Saturday, March 30, 2013

Climate change: Risks and responses

Time to follow up on Risks from climate change from two weeks ago with more climate change news that I originally posted at Daily Kos.

First, this item from LiveScience, which I first included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Life possible on ancient Mars).

February 2013 Was World's 9th Warmest on Record
Last month was among the top 10 warmest Februaries for the planet since record keeping began in 1880, U.S. weather officials announced today (March 14).

February 2013 tied with 2003 as the 9th warmest February of the past 133 years, according to scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). They calculated last month's globally-averaged temperature at 54.93 degrees Fahrenheit (12.67 degrees Celsius), or 1.03 degrees F (0.57 degrees C), above the 20th century average of 53.9 degrees F (12.1 degrees C).

This means February 2013 was the 336th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last below-average February, in terms of temperature, was in 1985.
Follow over the jump for more climate news.

Continuing with the theme of risks and responses, here are the climate stories included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Earth Hour 2013). I begin with two stories about how climate change is likely to be both bad and good for archeology.

Newcastle University (UK) via ScienceDaily: Ancient Rock Art at Risk, Warn Experts
Mar. 14, 2013 — Urgent action is needed to prevent ancient art disappearing, Newcastle University experts have warned.

Researchers from the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies (ICCHS) and School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences (CEG) studied the physical underpinnings and condition of Neolithic and Bronze Age rock art panels in Northumberland. They conclude climate change could cause the art to vanish because new evidence suggests stones may deteriorate more rapidly in the future.

Writing in the Journal of Cultural and Heritage Studies, they say action is needed so the art can be preserved for future generations, but they also urge that a deeper understanding is needed of what causes rock art to deteriorate.
Reuters via Alertnet: Pre-Viking tunic found by glacier as warming aids archaeology
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
Thu, 21 Mar 2013 16:41 GMT
OSLO, March 21 (Reuters) - A pre-Viking woollen tunic found beside a thawing glacier in south Norway shows how global warming is proving something of a boon for archaeology, scientists said on Thursday.

The greenish-brown, loose-fitting outer clothing - suitable for a person up to about 176 cms (5 ft 9 inches) tall - was found 2,000 metres (6,560 ft) above sea level on what may have been a Roman-era trade route in south Norway.

Carbon dating showed it was made around 300 AD.
Next, the responses, beginning with some high-level conceptual work that might bear practical fruit.

Scientific American: Strength in Numbers: Mathematicians Unite to Tackle Climate Change and Other Planetary Problems
2013 is the year of "Mathematics of Planet Earth" for hundreds of organizations around the world
By Evelyn Lamb
March 21, 2013
What do polar ice caps, guinea worm disease and wildfires have in common? All are being modeled with cutting-edge mathematics. Mathematical societies and institutes around the world are participating in "Mathematics of Planet Earth," or MPE, this year. They aim to study the math that underpins geologic and biological processes on our planet as well as encourage more math researchers to tackle these problems. Events are planned for the year 2013, but the organizers hope that the initiative will have lasting effects.

MPE is the brainchild of Christiane Rousseau, past president of the Canadian Mathematical Society. She had the idea several years ago of uniting mathematicians from across the globe to study problems ranging from climate change and sustainability to earthquake prediction and disease pandemics. It was a lofty goal but it resonated within the community and took off. Just one week elapsed, she says, from the time she conceived the notion to when “all the North American research institutes” came onboard. Enthusiasm spread from North America overseas, and now MPE partners include societies all over the world, including schools and centers in Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Climate change is the poster child for MPE. Mathematicians routinely travel to Antarctica to study polar ice; they are working on figuring out how quickly Earth is warming, what crops will be most affected by climate change and where the tipping points are if we want to try to mitigate damage. But even before questions of the climate and sustainability became paramount, Rousseau says, mathematics was, and still is, vital for discovering many aspects of the planet itself: Ancient scientists determined that the world was a sphere by observing the angle of the sun at different points on the planet. In the 1930s Danish seismologist Inge Lehmann used mathematics to determine that Earth is not molten liquid throughout, but has a solid core. "You cannot see what's inside the Earth with your eyes," Rousseau says. "I like to tell students, 'you put your mathematical glasses on, and then you understand.'"
Some responses might surprise people, including ones that recognize that we can't defeat Nature all the time. Sometimes, it's better to give in.

The Daily Climate via Scientific American: Failure Becomes an Option for Infrastructure Engineers Facing Climate Change
A University of New Hampshire civil engineer thinks infrastructure must be designed to fail safely
By Jennifer Weeks and The Daily Climate
March 20, 2013
BOSTON – Civil engineers build rugged things designed to last for decades, like roads, bridges, culverts and water treatment plants. But a University of New Hampshire professor wants his profession to become much more flexible.

In a changing climate, civil engineer Paul Kirshen argues, facilities will have to adapt to changing conditions over their useful lives – and, in some instances, be allowed to fail. A leading example of this approach: The Netherlands' Room for the River project: Decades of thinking that floods must be held back are being tossed aside as workers move dikes to give the Rhine River room to spill.

The approach recognizes that the country's famed network of dikes and dams will come under increasing stress as sea levels rise. Rather than building protective walls ever higher, the Dutch believe they can keep safer by accepting a certain amount of controlled flooding.
The above might be a good example for one of Commoner's Laws; Nature knows best.

Finally, some solutions might not work as advertised.

The Daily Climate via Scientific American: Seeding Atlantic Ocean with Volcanic Iron Did Little to Lower CO2
The eruption in Iceland naturally fertilized the ocean but failed to prod plankton to suck up much more carbon dioxide By Alex Kirby and The Daily Climate
March 21, 2013
LONDON – Plankton, tiny marine organisms, are a good way of cleansing the atmosphere of one of the main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide. To do this they need dissolved iron to help them to grow, and if they lack iron then they cannot do much to reduce CO2 levels.

So the eruption in 2010 of an Icelandic volcano gave scientists a perfect opportunity to see how much the cataclysm helped the plankton by showering them with unexpected clouds of iron.

Their verdict, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters – the volcano certainly helped, but not for long enough to make much difference.
So much for Greenfinger.

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