Tag: climate

Sky Watching Tips And Tricks For Cold Northern Nights

For much of the contiguous United States this winter has been marked by perpetual ice, snow as well as the now infamous polar vortex.

Such conditions might make even the most committed stargazer think twice before venturing outdoors.

Stepping outside to enjoy a view of the constellation Orion, Jupiter or even just the waxing moon these frosty nights takes only a minute or two, but if you plan to stay outside longer, remember that enjoying the starry winter sky requires protection against the cold temperatures.




The best garments are a hooded ski parka and ski pants, both of which are lightweight and provide excellent insulation. And remember your feet.

Two pairs of warm socks in loose-fitting shoes are quite adequate; for protracted observing on bitter-cold nights wear insulated boots.

Reach for the binoculars

In weather like this, one quickly will realize the advantage of using a pair of good binoculars over a telescope.

A person who attempts to set even a so-called “portable” scope up in bitter temperatures or blustery winds might give up even before he or she got started.

But binoculars can be hand-held and will produce some quickly magnified images of celestial objects before rushing back inside to escape the frigidity.

Transparency

In their handy observing guide, “The Stars” (Golden Press, N.Y.), authors Herbert Zim and Robert Baker write that “the sky is never clearer than on cold, sparkling winter nights.

“It is at these times that the fainter stars are seen in great profusion. Then the careful observer can pick out dim borderline stars and nebulae that cannot be seen when the sky is less clear.

What Zim and Baker were referring to is sky transparency, which is always at its best during the winter season. That’s because Earth’s atmosphere is not as hazy because it is less moisture laden.

Cold air has less capacity to hold moisture, therefore the air is drier and thus much clearer as opposed to the summer months when the sky appears hazier.

But this clarity can also come at a price.

Seeing through the twinkles

If you step outside on one of those “cold, sparkling nights” you might notice the stars twinkling vibrantly.

This is referred to as scintillation, and to the casual observer looking skyward, they might think of such a backdrop as the perfect night for an astronomer, but it isn’t.

This is because when looking skyward, skywatchers are trying to see the sky through various layers of a turbulent atmosphere.

Were we to train a telescope on a star, or a bright planet like Mars, what we would end up with is a distorted image that either seems to shake or quiver or simply “boils” to the extent that you really can’t see very much in terms of any detail.

Forecasting sky conditions

If you own a telescope, you don’t need to wait for balmy summer nights to get good views. Usually, a few days after a big storm or frontal passage, the center of a dome of high pressure will build in to bring clear skies and less wind.

And while the sky might not seem quite as “crisp” or “pristine” as it was a few days earlier, the calming effect of less winds will afford you a view of less turbulent and clearer images through your telescope.

More comfortable nights ahead

If you plan on heading out on a cold winter’s night — and if you’re doing it while under a dome of high pressure — the fact that there is less wind means not only potentially good seeing, but also more comfort viewing conditions.

The end of winter is in sight though. The Northern Hemisphere is officially halfway through the winter season and milder, more comfortable nights are within reach.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

 

This City In Alaska Is Warming So Fast, Algorithms Removed The Data Because It Seemed Unreal

Last week, scientists were pulling together the latest data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s monthly report on the climate when they noticed something strange: One of their key climate monitoring stations had fallen off the map.

All of the data for Barrow, Alaska — the northernmost city in the United States — was missing.

No, Barrow hadn’t literally been vanquished by the pounding waves of the Arctic Sea (although it does sit precipitously close).




The missing station was just the result of rapid, man-made climate change, with a runaway effect on the Arctic.

The temperature in Barrow had been warming so fast this year, the data was automatically flagged as unreal and removed from the climate database.

It was done by algorithms that were put in place to ensure that only the best data gets included in NOAA’s reports.

They’re handy to keep the data sets clean, but this kind of quality-control algorithm is good only in “average” situations, with no outliers. The situation in Barrow, however, is anything but average.

If climate change is a fiery coal-mine disaster, then Barrow is our canary. The Arctic is warming faster than any other place on Earth, and Barrow is in the thick of it.

With less and less sea ice to reflect sunlight, the temperature around the North Pole is speeding upward.

The missing data obviously confused meteorologists and researchers, since it’s a record they’ve been watching closely, according to Deke Arndt, the chief of NOAA’s Climate Monitoring Branch.

He described it as “an ironic exclamation point to swift regional climate change in and near the Arctic.

Just this week, scientists reported that the Arctic had its second-warmest year — behind 2016 — with the lowest sea ice ever recorded.

The announcement came at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, and the report is topped with an alarming headline: “Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades.

Changes in the Arctic extend beyond sea ice. Vast expanses of former permafrost have been reduced to mud. Nonnative species of plants, types that grow only in warmer climates, are spreading into what used to be the tundra.

Nowhere is this greening of the Arctic happening faster than the North Slope of Alaska, observable with high-resolution clarity on NOAA satellite imagery.

The current observed rate of sea ice decline and warming temperatures are higher than at any other time in the last 1,500 years, and likely longer than that,” the NOAA report says.

At no place is this more blatantly obvious than Barrow itself, which recently changed its name to the traditional native Alaskan name Utqiagvik.

In just the 17 years since 2000, the average October temperature in Barrow has climbed 7.8 degrees. The November temperature is up 6.9 degrees.

The December average has warmed 4.7 degrees. No wonder the data was flagged.

The Barrow temperatures are now safely back in the climate-monitoring data sets. Statisticians will have to come up with a new algorithm to prevent legitimate temperatures from being removed in the future.

New algorithms for a new normal.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

This Behemoth Of A Scientific Instrument Was Launched Into Orbit So It Could Look Down On Earth To Monitor Its Climate

NCEI’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) Climate Raw Data Record (C-RDR) is an intermediary product between the Raw Data Record (RDR) product and the many Sensor Data Record (SDR) products for the VIIRS instrument.

The VIIRS instrument is a key element of the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite, which was launched in October 2011.

VIIRS collects data in 22 spectral channels, from visible to longwave infrared, at two different spatial resolutions: 375 m and 750 m at nadir.

The VIIRS C-RDR contains all the raw measurements from the VIIRS RDR collected into time series variables. This simplifies access to the data for reprocessing using alternative calibration and geolocation methods.

The VIIRS C-RDR also provides the coefficients and tables used by the NESDIS Interface Data Processing Segment (IDPS) to convert the raw measurements to science units and calibrate them.




These data are all written to files using the Network Common Data Form 4 (netCDF-4) format, which is platform-independent, binary, hierarchical, and self-describing.

Each variable within a VIIRS C-RDR file is annotated with a description of the measurement, information about the source, and specifications of valid limits and fill values.

Each VIIRS C-RDR file also contains file-level metadata conforming to the Climate and Forecast (CF) metadata conventions, the Attribute Convention for Dataset Discovery (ACDD), and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) standards for Suomi NPP data products.

Metadata elements, such as granule IDs, which are found in Suomi NPP data product files, are also present in C-RDR files as an aid to understanding the provenance and processing history of the VIIRS C-RDR files.

A number of existing software applications (IDL, MATLAB, etc.) can easily read the variables contained within VIIRS C-RDR files.

Users can also easily access the file contents in their own applications by employing netCDF libraries that are available for FORTRAN, C, C++, Java, or Python.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

How Do We Know That Global Warming Is Real?

The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history.

Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era and of human civilization.

Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.

The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.




Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale.

This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate.

The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century.

Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA.

There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.

Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels.

Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks.This ancient, or paleoclimate, evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming.

This ancient, or paleoclimate, evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Cargo Ships Are Creating Sea Lightning

Thunderstorm aficionados, if you really want to see some action then get yourself aboard a cargo ship.

A new study has shown that lightning strikes occur nearly twice as often above busy shipping lanes than in the regions to either side.

It turns out the belching fumes from ship exhausts are helping to trigger extra lightning.

While analysing data from the Worldwide Lightning Location Network, a web of sensors around the world that track lightning strikes, researchers noticed nearly straight lines of lightning strikes across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea.




By comparing the lightning data with maps of ships’ exhaust emissions they were able to show that there were nearly twice as many lightning strikes along the main shipping routes between Sri Lanka and Sumatra, and between Singapore and Vietnam.

This enhanced level of lightning was visible at least as far back as 2005.

Writing in Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers explain how the ship exhaust fumes add more particles to the air, which encourages more cloud droplets to form.

Because the cloud droplets are smaller and lighter than they would otherwise be they travel higher into the atmosphere and are more likely to reach the freezing line, so creating more ice particles.

Collision between ice particles causes storm clouds to electrify, and lightning is the atmosphere’s way of neutralising the built-up electric charge.

It’s one of the clearest examples of how humans are actually changing the intensity of storm processes on Earth through the emission of particulates from combustion,” said Joel Thornton, from the University of Washington, in Seattle, the lead author of the study.

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Here’s How You Personally Help Stop Climate Change

earth

Are you ready to personally help stop climate change? Turns out, all you have to do is believe that you can!

If we believe that we can personally help stop climate change with individual actions, such as turning the thermostat down, then we are more likely to make a difference, according to the University of Warwick research.

Researcher Jesse Preston demonstrated that people are often negatively affected by climate change helplessness, the belief that climate change is so massive and terrifying, as to be out of our personal control, and that our actions are too small to help.




This feeling of helplessness, however, makes people less likely to bother with individual eco-friendly actions and actually leads to higher energy consumption.

In one study, the researchers tested a group of over two hundred people, and gave different members of the group varying messages about climate change.

Over the next week, the group reported whether or not they adopted behaviours to help stop climate change, such as driving less, hanging washing on the line instead of using the dryer, using less water, or turning the heating down.

climate-change-feature

The people who had received the High Efficacy Climate Change message reported 16.5 percent more of these behaviours than those who read a Helpless Climate Change message and 13 percent more actions than the control group which received no message.

Moreover, people in the group which was told their actions couldn’t make a difference to climate change actually reported higher energy usage than before, showing how destructive a feeling of helplessness can be.

Public messages about climate change which focus on how we can help make a difference as individuals will be far more effective in encouraging people to consume less energy, according to the researchers.

global warming

Preston commented, “Often climate change messages try to persuade the public by increasing belief that climate change is real, or through fear of its dire consequences.”

“But mere belief in climate change is not enough, and fear can backfire if we feel helpless and overwhelmed. It is vitally important that individuals appreciate the impact and value of their own actions for us to make a meaningful change as a whole.”

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Pass it on: Popular Science

 

Global Warming Will Make Our Winter Colder

global warming

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1997.

And the National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration (NOAA) reports that recent decades have been the warmest since at least around 1000 AD, and that the warming we’ve seen since the late 19th century is unprecedented over the last 1,000 years.

“You can’t tell much about the climate or where it’s headed by focusing on a particularly frigid day, or season, or year, even,” writes Eoin O’Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor.




“It’s all in the long-term trends,” concurs Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Most scientists agree that we need to differentiate between weather and climate. The NOAA defines climate as the average of weather over at least a 30-year period.

So periodic aberrations like the harsh winter storms ravaging the Southeast and other parts of the country this winter do not call the science of human-induced global warming into question.

The flip side of the question, of course, is whether global warming is at least partly to blame for especially harsh winter weather.

winter

As we pointed out in a recent EarthTalk column, warmer temperatures in the winter of 2006 caused Lake Erie to not freeze for the first time in its history.

This actually led to increased snowfalls because more evaporating water from the lake was available for precipitation.

But while more extreme weather events of all kinds from snowstorms to hurricanes to droughts are likely side effects of a climate in transition, most scientists maintain that any year-to-year variation in weather cannot be linked directly to either a warming or cooling climate.

Even most global warming skeptics agree that a specific cold snap or freak storm doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not the climate problem is real.

snow storm

One such skeptic, Jimmy Hogan of the Rational Environmentalist website writes, “If we are throwing out anecdotal evidence that refutes global warming we must at the same time throw out anecdotal evidence that supports it.”

He cites environmental groups holding up Hurricane Katrina as proof of global warming as one example of the latter.

If nothing else, we should all keep in mind that every time we turn up the thermostat this winter to combat the cold, we are contributing to global warming by consuming more fossil fuel power.Until we can shift our economy over to greener energy sources, global warming will be a problem, regardless of how warm or cold it is outside.

Until we can shift our economy over to greener energy sources, global warming will be a problem, regardless of how warm or cold it is outside.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Want To Know What Happens When The Lightning Doesn’t Hit The Ground? Watch This!

lightning

Lightning is far more than just a sky-borne phenomenon: Remarkably, it can also form at ground level and shoot upwards.

This upside-down lightning is the subject of a paper published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, in which the strange behavior of these inverted bolts is revealed.




Despite the fact that there are roughly 40-50 lightning strikes somewhere around the world every second, they are surprisingly poorly understood.

Watch the video to know how this upside down lightning works!


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An Area Of Antarctica Larger Than Texas Partially Melted Last Year

Scientists think strong El Niños, like the one that melted so much surface ice in Antarctica last year, will become more common in the future.

An area of Antarctica larger than Texas partially melted last year, a group of international researchers has found.

And while it’s pretty well known ice at both poles has been melting for a while now, this ice is a bit different. In this case, it was surface ice the scientists were monitoring, not sea ice.

The melting was likely caused by a strong El Niño, something scientists expect will become more common as the climate continues to warm.

Normally, strong westerly winds keep El Niño’s warm weather away from the continent, so the melt that it causes isn’t as bad. But one member of the research team said El Niños seem to be winning the “tug of war” between westerly winds and warmer air.

And combining more frequent air driven warming from above and ocean driven melting from below could spell bad news for those living on the coast. The West Antarctic ice sheet has the potential to raise the sea level by over 10 feet if it were to collapse or fracture.

This time the melting didn’t do any permanent damage. But the scientists are worried it could be a sign of things to come.

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Pass it on: Popular Science