Chinese cut methane emissions through better rice farming

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Theres not much to smile about in the run up to Copenhagen. However, I snapped up this piece of good news in August but haven’t had the time to post it. Its well worth a read. Basically, draining the water out of rice paddies during the growing season has led to dramatic reductions in methane emissions from Chinese rice-growing sector. Studies conducted by scientists from China and the United States estimate that methane emissions from rice paddies have fallen by a staggering 70% since 1980.

Farmers normally flood rice fields throughout the growing season, meaning that methane is produced by microbes underwater as they help to decay any flooded organic matter.

By studying experimental rice plots and real farmland, Chris Butenhoff and Aslam Khalil, physicists from Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, together with Xiong Zhenqin, an ecologist at Nanjing Agricultural University in China’s Jiangsu province, and their colleagues set out to identify the different factors that affect this process.

The team found that draining paddy fields in the middle of the rice-growing season — a practice that most Chinese farmers have adopted since the 1980s because it increases rice yields and saves water — stopped most of the methane release from the field. The team presented their results on 13 August at a meeting on climate science convened at a Beijing hotel by the US Department of Energy and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

Earlier this year, another team of scientists reported that global methane emissions from rice paddies could be cut by 30% if fields are drained at least once during the growing season. This is a great example of changes in farming practices that not only result in substantial improvements in local and regional yields, but could also have a significant effect in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

Krugman on climate

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Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman recently published two op-eds on climate change in the NYT:

Cassandras of Climate

By PAUL KRUGMAN

Every once in a while I feel despair over the fate of the planet. If you’ve been following climate science, you know what I mean: the sense that we’re hurtling toward catastrophe but nobody wants to hear about it or do anything to avert it.

And here’s the thing: I’m not engaging in hyperbole. These days, dire warnings aren’t the delusional raving of cranks. They’re what come out of the most widely respected climate models, devised by the leading researchers. The prognosis for the planet has gotten much, much worse in just the last few years.

What’s driving this new pessimism? Partly it’s the fact that some predicted changes, like a decline in Arctic Sea ice, are happening much faster than expected. Partly it’s growing evidence that feedback loops amplifying the effects of man-made greenhouse gas emissions are stronger than previously realized. For example, it has long been understood that global warming will cause the tundra to thaw, releasing carbon dioxide, which will cause even more warming, but new research shows far more carbon dioxide locked in the permafrost than previously thought, which means a much bigger feedback effect.

The result of all this is that climate scientists have, en masse, become Cassandras — gifted with the ability to prophesy future disasters, but cursed with the inability to get anyone to believe them.

And we’re not just talking about disasters in the distant future, either. The really big rise in global temperature probably won’t take place until the second half of this century, but there will be plenty of damage long before then.

For example, one 2007 paper in the journal Science is titled “Model Projections of an Imminent Transition to a More Arid Climate in Southwestern North America” — yes, “imminent” — and reports “a broad consensus among climate models” that a permanent drought, bringing Dust Bowl-type conditions, “will become the new climatology of the American Southwest within a time frame of years to decades.”

So if you live in, say, Los Angeles, and liked those pictures of red skies and choking dust in Sydney, Australia, last week, no need to travel. They’ll be coming your way in the not-too-distant future.

Now, at this point I have to make the obligatory disclaimer that no individual weather event can be attributed to global warming. The point, however, is that climate change will make events like that Australian dust storm much more common.

In a rational world, then, the looming climate disaster would be our dominant political and policy concern. But it manifestly isn’t. Why not?

Part of the answer is that it’s hard to keep peoples’ attention focused. Weather fluctuates — New Yorkers may recall the heat wave that pushed the thermometer above 90 in April — and even at a global level, this is enough to cause substantial year-to-year wobbles in average temperature. As a result, any year with record heat is normally followed by a number of cooler years: According to Britain’s Met Office, 1998 was the hottest year so far, although NASA — which arguably has better data — says it was 2005. And it’s all too easy to reach the false conclusion that the danger is past.

But the larger reason we’re ignoring climate change is that Al Gore was right: This truth is just too inconvenient. Responding to climate change with the vigor that the threat deserves would not, contrary to legend, be devastating for the economy as a whole. But it would shuffle the economic deck, hurting some powerful vested interests even as it created new economic opportunities. And the industries of the past have armies of lobbyists in place right now; the industries of the future don’t

Nor is it just a matter of vested interests. It’s also a matter of vested ideas. For three decades the dominant political ideology in America has extolled private enterprise and denigrated government, but climate change is a problem that can only be addressed through government action. And rather than concede the limits of their philosophy, many on the right have chosen to deny that the problem exists.

So here we are, with the greatest challenge facing mankind on the back burner, at best, as a policy issue. I’m not, by the way, saying that the Obama administration was wrong to push health care first. It was necessary to show voters a tangible achievement before next November. But climate change legislation had better be next.

And as I pointed out in my last column, we can afford to do this. Even as climate modelers have been reaching consensus on the view that the threat is worse than we realized, economic modelers have been reaching consensus on the view that the costs of emission control are lower than many feared

So the time for action is now. O.K., strictly speaking it’s long past. But better late than never.

It’s Easy Being Green

By PAUL KRUGMAN

So, have you enjoyed the debate over health care reform? Have you been impressed by the civility of the discussion and the intellectual honesty of reform opponents?

The House has already passed a fairly strong cap-and-trade climate bill, the Waxman-Markey act, which if it becomes law would eventually lead to sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But on climate change, as on health care, the sticking point will be the Senate. And the usual suspects are doing their best to prevent action.

Some of them still claim that there’s no such thing as global warming, or at least that the evidence isn’t yet conclusive. But that argument is wearing thin — as thin as the Arctic pack ice, which has now diminished to the point that shipping companies are opening up new routes through the formerly impassable seas north of Siberia.

Even corporations are losing patience with the deniers: earlier this week Pacific Gas and Electric canceled its membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in protest over the chamber’s “disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality” of climate change.

So the main argument against climate action probably won’t be the claim that global warming is a myth. It will, instead, be the argument that doing anything to limit global warming would destroy the economy. As the blog Climate Progress puts it, opponents of climate change legislation “keep raising their estimated cost of the clean energy and global warming pollution reduction programs like some out of control auctioneer.”

It’s important, then, to understand that claims of immense economic damage from climate legislation are as bogus, in their own way, as climate-change denial. Saving the planet won’t come free (although the early stages of conservation actually might). But it won’t cost all that much either.

How do we know this? First, the evidence suggests that we’re wasting a lot of energy right now. That is, we’re burning large amounts of coal, oil and gas in ways that don’t actually enhance our standard of living — a phenomenon known in the research literature as the “energy-efficiency gap.” The existence of this gap suggests that policies promoting energy conservation could, up to a point, actually make consumers richer.

Second, the best available economic analyses suggest that even deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions would impose only modest costs on the average family. Earlier this month, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis of the effects of Waxman-Markey, concluding that in 2020 the bill would cost the average family only $160 a year, or 0.2 percent of income. That’s roughly the cost of a postage stamp a day.

By 2050, when the emissions limit would be much tighter, the burden would rise to 1.2 percent of income. But the budget office also predicts that real G.D.P. will be about two-and-a-half times larger in 2050 than it is today, so that G.D.P. per person will rise by about 80 percent. The cost of climate protection would barely make a dent in that growth. And all of this, of course, ignores the benefits of limiting global warming.

So where do the apocalyptic warnings about the cost of climate-change policy come from?

Are the opponents of cap-and-trade relying on different studies that reach fundamentally different conclusions? No, not really. It’s true that last spring the Heritage Foundation put out a report claiming that Waxman-Markey would lead to huge job losses, but the study seems to have been so obviously absurd that I’ve hardly seen anyone cite it.

Instead, the campaign against saving the planet rests mainly on lies.

Thus, last week Glenn Beck — who seems to be challenging Rush Limbaugh for the role of de facto leader of the G.O.P. — informed his audience of a “buried” Obama administration study showing that Waxman-Markey would actually cost the average family $1,787 per year. Needless to say, no such study exists.

But we shouldn’t be too hard on Mr. Beck. Similar — and similarly false — claims about the cost of Waxman-Markey have been circulated by many supposed experts.

A year ago I would have been shocked by this behavior. But as we’ve already seen in the health care debate, the polarization of our political discourse has forced self-proclaimed “centrists” to choose sides — and many of them have apparently decided that partisan opposition to President Obama trumps any concerns about intellectual honesty.

So here’s the bottom line: The claim that climate legislation will kill the economy deserves the same disdain as the claim that global warming is a hoax. The truth about the economics of climate change is that it’s relatively easy being green.

Climate Change Science Compendium 2009

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The UNEP has released a Climate Change Science Compendium 2009 (McMullen and Jabbour 2009) that:

“presents some of the issues and ideas that have emerged since the close of research for consideration by the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report over three years ago. Focusing on work that brings new insights to aspects of Earth System Science at various scales, it discusses findings from the International Polar Year and from new technologies that enhance our abilities to see the Earth’s Systems in new ways. Evidence of unexpected rates of change in Arctic sea ice extent, ocean acidification, and species loss emphasizes the urgency needed to develop management strategies for addressing climate change.”

The UNEP summarises the findings of the report as:

“The pace and scale of climate change may now be outstripping even the most sobering predictions of the last report of the IPCC … many predictions at the upper end of the IPCC’s forecasts are becoming ever more likely.”

One of the most important sections of the report deals with sea-level rise – an area of considerable research debate since the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report was released.

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report could affirm only 18–59 cm rise in global sea levels over the 21st century based largely on thermal expansion of the oceans. Critically, it excluded contributions to sea level rise from dynamic ice changes, such as from melting of glaciers, because no consensus could be reached based on the published literature available at that time.

The new UNEP report concludes based on recent research publications that:

“Introduction of realistic future melt and discharge values … suggests that plausible values of total global average sea-level rise, including all land-ice sources plus thermal expansion, may reach 0.8 to 2.0 metres by 2100, although no preferred value was established within this range …

Immediate implications are already challenging … for every 20 cm of sea-level rise the frequency of any extreme sea-level of a given height increases by a factor of about 10. According to this approach, by 2100, a rise of sea level of 50 cm would produce events every day that now occur once a year and extreme events expected once during the whole of the 20th Century will occur several times every year by the end of the 21st.”

The UNEP report’s reference list provides a helpful compilation of the leading climate change research since 2007.

Reference

McMullen, C.P. and Jabbour, J. (2009). Climate Change Science Compendium 2009. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, EarthPrint (Link to PDF)

Anthropogenic Global Warming Scepticism: stupid, or just plain dishonest?

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Jennifer Marohasy posted the above graph to her blog as partial justification as to “why I am an Anthropogenic Global Warming Sceptic”. According to her interpretation:

“Since the IPCC’s task is to prove any global warming is due to human CO2 emissions, they decided to proclaim that carbon dioxide was long-lived in the atmosphere – a fabricated assumption.

“They did this despite the overwhelming majority of peer-reviewed studies (and corroborating empirical measurements) finding that CO2 in the atmosphere remained there a short time. Literally, a fabricated assumption, driven by political agenda, became a cornerstone of fraudulent climate model science. As a result, billions spent on climate models that are unable to predict climate with any accuracy…

It took just one post to correct Marohasy on this:

Two distinct concepts may both be referred to as ‘residence time’. One is the time that a given CO2 molecule, individually, spends in the atmosphere before it is transferred into the oceans or the biosphere. All the black lines – every single one – refer to this ‘residence time’.

The other is the time taken for the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere to reach equilibrium, after it’s been pushed out of equilibrium. The red line refers to this ‘residence time’

So your comparison is meaningless, and it’s the old question once more – are you being stupid, or dishonest?

Don’t expect Marohasy to actually own up  – Tim Lambert has tried to pin her down on the dishonesty and lack of truth before with little success (see here and here too). Which leaves the honest (and unanswered) question: stupid, or just dishonest?

The Road to Copenhagen Part 3: seeking commitment from the G20

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“G20 leaders fail on climate, as civil society challenges them to act” (TckTckTck, 27th September ’09)

It was the week that wasn’t at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, at least when it comes to seeing any strong commitment from world leaders on the issue of climate change. There was anticipation that an agreement may have been in the works to see a funding commitment to assist developing nations in reducing their dependence on fossil fuels, but it never materialized. International climate financing is a primary sticking point in the climate treaty negotiations underway in preparation for the world climate summit this December in Copenhagen.

Many TckTckTck partners spent the week making a lot of noise to drive home the point that the world’s government leaders must begin to show leadership on climate change in the run-up to Copenhagen. Greenpeace hung a massive banner (actually “massive” would be an understatement) from a Pittsburgh bridge to greet the G20 leaders on the opening day. “It is imperative that developed world leaders do not fail again in Pittsburgh. They must put money on the table to support developing countries” said Damon Moglen, Greenpeace USA’s global warming campaign director (Read more over at TckTckTck)

We’re Screwed

NYP

This was the headline from the fake edition of the New York Post, handed out by the clever group called “The Yes Men” who are also responsible for the “Survivaball” craze, sweeping America and other satiric videos about climate change.

The fake edition of the New York Post included Onion-like stories including one on “Crap and Trade”:

Cap and trade. It sounds like a kind of street hustle. And in its way it is. But the street is Wall Street and the hustle is designed to collect a lot more than nickels and dimes from gullible passersby.

Cap-and-trade sets limits for a company’s carbon emissions. If it does not reach its limits a company can sell its spare capacity to other companies that have exceeded theirs. In other words, it creates a market in greenhouse gases.

Cap and trade is a highly profitable arrangement for large corporations. That’s why companies like  Shell, BP and Dupont are so keen on it. And that’s why the pressure on Congress to make it a central part of The American Clean Energy and Security Act (aka Waxman-Markey) is so intense.

The next market bubble...filled with CO2? (graphic source: Washington Post)

You might think that with  the recent high-tech, housing and financial bubbles, the last thing we need is another arena in which speculators can make off like Bernie Madoff.  If so, you are not alone. Many are coming to doubt the wisdom of the cap and trade system. Maggie  Zhou of the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities  is one of them: “The lack of transparency coupled with the extreme requirements for oversight of any cap-and-trade system makes it highly vulnerable to the same manipulations that lead to the recent market crash,” she says.

Planetary boundaries

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There is a provacative series running in Nature about planertary boundaries and a “safe operating space for humanity”.  Everything in the series is free/open access here.   There is a main article and a series of essays and editorials about the approach.  Note, none of this is peer-reviewed science.  I have mixed feeling about it.  At first, it seemed like a useful framework, at least to scare people.  But after reading the paper and thinking about the boundaries (see the table below) the whole exercise seems arbitrary and subjective.  But when you are a gray-beared elder scientist, with your own institute in Stockholm, I suppose you can say anything you want in Nature or Science.

In this issue of Nature, a group of renowned Earth-system and environmental scientists led by Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre sets out to define boundaries for the biophysical processes that determine the Earth’s capacity for self-regulation (see page 472). The framework presented is an attempt to look holistically at how humanity is stressing the entire Earth system. Provocatively, they go beyond the conceptual to suggest numerical boundaries for seven parameters: climate change, ozone depletion, ocean acidification, biodiversity, freshwater use, the global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and change in land use. The authors argue that we must stay within all of these boundaries in order to avoid catastrophic environmental change.

The boundaries are based on existing data. For some processes, such as anthropogenic climate change and human modification of the nitrogen cycle, we may already have crossed the line, and need to back-pedal quickly. For others, such as ocean acidification, we are rapidly approaching a threshold beyond which there may be abrupt and nonlinear changes.

The exercise requires many qualifications. For the most part, the exact values chosen as boundaries by Rockström and his colleagues are arbitrary. So too, in some cases, are the indicators of change. There is, as yet, little scientific evidence to suggest that stabilizing long-term concentrations of carbon dioxide at 350 parts per million is the right target for avoiding dangerous interference with the climate system. Focusing on long-term atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas is perhaps an unnecessary distraction from the much more immediate target of keeping warming to within 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. Nor is there a consensus on the need to cap species extinctions at ten times the background rate, as is being advised.


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Happy Birthday to… Andrew Bolt!

One of the stunning coincidences is that Andrew Bolt and I are born within a few hours of each other.  While similar in many ways (e.g. born on 26th Sep 1959, both have European born fathers), we differ in our understanding of climate change.

Screen shot 2009-09-24 at 9.32.45 AM

I thought I might help him with a little science-based information on his favourite subject (I am a scientist afterall) by putting together the following birthday card:

Birthday-Card

So, happy 50th birthday Andrew!

I am still waiting for the copy of the synthesis report of the 4th assessment of the IPCC that I have ordered for Andrew’s birthday to arrive. I hope he reads and learns from it, but after all, this is the same Andrew Bolt who said “I am not a scientist, and cannot have an informed opinion on your research”. Thanks to Global Warming Art for the graphs used above.


Edit: Sources for the above graphs from Global Warming Art (1-5, 7) except for (6), which is sourced from Climate Change in Australia:

1.  The instrumental record of global average temperatures as compiled by the NASA‘s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The data set used follows the methodology outlined by Hansen et al. (2006). Following the common practice of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the zero on this figure is the mean temperature from 1961-1990.

The uncertainty in the analysis of global temperature is discussed in Foland et al. (2001) and Brohan et al. (2006). They estimate that global averages since ~1950 can be expected to be within ~0.05 °C of reported values with 95% confidence. In the recent period, these uncertainties are driven primarily by considering the potential impact of regions where no temperature record is available. For averages prior to ~1890, the uncertainty reaches ~0.15 °C driven primarily by limited sampling and the effects of changes in sea surface measurement techniques. Uncertainties between 1980 and 1890 are intermediate between these values.

Incorporating such uncertainties, Foland et al. (2001) estimated the global temperature change from 1901 to 2000 as 0.57 ± 0.17 °C, which contributed to the 0.6 ± 0.2 °C estimate reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2001a, [1]). Both estimates are 95% confidence intervals.

2. This figure compares the global average surface temperature record, as compiled by Jones and Moberg (2003; data set TaveGL2v with 2005 updates), to the microwave sounder (MSU) satellite data of lower atmospherictltglhmam version 5.2 with 2005 updates) and Schabel et al. (RSS 2002; data set tlt_land_and_ocean with 2005 updates). These two satellite records reflect two different ways of interpreting the same set of microwave sounder measurements and are not independent records. Each record is plotted as the monthly average and straight lines are fit through each data set from January 1982 to December 2004. The slope of these lines are 0.187°C/decade, 0.163°C/decade, and 0.239°C/decade for the surface, UAH, and RSS respectively.

It is important to know that the 5.2 version of Christy et al.’s satellite temperature record contains a significant correction over previous versions. In summer 2005, Mears and Wentz (2005) discovered that the UAH processing algorithms were incorrectly adjusting for diurnal variations, especially at low latitude. Correcting for this problem raised the trend line 0.035°C/decade, and in so doing brought it into much better agreement with the ground based records and with independent satellite based analysis (e.g. Fu et al. 2004). The discovery of this error also explains why their satellite based temperature trends had disagreed most prominently in the tropics.

3. This figure shows the change in annually averaged sea level at 23 geologically stable tide gauge sites with long-term records as selected by Douglas (1997). The thick dark line is a three-year moving average of the instrumental records. This data indicates a sea level rise of ~18.5 cm from 1900-2000. Because of the limited geographic coverage of these records, it is not obvious whether the apparent decadal fluctuations represent true variations in global sea level or merely variations across regions that are not resolved.

For comparison, the recent annually averaged satellite altimetry data [1] from TOPEX/Poseidon are shown in red. These data indicate a somewhat higher rate of increase than tide gauge data, however the source of this discrepancy is not obvious. It may represent systematic error in the satellite record and/or incomplete geographic sampling in the tide gauge record. The month to month scatter on the satellite measurements is roughly the thickness of the plotted red curve.

4. This figure shows the change in average thickness of mountain glaciers around the world. This information, known as the glaciological mass balance, is found by measuring the annual snow accumulation and subtracting surface ablation driven by melting, sublimation, or wind erosion. These measurements do not account for thinning associated with iceberg calving, flow related thinning, or subglacial erosion. All values are corrected for variations in snow and firn density and expressed in meters of water equivalent (Dyurgerov 2002).

Measurements are shown as both the annual average thickness change and the accumulated change during the fifty years of measurements presented. Years with a net increase in glacier thickness are plotted upwards and in red; years with a net decrease in glacier thickness (i.e. positive thinning) are plotted downward and in blue. Only three years in the last 50 have experienced thickening in the average.

Systematic measurements of glacier thinning began in the 1940s, but fewer than 15 sites had been measured each year until the late 1950s. Since then more than 100 sites have contributed to the average in some years (Dyurgerov 2002, Dyurgerov and Meier 2005). The percentage of measurement sites at which net thinning has been observed averages two-thirds over this interval, and reached a maximum of 96% in 2003 (Dyurgerov 2005). Error bars indicate the standard error in the mean.

5. This figure, which reproduces one of the key conclusions of Knutson & Tuleya (2004), shows a prediction for how hurricanes and other tropical cyclones may intensify as a result of global warming.

Specifically, Knutson & Tuleya performed an experiment using climate models to estimate the strength achieved by cyclones allowed to intensify over either a modern summer ocean or over an ocean warmed by carbon dioxide concentrations 220% higher than present day. A number of different climate models were considered as well as conditions over all the major cyclone forming ocean basins. Depending on site and model, the ocean warming involved ranged from 0.8 to 2.4 °C.

Results, which were found to be robust across different models, showed that storms intensified by a about one half category (on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale) as a result of the warmer oceans. This is accomplished with a ~6% increase in wind speed or equivalently a ~20% increase in energy (for a storm of fixed size). Most significantly these result suggest that global warming may lead to a gradually increase in the probability of highly destructive category 5 hurricanes.

This work does not provide any information about future frequency of tropical storms. Also, since it considers only the development of storms under nearly ideal conditions for promoting their formation, this work is primarily a prediction for how the maximum achievable storm intensity will change. Hence, this does not directly bare on the growth or development of storms under otherwise weak or marginal conditions for storm development (such as high upper level wind shear). However, it is plausible that warmer oceans will somewhat extend the regions and seasons under which hurricane may develop.

6. Projections are given relative to the period 1980-1999 (referred to as the 1990 baseline for convenience). The projections give an estimate of the average climate around 2030, 2050 and 2070, taking into account consistency among climate models. Individual years will show variation from this average. The 50th percentile (the mid-point of the spread of model results) provides a best estimate result. The 10th and 90th percentiles (lowest 10% and highest 10% of the spread of model results) provide a range of uncertainty. Emissions scenarios are from the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios. Low emissions is the B1 scenario, medium is A1B and high is A1FI.


7. This image is a comparison of 10 different published reconstructions of mean temperature changes during the last 1000 years. More recent reconstructions are plotted towards the front and in redder colors, older reconstructions appear towards the back and in bluer colors. An instrumental history of temperature is also shown in black. The medieval warm period and little ice age are labeled at roughly the times when they are historically believed to occur, though it is still disputed whether these were truly global or only regional events. The single, unsmoothed annual value for 2004 is also shown for comparison. (Image:Instrumental Temperature Record.png shows how 2004 relates to other recent years).

It is unknown which, if any, of these reconstructions is an accurate representation of climate history; however, these curves are a fair representation of the range of results appearing in the published scientific literature. Hence, it is likely that such reconstructions, accurate or not, will play a significant role in the ongoing discussions of global climate change and global warming. For each reconstruction, the raw data has been decadally smoothed with a σ = 5 yr Gaussian weighted moving average. Also, each reconstruction was adjusted so that its mean matched the mean of the instrumental record during the period of overlap. The variance (i.e. the scale of fluctuations) was not adjusted (except in one case noted below).

Edit #2:As per ilajd’s comment below, here is the Hadley CRUT3V adjusted for UHI (scale adjusted to match graph #1)

UHI

Largest dust storms in 70 years hit Australian east coast

Across the entire Eastern coastline of Australia, from Sydney to Brisbane, has been blanketed the entire morning with a red haze of desert dust. So big is the storm that apparently even the NY Times has picked up on it. The news is reporting that the air pollution levels are reaching 1500 times the normal record – an estimated 5 million tonnes of soil blown across the country. The question everyone seems to be asking is if the dust storms are related to climate change. There’s no simple answer to this (other than weather shouldn’t be mistaken for climate), and that dust storms have been around for a long, long time. Having said that, the reduced rainfall in the drought-hit regions in Southern Australia and Victoria (in particular the Murray-Darling region) provide a source for the dust, and reduced rainfall in those regions (projected under climate change scenarios) suggests that frequent dust storms will be increasingly common. Below are pictures of the University of Queensland from yesterday morning blanketed under thick dust – see here and here for some incredible photographs across Queensland and New South Wales.

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Ice melt in Greenland and Antartic intensifying

back half templateChange measurements (meters per yr) are median filtered (10-km radius), spatially averaged (5-km radius) and gridded to 3 km over the period 2003–2007

New satellite information shows that ice sheets in Greenland and western Antarctica continue to shrink faster than scientists thought and in some places are already in runaway melt mode.

British scientists for the first time calculated changes in the height of the vulnerable but massive ice sheets and found them especially worse at their edges. That’s where warmer water eats away from below. In some parts of Antarctica, ice sheets have been losing 30 feet a year in thickness since 2003, according to a paper published online Thursday in the journal Nature.

Some of those areas are about a mile thick, so they’ve still got plenty of ice to burn through. But the drop in thickness is speeding up. In parts of Antarctica, the yearly rate of thinning from 2003 to 2007 is 50 percent higher than it was from 1995 to 2003. (Read More @ Associated Press)

Pritchard HD, Arthern RJ, Vaughan DG, Edwards LA (2009) Extensive dynamic thinning on the margins of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Nature doi:10.1038/nature08471