A warmer earth is a more “electrifying” world

(Updated) Projections from the global climate model indicate that continued 21st century increases in emissions of greenhouse gases will cause the temperature of the globe to increase by a few degrees. These global changes in a few degrees could have a huge impact on our planet. Whether a few global degrees cooler could lead to another ice age, a few global degrees warmer enables the world to witness more of nature’s most terrifying phenomenon.

According to Anthony D. Del Genio the surface of the earth heats up from sunlight and other thermal radiation, the amount of energy accumulated must be offset to maintain a stable temperature. Our planet does this by evaporating water that condenses and rises upwards with buoyant warm air. This removes any excess heat from the surface and into higher altitudes. In cases of powerful updrafts, the evaporated water droplets easily rise upwards, supercooling them to a temperature between -10 and -40°C. The collision of water droplets with soft ice crystals forms a dense mixture of ice pellets called graupel. The densities of graupel and ice crystals and the electrical charges they induce are two essential factors in producing what people see as lightning.

Ocean and land differences in updrafts also cause higher lightning frequencies. Over the course of the day, heat is absorbed by the oceans and hardly warms up. Land surfaces, on the other hand, cannot store heat and so it warms significantly from the beginning of the day. The great deal of heat above land surfaces is warmer and more buoyant than that over the oceans, creating strong convective storms as the warm air rises. The powerful updrafts, as a result of the convective storms, are more prone to generate lightning.

According to the general circulation model by Goddard Institute for Space Studies, one of the two experiments conducted indicates that a 4.2°C global warming suggests an increase of 30% in global lightning activity. The second experiment indicated that a 5.9°C global cooling would cause a 24% decrease in global lightning frequencies. The summaries of the experiments signifies a 5-6% change in global lightning frequency for every 1°C of global warming or cooling.

As 21st century estimates of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emission remain true, the earth continues to warm and the ocean evaporates more water. This is largely because the drier land surface is unable to evaporate water at the same extent as the oceans, causing the land to warm more. This should cause stronger convective storms and produce higher lightning occurrence.

(Updated) Greater lightning frequencies can contribute to a warmer earth. Lightning provides an abundant source of nitrogen oxides, which is a precursor for ozone production in the troposphere. The presence of ozone in the upper troposphere acts as a greenhouse gas that absorbs some of the infrared energy emitted by earth. Because tropospheric ozone traps some of the escaping heat, the earth warms and the occurence of lightning is even greater. Lightning frequencies creates a positive feedback process on our climate system. The impact of ozone on the climate is much stronger than carbon, especially on a per-molecule basis, since ozone has a radiative forcing effect that is approximately 1,000 times as powerful as carbon dioxide. Luckily, the presence of ozone in the troposphere on a global scale is not as prevalent as carbon and its atmospheric lifetime averages to 22 days.

"Climate simulations, which were generated from four Global General Circulation Models (GCM), were used to project forest fire danger levels with relation to global warming."

(Updated) Lightning occurs more frequently around the world, however lightning only affects a very local scale. The  local effects of lightning is what has the most impact on people. In the event of a thunderstorm, an increase in lightning frequencies places areas with high concentration of trees at high-risk for conducing forest fire. Such areas in Canada are West-Central and North-western woodland areas where they pose as major targets for ignition by lightning. In fact, lightning accounted for 85% of that total area burned from 1959-1999. To preserve habitats for animals and forests for its function as a carbon sink, strenuous pressure on the government must be taken to ensure minimized forest fire in the regions. With 21st century estimates of increased temperature, the figure of 85% of area burned could dramatically increase, burning larger lands of forests. This is attributed to the rise of temperatures simultaneously as surfaces dry, producing more “fuel” for the fires.

Although the affect of lightning has negative effects on our climate system and the people, lightning also has positive effects on earth and for life. The ozone layer, located in the upper atmosphere, prevents ultraviolet light from reaching earth’s surface. Also, lightning causes a natural process known as nitrogen fixation. This process has a fundamental role for life because fixed nitrogen is required to construct basic building blocks of life (e.g. nucleotides for DNA and amino acids for proteins).

Lightning is an amazing and natural occurrence in our skies. Whether it’s a sight to behold or feared, we’ll see more of it as our earth becomes warmer.

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Do you have a minute?

Hey guys, I found a site that displays 50 influential WWF print ads with great meanings behind them. Although all of the ads are directed towards forest and animals conservations, it does show the consequences of what global warming can do and is doing to our planet. If you have a minute, check out the ads here.

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If only I woke up a minute later…

When I first looked up chaos theory I got a load of this… Continue reading

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The Carbon Sink Theory

PMU199,                                                                                                                                         Bon soir!

Toronto Winter

Feeling grey?

Winter in Toronto is a pastel panorama.  As the days run short and ‘seasonal mood’ kicks in, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are high due to a decrease in photosynthesis activity.  Ever present is the seasonal carbon cycle.  However what is it about CO2 that speaks climatic calamities?

Tim Appenzeller’s, The Case of the Missing Carbon (National Geographic) investigates the mystery of change in natures delicate ecosystems.  This is a razor fine balance between environmental carbon sinks (the missing carbon) to carbon sources.  Appenzeller’s preamble summates –  ‘natures role can be unpredictable’, so where in nature can we look for salvation?  He dedicates his article to a few scientific theories that suggest perhaps it is time for us to think about creating our own carbon sinks.  Geologic and carbon sequestrations? Reforestation and biochar? Iron fertilization?  I wish this article dove into cost, conscience, and a broader geography (results) to spark additional reciprocity!

How are carbon sinks identified?  By observation and experiment.  The basic premise is the scientific analysis of natural carbon sinks in the environment i.e. forests, grasslands, soil, waters of the ocean, etc.  A carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon than it releases. Comparing the impact of carbon input into the atmosphere by humans and nature, to my surprise Appenzeller’s statistics revealed that the natural biological process steals back roughly half of the carbon dioxide we emit in a continuous cycle, absorbing some of our excess emissions.  This has been argued to slow carbon dioxide’s build up in the atmosphere, delaying the effects on climate.  If this is true, for how long?  Scientists don’t know.  The counterclaim though, is one to fear.

An exponential growth would change beneficial ecosystems from carbon sinks to sources, releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than they absorb.  These doubts have led to more research into the environment to understand the case of the missing carbon. Harnessing these natural elements, some scientists and engineers argue, could be enhanced so that carbon sinks could ‘hold out’ or even grow, slowing the effect of global warming.  Sounds like ‘science fiction’?

Welcome to the world of modern science! Arizona’s Biosphere 2

Few…doubt that this greenhouse warming of the atmosphere is already taking hold. Melting glaciers, earlier springs, and a steady rise in global average temperature are just some of its harbingers. By rights it should be worse. Each year humanity dumps roughly 8.8 billion tons (8 metric tons) of carbon into the atmosphere, 6.5 billion tons (5.9 metric tons) from fossil fuels and 1.5 billion (1.4 metric) from deforestation. But less than half that total, 3.2 billion tons (2.9 metric tons), remains in the atmosphere to warm the planet. Where is the missing carbon? “It’s a really major mystery, if you think about it,” says Wofsy, an atmospheric scientist at Harvard University.

The backdrop for these hopes and fears is a natural cycle as real as your own breathing and as abstract as the numbers on Wofsy’s instruments. In 1771, about the time of the first stirrings of the industrial revolution and its appetite for fossil fuel, an English minister grasped key processes of the natural carbon cycle. In a series of ingenious experiments, Joseph Priestley found that flames and animals’ breath “injure” the air in a sealed jar, making it unwholesome to breathe. But a green sprig of mint, he found, could restore its goodness. Priestley could not name the gases responsible, but we know now that the fire and respiration used up oxygen and gave off carbon dioxide. The mint reversed both processes. Photosynthesis took up the carbon dioxide, converted it into plant tissue, and gave off oxygen as a by-product.  The world is just a bigger jar.

I provided more direct sources from the article for some context.  Ultimately since then lots has changed in terms of research and experimentation.  The article rests on a conclusion of uncertainty of what could happen to the Earths carbon sinks, thus alternatives are discussed.  Geologic and carbon sequestrations are the most advanced projects by far.  The twofold success: keeping carbon out of the atmosphere, while high-pressure injection could also be used to collect the last drops of oil (gas) out of a depleted field.  Encouraging news for researchers who are working on schemes that would allow humanity to keep burning fossil fuels without ‘dire’ consequences for climate.  The ocean floor, coal, old oil, and gas fields, or deep, porous rock formations I believe, provide much needed opportunism that is already backed by years of investment and research.  The sounds of tapping old deposits, wastelands and deep reserves secures in my mind, a reduced conscience of repercussion based on the premise that these efforts may alleviate the carbon dioxide impact in the Earths atmosphere than previously before.  Thoughts?

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Aerosols: Are They Good or Bad?

A couple of weeks ago, Professor Steve was talking about the extra energy that we are adding to the earth system during one of our sessions (and on his blog). He showed us this chart from the last IPCC report in 2007 that summarizes the various radiative forces from different sources:

Notice how aerosols account for most of the negative radiative forcing. But what are aerosols? What is their direct effect, their contribution in the cloud albedo effect, and do they have any other impact?

Continue reading

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Meet The Global Warming Cash Cow

Remember the Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth? It was probably the most successful environmental documentary which succeeded in raising international awareness of global climate change. The movie made close to 50 million dollars worldwide. When Al Gore is not giving lectures around the world and writing books about global warming, he manages investments in his company, Generation Investment Management, with his friend from Goldman Sachs, David Blood, as the managing partner of the firm. It’s basically a company which sells “carbon offsets” and invest in “green technologies”.

Other companies also seized the opportunity to make money. Did you notice all the “eco-friendly” products are usually more expensive than the other goods? For example, energy-efficient light bulbs are often more expensive than incandescent light bulbs. Many people go green simply because it is trendy and want to do it for social recognition ( Don’t get wrong, I am not telling you to stop making rational environmentally-friendly choices because you are afraid of  being seen as pretentious. There are far more sensible and practical reasons to go green other than to be seen as cool).

Not only are businesses making huge gains by going “green”, governments collect large amount of  dollars from tax payers by implementing carbon taxes, gas taxes and more. Most of the time these taxes already in our water bills, electricity bills, car taxes etc. without us even realizing it. Besides, the government subsidize a lot of money in large scale agribusiness. Corn, one of the major crops grown in Canada, is not only grown as food, but also be used in biofuels. Unfortunately, this has cause world-wide food prices to spike drastically. The idea of using staple foods for energy is wrong. What happens when there is a large scale drought in the growing areas. Do we not drive, or not eat? More importantly, who pays for all of these government subsidizes and policies? Of course, the tax payer will be asked to contribute vast amounts of their personal wealth to pay for the lie. Already, governments around the world are salivating at the prospects of separating you from your money. The rain forests will also suffer tremendous loss. The poor in these nations will realize they can earn more by slashing the forests and planting food for biofuels. These means the rain forests will disappear ever more rapidly (this will reduce the huge carbon sink provided by the rain forests making the CO2 issue worse).

The general population will also pay much more for food. This is happening now in poorer countries, where riots have broken out over food prices. These will only get worse as governments mandate biofuels. Companies grow what makes the easiest profit, and right now that is for biofuels at the expense of our food sources.

Energy prices, such as gas, will also sharply rise. Oil,coal and nuclear are the cheapest forms of energy. That is why they are currently the most utilized. But with mandates of biofuels and renewable sources (very expensive), energy costs will continue to sharply increase.

The unfortunate truth to all of this is the poor are the most drastically effected. Wealthy and middle class people can absorb the increases more easily. The poor (who are the ones rioting) can not absorb the higher costs for energy or food. Thus they will be forced to eat less, and barely survive. Once this gets to bad, then the government will kick in with higher taxes on the wealthy (the producers of the world) and middle class. They will make the excuse that poor need more and more help (only because of the original government mandates). Of course with government, for every $1 you give them, only about 20% makes it to the people who need it. The rest is absorbed by government beauracracy. Expect taxes to raise sharply if we allow them to implement more “green” solutions.

The bottom line, conservation is always a good thing. I myself often turn of the lights when I am leaving my apartment, recycle my garbage every week etc. But having government mandates on such things as fuel and green products will always have a net negative impact. The poor in this country and others are already beginning to feel the pich from the AGW lie. If you think going green is a great idea, then maybe you should stop to think about the consequences.

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Canada vs. the World

In our first lecture we discussed how the majority of Canadians claim that they are concerned about climate change and have adjusted minor details in their lives to contribute towards reducing global warming. Is this actually happening? Or are Canadians choosing to do whats in our own best interest regarding the new theories on climate change?

There are instances going on all around the world today that appear as visible signs of climate change. For example, sea ice in the more northern regions of Canada is taking much longer to form. This is having a significant negative effect on animals, such as the polar bears, in that region. However, some critics of climate change have recently brought up the discussion of whether or not these changes could have a positive effect on Canada’s climate as well as our economy. This topic of discussion seems to be influencing Canadians with a more cynical view towards climate change, especially due to the economic benefits and considering the recent worldwide financial disaster. My assumption of increasing Canadian cynics is based upon the fact that throughout my research on what Canadians are doing to reduce this issue, the majority of information I came across was, in a lot of ways, how the positive effects outweigh the negatives for Canadians.

How might climate change benefit Canadians?

David Lobell from Stanford University concludes a study on harvest growth in Canada and the northern U.S. Harvest season has begun to slow all over the world, except in these regions. Studies show that the Canadian growing season may actually be lengthened. This clearly poses as an economic advantage because Canadian farmers have more product to sell and export. Another economic benefit comes from the melting ice sheets in the Northwest regions of Canada. Along this region lies the Northwest Passage. This passage is so dense with ice that it has only been successfully sailed a small number of times. If the ice were to be eliminated enough to create a safe route, it would reduce the shipping distance between Asia’s Pacific coast and Europe’s western coast by about one third the distance travelled today. With a longer ice-free season means a longer shipping season, and cut travelling costs. This is seen as an important advantage in Canada’s future economy.

How might climate change be a disadvantage to Canadians?

Climate change is currently having a substantial negative effect on Canadian forests. According to a government agency, The Sustainable Forest Management Network, forest fires in Canada have already begun to rise. More specifically, the annual area burned nationally in the Western parts of Canada and Ontario could increase by 74%-118%. Another issue that has recently begun to arise is the agents of higher insect and potential disease frequencies. Insect species such as the mountain pine beetle, the spruce pine beetle, and many more are slowly increasing and becoming potential negative economic impacts on Canadian forests.

So are we as Canadians still trying to make a difference and doing as much as we can to reduce worldwide climate change? It appears that these studies may be subconsciously affecting many Canadians with a selfish outlook. One prime example, reported by CBC, is that Canada is not fighting to meet its commitments for the Kyoto Protocol. The moral is that we Canadians need to shed our selfish views on climate change and deal with this progressing issue as it stands a global issue, and not a personal one.

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Climate Change vs. the Classroom

Since 1995, climate change and topical scientific issues have been a part of England’s national curriculum for 5-16 year olds. This past year, however, government curriculum advisor Tom Oates is pushing for a change.  He recently proposed a drastic reduction of the science syllabus, with climate change on the chopping block.  His explanation?  “Oxidation and gravity don’t date.” Oates believes that science in the classroom should remain true to the core principles, urging the board “to get the science back in science.”

Oates seems to be overlooking some of the key elements of science, and of education as a whole.  Annette Smith, the CEO of the Association for Science Education said to The Guardian, “What I wouldn’t want to lose from the national curriculum is the idea that science is developing all the time and that it impinges on our lives.”  Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment stated “an emphasis on climate change in the curriculum connects the core scientific concepts to topical issues.”  Ward’s argument is in agreeance with teachers across England- and they have a point- that this particular cut to the curriculum undermines the fundamentals of learning and stirs the pot of an already controversial issue.

Oates’ stance on the issue creates an interesting parallel.  Much of the debate on whether or not climate change is classroom-appropriate feels all too similar to the infamous creationism vs. evolution debate.  This is especially exemplified in Texas and Louisiana, USA, states who have both deemed it mandatory for climate change denial to be taught in school.  It seems that climate change is becoming less of a scientific observation and more of a believe-it-or-not blame game.  A survey conducted by the National Science Teachers Association on climate change skepticism showed that 26% came from administrators, 54% from parents, and 82% from the students themselves!  This vast range of uncertainty suggests that the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) now has a new battle to face.

“The anti-climate change controversy is about where the antievolution controversy was 20 years ago. We’ve learned a lot—we including the scientific community—dealing with the evolution controversy and, with luck, maybe we can get ahead of this.” -Eugene Scott, executive director of NCSE.

Amongst all the taboo topics reaching the ears of students today, this one is definitely unexpected.  For the sake of the students, teachers and climate scientists of the world, I certainly hope that the importance of understanding and learning from our world will lead us out of this catastrophe.

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Climate Change and Transportation

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Rising Sea Level Threatens New York City

Big apple New York City stands tall while the dangers of global warming threaten to wash away the fashion capital of the world. Concerns for New York City continue to grow as the city fears the rapidly rising sea levels. Since the fashion industry is worth over $30 billion in the UK, I would imagine that it would be significantly high as well in the US. Since the rising sea level is a threat to New York (with the thought that New York is a major fashion capital), it can be viewed as a threat to the US economy threatening jobs, America’s GDP as well as GNP.

Currently, much of the island lies at less than 16ft above the sea level with parts of lower Manhattan at approximately 5ft. According to Art DeGaetano, a climate scientist at Cornell University and lead author of the ClimAID study, by the mid-2020s, sea levels around Manhattan could rise by 10 inches. Researchers Jianjun Yin, Michael Schlesinger and Ronald Stouffer say that a rise of 8.3 inches could flood lower Manhattan assuming a medium greenhouse gas emission scenario and the continual rapid melting of the polar ice sheets. This becomes a huge threat to the city especially due to the financial district being located in lower Manhattan. Not to mention, the fact that New York is the most populated city in the US with 8,175,833 as the population reaching a record high, and over a 100,000 people living south of Houston (lower Manhattan), a rise of 8.3 inches is a major concern to the city of New York.

Already in the past, the city has seen a fraction of its devastating future where they have been forced to shut down public transportation due to severe rain storms and floods. In 1992, the December Nor’easter caused massive flooding leaving the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel closed and the PATH train shut down. Again in 2007, most of the Manhattan subway lines stopped running due to enormous amounts of rain where afterwards the MTA had to clear 16,000 pounds of debris from its tracks along with the weeks spent repairing electrical equipment.

So what does the future of New York look like?

Malcolm Bowman, an oceanography professor from Stony Brook University in Long Island, predicts that New York may have routinely reoccurring flood days like they do for snow days in the winter. Or, Klaus Jacob, Columbia University research scientist who specializes in disaster risk management, pictures that in 200 years, New York will turn into Venice in a sense that “You may have to build bridges or get Venice gondolas or your little speed boats ferrying yourself up to those buildings,” Jacob said.

What is the city going to do in preparation for future disasters?

David Bragdon, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning & Sustainability, is in charge of preparing for the dangers of future climate change. At Rockaways and building the Willets Point Development in Queens, the city has started taking action by raising pumps at wastewater treatment plant. He would also like to get started on updating the city’s flood evacuation plans. According to my sociology professor, based on his research findings, he believes that the American death toll would have been dropped to 128 people rather than 2300 from Hurricane Katrina if America’s evacuation precautions were more like the Cubans. Maybe there is something to be learned there.

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