Thursday, January 27, 2011

Greenland glaciers spring surprise

By Richard Black, Environment correspondent,  BBC News

Some Greenland glaciers run slower in warm summers than cooler ones, meaning the icecap may be more resistant to warming than previously thought.

UK-led scientific team reports the finding in the journal Nature, following analysis of five years of satellite data on six glaciers.

The scientists emphasise the icecap is not "safe from climate change", as it is still losing ice to the sea.

Melting of the icecap would add several metres to sea level around the world.

But it suggests that one reason behind the acceleration in glacier flow, which so concerned scientists when it was first documented in 2002, will prove not to be such a serious concern.

"In their last report in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded they weren't able to make an accurate projection of future sea level because there were a couple of processes by which climate change could cause additional melt from the ice sheet," said Andy Shepherd from the University of Leeds.

"We're addressing one of those processes and saying that according to the observations, nothing will change, so that process can probably be ruled out."

"Start Quote

I would be very careful about doing an extrapolation both in time and space"

Michiel van den BroekeUtrecht University

In all five years studied (1993 and 1995-8), the speed of the glaciers increased with the onset of summer, as meltwater collected between the bottom of the glacier and the rock beneath, lubricating the flow.

But in the warmest years, the acceleration stalled early in the season; in relatively cool summers, it did not.

Even though the melting accelerated earlier in warmer years, by late summer the glaciers were 60% slower.

The explanation is that hotter summers cause so much meltwater to collect that it runs off in channels below the ice - meaning it does not lubricate the glaciers so efficiently.

Elevated concern

The results reinforce work by other scientific groups, on glaciers in Greenland and in mountains in temperate regions of the world.

And the somewhat counter-intuitive finding may change the view of what lies ahead.

"Those higher-temperature years are more like Greenland would be in 50-100 years," Professor Shepherd told BBC News.

"It's a snapshot of Greenland in the future; so one might expect the ice to be flowing slower than it is today."

However, this mechanism is not the only way that higher temperatures result in faster loss of ice.

Glaciers that end in the ocean can be accelerated by warmer seawater melting the ice tongue from underneath.

And warming can also lead to melting at progressively higher altitudes, increasing the total amount of water flowing down into the sea.

"I would be very careful about doing an extrapolation both in time and space," said Michiel van den Broeke, a polar icecap specialist from the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands and co-editor-in-chief of The Cryosphere journal.

"This ensemble of glaciers is quite small, and [the researchers] only take a limited elevation interval.

"So it's an important study, but it doesn't say what happens to glaciers higher up, and they could start acting like the accelerating glaciers now; so I'd be very cautious."

Satellite observations show an overall loss of ice across Greenland.

But thinning is greater along the coast and in the south, while some central areas have thickened, perhaps due to increased snowfall.

What happens to the crucial icecap when is still unclear; and may still not be resolved by the time of the next major IPCC assessment, in 2013/4.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Climate sceptic 'misled Congress over funding from oil industry'

Patrick Michaels, fellow at the Cato Institute, claimed 3% of his funding came from industry, later revealed that figure to be 40%  

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Tuesday 25 January 2011

A leading climate sceptic patronised by the oil billionaire Koch brothers faced a potential investigation today on charges that he misled Congress on the extent of his funding from the oil industry.

Patrick Michaelsa senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute, a thinktank founded by Charles and David Koch to promote their libertarian, anti-government views, appeared before the house energy and commerce committee in February 2009.

At the time, the committee was headed by the California Democrat Henry Waxman and Michaels was the only one in the line-up of witnesses to cast doubt on global warming, testifying that mainstream science had exaggerated the threat posed by climate change.

Now, Waxman writes in a letter to the incoming committee chair, Fred Upton, it appears as if Michaels may have misled the committee. In 2009, Michaels said 3% of his $4.2m in financial support came from the oil and gas industry. But in an appearance on CNN in August last year, and in subsequent interviews, Michaels suggested that figure was 40%.

"Michaels may have provided misleading information about the sources of his funding and his ties to industries opposed to regulation of emissions responsible for climate change," Waxman writes in the letter, released on Monday.

Waxman urged Upton to call on Michaels to clarify the sources of his funding, and to give a complete account of his funding sources to the committee.

The request for an investigation is a turn on the Republicans, who have set out a long list of potential targets for scrutiny since their takeover of the house, starting with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Michaels has also received direct funding from the Koch brothers. From their base in Wichita, Kansas, the Kochs control the largest privately held oil company in the US. They gained notoriety during the mid-term elections for bankrolling a leading, conservative Tea Party organisation, Americans for Prosperity.

But the Kochs have for years been funnelling money to organisations which oppose government regulations and deny the existence of climate change.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fish threatened by global warming to be moved north

Scores of radical measures planned to help us and our wildlife cope with climate change

By Matt Chorley, Political Correspondent

The Independent, Sunday, 23 January 2011

Fish from the Lake District will be moved to cooler waters in Scotland under radical plans – which will be unveiled this week – aimed at coping with climate change.

The first seven of more than 100 reports by government agencies and utility companies will set out how Britain needs to change to cope with hotter summers and wetter winters. They will highlight the risks – and potential costs – of more landslides, buckled railway lines, crumbling water pipes and rising sea levels threatening lighthouses around the coast. Officials say the studies are needed because levels of carbon emissions mean climate change over the next four decades is unavoidable.

The dangers to wildlife have triggered the most extreme solutions: the Environment Agency is poised to catch and transfer thousands of vendace and schelly, both freshwater white fish, from the lakes of Cumbria to Scottish lochs.

Scientists warn higher temperatures and lower rainfall in summer will lead to lower river flows and rising water temperatures. As a result, oxygen levels will fall. "It may be necessary to rescue fish or oxygenate the water to help them survive," the Environment Agency's report will warn. "We may also need to reintroduce species to re-colonise stretches where fish have died."

Where climate change could lead to the permanent loss of a habitat, some species will need to be relocated. Coldwater and migratory fish, including salmon and trout, are particularly vulnerable because changes in water temperature lead to higher mortality rates and changes to the timing of their migrations. A decline in eel populations over the last 30 years could also be attributed in part to climate change.

The Environment Agency is planning to plant more trees on river banks to increase shade and reduce water temperatures and to adapt flood defence, hydro-power and water pumping schemes to allow fish to pass through.

Malcolm Fergusson, the agency's head of climate change, said: "Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the world today. We are beginning to feel the effects in the UK. It's important we understand how this changing climate will affect our lives and the environment.

"The Environment Agency is at the forefront of the fight against climate change, through our work as greenhouse gas emissions regulator and our lead roles on managing flood risk and water resources. But we are also on the front line, helping communities and organisations to be ready to face the consequences of more extreme weather."

Other climate change adaptation reports will be released this week by National Grid, covering gas and electricity, the Environment Agency, the Trinity Lighthouse Authority, the Highways Agency, Network Rail and Natural England. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says the reports are the first step in preparing a nationwide plan in two years' time. An economic analysis will put a price tag on the cost of adaptation in summer 2012.

"Climate change will bring more extreme weather: increased bursts of heavy rainfall and hotter, drier summers, potentially affecting the infrastructure which our economy relies on," said a Defra spokesman. "So it makes sense for those organisations which maintain infrastructure to build adaptation plans into the course of normal business."

Lord Henley, an Environment minister, is to release the reports on Friday during a visit Dawlish on the South Devon coast, where waves often crash over the Exeter to Plymouth railway line. Network Rail, which will publish an interim report, will give details of increased investment in flood defences and drainage. Extreme weather could also lead to more landslides.

Motorists struggling through wet and icy conditions this winter could take comfort from the knowledge that they are driving on the same surface that carries the rich and famous to the French Riviera every summer. The Highways Agency, which runs motorways and major trunk roads in England, has changed to a new base material for road building, called EME2, after extensive research with experts familiar with the sun-drenched routes around Cannes, Nice and Marseille. It also used materials that can withstand temperatures of up to 60C.

The Highways Agency said the changes were part of "strategic planning for climate change, where we have researched the likely effect of higher temperatures on carriageway surfaces and on the deeper layers of the road structure".

Greenland sheds ice in record melt

PARIS: Greenland's icesheet, feared as a major driver of rising sea levels, shed a record amount of melted snow and ice in 2010, scientists revealed a day after the United Nations said last year was the warmest on record.
The 2010 runoff was more than twice the average annual loss in Greenland over the previous three decades, surpassing a record set in 2007, said the study, published in the US-based journalEnvironmental Research Letters.
Ice melt has now topped this benchmark every year since 1996, according to data derived from long-term satellite observations.
Were it to melt entirely, Greenland's icesheet would drive up ocean levels by some seven metres, drowning the world's coastal cities.
Researchers have suggested different figures for how much, and how fast, Greenland is shedding its icy mantle, which is up to three kilometres thick in places.
But they agree climate change is largely to blame: temperatures in the Arctic region have risen at two to three times the global average over the past 40 years.
Agence France-Presse

Friday, January 21, 2011

2010 the hottest year on record

ABC News OnlineFri Jan 21, 2011

The UN's World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has confirmed 2010 was the warmest year on record, verifying a "significant" long-term trend of global warming.
The trend also helped to melt Arctic sea ice cover to a record low for December last month, the WMO said in a statement.
Last year "ranked as the warmest year on record, together with 2005 and 1998," the WMO added, confirming preliminary findings released at the global climate conference early December that were based on a 10-month period.
"The 2010 data confirm the Earth's significant long-term warming trend," WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud said.
"The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998."
In 2010, the global average temperature was 0.53 degrees Celsius, above the 1961 to 1990 mean that is used as a yardstick for climate measurements, according to the WMO.
That exceeded 2005 levels by 0.01 C and was 0.02 C above the 1998 mark, but within a margin of error that made the difference between the three years statistically insignificant, according to the WMO.
"Arctic sea-ice cover in December 2010 was the lowest on record" for the month, the WMO said.
Sea ice around the northern polar region shrank to an average monthly extent of 12 million square kilometres, 1.35 million square kilometres below the 1979 to 2000 December average, according to the UN weather agency.
Over past decade, global temperatures have been the highest-ever recorded for a 10-year period since the beginning of instrument-based climate records.
Last month, even before the year was over, Mr Jarraud confirmed that 2001 to 2010 set a new record as the warmest decade ever.
The WMO says that the temperature observations on their own do not pin the cause on man-made greenhouse gases, although it believes this is confirmed separately by other research into carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lies, damn lies, and statistics


ABC, The Drum Unleashed, 14 JANUARY 2011

When Mark Twain uttered his memorable phrase, the science of statistics was in its infancy, and he could not have anticipated that statistics and data analysis would take centre stage in many of the 21st century's controversies.

Was Mark Twain correct?


Properly executed statistics are, in the words of statistician W. A. Wallis, "a body of methods for making wise decisions in the face of uncertainty." Alas, the ease with which statistics can be abused for deception and manipulation challenges the public to remain alert and, indeed, alarmed.

When George W. Bush announced in 2003 that under his policy, "92 million Americans receive an average tax cut of $1,083," those numbers were not, strictly speaking, incorrect. However, they camouflaged the fact that some 45 million people would receive less than $100 tax relief, whereas the top 1% of income earners were gifted a whopping $30,127.

Lies, Damn Lies, or Statistics? Take your pick among the first two, but don't blame the science of statistics: President Bush "cherry-picked" a number (namely, the mean) that made his intended point while obscuring the full implications of his tax policy — this is the exact opposite of proper statistical practice.

Oh the joys of cherry-picking! Your Volvo happens to lose a fan belt and so all Swedish cars are poor quality. You don't like Collingwood supporters and you find one fan who served time for shop-lifting — what a club of hardened criminals!

And global warming is a hoax because it's snowing in England.


Of course not. Global warming is inescapably real despite the snow in England or the cold wave in India or that icicle in a Mongolian cave.

To understand why, one must understand the proper role of statistics, and in particular the difference between meaningless anecdotes and real data.

Pictures are often said to be worth a 1,000 words. Perhaps, but pictures are worse than useless when used in lieu of real data. The nether regions of the internet are awash with the photo of a U.S. submarine surfacing at the North Pole in 1959, which is taken to disprove global warming because … who knows, but it is definitely the FINAL NAIL IN THE COFFIN (all IN CAPS!!!!) of climate change for sure. The involuntary humour of this (approximately 132nd) final nail is highlighted by the fact that the submarine surfaced on 17 March, which is before sunrise at the North Pole. While darkness rather curtails photographic opportunities, it apparently does not limit the appeal of random daylight pictures of sleek submarines posing against a backdrop of ice to disprove global warming.

The real data, incidentally, show that the Arctic icecap has shrunk by an area roughly equivalent to the size of W.A. since 1980.

Lest one think this idolatry of pictures is limited to internet worshippers, our very own national tabloid recently decorated its front page with the headline "Wong wipeout doesn't wash with locals." Having exhausted its intellectual prowess by the alliterative headline, the piece made reference not to data but instead boasted a picture of a bronzed Aussie swimmer, whose untroubled excursions to Bondi beach during the last few decades somehow put another (by then 154th) final nail into the coffin of climate change.

The real data, incidentally, show that sea levels have risen some 4-5 cm globally in the last 15 years.

Silly pictures aside, what about the indubitable reality of the current snow, ice, and miserable cold in Europe and parts of North America? Does this not disprove global warming for the 185thtime?


Single events carry little information — one shoplifter tells you nothing about Collingwood fans and one broken fanbelt does not undo decades of quality manufacturing.

So what about the heat wave in Russia last year, does this not prove that the climate is warming?


Single events carry little information — a single heatwave by itself tells us little more about the climate than a single blizzard. (Actually, forensic statistical techniques exist that permit more robust interpretation of single extreme events, especially when they are virtually unprecedented such as the heat on Victoria's Black Saturday, but that is carrying us too far afield).

Notably, the very same extreme observations can be legitimately revealing if they are considered not as anecdotes but as data. That is, instead of cherry picking one or the other observation, a proper statistical treatment requires that all extremes be considered together.

When this is done, the picture is unequivocal: The last 5 decades have seen an inexorable decrease in the number of record cold days and an equally steady increase in the number of record hot days — in Australia, there are now more than two record hot days for every one record cold day. If the climate weren't changing, there'd be the same number of each.

Yes, there are still record cold days, in Australia as well as in England or India or Mongolia — but when all the data are considered, heat records far outpace cold records. Indeed, in 2010, nearly 20 countries broke all-time heat records whereas at most one broke an all-time cold record (as of November, subject to confirmation by the World Meteorological Organization).

The real data show 20 heat records to 1 cold record.

That is data, not an isolated anecdote or a silly picture.

Yes, it is snowing in Britain and cold in Germany or wherever else, but cherry-picking those anecdotes in lieu of real data obscures what is actually happening on the planet, at considerable risk to our children and grand-children.

Cherry-picking data in support of one's hypothesis is to proper statistics as Enron is to proper accounting: It is ignorant at best and criminally fraudulent at worst.

The pernicious nature of cherry-picking sometimes reveals itself, innocently or otherwise, even in the way a question is phrased: The question, "Has there been significant warming since 1998?" is not a meaningful question — it's a cherry-picked question that seeks a cherry-picked answer which must therefore remain meaningless.


Because the questioner chose the year 1998. (Or 1995, or whatever year happens to make the desired point.) And whenever someone chooses anything in statistics, be it a date for a question or an extreme cold in England for a newspaper headline, then they are engaging in cherry-picking.

They are playing Enron with the data and Pravda with your mind.

Of course there has been significant warming during every decade since the 1970s. But that doesn't mean that some years aren't cooler than others, and one can always find a particularly hot year (such as 1998) that sticks so far above the trend line that a few subsequent years appear cooler until the trend catches up. These few years present a (short) dream come true for those who deny climate change for their own agendas or emotional needs.

In fact, if one chooses a brief-enough period, there will never be any "significant warming"— in the same way that you never gained measurable height from one day to the next during childhood. Miraculously, this lack of "significant growth" has never prevented a baby from growing into an adult.

Statistics is subtle and confusing, no doubt about it. That's why it takes a decade of study to become a true statistical expert.

So what should an alert and alarmed, but understandably confused, member of the public do in light of conflicting messages and statistical nonsense in the media? Fortunately, there is an easy answer, and it is one I report in a peer-reviewed paper that is about to appear in Psychological Science. All you have to do to avoid confusion about climate change is to look not at a picture but at a graph.

A graph of all the data, for the entire globe, and across all available years.

In my study, I showed people a graph with climate data and asked them to predict the future trend — in one condition the climate data were labelled as such and in the other condition they were presented as fictitious share prices. Regardless of condition, and regardless of people's attitudes towards climate science, the results of the study were crystal clear: Everyone — including the few individuals who deny climate science — recognized the trend for what it is, and everyone knew where it is heading; people's responses (averaged across 100 observations in each case) are shown by the red triangles in the figures below.

So your best defence against the cherry-picking Enrons of the internet and the picture-boasting Pravdas of the media is to look at the data yourself.

All the data, for the entire globe, and for all available years.

Like the 200 participants in my study, you will recognize the trend without equivocation.

So was Mark Twain right after all?


Statistics, when done properly, provide a robust and revealing tool to understand reality. Statistics are anything but damn lies. There are only some damn liars telling untruths based on incompetent or malicious abuse of statistics.

Stephan Lewandowsky is a Winthrop Professor and Australian Professorial Fellow at the University of Western Australia and an award winning teacher of statistics..

Of droughts, flooding rains and climate change

Sunday Age,  January 16, 2011
We respond well to an emergency, but global warming is an emergency too.
LAST week, two leading US agencies, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reported that 2010 was the wettest year on record. It was also a hot year, tying with 2005 as the hottest since data collection began in 1880.
The Queensland floods are the latest in a list of remarkable weather events over the past year. Victorian towns are also going through less dramatic, but still serious, flooding. There have also been snowstorms in the US and Europe, heatwaves and fires in Russia, and catastrophic floods in Pakistan, China and Brazil.
Calls have begun for the Queensland government to conduct a royal commission into the floods, similar in scope to Victoria's Bushfires Royal Commission. The Victorian inquiry examined the circumstances of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, including the impact of climate change. Climate scientists were disappointed its report did not sufficiently emphasise the unique weather contributing to the disaster. Victoria had never had three consecutive days above 42 degrees until January 2009, when there were three above 43 degrees. The heatwave is believed to be responsible for 500 deaths in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, but was largely forgotten after the tragic fires.
Australian weather is believed to be particularly sensitive to climate change. Like Victoria's fires, floods are part of a natural cycle. La Nina, the periodic oceanic cooling phenomenon, is far more directly to blame for the weather Australia is now experiencing. But it would be shortsighted not to take into account the role of global warming in these catastrophes.
Professor David Karoly, from Melbourne University's School of Earth Sciences, says while individual events cannot be attributed to climate change, the extreme weather patterns are in line with scientific predictions that a warmer world will mean more severe droughts, more fires and flooding rains.
The loss of life and property in Queensland and the resilience of those affected have gripped Australians. Victorians, too, pulled together during the bushfires, and will again during the current floods. We are good at emergencies, revealing ourselves a compassionate and resolute people. Yet dealing with longer-term threats is just as hard, and calls for different skills - political courage, patient explanation, refusing to be thrown by denialists and the self-interested. The time has come to devise a policy framework that will reduce our carbon footprint at a national and individual level.
So far, our political leaders have postponed making difficult decisions about the need to tackle climate change - such as setting a carbon price - because of fears they will be punished by a sceptical electorate. A great effort is required, with no immediate return guaranteed. More investment and better planning are necessary (in public transport, in alternative forms of energy and to compensate low-income earners when energy prices rise) to take into account the effects of drought, floods and rising sea levels.
The band of environmentally aware voters is growing; the major parties can make gains by tackling their legitimate concerns. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has promised that 2011 will be a year of action - it is to be hoped this is not mere rhetoric. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has advanced his party's fortunes by opposing any carbon mitigation measures proposed so far. In the immediate future it is likely he will continue with this course. But it is difficult to see how such an approach will be sustainable over the longer term as more Australians feel the impact of extreme weather and ask what they can do to turn the tide.