Showing posts with label Climate change. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Climate change. Show all posts

April 26, 2018

Where the West Begins — The Line is Moving

John Wesley Powell, 1834–1902 (Wikipedia)
Driving across the country, I like to play the game of "Where does the West begin?" (westbound) or "Where does the Midwest begin?" (eastbound).

For instance, on US 20 in Nebraska, Valentine is definitely in the West, but anything east of Ainsworth feels like the Midwest.

Driving west across South Dakota, the Missouri River makes an easy marker. From downtown Pierre, I see the dry hills to the west and feel at home. (It helps that I lived as a kid in western South Dakota.)

Another tradition is just to use the 100th meridian of longitude as the marker. John Wesley Powell, Civil War veteran and visionary Western geographer, made this one popular.  (In this New York Times article, the writer ventures among the natives along the 100th meridian.)

Some climate researchers, however, are now saying that the arid/wet boundary is shifting eastward. "Whither the 100th Meridian? The Once and Future Physical and Human Geography of America’s Arid–Humid Divide. Part I: The Story So Far" is an article published by the American Meteorological Society.

Its abstract (summary) states,
The aridity gradient [east and west of the 100th meridian] is realized in soil moisture and a west-to-east transition from shortgrass to tallgrass prairie. The gradient is sharp in terms of greater fractional coverage of developed land east of the 100th meridian than to the west. Farms are fewer but larger west of the meridian, reflective of lower land productivity. Wheat and corn cultivation preferentially occur west and east of the 100th meridian, respectively. The 100th meridian is a very real arid–humid divide in the physical climate and landscape, and this has exerted a powerful influence on human settlement and agricultural development.
This boundary has moved before. An archaeologist friend pointed out to me that in part of the Middle Archaic period (3000–1000 years ago), trees extended farther east onto the plains. Think of of the "pine ridge" country of the Palmer Divide (eastern Douglas and El Paso counties, Colorado) extending clear to Kansas! "Those were the good times," he mused.

Part II of the article makes this prediction for the 21st century:
It is first shown that state-of-the-art climate models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project generally underestimate the degree of aridity of the United States and simulate an arid–humid divide that is too diffuse. These biases are traced to excessive precipitation and evapotranspiration and inadequate blocking of eastward moisture flux by the Pacific coastal ranges and Rockies. Bias-corrected future projections are developed that modify observationally based measures of aridity by the model-projected fractional changes in aridity. Aridity increases across the United States, and the aridity gradient weakens. The main contributor to the changes is rising potential evapotranspiration, while changes in precipitation working alone increase aridity across the southern and decrease across the northern United States. The “effective 100th meridian” moves to the east as the century progresses.
The Anderson Creek fire burned almost 400,000 acres in Oklahoma and Kansas in March 2016.
Back in the 1930s, the Dust Bowl ripped through the Southern Plains, as plowed land just blew away. So we stopped plowing so much, let it go back to vegetation, and now it's burning. In the long run, that is probably less destructive — more of a natural cycle —but a prairie fire is a scary thing.

In "Why is Oklahoma Burning,"  weather writer Bob Henson discusses the recent Rhea Fire, which burned more than 242,000 acres.
May 2015 was the state’s wettest single month on record, and 2015 was its wettest year. “The November-December 2015 period was the wettest on record as well, and the sixth warmest. So the growing season extended into winter to some extent that year,” said McManus. The result was an unusually lush landscape going into the first part of 2016 that dried out quickly in the weeks leading up to the Anderson Creek fire.
Likewise, the summers of 2016 and 2017 were on the moist side, said McManus. “We also had a pretty severe ice storm during January 2017 that left lots of big fuels on the ground waiting for that spark,” McManus said. Later that year came the the state’s second-wettest August on record. “August would normally be a time we'd get rid of some growth in our typical summer burn season,” said McManus.
The landscape of the Southern High Plains has been extraordinarily dry over the last six months. The western third of Oklahoma has seen little more than 2” since October—only about 20% of average—and most of the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles have received much less than 1”, making it the driest six months on record in some locations. Any moistening of the landscape has been all too brief, which has left the landscape highly vulnerable to a spell of fire-friendly weather.
Some good photos there too.

July 11, 2014

The Vanished Corn Farmers and a Cooler, Drier Future?

There is a lot of Apocalypse Porn going around, like in the closing of this article on the flooded shopping mall in Bangkok. Coastal inhabitants will be living in shacks on the roofs of flooded office buildings, etc. etc.

We have been telling the story of the Great Flood for at least 4,000 years, after all.

On the other hand, some researchers of solar-output cycles still see a better chance of a coming period that is cooler — and drier. Let's start with the story of some corn-growing prehistoric villages in what is now Iowa:
There were possibly over one thousand Indian villages on the Great Plains from Iowa to Colorado during the Medieval Warm Period. In the early 19th century when the explorers who spearheaded the European invasion of the American heartland crossed the plains, they found no corn-farming villages. They left behind the last of the agricultural tribes as they moved out onto the grasslands – the Akira and Mandan on the Missouri and the Pawnee in eastern Kansas – not to find corn fields again until reaching the Pueblos in the southern Rockies. Remnants of the villages were uncovered in the early 20th century as layers of debris covered by wind-blown soil.
In other words, the subsequent Little Ice Age made maize farming more and more difficult except in favored locations, and no one was doing it (except maybe at El Cuartelejo) much west of present-day Wichita.

The phrase "lower solar activity, and thus a posited colder climate" produced a lot of heat in the comments section, at least.

March 05, 2014

Now We're Talking about a Little Ice Age Again

This is not reported on the five o'clock news, but solar activity is declining.

A short video at the BBC, which I cannot embed, "Has the Sun Gone to Sleep?" explains what is happening—a possible return to the Maunder Minimum.
The Maunder Minimum [1645–1715] of course was a period of almost no sunspots at all for decades and we saw a really dramatic period where there were very cold winters in the northern hemisphere. It was a period where you had a kind of mini ice-age. You had a period where the Thames froze in winters and so on. It was an interesting time.
Another name for that period is The Little Ice Age. In the video, you hear researchers talking about phenomena "that we don't really understand." And about "a redistribution of temperature around the North Atlantic."

Full transcript here (scroll down).

February 05, 2014

Ancestral Air Produced Ancestral Maize

A wild grass from Mesoamerica called teosinte is accepted as the ancestor of maize/corn, but it does not look much like varieties of corn we know:
How teosinte looks today. (Wiki Commons)
The vegetative and flowering structures of modern teosinte are very different from those of corn. These and other differences led to a century-long dispute as to whether teosinte could really be the ancestor of corn.
But some greenhouse studies that replicated different atmospheric conditions resulted in teosinte growing more modern corn-like stalks and ears! According to one of the researchers,
“When humans first began to cultivate teosinte about 10,000 years ago, it was probably more maize-like—naturally exhibiting some characteristics previously thought to result from human selection and domestication. The environment may have played a significant, if serendipitous, role in the transition through inducing phenotypic plasticity that gave early farmers a head start.”

December 03, 2013

Reading Water Flows with Trees

Via Coyote Gulch, I learned about TreeFlow, a project to reconstruct centuries' worth of river flows in the West through correlating them with tree rings. "A tree-ring reconstruction is a best-estimate of past streamflows, based on the relationship between tree-ring data and observed streamflow over the modern period."

Here, for example, is the reconstruction of the Colorado River's flow at Lees Ferry, Arizona, going back to 750 CE (scroll down for that graph).

Closer to home, the Arkansas River at Cañon City, Colorado, from 1685–1987.

The process correlates tree rings with observed data from the late 19th century to the present, then projects the correlation back over older tree ring samples from cores or archaeological sites. More about the process here.
The persistent drought conditions that emerged across the West in 1999, especially the extreme drought year of 2002, indicated that the observed records of streamflow in the region did not capture the full range of natural hydrologic variability. This drought, along with increasing demands on water supplies led to a need to assess the range of drought conditions that were likely to occur. Tree-ring reconstructions of streamflow, extending several hundred years or longer, provide a more complete representation of past variability. Accordingly, streamflow reconstructions attracted more interest within the water management community as a potentially useful tool for planning.

May 04, 2013

Plains Drought not 'Global Warming' says NOAA

Although extreme, the drought is within normal variations.
 “This is one of those events that comes along once every couple hundreds of years,” lead author Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist at NOAA, said. “Climate change was not a significant part, if any, of the event.”
The trouble is, "climate change" has become a political wedge issue, something to separate the right-thinking people from the regressive knuckle-draggers.

On the other side of the looking glass, scientists forecast some degree of global cooling. How do you say "denier" in Russian? (h/t Anthony Watts)
Just recently, experts said that the Arctic ice cover was becoming thinner while journalists warned that the oncoming global warming would make it possible to grow oranges in the north of Siberia. Now, they say a cold spell will set in. Apparently, this will not occur overnight, Yuri Nagovitsyn of the Pulkovo Observatory, says.

"Journalists say the entire process is very simple: once solar activity declines, the temperature drops. But besides solar activity, the climate is influenced by other factors, including the lithosphere, the atmosphere, the ocean, the glaciers. The share of solar activity in climate change is only 20%. This means that sun’s activity could trigger certain changes whereas the actual climate changing process takes place on the Earth."
It's the difference between "climate" and "weather." See also these reflections on the drop in the number of reported tornadoes in the United States.

February 01, 2012

The Little Ice Age: Solar Cycles or Volcanoes?

Researchers at the University of Colorado suggest that volcanic activity caused the cooler centuries (roughly the 14th-19th) known as the Little Ice Age.

Or eruptions and solar cycles influence the climate?

Lively comments at the linked blog.

August 26, 2011

Blog Stew with Disappearing Spiders

• An EMT's tips on keeping butt-crack spiders away.

• Re-thinking cosmic rays, clouds, and climate change: New evidence from CERN. Apparently current climate models leave out something big.

• M. and I will be going back to Yellowstone this fall, we hope. Evidence shows that concealed-carry in national parks has not led to an outbreak of violent crime. Quite the contrary.

June 15, 2011

Reduced Solar Activity Forecast

Solar activity and its effect on climate is sort of above my blogging pay grade, but the American Astronomical Society is predicting a long period (decades?) of reduced solar activity.

The post that I am linking to is fairly technical, but the "big maybe" is here:
Currently, the sun is in the midst of the period designated as Cycle 24 and is ramping up toward the cycle’s period of maximum activity. However, the recent findings indicate that the activity in the next 11-year solar cycle, Cycle 25, could be greatly reduced. In fact, some scientists are questioning whether this drop in activity could lead to a second Maunder Minimum, which was a 70-year period from 1645 to 1715 when the sun showed virtually no sunspots.
Such a prediction has some people talking about another Little Ice Age. But to me the sad thing is that climate-change issues have become so politicized and trivialized that the science will soon be swamped by people yammering over whether or not incandescent light bulbs are "killing the planet." We are a jealous bunch of apes sometimes.

April 14, 2011

Medical Marijuana's Claimed Contribution to Climate Change

An article in the San Francisco Business Journal links medical marijuana to climate change, via the energy costs of the crops.
People growing marijuana indoors use 1 percent of the U.S. electricity supply, and they create 17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year (not counting the smoke exhaled) according to a report by Evan Mills, an energy analyst at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

After medical pot use was made legal in California in 1996, Mills says, per-person residential electricity use in Humboldt County jumped 50 percent compared to other parts of the state.

In order to produce some 17,000 metric tons of marijuana this year, Mills estimates authorized growers will use $5 billion worth of energy. That works out to the output of seven big electric power plants.
Seven? 

But since Colorado also permits medical marijuana, I am waiting for one of the many clinics advertising in the Colorado Springs Independent, for example, to trumpet their "solar-powered MMJ."

(Via Ann Althouse.)

December 21, 2010

A Contrarian Predicts a Mini-Ice Age

If you have been following the news, you know that Britain is experiencing a severe winter: lots of snow and temperatures dipping close to zero F. in places.

On Sunday, thanks to certain bloggers, the most popular emailed story at one of the British national newspapers, the Independent, was one written ten years ago in which one Charles Onians proclaimed, "Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past," all about how little children would grow up never seeing snow.

Now the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is very interested in the work of Piers Corbyn, a maverick meteorologist who forsees a "mini-Ice Age," based on solar activity.

Johnson's piece appeared in the Telegraph, followed by a riposte by one of its house bloggers who accused the mayor of stealing his material, calling Johnson's piece "a bravura politician’s exercise in arse-covering."

Curiouser and curiouser.

December 03, 2010

Pleistocene Park Update

Moving away from the cave bears to the grazing animals ... a Russian scientist argues that recreating a Pleistocene Siberia could positively affect global warming.

Other than that, it is just way cool.

July 25, 2010

Rejecting Air Conditioning on Principle

The New York Times describes a couple in the mysterious land of Kansas who actually live without air conditioning.

Mr. Cox does not seem to be the kind of man who would ruffle anyone’s feathers. But he has faced death threats since critically questioning the role of air-conditioning in contemporary life in an opinion article this month in The Washington Post. Sixty-seven pages of cringe-inducing e-mail messages followed. “Idiot!” one person wrote. Another threatened to shoot Mr. Cox.
 Their methods for staying cool sound exactly like those of my Kansas-born mother, only she was more concerned with saving money than avoiding greenhouse-gas emissions.

February 03, 2010

Blog Stew with Faster Trees

• Birders skeptical about claims of new photos of ivory-billed woodpecker.

• Audio tries the viral-video route with "Green Police" spoof. Fiendishly clever or not nice at all? If Jeep did this, I would be more conflicted. With Audi, I could not care less.

• A study suggests that higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are causing East Coast trees to grow faster. True in other places too?

Arguments for and against "debarking" dogs. Some vets won't do it anymore. Some trainers insist that if behavioral modification fails, then debarking is the alternative to euthanasia.

November 26, 2009

Blog Stew with Fighting Mice

• Steve Bodio writes on on "Darwin's Other Birds," namely pigeons, for which the Cornell Ornithology Lab has a special program for city kids, Project Pigeon Watch.

• I don't hear this from Prowers County, Colorado, but wind-turbine noise is an issue in the UK.

• In California, Ultimate Mouse Fighting.

• British environmental writer George Monbiot slams climate scientists for mishandling "Climategate."

November 02, 2009

Overheated Environmental Rhetoric Contributes to Climate Change?

The real problem with the climate-change is how quickly it has become politicized -- or possibly "religion-ized."

I admit that I am surprised by that development, but not in a good way.

Unfortunately, doom-and-gloom is a standby of environmental writing (sometimes with reason--Dust Bowl, anyone?). You can get books analyzing such writing, which has always leaned towards the jeremiad more than the celebration.

When the doom does not occur exactly as predicted, however, the skeptics say, "Oh, there was nothing to that.

As the Times (UK) points out, exaggerated claims of doom don't help the work of environmental cleanup.

Excessive statements about the decline of Arctic sea ice, severe weather events and the probability of extreme warming in the next century detract from the credibility of robust findings about climate change, they said.

Such claims can easily be rebutted by critics of global warming science to cast doubt on the whole field. They also confuse the public about what has been established as fact, and what is conjecture.


Short-term fund-raising goals by environmental groups are one big reason for the exaggeration.

October 11, 2009

Blog Stew is Warming or Cooling

• Greenpeaceniks have climbed the Houses of Parliament to "raise the temperature of the debate," but the BBC admits that the data are confusing. I was looking a pictures of shrinking glaciers in Glacier National Park (I think it was), and that evidence was incontrovertible, but could glaciers be lagging indicators?

• Recent Google searches bring visitors: "mad mountain bird feeders slave labor," "nature bear man blog," "on a map what does a blue line mean," and "beautiful suicides."

• Did things go really wrong on your last walk in the woods? Maybe it qualifies for Hiker Hell.

September 15, 2009

Burning Coal while Warning about Climate Change

The World Bank worries on one hand about climate change, exhorting developed nations to do more, while on the other hand it finances new and bigger coal-burning power plants.

The people who think they are qualified to run the world just make so much sense, don't they. They fly in private jets and go to conferences in Aspen and Switzerland—life "in the bubble."

If you accept the conventional wisdom about CO2 and global warming, then how do you get away with asking us to "act differently on climate change"?

November 11, 2008

Did It Seem Chilly to You?


More confusing climate data. The University of Illinois has a site that lets you compare satellite photos of the Arctic ice cap from one year to the next, going back to 1980.

You can see here that there was somewhat more ice cover this year than last, a week ago. On the other hand, in the 1980s the Bering Sea had more ice than this year.

The next graphic is about temperatures this year so far, which seems to fit with the above.


NOAA says that 2008 has a been a cool year so far. Stay tuned ...