Water Supply In the Colorado River Basin

Many of the people objecting to my challenge say it should be about why we need to worry about global warming, or even about what to do. They clearly have not paid attention to what the challenge is all about.

But, they are correct in one thing, we need to discuss the effects of global warming more. Is global warming good for us? Bad for us? Or, does it even make a difference? I will be spending more time addressing this issue in the future once I am done with the challenge (come on July 31st!).

In that vein, here is a NASA news release about a study of water in the Colorado River Basin. It paints a pretty bleak picture about what is going on with water in the Southwestern U.S. Using data from the GRACE satellite, scientist have been able to identify the amount of mass the basin area has lost since 2004 and determined it has lost about 53 million acre-feet of water. That is almost twice the total volume of Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S. What is really scary is that 41 million acre-feet of that amount came from ground water. Imagine you lost 75% of your income and you then started depleting your savings to maintain the same standard of living. Eventually, your savings are going to run out and you will be faced with a bad situation. That is where the Southwest is today in regards to water. The area has lost its water supply and has been relying on ground water to keep things going the same way instead of changing the way they do business. But, as they say in the new release, we don’t know how much ground water there is, so we have no idea how long it will last. If it starts to run out, then there will be a very bad situation in the Southwest.

So, what does this have to do with global warming? Well, there is growing evidence the on-going drought is the result of global warming, and there is growing evidence that the effects of droughts are made worse by global warming. Basically, rainy areas will see more rain while dry areas will see less. Additionally, precipitation that falls as snow on the mountains melts slowly over time and provides water into the summer. As the temperature goes up, it gets too warm for snow and the precipitation falls as rain, which runs off and is no longer available when the dry months of summer come along. To make it worse, the higher temperatures mean there is more evaporation and the area loses even more water. None of these scenarios are good for the future of anyone depending on the water of the Colorado River Basin.

Read this article on the effects of global warming on the area. Richard Seager, a climate scientist who studies water issues at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in New York does not believe the drought is caused by global warming, but he goes on to point out that the Southwest has suffered drought conditions in some form for 15 years, and warmer climates have resulted in winter precipitation tending to fall as rain rather than snow. With less snow melting during the spring there is a lack of water during the hot summer months.

“It all adds up across the Southwest to an increasingly stressed water system,” he said. “That’s what they might as well get ready for.”

So, even someone who doesn’t believe the drought is caused by global warming believes it has been made worse by global warming. He also believes this is the new normal for the area.
This is not good news. 
In regards to the debate on if global warming is good or bad for us, I think we can put a very firm check mark in the “Bad for us” column on this one.

And, It Keeps Getting Hotter – June Was Hottest Ever

NOAA announced yesterday June 2014 was the hottest June since we started keeping modern records in 1880 with a global average temperature that was .72 degrees C (1.3 degrees F) higher than the 20th century global average. It was the 38th consecutive June and the 352nd month in a row that was higher than the 20th century global average temperature.

But, let’s not forget that May was the hottest May ever recorded.

And, April tied 2010 as the hottest April ever recorded.

And, March was the fourth hottest March ever recorded.

We got a break in February. It was only the 21st hottest February ever recorded. Although, that still qualified as being the 29th February in a row with temperatures hotter than the 20th century global average. 

But, that break followed the hottest January since 2007 and the fourth hottest January on record – the 38th January in a row hotter than the 20th century global average.

So, let’s see what the score is so far for 2014: one 21st hottest month, two 4th hottest months, and three hottest months ever.

What was that the deniers keep saying about how the temperature rise has stopped?

Insurance Companies Believe in Global Warming

One of the people leaving comments on this blog sent a link to an article on how insurance companies are viewing climate change. They have labeled it their number one problem. Interestingly, Andrew Castaldi, the head of the catastrophic risk unit at Swiss Re America Corp told the Senate:

“We believe unequivocally that climate change presents an increasing risk to the world economy and social welfare.”

Insurance companies are some of the most capitalistic corporations in the world, and they view global warming as a risk to business and to social welfare.

That really undermines all of the complaints by the deniers on the subject.


The Status of the Greenland Melt Season

Although it is located in the Arctic Region, the Greenland ice sheet (GIS) is much different than the Arctic sea ice. For one thing, it is on land and not in water. But, it is also much thicker. The average thickness of the GIS is about 7000 ft (1.4 miles) and about 10,000 ft (1.9 miles) at the thickest. It covers an area of over 660,000 square miles (2.5 times the size of Texas) and is the second largest ice sheet in the world, after only the Antarctica ice sheet. There is enough ice stored in this ice sheet to raise the world’s ocean level by about 24 feet if it all melted.

Naturally, we are concerned with the conditions of the GIS. First, because it is a factor in the world’s weather and most North Atlantic icebergs originate here, but because it is a indicator of how the climate is going. Unfortunately, we see one more indicator of global warming going on here.

We would expect to see melting and freezing in the ice sheet due to the seasons, and that is what we see. Some of the ice melts in the summer and then snow is deposited in the winter. In addition to that, we also see that the amount of melt in the summer is greater than the amount of deposit in the winter. Take a look at this graph here:

Source: Polar Portal

This shows the mass of the GIS over a period of more than ten years and we can see that the mass has a seasonal change, just as we expected. It increases in the winter and decreases in the summer. No controversy there. We can also see that the total mass has been declining for the entire period. Before 2004, the total mass was over 1000 gigatons (billion tons) above the long-term average. By 2014, this total mass had dropped to about 1800 gigatons below the average. That is a change of over 2800 billion tons of ice in about 10 years. Not good.

By the way, this occurred during the period when deniers have insisted there is no global warming. Once again, we see facts put the lie to their claims.

So, how are things going this year? Again, not good. Take a look here:

Source: NSIDC

This graph shows the percentage of the ice sheet that is melting at any given point of time compared to the long-term melt extent average (the dotted line). This shows us that the melt extent started out pretty close to average during the early part of the year. There was a spike in May, but that is not too alarming by itself. We expect to see the graph zig-zag back and forth as the weather changes. However, we are seeing much more than just a zig-zag starting with early June. The level of melt extent has shot up to the vicinity of 40%. That means about 40% of the ice sheet is melting right now. That percentage is already far in excess of the average maximum value which typically occurs in late July and reaches about 25%. 

And the forecast for additional melting? It is difficult to make a good forecast, but there is one thing that troubles me. Look at this plot.

Source: Polar Portal

This plot shows the albedo relative to the long-term average. Albedo is the measure of how well something reflects light. Something with an albedo of 1 (or 100) is a perfect reflector. An albedo of 0 means it reflects nothing at all – it would be perfectly black. Red areas on the above plot show where the current albedo is lower than the long-term average. Blue areas show where the current albedo is higher than the long-term average. The lower the albedo, the worse the surface reflects light and the more light it absorbs, leading to increased melting. Blue areas mean the albedo is higher and reflects light better, so melting would be reduced compared to the long-term average. The plot is not encouraging. There are some areas that are colored blue, but some shade of red dominates the plot area.

What could cause the lower albedo? There are two things that have been linked to this. One is soot from fires, the other is melt ponds. As we have more forest and wild fires due to climate change, the soot is carried on the winds and some of it is deposited on the GIS, lowering the albedo. Then, as the ice melts and forms ponds of water, the albedo drops even more because ice is a good reflector, but water is a good absorber.

Combining this data and the melting trend so far makes me think this will be a bad year for ice melt on Greenland. The summer of 2012 was the record bad year, hopefully we won’t get that bad.

Global Warming Has Not Stopped

One of the most common false arguments climate change deniers make is that global warming has stopped. This is remarkable for a number of reason, the first being that it is simply not true. But, I also find it amazing how the deniers keep pulling this out, no matter how many times they are shot down. So, let’s review this claim to see just how much validity there is to it.

First, let’s be clear of what is going on. Deniers point at a plot of data such as the one below and say, ‘Ah ha! There has been no warming since 1998. If we draw a line from there to today it is a flat line!’ See for yourself.


This is what is known as cherry picking, selecting the data to get the desired result. The problem is, why pick 1998? If we pick 1999, the next point on the graph, we get a tremendously different result. The line starting at the 1998 data point is pretty flat. The line starting at the 1999 data point increases quite a bit. The fact is, both would be cherry picking and both would be false arguments. That is why scientists use averages and long-term trends. We are not trying to obtain some predetermined result – that is what the deniers do, not scientists. We are trying to find out what is going on.

But, even if we cherry pick the starting point the denier claims are not true. Look at this plot of data from NASA/GISS:

Clearly, the warming has slowed down in recent years, but is continuing. In fact, nine of the ten hottest years ever recorded, and the three hottest, have occurred since the year 2000. Those figures alone give the lie to the claims of the deniers. But, there is much more.

The biggest lie in their claim is that they have been using the data above as ‘global’ warming. But, that data is only the surface temperature, basically the temperature of the air and land. When we say ‘global’ warming, though, we mean just that – the entire globe. What the deniers don’t want anyone to think about is the oceans. If you want to know about ‘global’ warming, take a look at this plot that shows how much heat is being stored and where its being stored:

The amount of energy being stored in the oceans is many times greater than what is being stored in the air and land. And, the amount of energy stored in the oceans has continued to rise. How is it possible for any person to look at this data and still insist global warming has stopped? I repeat my oft-made claim – the only way someone can deny global warming is to deny science. Deniers prove the validity of that claim every time they say global warming has stopped.

Now, they are in for even more trouble on this point. The temperature in April was tied for the hottest April ever. And now, we are told May was the single hottest May ever recorded.

And, the news keeps getting worse – worse for all of us, unfortunately. El Nino is setting in and there is a 70% chance of one occurring this summer and an 80% chance of one this fall. If it happens, then 2014 will continue to see warming temperature averages and 2015 could be even worse.

What do you think the deniers will say to cover their rear-ends when even the average person on the street will be able to see the deniers have been lying all along?

Study Shows a Decrease in California Winter Tule Fog

Winter tule fog is a dense fog that forms on cool, still nights in California’s central San Joaquin Valley. For many people, it is most well known for the frequent automobile accidents that result when people drive normal speeds with the reduced visibility. But, it has a much more important impact on agriculture.

Many of the crops grown in the valley require a long dormant season in order to produce a quality crop. Tule fog is critically important to inducing the plants to go dormant. It not only chills the plants in the winter, but it also shades them from the sunlight. Both of these actions cause the plants to go dormant. As a result, they store energy and are ready for vigorous growth  in the spring time. Without the long dormant period, they won’t have as much energy for growth and the crop yield will suffer. Among the crops that are dependent on this process are almonds, pistachios, cherries, apricots and peaches. As much as 95% of American production of some of these crops come from this area.

Now, a new study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters has shown that the amount of winter tule fog has decreased by as much as 46% over the last 30 years due to climate change. This is having an impact on the crop yield. Farmers are trying to deal with the problem by attempting to identify hybrids that can do well without the fog. Another idea is to relocate orchards. 

Lower yields and expensive treatments mean higher prices at the supermarket for our food.

One more example of how climate change is costing us money right now.

Global Warming and Tropical Cyclones

Tropical cyclones (hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones) get their energy from warm ocean water. As water vapor rises and condenses into liquid water it releases very large amounts of energy, which powers the storm. So, it is a natural assumption that as the oceans heat up, we should see some resulting effect in the formation of tropical cyclones. But, it isn’t that easy. There are more factors in the formation of cyclones than just ocean temperature. Wind shear, in particular, is critical for the formation of cyclones. As a tropical depression starts to form, too much wind shear will blow the energy from condensing water away and will also deform the shape of the central vortex which makes up the eye of the storm, making it less likely a storm will form. Of course, global warming will have an effect on wind shear. And, there are other factors involved in storm formation, as well. So, we can’t just say that as the sea surface temperature goes up we will see more and stronger storms.

But, what will happen is an important question and one that a lot of research is being done on. A paper published by scientists at Stony Brook University and MIT, appearing in the Journal of Advances in Modeling of Earth Systems described some recent computer model results. The authors modeled an idealized tropical climate and used cloud formation models to develop tropical cyclones on a supercomputer. As they varied the sea surface temperature from 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees F) to 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees F), they found that the size and strength of the cyclone increased as the temperature went up. At the same time, fewer storms were formed. A 6 degree Celsius (11 degree F) rise in temperature resulted in a doubling of kinetic energy in each storm as well as a doubling in the amount of precipitation.

How valid is the model? In fact, we have already seen these results taking place over the last 50 years.

Based on this computer model and the actual storm events over recent decades, what we can expect as global warming continues is fewer storms, but the ones that form will have stronger winds and more rain. Damage from storm surges will increase dramatically due to a combined effect of larger storm surges and rising sea levels.

Of course, guess who will get to pay for all of this damage? Hint: It won’t be the fossil fuel industry.