2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #20A

A climate-modeling strategy that won’t hurt the climate

It is perhaps the most daunting challenge facing experts in both the fields of climate and computer science — creating a supercomputer that can accurately model the future of the planet in a set of equations and how the forces ofclimate change will affect it. It is a task that would require running an immense set of calculations for several weeks and then recalculating them hundreds of times with different variables.

Such machines will need to be more than 100 times faster than today’s most powerful supercomputers, and ironically, such an effort to better understand the threat of climate change could actually contribute to global warming. If such a computer were built using today’s technologies, a so-called exascale computer would consume electricity equivalent to 200,000 homes and might cost $20 million or more annually to operate.

For that reason, scientists planning the construction of these ultrafast machines have been stalled while they wait for yet-to-emerge low-power computing techniques capable of significantly reducing the power requirements for an exascale computer.

A Climate-Modeling Strategy That Won’t Hurt the Climate by John Markoff, New York Times, May 11, 2015

Antarctic Larsen-C ice shelf at risk of collapse, study warns

In the past 20 years, warming temperatures have caused two ice shelves in Antarctica to collapse into the ocean. New research points to a third shelf, more than twice the size of Wales, which has thinned so much that it could now also face collapse.

The loss of the shelf would allow glaciers to flow more quickly into the ocean, pushing sea levels beyond current projections for this century, the researchers say.

Antarctic Larsen-C ice shelf at risk of collapse, study warns by Robert McSweeney, The Carbon Brief, May 13, 2015

Bureau of Meteorology declares El Nino event in Australia

A "substantial" El Nino event has begun, raising the likelihood of worsening drought over inland Australia and higher daytime temperatures, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

The bureau's call comes days after Fairfax Media predicted the declaration would be made on Tuesday.

"This will be quite a substantial event," said David Jones, head of climate monitoring at the bureau. "It's not a weak one or a near miss" as in 2014, he said. "This event is perhaps running ahead of where the models had predicted." 

Bureau of Meteorology declares El Nino event in Australia by Peter Hannam, Sydney Morining Herald, May 12, 2015

Ice loss in west Antarctica is speeding up

As I’ve previously noted, one of the most challenging problems in climate science deals with how to measure the Earth’s system. Whether ocean temperatures, atmospheric temperatures, sea level, ice extent or other characteristics, measurements have to be made with sufficient accuracy and geographical coverage so that we can calculate long-term trends. In some parts of the planet, the measurements are particularly daunting because of the ruggedness of the terrain and the hostility of the environment.

This brings us to a new study just published on Antarctic ice loss by Christopher Harig and Frederik Simons of Princeton. They work in the Princeton Polar Ice program. This study used satellite measurements to determine the rate of mass loss from this large ice sheet. 

Ice loss in west Antarctica is speeding up by John Abraham, Climate Consensus-the 97%, The Guardian, May 11, 2015

Lukewarmers – the third stage of climate denial, gambling on snake eyes

It’s the hottest trend in climate denial. Long gone are the days when people can publicly deny that the planet is warming or that humans are responsible without facing widespread mockery. Those who oppose taking serious action to curb global warming have mostly shifted to Stage 3 in the 5 stages of climate denial

Each of the 5 stages shares one main characteristic – all can be used to argue against efforts and policies to slow global warming. If the planet isn’t warming, or if we’re not causing it, or if it’s not a problem, or if we can’t solve it, or if it’s too late, in each case there’s no reason to implement climate policies. 

Lukewarmers – the third stage of climate denial, gambling on snake eyes by Dana Nuccitelli, Climate Consensus-the 97%, The Guardian, May 13, 2015

Pope’s top adviser blasts US climate skeptics

Pope Francis’ closest adviser castigated conservative climate change skeptics in the United States Tuesday, blaming capitalism for their views.

Speaking with journalists, Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga criticized certain “movements” in the United States that have preemptively come out in opposition to Francis’s planned encyclical on climate change.

“The ideology surrounding environmental issues is too tied to a capitalism that doesn’t want to stop ruining the environment because they don’t want to give up their profits,” Rodríguez said, according to the Boston Globe's Crux blog.

Rodríguez’s comments came at the beginning of the annual meeting of Caritas Internationalis, an association of Catholic charitable groups.

Pope’s top adviser blasts US climate skeptics by Timothy Cama, The Hill, May 12, 2015

Sea level rise is on the up and up

Sea level rise is a game of millimeters a year, but those millimeters add up to a huge amount of water entering the world’s oceans. And the rising tide could eventually swamp cities around the globe.

With tide gauges distributed sparsely around the planet, scientists have turned to satellites to provide a global picture of sea level since the early 1990s. New research published on Monday in Nature Climate Change refines those satellite estimates and provides some good and bad news. The good news? Total sea level rise is lower than previous estimates. The bad news? Sea level rise rates are speeding up.

Christopher Watson, a geodesist from the University of Tasmania, led the latest round of research that adjusts satellite readings taken from hundreds of miles above the Earth to measure small changes in sea level heights around the globe since the early 1990s.

“What’s striking is its (the study’s) consistency with future projections of sea level in the IPCC,” Watson said. “Those estimates state that there could be up to 98 centimeters (39 inches) of sea level rise by 2100. We’re certainly tracking on that upper bound of the IPCC projection and that projection to 2100 has significant impacts.”

Sea Level Rise Is On the Up and Up by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, May 11, 2015

The arguments that convinced a libertarian to support aggressive action on climate

To the casual observer, the American right can appear an undifferentiated wall of denial and obstructionism on climate change, but behind the scenes there are signs of movement. A growing number of conservative leaders and intellectuals have come to terms with climate science and begun casting about for solutions. Led mainly by libertarians and libertarian-leaning economists, they've begun to coalesce behind a carbon tax, which they consider the most market-friendly of the available alternatives.

Jerry Taylor, a longtime veteran of the libertarian think tank Cato Institute who recently founded his own libertarian organization, the Niskanen Center, is a vocal proponent of this perspective. About five or six years ago, he says, he was convinced by a series of discussions, mainly with other right-leaning thinkers, that he was wrong on climate policy. His position "fundamentally switched."

The arguments that convinced a libertarian to support aggressive action on climate by David Roberts, Vox,l May 12, 2015

The key climate and clean energy problem of 2015: Doing a lot isn’t the same as doing enough

Anyone watching the climate debate in the last year has seen an encouraging bustle of activity. From the U.S.-China agreement on emissions to Pope Francis’s coming encyclical on the environment, it’s really starting to seem that we’re racing toward progress — to be capped in Paris in December , when nations of the world may finally reach a binding global accord on emissions.

Indeed, not a week goes by in the United States, it seems, without some new form of climate action — most recently, the Agriculture Department pledging moves that would take a significant chunk out of U.S. emissions. Meanwhile, we’re also expecting a record year for domestic renewable energy growth and coal plant retirements.

It all feels like so much progress — until, that is, you consult the hard numbers.

The key climate and clean energy problem of 2015: Doing a lot isn’t the same as doing enough by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environment, The Washington Post, May 8, 2015

The rise and rise of the 2015 El Niño

The Bureau of Meteorology has officially declared  that we are in an El Niño, shifting its tracker from ALERT (a greater than 70% chance of El Niño forming) to an actual event.

Speculation began in early 2014 that the world would see an El Niño, possibly a significant “super” event, by the end of that year. However the event development hit a few setbacks, and many thought the El Niño was already dead.

In March this year, US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officially declared that the “most-watched” 2014-15 El Niño had finally arrived. Now our own Bureau has followed suit.

So what’s going on? And how severe could the 2015-16 El Niño turn out to be? 

The rise and rise of the 2015 El Niño by Agus Santoso, Andréa S. Taschetto, Matthew England, and Shayne McGregor, The Conversation, May 12, 2015

Troubling new research says global warming will cut wheat yields

Observant aliens visiting Earth and studying its civilizations would probably be pretty obsessed with wheat. They couldn’t fail to note how staggeringly many people we feed with the crop on this planet.

“Wheat is one of the main staple crops in the world and provides 20% of daily protein and calories,” notes the Wheat Initiative, a project launched by G20 agricultural ministers. “With a world population of 9 billion in 2050, wheat demand is expected to increase by 60%. To meet the demand, annual wheat yield increases must grow from the current level of below 1% to at least 1.6%.”

That’s why the punchline of a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is pretty troubling. A warming climate, it suggests, could drive wheat yields in the opposite direction – down — in the United States and, possibly, elsewhere.

Troubling new research says global warming will cut wheat yields by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, May 11, 2015

Posted by John Hartz on Thursday, 14 May, 2015

Creative Commons License The Skeptical Science website by Skeptical Science is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.