Tag: global warming

Greenland seeing unprecedented melting

By Phil Plait | July 24, 2012 11:30 am

Last week, a huge chunk of ice broke off of Greenland’s Petermann glacier, an event called a "calving". The iceberg is now moving down the glacier’s fjord, as seen by NASA’s Terra Earth-observing satellite on July 21, 2012:

Note the scale. The iceberg is well over 100 square kilometers in size – about 50 square miles, or 30,000 acres. That’s larger than the island of Manhattan in New York City. An even larger iceberg broke off in 2010.

This image comes on the heels of an announcement that Greenland is seeing "unprecedented" melting. By July 12, 2012, as much as 97% of Greenland’s ice sheet had experienced some degree of melting. On July 8, just four days earlier, only 40% of the ice had experienced some melting:

[The map shows ice that has had some melting in red, and areas showing no melting in white. The left map is from July 8, the right from July 12.]

This does not mean that 97% of the Greenland ice sheet has melted away! The map shows all the places where at least some melting has occurred. Some of this melting is simply due to it being summer, and in some places there is evidence of a historic cycle of melting. But this widespread a melting has not happened in the 30 years satellites have been used to map the region. Normally, about half the ice on Greenland experiences some melting.

The culprit appears to be several waves of warm high-pressure ridges that have swept over Greenland, each stronger than the last, with the most recent one squatting over the island for about a week.

As always, it’s difficult to pin any specific weather event on global warming. But every day, the list of suspicious events grows longer. The Petermann calving happened much farther up the glacier than has occurred before. Waves of warm air over Greenland are unusual. And the weird weather we’ve been getting is consistent with what’s been predicted for a planet that’s warming up.

And while climate change deniers put up insulting billboards and compare climate scientists to child molesters, the Earth is getting warmer. While antiscience Congressmen write fallacy-laden op-eds and elected officials run witch hunts against scientists, the Earth is getting warmer.

We need serious people in charge, because it’s way, way past time to take this seriously.


Image credits: Terra picture: Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team; Melting map: Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory and Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI and Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory


Related Posts:

- Huge glacier calves off Greenland
- Enormous glacier calves in largest Arctic event seen in 48 years (with followups here and here)
- EXCLUSIVE: Michael Mann responds to Rep. Barton
- Five shots against global warming denialism

Deniers, disgust, and defamation

By Phil Plait | July 23, 2012 10:20 am

Whenever I post about the reality of climate change, I get the usual chorus of denialist outrage. This includes the odd ad hominem or two, like the sneering "What does an astronomer know about the climate?", because apparently not having an advanced degree in science makes someone a better judge of the data.

But the slings and arrows I get here are nothing, nothing, compared to what professional climate scientist Michael Mann gets. He is, after all, the researcher who first published the hockey stick diagram which shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth has warmed up. To the deniers, he is Enemy Number 1. They have attacked his diagram and his research many times, always coming up short. The data and methods are solid, and it’s clear the Earth really is warming up.

So what’s a denier to do when all the evidence is against them? They attack Dr. Mann himself, of course.

These onslaughts have been documented endlessly, and they include Congressional shenanigans, witch hunts by the Virginia Attorney General, and even death threats.

All that is, sadly, to be expected. But now, ramping up the rhetoric to full-on disgusting, comes The National Review. A far-right paper (to say the least), they are not exactly supportive of the reality of global warming. But a few days ago they published a blog article by Mark Steyn that calls Mann a scientific fraud. This may be expected from deniers, but doesn’t change the fact that when you say that the research done by a scientist is deliberately fraudulent, you are stepping into defamation territory.

Needless to say, Mann isn’t sitting back and taking this. He contacted his lawyer, who has sent a letter to The National Review saying they knowingly defamed him by accusing him of scientific fraud, and demanding an apology and that the defamatory article be taken down. Mann put up a copy of this letter on his Facebook page. As he points out, Mann has been cleared of all wrongdoing multiple times by multiple independent agencies (like here, and here, and here, and here, and of course here), despite the efforts of the global warming deniers to do whatever they can to take him down. I certainly hope The National Review complies, and issues an apology.

Oh, but we’re not done just yet. Amazingly, it gets worse.

Read More

Huge glacier calves off Greenland

By Phil Plait | July 19, 2012 6:53 am

The Petermann Glacier is a vast tongue of flowing ice in Greenland. In 2010 it calved – broke off a chunk – releasing an iceberg far larger than Manhattan Island in New York City. That huge chunk of ice moved into the ocean and eventually melted in the Atlantic (see Related Posts below for more on that event).

And now Petermann has done it again. A crack appeared several years ago, and on July 16th conditions were right to allow a new chunk to break free:

Note the scale: the width of that glacier at that point is 20 kilometers, or 12 miles.

This iceberg was imaged by NASA’s Aqua satellite, designed to monitor Earth’s oceans. The berg itself is about half the size of the last one, but don’t kid yourself: that’s still huge.

As before, we can speculate whether this is due to global warming or not. Icebergs calf all the time. However, note that the last time, the berg calved later in the summer (August), and this crack is much farther up the glacier than usually seen.

As climate scientist Michael Mann says, global warming is like loaded dice. You don’t know if any particular throw of snake eyes is due to them being fixed, but you’ll see a lot more rolls turn up snake eyes than you would otherwise. Global warming is predicted to give us longer, hotter summers, drier conditions across the US, more record temperatures, thinner arctic ice, and having it cover less surface area of the Earth. And, yes, more frequent glacier calving.

By the way, the 2010 calving event was the largest seen in nearly 50 years. And also by the way, June 2012 was one of the hottest since records have been kept. And also also by the way June 2012 had the highest land and ocean average surface temperatures in the northern hemisphere in recorded history. And oh, one more thing: it also was the 328th consecutive month with a global temperature higher than the 20th century average. You can read all about this in the NOAA report "State of the Climate Global Analysis" for June 2012.

But you global warming deniers, you just go ahead and keep on denying. Keep cherry picking, keep changing the subject, keep misinterpreting graphs, and keep slinging ad hominems (note: that last one is skeevy and foul and disgusting almost beyond belief).

In the meantime those of us who understand the actual situation will take it seriously, and continue to speak out. Because this we know:

The Earth is warming up. The rate of warming has increased in the past century or so. This corresponds to the time of the Industrial Revolution, when we started dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases warm the planet (hence the name) — if they didn’t we’d have an average temperature below the freezing point of water. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which is dumped into the atmosphere by humans to the tune of 30 billion tons per year, 100 times the amount from volcanoes. And finally, approximately 97% of climatologists who actually study climate agree that global warming is real, and caused by humans.


NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using data from the Land Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE).


Related Posts:

- Enormous glacier calves in largest Arctic event seen in 48 years
- Ice island heading south off Labrador
- Titanic’s revenge
- New study clinches it: the Earth is warming up

"That's just how it is."

By Phil Plait | July 2, 2012 7:19 pm

Speaking of climate change, my pal Bill Nye doesn’t let a CNN anchor run over the facts.

"The two sides aren’t equal here." Love it.

Via Jason Major on Google+.

When does weather become climate?

By Phil Plait | July 2, 2012 11:55 am

When does weather become climate?

It’s really starting to feel like the answer is now.

That map shows how much higher than average temperatures have been across the US recently. In Colorado in particular, low amounts of rainfall coupled with dry weather (plus an ever-lengthening warm season allowing pine beetles to flourish and destroy living trees) made the state a match waiting to be lit… and that ignition has happened multiple times in the past few weeks.

And it wasn’t just Colorado of course, but also New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming… and not just here in the US, either, as Russia is also on fire.

Is all this due to global warming? Hard to say, exactly. However, these conditions are precisely what you would expect as the Earth warms: weather patterns change, temperature records get broken, conditions go from normally wet to dry, normally dry to wet.

"Weather" is what you look at if you want to know if you need an umbrella or not today. "Climate" is what you expect on average for a given day in a given place. Weather changes on short time scales; climate over long ones. But how long?

Weather + time = climate. It’s well past time to start thinking of that "time" as now.

Credit: Jesse Allen, using MODIS data provided by Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LPDAAC)


Related Posts:

- New study clinches it: the Earth is warming up
- 2011: The 9th hottest year on record
- New independent climate study confirms global warming is real
- A case study of the tactics of climate change denial, in which I am the target
- Revision to temperature measurements doesn’t change global warming

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Piece of mind, Science

Pyrocumulus cloud

By Phil Plait | June 24, 2012 7:00 am

As I write this, the High Park fire is the second largest wildfire in Colorado history, currently at 75,000 acres (over 300 square kilometers, or 115 square miles). It’s been burning more than a week, and fighting it has been difficult due to dry conditions, wind, and oppressive heat in the area.

I can see the fire from Boulder, but yesterday I got a really good, if terrifying, view of it driving home from the airport. There was nothing but farmland and one low range of hills between me and it. I stopped and took some pictures with my phone:

I was about 55 km (35 miles) south of the fire when I took this. Note how the plume is whitish and looks like a storm cloud. I discovered there’s a word for this: pyrocumulus; "pyro" means fire, and "cumulus" is Latin for heap or piled up. Cumulus clouds are the ones that are the big puffy cauliflower-shaped ones. The puffiness is from convection, which is when hot air rises and cold air sinks. Usually, warmer moisture-laden air punches upward into the cooler air above it. The water condenses, and all the little convection cells give the cloud that lumpy appearance.

In this case, the fire is hot, and the air is thick with smoke as well as water from the efforts to put it out [UPDATE: As Dan D points out in the comments below, water from the vegetation contributes to this as well]. It rises rapidly, forming the pyrocumulus cloud. They’re usually grey, but I suspect the towering cloud I saw is white due to the water vapor. The smoke plume from the fire is blowing to the east (right), and stretches for a long, long way:

It actually extends well off to the right, outside the frame of this picture. The smoke plume is noticeably reddish to the eye. I was cycling up that way last week, just the day after the fire started, and the smoke plume was reddish-brown with a blue tinge to it around the upper edges. I suspect this is due to scattering. Incoming light of all colors from the Sun hits the cloud. Longer wavelength red light penetrates deeply into the cloud, but blue light only gets a short way in before scattering off the smoke and ash particles. Think of them like blue photon ricochets, hitting the cloud and bouncing off in all directions.

The upshot is that we see blue light coming from the edges of the cloud where it gets scattered, but the lower part of the cloud looks redder because of the intrinsic color of the smoke, and also because only the red light form the Sun gets through it (similar to why sunsets look red). The overall effect is eerie, and unpleasant.

Which fits. This fire is pretty bad, and it’s joined by many other fires in Utah and New Mexico, not to mention in other countries like Russia. I’ll note that it’s difficult to pin this down to global warming, but as the planet does warm, different weather patterns will make some places wetter, others drier. One commonly predicted outcome is more and bigger fires, and it does seem we’re approaching or breaking a lot of records lately.


Related Posts:

- Boulder fire from space
- Sunset on an alien world
- … I meant, Stardust "@" Home (more about this blue/red light effect from scattering)
- The twice reflected Moon light

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Miscellaneous, Pretty pictures

FOLLOWUP: Heartland Institute's billboards are costing them donors

By Phil Plait | May 8, 2012 5:58 am

I wrote a few days ago about the disgusting billboards put up by the far-right Heartland Institute, a climate-change denial group that apparently has no lower bounds to what they’ll do. The billboards, which went up in Chicago, likened climate scientists (and anyone who knows global warming is real) to mass murderers and madmen.

It was repulsive and hateful. After an uproar — and in less than a day — Heartland took down the billboards, but didn’t apologize for them. Instead they claimed it was an "experiment", and declared victory in getting attention. This would be why I use the words repulsive and disgusting.

But the damage was done — this tactic has backfired on Heartland. Even before the billboards went up they lost sponsorship from the Diageo liquor company, which makes such brands as Smirnoff and Guiness. In March, General Motors dropped Heartland as well. Even people who support climate change denialism are worried that their own reputations "[have] been harmed".

And now, after a few bloggers wrote to State farm, the insurance company has announced they too will withdraw funding from Heartland Institute. State Farm specifically cites the billboards as the reason in their announcement.

I suspect that Scott Mandia’s open letter to them was the major driver for this. For my part, I tweeted about this on Sunday:

The link goes to a copy of Mandia’s letter. On Monday evening, State Farm tweeted they were severing ties with Heartland.

Besides removing ties from a group with such awful tactics, it’s in State Farm’s best interest anyway. Global warming is having and will continue to have a profound impact, including droughts, floods, rising sea levels, and much more. Insurance companies will need to deal with this, and they need to be thinking about this now.

I want to publicly thank State Farm for doing the right thing here. I already did so on Twitter as well.

Never forget the power we have as consumers to change the world. It worked when it came to American Arlines and antivaxxers, and it’s working here.

[UPDATE: Bernews is reporting the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers will discontinue funding Heartland as well; they gave $125,000 in 2010/11.]

And we’re not done. Heartland still has quite a few corporate sponsors. Brad Johnson has created a list of them on Pinterest, how much they’ve given, and which ones have dropped Heartland due to its shenanigans. Heartland is hemorrhaging donors, but there’s still a long way to go.


Related Posts:

- The Heartland Institute sinks to a new low
- Breaking news: a look behind the curtain of the Heartland Institute’s climate change spin
- Hip, hip, hypocrisy!
- A case study of the tactics of climate change denial, in which I am the target
- NASA talks global warming
- The world is getting warmer
- Our ice is disappearing
- Climate change: the evidence

The Heartland Institute sinks to a new low

By Phil Plait | May 4, 2012 11:09 am

The Heartland Institute, a far-right climate change denying "thinktank" has put up a series of billboards so disgusting, so vile, that I find it difficult to find words to tell you just how disgusting and vile they are.

So instead, I’ll show you one:

When I first heard of this earlier today, I thought it was a joke. No one would seriously do this, right? Creating an actual billboard like this would be taking Poe’s Law and aiming right between your own eyes!

But it’s real. Heartland actually put these up, and according to their press release, they’re proud of it. And other people Heartland has on the billboards? Charles Manson, Fidel Castro, and they’re considering putting up some with Osama bin Laden.

Yes, seriously.

I could go on and on about just how incredibly offensive this is, but you can read about it here, here, here, and here. [UPDATE: And here, here, and here.]

[UPDATE: Apparently, Heartland has decided to pull down the billboard ad... of course, they're claiming it "got attention" but somehow neglect to mention this attention was overwhelmingly negative and disgusted. But you can expect Heartland to continue their skeevy campaign against reality; I'll note that they not only do not apologize for the ad, but state outright they won't apologize for it. Lovely. Science writer and humanitarian Shawn Otto has posted a list of names and links of companies that support Heartland, just so's you know.]

Still, there’s one thing I do want to highlight. The press release is a non-stop firehose of misinformation and spin, but among the venom-dripping things they say, one bit of crazy stands out:

The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.

Actually, "a solid majority" of Americans think global warming is real. They’re the radical fringe? As usual, the global warming deniers accuse others of doing what the deniers themselves are guilty of.

And the prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists? Like Michael Mann and James Hansen? Oh wait, those two are actual climate scientists. You know, the kind of people who are experts in climate science. The kind who don’t tend to sign climate change denial screeds.

Also, the "murderers, tyrants, and madmen" line? Nice, Heartland, nice. Rhetoric like that really makes you look sober, sane, and willing to discuss things rationally.

Always remember, this is the reality Heartland is trying to deny:

The Earth is warming up. The rate of warming has increased in the past century or so. This corresponds to the time of the Industrial Revolution, when we started dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases warm the planet (hence the name) — if they didn’t we’d have an average temperature below the freezing point of water. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which is dumped into the atmosphere by humans to the tune of 30 billion tons per year, 100 times the amount from volcanoes. And finally, approximately 97% of climatologists who actually study climate agree that global warming is real, and caused by humans.

Those are the facts. It’s hard to believe anyone takes Heartland seriously at this point. And while they’re fiddling, the world burns.


Related Posts:

- Breaking news: a look behind the curtain of the Heartland Institute’s climate change spin
- Hip, hip, hypocrisy!
- A case study of the tactics of climate change denial, in which I am the target
- NASA talks global warming
- The world is getting warmer
- Our ice is disappearing
- Climate change: the evidence

More debunking of the ex-NASA 49 climate change deniers

By Phil Plait | April 26, 2012 6:34 am

Remember that embarrassingly bad letter written by 49 ex-NASA employees saying that global warming is a fraud and that NASA shouldn’t support it?

Over at Scholars and Rogues, Brian Angliss tears it apart for the sham that it is. It’s a pretty good review that destroys the claims made in the letter and has plenty of links to back up the debunking.

I find a lot of the climate change deny-o-sphere pretty baffling. A lot of the claims are trivially wrong, a lot more are cherry-picked and can be seen to be wrong when presented in the correct context, and others are just spin and rhetoric ("carbon dioxide is plant food!") that is facile at best and outright nonsense at worst. Of course, many of them touted this letter by the ex-NASA 49 as more proof that climate change is wrong. Amazing.

So as usual, let me make this clear:

The Earth is warming up. The rate of warming has increased in the past century or so. This corresponds to the time of the Industrial Revolution, when we started dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases warm the planet (hence the name) — if they didn’t we’d have an average temperature below the freezing point of water. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which is dumped into the atmosphere by humans to the tune of 30 billion tons per year, 100 times the amount from volcanoes. And finally, approximately 97% of climatologists who actually study climate agree that global warming is real, and caused by humans.

Got it?

OK, I know reality-based folks do. But keep that paragraph handy when confronted by the deniers. It may not change their minds, but people are listening to them, and we need to keep making sure the facts — the real, true, provable facts — are out there.


Related Posts:

- Breath-taking climate denial nonsense, this time aimed at NASA
- New study clinches it: The Earth is warming up
- 2011: The 9th hottest year on record
- While temperatures rise, denialists reach lower
- New independent climate study confirms global warming is real
- Case closed: “Climategate” was manufactured

Breath-taking climate denial nonsense, this time aimed at NASA

By Phil Plait | April 13, 2012 12:16 pm

I’ve been getting lots of email and other notes about a group of 49 people — including some ex-astronauts — who have written a public letter to NASA complaining about the space agency’s stance that global warming exists and is caused by humans.

You can guess how I feel about it. But to be clear: it’s more denialist spin, nonsense, and noise. You can read the original leter here, and then I strongly suggest reading Shawn Otto’s devastating deconstruction of it. You can also read the response to this letter by NASA’s Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalatim if you’d like.

I’ll note that it doesn’t matter that former astronauts signed this propaganda letter — I’ve written about Apollo 17′s Harrison Schmitt and his climate change denialism before — but I note it does matter that of the 49 signatories on that letter, not one is an actual working climate scientist. That should give you pause. I’ll also note that 49 former NASA employees is a tiny, tiny fraction of the total. It’s not hard to find statistical outliers in a group that big. I knew a creationist who worked for NASA!

But really, my very favorite thing about this is the group behind the letter: a non-profit called Plants Need CO2, which, if you can believe it, actively advocates that more carbon dioxide is good for us.

Yes, once you’re done comically rubbing your eyes with your fists you can read that again. Read More

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