Archive for 2014 November

Maybe this will motivate people on climate change

From Tom Toles of course:


No, Toles is not making up the news, though his timeline/headline is a bit off. Chocolate really will become more difficult to grow in some areas where it's taken for granted now, according to a study reported by Climatewire/Scientific American: Climate change could melt chocolate production.


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The California drought: Will it rain this winter in SoCal?

It's a big question. Talk to anyone who works on the land in Southern California and you'll hear discussion of El Niño, rain, winter, drought, scientists who can't agree– and so on. 

I set out to get to the bottom of it last month for the Ventura County Reporter, and (dare I say) succeeded as well as could be reasonably hoped. Not that the comments on the piece reflected that: any mention of cllimate change brings out the cranks, I guess. from the chemtrail people to the climate change deniers. 

But the real news is that in the short-term, the consensus looks decent. We will have rain this winter, scientists agree

What's troubling for SoCal is the long-term prediction — increased dryness. Yikes. 

Here's the start: I'll put the kicker below the fold. 

"The last 12 months (from September 2013 to September 2014) have been hotter than any other 12 months in the 113 years that reliable temperature records have been kept in California, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

The last three “water years” have also been the driest such period in the state’s history, NOAA says. The term U.S. geological Survey “water year” in reports that deal with surface-water supply is defined as the 12 month period for any given year through September 30 of the following year. As a result the entire state is in drought, and Ventura County — like all of the central coast of the state — is in category 5, or “exceptional drought,” the worst of all possibilities.

[here's an image drawn from data collected by the pair of satellites known as GRACE, which shows how California is drying out as the level of available water below ground sinks]


In Ventura County, we experienced drought — rainfall totaled only about six inches at the harbor, considerably less than half the average — this year and we also missed the cooling fogs that usually come in off the ocean in the early summer months. The “May Grays” and “June Glooms” that customarily haunt the shore and hold down temperatures as the summer begins to warm made only a brief appearance.

Meanwhile, the ocean waters off our coast have been hotter than normal this year, by about 3 to 7 degrees. Mike Thompson of Channel Islands Sportsfishing said that species not seen here in a decade’s time, such as yellow fin tuna, have been caught recently off the coast. In August, small jellyfish with translucent sails, known as by-the-wind sailors, which usually are found out at sea, showed up in large numbers on our beaches.  Market squid, which most years are harvested by the ton out of Southern California harbors, have been sparse in our unusually warm waters this year but abundant in the cooler, nutrient-rich waters off the North Coast.

Were all these unusual events coincidental?

Not really, according to Bill Patzert, who, from his perch at Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena looks at down at the ocean from satellite records and delivers forecasts with the confidence of a man who has seen the patterns develop for decades. The same winds and warmth in our waters that brought us rarely seen sea life also reduced the temperature differential between the Pacific (which usually is much cooler than the land in summer) and the land (which usually warms more quickly than the ocean).

This meant less fog along the coast — and more heat inland.

But where did these unusually warm ocean waters off our coast come from?

The Jason-2 satellite records that Patzert’s team compiles for NASA show that the unusual warmth off our coastline can be traced back to a far greater warming in the ocean waters in the western Pacific. For reasons still not fully understood, this vast area near Indonesia — known by experts as the “warm pool” — will every few years overflow and generate what scientists call Kelvin waves.

Over the course of a couple of months, moving across the wide belt of the equatorial Pacific, only slightly raising the surface of the water, these waves — the size of small continents — slowly transport vast amounts of heat energy under the surface across the ocean. With satellite data, the warmth can be seen moving along the equator, hitting Central America and then splitting and propagating along the coasts, eventually reaching us in Ventura.  

The change in the temperature of the Pacific alters water temperatures and the air above; and, in time, trade winds that customarily blow from west to east can ease, or even reverse, and blow from east to west, toward California.

These wind patterns enhance our chances of getting winter storms and rain.

“Earlier this year in January and February we saw that relaxation in the trade winds, along with Kelvin waves in February and March and April, and then this high sea band began to develop,” Patzert said. “Everybody said it was beginning to look like l997-l998 [when the biggest El Niño ever recorded hit, breaking records around the world].”

Back in the fall of l997, after seeing this sort of Kelvin waves come across the Pacific without pause for months, Patzert forecast rains twice the amount of normal for Southern California. (Ultimately, according to the National Weather Service, after a dry December rains came in force in l998, ultimately totaling 298 percent of normal in the county.)

As Kelvin waves warm the equatorial Pacific, they drive a complex cycle of winds and currents that can lead — although not invariably — to an El Niño condition, which in turn can lead — although not invariably — to heavy rain in California. Hence the excitement among forecasters earlier this year. The national Climate Prediction Center bumped its monthly estimation of the likelihood of an El Niño to 80 percent in July, and experts speculated about how strong and rainy it might be.

Patzert himself, who has been in the El Niño business since the phenomenon began to be charted in the late 1970s, and who throws words and metaphors at the press the way Mike Hammer used to throw punches at bad guys, allowed himself an unusual moment of hope for an upcoming El Niño.

“Don’t hyperventilate yet,” he told a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News in early April. “It’s a little too soon to say the drought is over, but this Kelvin wave is no dud. This is a stud.”

Why an El Niño may not save us from drought
Kelvin waves start the cycle that can lead to El Niño, but in the same way that hurricanes require ocean waters to be a certain temperature before they will begin to form, so too does the equatorial Pacific need to reach a certain temperature — about one degree Celsius above normal — before forecasters have any confidence that the cycle will bring rain to California. After seeing a huge Kelvin wave form in early spring, forecasters expected to see more warmth moving across the ocean, but were mostly disappointed. The mid-Pacific warmed, but only slightly — it’s about half a degree above normal in October. Although forecasters still peg our chances at an El Niño this year at 66 percent, they say it will be weak, and stress that it’s not at all clear this will mean good rain in California this winter.

“Weak to moderate El Niños are not necessarily rainmakers,” Patzert said. “So instead of the great wet hope my forecast is for a dry disappointment.”

After being repeatedly let down by El Niño, Patzert has become a bit cynical about it. He keeps pointing out that the phenomenon can be detected in the ocean far more often than it brings rain to Southern California.

In 2012 a moderate El Niño formed, but only 11 inches of rain fell in the county. The Ventura County Watershed Protection District called it “a very dry year.”


In the fall of 2006, after a heavy rain year in 2005, a moderate El Niño began to form, and NOAA forecasters warned of the possibility of substantial rainfall for the region that water year. At a meeting of the American Meteorological Society, Patzert scoffed out loud about the prediction, calling it “El Wimpo” in front of the press. This did not endear him to his forecasting peers, but when the 2006-2007 rainfall in Southern California turned out to be the driest in the historical record they started calling him “the prophet.”


Looking back, Patzert shrugs off the description.


“It’s heavy, man,” he said, speaking in the dryly sarcastic voice of a man who frankly admits that he too has gotten forecasts wrong over the years.


“Yeah, I’m a prophet, like Isaiah or John the Baptist. Look what happened to him.”


Nonetheless, Patzert’s doubts about El Niño as a savior this year are echoed by many other forecasters and scientists. Even if we receive better than average rains, we still will be dependent on groundwater supplies that have been substantially drawn down by three years of drought. Only the wettest of El Niños could bring water back to us in abundance. Research hydrologist Mike Dettinger at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography estimated that our chances of being fully replenished by heavy rains this year were just 15 percent.


More alarmingly, a team of climatologists at Stanford, led by Daniel Swain, in September published a paper in which they argued that our drought is man-made — caused by a ridge of high pressure in the atmosphere in the North Pacific that they link to climate change.


Pointing the finger at drought: the RRR or the PDO? 
The North Pacific High is nothing new to meteorologists. It’s a ridge of high pressure in the atmosphere, comparable to a mountain ridge. It comes in all shapes and sizes, reaching as high as 30,000 feet, and often forms off the coast of the Northwest. But Swain gave it a new name — and new fame — because he identified it as the culprit in our drought as it persisted off the coast north of the Canadian border.


Low pressure systems that bring clouds and possibly rain or snow to California and the West are often blocked by the North Pacific High. Swain compares it to a boulder in a stream, forcing storms to go around it. In October a team of scientists led by Ben Cook at NASA found that this same blocking ridge led to the drought in California in 1976-l977, and also the Dust Bowl in 1934 that devastated the farms of the High Plains.


In the normal course of events, the North Pacific High will form and dissipate countless times in the course of a winter. But in December 2013, after a year of drought, and after seeing this ridge form and reform and strengthen virtually without cease, diverting storms headed our way, even those as far north as the Arctic, Swain gave it a new name: the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, or “RRR.”


“I wanted a term that would accurately refer to the ridging feature, and that would describe its evolution over time, with resilience referring to the way it would pop right back up every time a storm came along,” he said. “I also wanted to highlight how unusual this persistent ridging had become, so in a moment of spontaneous alliteration I chose ridiculous.’ ”


By statistical means, Swain and his colleagues looked at how likely this persistent ridging would be in a climate that had not been altered by the introduction of additional carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. (Since 1880, when about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide were present in the atmosphere, the burning of billions upon billions of tons of coal, oil and gas has raised the proportion to about 400 parts per million today.) Swain and his team found that the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge was three times as likely to form and persist today as it would have been before the burning of fossil fuels.


The Obama administration reached a similar conclusion, although probably not from an analysis of “geopotential heights” of meteorological formations. In late January, according to reporting from the Washington Post, after looking at NASA pictures of the Sierras barely dusted by a snowpack on which California depends for the bulk of its water supplies, the administration was galvanized into action on climate change.


President Obama went on to announce a range of initiatives, from EPA restrictions on emissions from power plants to heightened expectations for mileage from car manufacturers and support for climate change treaties. In California, legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown quickly assembled a water bill package totaling about $700 million to conserve water in both dams and underground basins and, later in the summer, for the first time instituted the beginning of a state regulation of local groundwater.


But do we really know for certain that climate change caused the drought in California?


Did climate change cause our recent drought?
Although Swain’s study linking the California drought to climate change has been widely reported, it was one of three studies on the question in a special bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in September. The other two studies were not so sure of the causation. One, by Hailan Wang and Siegfried Schubert, looked at the extreme dryness of the winter of 2013 and agreed that a persistent ridge of high pressure in the northern Pacific due to long-term warming blocked storms that would otherwise have reached California, but also found increased humidity over the northeast Pacific, and argued that the two climate effects would cancel each other out over the long term. A third study, led by Chris Funk, did not find that an increase in warming in the climate models led to a decrease in precipitation (rain and snow).


On the same question of rain, a study published in August in the journal Climate found that California has not seen a change in the total amount of annual rainfall, despite registering a warming of about 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit in recent decades. (By contrast, in a recent period, warming led to an increase in precipitation in the nation as a whole by about 10 percent, according to one study.) In the Climate study, alarmingly, Steve LaDochy, a professor in the Department of Geography and Urban Analysis at Cal State L.A., and his colleagues did find a trend toward “a large decrease” in rainfall in Southern California since the l970s, totaling 27 percent.


But given that the State Water Project already transports water from the Trinity River and other sources in Northern California to a drier Southern California, LaDochy argues these changes could cancel each other out for Southern California.  


“More than one study has shown that the shift in climate and the storm track doesn’t favor us very much, but it may make northern parts of the state wetter,” he said. “And if you look at the paleoclimate record, California has had megadroughts that lasted for several centuries.”


With many other researchers, including Patzert, LaDochy thinks that another ocean temperature pattern, called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), discourages or encourages rainfall in California and the West. Like El Niño and La Niña, only far bigger and far longer lasting, the PDO brings cooler or warmer temperatures to the ocean up and down the West Coast. Since the last huge El Niño of 1997-l998, the eastern Pacific has been in a “negative,” or cool phase, which historically has been associated with dryness in Southern California.


To Terry Schaeffer, who has been forecasting weather in Ventura County on a subscription basis for farmers for over 40 years, the PDO probably explains the drought of recent years better than anything else. He points out that California suffered through long droughts before, such as the mid-20th century drought that motivated farmers in Ojai to back the construction of Lake Casitas. And he points out that these dry periods, when the PDO is negative, tend to last longer than the wet periods, when the PDO is in its positive, or warm ocean, phase.


“Our wet spells tend to last 20-25 years,” he said, noting that the 1980s and 1990s were a very wet period in the historical record. “But our dry spells tend to last 35-40 years. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a wet year or two in that span. But I don’t see our long-term drought ending soon.”


Nonetheless Schaeffer forecasts a mild winter for the county, with above-normal rainfall, probably beginning later than usual in the year.


Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA Climate Prediction Center, agreed.


“I would be stunned to see a repeat of last winter,” he said. “I expect what the statisticians call “a regress to the mean” — a return to normal. There’s a reason we call it an average.”


Patzert also agreed.


“Hang in there,” he said, to this reporter and to all of Southern California. “We will get rain — eventually.'"


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Section e of the Pacific Crest Trail: Worried Man

This past week I completed Section E of the Pacific Crest Trail, which goes for about 112 miles from Agua Dulce (north of Los Angeles) to an exit off Hwy 58 (north of Mojave). Man is it a tough section. Here's my fave picture. After hiking for approximately twelve miles with approximately 1-2 liters of water (long story — not all my fault) through the harsh, barren, burned Tehachapi Mountains I I came, wonder of all wonders, across a water stop, complete with a box full of water bottles in a burned tree. 

I was so relieved — and so grateful to trail saints Larry and Daniel (who left an identifying sign). 


Still, the effort appears to have gotten to me. I'm happy to have completed this section –but  now I kind of wonder how I did it. 

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Lucinda Williams Song Premiere: Hear a Cover of JJ Cale’s ‘Magnolia’ From Her New Double Album | Billboard

This is the last song on Lucinda Williams' pretty amazing double album released this summer (When the Spirit Meets the Bone). This one's a long, lovely, laid-out take of JJ Cale's classic "Magnolia." 

Play it all night Lucinda (and Bill Frissell, Tony Joe White, and….)

Lucinda Williams Song Premiere: Hear a Cover of JJ Cale's ‘Magnolia’ From Her New Double Album | Billboard.

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Okay, now the California drought is getting serious

From PostSecret a three or four months or so ago:


Water use actually has fallen over 10% this summer in SoCal. 

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How it feels when the bird goes splat

A couple of years ago I wrote a story about birds and windows, and learned that millions upon millions of birds die every year after hitting windows. Kevin Prufer noticed, as only a poet can:

Something hit the office window hard
so now there's a smear
that won't be washed away
until it rains.

Red and vaguely
heart shaped, it appears
to hover over
the city like someone's idea

of love..

Far below
the morning grows moneyed and quiet,
the last of us
having emerged from our tunnels

and ridden
the long elevators up our buildings'
throats. Even the birds
are at peace on our distant

trees and power lines.
When the keyboards' noise
resumes, I play through
the scene again—

the silent towers,
a crack against the bright glass,
and a burst of black

Kevin Prufer

The Southern Review
Summer 2014

Note: I'm out on section e of the Pacific Crest Trail: back in a week or so. Thanks for listening. 

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Ojai Chatauqua on fracking: know your CA geology

Part of what the Ojai Chautauqua tries to do every couple of months is bring out information regarding complex topics, which is what I tried to do in part as a moderator this past Sunday for a panel on fracking.

What did we learn? Well, here's one item, from Kimberly Rivers story in the Ojai Valley News this yesterday.

In contrast to Anne Kallas' story in the Ventura County Star, mentioned last time, this time Rivers doesn't find a consensus in the panel around a need for transparency.

She focuses more on the geology, and on the increased volume of wastewater. 

A couple of excerpts. One, we get a close-up look at the geology from a UCSB geophysicist named Craig Nicholson, who was the first guy I wanted on the panel, a real honest-to-God scientist:

Nicholson pointed out that because of California's many faults, the rocks are already fractured quite a bit — actually reducing the need to use processes like fracking, which break the rock to get the oil out. 

"Because of the natural fractures that already occur in California, fracking has never been a major component of producing oil and gas in California," Nicholson said. 

[Nicholson said] fracking has increased in the last ten to fifteen years. 

"California geology is way more complicated than other parts of the country where fracking is used. California always has more problems."

[I'm standing: Craig is seated four chairs away from me, second to the far left]


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Ojai fracking panel agrees: more transparency please!

Over the last four or so months I put together a panel on fracking for the Ojai Chautauqua, a centrist group that holds public forums/discussions on controversial issues at the Ojai Valley Inn. (Think I'm beginning to learn how to do it: This is the third such panel I put together this year, and the second I moderated.)

What happened? General agreement among panelists: more transparency please.

One of the panelists, a former petroleum engineer named Don Clarke, who has been touring the country for the Obama administration and the National Academy of Sciences on the subject of induced seismicity and fracking/injection wells, introduced a concept he picked up in Canada — the Social License to Operate. Meaning that oil companies need the consent of the governed, essentially, and if the process is convoluted or mysterious and the findings alarming, then the license may not be granted. (It's more specific than that: check out the link — but the point is a local permit is not enough.) 

Here's the story from the Ventura County Star. Funny to me the way I am quoted, but not inaccurate, I must admit. 

[OJAI, Calif. – The word fracking has become a red flag for people concerned about one of the practices of oil-well stimulation, according to Kit Stolz, moderator for the Ojai Chautauqua: The Future of Fracking.

“How do we deal with such a complicated issue?” Stolz asked a panel of five speakers with various ties to the oil industry on Sunday at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa.

The panelists agreed on the need for greater openness on the part of oil companies about the process of extracting oil from the ground.

“There is a deep mistrust of oil companies. If (fracking) is safe, then let’s find out more about it. What chemicals are they using? By building transparency we hope to lower the temperature,” said Henry Stern, a legislative aide to state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. Pavley sponsored the highly criticized Senate Bill 4, which Stern helped write.

Senate Bill 4, in part, calls for extensive scientific analysis of fracking by the California Department of Natural Resources. The bill requires greater oversight of various oil extraction practices, as well as more regulation of wells, including permitting and providing information about the chemicals used, source of water used and plans for disposal of that water.

Panelist Craig Nicholson, a geophysicist from UC Santa Barbara, noted that while there has been a correlation between fracking and an increase in earthquakes in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Midwestern oil fields, the opposite is true in California.

Showing a chart that detailed the earthquake rates compared with fracking wells in Kern County, the only California county where hydraulic water injection — or fracking — is widely used, Nicholson said there has actually been a drop in seismic activity.

Don Clarke, a petroleum geologist, said fracking essentially involves using liquid with various chemicals that is injected underground to fracture rock and release the oil. Other oil extraction methods include injecting hydrochloric acid down wells to dissolve rock.

Brian Segee, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Center in Ventura, contended that there is little oversight of old wells in Ventura County, many of which have permits that go back decades.

Stern pointed out that SB 4 calls for all wells that are fracking to get a permit, even those older wells. “If you’re fracking an old well, you need a permit,” he said.

Stolz, a freelance writer for The Star, said one of the biggest arguments for fracking and increased oil drilling is job creation. He pointed to a University of Southern California study that says using hydraulic fracturing to access oil in the Monterey Formation shale deposit would yield 15 billion barrels of oil and create 500,000 new jobs.

Dave Quast, California director of Energy In Depth, an advocacy group of independent oil producers, said those are “very optimistic” numbers. He added that most oil companies agree that greater openness about their practices will go a long way toward appeasing public unease.

Tom Krause, of the Ojai Chautauqua, ended the session by thanking the 150 or so people who gathered to pose questions or listen.

“This is a community-based project about how people can get together for civic discourse,” said Krause, who said the fracking panel is the third event sponsored by the group.

He concluded by asking people to send in nominations for other topics. For information about the Ojai Chautauqua, call 231-5974 or go online to]

There is a fairly substantial uptick in local production in Ventura County since 2007, from about 7.2 million barrels a year, to about 8.9 million barrels. But it's impossible to know how much, if any, of that uptick can be attributed to fracking — or at least none of the panelists could answer that question.  


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Have compassion for everyone you meet: Williams’s

On an election night sure to plunge us into yet more political discord and disputation, tonight might be a good night to mention the record of the year, sez here, Lucinda Williams' Where the Spirit Meets the Bone.

The record begins with Williams'  musical version of a poem by a man who happens to be her father, the simply great Miller Williams, here in its entirety:

Compassion miller williams

Simple, no? Actually, no, not really — but still, when Lucinda sings it, in her cracked voice in its warped frame, the seemingly simple poem deepens, broadens, stands repetition, becomes a song. 


Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don't want it — a reporter's creed. I hope. 

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“The creative adult is the child who survived”: Banksy

Is this true? Or is there something to be said for the creativity of adults? 


Langer at Harvard might agree about the importance of the youthful mindset, if this fascinating and brilliant study of adults sent back in time is any guide.

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