Category Archives: Climate

Emails confirm new EPA chief a tool of the Kochs


Why are we not surprised?

From the New York Times:

During his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, now the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, closely coordinated with major oil and gas producers, electric utilities and political groups with ties to the libertarian billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch to roll back environmental regulations, according to over 6,000 pages of emails made public on Wednesday.

The publication of the correspondence comes just days after Mr. Pruitt was sworn in to run the E.P.A., which is charged with reining in pollution and regulating public health.

“Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states,” said one email sent to Mr. Pruitt and an Oklahoma congressman in August 2013 by Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity. That nonprofit group is funded in part by the Kochs, the Kansas business executives who spent much of the last decade combating federal regulations, particularly in the energy sector. “You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!” the note said.

Mr. Pruitt has been among the most contentious of President Trump’s cabinet nominees. Environmental groups, Democrats in Congress and even current E.P.A. employees have protested his ties to energy companies, his efforts to block and weaken major environmental rules, and his skepticism of the central mission of the federal agency he now leads.

A tools of the plutocracy

The documents, though redacted, make clear that Pruitt serves not the interests of the citizens he has sworn to serve but the billionaire patrons who have greased the skids for his political career.

More from the Center for Media and Democracy, the organization which battled for and won release of the documents, which are posted at the link:

As a result of an Open Records Act request and lawsuit filed by the Center for Media and Democracy, on Tuesday night the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office released a batch of more than 7,500 pages of emails and other records it withheld prior to Scott Pruitt’s nomination as EPA Administrator last Friday.

The AG’s office has withheld an undetermined number of additional documents as exempted or privileged and submitted them to the Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons for review. A number of other documents were redacted, and CMD will be asking for the court to review those as well. On February 27, the AG’s office has been ordered to deliver records related to five outstanding requests by CMD.

“Despite repeated attempts by Pruitt and the Oklahoma AG’s office to stonewall CMD and the public, we’ve won a major breakthrough in obtaining access to public records that shine a light on Pruitt’s emails with polluters and their proxies,” said Nick Surgey, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy. “The newly released emails reveal a close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt’s office and the fossil fuel industry, with frequent meetings, calls, dinners and other events. And our work doesn’t stop here – we will keep fighting until all of the public records involving Pruitt’s dealings with energy corporations are released – both those for which his office is now asserting some sort of privilege against public disclosure and the documents relevant to our eight other Open Records Act requests.”

“There is no valid legal justification for the emails we received last night not being released prior to Pruitt’s confirmation vote other than to evade public scrutiny,” said Arn Pearson, general counsel for CMD. “There are hundreds of emails between the AG’s office, Devon Energy, and other polluters that Senators should have been permitted to review prior to their vote to assess Pruitt’s ties to the fossil fuel industry.”

Among the documents released late yesterday, CMD has found:

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Map of the day: Antarctic sea ice hits a new low


We begin with two images from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

First, the extent of Antarctic sea ice as of 20 February 2017, with the yellow line indicating the average sea ice coverage in recent years:

blog-ice-map

Second, a graph showing the progression of coverage in the 2016-2017 cycle [blue line] compared to other years:

blog-ice-chartWhat make this summer’s record low even more remarkable is that it immediately follows years of record highs. And we say summer because that’s the current season in the Southern Hemisphere.

More from MercoPress:

This year the extent of summer sea ice in the Antarctic is the lowest on record. The Antarctic sea ice minimum marks the day – typically towards end of February – when sea ice reaches its smallest extent at the end of the summer melt season, before expanding again as the winter sets in. This year, sea ice extent contracted to 2.28m sq km on 13 February, according to data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

The extent is a fraction smaller than a previous low of 884,173 sq miles recorded on 27 February 1997 in satellite records dating back to 1979. Scientists, including those at British Antarctic Survey, are monitoring the data closely and trying to understand why this year is presenting a minimum.

BAS climate scientist Dr James Pope says: “At this time, so close to minimum event, it is difficult to identify what is causing the record minimum and whether anything significant has changed. Sea ice is highly variable on year-to-year time-scales and therefore the recent record maximum extent from a couple of years ago and this year’s record minimum could both be the result of short- term changes rather than longer-term trends.

“What’s interesting is that Antarctic sea ice has been steadily increasing in size, year on year from the 1970s. So what’s happening now is against the trend. And whilst it’s significant, we won’t know for a couple of years whether this is a single event or a switch away from the previously observed increase. We will now study the data with interest and look at what is causing this minimum.”

Record El Niño devastates Pacific Coast beaches


Following up on the previous post, a look at another aspect of climate change.

Record waves generated by El Niño have devastated beaches all along the Pacific coast, and as a new study [open access] concludes, “climate change projections suggest a possible increase in the frequency of extreme El Niño and La Niña events,” meaning this year’s disaster could be just the beginning of worse to come.

More from the U.S. Geological Survey:

In a new study, U.S. Geological Survey scientists and their colleagues document how the 2015-16 winter featured one of the most powerful El Niño climate events of the last 145 years.

Investigating 29 beaches along the U.S West Coast from Washington to southern California, researchers found that winter beach erosion was 76 percent above normal, by far the highest ever recorded, and most beaches in California eroded beyond historical extremes. If severe El Niño events such as this one become more common in the future as studies suggest, this coastal region, home to more than 25 million people, will become increasingly vulnerable to coastal hazards, independently of projected sea level rise.

The authors assessed seasonal changes on 29 beaches along approximately 2000 kilometers (1243 miles) of the U.S. West Coast. Surveying the beaches included making 3-D surface maps and cross-shore profiles using aerial lidar (light detection and ranging), GPS topographic surveys, and direct measurements of sand levels, combined with wave and water level data at each beach, collectively spanning 1997-2016. Winter beach erosion or the removal and loss of sand from the beach is a normal seasonal process, but the extent of erosion can be more severe during El Niño events than in other years.

“Wave conditions and coastal response were unprecedented for many locations during the winter of 2015-16. The winter wave energy equaled or exceeded measured historical maximums along the U.S. West Coast, corresponding to extreme beach erosion across the region,” said USGS geologist and lead author of the report, Patrick Barnard.

The 2015-16 El Niño was one of the three strongest events ever recorded, along with El Niño winters of 1982-83 and 1997-98. While most beaches in California eroded beyond historical extremes, some beaches fared better. “The condition of the beach before the winter of 2015 strongly influenced the severity of erosion and the ability of the beach to recover afterward through natural replenishment processes,” said UC Santa Barbara marine ecologist and co-author David Hubbard.

Rivers still supply the primary source of sand to California beaches, despite long-term reductions in the 20th century due to extensive dam construction. But as California is in the midst of a major drought, the resulting lower river flows equated to even less sand being carried to the coast to help sustain beaches.

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Scientists find a number for human climate change


From “The Anthropocene equation” [open access], a scientific review of climate change states, a look at the rates of change in earth systems and the degree to which human activity has accelerated them. Click on the image to enlarge.

From “The Anthropocene equation” [open access], a scientific review of climate change states, a look at the rates of change in earth systems and the degree to which human activity has accelerated them. Click on the image to enlarge.

And it’s a frightening number, too.

From the Australian National University:

Humans are causing the climate to change 170 times faster than natural forces, new research co-led by The Australian National University (ANU) has found.

Co-researcher Professor Will Steffen from ANU said the study for the first time came up with a mathematical equation to describe the impact of human activity on the Earth system, known as the Anthropocene equation.

“Over the past 7,000 years the primary forces driving change have been astronomical – changes in solar intensity and subtle changes in orbital parameters, along with a few volcanoes. They have driven a rate of change of 0.01 degrees Celsius per century,” said Professor Steffen, from the Fenner School of Environment and Society and the Climate Change Institute at ANU.

“Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions over the past 45 years have increased the rate of temperature rise to 1.7 degrees Celsius per century, dwarfing the natural background rate.”

The paper published in The Anthropocene Review examines the Earth system as a single complex system and assesses the impact of human activities on the system’s trajectory.

“We are not saying the astronomical forces of our solar system or geological processes have disappeared, but in terms of their impact in such a short period of time they are now negligible compared with our own influence,” Professor Steffen said.

“Crystallising this evidence in the form of a simple equation gives the current situation a clarity that the wealth of data often dilutes.

“It also places the contemporary human impact in the context of the great forces of nature that have driven Earth system dynamics over billions of years.”

Professor Steffen said humanity still had a chance to prevent catastrophic climate change, but time was rapidly running out.

“The global economy can function equally well with zero emissions. Research shows we can feed nine billion people – the projected world population by 2050 – and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the same time,” he said.

Likely Trump science pick a climate change skeptic


And he calls colleagues who believe in it “glassy eyed cultists.

Oh, and he also favors censoring federal scientists.

From the Guardian:

The man tipped as frontrunner for the role of science adviser to Donald Trump has described climate scientists as “a glassy-eyed cult” in the throes of a form of collective madness.

William Happer, an eminent physicist at Princeton University, met Trump last month to discuss the post and says that if he were offered the job he would take it. Happer is highly regarded in the academic community, but many would view his appointment as a further blow to the prospects of concerted international action on climate change.

“There’s a whole area of climate so-called science that is really more like a cult,” Happer told the Guardian. “It’s like Hare Krishna or something like that. They’re glassy-eyed and they chant. It will potentially harm the image of all science.”

Trump has previously described global warming as “very expensive … bullshit” and has signalled a continued hardline stance since taking power.

>snip<

Happer also supports a controversial crackdown on the freedom of federal agency scientists to speak out about their findings, arguing that mixed messages on issues such as whether butter or margarine is healthier, have led to people disregarding all public health information.

Map of the day: Record heat wave Down Under


From NASA’s Earth Observer:

blog-australia

And now for their report, remarkable for avoid any mention of words climate change, clear evidence of the chill felt throughout the ranks of the scientists who draw their paychecks from Uncle Sam:

Heat waves are not unusual in Australia. A subtropical belt of high pressure that flows over the continent regularly delivers pulses of hot, dry air to the surface in the summer. Yet even by Australian standards, the intense heat wave of February 2017 has been remarkable.

When a high-pressure system stalled over central Australia, extreme temperatures emerged first in South Australia and Victoria and then spread to New South Wales, Queensland, and Northern Territory. With overheated bats dropping from trees and bushfires burning out of control, temperatures smashed records in many areas.

This map shows peak land surface temperatures between February 7 and 14, 2017, a period when some of the most extreme heating occurred. The map is based on data collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Note that it depicts land surface temperatures, not air temperatures. Land surface temperatures reflect how hot the surface of the Earth would feel to the touch in a particular location. They can sometimes be significantly hotter or cooler than air temperatures. (To learn more about LSTs and air temperatures, read: Where is the Hottest Place on Earth?)

On February 12, 2017, air temperatures rose to 46.6°C (115.9°F) in the coastal city of Port Macquarie, New South Wales, breaking the city’s all-time record by 3.3 degrees Celsius (5.9 degrees Fahrenheit). Two days earlier, the average maximum temperature across all of New South Wales hit a record-setting 42.4°C (108.3°F)—a record that was broken the next day when it rose to 44.0°C (111.2°F).

In some places, the duration of the heatwave has been noteworthy. Mungindi, a town on the border of Queensland and New South Wales, endured 52 days in a row when maximum temperatures exceeded 35°C (95°F)—a record for New South Wales.

Many scientists see exceptional heat waves like this as part of a broader trend. For instance, one study published by the Climate Council of Australia concluded that heatwaves—defined as at least three days of unusually high temperatures—grew significantly longer, more intense, and frequent between 1971 and 2008.

Cal’s DroughtWatch anxiety is shifting to WetWoes


Yep, California is shifting from the longest dry spell in modern times to a year which looks to go down as it’s wettest-ever, at least foir major regions of the Golden State,

From the Los Angeles Times:

The frantic effort over the last few days to lower water levels at Oroville Dam after the structure’s two spillways became damaged is part of a larger drama playing out as California rapidly shifts from extreme drought to intense deluges.

Large swaths of the region are on track to experience their wettest winter on record, with many areas having already surpassed their average precipitation for an entire year.

And all that water is putting new strains on the network of dams, rivers, levees and other waterways that are essential to preventing massive flooding during wet years like this one.

The biggest danger zone lies in the Central Valley at the base of the Sierra Nevada, whose tall peaks can wring the skies of huge amounts of rain and snow. The area is essentially one giant floodplain that would be easily transformed into an inland sea without man-made flood control. At 400 miles long and 40 miles wide, it has only a tiny bottleneck from which to drain — a one-mile opening at the Carquinez Strait at San Pablo Bay — before water heads into the San Francisco Bay.

“You got this big bathtub — water doesn’t flow out of it very quickly,” said Jeffrey Mount, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California and former director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.