carbon dioxide normally found in the air.

He found the level of carbon dioxide in the air increased a bit in the spring, and fell in the fall, as the planet went through its seasons. You can see the curve in this Wikipedia article: Keeling Curve. He also found that the level of carbon dioxide in our air was increasing steadily.

But it took YEARS of observations–made often–before scientists could be sure of what they were seeing. Keeling must have thought “do I have to make this observation?” at least a few times. Yet he kept on, and he made observations regularly from 1958 to 2005. His son continues to make observations regularly now.

National Public Radio did a great broadcast about Keeling recently: check it out here: NPR on Charles Keeling.

Published by Rosalind on 28 Jan 2009

Changes

A sobering new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concludes that global climate change is happening and is already irreversible. Researchers found that the excess Carbon Dioxide already in the environment will persist for many years, and CO2 held in the oceans and soils will move into the atmosphere. This means that we have to think carefully about how to minimize the effects, and see if it is possible to stop the trends — so that at least if we are living in a changed world, it will be as little changed as possible. You can listen to a report on the study here: Global Warming Is Irreversible, Study Says.

Published by Diana on 28 Jan 2009

More information on Antarctica

Scientific American has produced a very nice podcast on the Antarctica warming information: podcast.

In doing a lot of reading about this report, I’ve found a few things especially interesting. There’s an ozone hole over much of Antarctica, and where there’s the ozone hole, it’s cooler. But even with the ozone hole, and Antarctica’s fierce winds, average temperatures are up a full degree (and scientists always talk in Celsius degrees, so almost two degrees Farhrenheit) since 1957, when they started keeping records of temperatures there.

Published by Diana on 22 Jan 2009

Study Finds New Evidence of Warming in Antarctica

A new study of temperature records from the last half-century of Antarctic research shows that the climate is changing and warming there. Skeptics had pointed to a few weather stations there as showing that temperatures had cooled; new evidence and analysis show that–overall–the Antarctic has warmed.

For more information:New Evidence for Antarctic Warming.

Published by Rosalind on 21 Jan 2009

Obama’s Plans for Energy and the Environment

Now that President Obama has been sworn in, we hope to see a lot of changes in the American view of science. One cartoon today in our local newspaper (the Kingston, NY Daily Freeman) shows Science as an old man being let out of a dungeon by Obama! Hopefully, scientists will benefit from increased respect for their work, and we will all benefit from a more realistic view of some of the science-based problems facing our nation and our Earth.

Checking the White House website today, I found the Energy and Environment agenda for the Obama-Biden administration. Take a look!

Published by Rosalind on 21 Jan 2009

Predictions

This little article is from this week’s issue of E/The Environmental Magazine.

Dear EarthTalk: Which parts of the United States are or will be hardest hit by global warming?

— Aliza Perry, Burlington, VT

 

Washington, DC‚s famous cherry trees are now blossoming earlier due to global warming-related temperature increases. But this pales in comparison to the much more serious impacts of more and fiercer hurricanes in the Southeast, major Midwest floods, shrinking glaciers in the West and rising sea levels around the nation’s coastlines.
© celestria, courtesy Flickr

It’s difficult to predict which areas of the U.S. will suffer the most from global warming, but it’s safe to say that no regions will be unaffected. Scientists already point to increased severity of hurricanes on the East Coast, major Midwest floods, and shrinking glaciers in the West as proof of global warming’s onset.

Of course, America couldn’t have asked for a better poster child in the fight to stave off global warming than Alaska, which is undergoing dramatic landscape changes as a result of warming-induced temperature increases, glacial melting and sea level rise. Even Alaska’s conservative elected officials can no longer deny that human-induced warming is affecting their state. The picture isn’t looking too rosy in the western continental U.S. either, which is already facing some of the country’ largest temperature increases. The signature glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park may be all gone within just two decades.

A recent report by two leading nonprofits, the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council, details how the 11 U.S. western states together have experienced an increase in average temperature during the last five years some 70 percent greater than the global average rise. The hottest part of the region has been drought-stricken Arizona, where average temperatures have risen some 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit—120 percent greater than the global rise—between 2003 and 2007. Researchers also found that the West has experienced more frequent and severe heat waves, with the number of extremely hot days increasing by up to four days per decade since 1950.

In the Midwest, seemingly minor increases in temperature have already wrought major effects. In 2006 Lake Erie didn’t freeze for the first time in history, which led to “lake effect” snowfalls as more evaporating water was available for precipitation. Likewise, changes in the lake’s water temperature have begun to alter fish populations, which in turn affect birds and their migratory patterns. Despite localized heavier snowfalls, though, the region is generally suffering from a drying trend. Farmers worry that the result will be lower crop yields and thus more expensive food for American consumers.

On the east coast, coral reef bleaching, heat waves and increased hurricane intensity are just some of the warming-related hazards Floridians have had to deal with in recent years. Washington, DC’s famous cherry trees are now blossoming earlier due to temperature increases. Further north, milder-than-typical winter temperatures have been linked to subtle changes in ocean currents. In New York City, the average temperature has increased about four degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, and could get 10 degrees hotter by 2100, according to a study commissioned by the federally funded U.S. Global Change Research Program.

But the bigger problem for New York City, as well as other low-lying areas around the nation’s coasts, will be sea level rise: Climate models predict that sea level around the Northeast is expected to rise between ¾ inch and 3 ½ feet over the course of this century.

CONTACTS: Rocky Mountain Climate OrganizationNatural Resources Defense CouncilU.S. Global Change Research Program

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EARTHTALK, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit your question at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk.html; or e-mail us at: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

 

Published by Diana on 02 Jan 2009

A New Year’s Resolution

I would like to reduce my carbon footprint, just a bit, this year.

I will try to: eat less meat, drive less, create less garbage, use less water… take up just a bit less space on the planet.

Published by Rosalind on 01 Jan 2009

Did you notice the New Year’s Eve “leap second”?

Last night just before midnight, a leap second was added to clocks worldwide! Like a leap year, the leap second is part of the continuing effort by scientists to make our clocks and astronomical time agree. Read more about why we needed an extra second in 2008: Leap Second. Happy New Year!