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Government Crisis Viewed Through D.C. Media Bubble

In the postmortem of Republican’s surrender from their extremist hostage taking and ransom demands, people everywhere are analyzing what they think happened.  One article contained glaring ideological framing.  I agree with the foundational analysis of “Short-term debt deal won’t mask big barriers ahead” by Charles Babington of the Associated Press: yesterday’s deal didn’t address the underlying problems in D.C.  But I do disagree with important parts that Charles uses as supporting evidence for his argument.


Republicans still adamantly oppose tax increases. Powerful interest groups and many Democrats still fiercely oppose cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits.

The first sentence is mostly true.  Republicans oppose tax increases on the rich (witness the 2011 deal to lock in lower tax rates for people making $400,000 or more per year), but are more than happy to shift taxation onto the lower and middle class.  But the second sentence is even more painful to read for its vapidity.  What the heck are “powerful interest groups”?  Does Charles know who opposes Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts the most?  People that receive them!  Want to “fix” Social Security?  Lift the taxable income cap and Social Security is solvent for centuries.  But that means “raising taxes” to pay for a social good.  Does Charles seriously believe there are no “powerful interest groups” that oppose tax increases?  No, but he and the AP sure expects readers to.  And Republican supporters demonstrate that effort works.  It’s hip to trash Social Security and Medicare in the D.C. cocktail circuit, but remains wickedly unpopular in the rest of the country.

In fact, most of the “powerful interest groups” on the right – the same ones that pushed for the partial government shutdown and threatened the US’s role as the safest investment on earth –

Also, as usual, there is no mention of the national deficit’s growth under Republican President George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, or Ronald Reagan.  But this fact is an obvious part of the Teabagger’s outrage at establishment Republicans.  It also serves another purpose: if Republicans can generate enough outrage over national debt (that they themselves accumulated), they can demand Social Security and Medicare cuts while the obscenely wealthy get their taxes cut, even though Social Security doesn’t contribute one penny to the national debt they’re supposedly so concerned about.


The Simpson-Bowles plan remains widely praised nationwide, and largely ignored in Congress.

What?!  Most of the nation doesn’t even know what the S-B plan is or what it would do.  S-B remains widely praised in the same D.C. circles where it’s cool to want to take insurance programs away from the disadvantaged, and that’s it.  Does Charles write that it’s Congress’ job to plan for and pass a budget every year?  Because they haven’t done that on time since 1996 – a time when Republicans dominated the legislature.  Instead, folks in D.C. turned to gangs as the answer – gangs of legislators trying to do the work the rest of their colleagues can’t be bothered to do.

Left out of this article, as usual, are the long list of concessions Democrats yielded all to willingly to Republicans in previous “negotiations” without acquiring Republican concessions.  This latest “reset” is no different: sequestration cuts to the budget (which nobody likes but too many voted and signed for) remain in place.  Those cuts reduce our national economic activity: reduced GDP of about 1%.  At a time of historically low interest rates, the government could rebuild our decaying infrastructure for nearly at-cost, while putting millions of people back to work who want to work.  We are squandering an immense opportunity that will not repeat itself.  That infrastructure will be rebuilt, but today’s politicians want to make sure we pay more than we have to.

Charles and the AP mention none of this.  Instead, it is “powerful interest groups” and crackpot plans.  The framing by the D.C. crowd belittles the American people.  It’s no wonder the media and Congress aren’t liked or trusted by a majority of Americans.

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Denver’s September 2013 Climate Summary


During the month of September 2013, Denver, CO’s (link updated monthly) temperatures were 2.8°F above normal (66.4°F vs. 63.6°F).  The National Weather Service recorded the maximum temperature of 97°F on the 5th and 6th; they recorded the minimum temperature of 38°F on the 28th.  Here is the Denver temperature September 2013 time series:

 photo Denver_Temps_201309_zps687d6b03.png

Figure 1. Time series of temperature at Denver, CO during September 2013.  Daily high temperatures are in red, daily low temperatures are in blue, daily average temperatures are in green, climatological normal (1981-2010) high temperatures are in light gray, and normal low temperatures are in dark gray. [Source: NWS]

The month started off with a heat wave, as a result of an anomalous high pressure ridge over the western US.  It’s not obvious on this chart, but the week of September 8th ushered in a big change from the early month heat wave, which I discuss in the precipitation section below.

Denver’s temperature was above normal for the past five consecutive months.  May 2013 ended a short streak of four months with below normal temperatures.  Looking back a little further in time, October 2012 broke last year’s extreme summer heat including the warmest month in Denver history: July 2012 (a mean of 78.9°F which was 4.7°F warmer than normal!).

Through September, 2013, there were 57 90°F+ days in 2013, which means 2013 gained sole 4th place status of most 90°F days in one year.  Last year, the hottest summer on record for Denver, there was an astounding 73 90°F+ days!  Thankfully, this year also featured far fewer 100°F+ days than 2012: 2 instead of 13 (a record number).  After last year’s record hot summer, summer 2013 felt comparatively cool, which just goes to show how truly monumental last year’s records were.

I haven’t determined if the NWS (or anyone else) collects record high minimum temperatures (warm nighttime lows) in a handy table, chart, or time series.  Denver’s 68°F on Sep. 3rd was such a record (previously 67, set in 1947), as was Sep. 4th’s 69°F (previously 64°F, set in 1995 and previous years).  I’m curious how Denver’s nightly lows have changed in the past 100+ years.  If I find or put something together, I’ll include it in a future post.


Instead of amazing temperature records (although 97°F in September is very hot!), September saw precipitation records.  Total precipitation was much greater than normal during September 2013: 5.61″ precipitation fell at Denver during the month instead of the normal 0.92″!  Most of this fell at DIA on the 14th and 12th of the month (2.01″ and 1.11″).  As I wrote about after the event, Denver and other communities with similar rain totals paled in comparison to southern Aurora and Boulder, which received over 18″ of rain in one week, and more for the month!  Given that the normal annual total precipitation for these places is 15″, Denver and other places received over 1/3 of their yearly annual precipitation total in one month – a month that is normally relatively dry.

During the week of the 8th, the confluence of a slow-moving upper-level low, a surface stationary front, and tropical moisture from both the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico generated record rainfall over the northern Front Range of Colorado, including Denver.  This rainfall led to devastating flooding, from which communities are just beginning to recover.  About the only good news from this natural disaster is it busted the area’s long-term drought.

Interannual Variability

I have written literally hundreds of posts on the effects of global warming and the evidence within the temperature signal of climate change effects.  This series of posts takes a very different look at conditions.  Instead of multi-decadal trends, this series looks at highly variable weather effects on a very local scale.  The interannual variability I’ve shown above is a part of natural change.  Climate change influences this natural change – on long time frames.  The climate signal is not apparent in these figures because they are of too short of duration.  The climate signal is instead apparent in the “normals” calculation, which NOAA updates every ten years.  The most recent “normal” values cover 1981-2010.  The temperature values of 1981-2000 are warmer than the 1971-2000 values, which are warmer than the 1961-1990 values.  The interannual variability shown in the figures above will become a part of the 1991-2020 through 2011-2040 normals.  If temperatures continue to track warmer than normal in most months, the next set of normals will clearly demonstrate a continued warming trend.


September 2013 CO2 Concentrations: 393.31ppm

During September 2013, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography measured an average of 393.31 ppm CO2 concentration at their Mauna Loa, Hawai’i Observatory.

This value is important because 393.31 ppm is the largest CO2 concentration value for any September in recorded history.  This year’s September value is 2.17 ppm higher than September 2012′s.  Month-to-month differences typically range between 1 and 2 ppm.  This particular year-to-year jump is just outside of that range.  This year-to-year change is smaller than some other months this year.  For example, February’s year-over-year change was +3.37 ppm and May’s change was +3.02 ppm.  Of course, the unending trend toward higher concentrations with time, no matter the month or specific year-over-year value, as seen in the graphs below, is more significant.

The yearly maximum monthly value normally occurs during May. This year was no different: the 399.89ppm mean concentration in May 2013 was the highest value reported this year and, prior to the last six months, in recorded history (neglecting proxy data).  I expected May of this year to produce another all-time record value and it clearly did that.  May 2013′s value will hold onto first place all-time until February 2014, due to the annual CO2 oscillation that Figure 2 displays.

 photo co2_widget_brundtland_600_graph_201309_zpsa98224c9.gif

Figure 1 – Time series of CO2 concentrations measured at Scripp’s Mauna Loa Observatory in September from 1958 through 2013. added the `350s` to the past few month’s graphics.  I suppose they’re meant to imply concentrations shattered 350 ppm back in the 1980s.  Interestingly, they removed the `400s` from this month’s graph.  So concentrations within 5ppm of a threshold are added to’s graphic.

How do concentration measurements change in calendar years?  Normally, I insert two NOAA graphs here showing 5-year and 50-year raw monthly values and monthly values with the annual trend removed.  Unfortunately, due to the government shutdown, NOAA is not updating their graphics.  As a side note, I also cannot retrieve NOAA and NASA data for my own research.

As a greenhouse gas, CO2 increases the radiative forcing of the Earth, which increases the amount of energy in our climate system as heat.  This excess and increasing heat has to go somewhere or do something within the climate system because the Earth can only emit so much long wave radiation every year.  Additional figures below show where most of the heat has gone recently.

CO2 concentrations are increasing at an increasing rate – not a good trend with respect to minimizing future warming.  Natural systems are not equipped to remove CO2 emissions quickly from the atmosphere.  Indeed, natural systems will take tens of thousands of years to remove the CO2 we emitted in the course of a couple short centuries.  Moreover, human technologies do not yet exist that remove CO2 from any medium (air or water).  They are not likely to exist for some time.  Therefore, the general CO2 concentration rise in Figure 1 will continue for many years, with effects lasting tens of thousands of years.

This month, I will once again present some graphs that provide additional context for CO2 concentration.  Here is a 10,000 year view of CO2 concentrations from ice cores to compare to the recent Mauna Loa observations:


Figure 4 – Historical CO2 concentrations from ice core proxies (blue and green curves) and direct observations made at Mauna Loa, Hawai’i (red curve).

Clearly, concentrations are significantly higher today than they were for thousands of years in the past.  While never completely static, the climate system our species evolved in was relatively stable in this time period.

Alternatively, we could take a really, really long view:


Figure 5 – Historical record of CO2 concentrations from ice core proxy data (red), 2008 observed CO2 concentration value (blue circle), and 2 potential future concentration values resulting from lower (green circle) and higher (yellow circle) emissions scenarios used in the IPCC’s AR4.

Note that this graph includes values from the past 800,000 years, 2008 observed values (10ppm less than this year’s average value will be) as well as the projected concentrations for 2100 derived from a lower emissions and higher emissions scenarios used by the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment report.  If our current emissions rate continues unabated, it looks like a tripling of average pre-industrial (prior to 1850) concentrations will be our future reality: 278ppm * 3 = 834ppm.  This graph also clearly demonstrates how anomalous today’s CO2 concentration values are in the context of paleoclimate.  It further shows how significant projected emission pathways could be when we compare them to the past 800,000 years.  It is important to realize that we are currently on the higher emissions pathway (towards 800+ppm; yellow dot).  The last time atmospheric CO2 concentrations were that high, the globe was much warmer, there were no polar ice caps, and ecosystems were radically different from today’s.

The rise in CO2 concentrations will slow down, stop, and reverse when we decide it will.  Doing so depends primarily on the rate at which we emit CO2 into the atmosphere.  We can choose 400 ppm or 450 ppm or almost any other target (realistically, 350 ppm seems out of reach within the next couple hundred years).  Our concentration target value choice is dependent on the type of policies we decide to implement.  It is our current policy to burn fossil fuels because we think doing so is cheap, although current practices are massively inefficient and done without proper market signals.  We will widely deploy clean sources of energy when they are cheap; we control that timing.  We will remove CO2 from the atmosphere if we have cheap and effective technologies and mechanisms to do so, which we also control to some degree.  These future trends depend on today’s innovation and investment in research, development, and deployment.  Today’s carbon markets are not the correct mechanism, as they are aptly demonstrating.  But the bottom line remains: We will limit future warming and climate effects when we choose to do so.


On the global surface warming “pause”

I read a Mother Jones article by Chris Mooney this morning.  Chris is typically cited by climate activists as trustworthy and comprehensive.  Overall, his work is good.  Based on my recent social science experience, I now tend to view Chris’ work as scientifically comprehensive but lacking in some important social science details.  Be that as it may, his recent piece is worth a read.

His piece dealt with climate change skeptic’s recent handling of what’s been termed the global warming “pause” or “hiatus”.  Skeptics, scientists, and activists penned a growing number of pieces on this topic in recent months, which is the latest phase in a multi-year trend.  Chris’ piece addressed this by way of a Climate Desk Google Trend graph.  “Global warming pause” skyrocketed in Google searches prior to the IPCC’s Summary for Policymakers official late-September 201 release, following an August draft leak.  Unsurprisingly to anyone who follows climate related news, the IPCC tried to respond to this growing skeptic’s argument and did so poorly.

What is the argument?  That global warming has stopped, or slowed, or paused, or is in hiatus.  Any number of time series graphs that compare the continued and accelerating rise of CO2 concentrations with annual mean global surface temperatures motivate this argument.  And here I raise an important first point: activists did themselves a disservice by exclusively focusing on those very same global surface temperature trends.  Granted, the easiest detectable climate change trend is probably global surface temperatures, but dominant focus on this single variable picked from a complex, non-linear, interrelated system wasn’t the best idea.  That said, the aforementioned comparison graphs show the following: CO2 concentrations, after removing the annual cycle, increase year after year.  Global mean surface temperatures however show a recent slower rate of increase in recent years than they did in the 1970s-1990s.

Doesn’t CO2 directly cause a temperature rise?  Citing the climate system’s inherent complexity, the answer is not a simple one.  Many factors influence global mean temperature.  The skeptic’s however employ a well-worn and incorrect strategy: examine the temperature trend since 1998.  1998 was a very warm year globally due to a very strong El Nino.  When you calculate a short-term trend and start with an anomalously high value, the trend will be smaller than if you start with an average year.  Similarly, if you calculate a trend starting with an anomalously cool value, the trend will be larger.  If we’re interested in climatic trends, the time period used has to be greater than 30 years.  This is primarily due to natural, short-term effects that are present even while the entire system is gradually warming over the long-term.  If you want to measure the long-term warming, you have to measure over a long-term.  It sounds like common sense, but people who don’t perform analyses typically don’t examine the details.  If skeptics knowingly abuse the methods and present information to the public, they misinform the public.

Is the recent short-term trend real?  Yes it is.  The short-term global surface temperature trend is a little smaller than the long-term trend.  I have written about the reasons why.  Scientists currently hypothesize the primary reason is efficient heat transfer to the deep ocean:

 photo GlobalOceanHeatContentAbraham_2013_zpse685fc5c.png

Figure 1 – 3-month running mean of Global Oceanic Heat Content (OHC) from 1980 to current.

Oceans absorbed heat in the top 700m of the ocean at about the same rate as the top 2000m through the year 2000.  Since then, the bottom 1300m of the top 2000m continued to absorb heat while the top 700m absorption rose more slowly.  Physically this means deeper parts of the ocean are absorbing heat.  Climate observations are unfortunately spatially limited: we don’t observe the top 2000m as well as we do the top 700m.  Furthermore, we don’t observe the bottom 2000 to 3000m as well as the top 2000m.

This science is relatively new but fairly robust.  Research will uncover additional details of this phenomenon in the future.  Which leads me to my next big point: the big-picture science behind climate change is settled.  It has been settled for a long time.  Disagreements over the exact forcing of aerosols or oceanic heat uptake, to name just two, will not change the big picture.  Humans are now the dominant change of Earth’s climate.  We will be so long as we change the chemical make-up of the atmosphere and ocean.  The long-term, climatic global surface temperature trend (>= 30y) is unequivocal: it is rising.  If the hiatus lasts an additional 20 years, it will become a noteworthy 30-year trend, but it still won’t eclipse the 100y+ trend.

A comment regarding CBS’ incredibly poor reporting on this topic based on this quote: “Another inconvenient truth has emerged on the way to the apocalypse.”  This is one problem with apocalyptic language employed by climate activists.  When the apocalypse doesn’t occur on very short time frames, people can cast legitimate doubt on your claims.  The bigger problem is this: activists’ use of catastrophe language shuts recipient’s response centers down.  What the activists are missing in their communication is any glimmer of hope or discussion of solutions.

But CBS only (unsurprisingly) reported on part of the weather system.  They didn’t report on the climate: they focused on a short time period of just surface temperatures.  There are many more components of the climate system.

A comment regarding Chris Mooney’s language.  CBS didn’t interview a climate skeptic.  They interviewed someone who feels, as many others do, that doomsday scenarios and catastrophic apocalyptic language (see above) harm climate discussions.  I feel this way.  And it’s not because I’m a skeptic.  Instead, I have studied more than just physical science climate journal papers.  I have studied social science climate journal papers.  Climate activists are as tribal as anyone else: they like to claim that skeptics don’t “believe or know the [physical] science”.  Well, they should spend some time in front of a mirror.  Social science results are, I would argue, just as important as physical science results.  And social science results back up my contention that catastrophic language use is detrimental to the ultimate goal: doing something.  Psychology results demonstrate that this language precludes people from taking action or discussing policies – which is exactly the opposite of what climate activists claim they want to do.  But I would go further than Mooney: physical scientists bear most of the blame for allowing hijacked messages.  By ignoring social science, physical scientists undercut their own efforts.  They want to absolve themselves of culpability, so they blame the media and skeptics.  This will not change until scientists realize there are different lenses through which they can operate.

You don’t have to take my word for it.  What is the US’s climate change policy?  Despite decades of physical science research and climate activism, we still don’t have one.  Many other countries, including China, do.  What is the international policy?  Again, despite four previous Assessment Reports, there isn’t one.  It boils down to this: our current approach (in use for more than 30 years) doesn’t work.  It will not work.  Nothing will change with a Fifth Assessment Report that shows many of the same things as the previous four.

The IPCC is not the best entity to handle international climate change policy.  Its strategies have not and will not work.  Issuing a big report every six or seven years is the wrong approach.  As others have noted, why not issue much more nimble and focused assessments much more regularly?  Change communication strategies.  Current efforts work more for skeptics than activists (i.e., you’re hurting your own cause).  Top-down governance of this issue is not feasible.  The IPCC should spend more effort on facilitating bilateral and multilateral agreements.  Identify and codify common ground wherever it exists.  Set up some small measures that are easily successful and initiate some inertia.  Larger efforts will flow from smaller.  I can hear activists’ response already: we’re almost out of time and we need to implement a big effort now.  This ignores historical failures and their causal factors.  It is time to do something different.  We can mitigate some amount of future climate change starting with small efforts, then more change with larger efforts.  Or we can continue to mitigate no future climate change by repeating mistakes and failures.


State of Polar Sea Ice – September 2013: Arctic Sea Ice Minimum and Antarctic Sea Maximum

Global polar sea ice area in September 2013 was slightly below climatological normal conditions (1979-2008).  This represents a change from early 2013 conditions when sea ice area was at or above the average daily value.  Antarctic sea ice continues to exist abundantly while Arctic sea ice fell below normal again during the month.

The NSIDC made a very important change to its dataset in June.  With more than 30 years’ worth of satellite-era data, they recalculated climatological normals to agree with World Meteorological Organization standards.  The new climatological era runs from 1981-2010 (see Figure 6 below).  What impacts did this have on their data?  The means and standard deviations now encompass the time period of fastest Arctic melt.  As a consequence, the 1981-2010 values are much lower than the 1979-2000 values.  This is often one of the most challenging conditions to explain to the public.  “Normal”, scientifically defined, is often different than “normal” as most people refer to it.  U.S. temperature anomalies reported in the past couple of years refer to a similar 1981-2010 “normal period”.  Those anomalies are smaller in value than if we compared them to the previous 1971-2000 “normal period”.  Thus, temperature anomalies don’t seem to increase as much as they would if scientists referred to the same reference period.

Arctic Sea Ice

According to the NSIDC, September 2013′s average extent was only 5.35 million sq. km., a 1.17 million sq. km. difference from normal conditions.  This value is the minimum for 2013 as less sunlight and cooler autumn temperatures now allow for ice to refreeze.  September 2013 sea ice extent was 1.72 million square kilometers higher than the previous record low for the month that occurred in 2012.  The shift from a record low value one  year to a non-record low the next is completely normal.  Indeed, had Arctic sea ice extent fallen to a new record low, conditions this year would have been much more inhospitable to sea ice than they were.  To be clear, I do not cheer new record lows.  They are worthy of discussion not simply because of the record they set, but because they are part of a larger ongoing trend.  This year’s minimum extent value did not break that trend, it continued it.

Overall, conditions across the Arctic Ocean this summer prevented record-setting ice loss.  There were more clouds in 2013 than 2012.  Clouds reflect most incoming solar radiation, which means less sea ice melts.  At the end of the melt season, many small seas had normal sea ice extent, which is to say none.  Anomalous areas include the East Siberian Sea and the Arctic Basin, which recorded less sea ice extent than normal.

September average sea ice extent for 2013 was the sixth lowest in the satellite record. The 2012 September extent was 32% lower than this year’s extent.  The September linear rate of decline is 13.7% per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average, as Figure 1 shows.  Figure 1 also shows that September 2013’s mean extent ranked sixth lowest on record.  You can see from the graph that although a new record minimum was not set in 2013, the negative multi-year trend continued.

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Figure 1 – Mean Sea Ice Extent for Septembers: 1979-2013 [NSIDC].

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