Friday, August 26, 2016

The Best Part of This Picture.... the receptionist, who seems to think nothing unusual is going on.

Obama has been a refreshingly decent, honest, thoughtful, courageous president, and we've been lucky to have him.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Teddy Drops Politics to be Out in the Open

Teddy Roosevelt's letter to John Muir, 1902:

Is Proxima b Our Refuge from Climate Change?

So it's been announced (the rumors were right) that scientists have discovered a potentially Earth-like planet around our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, which is only 4.25 light-years away.

Assuming that's where the last group of surviving humans will go after Anthony Watts' denialism leads to an Earth too hot for habitation, what does this planet look like?

First, I hope nobody suggests calling this planet "Vulcan." For now it's just "Proxima b," which needs improvement; hopefully those who discovered it will get to name it. (Please don't use "Earth 2," "Neoearth," or anything of the sort.)

Nobody knows yet what this planet looks like, though telescopes may be able to able to glimpse it in their next generation. (A proposed $175 million space telescope could help -- surely some billionaire can afford that, right. I mean, just write a check.)

Proxima b is only 0.05 AU from its star, Proxima Centauri, and tidally locked -- like our Moon. One side is in permanent starlight and the other side is permanently dark.

Proxima Centauri has a luminosity of only 0.15% of the Sun, 85% of it in the infrared. So humans, take your night vision goggles.

The irradiance onto the planet is 65% of Earth's, or about 890 W/m2. By comparison, Mars's solar constant is 589 W/m2. So not too shabby.

What's the planet's surface temperature? There isn't enough information to say -- we don't know the planet's albedo, its radius, or the eccentricity of its orbit (the paper says it's < 0.35).

The paper says the equilibrium blackbody temperature of the planet is 234 K. That's -39°C, which is -38°F. But without the above information, the average surface temperature can't be calculated, so we don't know if liquid water can exist there.

I tried calculating the effective blackbody temperature, but got 352 K. I think because an eccentricity of 0.35 is fairly high, and I used the semimajor axis, not the average distance from the star. (That difference increases with eccentricity.)

It seems unlikely advanced life exists there -- else, why haven't they come here, or sent small ships, much like Stephen Hawking and crew want to sent out iPhone sized ships in the next few decades? Planets are old -- a few million years -- the time for our transition from apes to small ship launchers -- doesn't matter much. So it's unlikely they'd be at the same point of development we are, and since we haven't heard from them they must be behind us, if at all.

Speaking of which, the upcoming movie Arrival looks excellent. Trailer:

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Are Flood Costs Decreasing?

ClimateDepot offers this graph, from Roger Pielke Jr:

And that is indeed what you get if you take the NWS's data on annual flood damage and divide it by inflation-adjusted GDP

But the problem with this simple calculation is that it ignores all the money spent to reduce or prevent flooding -- dams built, rivers dredged and rerouted, streams widened, rip rap installed, house and town relocations, etc. 

This has come up on his blog before, and I also heard it from an NCAR hurricane expert I talked to a few years ago at a summer workshop in Boulder. Until you include this spending, you don't get an accurate picture of the true cost of flooding. I don't suppose the latter amount is easy to calculate though, but it may exist somewhere. 

And how do you factor in better forecasting and better telecommunications, and the cost of establishing that? The years have seen great improvements in weather forecasting, and better communications mean people have gotten more and more accurate warnings over the years. (Lack of good forecasting and communication was a big factor behind so many deaths (682) in the 1938 New England hurricane.) Some amount of the immense spending by the US on installing radar systems and launching and operating satellites has to be counted too, in lieu of flood losses. 

Buildings are constructed better, too. A brick house may survive a flood today whereas a wooden house of 50 years ago wouldn't have survived the same flood. Brick houses cost more.

In short, that's what civilization does -- it provides ever more security via planning, management and technology. But all that isn't free.

These criticisms apply to many such graphs Roger promotes -- hurricanes, for example. But it seems to me especially for flooding. Roger acknowledges some of the complications -- see the next paragraph -- and gives some other one, but this graph in particular is simplistic and misleading. 

Accounting for the costs of disasters is inherently complicated for three reasons. First, disasters have direct costs, such as the destruction of a building, but also indirect costs. For example, a community may see property values decrease in years after a disaster and experience a corresponding loss of property tax revenue. Disasters also have direct and indirect benefits, such as when a community receives an infusion of disaster relief funds that pours money into the local economy (cf. Changnon, 1996; Pielke and Pielke, 1997). Second, a disaster’s losses are a function of the spatial and temporal scale that the analyst chooses as the focus of a particular loss analysis. For example, federal disaster assistance shifts some of the losses from the local economy to the federal government; and, for more than 100 years the sea wall built after the 1900 Galveston hurricane has provided benefits in lives saved and losses avoided in subsequent storms. For the same event, analysts can develop equally rigorous analyses of losses that differ a great deal (cf. Guimaraes et al., 1993). Finally, many losses (and benefits) associated with a disaster are intangible. For example, widespread damage to agricultural land that results in crop losses can affect commodity prices and thus necessitates a counterfactual argument (i.e., what would commodity prices have been without the event) in order to estimate the economic losses associated with the crops that never went to market. Thus, the true costs of disasters include hidden costs and benefits which are difficult to identify and quantify.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

"Water is for Fighting Over"

That's the title of John Fleck's new book about the Colorado River.

And it's true. Water is an issue in the western US unlike anything the eastern US can understand.

I never understood it until I moved to the west.

River flow here matters. Snow pack matters. Lake Mead storage matters.

Droughts can be devastating -- in the southwest, or California, or Oregon. Farmers suffer terribly in droughts, and fires burn in droughts.

Cities in the West -- Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and more -- are literally built on the water they have arranged to have delivered to them.

Take away their water, and these cities will cease to exist in short order.

What they get is not natural water -- not water that would flow to them anyways -- but water produced only by the machinations of man. And, people are starting to think, it's not water that is always going to be guaranteed.

If you live in the west, or if you want to understand the west -- the Sun Belt and the Pacific Northwest -- you have to first read Marc Reisner's 1986 book Cadillac Desert. It will open your eyes to the aquatic Disneyland that has been create here.

Fleck is an optimist about water in the western US.

I haven't read John's book yet -- just ordered it -- but my impression so far, based on some good reviews his book has gotten, is that it is probably the followup to Reisner's book that people have been waiting for 30 years.

Disclosure: I've known John for several years, first as a blogger covering climate for the Albuquerque Journal, then as he transitioned to water issues in the southwest. I've had dinner with him a few times in Albuquerque, when I was back there for family business. (I was an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico.) I like him a lot, and am looking forward to reading his book, which I know he certainly worked hard on. And its has impressively already gotten him appointed as the Director of the UNM's Water Resources Program.

I'll write more after I read his book.

PS: Fleck blogs here.

Where is La Nina?

From the Australian Bureau of Meteorology:
In the Pacific Ocean, only two of eight international climate models monitored by the Bureau indicate La Niña is likely to develop during the austral spring, with two more indicating a possible late-forming event in summer. The remaining models suggest neutral or near-La Niña conditions. A La Niña WATCH remains in place, but if La Niña does develop it is likely be weak.
IRI's forecast is about identical to last month's:

Friday, August 19, 2016

Conclusion of the Last Event in the Men's Decathlon, Rio Olymptics

"A jetliner is just aluminum wrapped around a theory."

Piers Sellers, an upper-level official at NASA, wrote an interesting essay for the New Yorker this week: "Space, Climate Change, and the Real Meaning of Theory."

He points out that we design bridges based complicated models that apply Newton's laws of motion and the observed properties of materials, and these bridges are build and they (rarely) fall down.

We build airplanes based on the physics of fluid mechanics and the dynamical laws of motion and properties of substances, and they are rolled out of hanger, pointed down the runway, and take off.

And in exactly the same way, we project climate based on elementary laws of physics proven a century or more ago -- the Planck Law, the Stefan Boltzmann law, the measured absorption properties of gases. And many other laws of physics that represent the real world. Just look at all this physics.

Manmade global warming isn't rocket science. I mean, Arrhenius put the pieces together in the late 1800s, though not quite prefectly. Lots of improvements and additions have come since. This is basic, even obvious stuff.

All climate models ever constructed show warming from human emissions of greenhouse gases. Given CO2's role in the greenhouse effect, it is hardly surprising that 45% more CO2 in the atmosphere would cause more warming.

It'd be far more surprising if it didn't.


It is perfectly legitimate to make predictions based on observations combined with well established physical laws. That's how geologists discovered tectonic plates. How Neptune was discovered. How the atomic nucleus was inferred. And so on.

There is no experimental proof that smoking is harmful -- it's unethical to do such experiments, and impractical -- yet we know that it is. This conclusion isn't going to be reverse next year, or in 20 years.

 Sellers writes:
Climate models are made out of theory. They are huge assemblies of equations that describe how sunlight warms the Earth, and how that absorbed energy influences the motion of the winds and oceans, the formation and dissipation of clouds, the melting of ice sheets, and many other things besides. These equations are all turned into computer code, linked to one another, and loaded into a supercomputer, where they calculate the time-evolution of the Earth system, typically in time steps of a few minutes. On time scales of a few days, we use these models for weather prediction (which works very well these days), and, on longer time scales, we can explore how the climate of the next few decades will develop depending on how much carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere. There are three items of good news about this modelling enterprise: one, we can check on how well the models perform against the historical record, including the satellite data archive; two, we can calculate the uncertainty into the predictions; and three, there are more than twenty of these models worldwide, so we can use them as checks on one another. The conclusions drawn from a careful study of thousands of model runs are clear: the Earth is rapidly warming, and fossil-fuel burning is the principal driver.

But theories are abstract, after all, so it’s easy for people to get tricked into thinking that because something is based on theory, it could very likely be wrong or is debatable in the same way that a social issue is debatable. This is incorrect. Almost all the accepted theories that we use in the physical and biological sciences are not open to different interpretations depending on someone’s opinion, internal beliefs, gut feelings, or lobbying. In the science world, two and two make four. To change or modify a theory, as Einstein’s theories modified Newton’s, takes tremendous effort and a huge weight of experimental evidence.

And this is where politics and science can find themselves at cross purposes. In many political discussions, climate science gets treated like family planning or tax restructuring. When it comes to these social issues, convictions or personal views count for a lot, and rightly so. But the climate issue, and the business of climate prediction, is different. The changes we’ve seen over the past hundred and thirty years are incontrovertibly documented: they are facts.
I think the prediction of manmade warming, based on our emissions and the known laws of physics, is perfectly legitimate and adequate to prove AGW. Sure, you have to get into some of the weeds to get all the details, but physicists have been doing this for decades and have the radiative transfer down pat.

I'm not sure how many people realize this, but the role of CO2's radiative effects (and the other main GHGs) is the best know part of climate science. Because it's the most amenable to a standard treatment by fundamental physics.

So deniers thinking that someday CO2's role in climate change is going to be negated based on some new observation or some future pause or something else are very wrong and very lost. The uncertainities all lie elsewhere, especially in the details of clouds and in the details of the carbon cycle and how it will change in the future.

So the arguments CO2 looks increasingly naive and foolish. CO2 from fossil fuels will never go back to being an innocent substance. Ever.

On the contrary -- future generations will look back on us as dumb greedy idiots for thinking we could dump massive amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere and expect there would be no result.

We may (and probably won't) zero in on the exact value of climate sensitivity -- too may uncertainties in too many variables. But knowing it's 2°C or more is perfectly sufficient to know we have a big problem.

Piers Sellers didn't have room, or the audience, to point out that this isn't all theory. There are many -- increasingly many -- observations that verify the vital parts of AGW theory -- the enhancing greenhouse effect, the radiative forcing of CO2 (which agrees with the predictions of climate models), the observed ocean warming and energy balance of the planet.

And more. There is so much evidence from so many different angles that, like the health effects of smoking, the result is surrounded by evidence and cannot escape it.

But I'm probably repeating myself.

Monday, August 15, 2016

La Nina Looking a Little Less Likely

From the Australian Bureau of Meteology:
In the Pacific Ocean, only two of eight international climate models monitored by the Bureau indicate La Niña is likely to develop during the austral spring, with two more indicating a possible late-forming event in summer. The remaining models suggest neutral or near-La Niña conditions. A La Niña WATCH remains, but if La Niña does develop it is likely be weak.
Here's the latest for the Nino3.4 Index:

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Stuff That at the Moment Seemed Like it Mattered

Big news: Canada will establish a national price on carbon by the end of the year. (The Hill) "Four provinces representing about 80 percent of Canada’s population currently have some kind of carbon pricing policies, which usually consist of either a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system."

Earthquakes in Oklahoma are down since new regulations on oil and gas drilling operations were put in place.

Avik Roy, "Republican intellectual," in Vox: “Goldwater’s nomination in 1964 was a historical disaster for the conservative movement,” because for the ensuing decades, it identified Democrats as the party of civil rights and Republicans as the party opposed to civil rights.”

PS: I would also put quote marks around "Democratic intellectual."

Roy again: “The gravitational center of the Republican party is white nationalism."

US oil and gas tax preferences: $4 B/yr.

SLR: "...the Florida Keys, where even a half-foot more ocean will inundate large chunks of some islands like Big Pine. That’s sobering when a conservative projection from a regional climate change compact predicts at least two feet by 2060.

This says a textbook says land depression under a 3,000 meter ice sheet could be as much as 800 meters. I would never have guessed that much, by a factor of at least 10. (Without thinking much about it.)

A community that cares, about something more than money.