Tag: Atmosphere of Earth

Sceptical voices, part two

More musings about determining the truth.

Those who read yesterday’s part one will undoubtedly have seen the added comment from long-time friend of Learning from Dogs, Patrice Ayme.  Yesterday, I promised to conclude Dan’s sceptical approach to climate warming with three articles that he had sent me.  Here they are,

Global Warming

“Global warming” refers to the global-average temperature increase that has been observed over the last one hundred years or more. But to many politicians and the public, the term carries the implication that mankind is responsible for that warming. This website describes evidence from my group’s government-funded research that suggests global warming is mostly natural, and that the climate system is quite insensitive to humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions and aerosol pollution.

Believe it or not, very little research has ever been funded to search for natural mechanisms of warming…it has simply been assumed that global warming is manmade. This assumption is rather easy for scientists since we do not have enough accurate global data for a long enough period of time to see whether there are natural warming mechanisms at work.

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that the only way they can get their computerized climate models to produce the observed warming is with anthropogenic (human-caused) pollution. But they’re not going to find something if they don’t search for it. More than one scientist has asked me, “What else COULD it be?” Well, the answer to that takes a little digging… and as I show, one doesn’t have to dig very far.

But first let’s examine the basics of why so many scientists think global warming is manmade. Earth’s atmosphere contains natural greenhouse gases (mostly water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane) which act to keep the lower layers of the atmosphere warmer than they otherwise would be without those gases. Greenhouse gases trap infrared radiation — the radiant heat energy that the Earth naturally emits to outer space in response to solar heating. Mankind’s burning of fossil fuels (mostly coal, petroleum, and natural gas) releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and this is believed to be enhancing the Earth’s natural greenhouse effect. As of 2008, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was about 40% to 45% higher than it was before the start of the industrial revolution in the 1800’s.

It is interesting to note that, even though carbon dioxide is necessary for life on Earth to exist, there is precious little of it in Earth’s atmosphere. As of 2008, only 39 out of every 100,000 molecules of air were CO2, and it will take mankind’s CO2 emissions 5 more years to increase that number by 1, to 40.

Earth's atmosphere

The “Holy Grail”: Climate Sensitivity Figuring out how much past warming is due to mankind, and how much more we can expect in the future, depends upon something called “climate sensitivity”. This is the temperature response of the Earth to a given amount of ‘radiative forcing’, of which there are two kinds: a change in either the amount of sunlight absorbed by the Earth, or in the infrared energy the Earth emits to outer space.

The ‘consensus’ of opinion is that the Earth’s climate sensitivity is quite high, and so warming of about 0.25 deg. C to 0.5 deg. C (about 0.5 deg. F to 0.9 deg. F) every 10 years can be expected for as long as mankind continues to use fossil fuels as our primary source of energy. NASA’s James Hansen claims that climate sensitivity is very high, and that we have already put too much extra CO2 in the atmosphere. Presumably this is why he and Al Gore are campaigning for a moratorium on the construction of any more coal-fired power plants in the U.S.

You would think that we’d know the Earth’s ‘climate sensitivity’ by now, but it has been surprisingly difficult to determine. How atmospheric processes like clouds and precipitation systems respond to warming is critical, as they are either amplifying the warming, or reducing it. This website currently concentrates on the response of clouds to warming, an issue which I am now convinced the scientific community has totally misinterpreted when they have measured natural, year-to-year fluctuations in the climate system. As a result of that confusion, they have the mistaken belief that climate sensitivity is high, when in fact the satellite evidence suggests climate sensitivity is low.

The case for natural climate change I also present an analysis of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation which shows that most climate change might well be the result of….the climate system itself! Because small, chaotic fluctuations in atmospheric and oceanic circulation systems can cause small changes in global average cloudiness, this is all that is necessary to cause climate change. You don’t need the sun, or any other ‘external’ influence (although these are also possible…but for now I’ll let others work on that). It is simply what the climate system does. This is actually quite easy for meteorologists to believe, since we understand how complex weather processes are. Your local TV meteorologist is probably a closet ’skeptic’ regarding mankind’s influence on climate.

Climate change — it happens, with or without our help.

And the next one,

Earth may be headed into a mini Ice Age within a decade

Physicists say sunspot cycle is ‘going into hibernation’

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science14th June 2011 17:00 GMT

What may be the science story of the century is breaking this evening, as heavyweight US solar physicists announce that the Sun appears to be headed into a lengthy spell of low activity, which could mean that the Earth – far from facing a global warming problem– is actually headed into a mini Ice Age.

Ice skating on the Thames by 2025?

The announcement made on 14 June (18:00 UK time) comes from scientists at the US National Solar Observatory (NSO) and US Air Force Research Laboratory. Three different analyses of the Sun’s recent behaviour all indicate that a period of unusually low solar activity may be about to begin.

The Sun normally follows an 11-year cycle of activity. The current cycle, Cycle 24, is now supposed to be ramping up towards maximum strength. Increased numbers of sunspots and other indications ought to be happening: but in fact results so far are most disappointing. Scientists at the NSO now suspect, based on data showing decades-long trends leading to this point, that Cycle 25 may not happen at all.

This could have major implications for the Earth’s climate. According to a statement issued by the NSO, announcing the research:

An immediate question is whether this slowdown presages a second Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period with virtually no sunspots [which occurred] during 1645-1715.

As NASA notes [1]:

Early records of sunspots indicate that the Sun went through a period of inactivity in the late 17th century. Very few sunspots were seen on the Sun from about 1645 to 1715. Although the observations were not as extensive as in later years, the Sun was in fact well observed during this time and this lack of sunspots is well documented. This period of solar inactivity also corresponds to a climatic period called the “Little Ice Age” when rivers that are normally ice-free froze and snow fields remained year-round at lower altitudes. There is evidence that the Sun has had similar periods of inactivity in the more distant past.

During the Maunder Minimum and for periods either side of it, many European rivers which are ice-free today – including the Thames – routinely froze over, allowing ice skating and even for armies to march across them in some cases.

“This is highly unusual and unexpected,” says Dr Frank Hill of the NSO. “But the fact that three completely different views of the Sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation.”

Hill’s own research focuses on surface pulsations of the Sun and their relationship with sunspots, and his team has already used their methods to successfully predict the late onset of Cycle 24.

“We expected to see the start of the zonal flow for Cycle 25 by now,” Hill explained, “but we see no sign of it. This indicates that the start of Cycle 25 may be delayed to 2021 or 2022, or may not happen at all.”

Hill’s results match those from physicists Matt Penn and William Livingston, who have gone over 13 years of sunspot data from the McMath-Pierce Telescope at Kitt Peak in Arizona. They have seen the strength of the magnetic fields which create sunspots declining steadily. According to the NSO:

Penn and Livingston observed that the average field strength declined about 50 gauss per year during Cycle 23 and now in Cycle 24. They also observed that spot temperatures have risen exactly as expected for such changes in the magnetic field. If the trend continues, the field strength will drop below the 1,500 gauss threshold and spots will largely disappear as the magnetic field is no longer strong enough to overcome convective forces on the solar surface.

In parallel with this comes research from the US Air Force’s studies of the solar corona. Richard Altrock, in charge of this, has found a 40-year decline in the “rush to the poles” – the poleward surge of magnetic activity in the corona.

“Those wonderful, delicate coronal features are actually powerful, robust magnetic structures rooted in the interior of the Sun,” Altrock says. “Changes we see in the corona reflect changes deep inside the Sun …

“Cycle 24 started out late and slow and may not be strong enough to create a rush to the poles, indicating we’ll see a very weak solar maximum in 2013, if at all. If the rush to the poles fails to complete, this creates a tremendous dilemma for the theorists … No one knows what the Sun will do in that case.”

According to the collective wisdom of the NSO, another Maunder Minimum may very well be on the cards.

“If we are right,” summarises Hill, “this could be the last solar maximum we’ll see for a few decades. That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth’s climate.”

The effects on space exploration would be benign, as fewer or no solar storms would make space a much less hostile environment for human beings. At the moment, anyone venturing beyond the Earth’s protective magnetic field (the only people to have done so were the Apollo moon astronauts of the 1960s and ’70s) runs a severe risk of dangerous or fatal radiation exposure during a solar storm.

Manned missions beyond low Earth orbit, a stated aspiration of the USA and other nations, might become significantly safer and cheaper to mount (cheaper as there would be no requirement for possibly very heavy shielding to protect astronauts, so reducing launch costs).

The big consequences of a major solar calm spell, however, would be climatic. The next few generations of humanity might not find themselves trying to cope with global warming but rather with a significant cooling. This could overturn decades of received wisdom on such things as CO2 emissions, and lead to radical shifts in government policy worldwide.

And the last one,

On the Misdiagnosis of Surface Temperature Feedbacks from Variations in Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance

Roy W. Spencer * and William D. Braswell

ESSC-UAH, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Cramer Hall, Huntsville, AL 35899, USA

* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.Received: 24 May 2011; in revised form: 13 July 2011 / Accepted: 15 July 2011 / Published: 25 July 2011

Abstract: The sensitivity of the climate system to an imposed radiative imbalance remains the largest source of uncertainty in projections of future anthropogenic climate change. Here we present further evidence that this uncertainty from an observational perspective is largely due to the masking of the radiative feedback signal by internal radiative forcing, probably due to natural cloud variations. That these internal radiative forcings exist and likely corrupt feedback diagnosis is demonstrated with lag regression analysis of satellite and coupled climate model data, interpreted with a simple forcing-feedback model. While the satellite-based metrics for the period 2000–2010 depart substantially in the direction of lower climate sensitivity from those similarly computed from coupled climate models, we find that, with traditional methods, it is not possible to accurately quantify this discrepancy in terms of the feedbacks which determine climate sensitivity. It is concluded that atmospheric feedback diagnosis of the climate system remains an unsolved problem, due primarily to the inability to distinguish between radiative forcing and radiative feedback in satellite radiative budget observations.

So back to me!

As you can see there is every opportunity to be confused.  Not embracing contrary views to the ones that you believe, however, is not the way to determine the truth.

So let me close with a couple of my own contrary views.

The first from Bill McKibben published in the Resurgence Magazine,


We have a tiny window of opportunity to save something of the magnificence of the Earth so let’s all grab it, writes Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org

Asked to name the biggest thing that’s happened over Resurgence’s 45-year career, I think I’d have to say the melt of the Arctic. When this magazine began publishing, there was 40% more summer sea ice in the Arctic. Viewed from space, in those first pictures from the Apollo spacecraft, the planet looked very different than it does now. In recent summers both the north-west and the north-east passages have opened, allowing sailors to circumnavigate the Arctic through waters that no one thought, even a decade ago, humans would ever navigate.

Or maybe I would pick the rapid acidification of the planet’s seas – they’re 30% more acid than they were in 1966. Which means that the small creatures at the base of the marine food chain are having more trouble forming their shells, and that coral reefs – already stressed by warming waters – have a new trauma to deal with.

Another possibility: the Earth’s atmosphere is about 4% moister than it was 45 years ago, simply because warm air holds more water vapour than cold. This loads the dice for deluge, downpour, flood – it’s not surprising that we’re seeing record rainfall and unprecedented floods. Nor, since that water has to come from somewhere, should increasing drought and desertification come as much of a shock.

Here’s what I’m trying to say: when Resurgence began its run, we were still in the Holocene. Humans had altered much of the planet’s natural environment. We had dirty rivers and dirty air, spreading toxins and endangered species. But the basic operating system of the planet was running pretty much the same as it had for the 10,000 years of human civilisation.

Sometime in the intervening decades we moved out of that comfortable and remarkably stable world, and began the transition to What Comes Next?

Any date would be arbitrary, but if you wanted to pick one, you could say 1988. That was the year NASA scientist Jim Hansen warned the US Congress that global warming was indeed real – and it was the year that we passed the benchmark of 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere. At the time we didn’t know it was a benchmark – it was 20 years later that scientists, again led by Hansen, declared that 350ppm was the absolute upper limit if we wanted a planet “similar to the one on which civilisation developed and to which life is adapted”. If we wanted, in other words, that older world we were born onto.

I could list at some length the various woes this new world is already causing: we see rising sea levels displacing farmers across the deltas of Bangladesh, and Aedes aegypti expanding its boundary and spreading dengue fever like wildfire. Speaking of wildfire, we see record amounts, in part because of more heat and drought, and in part because insects (once kept in check by cold weather) are now spreading.

We see millions still homeless from last year’s flood in Pakistan, and billions struggling to pay for food because a string of crop failures that began with last summer’s Russian drought have increased grain prices by 70–80%.

And I could list at even greater length the woes we expect as the century grinds on. After all, we’ve only raised the temperature about a degree so far, and the climatologists tell us to expect four or five unless we stop burning coal and oil and gas much faster than any government currently plans. Temperatures like that will guarantee the melt of Greenland; according to the agronomists they will cut grain harvests by a third or more; they’ll make current shortages of water seem barely worth mentioning.

But for the moment don’t think about consequences, current or future. Just think about the enormity of what we’ve managed to do: we’ve altered the most basic operations of the one planet we’ve got.

The air is profoundly different, the heat balance with our sun profoundly altered. It’s by far the biggest thing humans have ever done or ever contemplated doing, and were some alien watching from a great distance she’d be scratching her head-like appendage. It’s our head-like appendage that’s responsible, of course. That big brain turned out to be incredibly clever, and its cleverest trick was to figure out that buried carbon could make life easy. Everything that we know around us – the whole modern world – derives from that discovery. Much of it is good. But now we’re threatening to take down the good, and much else with it.

So here’s the question for the next 45 years of Resurgence: can the big brain bail us out?

It’s already provided us with the warnings we need, warnings that would not have been available at any other moment in human history. The scientific method, one of the greatest achievements of our civilisation, has produced a robust consensus on this difficult problem in chemistry and physics: since the mid-1990s the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said in unmistakably plain language that there is no doubt: we have to cut carbon, and quickly.

But so far that warning has had little or no effect: our national governments, with a few noble exceptions, have paid scant attention; our attempts at global governance have been pathetic failures. The chief reason, I think, is the remarkable power of the fossil-fuel industry to stifle change; for 200 years it has grown bigger and richer and more than able to deal with the threat that science now poses to its reign. It literally makes us stupid: earlier this winter the US House of Representatives, by a 60-vote margin, defeated a resolution that merely stated that global warming was real. Exxon has promoted its own version of physics and chemistry, and they’ve managed to fool a good many too.

The real question, then, is going to be: is there a big enough heart connected to that big brain? Will we be able to heed not only the warnings of science but those of our conscience? Will we, gazing out at the growing array of ‘natural disasters’, figure out that we’ve got to make change? Change in our personal lives, yes, but even more change in our political arrangements, since that’s the only chance that actual physics and chemistry really give us for meeting the deadlines they’ve set.

I think the answer is yes – a tentative and uncertain yes, but one based on just enough real-world data to give me hope.

Three years ago we founded 350.org, the first big global grassroots climate campaign. Rooted in science but expressed in imagination, it has grown to pretty mammoth size. Our first two big global days of action, in the waning months of 2009 and 2010, were what CNN called “the most widespread days of political action in the planet’s history”, with nearly 15,000 demonstrations in every country on Earth but North Korea.

And the good news is we didn’t really ‘organise’ it – our tiny staff worked feverishly, but ultimately it was like a potluck supper. People in every corner of the Earth heard the call and did the work, figuring out what would work in their place. (An underwater demonstration on the dying coral reefs of the Maldives; a giant image of King Canute, composed of thousands of volunteers, trying to hold the sea back on the Brighton seashore!)

It’s not enough yet to beat the fossil-fuel industry – our bodies don’t yet add up to their money. But we’re growing constantly (the next big chance to join us: 24 September 2011, a day we’re calling Moving Planet). And – sad, but true – the natural world is going to continue to give us openings to make the case more strongly. Sooner or later our leaders will listen – and we’re committed to making it sooner.

We’re not going to stop global warming: it’s already warmed and it will warm some more. Those Apollo images of our planet are forever sepia-toned. But we’ve got a tiny window left to save something of the Earth we were born onto – its beauty, its bounty, its safety.

That’s our task, and the next 45 years will tell the tale.

Bill McKibben wrote the first book for a general audience on climate change, The End of Nature, in 1989. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

The second from the BBC News website just a few days ago.

Arctic ice hits second-lowest level, US scientists say

Sea ice cover in the Arctic in 2011 has passed its annual minimum, reaching the second-lowest level since satellite records began, US scientists say.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) says the minimum, reached on 9 September, was 4.33 million sq km.

That value is 36% lower than the average minimum for 1979-2000.

NSIDC said the figure was preliminary, and that “changing winds could still push the ice extent lower” before final numbers are published in early October.

The preliminary value is 160,000 sq km – or 4% – above the record minimum seen in 2007.

The minimum level of cover is far below the average of 1979-2000

“While the record low year of 2007 was marked by a combination of weather conditions that favoured ice loss – including clearer skies, favourable wind patterns and warm temperatures – this year has shown more typical weather patterns but continued warmth over the Arctic,” they wrote.

“This supports the idea that the Arctic sea ice cover is continuing to thin.”

NSIDC director Mark Serreze said: “Every summer that we see a very low ice extent in September sets us up for a similar situation the following year.

“The Arctic sea ice cover is so thin now compared to 30 years ago that it just can’t take a hit any more. This overall pattern of thinning ice in the Arctic in recent decades is really starting to catch up with us.”

In fact, an analysis released last week by researchers at the University of Bremen in Germany, who use a different satellite to assess ice cover, indicated that 2011’s minimum was the lowest on record.

However, there is some controversy surrounding the result; the Bremen team’s higher-resolution data can detect small patches of water where the NSIDC team would not, but the Bremen record goes back only to 2003.

These analyses are for the extent, or area, of Arctic ice, but recent estimates released by the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center give an indication of the total amount of sea ice.

Their data indicate that the ice volume is at an all-time low for the second year in a row.

Analyses of Arctic ice in recent years consistently indicate a change in the nature of the ice itself – from one solid mass that melts and freezes at its edges towards more dispersed, piecemeal ice cover, and from robust “multi-year” ice toward seasonal floes that melt more easily.

The NSIDC data show ice cover extents consistently below earlier averages

You may want to refer to the worrying images of the Petermann Glacier that I published on the 14th September.


I hope this article, split over two days, has been useful.  Hopefully, they underline the need to work it out for yourself and remain open-minded at all times.

From otters to aliens!

Big shift of topic from yesterday!

Yesterday, I wrote about the fabulous success of the British otter having gone from the crumbling edge of extinction to now being found in every English county.

For something completely different, and I do mean completely, have a read of this item that appeared in the British Guardian newspaper of the 18th August.

Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilisations, say scientists

Rising greenhouse emissions could tip off aliens that we are a rapidly expanding threat, warns a report

It may not rank as the most compelling reason to curb greenhouse gases, but reducing our emissions might just save humanity from a pre-emptive alien attack, scientists claim.

Watching from afar, extraterrestrial beings might view changes in Earth’s atmosphere as symptomatic of a civilisation growing out of control – and take drastic action to keep us from becoming a more serious threat, the researchers explain.

This highly speculative scenario is one of several described by a Nasa-affiliated scientist and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University that, while considered unlikely, they say could play out were humans and alien life to make contact at some point in the future.

Shawn Domagal-Goldman of Nasa’s Planetary Science Division and his colleagues compiled a list of plausible outcomes that could unfold in the aftermath of a close encounter, to help humanity “prepare for actual contact”.

In their report, Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis, the researchers divide alien contacts into three broad categories: beneficial, neutral or harmful.

Beneficial encounters ranged from the mere detection of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), for example through the interception of alien broadcasts, to contact with cooperative organisms that help us advance our knowledge and solve global problems such as hunger, poverty and disease.

Another beneficial outcome the authors entertain sees humanity triumph over a more powerful alien aggressor, or even being saved by a second group of ETs. “In these scenarios, humanity benefits not only from the major moral victory of having defeated a daunting rival, but also from the opportunity to reverse-engineer ETI technology,” the authors write.

Other kinds of close encounter may be less rewarding and leave much of human society feeling indifferent towards alien life. The extraterrestrials may be too different from us to communicate with usefully. They might invite humanity to join the “Galactic Club” only for the entry requirements to be too bureaucratic and tedious for humans to bother with. They could even become a nuisance, like the stranded, prawn-like creatures that are kept in a refugee camp in the 2009 South African movie, District 9, the report explains.

The most unappealing outcomes would arise if extraterrestrials caused harm to humanity, even if by accident. While aliens may arrive to eat, enslave or attack us, the report adds that people might also suffer from being physically crushed or by contracting diseases carried by the visitors. In especially unfortunate incidents, humanity could be wiped out when a more advanced civilisation accidentally unleashes an unfriendly artificial intelligence, or performs a catastrophic physics experiment that renders a portion of the galaxy uninhabitable.

To bolster humanity’s chances of survival, the researchers call for caution in sending signals into space, and in particular warn against broadcasting information about our biological make-up, which could be used to manufacture weapons that target humans. Instead, any contact with ETs should be limited to mathematical discourse “until we have a better idea of the type of ETI we are dealing with.”

The authors warn that extraterrestrials may be wary of civilisations that expand very rapidly, as these may be prone to destroy other life as they grow, just as humans have pushed species to extinction on Earth. In the most extreme scenario, aliens might choose to destroy humanity to protect other civilisations.

“A preemptive strike would be particularly likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilisation may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand. Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilisational expansion could be detected by an ETI because our expansion is changing the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, via greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states.

“Green” aliens might object to the environmental damage humans have caused on Earth and wipe us out to save the planet. “These scenarios give us reason to limit our growth and reduce our impact on global ecosystems. It would be particularly important for us to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases, since atmospheric composition can be observed from other planets,” the authors write.

Even if we never make contact with extraterrestrials, the report argues that considering the potential scenarios may help to plot the future path of human civilisation, avoid collapse and achieve long-term survival.

I am bound to say that if Mr Domagal-Goldman and his colleagues believe that spending time and money on the possible outcomes of contact with extraterrestrials is a good idea in these present times then I am minded about those other visitors from outer space who passed Planet Earth by because there were no signs of intelligent life!

Here’s Alex Jones on the topic …

A day off

Apologies to all but circumstances have conspired to steal any time today (Saturday) to put together a post for tomorrow (Sunday) or ‘today’ for you the reader, if you follow me!

But here’s a very interesting if scary website that I will return to in due course.

http://co2now.org/ which is introduced thus,

What the world needs to watch

Global warming is mainly the result of CO2 levels rising in the Earth’s atmosphere. Both atmospheric CO2 and climate change are accelerating. Climate scientists say we have years, not decades, to stabilize CO2 and other greenhouse gases. To help the world succeed, CO2Now.org makes it easy to see the most current CO2 level and what it means. So, use this site and keep an eye on CO2.  Invite others to do the same. Then we can do more to send CO2 in the right direction.

Once again that website is CO2Now. org.