More On Climate Change And Superstorm Sandy

Here’s another analysis, from Washington Post Capital Weather Gang blogger Jason Samenow, that is both balanced and detailed. Based on what we know about Sandy, and the scientific literature, here are his five big takeaways:

1) Sandy should not be “blamed” on climate change. Climate change does not cause storms and did not cause Superstorm Sandy. Storms form when certain weather ingredients come together. The historic record shows violent storms, some even more severe than Sandy, have struck the Northeast repeatedly..

2) While climate change did not cause Sandy, it may have been a performance enhancer like a steroid, injecting it with somewhat more energy and power.

3) Sea level rise from manmade climate change increased the water level along the Northeast coast 6 to 8 inches and, as a result, somewhat worsened the coastal flooding from Sandy.

4) There is speculation that decreased Arctic sea ice from manmade climate change altered atmospheric steering currents, strengthening the weather system in the North Atlantic that helped to push Sandy ashore in the Northeast. This idea is controversial.

5) Climate change is likely to slowly increase the intensity of hurricanes in the future, but trends in storm frequency are less certain and the number of storms may actually decrease. Sea levels will continue to rise adding to the coastal flood risk.

He goes on to examine each of these in detail, and includes lots of links to research and related articles. So if you want the full monty on Sandy and climate change I urge you to read the whole thing.

Superstorm Sandy And Global Warming II

Already getting some pushback from wannabe deniers, so I thought I would put this analysis from Scientific American out there as well. The key section:

The hedge expressed by journalists is that many variables go into creating a big storm, so the size of Hurricane Sandy, or any specific storm, cannot be attributed to climate change. That’s true, and it’s based on good science. However, that statement does not mean that we cannot say that climate change is making storms bigger. It is doing just that—a statement also based on good science, and one that the insurance industry is embracing, by the way. (Huh? More on that in a moment.)

Scientists have long taken a similarly cautious stance, but more are starting to drop the caveat and link climate change directly to intense storms and other extreme weather events, such as the warm 2012 winter in the eastern U.S. and the frigid one in Europe at the same time. They are emboldened because researchers have gotten very good in the past decade at determining what affects the variables that create big storms. Hurricane Sandy got large because it wandered north along the U.S. coast, where ocean water is still warm this time of year, pumping energy into the swirling system. But it got even larger when a cold Jet Stream made a sharp dip southward from Canada down into the eastern U.S. The cold air, positioned against warm Atlantic air, added energy to the atmosphere and therefore to Sandy, just as it moved into that region, expanding the storm even further.

Here’s where climate change comes in. The atmospheric pattern that sent the Jet Stream south is colloquially known as a “blocking high”—a big pressure center stuck over the very northern Atlantic Ocean and southern Arctic Ocean. And what led to that? A climate phenomenon called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)—essentially, the state of atmospheric pressure in that region. This state can be positive or negative, and it had changed from positive to negative two weeks before Sandy arrived. The climate kicker? Recent research by Charles Greene at Cornell University and other climate scientists has shown that as more Arctic sea ice melts in the summer—because of global warming—the NAO is more likely  to be negative during the autumn and winter. A negative NAO makes the Jet Stream more likely to move in a big, wavy pattern across the U.S., Canada and the Atlantic, causing the kind of big southward dip that occurred during Sandy.

And I suppose I should also add this analysis by NASA’s James Hansen, who has studied (and worried about) climate change more than any scientist on the (warming) planet. Here’s the guts of what he has to say:

In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.

This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.

The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change. And once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now.

The resistance to both the logic and the science of global warming and weather is stupefying to me. But not surprising, sadly. We are a species that is sleepwalking through history.

Superstorm Sandy And Global Warming

Did climate change influence the power and impact of Hurricane Sandy?

Of course, that’s the $60-plus billion question, and Jeff Masters at Wunderground is just the meteorologist to dig into the answer.

Here’s his very detailed and well-organized answer, in which he concludes:

Global warming theory (Emanuel, 2005) predicts that a 2°C (3.6°F) increase in ocean temperatures should cause an increase in the peak winds of the strongest hurricanes of about about 10%. Furthermore, warmer ocean temperatures are expected to cause hurricanes to dump 20% more rain in their cores by the year 2100, according to computer modeling studies (Knutson et al., 2010). However, there has been no published work describing how hurricane size may change with warmer oceans in a future climate. We’ve seen an unusual number of Atlantic hurricanes with large size in recent years, but we currently have no theoretical or computer modeling simulations that can explain why this is so, or if we might see more storms like this in the future. However, we’ve seen significant and unprecedented changes to our atmosphere in recent decades, due to our emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide. The laws of physics demand that the atmosphere must respond. Atmospheric circulation patterns that control extreme weather events must change, and we should expect extreme storms to change in character, frequency, and intensity as a result–and not always in the ways our computer models may predict. We have pushed our climate system to a fundamentally new, higher-energy state where more heat and moisture is available to power stronger storms, and we should be concerned about the possibility that Hurricane Sandy’s freak size and power were partially due to human-caused climate change.

It seems self-evident that if we change the climate we change the weather. But apparently this point can’t be made enough given the resistance out thereto this reality and its implications.

Non-trivial digression: One other thing caught my attention in this analysis. According to Masters…

Most incredibly, ten hours before landfall (9:30 am EDT October 30), the total energy of Sandy’s winds of tropical storm-force and higher peaked at 329 Terra Joules–the highest value for any Atlantic hurricane since at least 1969. This is 2.7 times higher than Katrina’s peak energy, and is equivalent to five Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs.

All that energy was equivalent to just five World War II era atomic bombs? That says a lot, not about the power of Sandy, but about the power of nuclear weapons. Today we are used to living with thousands of nuclear weapons (in other words, hundreds of potential Sandys), and the possibility of a nuclear exchange, say, between India and Pakistan. But Sandy is a reminder that we should not be at all casual about this danger. And that efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons should be a top priority for all of us.

Nightly Reader: Nov. 8, 2012

1) Fisheries Fecklessness: The failure of New England fisheries managers to enforce a law requiring that pingers–which alert marine life–be used on gill nets is causing the entanglement and deaths of thousands of porpoises:

Ironically, New England fishermen worked with scientists to develop pingers. Then, fishermen themselves pushed for their use in the 1990s, as an alternative to closing fishing areas. They got what they wanted.

And, when the National Marine Fisheries Service first required New England gill-net fishermen to use pingers in 1998, porpoise deaths indeed plummeted 95 percent, from more than 2,000 in 1994 to under 100 in 2001.

But federal enforcement faded. Many fishermen stopped using pingers. And—they frequently encroached into areas that had been officially closed to protect porpoises.

By 2003, fishermen fished without pingers on almost 75 percent of all nets. And they set their nets in closed areas in another 8 percent.  And these statistics come from fishing trips with federal observers on board!; we’ll never know how many violations went unobserved. Porpoise deaths quickly rose again; more than 1,000 drowned in 2005.

2) Disaster Device: One of the most useful things to have, post-Sandy? A bicycle.

New Yorkers are learning things from this storm, and from the relief efforts that are ongoing even as another weather front sweeps through this afternoon, forcing another round of evacuations. Practical things. They are learning where to go for help, and how to help each other. They are learning how to get around when the transportation system fails, and the importance of redundancy and resiliency in all kinds of infrastructure. They are learning what you really need to have on hand when supply chains are disrupted, and what you can do without. They are learning how to assess the accuracy of information, and how to spread it. They are learning that individual efforts, pooled together, can make a substantial material difference in a crisis.

Bicycles are part of all this. In the early days after the storm, when the trains and buses stopped running, bikes were one of the few reliable ways of moving people, objects, and information around streets choked with debris. They don’t require the gasoline that people are still lining up for hours to get. They don’t need to be charged up – just add some basic food to a human being, and you can power the legs that turn the cranks.

3) Great Barrier Breakdown: Turns out that the human devastation of the world’s most glorious reef began much earlier than you would think:

Several recent studies have shown that snorkelers and climate change kill coral, and one study found that half of the majestic Great Barrier Reef has vanished over the last 30 years.

But Pandolfi’s team wondered whether humans had been altering reef ecology for much longer.

To find out, the team drilled sediment cores, 6.5 to 16.5 feet long, from the seafloor at Pelorus Island, an island fringed by coral reefs off the Queensland coast. When coral dies, new coral sprout on the skeletons of old organisms and ocean sediments gradually bury them in place, Pandolfi told LiveScience.

By dating different layers of that sediment, the team reconstructed the story of the reef.

The fast-growing Acropora coral dominated the reef for a millennium. This massive, three-dimensional coral can grow to 16 feet high and span 65 feet across, forming a labyrinth of nooks and crannies for marine life to hide in, Pandolfi said. [ Image Gallery: Great Barrier Reef Through Time ]

“They’re like the big buildings in the city, they house a lot of the biodiversity” he said.

But somewhere between 1920 and 1955, the Acropora stopped growing altogether and a slow-growing, spindly coral called Pavona took its place.

That spelled trouble for the panoply of animal species that shelter in the reef, and for the nearby coastline, because the native Acropora species provide wave resistance to shelter harbors.

BONUS VIDEO: A (heart)warming wilderness tale.

Nightly Reader: Nov. 7, 2012

1) Hope And Change? Honestly, I’m more interested in change. But I’m glad to hear mention of the climate (FINALLY!), and I sincerely hope that the aspirations and ideals expressed so beautifully in this speech translate into true leadership and a kickass political strategy that leads to a real shift in what America cares about, and what sacrifices America is willing to make for the global good.

2) Annals Of Inexplicable Subsidies: Does federal flood insurance, which encourages people to build in vulnerable locations, make any sort of sense anymore? Not really.

3) Deja Vu All Over Again: Another week, another brutal storm for the Northeast. This one with wind, rain, AND snow.

BONUS VIDEO(S): Nine awesome TED Talks which aim to show you nature from a different perspective or in a different light.

Nightly Reader: Oct. 30, 2012

Apologies for the Hurricane Sandy-induced hiatus. Normal blogging resumes, starting now….

1) A Pox On Both Your Houses: Chris Hedges makes the case against casting your vote for EITHER Romney or Obama. I can’t resist posting the intro here:

The November election is not a battle between Republicans and Democrats. It is not a battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It is a battle between the corporate state and us. And if we do not immediately engage in this battle we are finished, as climate scientists have made clear. I will defy corporate power in small and large ways. I will invest my energy now solely in acts of resistance, in civil disobedience and in defiance. Those who rebel are our only hope. And for this reason I will vote next month for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, although I could as easily vote for Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. I will step outside the system. Voting for the “lesser evil”—or failing to vote at all—is part of the corporate agenda to crush what is left of our anemic democracy. And those who continue to participate in the vaudeville of a two-party process, who refuse to confront in every way possible the structures of corporate power, assure our mutual destruction.

I actually did vote for Stein (voting by absentee ballot in Maryland). But I have to admit that I did so knowing that Obama is almost certain to win my state, Maryland. I agree with Hedges that neither Obama nor Romney are addressing the real issues. But, that said, there is a chasm between what they mean for America, and that is a chasm that matters. But Hedges has a point, regardless.

2) Orangutan Agony: There is no more poignant, or tragic, example of the conflict between the human agenda and the conservation agenda than the ongoing eradication of orangutan habitat (and orangutans) resulting from the inexorable expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia. Palm oil is a popular cooking oil in many poor parts of the world. But much of the demand for palm oil also comes from food processors who turned to it as an alternative to switching from trans fat. Lesson: every action, every choice, has consequences. Our responsibility is to understand what those consequences are beyond our own lives.

3) Oh, The Humanity: Speaking of food choices that don’t wipe out orangutans or involve animal suffering, here’s a handy website from Humane Farm Animal Care that you can use to find stores near you that sell Certified Humane food products. Yes, is dominated by Whole Foods locations. But it’s nice to be able to find a few other stores that care to carry Certified Humane products.

4) Picture Storm: We can’t forget Hurricane Sandy, the force of nature that just altered the lives of millions of Americans and the daily business of a nation. And a great collection of 54 pictures is the best way to convey the drama, power, and destruction. Here are just three: