Cryogenic reefs

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I must admit I hadn’t thought of this one -apparently the Zoological Society of London is proposing the world’s first ‘cryobank’ for corals (similar to the Millenium Seed Bank project). According to news reports, the proposal is to preserve samples of coral in liquid nitrogen, allowing them to be ‘reintroduced’ at some point in the future:

”Well it’s the last ditch effort to save biodiversity from the reefs which are extremely diverse systems,” said Simon Harding from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

“It would take other work to try and reconstruct the reef so that you can start the process of building up a reef again,” he said.

“That is something that needs to be looked at in detail, but we can definitely store the species and save them in that way.” (Read More)

Interesting proposal, but whilst others might see this as a ‘necassary option’, it fails to get to the root cause of the issue: climate change.

Charlie Veron, former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, said he supported the effort but warned it was no consolation for the eradication of reefs.

Creating coral-style aquariums, similar to the zoos of today, or preserving the genetic make-up of coral samples to “resurrect” reef systems in the future, were not meaningful options, according to Dr Veron.

“These are not solutions,” he said. “Because Australia is home to the biggest coral reef in the world, it should concentrate all its efforts into helping the Great Barrier Reef survive.

“Personally, I feel it’s no compensation to know that the genetic information of corals is kept in machines.” (Read More)

Climate Denial crock of the Week: “Temp leads Carbon”

This is one of Peter Sinclair’s best videos.  It does a fabulous job of explaining the science behind the issue and debunking the skeptic argument.  He addresses what has for some time been a favorite page in the skeptic playbook: the bogus argument that AGW is refuted by the fact that at the termination of recent ice ages, increases in temperature initially lag behind increases in CO2.  This argument is a straw man; nobody is denying that this patterns occurs.  But this observation, and the fact that temperature can indeed have strong effects on CO2 conc., in no way undercuts the science behind AGW.   The simple explanation for this is that we know that many other factors influence global temperature.  And ice ages are thought to be controlled by Milankovitch cycles and not by changes in atmospheric CO2.  That doesn’t mean that CO2 does not also influence global temperature or that it isn’t the major driver of recently observed global warming.

IOW as John Cook pokes fun at this illogical argument:  “Chickens do not lay eggs, because they have been observed to hatch from them”.

There are better written explanations of this issue by far more knowledgeable people than me here and here.  And Peter’s video is a great place to start:

Fewer Americans See Solid Evidence of Global Warming

Even more evidence that we are loosing the war for the public mind over climate change.  A new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press indicates that the number of Americans that think the earth is warming is declining: by 14% in just 18 month!  (Read the entire Pew report here)

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This is despite the efforts by the tireless bloggers at ClimateShifts and other more respectable venues.  I think the economic crisis and a variety of social and political issues (and hang ups) underlie the decline in the number of people that think warming is serious.  But why are so many minds being changed about the very premise of issue; that the earth is warming?!  I think this is largely being caused by articles and essays claiming the earth is cooling or that climate change has plateaued (or “taken a break”) that are very common in newspapers, on cable news, talk radio and on the blogosphere.

And it isn’t just conservative republicans whose minds are changing.  Look at the drop in independents that see solid evidence of global warming, from 79% in 2006 to 53% in 2009:

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Only 18% of republicans believe in AGW, but only 50% of democrats?!  Could there be something wrong with this survey?

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The biggest drops were seen among moderate/liberal Republicans and in the Great Lakes region and Mountain west:

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Read the entire Pew report here

Global cooling? Statisticians reject claims that climate trend is shifting

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By SETH BORENSTEIN
AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — Have you heard that the world is now cooling instead of warming? You may have seen some news reports on the Internet or heard about it from a provocative new book. Only one problem: It’s not true, according to an analysis of the numbers done by several independent statisticians for The Associated Press.

The case that the Earth might be cooling partly stems from recent weather. Last year was cooler than previous years. It’s been a while since the super-hot years of 1998 and 2005. So is this a longer climate trend or just weather’s normal ups and downs?

In a blind test, the AP gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends, without telling them what the numbers represented. The experts found no true temperature declines over time.

“If you look at the data and sort of cherry-pick a micro-trend within a bigger trend, that technique is particularly suspect,” said John Grego, a professor of statistics at the University of South Carolina.

Yet the idea that things are cooling has been repeated in opinion columns, a BBC news story posted on the Drudge Report and in a new book by the authors of the best-seller “Freakonomics.” Last week, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that only 57 percent of Americans now believe there is strong scientific evidence for global warming, down from 77 percent in 2006.

Global warming skeptics base their claims on an unusually hot year in 1998. Since then, they say, temperatures have dropped – thus, a cooling trend. But it’s not that simple.

Since 1998, temperatures have dipped, soared, fallen again and are now rising once more. Records kept by the British meteorological office and satellite data used by climate skeptics still show 1998 as the hottest year. However, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA show 2005 has topped 1998. Published peer-reviewed scientific research generally cites temperatures measured by ground sensors, which are from NOAA, NASA and the British, more than the satellite data.

The recent Internet chatter about cooling led NOAA’s climate data center to re-examine its temperature data. It found no cooling trend.

“The last 10 years are the warmest 10-year period of the modern record,” said NOAA climate monitoring chief Deke Arndt. “Even if you analyze the trend during that 10 years, the trend is actually positive, which means warming.

The AP sent expert statisticians NOAA’s year-to-year ground temperature changes over 130 years and the 30 years of satellite-measured temperatures preferred by skeptics and gathered by scientists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Statisticians who analyzed the data found a distinct decades-long upward trend in the numbers, but could not find a significant drop in the past 10 years in either data set. The ups and downs during the last decade repeat random variability in data as far back as 1880.

Saying there’s a downward trend since 1998 is not scientifically legitimate, said David Peterson, a retired Duke University statistics professor and one of those analyzing the numbers.

Identifying a downward trend is a case of “people coming at the data with preconceived notions,” said Peterson, author of the book “Why Did They Do That? An Introduction to Forensic Decision Analysis.”

One prominent skeptic said that to find the cooling trend, the 30 years of satellite temperatures must be used. The satellite data tends to be cooler than the ground data. And key is making sure 1998 is part of the trend, he added.

It’s what happens within the past 10 years or so, not the overall average, that counts, contends Don Easterbrook, a Western Washington University geology professor and global warming skeptic.

“I don’t argue with you that the 10-year average for the past 10 years is higher than the previous 10 years,” said Easterbrook, who has self-published some of his research. “We started the cooling trend after 1998. You’re going to get a different line depending on which year you choose.

“Should not the actual temperature be higher now than it was in 1998?” Easterbrook asked. “We can play the numbers games.”

That’s the problem, some of the statisticians said.

Grego produced three charts to show how choosing a starting date can alter perceptions. Using the skeptics’ satellite data beginning in 1998, there is a “mild downward trend,” he said. But doing that is “deceptive.”

The trend disappears if the analysis starts in 1997. And it trends upward if you begin in 1999, he said.

Apart from the conflicting data analyses is the eyebrow-raising new book title from Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, “Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance.”

A line in the book says: “Then there’s this little-discussed fact about global warming: While the drumbeat of doom has grown louder over the past several years, the average global temperature during that time has in fact decreased.”

That led to a sharp rebuke from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which said the book mischaracterizes climate science with “distorted statistics.”

Levitt, a University of Chicago economist, said he does not believe there is a cooling trend. He said the line was just an attempt to note the irony of a cool couple of years at a time of intense discussion of global warming. Levitt said he did not do any statistical analysis of temperatures, but “eyeballed” the numbers and noticed 2005 was hotter than the last couple of years. Levitt said the “cooling” reference in the book title refers more to ideas about trying to cool the Earth artificially.

Statisticians say that in sizing up climate change, it’s important to look at moving averages of about 10 years. They compare the average of 1999-2008 to the average of 2000-2009. In all data sets, 10-year moving averages have been higher in the last five years than in any previous years.

“To talk about global cooling at the end of the hottest decade the planet has experienced in many thousands of years is ridiculous,” said Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford.

Ben Santer, a climate scientist at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Lab, called it “a concerted strategy to obfuscate and generate confusion in the minds of the public and policymakers” ahead of international climate talks in December in Copenhagen.

President Barack Obama weighed in on the topic Friday at MIT. He said some opponents “make cynical claims that contradict the overwhelming scientific evidence when it comes to climate change – claims whose only purpose is to defeat or delay the change that we know is necessary.”

Earlier this year, climate scientists in two peer-reviewed publications statistically analyzed recent years’ temperatures against claims of cooling and found them not valid.

Not all skeptical scientists make the flat-out cooling argument.

“It pretty much depends on when you start,” wrote John Christy, the Alabama atmospheric scientist who collects the satellite data that skeptics use. He said in an e-mail that looking back 31 years, temperatures have gone up nearly three-quarters of a degree Fahrenheit (four-tenths of a degree Celsius). The last dozen years have been flat, and temperatures over the last eight years have declined a bit, he wrote.

Oceans, which take longer to heat up and longer to cool, greatly influence short-term weather, causing temperatures to rise and fall temporarily on top of the overall steady warming trend, scientists say. The biggest example of that is El Nino.

El Nino, a temporary warming of part of the Pacific Ocean, usually spikes global temperatures, scientists say. The two recent warm years, both 1998 and 2005, were El Nino years. The flip side of El Nino is La Nina, which lowers temperatures. A La Nina bloomed last year and temperatures slipped a bit, but 2008 was still the ninth hottest in 130 years of NOAA records.

Of the 10 hottest years recorded by NOAA, eight have occurred since 2000, and after this year it will be nine because this year is on track to be the sixth-warmest on record.

The current El Nino is forecast to get stronger, probably pushing global temperatures even higher next year, scientists say. NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt predicts 2010 may break a record, so a cooling trend “will be never talked about again.”

Nesting albatross die from a diet of plastic

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These photographs, taken by photographer Chris Jordan are nothing short of astonishing… click here to see the full set.

These photographs of albatross chicks were made just a few weeks ago on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.

To document this phenomenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world’s most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent.

Marine plant life holds the secret to preventing global warming

Here’s an interesting article in The Times newspaper about a new report released by the UN – Blue Carbon:

Marine plant life sucks 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year, but most of the plankton responsible never reaches the seabed to become a permanent carbon store.

Mangrove forests, salt marshes and seagrass beds are a different matter. Although together they cover less than 1 per cent of the world’s seabed, they lock away well over half of all carbon to be buried in the ocean floor. They are estimated to store 1,650 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year — nearly half of global transport emissions — making them one of the most intense carbon sinks on Earth.

Their capacity to absorb the emissions is under threat, however: the habitats are being lost at a rate of up to 7 per cent a year, up to 15 times faster than the tropical rainforests. A third have already been lost.

Halting their destruction could be one of the easiest ways of reducing future emissions, says report, Blue Carbon, a UN collaboration.

With 50 per cent of the world’s population living within 65 miles of the sea, human pressures on nearshore waters are powerful. Since the 1940s, parts of Asia have lost up to 90 per cent of their mangrove forests, robbing both spawning fish and local people of sanctuary from storms. (Read More)

Hot Pink Beasties of the Deep

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Boingboing asks: “Quick, what’s pink and thrives on hydrocarbons?” The answer? Ice worms. There’s a bunch of them (8 to be exact) in the photograph above, thriving at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in solid, ice-like lumps of methane hydrate.

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Here’s an ice-worm up close,  poking it’s head out from underneath the blanket of methane hydrate. What makes these extremophiles so unique?

First, ice worms are social butterflies. I’ve just mixed some metaphors there, I think, but you get the idea. In the picture above, you can see that they live close to each other, hollowing out little divots on the surface of the hydrate as “burrows”. But they also take advantage of the proximity to interact with their neighbors, Joye says. The worms move around the hydrate. They interact with each other. And they fight. A lot. “They just go at it,” Joye says. “We spent hours videotaping them.”

Also, they’re probably farmers. The ice worms are unique in their particular habitat in that they don’t have symbiotic bacteria that help them process hydrocarbons into food. Instead, Joye and her colleagues think the worms probably live off the thick mat of microbes that grows on the gas hydrate. The worms likely tend their “herd” by simply moving around, circulating the sea water and bringing oxygen to the microbes.

Finally, the worms can be surprisingly tough to spot. In fact, Joye and her colleagues had been studying gas hydrates for years before they realized the worms were there at all. That breakthrough came when Ian MacDonald, a Florida State University oceanographer, designed a better underwater digital camera that could take extreme close-ups of the hydrate surface. “It turned out, we’d been seeing them all along. They’d been in our photographs, but we hadn’t recognized them as life and had just missed the forest for the trees,” Joye says.

Check out the original article here, or read more about the iceworms and ice-methane habitat over at the Gulf Extreme Environment Observatory.


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The truth about climate change

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An op-ed about (and hopefully debunking) the myth that global warming has plateaued.  From the Raleigh NC based News & Observer.  Thanks to KRT from the N&O for the great image above and to N&O op-ed editor Allen Torrey.

Warming is fact; denial is harmful

“The earth is cooling!”

Actually it isn’t, but we have all heard that so many times recently, we’re starting to wonder.

Globally, the last few years have indeed been cooler than 1998 and 2005. But this has no relevance for whether the planet’s climate is changing or whether people are the cause. The US civilian unemployment rate dipped this summer too, but would anybody credibly argue that was evidence that unemployment hadn’t risen during and as a result of this recession?

According to NASA, the hottest ten years since 1880 (when continuous instrument records begin) have occurred since 1996, and the planet’s temperature is still increasing. The only way to arrive at the conclusion that global warming has “plateaued” as George Will suggested last week in the N&O, is to begin your analysis in 1998; the warmest year on record.  In science, the technical term for choosing your data to make a point is “cherry picking”.

Like many climate change skeptics, Will is confusing weather with climate, which encompasses longer time periods; generally 30 years or more. The shorter-term fluctuations Will is fretting about are natural, have been happening for centuries, are well understood by climate scientists and are predicted by global climate models. It is the longer-term progressive warming that began over a century ago – and coincides with the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – that is cause for concern.

Climate change skeptics like Will are successfully making the public think the evidence of our impact on the earth’s climate is confusing and contradictory. The details are complicated, but the basic science is actually simple. Have you ever climbed into a closed car on a sunny August afternoon?  Pretty hot wasn’t it?  That is essentially what the growing layer of gases in the atmosphere does to the earth, trapping in the heat caused by the sun warming up the land, just like it warms up the dashboard in your car.

Here in the world’s wealthiest nation the impacts of climate change on most of our lives have been relatively minor. Elsewhere, crops are failing, temperature sensitive diseases like malaria and cholera are increasing, and coastal villages are preparing to move to higher ground. In the US, arguing about whether the earth is warming is political sport. Elsewhere, the argument has moved on to which new technologies might reverse climate change, how societies can adapt to it, and who should pay for the costs.

Elsewhere, though, climate change is a bread and butter issue. When a coral reef in Papua New Guinea is wiped out by warming oceans, local fisheries collapse and fisherman can’t afford to send their kids to school. When Arctic permafrost melts, the physical underpinning of entire Alaskan villages is endangered. Nearly 1 billion people, or 1 in 7 worldwide, live at low coastal elevations and are experiencing flooding, erosion, and other direct impacts of climate change.

We haven’t experienced impacts of that scale here in North Carolina, but we eventually could. As sea level continues to rise, coastal communities here, too, will be threatened, and economies based on tourism and agriculture will suffer. Some of our fisheries could be affected too. One of the many affects of increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is that the oceans are becoming more acidic. This will affect economically important marine life like shrimp, crabs and oysters by making their skeletons more brittle and energetically costly to grow.

Given the clarity and relative certainty of the science and the scale of the potential social and economic impacts, why do newspapers publish articles denying climate change is happening? Social commentators like George Will certainly have freedom of speech and a general license to express their opinions on the editorial page. But would newspaper editors publish essays denying other major threats to humanity? Imagine an editorial arguing that cancer, poverty, HIV-AIDS or genocide don’t exist and are merely the product of a well-orchestrated scientific hoax.

In some countries, you actually do see such lies in the media. To Americans, this seems crazy, which is what the rest of the world thinks when they read denials about global warming in our newspapers. To everybody else, climate change is something they are already experiencing and are trying to find solutions to, rather than just another talking point in a never-ending culture war.

October 6, 2009

John Bruno, Carol Arnosti and Mark Sorensen

John Bruno, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Carol Arnosti, PhD, is a Professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mark Sorensen, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill