Monday, 20 February 2017

Some "alt-names" for Trump

Inspired by John Oliver's most recent observations about Tango Man, for the time being I will be referring to POTUS 45 as "President Ping Pong". This is because his observations reminded me of the wonderful Phoenix Nights, Peter Kay's first great comic series, and in particular, this (go to 39 seconds if you can't wait), the 'auditions' strand which ran at the end of every episode:

Since it seems impossible to take the person concerned too seriously, for the time being, I'm just going to follow the crowd and, in the English (Cockney) vernacular, Take the piss...

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Time to get used to the stupidity and move on

As per, The Guardian tries to keep abreast of developments in climate science. Though at times the headlines are irritatingly provocative, in general it does a decent job.

This morning's piece on Wm Happer, here, contained a quotation from the latter which is so stupid I thought it deserved a mention:

“There’s a huge amount of money that we spend on saving the planet,” he said. “If it turns out that the planet doesn’t need saving as much as we thought, well, there are other ways you could spend the money."

Though the stupidity is self-evident to some of us, I'll try not to take anything for granted and just unpack this a bit.

First off: "there's a huge amount of money we spend on saving the planet"

Okay, Mr Happer, please provide examples of these 'huge amounts' of money. Now, compare the amounts with the 'huge amounts' we spend trashing the planet; how do these figures compare?

Beyond this, why does anyone think that the planet might need saving in the first place? 

Is it, perhaps, because some people have identified a number of risks? Is it because decades of analysis from insurance companies, military think tanks, corporates and, on top of these, academics and specialists, have led these people to think that some types of human interaction with the planet is a risk, not just to the planet but, more meaningfully, to the people who live here?

Trying to find an analogy is challenging, because there is really very little comparison to be made - we only have one planet. We need it. We need the living things besides us which live on it. We need its atmosphere and oceans. We'd quite like to keep hold of most of the people on it, too, for a decent lifespan.

Then we need to ask; what is it that people think the planet needs protecting from? What is the source of these risks? It is us, our activities, exploitation, misuse, abuse, destruction, pollution, chaotic and entropic dissolution of that which we once inherited. 

Happer's point is easy to unpick: the administration is going to remove not just protection but also monitoring. The mistreatment of 'the planet' is not a risk - not enough of a risk - to justify reining back its continuation, or the corporates who profit from it, despite the endless, depressing, ongoing warnings from pretty much every direction that if we go on like these we really will be screwed.

This isn't an argument for inaction - it is way too stupid to be graced with the title of 'argument'. It is an excuse. Happer may as well have said : "we aren't going to even try to improve things because it might make some of us less rich".

Get used to it. This is going to continue for a while. It has been going on in the UK for several years, with government using any excuse to justify its systematic ideology-driven demolition of all the social systems which we have already paid for, simply to reduce its revenue commitments and pass on the problems and solutions into private (and often international) hands.

The current administration will provide spurious and trivial justifications for stupid decisions which bear no relation to the reasons for them.

Get used to it, and move on. If the chimps are throwing their caca at the visitors, go enjoy the penguins instead, while you still can.

Friday, 10 February 2017

23 minutes to kiss the planet goodbye

Waking up in the middle of the night, the World Service was interviewing Myron Ebell.

I hope friends in the US can access this from the BBC World Service:

If you feel in the slightest depressed, don't listen till you are more cheerful. I haven't slept in the three hours since the show was broadcast, it's now around 06:30am.

A couple of sample take homes for the lazy:

  1. The EPA is to be gutted (staff cut by 2/3 and budgets slashed)
  2. The hiatus proves that there is no connection between CO2 and warming
  3. roughly: " it has recently been shown that the temperature record is a hoax". No, really.
Can you spot the glaring inconsistency? Others already have.

Really should go back to bed, but time seems to be getting more precious every day these days...

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Climate change - why the fuss?

Sometimes it is hard to remember why people make a fuss about climate change and global warming. In the politically charged arena of online advocacy the language of the issues has been framed by the denihilist procrastinators, so that most discussions of consequences revolve around whether or not climate change is 'catastrophic', whether or not warnings are 'alarmist' (crying wolf), whether or not projections of harm with large uncertainties are useful for policy discussions.

All of these, deliberately, miss the point, the reasons why action to mitigate and adapt are urgent, and reveal the moral vacuum which is inhabited by too many people these days.

So, here is a reminder of why I bother to have a blog and to comment on websites and fora such as Quora. These are my reasons. Some co-bloggers will have similar motives, others will have their own, but for me, this is the bottom line.

People will suffer.

Recent work has shown the link which already exists between both emergency and systemic situations and their consequences. Not just storms, floods and wildfires, which make dramatic TV and therefore feature in the media, but drought, seasonal shifts threatening food supply chains, evapo-transpiration effects, disease vector changes; there is really quite a long list.

Inasmuch as these measured effects are either affected or exacerbated by the changing climate -  and the argument is not that they are not affected, but the extent to which a measurable difference can be identified and isolated - the problems which exist now are overshadowed by the problems which will exist soon.

So, people have already suffered, and more people will suffer. Many more.

There is a strong general agreement that, whilst balancing other social factors, a move to reduce the upper limit of the changes down the line (through mitigation) will actually reduce the extent and degree of suffering.

Recent discussions on Quora have enlightened me to contemporary attitudes to the harm expected from climate change; there are people who think this is not important, that the suffering of others does not matter.

At the more radical end, it would be surprising if others hadn't worked out what I have calculated and reached the conclusion that by the end of this century, and quite likely well before this, many millions of people will have either died or been permanently displaced by the various upheavals which result from and are magnified by climate change. For some people, this is perceived as a 'good thing'.

So there are already two opposing forces pulling in different directions when it comes to the question of why climate mitigation is necessary.

On one side, we have identified that people are suffering and will suffer, and that at least some of this suffering is preventable. Our duty/responsibility is clear - if we can act to reduce the suffering of others, we should act. This is a baseline in the very notion of society. There is a further principle too, that if we choose not to act when we have the means to do so, then we are culpable in that suffering. Most particularly, our political leaders, who have executive power and common responsibility, are on the line for allowing suffering without intervention or assistance, where these would prevent it.

On the other side, we are conscious that population stress is another magnifier of suffering and that environmental and ecological problems, along with infrastructure problems, in part exist because of the strain put on them by increased consumption demand purely from the pressure of numbers. An analyst taking the very long view might conclude that allowing a degree of suffering for the time being, so that population pressures are eased down the line, could be a better solution.

But this is very harsh on the victims. One reason why climate impact projections focus on economic or environmental damage is that these have a degree of measurability and are thus amenable to modelling. Conversely, the extent and degree of human suffering - people being harmed, is much more difficult to quantify, since it is also affected by a cluster of magnifiers and causes which are more or less connected to climate. Nonetheless, the IPCC, WHO, UNEP and UNHCR. along with other agencies, have placed their analysis in the public record, and it makes for ugly reading.

The more recent projections suggest that there will be several million additional premature (and unnecessary) deaths from climate related impacts by 2050 alone. The current estimates include 160,000 per year already in the system, rising to 250,000 a year out to 2030-2050.

Later, I'll write about the error we make in assessing the personal consequences of climate inaction, but there is still a lot more to say.

For the time being, let this sink in. Not very long ago, there was no doubt that the untimely deaths of six million people as a consequence of a state policy was such an appalling crime that the perpetrators with command responsibility were tried and executed for their decisions. This was the Holocaust.

What is the material difference, especially to the victims, between that situation and this? What is the moral difference between that situation and this? For those who promote caution or outright denial of the issues linked to climate change, I ask - are you, morally, any better than those people? Are you, in effect, wearing a symbol-laden armband in support of the unspeakable? How will you be judged?

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Do you want ice with that?

A popular pastime amongst those of us who have an interest in what's going on with the climate is to try to guess how much Arctic sea ice there will be each season when the annual minimum is reached.

For anyone reading who thinks this might interest them, there is an almost endless ongoing source of information, graphs and analysis at the excellent Arctic Sea Ice Blog/ Forum/Graphs.

There is also a science program which collects various predictions, from the technical (model-based) to the amateur (heuristic), called SIPN (used to be ARCUS).

Part of the fun of this is to try to work out the different factors which may or may not affect future sea ice level down the line. On a long time scale, this is easy enough, if you simply reference the climate data since 1979 and look at the history of decline in Summer sea ice levels. It is quite possible to do a 'rough fit' with historic data and come up with a prediction which is not far off the mark, though this is going to be more by chance than reason.

One of the most popular sources of data and information is the NSIDC dedicated sea ice and cryosphere pages. These focus on the measured data rather than prediction, but contain a wealth of useful graphics and links.

On the recent page you will notice a reference to a recent piece of research conducted by some of the members of the team, Serreze M. C. et. al., JGR (2016).

This paper demonstrates a connection which has an effect on the annual minimum:

"...They found that 68 percent of the variance in the date that ice retreats from the continental shelf break in the Chukchi Sea in spring can be explained by fluctuations in the April through June Bering Strait oceanic heat inflow..."

So, one way in which we can now make a more reliable prediction in relation to one part of the Arctic is in place.

Then, I noticed (not reported widely elsewhere yet) that others of the team have been involved in a different piece of research at the opposite side: Fram Strait sea ice export variability and September Arctic sea ice extent over the last 80 Years. (Smedrud Here we find the useful:

"...Increased ice export during winter will generally result in new ice growth and contributes to thinning inside the Arctic Basin. Increased ice export during summer or spring will, in contrast, contribute directly to open water further north and a reduced summer sea ice extent through the ice–albedo feedback..."

and: "...We find a general moderate influence between export anomalies and the following September sea ice extent, explaining 18 % of the variance between 1935 and 2014, but with higher values since 2004...".

These two useful recent pieces of work add to our understanding of two of the mechanisms which contribute to Arctic Summer minima. They don't give the whole picture; the number and range of the variables are such that we don't have a full picture of all of the teleconnections or causes.

What we can do, though, is look at these two parameters and add some inferences to our other observations. If Fram export has been relatively high recently, then the September minimum is likely to be lower than the long term average. If Bering Sea heat input is higher than usual during the Spring, then the September
minimum is likely to be lower. 

If both cases occur simultaneously, it is reasonable to infer that there is a high likelihood of a reduced minimum, if the other other known variables (such as the Arctic oscillation - AO) do not contradict this, and if the historic patterns of weather and overall seasonal temperature anomalies are also in alignment.

This is an example of how ongoing scientific research and information collecting adds to our understanding of the ways in which the climate can vary, and the trends which show how the climate is changing relative to the past.

Monday, 30 January 2017

When will the Gulf Stream ‘shut down’ and how will it affect our part of the World?

Quick answer: It probably won’t shut down completely in the next century or two. It will almost certainly weaken progressively during the 21st century, and will have an effect on both UK climate and US sea level. 

 This means that the UK may experience an amount of cooling relative to the global average and the long-term local average, and the US Eastern seaboard may experience an amount of sea level rise greater than the global average and the local long-term average, both within this century.

In simple terms, even if the Gulf Stream does not shut down completely, the impact of a weakening of the system will be felt this century, and conceivably within the next 20-30 years. It has already been felt at least once (2009-2011), and the current CO2 concentration pathway suggests that this kind of thing can easily be repeated, is likely to be repeated.

Back in 2006 I spent some time trying to understand how the Gulf Stream worked and what the implications of climate changes would be for me, living in the UK. This included exchanging some emails with a few of the people who were active at the time in analysing the data and models, and a lot of reading.

In 2009, the UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP09) published it conclusions about projected changes to the UK in the 21st century, which also leaned heavily on similar sources to infer likely scenarios for change to our climate.

Since that time, the issue has stayed in the scientific literature, and occasionally pops up as a matter of concern on the internet or in the media.

Most recently, the technically reliable RealClimate has drawn my attention again to the matter in a post: The Underestimated danger of a breakdown of the Gulf Stream System. 

This summarises a paper which draws attention to some of the limitations of the modelling of the Gulf Stream, or AMOC.

Whilst it is a very useful reference, including links to several recent developments in both analysis and modelling, it does not address a question which I raised in the comments section but have not yet had answered: When is this going to happen?

Even more recently, The open access Journal of Ocean Science has published a paper which, though it focuses on a different aspect (sea level rise), has a strong section on the AMOC and some interesting material on modelling: Changes in extreme regional sea level under global warming.

The Scripps paper (Wei Liu et. al.) applies a flux correction to better model the freshwater exchange in the system on which so much depends. It suggest that the Gulf Stream could lose about a third of its strength by 2100.

The Brunnabend et al  paper uses a reasonably new high resolution ocean model, POP, which is able to capture the mesoscale eddy formations in the north Atlantic and the impact this has on regional sea level rise. It also, as you might expect, provides a greater resolution for modelled AMOC flow under the scenarios used (RCP8.5). The model runs out to the end of this century, from an original baseline of 1950, and a comparison between the first and last twenty years of the model.

In that model: The maximum AMOC at 26◦ N decreases from about 20 Sv to about 5 Sv (red curve in Fig. 4a). The spatial pattern of the AMOC does not change, but the North Atlantic Deep Water shallows by about 1000m (Fig. 4b–c). The maximum strength of the AMOC at 35◦ S decreases (blue curve in Fig. 4a) by more than 60 %. The decline in the AMOC causes a rise in mean DSL of up to 0.4 m near the North American continent, mostly because of a redistribution of ocean mass towards these regions (see Fig. 1a).

*Note: Sv refers to Sverdrups: "...used almost exclusively in oceanography to measure the volumetric rate of transport of ocean currents..." This is derived from a model which assumes a high CO2 concentration pathway and associated global temperature change, so might be considered a ‘worst case’ result.

Where does this get us?

So far, I am at the stage where I’m reasonably confident that the Gulf Stream will demonstrate a severe case of Hiccups over the next 80 years, with has already begun. As in 2009-2010, there will be years when the current slows by 30% or more, resulting in seasons which are noticeably cooler than the long-term trend would otherwise suggest. 

This is the UKMO comment on the Winter of 2010, which followed the most recent hiccup:

The following represents an assessment of the weather experienced across the UK during winter 2009/10 (December 2009 to February 2010) and how it compares with the 1971 to 2000 average (the period used for the seasonal forecast). 
Mean temperatures over the UK were 2.0 °C below the 1971-2000 average during December, 2.4 °C below average during January and 1.6 °C below average during February. The UK mean temperature for the winter was 1.6 °C, which is 2.0 °C below average, making it the coldest winter since 1978/79 (1.2 °C). Over England and Wales it was also the coldest since 1978/79. Over Northern Ireland and Scotland, winter 2009/10 was comparable with 1978/79 and 1946/47, with only winter 1962/63 significantly colder in series from 1910. For northern Scotland, it was the coldest winter on record, with the highest number of frosts. A generally mild first 10 days in December was followed by a colder period. This cold spell persisted for the first half of January, with some severe frosts. After mid-month, temperatures rose to around normal before a return to colder conditions. These persisted for most of February, with only a few brief milder interludes mostly in the west and south.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll assume that a slowdown of 30% roughly equals a drop in mean winter temperature of around 2 degrees. I am not aware of a similar ‘spike’ in the US Eastern Seaboard sea level and am interested to know if this has been researched.

This occasional and regional cooling has to be taken into the context of expected rises in global mean temperature (which will go on irrespective). As things stand, depending on the mitigation scenario, this is likely to mean a temperature rise of between 2 and 4 degrees out to 2100. Again, for simplicity, I’m going to use a median figure of 3c by 2100.

So, by about 2070, the cooling effect of the AMOC slowdown will be offset by the warming effect of the global mean, which at that stage would be between 1.5 and 2.5 degrees. This suggests that the UK will experience a number of cooler winters, comparable to 2010, for the next forty years. After that, its more likely that the cooler winters will be statistically more like recent seasonal averages, i.e., mild.

Meanwhile, back on the US Eastern seaboard, I am speculating that there is a chance that AMOC weakening events could enhance dynamic sea level rise and add 20-30 cm of extra level by the end of the century. This means that a rise of a metre in some areas is plausible by 2060-2070. Add the effect of storm surges and increased offshore cyclonic activity, and New York could experience ‘Sandy-type’ surges on several occasions, with the probability and frequency rising as time goes on.

This is a complex area of study and I have not really done it justice here; my hope is that the average lay person can get a bead on what a slowdown of the Gulf Stream actually means for us and our children.

Friday, 27 January 2017

It just seemed like the right thing to do

Back in the chain Gang

I've never exactly been a Player in the online climate science field, though have dribbled around the edges for some time and have occasionally received encouraging noises from scientists whose opinions I respect.

But in previous iterations, my blogs have received a few tens of thousands of readers, and, more recently, I have a steady readership when I post on Quora.

So, though it may be a small constituency, yet there may be some people who appreciate what I try to do online and it is for them, as well as myself, that I have decided to reopen the blog.

Why now? Mainly, because it feels as if Truth is under attack. Prejudice and dishonesty abounds and is sometimes rewarded. Decency is not in vogue, and being human matters less than being noisy/young/pretty/opinionated/a cat.

Which leads to my second reason: for some time I have been concerned that there is a moral issue in respect to climate science and future-casting in general which is being steadily eroded. And this issue is our treatment of, and respect for, each other as humans. 

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. It exists because many people think it important to remember the evil which can and has been done in our names, or with our consent. It is important.

As I spend more time than is healthy considering, analysing and speculating about our collective future, I am reasonably confident that our society is changing, not for the better. There is an ongoing and future injustice which, if the projections play out, represents a human harm, a level of suffering, which is not just comparable to the suffering of the holocaust, but on a scale so vast as to be almost unthinkable.

Seventy five years ago, there were people who saw what was happening in Europe, in Nazi Germany and elsewhere, a more virulent continuation of historic persecutions going back centuries, and they turned away. Some did not.

And this is why I have returned. If a vast, unspeakable crime against humanity is to be committed, it will not be with my consent, not in my name, and I will not ignore it or simply let it happen. I am opening a dialogue to people who understand the stakes in climate, politics, environmental and social Justice and injustices, and who believe that such depravity should not go unchallenged.

All this is very serious, but please don't be put off - I'll still sometimes make a joke.