Just in case you forgot (I did, somehow), today is Earth Day. The best bloggy way I can think of to celebrate Earth Day is to start a new meme. This one is on Earth Day resolutions.
I'd like you to take a minute or two to come up with three things that you can do to be more environmentally friendly. The first should be something that's small, and easy to do. The second should be more ambitious - something you'll try to do, but might not manage to pull off. The third should be something you can do to improve something you're already doing.
Small: From now on, all laundry will be done in cold water.
Bigger: At the end of the summer, I will make at least one tomato salad using tomatoes and herbs I've grown myself.
Better: From now on, I will return the reusable shopping bags to the car as soon as they're unpacked, so that I don't forget to bring them to the store and wind up using plastic again.
What are you going to do? Leave your resolutions in the comments here, or on your own blog, or on whatever blog you read this at. At the end of the week, I'll try to round up and summarize all the responses (tagging posts with smallbiggerbetter would help me do that). Once you've made your resolutions, tag a few of your friends and ask them to do the same.
Technorati Tags: smallbiggerbetter
The New York Times has recently taken some flack as the result of Nicholas Dawidoff's New York Times Magazine profile of Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson. Times science blogger Andrew Revkin has also received some less than favorable reviews of a post he wrote about the article. The bulk of the criticism revolves around the treatment given to Dyson's views on climate change, and is well warranted.
Neither Dawidoff nor Revkin apparently thought it necessary or desirable to subject any of Dyson's views or proposals to any sort of reality check. This is at least somewhat strange. Dyson's views are aggressively opposed to the strong scientific consensus on the issue, and yet he has not been very involved in research in the field. At the same time, some of the ideas that he proposes for climate change mitigation are outlandish, to say the least.
There are times when the perspective of someone outside a particular field can come up with an insight into a problem that has baffled those who have worked on the issue for years, and Dyson's clearly a pretty bright guy. Luis Alvarez's work on the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction is a fantastic example of this, and it's clearly important to keep that possibility in mind. It's also important to remember that, just like every inventor who gets laughed at is not a Fulton, the distinguished scientist from the other field is not always going to be right.
When the distinguished scientist in question is suggesting specific ideas, it's not always all that hard to do a quick back-of-the-envelope check to see just how feasible - or not - the idea is. That's certainly the case with Dyson's Magic Trees.
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When we talk about the role of fossil fuels in climate chance, what we're really talking about is the carbon cycle. That's the term that scientists use to describe the different forms that carbon is stored in on the earth, and the different ways that it can move from form to form. Understanding the carbon cycle is one of the keys to understanding both the effect of burning carbon-based fuels and the issues involved in trying to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. According to a paper in the latest edition of Science, there may still be some pretty significant gaps in our knowledge of the carbon cycle. In particular, it looks like our understanding of the way carbon moves through the oceans may have been suffering because we didn't know poop about fish poop.
Before we get down to the gritty details and talk about what poop has to do with anything, it might be good to start with a quick review of the carbon cycle. Actually, it might be even better to start with a quick review of one of those concepts that we all learn in third-grade physics, but don't think about much in our day to day world: the law of conservation of mass/matter.
Matter is not created or destroyed. Therefore the amount of mass in a closed system will remain constant no matter what happens.
Like most things in science, that might be a bit of a simplification, but when we're looking at something the size of the Earth, it's good enough. Relativity, quantum mechanics, and space dust might all complicate things a bit, but not enough to matter. For our purposes, we can reasonably assume that all the carbon that we're putting into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide has been here since the earth was formed, and that if we want to take the carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere, we're going to have to find somewhere on this planet to store the carbon.
With that in mind, let's look at the some of the more important ways that carbon can move through the crust, oceans, and biosphere, and atmosphere.
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If you have any doubt about how dangerous Hurricane Ike is likely to be, I've got some pictures for you. These pictures were taken within the past two hours, on the shoreline along the grounds of Naval Air Station Pensacola.
This is a sheltered shoreline, protected by both barrier islands and sandbars, and typical wave heights run under one foot. Currently, they're running at about 3 feet, on top of a water level that looks to be at least 3-5 feet above where it should be. So far, this storm has done more to reshape the beaches I looked at than Gustav did, and Gustav came closer and was moving toward us.
The conditions I was looking at were taking place at a time when the storm center was more than 350 miles to the south, and moving more or less parallel to the shoreline. This storm is moving a hell of a lot of water around. You do not want to be in front of it. If you've been told to get out of the way, get out of the way.
The pictures can be found below the fold.
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This one probably isn't the hardest quiz I've come up with, but give it a shot anyway. Here's the question: how is the specific airplane in this picture connected to atmospheric science research?
Let's try something new this week: email your answer to me at email@example.com instead of posting it in the comments. I'll announce the names of everyone to get the right answer on Monday.
Over the last couple of decades, a great deal of research has been done on the effect of global warming on coral reefs. The vast majority of that research has focused on the currently observed and potential future effects of climate change on reef-building corals. Coral, however, are not the only organisms that contribute to building a reef. A group of organisms known as the "coralline algae" also secrete calcium carbonate, and contribute to building up reefs. In a paper available online in advance of publication at Nature Geoscience, a group of researchers report on the results of an experiment conducted to observe what will happen to coralline algae by the year 2100 if atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide continue to rise at the present rate.
The experiment was carried out at the Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology's Coconut Island facility. The HIMB facility is extremely well suited to this kind of experiment, because it's location and facilities make it relatively easy to set up well-controlled experiments. Coconut Island is located in Kaneohe Bay, and is surrounded by a coral reef. There are both indoor and outdoor lab facilities available there, some of which are located within 10 meters of the reef, and the island has a seawater system that draws water directly from the reef. As a result, it's a lot easier to set up an experiment where you want to look at the effects of a change in one parameter on a reef environment at HIMB than it is in most other locations.
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Last night, in Oslo, Al Gore delivered a simple, powerful message. It's a familiar message to anyone who has watched him speak since 2000, or watched his movie, or read his books. It's simply a call for nothing more or less than the need for all of us to accept responsibility for the effects of our actions:
So today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. And tomorrow, we will dump a slightly larger amount, with the cumulative concentrations now trapping more and more heat from the sun.
As a result, the earth has a fever. And the fever is rising. The experts have told us it is not a passing affliction that will heal by itself. We asked for a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. And the consistent conclusion, restated with increasing alarm, is that something basic is wrong.
We are what is wrong, and we must make it right.
All that Gore is asking is that people accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions. We - particularly those of us in the industrialized world - are the ones responsible for climate change. It is only fair for us to accept the responsibility for mitigating the problems that we have caused. It may cost us something to do that. It will not be easy for us, and it may well require each of us to make some sacrifices.
But nobody ever said that accepting responsibility is supposed to come without costs.
It's somewhat ironic that most of the political opposition to taking action on climate change comes (at least in the United States) from the conservative side of the political spectrum. Some of the most vocal opponents of taking action to mitigate our impact on the climate are some of the same people who have, time and again, castigated their political opponents for being unwilling to subject people to the consequences of their actions. They are big on making other people accept the alleged consequences for their actions (many of which involve such heinous deeds as daring to be poor), but when it comes time to face up to things that they have been involved in, they take refuge in the claim that their responsibility has only been proven beyond reasonable doubt - but it hasn't yet been shown to be beyond unreasonable doubt.
That claim was addressed (indirectly) by R. K. Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in his own Nobel Lecture last night:
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I've been paying a little more attention to Hurricane Humburto than I do to most hurricanes, mostly because the thing came out of nowhere, and got really strong, really fast. I'm not a hurricane-pundit type, but I thought it was a little strange that the storm developed so quickly. Turns out I'm not the only one wondering how that happened. Here's a bit from the latest National Hurricane Center forecast discussion for the storm:
BASED ON OPERATIONAL ESTIMATES...HUMBERTO STRENGTHENED FROM A 30 KT
DEPRESSION AT 15Z YESTERDAY TO A 75 KT HURRICANE AT 09Z THIS
MORNING...AN INCREASE OF 45 KT IN 18 HOURS. TO PUT THIS
DEVELOPMENT IN PERSPECTIVE...NO TROPICAL CYCLONE IN THE HISTORICAL
RECORD HAS EVER REACHED THIS INTENSITY AT A FASTER RATE NEAR
LANDFALL. IT WOULD BE NICE TO KNOW...SOMEDAY...WHY THIS HAPPENED.
I think that pretty much says it all.