Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Climate Sea Changes

We live on land--so we're obsessed with the impacts of the climate crisis on land areas, or at least the interaction of water, especially sea levels, and land.

But the biggest potential threat to humanity has always been the effects of global heating on the oceans.  We know very little about that.  The oceans are worlds in themselves, as ecosystems and other phenomena inhabit various depths, for instance.

We've known that the oceans--covering 3/4 of the planet--have been absorbing most of the heating--up to 95%.  A new study starts quantifying that:

Gleckler is the lead author of a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change finding that, in the past two decades, ocean heat content has been rising rapidly and that, much more than before, heat is also mixing into the deeper layers of the ocean, rather than remaining near the surface.

The Washington Post story goes on to conclude:

The consequences of upper-ocean warming are well documented. From the bleaching of corals to the potential for more-intense hurricanes, a warmer surface has profound consequences for anything living in the oceans (this is where most sea life is) but also on land. Heating the ocean also raises sea levels, because warm water expands.

The consequences of warming the middle and deepest layers are less clear and less immediate to those of us living at the surface, but they are also sure to be significant. The new study provided a global overview of increasing ocean warming, rather than any specific prediction of regional consequences. But warming the deep ocean could lead to changes in its circulation, Gleckler said.

Ocean circulation is a powerful driver of global climate.  Other weather-makers that begin in the oceans include hurricanes and the big daddy of the day, El Nino.  In an article tracking changes in the oceans over the past generation, Forbes begins by noting new research that concludes: While we can’t say that climate change causes El Nino, the evidence is mounting that the warming of our planet could be intensifying the natural phenomenon, which in turn can lead to some extreme weather events.

What we apparently don't know is the effects on ocean life, which is another existential threat.  We do know humans have been overfishing for decades, and yet another study says it's worse that we thought.  Partly through cynical manipulation of data, the amount of overfishing has been grossly underestimated, and as a consequence the quantity of fish being caught in recent decades has declined more than reported.

This means there is less resilience out there that previously believed, as the consequences of global heating play havoc with sea life.  That's apart from the effects of pollution, of huge dead zones and floating countries of garbage.   Millions of people depend on seafood, and ultimately we all do.  We've felt it locally in the US as species that used to be plentiful have all but disappeared.  As other easy sources of land-based protein become unsustainable (and unhealthy), we're growing more dependent on the oceans.

The effects of global heating on the oceans is still being determined.  On land, the effects are easier to see.  They finally were visible to the economists and others who gathered for the annual World Economics Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  Just last year there was a book of articles by various economists looking ahead a hundred years.  Few of them even mentioned the climate crisis as influencing the future.  But this year, a survey of 750 experts named climate change disasters as the biggest potential threat to the global economy in 2016.

So what's behind this change?  Nothing particularly has happened, other than the steady acceleration of accumulated disasters, requiring massive spending that rarely enters political discourse.  Maybe it's a psychological change.

Psychology itself is suddenly getting interested in the climate crisis, in the comical way today's psychological establishment does.  So far they think denial has something to do with it (big insight there), although they do come up with some fascinating examples: people so deep in denial that they contradict themselves within minutes.

Nobody wants to believe this is happening.  We all wish it weren't, and we'd all like to hide from it as long as we can.  But at certain point the weight of evidence and argument shifts the conventional wisdom, and what's acceptable, and accepted: a sea change.  This seems to be happening with the climate crisis.  Better late than never, maybe.

P.S./Update: The numbers are in and to no one's surprise, 2015 was the hottest year on record.  The newsworthy evidence though is that it was the HOTTEST year on record.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Honoring MLK with Action

He is revered for his moral campaign against racial segregation, but the Rev. Martin Luther King also led protests for economic justice and living wages, especially in what turned out to be the last part of his life.  It was at the time one of those protests that he was assassinated.

On Martin Luther King Day 2016, Black Lives Matter protested in San Francisco, and several prominent black film artists announced they would boycott the Oscars, protesting the zero nominations for the second year in a row.  But below the radar, so to speak, there were protests at several US airports that were also in the spirit of Martin Luther King.

They were by airport workers protesting low wages, and advocating the $15 an hour federal minimum wage that President Obama has proposed.  The protests were held at 10 or more airports, including Miami, Chicago, Boston (where there were arrests), Newark, New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Portland and Seattle.

The wealth of a larger number of wealthy is extreme, especially in comparison to MLK's lifetime.  There is perhaps less dire poverty in America than in the 1960s.  But the relentless struggles of a large number of working poor form a scandal of our time.  Masked by economic indicators that usually only indicate how well the rich are doing, this is our prime area of invisible plight.

These protests shine a light. As time goes on without action, they should grow.  Is there any doubt that Martin Luther King would be saying so?  

Sunday, January 17, 2016


Update 1/18: The Eel did crest slightly above flood stage, and remains there, while the Mad River also overflowed its banks but apparently subsided.  The next dose of rain tomorrow is predicted to be less than the last storm brought, but that could be wildly off according to specific location.  And there are more storms lined up behind that one.

According to Lost Coast Outpost: "We’re at 28.2 inches of precipitation in Eureka since the start of the rain year, in October. That’s nearly 150% ahead of a normal year’s schedule."  Above is LCO reporter Andrew Goff's video of the Eel from the Fernbridge--an amazing sight to those who traverse that bridge and normally see far below them a mostly dry river bed.  The Martin Luther King speech soundtrack is a holiday bonus.

Back when I was driving down to Ferndale for Sunday matinees at the Rep, I crossed the Fernbridge: a long span, high above a wide expanse that was almost always dry.  Maybe a puddle here and there, or even a weak stream, to indicate that this was a river, the Eel.

Tonight the Eel is going to crest a couple of feet higher than flood stage at Fernbridge.  It happens, but it's hard to imagine.  An awful lot of water.

Other rivers hereabouts are at or near flood stage, as the "atmospheric river" (as those madcap meteorologists call it) is bringing El Nino-fed storm after storm.  We've gotten into a pattern of a day-long storm, followed by maybe 12 hours of lull before the next storm sends out its feelers, and comes barging in.

Some bring wind, and the amount of rain is very variable according to location, which can be quite specific.  But this last storm, just tapering off at this hour, carried a lot of rain.  And since places north have been getting rain as well (often more than we have) the rivers are bringing that extra water through.

The storms also are feeding higher tides, which mean more erosion and coastal flooding as well.

Today in northern Humboldt there have been flooding on roads and streets, causing some closings, and in low-lying neighborhoods.  A rain-induced landslide has closed Rt. 299 indefinitely.  Another landslide temporarily closed the four lane 101, our north/south lifeline, and caught unfortunate drivers in the northbound lane around Loleta, just south of Eureka, causing what's described as a bad crash.

And if that wasn't enough, there was an earthquake offshore--in the fatal zone of plates rubbing that someday is going to bring the Really Big One--near Ferndale.  It was at least the third there recently, this one at 3.7, which is weaker than the strongest in the series.

The main difference from my recollection of the last big El Nino winter is that it seems mostly warmer.  This weather pattern is forecast to hold all next week, and quite probably longer than that.  The day or at least hours between bouts of rain help the flood situation, but increasingly less as the ground becomes more saturated and the volume in the rivers and streams continues to be high.  So stay tuned.