Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A year of extreme weather: Is more bleaching to come in the Caribbean?

This year, which is on pace to to be one the warmest years, if not the warmest year, in the instrumental record, has seen a number of severe heat waves like the intense event in Russia. 

The heat waves have not only been on land. I mentioned a few weeks ago that high ocean temperatures has led to widespread coral bleaching over the past year, including occurrences in the Central Equatorial Pacific and Indonesia.

More may be to come. This is the NOAA Coral Reef Watch bleaching outlook for the fall, based on current temperatures and an experimental long-term forecast. It calls for the possibility of "Alert Level 2" thermal stress, which in general tends to cause mass coral bleaching and some coral mortality (in reality: the response is highly variable in time and space). If the forecast is correct, observations of bleaching would probably start to happen sometime in September.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Interview with Simple Climate

A couple weeks backs, I answered a few questions about coral reefs and climate for at Andy Extance's site Simple Climate.

At the end, he asked how I would explain the global warming situation to someone who had no previous exposure at all. Of course, like any scientist, my first instinct is to launch into a discussion about the radiative transfer, the carbon cycle, etc. But explaining the science without considering the context is pointless. Here was my quick answer for Andy:

I’d start with talking about how it can be hard to “believe” that people can change the climate. For thousands of years, we’ve assumed that only powers greater than us could possible influence something as vast as the atmosphere. That’s enshrined in most cultural and religious traditions. But today, there are so many people on the planet, and we’ve consume so much energy every year, that we generate enough waste products – greenhouse gases – to alter the climate.

I’d then stress separating the science from the politics. The science tells us that human activity is changing the climate. How you want the world to respond to that information is a value judgment. As a scientist working on this subject for a number of years, I can provide you a reasonably informed opinion on the costs and benefits of different responses. But the choice is not mine alone.

After all that, if the person was still awake and interested, I’d then talk about the scientific evidence.


Sunday, August 08, 2010

Climate change education: A blast from the past

"Our industrial civilization has been pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a great rate... If it remained, it would have a very marked warming effect on the earth's climate, but most of it will probably be absorbed by the oceans. Conceivably, however, it could cause significant melting of the great icecaps and raise sea levels in time."

From Planet Earth: The mystery with 100,000 clues, a brochure produced by the U.S. National Academy of Science as part of the first International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958.

The terrific, very 1950s, accompanying film "The Inconstant Air" describes the basics of weather and climate, including the greenhouse effect. What I find most fascinating is the film provides historical context to the viewer - i.e. mentioning that early human societies though that gods controlled the weather - something that is generally missing from education and outreach on climate change today. We are so buried in the politics, we forget and ignore history, and therefore fail to appreciate that the very premise (that humans are affecting the climate) is quite revolutionary.


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Yes, this is the Environment Canada forecast for Vancouver

If you need any further proof that forest fire situation in BC is dire (description here), this little symbol to the right just made an appearance in the official Environment Canada forecast for Vancouver.

The text version includes the phrase "Local smoke", which usually has other connotations out here on the West Coast.

It is very hazy outside, but the situation is far worse across the world in Moscow.