Monday, August 27, 2007

"If We Can't Predict the Weather Next Week, How Can We Predict 100 Years into the Future?"
Part of the common arguments from skeptics/deniers series

The Attack on Modellers
One would expect oil funded lobbyists, which have a vested interest in debunking global warming theories, to attack climate models, but sometimes even a few professional meteorologists that do not receive any oil money will make similar attacks. One such professional is the 77 year old Bill Gray which claimed: "So many people have a vested interest in this global-warming thing—all these big labs and research and stuff. The idea is to frighten the public, to get money to study it more." Gray attacked modellers in front of Congress by saying "and they trouble is they don't know how the atmosphere ticks. They're people that make assumptions that are not valid, and they believe them."

Gray vs. Climate
Round I : Catarina

In 1979 William Gray said the formation of a hurricane in the South Atlantic was an impossibility:

Genesis does not occur in the tropical southeast Pacific and South Atlantic because the background seasonal climatology is so unfavorable. Although short-term positive deviations of genesis potential may be as large at these locations elsewhere, they can never overcome their strongly unfavorable climatoligical background.
Yet the United Kingdom's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, a branch of the UK's Met Office, had predicted that a hurricane would form in the South Atlantic in a globally warming world. So what the models said would occur, Gray said would "never" occur. In March of 2004 such an 'impossible' hurricane formed. Her name was Catarina.

2004 went on to be a record shattering year for hurricanes. The number of intense storms were double of that predicted by William Gray. His explanation was simple: "This year did not behave like any other year we have studied." . Gray's forecasts are based upon comparison to the past. Perhaps in a warming and changing world past observations of seasonal trends won't apply anymore. On the other hand the GCM models forecast based upon our understanding of the laws of physics. This brings up a rather famous quote: "The laws of physics are eternal and cannot be changed with additional research, venture capital or majority votes."

Gray vs. Climate Models
Round II: Seasonal Forecasts

In December of 2004 Gray announced that he did not expect "anything close to the U.S. land-falling hurricane activity of 2004" for the 2005 hurricane season. Gray predicted 11 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes. Only a slightly above average year. Unfortunately 2005 was going to to shatter all records. By late may 2005, Gray had upped the forecast to fifteen named storms. While this was an increase it was still only about half of what to come. Meteo-France on the other hand, was using a new form of hurricane forecasting which employs climate models. They predicted 22 named storms. The end game resulted in 28 storms. While both forecasts were off Gray was much farther off than the climate models. Meteo-France was off by 6 while Gray was initially off by 17 and later 13 names storms. Grays margin of error was 2-3 times larger than the Meteo-France's climate models. The biggest margin of error by a major climate model I've found so far is UK's Met office. But even this model which predicted 16.2 storms was much better than Grays initial prediction and was even better than his revised prediction (albeit not by much). Looking at 2005 alone, the climate models are the best forecasters we have. Much better than Gray's intuition and gut instinct and traditional forcasting in general. Surely as our understanding of the climate engine increases these models will only get better and better.

Thomas Kuhn once wrote that anytime there is a paradigm shift in science it will be met with resistance. Accepting climate models might be doubly tough for William Gray as he spent 52 years developing a forecasting method that might now be obsolete. But given that the models are currently outperforming Gray's own predictions and are correctly predicting what Gray thought was impossible then it might be prudent for him to acknowledge that the modellers do in fact know what they are doing.

Discover, Discover Dialogue: Meteorologist William Gray, Kathy A. Svitil, 09.09.2005
Meteorology Over the Tropical Oceans, Hurricanse: Their formation, Structure and Likely Role in the Tropical Circulation, William Gray, 1979, pp. 155-218 (quote on 181)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Mountain Top Mining To Expand

From the NYT's
The Bush administration is set to issue a regulation on Friday that would enshrine the coal mining practice of mountaintop removal. The technique involves blasting off the tops of mountains and dumping the rubble into valleys and streams.

It has been used in Appalachian coal country for 20 years under a cloud of legal and regulatory confusion.

The new rule would allow the practice to continue and expand, providing only that mine operators minimize the debris and cause the least environmental harm, although those terms are not clearly defined and to some extent merely restate existing law.......

The regulation is the culmination of six and a half years of work by the administration to make it easier for mining companies to dig more coal to meet growing energy demands and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

Lots of pics of mountain top mining at Ohio Valley Environmental Health. And here is an EPA article on the effects of this kind of mining. Robert Rapier claims that increased dependence on coal is inevitable. If oil demand outstrips oil supply we will almost certainly start squeezing oil out of coal. If that happens it will be interesting to see what will happen to the Appalachian trail loved by so many hikers.

Rule to Expand Mountaintop Coal Mining, JOHN M. BRODER, August 23, 2007
Strange Moon

This is Mima (Photo courtesy of NASA) which orbits Saturn. Here is a closeup.

And here is a comparison to something else:

And a quote:
Thats not a moon...It's a space station!!!
Just having little fun :-D

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Science, "It's Not that hard"

Sharon Begley from Newsweek wrote an article titled "The Truth About Denial" which aimed to expose the massive disinformation campaign put out by oil companies like Exxon Mobil to obfuscate mainstream science on global warming. The article is great introductory material for those that are not familiar with what is going on. There is still much more that needs to be discussed by the mainstream media (e.g. Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher's continued violation of federal law) but at least the mainstream news is starting to catch on to what is painfully obvious to others. In the talk section a reader asked Sharon Begley:
How can the responsible media best meet their "fairness/accuracy/'balance'" responsibilities in dealing with climate change deniers?
To which Sharon Begley said:
I don't think science is like political or social issues, where all views are of equal weight. To the contrary: in science, there really is a 'right' answer, tho it may take time to emerge, and journalists have a duty to tell readers what that answer is likely to be. Me, I don't do he said/she said, but delve into the arguments and see which has empirical merit. It's not that hard.
This is such an important concept that is so missed by so many. It's too bad as it is basically a quote from the Nobel Laureate on the 200 Deutch Mark:
"Laypeople frequently assume that in a political dispute the truth must lie somewhere in the middle, and they are often right. In a scientific dispute, though, such an assumption is usually wrong."
Unlike many forms of politics, the middle ground is often not a safe bet in scientific matters. Furthermore, traditional "objective" reporting simply does not work well in science, it's just too easy to get caught up in the false objectivity of "balance". If 99.99% of doctors say heroin is bad for your health it is not fair to give equal weight to the 0.01% of doctors (who happen to live in Columbia and/or are anarchists) that say heroin is no big deal. This is of course of the assumption (right or wrong) that one is even interesting in reporting accurately.

Newsweek, The Truth About Denial, Sharon Begley, Aug. 13, 2007
Resisting Change: Global Warming Deniers
NEWSWEEK's Sharon Begley, Live Talk on Wednesday, August 8, at noon, ET, about climate change denial and its lasting pervasiveness.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

NASA's Top Dog Debunks the "1934 Y2K bug" nonsense

James Hansen, one of the world's best climate scientists, is getting little bothered by the nonsense running through the conservative blogs and mainstream media. Today he released response (PDF warning) to address this issue.

Big Correction or Little Correction?

Below is what Hansen calls the more-or-less-automatic US temperature graph. The green line visible on the right illustrates the difference between the correction and the old data:

Below is the comparison of global averages. As you can (or actually can't) see there is no discernible green line. This is because the old and the new line match so closely the difference isn't detectable to the naked eye in this graph. Clearly there was no major revision to global temps like many blogs are saying.

So it seems that a mistake is incredibly small.

Who or What Made the Mistake?

If you read Hansen's PDF you will understand that these graphs are "more-or-less-automatic"-ally generated from "near-real-time data streams" distributed by NOAA. Apparently NOAA changed the format of the near-real-time data streams and failed to notify NASA. So NASA's automated process took the data like nothing had ever happened and generated a graph. An article at the conservative blog American Thinker claims it was a Y2K bug:
It's a wild and technical story of compromised weather stations and hack computer algorithms (including, get this - a latent Y2K bug)
This is clearly incorrect. The bug was a result of a lack of communication between two agencies.

1934 and US *Global* Warming

Many blogs are making a big deal about 1934 and using this year to debunk the entire theory of global warming. Yet in a 2001 paper James Hansen said the following:
The U.S. annual (January-December) mean temperature is slightly warmer in 1934 than in 1998 in the GISS analysis
So even here there is nothing new. 1934 has been officially ranked hotter than 1998 since at least 2001. Well, at least in the U.S. Yet the differences are so minor that the heat crown could belong to either one. From the same paper:
In comparing temperatures of years separated by 60 or 70 years the uncertainties in various adjustments (urban warming, station history adjustments, etc.) lead to an uncertainty of at least 0.1°C. Thus it is not possible to declare a record U.S. temperature with confidence until a result is obtained that exceeds the temperature of 1934 by more than 0.1°C.
But this is for the USA only. If you look at GLOBAL temperatures 1934 is cooler than 1998 by a wide margin.

The Hottest *Global* Year

The UK's Climate Research Unit ranks 1998 while NASA ranks 2005 as the warmest. The difference is because CRU doesn't estimate arctic temperatures in areas where there aren't surface stations to take readings. The arctic is a key difference due to a concept called polar amplification which is the theory that the north pole will heat up faster than the south pole. Polar amplification is one of many smoking guns of global warming.

American Thinker, Revised Temp Data Reduces Global Warming Fever, Marc Sheppard, August 09, 2007
Hansen, J.E., R. Ruedy, Mki. Sato, M. Imhoff, W. Lawrence, D. Easterling, T. Peterson, and T. Karl, 2001: A closer look at United States and global surface temperature change. J. Geophys. Res., 106, 23947-23963, doi:10.1029/2001JD000354.
New York Times, Opinionator

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Climate Change & Ozone Myths

The Met Office, NERC, Newscientist, GristMill and The Royal Society have articles debunking common climate change myths. More to be added later. Here is one on the Ozone layer.
Global Warming's Impact on Wine

An informative video on wines and climate change. Looks like Nappa Valley may stop growing Pinot Noir and start growing Torrontés grapes from Argentina.

KQED,Napa Wineries Face Global Warming

Sunday, August 05, 2007

New Engine Promises Greater Efficiency
From MIT's Technology Review:
The gas-saving technology, called homogeneous charge compression ignition, or HCCI, uses a form of combustion that is much more efficient than conventional spark ignition. Under some conditions, it can reduce fuel consumption by 25 percent, says William Green, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT who was coauthor of the new study. That's very similar to the efficiency of a diesel engine, which also achieves combustion by compression rather than a spark. But unlike diesel engines, HCCI results in a more uniform combustion and is thus much cleaner.

MIT Technology Review, Friday, August 03, 2007, A More Efficient Engine, A new type of engine could be relatively inexpensive., Kevin Bullis

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Oil costs $1,190 a barrel in Iraq: A Top US. Marine Corps General & the Iraqi power minister are ignored.

For a long time I thought I was one of the select few people that saw the obvious advantages of distributed energy in war torn Iraq. When power lines are being blown up by terrorists and "melted into ingots and sold" it doesn't make sense to use a centralized power system. This is especially true when the power grid is deteriorating at an alarming rate.

It seems some key officials in both Iraq and the US Military have had similar thoughts. From Amory Lovins:
Some of us have made three attempts at [bringing decentralized power to Iraq] and there's a fourth now under discussion. The first three attempts, the third of which was backed by the Iraqi power minister, were vetoed by the U.S. political authorities on the grounds that they'd already given big contracts to Bechtel, Halliburton, et. al to rebuild the old centralized system, which of course the bad guys are knocking down faster than it can be put back up.
A similar request was made by U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer. He's the top U.S. commander in western Iraq and back in September he sent the Pentagon a "Priority 1" request for "a self-sustainable energy solution" including "solar panels and wind turbines." The General says that as long as are transporting fuel for military generators US forces "will remain unnecessarily exposed" and will "continue to accrue preventable ... serious and grave casualties". Apparently the US spends only $200 million a year annually on fuel, but pays $3.2 billion each year on 20,000 active and 40,000 reserve personnel to transport it. Basically for every dollar of fuel you burn to produce electricity you spend $16 guarding it. That makes a $70 barrel cost $1,190. Keep in mind that the $3.2 billion is just to keep our operations going and does not include the cost of powering Baghdad. With operational costs this high it's no wonder we are having trouble keeping the lights on in Iraq. Despite this US officials insist on using crude oil power plants to generate electricity for Baghdad. One would think that if this much man power is required to protect a fuel supply line then reducing the amount of fuel we need to transport would be a top priority. This would seem especially important when the army is falling 2,150 recruits short of meeting a monthly recruiting goal and soldiers are suing the US army due to a stop-loss policy which keeps troops committed to their units for 18 months beyond their discharge date. I don't have any quantitative numbers on the challenges of securing the Baghdad oil-powered electrical plant supply lines and power grid but it's obvious our current techniques are not working.

Note: Updated the last post on this topic

The Christian Science Monitor, In the Iraqi war zone, US Army calls for 'green' power, Mark Clayton, 07 Sep 2006
Gristmill, Green Is the New Camouflage, U.S. general in Iraq calls for renewable power
GristMill, All You Need Is Lovins, A conversation with energy guru Amory Lovins, David Roberts, 26 Jul 2007, Army Still Misses Recruiting Targets, Chicago Tribune, April 1, 2005
BBC, US troops sue over tours in Iraq, Tuesday, 7 December, 2004, 00:50 GMT
Iraq's Energy Heading to Oblivion: The Iraqi Minister's and a Top Marine Corps General's Call for Distributed Energy goes Ignored

Apparently electricity is becoming rather scarce in the energy rich Iraq. The Bush Administration is attempting their signature denial tactics:
As the Bush administration struggles to convince lawmakers that its Iraq war strategy is working, it has stopped reporting to Congress a key quality-of-life indicator in Baghdad: how long the power stays on.

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that Baghdad residents could count on only "an hour or two a day" of electricity. That's down from an average of five to six hours a day earlier this year.

But that piece of data has not been sent to lawmakers for months because the State Department, which prepares a weekly "status report" for Congress on conditions in Iraq, stopped estimating in May how many hours of electricity Baghdad residents typically receive each day.
An hour a day of electricity is not going to be a whole lot of fun when the temperatures are reaching 118°F in Baghdad and 122°F in Nasiriya.

Of course maybe the US wouldn't have this problem if they picked a distributed energy supply that was a vastly more resistant to terrorist attacks such as wind, natural gas micro-generators (pic below) and solar.

I guess nobody noticed that:
natural gas bubbles up from underneath most [sic] every desert rock, the sun shines 300 days a year, and there's enough wind to whip up dust storms
The US has spent an average of $19,000 per Iraqi citizen since the evasion began and electricity is running at only a fraction of what it was under Saddam. The extra costs of wind and solar should be trivial compared to constantly rebuilding the perpetually bombed electrical grid that is being "melted into ingots and sold" by terrorists and looters. So why are we still insisting on using the highly vulnerable crude oil power plants to generate electricity? Billions of dollars are being spent on the electrical grid but the conditions are getting worse and worse. Maybe a system that is a little more distributed will help alleviate the situation. And maybe the people up top have known all of this they just don't want to take action. From Amory Lovins:
Some of us have made three attempts at [bringing decentralized power to Iraq] and there's a fourth now under discussion. The first three attempts, the third of which was backed by the Iraqi power minister, were vetoed by the U.S. political authorities on the grounds that they'd already given big contracts to Bechtel, Halliburton, et. al to rebuild the old centralized system, which of course the bad guys are knocking down faster than it can be put back up.
A similar request was made by U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer. He's the top U.S. commander in western Iraq and back in September he sent the Pentagon a "Priority 1" request for solar panels and wind turbines to augment traditional diesel generators. No changes in policy have been made.

h/t Tim Lambert, graph Eli Rabett

LAtimes, U.S. drops Baghdad electricity reports The daily length of time that residents have power has dropped. The figure is considered a key indicator of quality of life. Noam N. Levey and Alexandra Zavis, July 27, 2007
Digg, The Shocking Cost of War: Every Single Iraqi Could Have Received $19,000
US Army corps of Engineers,Corps people help restore peace, normal life in Iraq
Iraq Electricity : Iraq allocates $2 billion for Ministry of Electricity next year
Thursday, December 28th 2006
New York Times, Iraq Insurgents Starve Capital of Electricity, JAMES GLANZ, December 19, 2006
The Christian Science Monitor, Mark Clayton, 07 Sep 2006
Gristmill, Green Is the New Camouflage, U.S. general in Iraq calls for renewable power
GristMill, All You Need Is Lovins, A conversation with energy guru Amory Lovins, David Roberts, 26 Jul 2007