Then, a few hours before landfall, Sandy began a sharp curve toward the west, moving toward the heart of the approaching midlatitude trough of low pressure. In Shapiro’s view, this marked an apparent warm seclusion trying to take place on top of the storm’s fast-decaying warm core.
I asked Shapiro how often he’s seen a storm like Sandy. He replied, “Never.”
Gives an idea: Shapiro's motion graphics are far more compelling (if a little cumbersome to load). Final image, which graphs Sandy's "vorticity," is perhaps the most compelling of all.
As has been reported everywhere, one earthly species has changed the climate here on earth, driving warming CO2 levels (briefly) to 400 parts per million. When was the last time this happened?
As Climate Central reported on May 3, there is no single, agreed-upon answer to when CO2 concentrations were last at this level, as studies show a wide date range from between 800,000 to 15 million years ago. The most direct evidence comes from tiny bubbles of ancient air that act as time capsules, sealing ancient air in the vast ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland. By drilling for ice cores and analyzing the air bubbles, scientists have found that, at no point during at least the past 800,000 years have atmospheric CO2 levels been as high as they are now.
A 2011 study in the journal Paleoceanography found that atmospheric CO2 levels may have been comparable to today’s as recently as sometime between 2 and 4.6 million years ago, during the Pliocene epoch, which saw the arrival of Homo habilis, a possible ancestor of modern homo sapiens, and when herds of giant, elephant-like Mastadons roamed North America. Modern human civilization didn’t arrive on the scene until the Holocene Epoch, which began 12,000 years ago.
Best reporting on this may come from National Geographic, fittingly. Can we leave aside the politics and the science for a moment? Just a moment. Put ourselves in this moment, approx 3 million years ago. Ask what it felt like outside:
What was Earth like then? In Africa, grasslands were replacing forests and our ancestors were climbing down from the trees. (See related: "The Evolutionary Road.") On Ellesmere, there were no longer alligators and cypress trees, but there were beavers and larch trees and horses and giant camels—and not much ice. The planet was three to four degrees Celsius warmer than it was in the 19th century, before man-made global warming began.
If anything, those numbers understate how different the Pliocene climate was. The tropical sea surface was about as warm as it is now, says Alexey Fedorov of Yale University, but the temperature gradient between the tropics and the poles—which drives the jet streams in the mid-latitudes—was much smaller. The east-west gradient across the Pacific Ocean—which drives the El Niño-La Niña oscillation—was almost nonexistent. In effect, the ocean was locked in a permanent El Niño. Global weather patterns would have been completely different in the Pliocene.
Above we see an imagined day from an unimaginably vast plain of time. But looking at that illustration, and seeing but one of those creatures still around, the condor, on a day like today, when the afternoon temp reached 102 in Upper Ojai, a day after 106 in Ojai, twenty degrees over the average temperature, and one can't help but think of what the experts say, the sheer variability of the climate.
The changes we've experienced, the big storms, the heat waves, the Santa Anas, have been so little as compared to what could be.
Chris Hayes throws a fit over climate denial and inaction tonight on his MSNBC show:
There is only one leg on which climate change denial stands: Money.
A couple of weeks ago I published a long story about climate change in Ventura County today but didn't mention shifts in the timng of Santa Ana winds. This despite the fact that from talking to Alex Hall of UCLA, a couple of years ago, I knew that evidence suggests that Santa Ana winds now can come later in the year than the fall. (Which was when we most experienced these notorious winds in the past.) And even though this shift had been confirmed by talks with representatives from the Ventura County Fire Department. Today a spokesperson for the VCFD commented on the winds and the major wildfire -- the Camarillo Springs fire -- we had this week:
"We're seeing fires burning like we usually see in late summer, at the height of the fire season, and it's only May," said Tom Kruschke.
It's a good example of the complexity of climate change, or a goof on my part, but in either case raises the question -- what is going on with these winds? When I talked to Hall, he suggested that we may see fewer Santa Anas in September and October, and more later in the year. (Though he certainly didn't mention May!) He told KQED's Climate Watch in 2011:
“When you have a changing climate, the land surface is warming up a lot more rapidly than the ocean, and that tends to weaken this mechanism,” Hall told me. That could mean fewer of these seaward blasts, at least during the winter months, as a kind of consolation.
“In trying to understand how fire will behave in the future, we have to look at the effect of precipitation on the fuel loads and we have to be looking at the effect of Santa Anas on fire behavior,” said Hall. “So I think there are some really interesting questions to look at.”
Hall pointed out to me to another of Santa Ana virtues: Offshore winds tend to blow grit and dust into the ocean, adding nutrients, and cleaning the air. Change need not be disaster, in other words.
Another example of this was mentioned in the Los Angeles Times this morning. Despite consuming 28,000 acres of vegetation and forcing the evacuation of 5000 people, this fire hasn't hurt any person, and hasn't destroyed a single house. Given the scale of the blaze, that's darn impressive.
Dr. Jeff Masters gives it a name -- "weather whiplash" -- and explains how it happens:
I'm often asked about the seemingly contradictory predictions from climate models that the world will see both worse floods and worse droughts due to global warming. Well, we have seen a classic example in the Midwest U.S. over the past two years of just how this kind of weather whiplash is possible. A warmer atmosphere is capable of bringing heavier downpours, since warmer air can hold more water vapor. We saw an example of this on Thursday morning, when an upper air balloon sounding over Lincoln, Illinois revealed near-record amounts of moisture for this time of year. The precipitable water--how much rain could fall if one condensed all the water vapor in a column above the ground into rain--was 1.62", just barely short of the Illinois April record for precipitable water of 1.64" set on April 20, 2000 (upper air records go back to 1948.) Thursday's powerful low pressure system was able to lift that copious moisture, cool it, and condense it into record rains. So how can you have worse droughts with more moisture in the air? Well, you still need a low pressure system to come along and wring that moisture out of the air to get rain. When natural fluctuations in jet stream patterns take storms away from a region, creating a drought, the extra water vapor in the air won't do you any good. There will be no mechanism to lift the moisture, condense it, and generate drought-busting rains. The drought that ensues will be more intense, since temperatures will be hotter and the soil will dry out more.
The new normal in the coming decades is going to be more and more extreme flood-drought-flood cycles like we are seeing now in the Midwest, and this sort of weather whiplash is going to be an increasingly severe pain in the neck for society. We'd better prepare for it, by building a more flood-resistant infrastructure and developing more drought-resistant grains, for example. And if we continue to allow heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide continue to build up in the atmosphere at the current near-record pace, no amount of adaptation can prevent increasingly more violent cases of weather whiplash from being a serious threat to the global economy and the well-being of billions of people.
It's hard to comprehend the scale of the threat, as is so often the case with climate change. Here's a NASA image, from the Precipitation Measurement Mission, to try to help:
In 1962, in his second novel, The Drowned World, J.G. Ballard told a story of steadily rising global temperatures, of ice caps melting and rising seas, of humidity and rains and lizards moving into skyscrapers. It's an extraordinary book, for its imagination and artistry and language, but also for its vison of global warming.
Might a reader want an example? Here's the first paragraph:
Soon it would be too hot. Looking out from the hotel balcony shortly after eight o'clock, Kerans watched the sun rise behind the dense groves of giant gymnosperms crowding over the roofs of the abandoned department stores four hundred yards away on the east side of the lagoon. even through the massive olive-green fronds the relentless power of the sun was plainly tangible. The blunt refracted rays drummed against his bare chest and shoulders, drawing out the first sweat, and he put on a pair of heavy sunglasses to protect his eyes. The solar disc was no longer a well-defined sphere, but a wide expanding ellipse that fanned out acros the eastern horizon like a colossal fire-ball, its reflection turning the dead leaded surface of the lagoon into a brilliant copper shield. By noon, less than four hours away, the water would seem to burn.
On SFSite, Victoria Strauss discusses the book insightfully:
The Drowned World posits (presciently, as it turns out) that the world has been overwhelmed by a catastrophic greenhouse effect. It differs from our own impending disaster in that it's natural rather than man-made. In Ballard's scenario, violent solar storms have depleted the outer layers of Earth's ionosphere; as these vanish, temperature and solar radiation begin to climb, melting the polar ice-caps. This enormous outflow of water carries with it tons of topsoil, damming up the oceans and entirely changing the contours of the continents, drowning some parts of the world and landlocking others. At the same time, the increased radiation produces freak mutations in Earth's flora and fauna, initiating a new biological era reminiscent of the Triassic period, in which reptiles and giant tropical plants were the dominant forms of life.
Strauss gives us a sense of how the book develops, which is more about a compelling idea than a plot. At one point, dreams overtake the narrative:
...some of the expedition members begun having strange dreams, of a primeval swamp dominated by a huge burning sun that pulses to the rhythm of their own heartbeat.
These dreams, it turns out, aren't random occurences or signs of stress, but the first warming of a much deeper process. Human beings, responding to stimuli embedded in their genetic makeup billions of years earlier, are beginning to devolve. The dreams aren't dreams at all, but memories...
The writing blends the surreal and the futuristic. The characters surprise us with their actions; for example, not wanting to leave the flooded city, though life there is unsustainable. The book flies by. But even if the book werenot brilliantly written, it almost wouldn't matter. Ballard's idea alone would be enough to carry us into the future, and to the end.
California does not need fear hurricanes, but it does every few years face El Niño, an oceanic shift that drives unimaginably vast amounts of water across the Pacific and up against the coasts of North and South America, raising the sea level by as much as a foot. It is similar to the storm surge that comes ashore with a hurricane, according to Susi Moser, a climate researcher at Stanford.
“Twelve inches [of sea level rise] is well within the kind of projection we can expect from a good storm surge during an El Niño,” she said. “It’s not exactly comparable to Superstorm Sandy because, for the most part, California’s coast is fairly steep. But where it is flat, such as low-lying areas around Ventura Harbor and the Oxnard shores, we have to expect major flooding. It’s not the end of the world for California, but if you think about the landfill areas in San Francisco Bay, for example, and take out the entire inner ring of the bay and lose the airport, that’s a pain in the ass.”
Like a scientist who can speak bluntly. Learned a lot doing this story -- interesting to see that projections from fourteen different climate models found that falls especially will be hotter, but Januaries will be as cold as ever. Hope you like the story.
Last weekend I wrote a story about a conference in UCSB on sea level change in the Ventura County Star. To quote Rear Admiral (ret) David Titley, a meterologist who once was a skeptic but now believes in climate change:
“I’ve told the Navy and Congress that we should expect a global sea rise between now and the year 2100 of about 1 meter,” Titley told a hall full of students and others Friday who attended the conference, called “Risk and Uncertainty and the Communication of Sea Level Rise.”
“If I’m wrong, I’m probably wrong on the low end,” he said.
A profile of Vice magazine (and its CEO Shane Smith) in The New Yorker concludes with this memorable scene. And yes, this was a report on climate change, from a believer in "environmentalism" -- Smith.
We took a water taxi through the canals, past crumbling buildings and water-stained walls, and arrived at San Marco just as the floodwaters were rising. The area was swarming with tourists, and a narrow pathway of raised wooden planks was threaded precariously through the square. As the water rose, the tourists crossed the square on the planks, shuffling in a long, two-person-wide line, like animals boarding Noah’s Ark.
“It’s fantastic,” Smith said, watching the tourists. He began to talk about global warming. “Humans won’t do anything unless we have a gun pointed to our heads. But I think this is it. I think we have a gun pointed to our heads. It’s like, ’K, chaps, it’s time to fucking fix it!”
Lombardi had bought Smith and his crew some plastic waders from a souvenir stand. He and his cameraman put them on and strode into the knee-deep water. Smith kept his hands in his pockets as Fairman filmed. I waded a few feet behind. The water was filthy, and occasionally a dead pigeon floated past. Someone was playing the piano in a café at the edge of the square, and its tinkling sounds filled the air. Smith began doing a little waltz in the water. He marvelled, “It’s all eerily surreal.”
About halfway into the square, Smith stopped. A few hundred yards away, he spotted the Bar Americano, which had a foot of water inside but appeared to be open for business. Smith had an idea. “You know what’ll make this a Vice story?” he called over his shoulder. “We’re going to walk into a bar and have a drink!” The idea had all the elements of a Vice feature—a collision of tragedy, hedonism, and world-shaping events. Smith mused, with evident pleasure, “The world is sinking, and we’re having a drink.”
He waded in the direction of the bar, and the cameraman followed. A tourist pointed and shouted, “CNN!”