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Posts Tagged ‘climate’

The various stages of collapse of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in the Antarctica has been in the news over the past couple of weeks.  Now you can watch an animation of the process in Google Earth, as assembled by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

After downloading the file and opening it with Google Earth, I recommend first clicking the little clock icon to the left of the slider bar in the image, moving the animation speed slider so it is about 1/3 of the way from the left, and selecting “At end of time range, animation should stop.”  Then click “OK” and press the play button (arrow) at the right of the slider.  Repeat as needed.

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Switzerland-Italy border
Thanks to global climate change and the resulting world-wide glacier meltdown, Switzerland and Italy now have to redraw their border. The draft law has already been endorsed by the Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, and is expected to become law before the end of April; Switzewrland has already agreed to the new border.

The current border between the two countries was established in 1861, and is very convoluted as it follows the Alps’ ridgelines and glaciers. The glaciers are now retreating and that retreat is accompanied by landslides, laying havocs with reference points. The edge of glaciers would be mostly moving up, toward Switzerland, and the landslides are moving down, toward Italy.

The redrawn border may move by as much as 100 meters in some spots, but no communities will be affected as this is an area of high altitude, remote and cold. The most famous location in the affected area is the picturesque, 4,478 meter-high Matterhorn (by its Swiss name), or Cervino (as it is known in Italy).

Links of interest:

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Sea level rising…

Wednesday’s San Francisco Chronicle offered an article discussing the release of a new report by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute, evaluating the effects on the California coastline of a rise in sea level resulting from global climate change. A Huffington Post article also discussed the report, which was commissioned by the California Energy Commission, the California Department of Transportation, and the California Ocean Protection Council.

The report projects an expected rise of 1.4 meters — just under 5 feet — in the mean sea level. There is a lot of variation in the estimates that have been produced in studies over the last decade, but the most generally accepted estimate I have seen is 6 meters (20 feet) by the end of the century, or even more. So the Pacific Institute’s report might in fact be underestimating the impact of global climate change and rising sea levels.

In addition to flooding wast areas of low-lying land, displacing people, and threatening infrastructure, the rising waters would also cause significant erosion to bluffs along the coast. In Humboldt, even under the 1.4 meter scenario, large chunks of places like Fields Landing, Freshwater, the Arcata Bottoms, etc. would be submerged.

One area not studied in the report, however, is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area. To have an idea of the results of various scenarios, you can consult the Pacific Institute’s report and interactive maps, and compare them to the interactive maps obtained from another projection by a British team, the Global Warming Flood Maps created by Alex Tingle (who turns out to be a friend of a friend — it’s a small world!) Even under the smallest increment (1 meter), the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta becomes a shallow interior sea.

Incidentally, both these map projection systems use Google Maps/Google Earth as their backbone. Which segues into the other piece of weird map-related California news yesterday…

Blur the map!

C|NET and CNN report that California Assemblyman Joel Anderson wants online maps and aerial photos to be blurred. The bill he introduced, AB 255 “Internet security: virtual globe technology”, includes the following provisions:

“(a)An operator of a commercial Internet Web site or online service that makes a virtual globe browser available to members of the public shall not provide aerial or satellite photographs or imagery of a building or facility in this state that is identified on the Internet Web site by the operator as a school or place of worship, or a government or medical building or facility, unless those photographs or images have been blurred.

“(b)An operator of a commercial Internet Web site or online service that makes a virtual globe browser available to members of the public shall not provide street view photographs or images of the buildings and facilities described in subdivision (a).”

Security is the reason offered. However, I have news for Assemblyman Anderson: you can get that kind of information anyway, just with a the inconvenience of going to the library or purchasing from a mapping service. No terrorist would be stopped by this measure, but it would cause considerable annoyance for those of us who use such maps daily for work. Guess what, when I prepare an environmental impact assessment, I need to know where these facilities are. But Assemblyman Anderson doesn’t appear to know that people actually work with maps and air photos. Here is a quote from the C|NET interview:

Q: But could not a terrorist just as easily plan out their attacks by using a map of a city like Mumbai? They don’t need to go up online to locate their targets.
Anderson: The level of detail is not on the maps. With a map, you cant count the number of bricks in a building, or see the elevator shafts. With this level of detail (afforded by online maps,) you can. I hear the argument that, “Yeah, I want to also ban cars because cars are used in robberies.” Look, cars have other commercial uses. There are no other uses for knowing on a map where there are air shafts. These are all red herring arguments. The fact is that I would be remiss in my job if I didn’t take this seriously. I’m not interested in censoring Google or the others, but now that we know there’s a threat, how could we not address this?

He’s grossly misstating the situation, of course. I don’t generally care about air shafts — but I might if I was working on an air quality project, modelling plumes of contaminants. And I care about a lot of equally specific details. I can charge my clients the professional rate for a team to go in the field and survey a large number of details; I can wave my hands, make a lot of assumptions about locations and hope the margin of error isn’t too great; or I can get online and take ten minutes to retrieve all the information I need. Which serves my clients better?

Services affected would include, for example, Google Maps, Google Earth, TopoZone, TerraServer, and presumably government sites like USGS’ EarthExplorer and NASA’s World Wind, as well as all the mapping applications derived from these sources.

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An interesting article on Science Blog today entitled “Why California should consider Australia’s ‘prepare, stay and defend’ wildfire policy”.

It compares and contrasts the Australian “Prepare, stay and defend, or leave early” policy with California’s policy of mandatory evacuations followed by fire suppression. There is no magic one-size-fits-all to fighting wild fires, but it’s useful to see what is done elsewhere and whether we can learn from their experience.

Australia is of course very frequently afflicted with massive wild fires. And since the Southern Hemisphere’s seasons are reversed from ours in the Northern hemisphere, it is currently summer in Australia, and a particularly rough one to date.

The comparison may be particularly apt not only because of similar climate conditions in parts of Australia and California but also the shared love for “ruggedly individualist” life styles.

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I’m crossing my fingers on appointments for the new Obama administration. While there are a number of appointments that would not be my first choices, I understand that a lot of compromises are needed in politics. A few choices make me look up and hope for, you know, change:

John P. Holdren has apparently been tapped to become the President’s science adviser. Director and faculty chair of the Science, Technology and Public Policy program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Holdren has written many articles on global environmental change, sustainable development, energy technology and policy, nuclear arms control and nonproliferation, and science and technology policy.

Nobel-prize winning physicist Steven Chu, head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and professor of Physics and Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley, has been nominated to head the Department of Energy. Chu has been an advocate of developing renewable energy sources to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Carol Browner, a former head of the U.S. EPA under the Clinton administration, has been selected to be Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, the so-called “Climate Czar”. Her original background was in law and politics, but she has served extensively in various positions related to environmental protection and did a pretty decent job at EPA (from my perspective as a consultant who had to work closely with EPA during that period and since).

Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist from Oregon State University where she is Valley Professor of Marine Biology and Distinguished Professor of Zoology, has been picked as administrator for NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She founded the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program and is known for long-time dedication to improving public understanding of science. She too has done considerable work on global climate change issues.

President-elect Obama also named the chairs of the Presidential Council of Advisers on Science and Technology on Saturday: Nobel Prize winner Harold Varmus, former director of the National Institutes of Health, and MIT genome biologist Eric Lander, who was one of the driving forces on the Human Genome Project.

I’m very hopeful that these people will bring powerful understanding of science and dedication to rationality to positions that are two often prizes for partisan politics.

Links of interest:

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Climate Crash coverWith all the severe weather some regions of North America have been experiencing,there has been a lot of discussion among my friends about “global warming”.  Many people are baffled and perhaps feeling a bit let down(!) that we’re getting snow storms from New Orleans to Houston to Las Vegas to Seattle.  How can there be a global warming when it’s snowing! some wail.

To those puzzled by the idea of global climate change (a better description of the phenomenon from our local and temporal perspective), I have been recommending a book I read a few years ago, Climate Crash: Abrupt Climate Change and What It Means for Our Future, by John D. Cox.  It provides an excellent overview of the science behind the issue, and how scientists gradually came to their current understanding of our fragile, bouncing climate — a system we are currently pushing way out of its elastic range.

Since I’ve been explaining the book to various people this week, I thought I’d just share with a wider audience who may be interested right now. First, Climate Crash describes the history and development of climatology, in plain and intelligible language.  It provides a picture of our gradually improving understanding of the sudden jumps our planet experiences when it moves from one state of climate equilibrium to another.  And through it all, the book shows that human activity in the last century has pushed our climatic system far outside the range through which it has been able to rebound in the current climate era.

I highly recommend this book for people who want to understand the scientific underpinnings of one of the most important issues of our times.

Links of interest:

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Squint/Opera, a film and media production studio in London, recently created a series of five images called “2090: London After the Flood.” The series, which has been discussed in Dezeen online design magazine and the Environmental Graffiti news blog, is on show at Medcalf Gallery in Clerkenwell, London from June 20 to this Sunday during the London Festival of Architecture.

Another interesting view of a post-Ice Cap Meltdown world is provided by the Global Warming Flood Maps created by Alex Tingle using Google Maps (and some mad skillz), also in England. There must be something about living on an island and watching the water rise… Anyhow, this site allows you to select a location on the world map and an increment of mean sea level increase, then watch what happens to the coast line when the water rises.

Hint: the shallower the incline along the coast line, the greater the visual effect as the sea fills in your city. It’s actually not as bad as that in Seattle, which has a fairly abrupt rise from the water’s edge. The Interbay area would be flooded, but Downtown would stay pretty dry. For a fun view, watch what happens to the San Francisco Bay area and especially the East Bay at a default depth of 7m…

And in case you’re not sure you should be buying a bathing suit (and a parka, just in case) to welcome the new coastline and the new climate, go check out what NOAA and NASA have to say about the mess we’ve created.  It’s going to be no end of fun.

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