Archive for Science

That Plucky Ice

The BBC can’t just report that Arctic sea ice is stable:

While global warming seems to have set the polar north on a path to floe-free summers, the latest data from Europe’s Cryosat mission suggests it may take a while yet to reach those conditions.

The spacecraft observed 7,500 cu km of ice cover in October when the Arctic traditionally starts its post-summer freeze-up.

This was only slightly down on 2013 when 8,800 cu km were recorded.

Two cool summers in a row have now allowed the pack to increase and then hold on to a good deal of its volume.

It leads the story by crediting ice for a property I don’t think it has:

Arctic sea ice may be more resilient than many observers recognise.

Ice resilient? How about temperatures low? How about warming halted?

In the three years following its launch in 2010, the satellite saw a steady decline in autumn volume at the end of the summer melt.

The deep lows in this short series were 5,300 and 5,400 cubic km in 2011 and 2012, respectively. But then came the bounce back, with colder weather over the following two years resetting the minimum.

Indeed, Cryosat’s five-year October average now shows pretty stable volume – even modest growth (2014 is 12% above the five year-average).

To be sure, there has been much more Arctic ice in the past:

And while the ice is still much reduced compared with the 20,000 cu km that used to stick around in the Octobers of the early 1980s, there is no evidence to indicate a collapse is imminent.

And NASA is unimpressed:

2014 Arctic Sea Ice Minimum Sixth Lowest on Record

They’ve been monitoring ice from space since 1978, so why not say this year was the 31st highest? And 37 years hardly counts as a long-term sample size.

I also note also that NASA’s data comes from two satellites; Europe’s makes a third. Any chance that some of the difference is due to the different instruments used? Or that modern measuring technology is more accurate than late 1970s technology, the same way an iPhone 3 has more technology than a warehouse full if Commodore 64s?

PS: As we’ve noted before, the Great Lakes have found all the ice the Arctic may have lost.

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The Sounds of Settled Science

Real scientists reserve the right to change their minds:

Scientists have dealt a blow to the theory that most water on Earth came from comets.

Results from Europe’s Rosetta mission, which made history by landing on Comet 67P in November, shows the water on the icy mass is unlike that on our planet.

The results are published in the journal Science.

The authors conclude it is more likely that the water came from asteroids, but other scientists say more data is needed before comets can be ruled out.

Water on Earth has a distinctive signature. While the vast majority of liquid on our planet is made up of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, very occasionally a hydrogen atom will be replaced with a deuterium atom.

On Earth, for every 10,000 water molecules, three deuterium atoms can be found. This water has the same physical properties as H2O, but it is heavier in mass.

Prof Kathrin Altwegg, from the University of Bern in Switzerland, who is Rosina’s principal investigator, said: “This ratio between heavy and light water is very characteristic. You cannot easily change it and it stays for a long time.

“If we compare the water in comets with the water we have on Earth, we can definitely say if the water on Earth is compatible with the water on comets.”

The team found that there was far more heavy water on Comet 67P than on Earth.

Oops.

On to the asteroids!

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The End is Nigher

I don’t know about the temperature, but the hypocrisy is sure rising!

Hundreds of United Nations-backed projects to help the world’s poorest countries cope with the most urgent impacts of climate change have not been acted upon, the BBC has learnt.

Many of these were proposed years ago and may have to be abandoned.

Experts and officials from the world’s 48 least developed countries say lack of funding is the main reason.

They warn that a new long-term global climate defence plan may kick these projects further into the long grass.

“Long grass”. That would be from all the rainfall. And we can’t have that.

But help is on the way, paupers, and has been for more than 18 years!

Since October 1996 there has been no global warming at all (Fig. 1). This month’s RSS temperature plot pushes up the period without any global warming from 18 years 1 month to 18 years 2 months (indeed, very nearly 18 years 3 months).

The hiatus period of 18 years 2 months, or 218 months, is the farthest back one can go in the RSS satellite temperature record and still show a sub-zero trend.

No heat? Where’d it go?

New research shows that ocean heat uptake across three oceans is the likely cause of the ‘warming hiatus’ – the current decade-long slowdown in global surface warming.

Using data from a range of state-of-the-art ocean and atmosphere models, the research shows that the increased oceanic heat drawdown in the equatorial Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Ocean basins has played a significant role in the hiatus.

This is important as current climate models have been unable to simulate the hiatus.

And some of you folks ask us to accept this so-called “settled science”.

There have been droughts and floods (and many other natural disasters) as long as there has been an earth. If you want to pay for flood prevention or water reservoirs, you have my blessing; you don’t need an unproved theory to do so. But if you stopped holding conferences and commissioning reports, you might have enough money to actually accomplish something.

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Philae of Soul

You might think even a Europhobe like BTL would have a hard time finding fault with the European Space Agency’s succès fou landing on the comet.

O, ye of little faith.

Credit where it’s due: they got there. And the pictures were spectacular. But we already knew Europe made great cameras.

I’m even underwhelmed by the getting there. Scientists have already successfully rendezvoused with almost every celestial body they’ve aimed for, including asteroids and comets. If the Mayans and other ancient civilizations could predict eclipses, the movement of objects around the sun is rocket science, but only barely. It would have been a humiliation, in space exploration terms, to have missed.

But to done in by battery power—the bane of every cell phone user—seems lame to me. Fine, they thought recharging by solar power would be straightforward on a comet, and what are the odds that the lander would to rest in one of the few “shady” spots? Better than none, it turns out. The lander bounced from its intended site a few times before coming to rest where it did, and they had almost ability to move it once it landed. That’s leaving a lot to chance.

Where I think they ultimately failed was in imagination. They thought the comet would be vaguely spherical, therefore predictable.

They didn’t know it was shaped like a rubber ducky.

With cliffs, chasms, and crevasses.

Again, what are the odds? High enough, as it turned out.

The effort might also have been undone by the failure of the anchoring mechanism. You can’t very well drill into something if you have the weight of a feather. Newton’s Third Law of Motion is hardly cutting edge science. But that’s a mechanical failure. The failure I hold them responsible for is the failure to ask what’s the worst that could happen. And the failure to prepare for it. They got the easy things right (or the previously accomplished things), but when it came to what they didn’t know, they didn’t know sh*t.

Too harsh?

PS: And if the insinuation that science can get lost in its own modeling and lose sight of how things really are isn’t obvious enough to you, yes, I mean global warming.

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Settled Science Update

Ha! Made you look. Betcha thought I was talking about global warming.

I am, kinda:

The doubters have spoken.

A group of independent experts — who prodded authorities to release satellite data on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — says it thinks it knows the approximate location of the missing aircraft.

Five separate computer models all place the plane in a tight cluster of spots in the south Indian Ocean — hundreds of miles southwest of the previous search site.

“We recommend that the search for MH370 be focused in this area,” the group said in a statement late Tuesday.

Doubters, experts, computer models—it sounds like the global warming fracas, doesn’t it? We’re months removed from the original…event…and no closer to discovering what happened.

No, wait. We are closer. We’re closer because by trial and a whole lotta error, we’ve eliminated thousands of square miles. So these “experts” may be on to something. The plane may be where they say it is because it isn’t anywhere else.

The group believes that after the Boeing 777 circumnavigated Indonesia, for reasons that are still unknown, the plane traveled south at an average speed of 470 knots, probably at a consistent altitude and constant heading, Exner said. All five computer models developed by the experts place the aircraft in a “pretty tight cluster…plus or minus 50 miles of each other,” he said.

The plane and its 239 occupants vanished March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

In a blog post, group member Tim Farrar called the recommended search site “our best estimate — but not the only possible — location for a potential search.”

Give these experts credit: unlike the global warm mongers, they admit doubt. They confess uncertainty. They grant you that their theories are only educated guesses. My takeaway is that it’s still a big world out there, and it can still mess with us. If the missing plane doesn’t freak you out, look up the Yellowstone caldera. Gaia could snuff us out with Australia and Madagascar tied behind her back.

Keep a few virgins handy for emergency sacrifice. Borrowing from President Obama, if you don’t believe in an earth goddess, you think the moon is made of cheese.

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When the Banana Gets Soft, the Tough Get Going

Some look at the impending banana extinction and shrug:

The fruit is under assault again from a disease that threatens the popular variety that Americans slice into their cereal or slather with chocolate and whipped cream in their banana splits. But aside from its culinary delight, the banana is the eighth most important food crop in the world, and the fourth most important one for developing nations, where millions of people rely on the $8.9 billion industry for their livelihood.

“It’s a very serious situation,” said Randy Ploetz, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida. In 1989 Ploetz discovered a strain of Panama disease, called TR4, that may be growing into a serious threat to U.S. supplies of the fruit and Latin American producers.

“There’s nothing at this point that really keeps the fungus from spreading,” he said in an interview with CNBC.

Oh really?

A super-enriched banana genetically engineered to improve the lives of millions of people in Africa will soon have its first human trial, which will test its effect on vitamin A levels, Australian researchers said Monday.

The project plans to have the special banana varieties — enriched with alpha and beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A — growing in Uganda by 2020. …

“Good science can make a massive difference here by enriching staple crops such as Ugandan bananas with pro-vitamin A and providing poor and subsistence-farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food,” said project leader Professor James Dale. …

“The consequences of vitamin A deficiency are dire with 650,000-700,000 children world-wide dying … each year and at least another 300,000 going blind,” he said.

The GMO bananas have been around for about 12 years, but the eco-activists wouldn’t let them go to market. What if one of those dead or blind children ate one? Thank goodness we saved twelve million children (about a million a year) from such a fate.

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It Depends on the Meaning of “Ice”

The Great Lakes are finally free of ice!

All of the Great Lakes including Lake Superior are now ice free. This marks the end to a 7 month stretch where the lakes were covered in at least one ice cube, which is the longest streaks since satellite records began back in the 70’s. June 7th became the official ice out date of the lake which also makes in the latest in the year ice has coated the water. There was still a third of the Lakes coated in ice the last week of April which was the largest amount of ice that late in the year, a trend that continued into June.

Wait… there appears to be a chunk of ice that’s still remaining across the southeastern portion of the lake, but that doesn’t appear to be part of the “official” ice cover measurement. Here is a satellite image taken Sunday afternoon that shows the iceberg type piece flowing along the southern edges of the lake.

Can we get a closer look?

There are still a number of smaller chunks of ice in some of the protected bay areas. The picture below shows ice in an area that the map above does not indicate any ice.

Lake Superior is still in the 30s, which means the land around it (downwind, anyway) is also cooler. And you know what else cold water creates?

Fog:

If he global warm mongers would just relax and enjoy nature in all its unpredictability, they might be less excitable.

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Sealed With a Kiss

Waste not, want not!

Blogger Susan Crockford reports on Polar Bear Science that she received an email on May 22 from Dag Vongraven, chairman of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group [PBSG], that an upcoming report on worldwide polar bear population would contain a footnote that some polar bear populations are simply best-guess estimates.

“As part of past status reports, the PBSG has traditionally estimated a range for the total number of polar bears in the circumpolar Arctic. Since 2005, this range has been 20-25,000,” the footnote reads.

“It is important to realize that this range never has been an estimate of total abundance in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand. It is also important to note that even though we have scientifically valid estimates for a majority of the subpopulations, some are dated.”

The note goes on to say here are no “abundance estimates” for bears in the Arctic Basin, East Greenland, and Russia.

Which is about the size of Rhode Island, right?

“Consequently, there is either no, or only rudimentary, knowledge to support guesses about the possible abundance of polar bears in approximately half the areas they occupy. Thus, the range given for total global population should be viewed with great caution as it cannot be used to assess population trend over the long term.”

Why should that stop anyone? Don’t you know how science works?

“Daniel B. Botkin, a world-renowned ecologist, is Professor (Emeritus), Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, UC Santa Barbara, and President of The Center for The Study of The Environment, which provides independent, science-based analyses of complex environmental issues. The New York Times said his book, *Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the 21st Century* is considered by many ecologists to be the classic text of the [environmental] movement.” His Environmental Science, now in its Sixth Edition, was named 2004?s best textbook by the Textbook and Academic Authors Association.”

I have always attempted to maintain an objective, intellectually honest, scientific approach in the best tradition of scientific endeavor. I have, accordingly, been dismayed and disappointed in recent years that this subject has been converted into a political and ideological debate. I have colleagues on both sides of the debate and believe we should work together as scientists instead of arguing divisively about preconceived, emotionally based “positions.” I hope my testifying here will help lead to a calmer, more rational approach to dealing with not only climate change but also other major environmental problems. The IPCC 2014 report does not have this kind of rational discussion we should be having. I would like to tell you why.

To characterize where we are with this report and this issue, I would like to quote James R. Schlesinger, the first U.S. Energy Secretary, who said: “We have only two modes — complacency and panic.”—commenting on the country’s approach to energy (1977)

1. I want to state up front that we have been living through a warming trend driven by a variety of influences. However, it is my view that this is not unusual, and contrary to the characterizations by the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment, these environmental changes are not apocalyptic nor irreversible.

2. My biggest concern is that both the reports present a number of speculative, and sometimes incomplete, conclusions embedded in language that gives them more scientific heft than they deserve. The reports are “scientific-sounding” rather than based on clearly settled facts or admitting their lack.

3. HAS IT BEEN WARMING? Yes, we have been living through a warming trend, no doubt about that. The rate of change we are experiencing is also not unprecedented, and the “mystery” of the warming “plateau” simply indicates the inherent complexity of our global biosphere. Change is normal, life on Earth is inherently risky; it always has been. The two reports, however, makes it seem that environmental change is apocalyptic and irreversible. It is not.

4. IS CLIMATE CHANGE VERY UNUSUAL? No, it has always undergone changes.

9. What I sought to learn was the overall take-away that the reports leave with a reader. I regret to say that I was left with the impression that the reports overestimate the danger from human-induced climate change and do not contribute to our ability to solve major environmental problems. I am afraid that an “agenda” permeates the reports, an implication that humans and our activity are necessarily bad and ought to be curtailed.

10. ARE THERE MAJOR PROBLEMS WITH THE REPORTS? Yes, in assumptions, use of data, and conclusions.

11. My biggest concern about the reports is that they present a number of speculative, and sometimes incomplete, conclusions embedded in language that gives them more scientific heft than they deserve. The reports, in other words, are “scientific- sounding,” rather than clearly settled and based on indisputable facts.

In the parts I omitted, he says there is good science in the report. This is not among that good science:

Why measure the temperature? Why count the polar bears? We have models that do that!

Oops, wrong kind of model—but do you think she’d do any worse?

[T]he IPCC 2014 Terrestrial Ecosystem Report states that “there is medium confidence that rapid change in the Arctic is affecting its animals. For example, seven of 19 subpopulations of the polar bear are declining in number” citing in support of this an article by Vongraven and Richardson, 2011. That report states the contrary, that the “‘decline’ is an illusion.

In addition, I have sought the available counts of the 19 subpopulations. Of these, only three have been counted twice; the rest have been counted once. Thus no rate of changes in the populations can be determined.

The U. S. Marine Mammal Commission, charged with the conservation of this species, acknowledges “Accurate estimates of the current and historic sizes of polar bear stocks are difficult to obtain for several reasons–the species‘ inaccessible habitat, the movement of bears across international boundaries, and the costs of conducting surveys.”

No [bleep]! Who wants to traipse around the North Pole counting polar bears? (Count the number of legs and divide by four.) I’d rather roll on a polar bear rug with my climate model above.

Traitor Obama (if we are to believe half the Bergdahl story) is running hell for leather into the Global Warming fracas. May he wind up looking like the carcass in the picture, top (politically speaking, of course).

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Can You Swim?

You’d better learn.

Catastrophic collapse of Antarctic ice sheet now underway, say scientists

Put another way:

Irreversible collapse of Antarctic glaciers has begun, studies say

You think that’s scary?

Ice melt in part of Antarctica ‘appears unstoppable,’ NASA says

And that’s not all NASA says:

Glacial Region’s Melt Past ‘Point of No Return,’ NASA Says

Thank God we have the Washington Post:

NASA spots worrisome Antarctic ice sheet melt that could add 4 to 12 feet to current sea levels

We’ve already heard enough out of you, NASA—let’s hear from someone else:

West Antarctic glacial collapse: What you need to know

Finally, constructive advice:

Nothing distracts from blind panic better than a hot mom in a red bikini. Now can we talk sense?

The wailing today is that the collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet has already begun.

It’s pretty bad when other environmental reporters start calling you out on it, such as NYT’s Andrew Revkin did today.

Awful misuse of “Collapse” in headlines on centuries-long ice loss in W. Antarctica. See rates in papers. Same as ’09

Buried below the headline in the article, there is agreement with Revkin:

But the researchers said that even though such a rise could not be stopped, it is still several centuries off, and potentially up to 1,000 years away.

A lot can happen in several centuries, why even in the last couple of years Antarctic has seen record levels on Antarctic sea ice.

Just tell yourself that the “irreversible” and “catastrophic” melting of the Antarctic ice sheet is as far removed from us as we are from Ethelred the Unready’s resumption of the throne of England after a year in exile in 1014. (But you already knew that.)

Once the ice starts melting, that is:

Antarctic sea ice has expanded to record levels for April, increasing by more than 110,000sq km a day last month to nine million square kilometres.

The National Snow and Ice Data Centre said the rapid expansion had continued into May and the seasonal cover was now bigger than the record “by a significant margin’’.

“This exceeds the past record for the satellite era by about 320,000sq km, which was set in April 2008,’’ the centre said.

So, Antarctic sea ice has topped the previous record by an area greater than the size of New Mexico. Feel better?

Here. Now?

Untitled

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It’s Not Such a Small World After All

Not since Amelia Earhart has a plane just disappeared so spectacularly without a trace:

Australia’s prime minister said Wednesday that failure to find any clue in the most likely crash site of the lost Malaysia Airlines jet would not spell the end of the search, as officials planned soon to bring in more powerful sonar equipment that can delve deeper beneath the Indian Ocean.

The search coordination center said Wednesday a robotic submarine, the U.S. Navy’s Bluefin 21, had scanned more than 80 percent of the 310-square-kilometer (120-square-mile) seabed search zone off the Australian west coast, creating a three-dimensional sonar map of the ocean floor. Nothing of interest had been found.

The 4.5-kilometer (2.8-mile) deep search area is a circle 20 kilometers (12 miles) wide around an area where sonar equipment picked up a signal on April 8 consistent with a plane’s black boxes. But the batteries powering those signals are now dead.

Defense Minister David Johnston said Australia was consulting with Malaysia, China and the United States on the next phase of the search for the plane that disappeared March 8, which is likely to be announced next week.

People are whispering again that the plane landed somewhere. Maybe it did. But then maybe a planet 70% covered by water, most of it miles deep, very little of that mapped…maybe the bitch-goddess Gaia can keep a secret.

UPDATE:

Wait!

Australian officials say an “object of interest” in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has been found, but Malaysia authorities said it was too early to tell if it is a real lead.
Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan described the object as appearing to be sheet metal with rivets, and said it was recovered on the coast of Western Australia.

[S]o far, all of the objects found in the search have not been related to the missing plane.

Even the Australians expressed caution.

“The more we look at it, the less excited we get,” Dolan said.

Never mind.

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Land of Milk and Honey

God’s way of saying: Now that I have your attention…

Israel’s sky was covered Saturday with mammatus, also known in their popular name “breast clouds,” following the heat wave in the region.

Professor Hadas Saaroni, a climatologist from Tel Aviv University explained how these uniquely shaped clouds are formed.

“They get this shape when clouds are formed in an altitude of four kilometers. Under this higher layer of air there is air that is rather dry. When these clouds rain onto a dry layer, the rain instantly evaporates and the round shape of these clouds is formed.

“While most of the rain doesn’t make it to the ground because it evaporates on the way down, the rain that does penetrate through washes the dust that came in with the winds, and turns into mud-rain,” Saaroni explained.

What? Sorry, I wasn’t listening.

I read that the Arabs are rioting on the Temple Mount, and that Abbas is threatening to dissolve the laughably-named Palestinian Authority. Maybe this is the Divine’s way of calling them a bunch of boobs.

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Shut Up and Eat

Oh, the world is too crowded! Oh, people will starve! (Won’t one problem solve the other?) Oh, there’s nothing to be done!

Except grow more food:

Once home to his father’s hardscrabble cattle-and-crop farm, Stine has, without attracting any widespread notice, developed some of the most valuable agricultural products on Earth here. With more than 900 patents, Stine sells his coveted soybean and corn seed genetics to agri-giants like Monsanto and Syngenta, nabbing estimated annual sales of more than $1 billion with margins in excess of 10%. Along with his four children, Stine owns almost 100%.

Based in Adel, Iowa (pop. 4,000), the dozen or so companies under Stine’s umbrella form an unlikely titan at the heart of the market, directly or indirectly generating revenues from almost 50 million acres of crops in the U.S. each year.

Stine Seed does business with all of the heavyweights and has for more than three decades, primarily because it has something everybody else needs: the best-performing soybean seeds in the business. Through plant breeding, a roughly 10,000-year-old technique that’s not unlike creating Thoroughbred horses or show dogs, Stine has been perfecting the genetic makeup of soybean seeds–primarily used in animal feed and to produce vegetable oils–since the 1960s.

Today 60% of all U.S. soybean acreage is planted using genetics developed by Stine’s companies, which also have a strong presence in South America and other international markets. FORBES estimates that Stine’s company–which, among other things, also breeds corn genetics, creates plant traits in its biotech lab and has a small but growing commercial seed sales operation–is worth nearly $3 billion.

While rivals scoff, he now thinks he can double the world’s output of corn, the most popular crop on Earth. By breeding corn seeds genetically predisposed to thrive when planted in high densities, he thinks he can supercharge the engine generating animal feed, biofuels and food for the whole planet. “We’re going to be able to double corn yields very easily,” says Stine.

Stine flipped the conventional wisdom on its head. He began breeding corn to thrive at higher planting density: shorter plants with smaller tassels and more upright leaves that attract more sunlight. A leaner, more efficient plant. After breeding many descendants of the seeds with that genetic makeup, the company has developed corn that can be planted in much narrower rows–12 inches or even pairs of rows 8 inches apart–increasing the number of plants per acre to as much as 80,000. And, of ultimate importance, substantially increasing a farmer’s harvest.

Not everyone is convinced, but I wouldn’t bet against his record. Anyway, compare this small town, midwesterner with our bi-coastal commander in chief. The closest Obama has ever come to agriculture is to smoke two (or more?) of its products. His is the conventional ignorance (it’s hardly wisdom) that we’re cooking and stripping the earth of its resources. The left claims to love science, but creates the weirdest of boogiemen around GMO crops. Never mind that we’ve GMO-ed pretty much every edible plant and domesticated animal for millennia—just not in a lab—the application of science and technology to food production (aka farming) has them running for the hills. So, maybe they’ll never grow this corn in Iowa or Nebraska, but if they know what’s good for them, they’ll be growing it in Zimbabwe and other fertile nations of Africa.

Some people throw up their hands and wonder what will become of the world. Others put their hands to work and head out to the fields (or labs) to fill silos and tummies around the world. (And get filthy rich doing so!)

PS: My own garden is a smaller organic affair of heirloom tomatoes, cukes for pickling, string beans, and, in the perennial triumph of hope over experience, beets. But I can afford to d*ck around. If I get only two decent beets out of a row, I can just nip down to Whole Foods to buy more. Where does Africa go when their crop yields fall short?

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