Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Warmer Winters, Fewer Freezes

This winter has been a warm one, but it isn't in the top ten just yet.  As of Tuesday, February 28, 2012, this winter ranks as the 11th warmest.  It might edge into the top ten thanks to a leap year.

Winters have been warming over the past few decades nationwide.  Here in South Carolina the winters have warm about 2 degrees F over the past 35 years.  The South has always enjoyed milder winters, but this has been more so lately in spite of the last two winters.

This map shows the average winter temperature trend 1976-2010.  Image Credit: Climate Central.

The warming has had benefits and problems.  Problems have included more summer insects, fewer chilling hours for peaches, and drier conditions.  However, one of the benefits has been a longer growing season.  The growing season has expanded by one week in the Midlands over the past 35 years.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Collapse of Mayan Civilization Related to Drought

As a youngster growing up in Florida I often read about the Indian civilizations in Central America.  The two most talked about in history classes were the Aztec and Maya.  The Mayan civilization was considered one of the most advanced civilizations of its time.  They made significant contributions to math and astronomy.

Mayan Temple
The Mayan civilization ranged over what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, and parts of Honduras.  Their cities were large with ceremonial pyramids.  They developed quite a culture with fine sculptures, paintings, and ceramics.

Yet, the civilization collapsed between 800-950 B.C.  There have been a number of theories put forth to explain the collapse.  These include, drought, disease, and sociopolitical conflicts.  None of these can be ruled out, but it appears that whatever the ultimate cause was climate change stands out.

A paper has just been published in Science by British and Mexican scientists.  Here are excerpts from the press release from the University of Southampton in the UK:

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Is The Sky Falling?

The media got wind of a story released by NASA and the headline was irresistible.  It was a NASA-funded university study based on NASA satellite data.  Earth's clouds got a little lower, about one percent on average, during the first decade of this century.

Scientists at the University of Auckland in New Zealand analyzed the first 10 years of global cloud-top height measurements (from March 2000 to February 2010) from the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft. The study, published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, revealed an overall trend of decreasing cloud height. Global average cloud height declined by around one percent over the decade, or by around 100 to 130 feet (30 to 40 meters). Most of the reduction was due to fewer clouds occurring at very high altitudes.

Data from NASA's MISR instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft show that global average cloud height declined by about 1 percent over the decade from 2000 to 2010, or around 100 to 130 feet (30 to 40 meters). The graph here shows anomalies in global effective cloud-top height from the 10-year average, corrected to account for seasonal differences. The solid line represents the 12-month running average of 10-day anomalies, while the dotted line represents the trendline calculated by linear regression. Gray error bars indicate the sampling error (plus or minus 26 feet, or 8 meters) in the annual average. Image credit: University of Auckland/NASA JPL-Caltech.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Some Drought Relief

The winter has been warm and dry for much of the Southeast.  Weather patterns have been quite dry and much of the area has been slipping farther into drought.  The worst stage drought (exceptional drought) first showed up across southern Georgia about a month ago.

The exceptional drought as of last week stretched from southeast Alabama across southern Georgia into the low country of South Carolina.  Almost all of the low country of South Carolina was in extreme or exceptional drought and that extended along the Savannah River to north of Augusta.  Farmers in South Carolina were being hurt by the weather and high fuel prices as seen here.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Irresponsible Skepticism

This past week has seen a buzz in the blogosphere about documents concerning The Heartland Institute.  DeSmogBlog was the first to report on the documents and you can see their posts here, here, here, here, and here.  Further commentary can be found on other websites here, here, here, and here.

See full image at Skeptical Science
The contents of the email from Heartland are now being refered to as Denialgate.  The released brought a response the those victimized by Climategate.  Their response was published in The Guardian and can be found here.

In a previous post I discussed a series on climate ethics that Dr. Donald Brown has been posting on his blog by the same name.  The timing of this series seems ironic in that the Heartland documents go to the point of his discussion about the climate change disinformation campaign.

The Heartland Institute is just one of many "think" tanks that is really an advocacy group, not a scientific organization.  It is not involved in research and publication in any peer-reviewed journal.  It has been criticized in the science journals Nature and Science.  The documents indicate that they have received funding from the fossil-fuel and tobacco industry amongst others.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Plant Hardiness Zones On The Move

The Plant Hardiness Zone Map is used by gardeners to determine which plants are best to grow in a particular area.  The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones.  I mentioned in a recent post that this year might be a good time to think about starting a backyard garden and this information would be helpful.  The warming climate across the U.S. is causing the range of plants to move poleward.

Average low temperatures for the U.S. (1895-2010).  Image Credit: Climate Central.

Note that the long-term trend has been moving up, however the 25-year moving average has shown mild periods and cooler periods.  However, there has been a significant increase in the moving average since the late 1970s.  As a result the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had to update its zone map due to the warming of recent decades.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Climate Change & Ethics

I have been thinking about this post since Donald Brown, Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics, Science, and Law at Penn State University, wrote a blogpost entitled "An Ethical Analysis of the Climate Change Disinformation Campaign: Is This A New Kind of Assault on Humanity?"  He outlined the campaign against climate science and went on to write "We are not trying to limit free speech but encourage people to see that lying or misinformation is deeply ethically problematic particularly in cases when deception can lead to immense harm."

I will be the first to admit that I have not consider the ethical implications of man-made climate change or the tactics used to attack the science.   I have been more concerned about the science and challenging those spreading science myths and disinformation.  Considering ethics seemed more of an academic exercise and one that most would find hard to understand.

Granted, I am taking a risk in exploring this issue.  Therefore, I started with an easy question; what is ethics?  I looked at several dictionary responses, but I didn't get much information from them on ethics.  Turned out that the answer was not easy or succinct.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Snow Drought: A Major Concern

In the previous post Andrew Friedman of Climate Central mentioned the warm winter and snow drought that is occurring in the U.S.  Information from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) reveals just how warm it has been for the winter months of December and January.

This winter has been influenced by La Nina and the Arctic Oscillation which have combined to produce the warmer than normal temperatures.  The precipitation picture has been mixed with wet conditions from parts of Texas northeastward to New York.  This has eased the extreme drought in some areas of Texas, but has not ended it for much of the state.  Meanwhile, southern Georgia is the center of an expanding drought in the Southeast.  Much of the West is experiencing drought particularly in the Southwest.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What’s Causing the Deadly Cold in Europe?

The weather pattern responsible for bringing frigid air to Europe, like this heavy snow fall on the Colosseum in Rome, is driven in part by a naturally-occurring pattern known as the Arctic Oscillation. 

This is a repost from Climate Central 

By Andrew Friedman 

While the U.S. cruises through winter with a snow drought and above-average temperatures, much of Europe and Eurasia are locked in the grips of a deadly cold air outbreak, with more than 300 people reported dead so far. According to news reports, entire communities in Italy, Bosnia, and Romania have become inaccessible due to heavy snowfall and power outages. According to Sky News, a dam in Bulgaria burst due to the combination of snowmelt and heavy rains, killing four people in a village downstream, and other dams in Southeastern Europe are also being threatened. Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey are at risk for heavy snows during the next few days.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the wintry blitz presents a poorly-timed challenge to European economies, which already are struggling to contain a debt crisis:

"In more robust economic times, the economic effects of bad weather might be nothing more than bump in the road, but in a place already teetering on the brink of recession, the stakes are higher."
"[E]ven relatively limited disruption from snow and freezing conditions could very well be enough to tip the balance towards the economy suffering further contraction in the first quarter of this year, which would put it officially back into recession," writes Howard Archer, chief European and UK economist of IHS Global Insight, in a commentary on the cold snap.
According to Bloomberg News, 93 stations from the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute reported the lowest-ever temperatures for February 5, with one station bottoming out near -38°F. In Ukraine, the cold has killed at least 131 people, and nearly 2,000 were hospitalized due to hypothermia.

Ice has forced Austria to close the Danube river to navigation, shutting down access to part of the second-longest river in Europe. In addition, the iconic canals of Venice were reported to be frozen as well.

What's Going On?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Suomi NPP Producing Stunning Views

NASA has renamed its newest Earth-observing satellite in honor of the late Verner E. Suomi, a meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin who is recognized widely as "the father of satellite meteorology."

Verner Suomi pioneered remote sensing of Earth from satellites in polar orbits a few hundred miles above the surface with Explorer 7 in 1959 and geostationary orbits thousands of miles high with ATS-1 in 1966. He was best known for his invention of the "spin-scan" camera which enabled geostationary weather satellites to continuously image Earth, yielding the satellite pictures commonly used on television weather broadcasts. He also was involved in planning interplanetary spacecraft missions to Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Suomi spent nearly his entire career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where in 1965 he founded the university's Space Science and Engineering Center with funding from NASA. The center is known for Earth-observing satellite research and development. In 1964, Suomi served as chief scientist of the U.S. Weather Bureau for one year. He received the National Medal of Science in 1977. He died in 1995 at the age of 79.

The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, or NPP, was renamed Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership, or Suomi NPP. The satellite is the first designed to collect critical data to improve short-term weather forecasts and increase understanding of long-term climate change.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Little Ice Age Was More Than A Solar Experience

The term Little Ice Age (LIA) was coined by François E. Matthes in 1939 in a paper published by the American Geophysical Union.  It described a period of unusually cool temperatures roughly from the 16th to the 19th century.

Ten reconstructions of temperature variations during the last 2000 years. The Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age are shown at the period when they are proposed to have occured.  Image credit:  Robert A. Rohde / Global Warming Art

The start and end of the period has been debated.  Wikipedia has a number of start dates culled from several published papers: