Climate clippings 2

In this post I have included a brief mention of a number of news items relating to climate change. It doesn’t preclude treating any of these topics in a separate post.

It can also serve as an open thread.

The “Big Freeze”, the Younger Dryas, happened in the space of a few months

mg20427344.800-1_300In case you have been feeling hot I thought we’d start with a story about the cold.

William Patterson of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, and colleagues have developed a technique where they use a scalpel to slice off layers of mud 0.5 to 1 millimetre thick, each representing up to three months of time.

The group studied a mud core from an ancient lake, Lough Monreagh, in western Ireland and found that the Younger Dryas over 12,000 years ago which plunged Europe into Siberian-type weather for about 1300 years, took hold in the space of a few months.

Now Patterson’s mob have built a robot able to shave 0.05 micrometre slivers along the growth lines of fossilised clam shells, giving a resolution of less than a day. “We can get you mid-July temperatures from 400 million years ago,” he says. You just have to work out where in the world the clam was 400 million years ago, and that could just about be anywhere.

Global temperatures could rise 6C by end of century

‘Fraid so. Here’s another scary one.

While it is just possible that a new Younger Dryas type event will occur, the smart money seems to be on the place getting hotter. Now a team led by Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia (I’ve heard of that place somewhere recently!) thinks that temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100. The problem is that carbon sinks are failing leaving a greater “airborne fraction”.

But shock, horror, another team from Bristol University disagrees.

Le Quéré, however, is sticking to her guns saying that they worked on monthly data, and so screened out the noise, compared to the other lot who were working on annual data.

Le Quéré is part of the Global Carbon Project, which our CSIRO sponsors, amongst others.

Fossil fuel emissions keep on rising in 2008

Indeed they did, by 2pc in fact.

That’s less than the 3.3% average in 2000-2006, probably because of the onset of the GFC.

In case Uncle Rupert cuts off that link, here’s the one that our farmers read.

The Great Barrier Reef has only a 50 per cent chance of survival if global CO2 emissions are not reduced at least 25 per cent by 2020

That’s what a coalition of Australia’s top reef and climate scientists said recently.

And in case that link gets cut off you can read about it at the splendid Climate Shifts blog where some of our reef specialists hang out.

See Rupert, we don’t need you after all.

Birth control: an effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions

If you are wondering what you can do about all this, a new report suggests birth control. The report says:

that 215 million women, mainly in developing countries, want contraception but have no access to it. Funding from donor countries for the UN’s birth control programme has fallen from $723 million (£431 million) at its peak in 1995 to $338 million in 2007.

The report also says that the longer women remain in education, the fewer babies they have. Women who have never gone to school have an average of 4.5 children. Those who complete one or two years of university have 1.7.

“Dollar for dollar, investments in voluntary family planning and girls’ education would, in the long run, reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least as much as investments in nuclear or wind energy,” the report says.

Women are most likely to be affected by climate change

There’s been a stream of items coming through my feeds suggesting that women in poorer countries will be amongst the hardest hit.

Funny, this article suggests that the issue was not framed in terms of birth control, but both this item and the one immediately above are referring to the same report.

It’s the United Nations Population Fund’s report State of the world population 2009 where you can follow it up if you wish.

It’s all in the mind

Finally while I was busy doing something else I heard the ABC RN program Climate change and the psyche.

It sounded really deep and meaningful, about myths and similar matters, which would truly lead to a “aha” experience, if only I could concentrate on what they were saying. I’ll just have to wait for the transcript, due after Wednesday.

There’s heaps more going on of course, but that will have to do for this edition (I’m not promising weekly). Please feel free to cotribute your choice links.

41 thoughts on “Climate clippings 2”

  1. Nobody cares about the Great Barrier Reef.

    Perhaps not nobody, but certainly most people don’t care, especially when there’s so much money to be made in resources.

    As I wrote at Quiggin: The FNQ tourism industry is being smashed by the strong Aussie dollar. The dollar is soaring because our commodities are in demand, and our biggest export earner of all is coal, the main driver of climate change globally. The strong dollar will force the Queensland economy to ‘restructure’ reallocating resources away from failing industries such as reef & rainforest tourism, and towards growing industries such as coal mining, thus making the economy function more efficiently.

    This is capitalism and free markets at work.

    I mean, its not far for people to move to where the work is. The Bowen Basin, one of the largest coal reserves in the world, is just a few hours drive south. I hear house prices in Mackay are going gangbusters.

    Chief cheerleader for the Aussie resources boom Michael Pascoe wrote last week:

    I was in Mackay earlier this week – capital of a region where the GFC was only a pause for breath, where housing is close to Sydney prices and unemployment is minimal. While Australian credit growth was just 1.7 per cent over the past year, the NAB’s Mackay lending book grew by 12 per cent. For every story of a tourist town doing it harder, there’s a resources town booming.

    Yay Australia! Who needs that stinkin’ reef anyway, we’ve got coal!

  2. Here’s Quiggin’s post. I understand he was one of the scientists involved, and did his AFR column on the issue.

    The GBR is in better shape than most reefs in the world. I understand that 100 million people depend directly on reef ecologies as their main source of protein and probably about 5 times that many as a major source of income.

    Coral reefs have collapsed before a number of times during planetary ecological crises and recovered, but I understand their normal recovery time is about 4 million years.

  3. Meanwhile, the latest data seem to show that East Antarctica, is losing a lot more ice mass than had hitherto been supposed — perhaps as much as 100Gt since 2006.

    Up until now, East Antarctica had been contrasted favourably with West Antarctica as neutral or slightly losing ice mass.
    East Antarctic ice sheet melting faster than expected

    ROLAND WARNER: They’re saying that it’s 57 gigatonnes, that’s 57,000-million tonnes of ice. To put that into perspective, the entire loss that they’re reporting from Antarctica, which mainly comes from west Antarctica, is around about half a millimetre of sea level rise, and so this is a little bit over a quarter of that contribution and they do stress that they’ve got quite big uncertainties on this number.

    They’re quite clear that east Antarctica is losing ice, but in fact anywhere between just losing a bit to losing 100 gigatonnes per year.

  4. Fran, I think there is still a possibility that increased precipitation on East Antarctica will change the ice loss balance as the continent warms, but its unlikely to counterbalance the deterioration in the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica. Recently there has been a thought that the Pine Island Glacier is the weak underbally of the West Antarctic ice sheet.

    This is no small matter, as from memory the PIG drains enough ice to increase sea levels by 1.5 metres all on its own.

    It’s useful to remember, I think, that a gigatonne of ice is a cubic kilometre. So Greenland is losing 273 cubic kilometres pa. A lot of ice.

  5. It’s hard to imagine how fast our planet is changing and it’s hard to envisage the ramifications of all this change.

    Time for the Dawkin’s mob to pray to the rationalist deity that our deeply religious politicians do something to reduce our carbon emissions.

  6. http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Publications/PDF_Papers/New_Republic_TNR_QA_Schneider.pdf
    .
    This is an interview of Stephen Schneider in the New Republic. It has a great discussion about the distinction betweeen activism and scientific research.The interviewee also elaborates on the risk assessment needed before actions should be taken.
    Schneider is also often quoted and attacked for the following quote from 1989 –
    .
    ” We need to get some broad based support, to capture the public imagination,we have to offer up some scary scenarios,make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have.Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective,and being honest.”
    .
    The CRU episode has also galvanised others into action –
    http://www.thegwpf.org/news/136-launched-today.html
    .
    Reading through the list of scientific advisors is bit unnerving though. The impetus for action seems to be a seach for credibility in matters of climate science so good luck to them pursuing that.

  7. Here’s the latest diagnosis: http://www.theage.com.au/environment/warming-diagnosis-beyond-worst-case-20091124-jhco.html

    The review cites NASA data that shows a trend of a 0.19-degree increase over the past decade despite short-term fluctuations due to El Nino, solar variability and volcanic eruptions.

    Matthew England, co-director of the University of NSW Climate Change Research Centre, said the world’s three leading climate data series showed claims of temperatures cooling were ”patently untrue”.

    ”These are the data set even the sceptics go to, and they show that the last 10 years has been one of warming even if you start in [the particularly hot] 1998,” Professor England said.

    ”Since 2001, every year has been among the top-10 warmest on record. I don’t think that is cooling.”

  8. From The Monbiot blog on the Guardian website-
    “Monbiot 23rd Nov 2009 9.18PM
    This contributor made the first statement- Sabraguy:

    But now I suggest you review your file of correspondence and articles, and figure out who you need to apologize to.

    Monbiot’s reply-“I apologise. I was too trusting of some of those who provided the evidence I championed. I would have been a better journalist if I had investigated their claims more closely.”
    .
    A few comments later –
    23 Nov 2009, 9:21PM
    Contributor contrarian2:

    But if the science is that “settled,” why refuse to disclose the data? If global warming so obvious and incontrovertible, why be in such a panic about FOI, why talk openly about re-defining “peer review”, why threaten to (or actually) delete data?
    .
    Monbiot replys-“I agree. It is exactly for those reasons that Phil Jones should resign. There’s a word for his lack of openness and control of the data: unscientific.”
    .
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/nov/23/global-warming-leaked-email-climate-scientists#start-of-comments

  9. MTS re Monbiot

    This is simply dreadful and utterly craven. I’v long had my doubts about Monbiot –his stance on biofuels didn’t recommend him. Why he would buy into this and offer grist to the filth merchant gish gallopers in the run up to Copenhagen is hard to fathom however.

  10. Fran, on the other thread DI(nr) reckoned Monbiot was pulling our leg. I read the thing with reasonable care. The knights carbonic thing was obviously ironic but the first part seemed straight to me.

    I have the impression that Monbiot has never been involved in actual scientific research, has never been involved in the administration of a largish organisation, and doesn’t understand the issues in relation to answering FOI requests, which you know are not being put in good faith and will not contribute to the sum of human knowledge. Roger Jones comment on the other thread was most informative, I thought.

  11. I read through the first 150 responses Brian and he re-emphasised his apology there, so it sounded serious to me.

    There were any number of filth merchant types lauding his about face and not a few more rational people inviting him to have a cup of tea and a good lie down over his call for Phil Jones to resign.

    My feeling towards him just now is one of utter disgust. This is much worse than his nonsense on biofuels. Aid and comfort and all that …

  12. Thanks, Fran. I’m a bit time-challenged at the moment. Monbiot does seem on this simplistic, superficial and I’d almost say puritanical. But that’s just an impression.

  13. Re Monbiot – maybe he just wants to get back on a plane?
    Then he can have a long holiday abroad , drive a for-hire hummer and have the air con turned up so he doesn’t get all sweaty.
    .
    Then final sentence of the Copenhagen update summary is “. To stabilize climate, a decarbonized global society – with near-zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived greenhouse gases – need to be reached well within this century. More specifically, the average annual per-capita emissions will have to shrink to well under 1 metric ton CO2 by 2050.
    This is 80-90% below the per-capita emissions in developed nations in 2000.”

  14. What precisely is TRUenergy on about here? http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/11/25/2753228.htm

    Mr McIndoe says TRUenergy’s parent company may use lawyers to recover more of the costs.

    “Certainly we are protected by an international trade treaty between Hong Kong and Australia, which ensured that we will be compensated for any discriminating policy that’s put in place by the Government,” he said

    I can see how the CPRS creates property in pollution “rights” – but I fail to see how it “discriminates” against TRUenergy.

  15. They’re just chancers and coin-clippers, LeftyE.

    From memory, the bastards got it all at bargain basement prices, now they want to be reimbursed like they paid top-dollar and had no idea this might happen.

  16. One cute manoeuvre, that Rudd apparently didn’t consider would run as follows.

    Rudd: Ok … I hear you fellas … You think at ETS is just another big tax with mega government handouts. You really hate it and think it will send the economy down the toilet? OK … the ETS is gone. No ETS and no tax … however … we still have to get emissions down, so we are going tyo have to regulate them down. We are going to use the Foreign Affairs power and Kyoto to regulate emissions cuts on a schedule based on the best science and agreement at Copenhagen. … We are going to do this to every car and every industry and to all emitting sectors of the economy. Anyone who misses a target gets swingeing fines based on $100 per tonne of CO2. Anyone who is a persistent defaulter is subject to forfeit of the asset.

  17. There’s no way Rudd would consider such a thing, Fran. For a start, despite his rhetoric he’s not actually serious about reducing carbon emmissions. If he was, he wouldn’t have made that stupid speech about a Big Australia the other day.

  18. Funny you should say that, DI(nr). I heard Tony Kevin interviewed On Fora Radio about his new book Crunch time. He reckons there is a gaping gap between Rudd’s rhetoric and action which is giving people the idea that climate change isn’t all that much of a problem.

    He reckons there are three G20 countries only which are doing bugger all about climate change – Canada, Russia and Australia.

    He reckons we need zero emissions by 2030. He has interesting things to say about how problems should be framed. And surprise, surprise, his basic degree was in civil engineering. Worth a look, I think.

  19. Yeah, I heard some of that on the way home from work, Brian. I’ll download it so I can hear the lot. The book sounds pretty interesting, too.

  20. Lefty E, Obama is now definitely going to call into Copenhagen on his way to or from picking up his Nobel prize, which is good news.

  21. I also heard the Fora radio interview last night. Overall, it was a very good piece but I was disappointed that while expressing an open mind about the rtole of nuclear power, he repeated the old furphy about unlquidated costs in accident risk, nuclear weapons spread etc …

    Devout Muslims are supposed to end their sentences with inshallah and references to Mohammed with peace be upon him and one suspects, given Tony’s a Catholic, apparently, and given his negative regard for nuclear power [“I hate it”] he had to throw the above qualification in to conform to what he regarded as environmental orthodoxy.

  22. Fran, I’d agree that Tony Kevin was off the pace on nuclear power.

    Lefty E, Kevin pointed out that the US were making very large investments in a low carbon economy as part of their GFC stimulus. We, of course, have as our main priority propping up dinosaur fossil fuel industries.

    There is an article in the New Scientist outlining what the Americans are doing not so much to pick winners, but to find them. Not much money involved, but the potential returns are humungous.

  23. Brian

    re: the US … apparently their target, while down 17% on 2000 will work out to about 5% on 1990 … which is surely something, but not exactly a game changer.

  24. Fran, that’s exactly right and it’s a worry. But perhaps the hardest thing is to stop the increase, peak and turn the thing down. That Richard Dennis video (no time to find the link) suggests that we won’t do that until 2033 if you leave aside buying credits in other countries.

    So it’s a case of being a little bit thankful for small mercies and hoping they’ll get serious sooner rather than later. Meanwhile if they make a big push on new technology it could help us all later on.

  25. Brian

    The problem is not merely the direction but the speed at which we accomplish it. We cannot lose the Arctic permafrost, so we have to work out the tipping point for that and stay this side of it, otherwise what we do now may simply be lost in the wash.

    That tipping point is probably less than 1 degree in the Arctic which, as you know, is warming faster than the rest of the planet. Take falling Arctic albedo into account and our challenge is to make sharp reductions now.

  26. Serious (viz., 100% snark-free) question for Brian…

    I read this from the original post:

    “The group studied a mud core from an ancient lake, Lough Monreagh, in western Ireland and found that the Younger Dryas over 12,000 years ago which plunged Europe into Siberian-type weather for about 1300 years, took hold in the space of a few months…”

    Now from strictly a plausibility/probability perspective, I’ve always thought one of the more persuasive arguments for the “A” in AGW was the ostensible precipitousness of the temperature spike — climate changes of the past (I would imagine) have tended to have a slower onset, and until very recently from a geologic time perspective, could never have had that “A” in them anyway. So the sheer suddenness of the spike looks kind of telling (assuming it’s both true and sufficiently knowable to be interpreted with confidence.)

    But if this earlier significant and lasting weather event you’re referring to occurred “in the space of a few months,” that’s precedent for sharply precipitous changes strictly caused by whatever shifts in nature (viz. without the “A”) apply. Not that only two such events prove or disprove anything, but I would have thought such a quick time slope would be pretty unlikely, and as I say, I always considered that was one point in favor of A-specific GW.

    Can you elaborate further on what it means in the context of the present predicament? (It’s not a “gotcha” hook, I’m curious what else there is to be said about it.)

  27. I’d be interested too j_p_z. I was under the impression that cooling could happen much faster than warming – being possibly caused by meteor impacts, volcanos or somesuch. Whereas warming has all those biological feedbacks and shit.

  28. j_p_z,

    the Younger Dryas is thought to have been caused by a large flood of freshwater from continental ice sheet melt in N Am hitting the north Atlantic and shutting off the warm currents heading north – these are the ones that keep Europe warm. They had started up as part of the post glacial warming phase. This isn’t agreed to by all but it’s a plausible mechanism. The lake project shows how fast it might have happened – this has surprised most.

    One of the reasons it would have had such a quick effect is there was so much ice around, that it took no time for the ice sheets to re-advance (Lots to work with). This kept things cold for another 1300 years until the currents switched back on.

    Warming can be pretty fast if large amounts of GHGs hit the atmosphere but not that fast.

  29. Fran, I just hope, given the slackness of certain countries in particular and just about all countries if truth be known, that once the building blocks of a low carbon economy are in place we’ll be able to decarbonize at a faster rate. But your point is well taken.

    I’ve just checked the Copenhagen diagnosis and they reckon if the world peaks in 2020 we’ll need to reduce by 9% pa from there (Figure 22), compared with Meinshausen’s emissions reduction path (Figure 3) where they say 6%. So they must have upped the ante as it were.

    I notice that Meinshausen’s boss Schellnhuber was involved in the Copenhagen exercise.

  30. j_p_z and FDB, I’ll attempt a slightly longer version than Roger’s. But I might go off the track, not being a climate scientist and all. I’m happy if Roger or someone knowledgeable corrects me.

    Naturally occurring rapid climate changes are called Dansgaard-Oeschger events. As I understand it each has it’s own cause, so I reckon the notion of priodicity is a bit of a stretch.

    With the Younger Dryas they think it was caused by an interruption of the thermohaline circulation which brings warm tropical water to the Northern Atlantic via the Gulf Stream (the warm surface current). During the process of warming Europe about 5C more than it otherwise would be water evaporates making it more salty and denser. The dense water sinks, which is an important function in driving the thermohaline circulation system.

    During the deglaciation of North America a huge lake formed in the middle called
    Lake Agassiz. The favoured theory is that the lake burst suddenly creating a huge freshwater flux which interrupted the thermohaline circulation.

    If so it’s unlikely to happen again quite like that, although I’ve seen stuff on the slowing of the thermohaline by as much as 30% in recent decades.

    I did notice in the UN Climate Science Compendium that there is a story about it raining more in higher latitudes meaning more outflow into the Arctic sea. Not sure whether this is an issue.

    One potential cause, which you can worry about if you’ve got nothing better to do, would be if a giant slab slipped off a continental shelf into the deep, disturbing methane clathrates which would then greenhouse the climate into a hotter state. Not sure that would be fast enough to qualify as sudden though.

  31. RJ and Brian — thanks for the further info.

    The logical follow-up question (at least to me, for the purposes of what I’m trying to get a grasp of) would be, what caused the precipitous glacial melt in North America (and also, was it even all that precipitous?)? Could it be a) a sudden-onset warming spike which caused the glacial melt and subsequent spill into the Atlantic current over a short time period, b) a slow-and-steady onset of glacier-melting-friendly temperature increases, which over time released new water into the Atlantic current but only reached a critical volume at a certain point after a long process, thus triggering an (only seemingly) sudden onset even though the cause itself was not sudden, or c) something else entirely which I haven’t thought of?

  32. j_p_z,

    The long period of warming after the last ice age (roughly from 18k years before present) saw the ice sheet that was covering much of northern America melt and retreat. Some of the melt formed what has been called Lake Agassiz, after the geologist Louis Agassiz. There are shoreline deposits over wide areas of the US interior (Dakota for instance). It is thought that perhaps this broke its banks and flooded into the Atlantic, perhaps through the St Laurence river area.

    Simple model experiments show the thermohaline conveyor belt, that originates with warm, saline water moving north and sinking, will be stopped by a large freshwater input. Your b option was thought for some time to be the mechanism and is perhaps plausible (the switch seems to be pretty sensitive when it’s close to it’s switching threshold), though the evidence is stacking up for a). c is still on the table – the latest is a possible meteor strike over the US, which may have accounted for the megafauna and the Clovis people also, the hypothesis goes.

    There is an ash layer and some evidence of ET material just under the Younger Dryas sediments. Did the meteor hit Lake Agassiz? You can get to some interesting hypotheses andevidence by searching clovis, meteor and dryas.

    The detectives are still sifting through the evidence to find the culprit, or even work out whether the Lake, the Meteor and perhaps even another mystery party were in cahoots.

    All of these natural phenomena are used by some to suggest that all global change events are natural. This might be plausible if the Earth was a simple mechanical system with no feedbacks. It isn’t, and responds to all kinds of phenomena, including us. It’s this fascination with the natural world and its complexity that got me into science as a career in the first place.

  33. Thanks RJ. Very interesting stuff.

    Strictly for amusement value… I have a few more odd associations with ol’ Louis Agassiz than you’d commonly expect to find.

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