Friday, December 28, 2012

A Not So Merry Christmas!

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

From The Night Before Christmas

For some there were no children snug in the beds with visions of sugar-plums dancing in their heads.  No time to settle down for a long winter’s nap.  The winds were howling and the snow was flying, while tornadoes danced south keeping everyone on edge.  This year Mother Nature would be part of the tale.

Meteorologists were kept busy forecasting what’s next;
Many monitored each storm and sent out the text;
For many the weather was not so genteel;
Like the tornado that passed through the heart of Mobile;
Most were quite nervous as the storms moved east;
Not knowing what to expect from this awesome beast;
But most survived Mother Nature’s disorder;
Because they were warned by meteorologists and reporters.

There was no surprise from the Christmas Day storm.  It had been forecast well in advance.  The European model hinted that it might take place as I mentioned on-air a week before it happened.  What happened?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It's All About Chemistry

In 1827 the French mathematician and scientist, Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier postulated that something in the atmosphere was helping keep the earth warmer than it might otherwise.  He is generally credited with discovering the greenhouse effect even though he did not coin the phrase.  However, his work set the stage for later developments in the nineteenth century.

It was the British scientist John Tyndall who demonstrated the absorption of infrared radiation from different gases in 1861.  His work found that nearly all of the greenhouse effect was due to just a few trace gases like water vapor and carbon dioxide (CO2).  This was a startling discovery, because it had huge implications for Earth’s climate.

The Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius was the first to actually detail how a doubling of carbon dioxide would change the global temperature with the publication of his work in 1896.  His work eventually led to the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1903.  He is recognized with beginning modern climate science.

The discovery of global warming is a fascinating story.  I highly recommend the book by Spencer Weart by the name The Discovery of Global Warming.  If you are interested in the scientific papers, it is available in the collection called the The Warming Papers edited by David Archer and Raymond Pierrehumbert.

Note that the foundation of climate science occurred over a century ago.  It is also noteworthy that the trace gases were recognized for their ability to influence Earth’s climate as far back as the nineteenth century.

Fast forward to today.  The burning of fossil fuels has fueled (pardon the pun) the world economic growth.  China and the U.S. are the two largest emitters of CO2.  In the latest accounting the global growth in emissions continues.

How do we know that the increases in CO2 come from burning fossil fuels?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Denial Amongst TV Weathercasters

I was surprised this past week by an article in Rolling Stone magazine.  The article covered the issue of the denial of human-caused climate change among the nation’s television weathercasters.  It is an issue that has puzzled me given the science and the consensus among climate scientists.  One has to question why so many TV weathercasters seem to know more than climate scientists.  The article highlights a rather vocal group of communicators and can be seen here.

Screen grab of the Rolling Stone website.  Image Credit: Rolling Stone

There is one statement that I disagree with in the article.  It states that “Yet the cause of much of the meteorological mayhem – global warming – was rarely mentioned on air.”  The author implies that Sandy was caused by global warming.  I do not believe that this is accurate.  Sandy and other “meteorological mayhem” was enhanced in it destructiveness by global warming and climate change as I have written previously.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

We're Melting! Melting!

“You cursed brat! Look what you've done! I'm melting! melting! Oh, what a world! What a world! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness? Oooooh, look out! I'm going! Oooooh! Ooooooh!”

                                                                                          From the Wizard of OZ

Dorothy watches the Wicked Witch of the West melt in the Wizard of Oz.  Image Credit: Everett Collection.

How many times have you seen this movie?  I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t.  However, I couldn’t help remembering this line from the movie Wizard of Oz as I read a new report this week.

The report was published in the November 30 issue of the journal Science.  It was the work of 47 experts in glaciology from 26 institutions worldwide and the best estimate we have of the amount of ice being lost from Greenland and Antarctica.  The team analyzed different sets of data covering the period from 1992 to 2011 and included satellite measurements from NASA.