News Article | February 15, 2017
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) CEO Rush Holt, a former Democratic congressman, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, before the House Science Committee. He rebuffed claims by Republican members that federal climate science had been falsified. (AP Photo/Michael Biesecker) WASHINGTON (AP) — Another round of bickering is boiling over about temperature readings used in a 2015 study to show how the planet is warming. The issue is about how readings gathered decades ago were adjusted to try to get a clearer picture of how the Earth's temperature is changing now. Those adjustments have been questioned by some who reject mainstream climate science and have tried to claim there has been a pause in global warming. A January study in a scientific journal used another set of measurements to confirm the readings and prove again that the earth's temperature is rising quickly and that the warming has not paused. But a congressional committee on Tuesday seized on complaints from a retired scientist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about how the original data were handled to claim the data were falsified — even though the retired NOAA scientist they cite does not argue that it was. What is being touted as a scientific scandal is more about data handling than what rising temperatures show, according to phone and email interviews with more than two dozen experts on the issue, including the former government scientist, whose blogging Saturday reignited a debate. The hubbub was sparked when retired NOAA data scientist John Bates claimed in a blog post that his boss, then-director of the National Centers for Environmental Information Thomas Karl, "constantly had his 'thumb on the scale' — in the documentation, scientific choices and release of datasets — in an effort to discredit the notion of a global warming hiatus" and rushed a study published in the journal Science before international climate negotiations. Bates said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press that he was most concerned about the way data was handled, documented and stored, raising issues of transparency and availability. He said Karl didn't follow the more than 20 crucial data storage and handling steps that Bates created for NOAA. He said it looked like the June 2015 study was pushed out to influence the December 2015 climate treaty negotiations in Paris. However Bates, who acknowledges that Earth is warming from man-made carbon dioxide emissions, said in the interview that there was "no data tampering, no data changing, nothing malicious." "It's really a story of not disclosing what you did," Bates said in the interview. "It's not trumped up data in any way shape or form." Still, after Bates' blog post, the House Science Committee , a British tabloid newspaper and others who reject mainstream climate science accused NOAA of playing "fast and loose" with land and water temperature data. House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, speaking at a hearing Tuesday, called on Science to retract the 2015 study and blasted NOAA for not being cooperative with his subpoenas. When the journal's publisher Rush Holt, a physicist and former Democratic congressman, said the charges don't support a retraction because the issue is more about data procedures than science, Smith, an attorney, interrupted him and insisted: "They falsified global warming data." The Karl study looked mostly at ocean temperature records several decades old and determined that those older readings skewed too warm when compared to modern monitoring from buoys and other devices because they were taken in ships' engine rooms. He adjusted those old readings down, which makes it clearer that the earth's temperature is rising now. Since then, a new independent study from the University of California, Berkeley looked at the same issue in a different way, and confirmed the Karl calculations. "Not using their data we get the exact same results, both for the ocean record and for the land," said Zeke Hausfather, lead author of the Berkeley study. He called Bates' claims "all about procedural disagreements within NOAA that have very little bearing about our understanding about what's happening to Earth's climate." Marcia McNutt, who was editor of Science at the time the paper was published and is now president of the National Academy of Sciences, praised Bates for wanting to highlight the importance of data archiving, but said his criticisms have little to do with the main part of the paper and chastised the House for using issues of data archiving to try to discredit the 2015 study. "The study has been reproduced independently of Karl et al — that's the ultimate platinum test of whether a study is to be believed or not," McNutt said. "And this study has passed." The Associated Press interviewed more than two dozen experts by phone or email. Most agreed with Karl or didn't take a side but said it didn't matter because global warming continues regardless of this latest kerfuffle. Two supported Bates, saying there were serious scientific integrity concerns. As far as the study being rushed, the journal says its records show otherwise. Science's new editor-in-chief Jeremy Berg said it usually takes 109 days between a paper's submission and its publication. The Karl study was received by the journal on Dec. 23, 2014 and published 185 days later, on June 26, 2015. "The paper was not rushed in any way," McNutt said. "It had an exceptional number of reviewers, many more than average because we knew it was on a controversial topic. It had a lot of data analysis."
News Article | January 5, 2017
Fueling speculations of a climate change hiatus are data showing that from about 1998 to 2012, global temperature rise appeared to plateau, based on NOAA’s Extended Reconstruction Sea Surface Temperature dataset. This so-called pause has been puzzling scientists as well as prompting skeptics to say that human-induced global warming, after all, is a mere hoax. Now a new study has surfaced to say that, no, that data isn’t proof of a hiatus. Across Earth, the oceans have been warming at a relatively steady clip over the last 50 years. Lead author Dr. Zeke Hausfather, a data scientist from the University of California Berkeley, clarifies that warming appears in both datasets in practically the same way — confirming the integrity of the NOAA dataset. However, further evidence showed that ocean temperatures have warmed steadily without a pronounced slowdown. “A fair bit of the apparent hiatus seems to be due to problems in our ocean measurements, and not a real thing," Hausfather told The Christian Science Monitor over the phone. Detailing their findings in the journal Science Advances last Wednesday, Hausfather’s team revisited the data after political chaos erupted in 2015, when the errors were first identified. They discovered that NOAA was right despite the flak they received. In June that year, NOAA updated its dataset, with National Centers for Environmental Information Director Thomas Karl and his NOAA colleagues pointing to a critical flaw in the old database. ERSST version 3b, the said previous version, had a cooling bias over the 15-year period and showed global temperatures as lower than actual. In that controversial research, Karl’s team called the hiatus “an illusion.” “[Scientists at the NOAA] weren’t cooking the books. They weren’t bowing to any political pressure to find results that show extra warming,” Hausfather said, adding that the scientists tried their best to “work with messy data.” Hausfather and the NOAA team agreed that changing technology caused the skewed data. Sea surface temperatures, for long decades, were tracked on ships. This changed in the mid-1990s when researchers started to use thermometers on buoys as a new strategy. The buoys, however, take colder measurements than the previous technique, and scientists in the previous dataset version did not adjust for the difference. When this problem surfaced, the NOAA scientists calculated the difference and weighted the numbers differently to come up with version 4, which revealed that warming was actually more than twice as that on version 3b. The results triggered great controversy, with some politicians suggesting that the team manipulated data out of political motives. What Hausfather’s team did is to do things a little differently, studying trends in data from various sources independently rather than putting composite datasets together as other agencies do. The trends are tracked in sources that include data from buoys, ships, and satellites. Indeed, from 1998 to 2012, temperatures did show some slow rising than predicted in climate models. The slowdown has been attributed to different factors, including the El Niño cycle, multiyear ocean cycles, and even the post-Soviet reforestation in Russia. A massive El Niño event that occurred before that 15-year timeframe, for instance, would have made the following years appear relatively cold, while La Niña could have also helped drive the temperature reading slow. Certain small volcanoes too that were excluded in models could have had their share in the cooling effect, Hausfather explained. For Karl — the lead scientist in the controversy-rocked 2015 paper — the recent findings emphasize the need for independent measurements in order to tackle observational uncertainties, he noted in his email to the Monitor. Whatever slowdown occurred in the 2000s, it also appears to have stopped by now, with the last three years, from 2014 to 2016, breaking all records as the hottest year ever in the modern temperature data. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | December 13, 2016
Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference. The efforts include a “guerrilla archiving” event in Toronto, where experts will copy irreplaceable public data, meetings at the University of Pennsylvania focused on how to download as much federal data as possible in the coming weeks, and a collaboration of scientists and database experts who are compiling an online site to harbor scientific information. “Something that seemed a little paranoid to me before all of a sudden seems potentially realistic, or at least something you’d want to hedge against,” said Nick Santos, an environmental researcher at the University of California at Davis, who over the weekend began copying government climate data onto a nongovernment server, where it will remain available to the public. “Doing this can only be a good thing. Hopefully they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that.” [Trump taps Montana congressman Ryan Zinke, who frequently votes against environmentalists, as Interior secretary] In recent weeks, President-elect Donald Trump has nominated a growing list of Cabinet members who have questioned the overwhelming scientific consensus around global warming. His transition team at the Department of Energy has asked agency officials for names of employees and contractors who have participated in international climate talks and worked on the scientific basis for Obama administration-era regulations of carbon emissions. One Trump adviser suggested that NASA no longer should conduct climate research and instead should focus on space exploration. Those moves have stoked fears among the scientific community that Trump, who has called the notion of man-made climate change “a hoax” and vowed to reverse environmental policies put in place by President Obama, could try to alter or dismantle parts of the federal government’s repository of data on everything from rising sea levels to the number of wildfires in the country. Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, argued that Trump has appointed a “band of climate conspiracy theorists” to run transition efforts at various agencies, along with nominees to lead them who share similar views. [Energy Dept. rejects Trump’s request to name climate change workers, who remain worried] “They have been salivating at the possibility of dismantling federal climate research programs for years. It’s not unreasonable to think they would want to take down the very data that they dispute,” Halpern said in an email. “There is a fine line between being paranoid and being prepared, and scientists are doing their best to be prepared. . . . Scientists are right to preserve data and archive websites before those who want to dismantle federal climate change research programs storm the castle.” To be clear, neither Trump nor his transition team have said the new administration plans to manipulate or curtail publicly available data. The transition team did not respond to a request for comment. But some scientists aren’t taking any chances. “What are the most important .gov climate assets?” Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist and self-proclaimed “climate hawk,” tweeted from his Arizona home Saturday evening. “Scientists: Do you have a US .gov climate database that you don’t want to see disappear?” [Trump taps former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to head Energy Department he once vowed to abolish] Within hours, responses flooded in from around the country. Scientists added links to dozens of government databases to a Google spreadsheet. Investors offered to help fund efforts to copy and safeguard key climate data. Lawyers offered pro bono legal help. Database experts offered server space and help organizing mountains of data. In California, Santos began building an online repository to “make sure these data sets remain freely and broadly accessible.” Climate data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been politically vulnerable. When Tom Karl, director of the National Centers for Environmental Information, and his colleagues published a study in 2015 seeking to challenge the idea that there had been a global warming “slowdown” or “pause” during the 2000s, they relied, in significant part, on updates to NOAA’s ocean temperature data set, saying the data “do not support the notion of a global warming ‘hiatus.’” In response, the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee chair, Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Tex.), tried to subpoena the scientists and their records. That effort launched by Holthaus is one of several underway to preserve key federal scientific data. [Trump has picked the most conservative EPA leader since 1981. This one will face much less resistance.] In Philadelphia, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, along with members of groups such as Open Data Philly and the software company Azavea, have been meeting to figure out ways to harvest and store important data sets. At the University of Toronto this weekend, researchers are holding what they call a “guerrilla archiving” event to catalogue key federal environmental data ahead of Trump’s inauguration. The event “is focused on preserving information and data from the Environmental Protection Agency, which has programs and data at high risk of being removed from online public access or even deleted,” the organizers said. “This includes climate change, water, air, toxics programs.” The event is part of a broader effort to help San Francisco-based Internet Archive with its End of Term 2016 project, an effort by university, government and nonprofit officials to find and archive valuable pages on federal websites. The project has existed through several presidential transitions. [Al Gore just had ‘an extremely interesting conversation’ with Trump on climate change] At the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco, where more than 20,000 earth and climate scientists have swarmed the city’s biggest conference center this week, an air of gallows humor marked many conversations. Some young scientists said their biggest personal concern is funding for their research, much of which relies on support from NASA and other agencies. “You just don’t know what’s coming,” said Adam Campbell, who studies the imperiled Ross Ice Shelf of Antarctica. But others also arrived at the meeting with a strengthened sense of resolve. Campbell was planning to join hundreds of other people at a rally Tuesday, organized in part by the activist group ClimateTruth.org, encouraging researchers to “stand up for science.” “People have felt a call to arms,” Campbell said. “We need to be outspoken.” Lawyers with the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund — which provides legal assistance to researchers facing lawsuits over their work on climate change — will be holding one-on-one consultations with researchers who think they might need help from a lawyer. And the organization’s table in the AGU exhibition hall is piled high with booklets titled “Handling Political Harassment and Legal Intimidation: A Pocket Guide for Scientists.” [Shrinking mountain glaciers are ‘categorical evidence’ of climate change, scientists say] “We literally thought about it the day after the election,” said Lauren Kurtz, the legal defense fund’s executive director. “I have gotten a lot of calls from scientists who are really concerned. . . . So it’s intended in some ways to be reassuring, to say, ‘There is a game plan; we’re here to help you.’” The 16-page guide contains advice for government researchers who believe their work is being suppressed, as well as how scientists should react if they receive hate mail or death threats. Holthaus, who encouraged scientists to flag key databases, said the effort to safeguard them is mostly precautionary. “I don’t actually think that it will happen,” he said of efforts by an incoming administration to obscure or alter scientific data. “But I think it could happen. . . . All of these data sets are priceless, in the sense that if there is a gap, it greatly diminishes their usefulness.” [Trump says ‘nobody really knows’ if climate change is real] That’s the main concern for Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University. He said he doubts that even the most hostile administration would try to do away with existing climate data, given the potential backlash. “I think it’s much more likely they’d try to end the collection of data, which would minimize its value. Having continuous data is crucial for understanding long-term trends,” Dessler said. “Trends are what climate change is about — understanding these long-term changes. Think about how much better off the people who don’t want to do anything about climate change would be if all the long-term temperature trends didn’t exist.” He added, “If you can just get rid of the data, you’re in a stronger position to argue we should do nothing about climate change.” Chris Mooney in Washington and Sarah Kaplan in San Francisco contributed to this report. The Arctic just had its warmest year on record ‘by far,’ scientists report Trump names Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma attorney general suing EPA on climate change, to head the EPA Trump transition team for Energy Department seeks names of employees involved in climate meetings For more, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here and follow us on Twitter here.
News Article | January 6, 2017
The year 2016 has been adjudged as the warmest year in last 38 years, dislodging 1998 from the hottest year slot. This is based on close to four decades' worth of satellite temperature measurements. This was revealed by John Christy, the director of the University of Alabama's Earth System Science Center in Huntsville. According to him, 2016 was warmer by +0.02 degrees Celsius compared to 1998. Even after conceding an error margin to 0.10 degrees Celsius, which means a statistical tie with 1998, Christy said the last year may still qualify as warmest as the Northern Hemisphere was extra hot in 2016. Based on global average temperatures from 1981-2010, the atmosphere was warmer by +0.484 degrees Celsius in 1998, while it was +0.505 degrees Celsius hotter in 2016. Given that temperature trends from satellite data are a tad lower than those based on thermometer readings across the globe, other groups may also pronounce 2016 as the warmest year. "The question is, does 2016's record warmth mean anything scientifically?" Christy said. "I suppose the answer is, not really. Both 1998 and 2016 are anomalies, outliers, and in both cases, we have an easily identifiable cause for that anomaly: A powerful El Niño Pacific Ocean warming event." He said climate studies usually treat phenomena like El Niño as transient, as the focus is on long-term trends as far as temperature is concerned. The data noted instances of high and low temperatures. The warmest average temperature anomaly in December 2016 was recorded at south central China's Qamdo town, where the average temperatures during the month were 3.91 degrees Celsius hotter than seasonal trends. As for the the coolest average temperature, a place in Saskatchewan had December temperatures averaging 4.13 degrees Celsius cooler than seasonal norms. Christy, together with ESSC principal scientist Roy Spencer, was able to obtain precise temperature readings for various regions of the Earth including deserts, oceans, and rain forests through data collected by microwave sounding units on NASA and NOAA satellites. Meanwhile, the Copernicus Climate Change Service, a wing of the Copernicus earth observation program run by the European Union, also confirmed 2016 as the warmest year on record. Its figures showed temperatures of 2016 on a global scale crossed 14.8 degrees Celsius and were up by nearly 1.3 degrees Celsius. The C3S also said that 2016 was close to 0.2 degrees Celsius warmer than 2015. One reason for the global temperatures soaring above average in the second half of 2016 was the disappearing sea ice cover in the Antarctic and Arctic. Predictions are also out on how 2017 will fare in terms of global temperature. It is expected to be among the hottest years in more than 130 years of record-keeping. According to the UK Met Office, El Niño might be over, but 2017 will be one of the hottest. According to forecasters, 2017 temperatures would decline between 0.63 and 0.87 degrees Celsius above the 1961-1990 average. However, "the dip in 2017 is much smaller than the long-term increase," noted Adam Scaife, head of long-range prediction at the Met Office. And because of the rising temperatures brought about by global warming, "each new year is basically predestined to be among the warmest on record," said Deke Arndt, who heads the climate monitoring division of the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 27, 2017
Everett Osborne, 11, Sam Wedzik, 11, and Michael McGuigan, 11, all of North East, stop for ice cream on their way home from school at La Casa De Pizza in North East, Pa., on Friday, as the region saw record-breaking high temperatures. —Forget what Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow showed – spring is making its way to large swathes of the country between two and three weeks ahead of schedule, according to a study from a federal agency. Unseasonably warm temperatures have hit coastal California, southern Nevada, southeastern Colorado, and several Midwestern states as well as parts of the Northeast, according to new maps produced by the USA National Phenology Network, which is led by the United States Geological Survey agency. While shedding some layers and enjoying nice weather in February has come as a treat for many, the unexpected weather changes could pose economic and environmental challenges. “While these earlier springs might not seem like a big deal – and who among us doesn’t appreciate a balmy day or a break in dreary winter weather – it poses significant challenges for planning and managing important issues that affect our economy and our society,” Jake Weltzin, a USGS ecologist and the executive director of the USA-NPN, said in a statement. Those include an influx in harmful insects, such as ticks and mosquitos, as well as increased pollen that can create complications for those with allergies. And while an earlier start to growing season could prove a boon for the agriculture industry, a return to seasonal winter temperatures could bring snow or frost, killing crops that started growing too soon. Further economic impact can come from changes to recreational activities, such as hunting and fishing season and other outdoor activities, according to the USGS statement. February, which is typically the third-coldest month of the year, saw unusually high temperatures during its first three weeks, shattering more warm-weather records across the country than cold ones. "For every cold daily-temperature record we've broken in February, we've broken 62 warm daily-temperature records," Jake Crouch, a climate scientist for the National Centers for Environmental Information in Ashville, N.C., told Live Science. "That ratio is very high. In a normal situation, we would expect those to be a 1-to-1 ratio." With limited data, climate scientists haven’t determined exactly why this February saw warmer temperatures than usual in nearly every part of the US. But they do believe the Arctic polar vortex, which sometimes brings a punch of cold air to the US, instead had greater impact on Russia and northern Europe, which saw “fairly cold” winters, according to Mr. Crouch. It’s unclear if the average February temperature will set a record, as researchers continue to gather daily data throughout the month. But an unprecedented spring-like February would follow three years of record year-round average temperatures, with 2016 marking the hottest year since researchers started collecting the data in 1880, and continue a trend that has raised concerns among scientists. Scientists have known for more than a decade that climate change has been setting spring into motion earlier than before, according to the USGS. “A single warm year is something of a curiosity,” Deke Arndt, the chief of global climate monitoring a the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The New York Times last month. “It’s really the trend, and the fact that we’re punching at the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we’re undergoing big changes.”
News Article | December 20, 2016
The Galápagos Islands are home to a tremendous diversity of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. But why this is, and when it all began, remains something of an open question. Now scientists may have at least one more piece of the puzzle. According to a new study out today in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, the geologic formation of one particular part of the archipelago--the part responsible for the huge biodiversity--formed, approximately 1.6 million years ago. The lead author of the study is CIRES Fellow Kris Karnauskas, who you might say has a thing for these islands. He's studied them extensively, authoring six peer-reviewed scientific papers with "Galápagos" in the title. But one question in particular kept nagging at him: When did the Galápagos become the Galápagos? "I asked around and couldn't get a straightforward answer," says Karnauskas, who's also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. "My geology friends said anywhere between half a million to twenty million years ago, depending on what feature we're talking about." The age of one particular island, or even the whole chain, wasn't quite what Karnauskas was looking for. "I wasn't really interested in when the very first island breached the surface, but when this ecosystem developed," he says. He wanted to put a finger on the geologic event or moment that turned the Galápagos from just another set of ordinary oceanic islands into one of the most biologically diverse spots in the world. "That's not the customary way to ask questions in geology, nor does it lend itself to the usual toolbox." To start with the basics, the Galápagos sit on the Nazca tectonic plate, off the coast of South America. The plate is slowly moving from west to east (about 4 cm each year), and happens to be traveling over a hotspot, a point at which magma from the Earth's core makes it all the way through the crust, forming volcanic islands. The oldest of the Galápagos islands, now eroded and no longer above water, is millions of years old; the youngest island, farther west, currently sits on top of the hotspot. Karnauskas and his colleagues hypothesized that the critical event that caused a biological explosion in the Galápagos came about when the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC) began colliding with the archipelago. The EUC is a current that, because of the laws of physics--the shape of the Earth and the way it spins--is virtually stuck to the equator. But what happens when something gets in the way? "That's what occurred with the Galápagos," says Karnauskas. At some point, a large enough island (or possibly a cluster of them) rose high enough from the seafloor to block the current. Today, it's the island of Isabela that serves that role. "It's a pure accident of geography that Isla Isabela is so large and stands right on the equator, right where the EUC is trying to pass through. This is enough to drive cold, nutrient-rich water up to the surface where it can fuel marine productivity. We can easily see it today from space; the water is very cold and productive just west of the Galápagos along the shores of Isabela. It's no surprise that you'll find all the penguins jumping in the water there." Finding out exactly when the Galápagos blocked the EUC required help from some the paleoceanography community. Karnauskas and his colleagues used previously collected data from sediment cores--deep samples of the sea floor--that had been pulled up from sample sites near the Galápagos Islands and South America. The data files, which are hosted by NOAA Boulder's National Centers for Environmental Information, provided information on changes in sea surface temperatures over millions of years. Low and behold, approximately 1.6 million years ago, they saw shifts in the chemical composition of the fossil bugs in the sediment suggesting a significant change in those temperatures. Cold water that had once been upwelling off the coast of South America was suddenly upwelling along the western shores of the Galápagos instead. That sounded familiar to Karnauskas and coauthors; they knew from their own model experiments conducted over the past decade that this was the fingerprint of the Galápagos blocking the EUC. Coauthor Eric Mittelstaedt, Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Idaho, then developed a new computer model of the archipelago's geologic evolution; by combining that model with Karnauskas' ocean circulation model, the team was able to independently corroborate the timing. At that moment in time (geologically speaking, of course), the Galápagos ecosystem was forever changed. Since the EUC could no longer keep going straight toward the mainland, some of it rushed upward, carrying with it those cold, nutrient-rich waters to the surface, and creating conditions in which the fish, plants and penguins that now call the island chain home could thrive. "Typically, we use known geologic constraints to help explain past changes in the environment such as ocean circulation," says Karnauskas. "In this case, we flipped the problem on it's head, combined models that aren't normally combined, and discovered a new constraint for piecing together the bigger picture of the evolution of, and on, the islands over time. It contributes a unique data point not only for geology but also for ecology and biogeography--where and when life is distributed."
News Article | December 13, 2016
As Earth warms, much of the extra heat is stored in the planet's ocean - but monitoring the magnitude of that heat content is a difficult task. A surprising feature of the tides could help, however. Scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, are developing a new way to use satellite observations of magnetic fields to measure heat stored in the ocean. "If you're concerned about understanding global warming, or Earth's energy balance, a big unknown is what's going into the ocean," said Robert Tyler, a research scientist at Goddard. "We know the surfaces of the oceans are heating up, but we don't have a good handle on how much heat is being stored deep in the ocean." Despite the significance of ocean heat to Earth's climate, it remains a variable that has substantial uncertainty when scientists measure it globally. Current measurements are made mainly by Argo floats, but these do not provide complete coverage in time or space. If it is successful, this new method could be the first to provide global ocean heat measurements, integrated over all depths, using satellite observations. Tyler's method depends on several geophysical features of the ocean. Seawater is a good electrical conductor, so as saltwater sloshes around the ocean basins it causes slight fluctuations in Earth's magnetic field lines. The ocean flow attempts to drag the field lines around, Tyler said. The resulting magnetic fluctuations are relatively small, but have been detected from an increasing number of events including swell, eddies, tsunamis and tides. "The recent launch of the European Space Agency's Swarm satellites, and their magnetic survey, is providing unprecedented observational data of the magnetic fluctuations," Tyler said. "With this comes new opportunities." Researchers know where and when the tides are moving ocean water, and with the high-resolution data from the Swarm satellites, they can pick out the magnetic fluctuations due to these regular ocean movements. That's where another geophysical feature comes in. The magnetic fluctuations of the tides depend on the electrical conductivity of the water - and the electrical conductivity of the water depends on its temperature. For Tyler, the question then is: "By monitoring these magnetic fluctuations can we monitor the ocean temperature?" At the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco this week, Tyler and collaborator Terence Sabaka, also at Goddard, presented the first results. They provide a key proof-in-concept of the method by demonstrating that global ocean heat content can be recovered from "noise-free" ocean tidal magnetic signals generated by a computer model. When they try to do this with the "noisy" observed signals, it doesn't yet provide the accuracy needed to monitor changes in the heat content. But, Tyler said, there is much room for improvement in how the data are processed and modeled, and the Swarm satellites continue to collect magnetic data. This is a first attempt at using magnetic satellite data to monitor ocean heat at all depths, he said, and there is still much more to be done before the technique could successfully resolve this key variable. For example, by identifying fluctuations caused by other ocean movements, like eddies or other tidal components, scientists can extract even more information and get more refined measurements of ocean heat content and how it's changing. More than 90 percent of the excess heat in the Earth system goes into the ocean, said Tim Boyer, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Environmental Information. Scientists currently monitor ocean heat with shipboard measurements and Argo floats. While these measurements and others have seen a steady increase in heat since 1955, researchers still need more complete information, he said. "Even with the massive effort with the Argo floats, we still don't have as much coverage of the ocean as we would really like in order to lower the uncertainties," Boyer said. "If you're able to measure global ocean heat content directly and completely from satellites, that would be fantastic." Changing ocean temperatures have impacts that stretch across the globe. In Antarctica, floating sections of the ice sheet are retreating in ways that can't be explained only by changes in atmospheric temperatures, said Catherine Walker, an ice scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. She and her colleagues studied glaciers in Antarctica that lose an average of 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of elevation per year. They looked at different options to explain the variability in melting - surrounding sea ice, winds, salinity, air temperatures - and what correlated most was influxes of warmer ocean water. "These big influxes of warm water come onto the continental shelf in some years and affect the rate at which ice melts," Walker said. She and her colleagues are presenting the research at the AGU meeting. Walker's team has identified an area on the Antarctic Peninsula where warmer waters may have infiltrated inland, under the ice shelf- which could have impacts on sea level rise. Float and ship measurements around Antarctica are scarce, but deep water temperature measurements can be achieved using tagged seals. That has its drawbacks, however: "It's random, and we can't control where they go," Walker said. Satellite measurements of ocean heat content and temperatures would be very useful for the Southern Ocean, she added. Ocean temperatures also impact life in the ocean - from the microscopic phytoplankton on up. Different phytoplankton thrive at different temperatures and need different nutrients. "Increased stratification in the ocean due to increased heating is going to lead to winners and losers within the phytoplankton communities," said Stephanie Schollaert Uz, a scientist at Goddard. In research presented this week at AGU, she took a look 50 years back. Using temperature, sea level and other physical properties of the ocean, she generated a history of phytoplankton extent in the tropical Pacific Ocean, between 1958 and 2008. Looking over those five decades, she found that phytoplankton extent varied between years and decades. Most notably, during El Niño years, water currents and temperatures prevented phytoplankton communities from reaching as far west in the Pacific as they typically do. Digging further into the data, she found that where the El Niño was centered has an impact on phytoplankton. When the warmer waters of El Niño are centered over the Eastern Pacific, it suppresses nutrients across the basin, and therefore depresses phytoplankton growth more so than a central Pacific El Niño. "For the first time, we have a basin-wide view of the impact on biology of interannual and decadal forcing by many El Niño events over 50 years," Uz said. As ocean temperatures impact processes across the Earth system, from climate to biodiversity, Tyler will continue to improve this novel magnetic remote sensing technique, to improve our future understanding of the planet.
News Article | January 19, 2017
Scientists have reported that 2016 is the hottest year on Earth since record keeping started in 1880 — and it is the third year in a row to set a new record for average global temperatures. The average temperatures last year were the highest recorded since over 130 years ago: 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average according to NASA, and 1.69 degrees Fahrenheit above the same period’s average according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These recorded temperatures “continue a long-term warming trend,” scientists from NASA said in a statement. Across Earth too, there was not a single land area that enjoyed lower-than-average temperatures last year, warned NOAA. The year 2016, in fact, marked the third consecutive warmest year on record globally, with the months from January to August emerging as the warmest on record. "This was the third year in a row in our analysis to set a new record. That happened only once before in our record, and that was in the years 1939 through 1941, which now don't even fit in the top 30 [warmest years] of the record,” explained Deke Arndt, global monitoring chief at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, at a press briefing. The poles felt the brunt of this warming trend, with the estimated average yearly sea-ice extent last year in the Arctic appearing to be the lowest annual average on data. It was 3.92 million square miles, the National Snow and Ice Data Center revealed. The Arctic was nearly 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter last year than in preindustrial period, a “very large change” according to Goddard Institute for Space Studies director Gavin Schmidt. The El Niño phenomenon, a climate cycle marked by abnormally warm temperatures in the Pacific, raged through 2015 and 2016 and contributed to the record temperatures. Phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña warm or cool the upper tropical Pacific Ocean and result in corresponding global wind and weather pattern variations. However, 90 percent of the warming was because of human activity, primarily via greenhouse gas emissions, Schmidt said further. The scientists used global climate models to probe how various factors such as solar changes, volcanic impacts, changes in Earth’s orbit, and man-made effects such as greenhouse gases played a part in climate change. They analyzed not just surface air temperatures but also the data from the upper atmosphere, stratosphere, and deep ocean. What they discovered: the natural factors’ contribution to the record heat is so close to zero, with the long-term trend being seen today surfacing as the consequence of human activity. It’s dominantly the climb in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, Schmidt added. Tech Times previously reported that in the United States, 2016 ranked second warmest in records dating back 1895, with every single state and city in the Lower 48 states getting warmer than usual last year. Average temperature in the country last year was 54.9 degrees Fahrenheit, which was nearly 3 degrees higher than long-term average. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | January 10, 2017
For the United States, 2016 ranked second warmest in records dating back 1895, with every single state and city in the Lower 48 states warmer than usual last year. Average temperature in the nation during that time was 54.9 degrees Fahrenheit — almost 3 degrees more than long-term average. The warmest year for the country was 2012, which had an average temperature of 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Last year was the 20th consecutive warmer-than-usual year, with an average warming rate of 0.15 degree Fahrenheit every decade, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported. Dubbing 2016 “a year of temperature and precipitation extremes,” the NOAA said that every state registered one of their top 7 warmest years on record. “The breadth of the 2016 warmth is unparalleled in the nation's climate history,” the agency wrote. Thirty-four U.S. cities logged their warmest year on file, including New Orleans, Houston, Nashville, Atlanta, New York (La Guardia), El Paso, and Barrow (Alaska). Alaska registered its warmest year for the third time in as many years, with nearly 6 degrees above average in temperature, still climbing at a rate of 0.3 degrees each decade. The country also saw extreme rainfall, with a number of severe rainfall events adjudged as 1 in 1,000 year happenings, including torrential rains in northern Louisiana in March and eastern North Carolina in October brought about by Hurricane Matthew. “Catastrophic flooding” also hit Louisiana back in August, with losses from four inland flooding events in Texas, West Virginia, and Louisiana exceeding $15 billion. The United States, however, does not have a monopoly of unusually warm temperatures, as NOAA and NASA are poised to announce 2016 as the warmest year on record around the world for the third time in many years. Based on nearly four decades’ worth of satellite temperature measurements, the Earth System Science Center of the University of Alabama already hailed 2016 as the warmest year in the last 38 years, ousting the year 1998 from the said slot. It was warmer by +0.02 degrees Celsius compared to 1998. As temperature trends from satellite data are a bit lower than those reflected by temperature readings across the world, other groups are expected to pronounce 2016 as the warmest year. The question, said the science center’s director John Christy, is whether this means anything scientifically. “Both 1998 and 2016 are anomalies, outliers, and in both cases, we have an easily identifiable cause for that anomaly: A powerful El Niño Pacific Ocean warming event.” Not really, he believed. The focus, as far as temperature is concerned, is on long-term trends rather than phenomena such as El Niño, he added. Predictions for 2017, though, still remain glum, as this year is expected to be among the hottest in over 130 years’ worth of record. El Niño might be over, but this year will still continue to sizzle, the UK Met Office said. Every new year is practically poised to become the warmest on record based on the rising temperatures caused by global warming, warned the Deke Ardnt, head of the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information’s climate monitoring office. Scientists also recently urged everyone to forget about the so-called global warming pause, as oceans steadily warm and negate claims of a climate change hiatus. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 2, 2016
Behold the mysterious groundhog. We know them as prognosticators of spring and muses for cult movies, but these furry creatures from the pantheon of giant rodents have other secrets to reveal. Here we tell all in 23 sentences. 1. The groundhog (Marmota monax) is one of 14 species of marmots and is closely related to squirrels: “They are giant ground squirrels is what they are,” says Richard Thorington, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. 2. While most marmots are gregarious and love company, groundhogs are loners; the "monax" in their name is Latin for "solitary." 3. Groundhogs go by several aliases, including woodchuck, whistle-pig, forest marmot, and land beaver. 4. A woodchuck can’t chuck wood – the name doesn’t have to do with wood, rather it is thought to have its roots in Native American language. 5. As “true hibernators,” groundhogs go into a dormant state and can reduce their body temperature to 41F degrees and slow their hearts to about five beats a minute. Shenandoah National Park/Flickr/CC BY 2.06. To survive winter during hibernation, they feast all summer on plants … like your garden … which is why groundhogs, cute as they may be, are not adored by all. 7. Along with vegetation, they also eat grubs, grasshoppers, insects, snails, other small animals and bird eggs. 8. They can reach 24 inches in length. 9. They weigh between 12 and 15 pounds. 10. They’re impressive builders; a groundhog’s burrow can extend up to 66 feet long, with multiple levels, exits, and rooms. They even have bathrooms. 11. And they can really dig: A single groundhog can move over 700 pounds of dirt when making a burrow. 12. Their dens are important for other animals too; red foxes, gray foxes, opossums, raccoons, and skunks often take up residence in homes built by groundhogs. S. M. Kriebel/Flickr/CC BY 2.013. Although they conform to their name by staying primarily on the ground, groundhogs are also decent swimmers and can climb trees! 14. Like other members of the rodent family Sciuridae, groundhogs have exceedingly dense cerebral bones and can survive blows to the skull that would likely be fatal to other mammals of the same size. 15. Unlike other sciurids, groundhogs have a curved spine, as do moles. 16. Mom groundhogs have one litter per year of two to six babes, which are called kits or pups. 17. Groundhogs are very clean, which may be one of the reasons they are resistant to the diseases that periodically decimate large numbers of wild animals. Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.018. When not feeding or burrowing, groundhogs will stand erect and be on the lookout; when sensing danger, they emit a high-pitched squeaky whistle. 19. They have great timing and know exactly when to wake up from their fall/winter slumber; if they miss the short mating window, babies born too early won’t have enough food, those born too late they won’t be able to gain enough weight for winter. 20. Artifacts found in a groundhog hole led to the discovery of an important archeological site in Pennsylvania. 21. Groundhog Day comes from the German Candlemas Day, but the original shadow-caster was a hedgehog; German settlers in Pennsylvania found groundhogs plentiful, and thus, it’s Groundhog Day not Hedgehog Day. 22. While Punxsutawney Phil is the nation's premiere rodent meteorologist, he's not the only one, consider these other shadow-casting contenders: General Beauregard Lee of Atlanta, Georgia; Sir Walter Wally of Raleigh, North Carolina; Jimmy of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin; Octorara Orphie of Quarryville, Pennsylvania; Staten Island Chuck from the Staten Island Zoo; Unadilla of Nebraska; Buckeye Chuck of Ohio; French Creek of West Virginia; and the Cajun Groundhog from Louisiana. 23. But even so, based on past weather data, not even Punxsutawney Phil can likely really forecast the weather: "There is no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years of the analysis," according to a report released by the National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, N.C. ... since 1988, Phil was "right" 13 times and "wrong" 15 times ... but that won't keep us from rooting for a quick return to spring. This updated story was originally published on TreeHugger in 2015.