Wednesday, April 22, 2009

(and other interesting climate topics)

WED APRIL 22 - 4:00 PM. Like many of you, we observe Earth Week in the Foot household by doing what we've always done: recycling, composting, minimizing water usage, keeping nighttime lights to a minimum. In honor of better care for the Earth, I'd like to share some global topics to whet your appetite for the upcoming "bridge lessons" that will transition us to tropical cyclone season. Keep in mind these topics are not meant to stir controversy, but given they are outside what you have believed up to now, the following might provoke strong reactions: (1) The death of La Nina (2) Is Global Warming Over? (3) Ozone layer: getting worse not better.

1. HAS THE WITCH (La Nina) FINALLY DIED? What are the implications for hurricane season and next winter in the Northern Hemisphere if eastern Pacific equatorial waters continue warming into the fall? The quick and dirty answer: Some of North America's most significant hurricane seasons/winter storm seasons since 2000 occured in periods of Nina/Nino switchover. Very recent examples: Winter 2002-03, Isabel, Winter 2003-04, the defanging of Florida in 2004, and the A-Z + season of 2005. The current Nina regime ramped up by 2006 and held forth until now. If we wander back into neutral to weak Nino on a "below the charts" solar minimum next winter...high school seniors in 2009-10 will be LOVIN' LIFE let me tell you!

2. GLOBAL WARMING MIGHT BE OVER...FOR NOW? Over-estimates of solar output may have skewed climate modeling to the point that even the IPCC "low-end" projections of 2.4 to 5.3 deg C warming by 2100 may be too high. A number of reseachers, professional and amateur alike, have been comparing actual global temperature data to what the models predicted. I've got scathingly bad news. The IPCC "likely range" of annual temperature increase was set to 0.3 to 0.9 deg C. As reported by climate monitoring agencies such as the Hadley Centre, global temp increased is BELOW this range.
Example: The 2008 global temperature anomaly was projected to be +0.4 degrees C. ; the actual came in at +0.2 degrees C. Doesn't sound like much, right? That's technically 50% error on a planetary scale of average temperatures. Folks that deviation is so huge it's beyond ginormous as the students would say. How does this compare to current CO2 levels as measured by the Mauna Loa, Hawaii observatory? It depends on your perspective. The reported 2008 CO2 level was 387 ppm, but the "annual mean growth rate" of CO2 from 2007 to 2008 decreased from 2.17% to 1.66%. Yes, CO2 is rising, but aside from the seasonal flucuations, why did the Earth cool more than expected last year if CO2 levels still increased?
Is it fair to say one year's data constitutes a trend? Probably not, but the planet cooled last year for more than one reason, and many suspect the real culprit is the current solar minimum.
There's no question human activity has produced enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. However, what is to explain the apparent disparity between expected global temperatures and current solar activity? The UK-based Hadley Climate Center says this about the sun:
"Changes in solar activity do affect global temperatures, but research shows that, over the last 50 years, increased greenhouse gas concentrations have a much greater effect than changes in the Sun's energy."
Is there a correlation between 2008 being the coldest year globally since 2000 and the fact that sunspot frequency on the sun is lowest since 1913? Something worth investigating. For more hard data, take some time to read this well-done report by the Science and Public Policy Institute... it'll challenge your beliefs if you are a diehard Global Warming fan. They're not a front for FOX or MSNBC. Trust me, it's not politics, just plain good old-fashioned solid scientific data gathered from reputable agencies around the world.
3. YES, VIRGINIA THERE IS A CONNECTION (between Ozone depletion and Global Warming). I know, science teachers everywhere will revolt in embarrassment over this one. We've all been told in class for years that the ozone hole has NOTHING to do with climate change. Ozone layer depletion: that problem is purely interference by CFC's from aerosols, right? Global warming: totally separate topic, right? Wrong. Sources: This
I've learned from the Environmental Science I'm taking presently that warming and expansion of the troposphere has caused cooling and contraction of the stratosphere. Scientists realized in recent years these colder stratospheric temps are allowing aerosol chemicals to more efficiently breakup existing ozone into O2 and atomic oxygen, as well as preventing formation of ozone in the first place. I know, you thought banning CFC-12 and -14 from spray cans, refrigerators and AC units would do the trick, right? Problem is, all the decaying appliances elsewhere in the world are still leaking chlorofluorocarbons. Even worse, any of us who use albuterol in a nebulizer are adding millions of CFCs to the atmosphere with each daily use. Just ONE chlorine atom can neutralize 100,000 ozone molecules. (This is a terrible admission, but my child might be a "climate killer" - she's been on albuterol for 3 years! We didn't know, I'm so sorry everyone! We put the machine away last week so as to not upset you all during Earth Week). Sources: 5/30/2008 FDA report and 8/25/2008 EPA report.
More sources, graphics and other supporting data to be added over the next month. Eventually each of these topics will become their own separate post with a full writeup complete with links to the appropriate VSC's for my science colleagues.

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