Saturday, February 23, 2013

Yep, Lots of Snow....But There's Still Global Warming!

Graph of radiocarbon (C14) excess over C12 over ~ 2,000 yr. period. The zero level is an arbitrary norm referenced to 1890. This is some of the best evidence for man-made global warming but few who have never taken physics can grasp its significance.

Wifey and I while shoveling out our driveway the other morning joked about all the snow, and how some lamebrains might pick up on it and deny - on the basis of the latest huge snowstorm- that global warming /climate change is real.  And, truth be told, when you see some of the idiotic comments in the blogosphere, you realize just how many in our population aren't able to make the subtle but necessary connections.

This false cognitive dissonance phenomenon, as well as others (i.e. fundies trying to recruit astrophysics to support their creationist codswallop) reminds me of a recent article ( Darwin’s March’) in the Intertel journal, INTEGRA (Feb., p.27), by Dr. Steven B. Mason.  He notes that in some public schools, the teaching of evolution (or "Darwin's march") must share equal time with "creation Science", adding:

‘Mostly this is a system of explaining by inventing and couldn’t be further from the understanding, predicting and controlling of a true science. But it sounds good to those that don’t know better and most people don’t. Learning a hard science like mathematics or chemistry or  physics is, well, hard  The vast majority of humans are simply incapable of doing so. And yet this obvious fact is sure to be hooted and hollered down.”

Indeed! And on that basis, Mason correctly refutes the silly notion that "we're all capable of learning whatever we put our minds to".

But in order to puncture that myth that anyone can learn anything, and hence idiot fundies are as entitled to expostulate on general astrophysics - stellar structure - the Big Bang - as I am, is what requires those of us who have studied the hard sciences to post tests of aptitude from time to time, to see if these windbags can walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

For similar reasons, climate deniers (like fundie creationists) are equally childish and uneducated. Mainly they don't learn the physics of climate or atmsopheric research themselves, but google it from assorted whacko freaks who pride themselves on an abiding ignorance.  Also, they have extreme difficulty processing blogs that present actual scientific data and report them accurately, see e.g.

Thus, it's not surprising they'd have extreme difficulty reconciling the huge recent snowfalls, and even blizzards, with the reality of global warming.  But the answer lies in atmospheric physics, if one is prepared to dig it out.  The basics? Well, a warmer atmosphere can hold, and hence 'dump', more moisture including as snow. In fact, two soon-to-be-published studies demonstrate how there can be more giant blizzards yet less snow overall each year. Projections from such studies are therefore that such anomalous events are likely to continue with manmade global warming. This will remain until a critical threshold is reached, probably when the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere hits 550 ppm. Then, we will have the first year of no seasons, and no more snow-blizzard events, only warming. And how it will warm!

Consider the anomalous aspect: The United States has been walloped by twice as many of the most extreme snowstorms in the past 50 years than in the previous 60 years, according to an upcoming study on extreme weather by leading federal and university climate scientists.  Yet the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University says spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has shrunk on average by 1 million square miles in the past 45 years.

Another anomaly: computer models predict annual global snowfall to shrink by more than a foot in the next 50 years. According to Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer:

""Shorter snow season, less snow overall, but the occasional knockout punch.That's the world we live in."

Other climate scientists assert that the idea of less snow and more blizzards makes sense: A warmer world is likely to decrease the overall amount of snow falling each year and shrink the snow season. But when it is cold enough for a snowstorm to hit, the slightly warmer air is often carrying more moisture, producing potentially historic blizzards. According to Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center

"Strong snowstorms thrive on the ragged edge of temperature—warm enough for the air to hold lots of moisture, meaning lots of precipitation, but just cold enough for it to fall as snow. Increasingly, it seems that we're on that ragged edge."

As Exhibit 'A',  look at the last few years in the Northeast. Or take Chicago, which until late January had 335 days without more than an inch of snow. Both have been hit with historic storms in recent years.

Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann points to the recent Northeast storm that dumped more than 30 inches in some places. He said it was the result of a perfect set of conditions for such an event: arctic air colliding with unusually warm oceans that produced extra large amounts of moisture and big temperature contrasts, which drive storms. Those all meant more energy, more moisture and thus more snow, he said.

And Princeton researcher Sarah Kapnick adds:

"The world is warming so precipitation that would normally fall as snow in the future will probably fall as rain once it gets above the freezing point."

This will plausibly happen when the 550 ppm threshold is reached. So we can look for an ugly world divided by extreme drought and torrential rains, that pour and pour. For others, living in the 'heat zones', unremitting and unbearable heat will be the order of the day as temperatures regularly hit 115F in the shade and night time temperatures seldom dip below 100F. This will be amongst the first omens to signal the approach of the runaway greenhouse.

Will the poppets who deny global warming take note? Of course not! They all think - like too many of the fundies- they can blather on about anything to do with physics, or biology or chemistry, despite never having taken and passed a single university course! 

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