Interview with NOAA head Jane Lubchenco about the state of the oceans


Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gives an update on the state of the oceans. She discusses how climate change is affecting ocean ecosystems including coral reefs  and what the administration plans to do about overfishing. Originally broadcasted on June 8, 2009 on the nationally syndicated Diane Rehm show (WAMU, NPR).  Click below for a 20 min. clip of the  audio interview.


Go here to listen to the entire interview.

Read a related post about Dr. Lubchenco’s assignment of head of NOAA here.

Climate change deniers are betraying the planet – Paul Krugman


Paul Krugman, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times has written an interesting article likening the members of the US Senate who voted against the Waxman-Markey climate change bill as “a form of treason against the planet

212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases. And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

An extreme opinion? Maybe so, but Krugman’s argument is convincing:

Well, sometimes even the most authoritative analyses get things wrong. And if dissenting opinion-makers and politicians based their dissent on hard work and hard thinking — if they had carefully studied the issue, consulted with experts and concluded that the overwhelming scientific consensus was misguided — they could at least claim to be acting responsibly.

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.

How people like this get into power in the first place is more than a little disturbing. Krugman’s conclusions could be equally applied to Australian politics, with the recent attempt by Senator Steve Fielding to railroad the Australian climate change bill by concluding that “climate change isn’t real

… the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.

Sarychev volcano


This incredible photograph was  taken from the International Space Station and captures the eruption of the Sarychev Volcano, Kuril Island chain, Japan. From the NASA’s Earth Observatory:

The main column is one of a series of plumes that rose above Matua Island (48.1 degrees north latitude and 153.2 degrees east longitude) on June 12. The plume appears to be a combination of brown ash and white steam. The vigorously rising plume gives the steam a bubble-like appearance; the surrounding atmosphere has been shoved up by the shock wave of the eruption. The smooth white cloud on top may be water condensation that resulted from rapid rising and cooling of the air mass above the ash column, and is probably a transient feature (the eruption plume is starting to punch through). The structure also indicates that little to no shearing winds were present at the time to disrupt the plume. By contrast, a cloud of denser, gray ash — most probably a pyroclastic flow — appears to be hugging the ground, descending from the volcano summit. The rising eruption plume casts a shadow to the northwest of the island (bottom center). Brown ash at a lower altitude of the atmosphere spreads out above the ground at upper right. Low-level stratus clouds approach Matua Island from the east, wrapping around the lower slopes of the volcano. Only about 1.5 kilometers of the coastline of Matua Island (upper center) can be seen beneath the clouds and ash.

Off the back of this volcano is the predictable response of how volcanoes emit so much more CO2 than humans. Straight from the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide:

Objection: One decent-sized volcanic eruption puts more CO2 in the atmosphere than a decade of human emissions. It’s ridiculous to think reducing human CO2 emissions will have any effect.

Answer: Not only is this false, it couldn’t possibly be true given the CO2 record from any of the dozens of sampling stations around the globe. If it were true that individual volcanic eruptions dominated human emissions and were causing the rise in CO2 concentrations, then these CO2 records would be full of spikes — one for each eruption. Instead, such records show a smooth and regular trend. The fact of the matter is, the sum total of all CO2 out-gassed by active volcanoes amounts to about 1/150th of anthropogenic emissions.

If you haven’t seen the Grist series in “How to talk to a climate change“, I strongly recommend checking it out. It covers pretty much every recycled argument out there (with varying degrees of sophistication ranging from ‘silly’ to ‘specious’). Hopefully somebody can now tell Jennifer Marohasy exactly why we should be worried about ‘small’ changes’, or save Australian Senator Steve Fielding from looking too ignorant when he announces to the Government that he is ‘unconvinced about climate change‘.

US house of representatives passes major climate change bill


From the NYT:


Published: June 26, 2009

WASHINGTON — The House passed legislation on Friday intended to address global warming and transform the way the nation produces and uses energy. The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation, which passed despite deep divisions among Democrats, could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

The bill’s passage, by 219 to 212, with 44 Democrats voting against it, also established a marker for the United States when international negotiations on a new climate change treaty begin later this year.

At the heart of the legislation is a cap-and-trade system that sets a limit on overall emissions of heat-trapping gases while allowing utilities, manufacturers and other emitters to trade pollution permits, or allowances, among themselves. The cap would grow tighter over the years, pushing up the price of emissions and presumably driving industry to find cleaner ways of making energy. – Read the full story here

And from the Huffington Post:

The climate change bill would reset drastically the way the U.S. government approaches the issue of regulating pollution. Instituting a cap and trade system, the bill aims to cut America’s production of greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020, and 83 percent by 2050. The legislation also includes provisions to create alternative energy sources and cleaner technologies, as well as more efficient building standards.

In an effort to recruit the support of lawmakers sitting on the fence, its authors, prominent progressive Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif) and Ed Markey (D-Mass), reduced goals for carbon emission reductions and threw in favors for the coal and agricultural industries.

The latter moves were, in part, responsible for the 11th-hour concerns over the bill’s passage. Progressive lawmakers balked at supporting legislation that they deemed to be watered down or insufficiently effective. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, in particular, proved to be particularly recalcitrant, pledging not to support the bill even if his amendments were accepted.

And a summary from the BBC:

Bill aims to cut emissions by 17% below the level in 2005 by 2020, then by 83% by 2050

Imposes national limits and requires polluters to acquire emissions permits

Permits are either free (85%) or bought at auction (15%)

Permits can be traded, allowing major polluters to offset surplus emissions

Read my related post on this bill here and summary articles about the cap-and-trade system here and here.

Climate change 101

Fig_1_global_energy_balanceHaving trouble keeping all those greenhouse gases straight?  Looking for some reliable information and understandable graphics on anthropogenic climate change? A good place is the Climate Change Collection in the Encyclopedia of Earth.

The collection includes:

A number of articles on topics like 21st century climate change scenarios, Mauna Loa curve, albedo, history of climate change and variability, and Methane

FAQs like; What factors determine the earth’s climate? What is the greenhouse effect? and What is radiative forcing?

• Biographies of influential climate change scientists (primarily climatologists)

The EoE is a new electronic reference about the Earth, its natural environments, and their interaction with society. TheEncyclopedia is a free, fully searchable collection of articles written by scholars, professionals, educators, and experts who collaborate and review each other’s work. The articles are written in non-technical language and will be useful to students, educators, scholars, professionals, as well as to the general public.

Two other good sources of information are Stephen Schneider’s web site and the RealClimate web site.

Where Does It All Go? The ‘Pacific Garbage Patch’

LA River 2
The Algalita Marine Research Foundation is on a 2 month voyage across the Pacific to study the concentration of plastics in the North Subtropical Gyre.  This area has been known as the “Pacific Garbage Patch” due to the convergence of several ocean currents that drag garbage from all corners of the globe.  Not only is there large floating debris (bottle caps, toothbrushes, plastic bags, etc.) but half of the debris found is small chips of unidentifiable plastics.

Charles Moore, who discovered this garbage patch, found plastic flakes floating 10 meters below the surface like “snowflakes or fish food”.  The more disturbing fact is the weight of plastic far outweighed the plankton in the water.  Consequently there are increasing accumulations of plastic on beaches in the Pacific.  UNEP estimates that plastic is killing a million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals and turtles every year.

Scientific American magazine are blogging the voyage (link ), as are the Algalita foundation (link), which makes for a fascinating yet depressing read:

Chrisitana and Jeff each reeled in a mahi mahi today, one right after the other. The fish served a double purpose, science and sustenance. Before we filleted the fish, Christiana took muscle and liver samples of each of the fish and looked in their stomachs. Fish number 3, the mahi mahi that Jeff reeled in, contained what the Captain confirmed via microscope as none other than a piece of plastic film. This now makes 8 species of fish in which we have identified with plastic in their gut.


HFC emissions and impact on climate projected to grow much faster than expected


A new article in PNAS (Velders et al 2009) argues that HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) emissions will grow at a surprising rate, becoming a substantial greenhouse gas later this century.  HFCs were developed  as a replacement for ozone damaging CFCs.  Production and release of HFCs have grown quickly since the 1995 ban on CFCs.

From the abstract – The consumption and emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are projected to increase substantially in the coming decades in response to regulation of ozone depleting gases under the Montreal Protocol. The projected increases result primarily from sustained growth in demand for refrigeration, air-conditioning (AC) and insulating foam products in developing countries assuming no new regulation of HFC consumption or emissions…Global HFC emissions significantly exceed previous estimates after 2025 with developing country emissions as much as 800% greater than in developed countries in 2050. Global HFC emissions in 2050 are equivalent to 9–19% (CO2-eq. basis) of projected global CO2 emissions in business-as-usual scenarios and contribute a radiative forcing equivalent to that from 6–13 years of CO2 emissions near 2050. This percentage increases to 28–45% compared with projected CO2 emissions in a 450-ppm CO2stabilization scenario.


Read and download the article in PNAS here

Read a related post on Andrew Revkins Dot Earth blog here

US Congress to consider major climate change bill


From Politico: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will roll the dice on a top priority this week, bringing a contentious climate change bill to the floor despite strong misgivings from her rank-and-file and an outspoken chairman who remains a major impediment. Read the full story here

From the NYT: House Democratic leaders late last night released a revamped, 1,201-page energy and global warming bill  clearing the way for floor debate Friday even though it remains uncertain if they will have the votes to pass it…Perhaps the biggest modification in the new version involves language sought by the nation’s rural electric cooperatives that gives the country’s smallest power utilities a free 0.5 percent slice of the cap-and-trade program’s valuable emission allowances…Democrats are still not done wheeling and dealing as they gear up for a floor debate, with critical issues still unresolved on everything from biofuels to which federal agency — U.S. EPA or the Agriculture Department — will have lead oversight of the offset program that would pay for environmentally friendly land management practices.  Read the full NYT article here.

One thing I like about the draft bill is it’s realist view of the value of biofuels. Accurately accounting for the true carbon footprint of biofuels has become a major sticking point for the bill, with farm state representatives arguing for restricting the EPAs authority:

From the NYT – the bill as posted does not restrict EPA’s authority to weigh “indirect” emissions from land-use changes when calculating the carbon footprint of biofuels. The issue is important because under a 2007 expansion of the renewable fuels standard, biofuels must have, to varying degrees, lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels.

NGOs are cautiously supportive of the bill.  Lou Leonard, Director of U.S. Climate Policy for World Wildlife Fund, said “Passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act through the Energy and Commerce Committee today marks a watershed moment in the decades-long battle to protect our planet from dangerous climate change and all of the economic, environmental and national security vulnerabilities it presents.” but noted ” I remain concerned that the legislation falls far short of what is needed for international clean technology cooperation and international adaptation assistance. Unless strengthened, this bill could undermine the President’s ability to secure an effective international agreement during climate negotiations in Copenhagen this fall.  See the full WWF statement on the bill here

Download the bill as a PDF here

UPDATE: Democrats have reached an agreement with farm state republicans, setting the stage for a vote on the bill, expected Friday. Read the full story here

Could coral reefs close to seagrass be buffered from ocean acidification?

coral1Seagrass meadows have long been known to be highly productive habitats, and as a result producing oodles of oxygen in the midday sun. Anyone who’s ever snorkelled over a seagrass meadow on a sunny day will have seen seagrass leaves furiously bubbling away. This photosynthetic productivity can result in an increase in the pH of the water column (becoming less acidic). This is primarily because CO2 and, thus, its form when dissolved in seawater, carbonic acid, are withdrawn from the water as a substrate for photosynthesis. This results in the production of the bubbling O2. But what are the consequences of such a pH change?

Recent research by the Universities of Dar es Salaam, Tel Aviv and Stockholm published in the Marine Ecology Progress Series (volume 382) and conducted in tropical seagrass meadows of East Africa have investigated the impact of such pH changes.  Semasi et al. revealed that this change in pH can cause localised increases in the rates of calcification and growth of calcareous algae such as Hydrolithon sp., Mesophyllum sp., and Halimeda sp., hence seagrass buffers high acidity (low pH).

As has been debated by ClimateShifts previously, there is increasing evidence that oceans have become more acidic since the start of the industrial era. Recent predictions suggest that oceans could become much more acidic over the next 100 years as a result of increasing CO2 emissions. Current predictions suggest that this will result in (amongst other things) declining reef calcification rates.

Although this study by Semesi et al. shows the effects of seagrass upon algae, the questions on the lips of many reef conservationists will be whether such findings are cross transferable to the calcification of corals. These studies in Zanzibar were small scale, carried out in seagrass mesocosms, and currently only reflect small scale patterns. Whether seagrass productivity can result in larger spatial scale changes that could buffer pH changes on nearby reefs remains to be seen. Maybe the World should be looking at seagrass meadows with greater attention?

Climate Change Accounting Goes Public in a Big Way

2_image002Solve Climate reports on a massive electronic billboard displaying the real-time stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, unveiled on 18 June outside New York City’s Penn Station.

The world’s first “Carbon Counter”, launched by Deutsche Bank, will be seen daily by half a million people and millions more can do so online at

The basis for the number displayed on the Carbon Counter – over 3.6 trillion tons and rising by 800 tons per second – is not immediately clear. Deutsche Bank explains the calculation of the figure on its website:

Greenhouse gas concentrations are frequently expressed as an equivalent amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). This CO2-equivalent concentration in parts per million (ppm) can then be expressed in terms of metric ton of CO2, a standard of measurement, which as a stock of gases in the atmosphere is readily understood.

According to the IPCC AR4 Synthesis Report, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were 379 ppm in 2005. The estimate of total CO2-eq concentration in 2005 for all long-lived GHGs is about 455ppm.

On June 18th as the counter started, long-lived GHGs in the atmosphere were estimated to be 3.64 trillion metric tons, growing at 2 billion metric tons per month, or 467 ppm, of which CO2 was 385 ppm.

The Carbon Counter, therefore, displays in metric tons the absolute amount of all greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (as opposed to the concentration) but excludes the cooling effect of aerosols.

The use of the absolute amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere yields a big number that is rapidly increasing, but it is questionable whether this muddies the already confusing array of units used to explain the rising pressure of greenhouse gases on the atmosphere.

Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide is a simpler and much more widely used unit used to explain the rising pressure of greenhouse gases on the atmosphere, though less dramatic for a real-time billboard aiming to capture the attention of passing commuters.

CO2 Now suggests that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide reached 390.18 ppm in May 2009, up nearly 2ppm from 388.50 ppm in May 2008, the highest level in at least the past 800,000 years.

Related posts:

·         Avoiding confusion for stabilisation targets for climate change and ocean acidification.