This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections

“Drought, water, war, and climate change” is the title of this month’s Yale Climate Connections video exploring expert assessments of the interconnections between and among those issues.

With historic 1988 BBC television footage featuring Princeton University scientist Syukuru (“Suki”) Manabe and recent news clips and interviews with MIT scientist Kerry Emanuel, Ohio State University scientist Lonnie Thompson, CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour, and New York Times columnist and book author Tom Friedman, the six-minute video plumbs the depths of growing climate change concerns among national security experts.

Friedman, in footage from the 2014 Showtime “Years of Living Dangerously” nine-episode documentary, points to a NOAA analysis that climate change has caused the Mediterranean region, in Friedman’s words, “to dry up . . . . leading to longer and more severe droughts.” Friedman in that piece pointed out that severe droughts struck Syria – “which is right at the epicenter” of the worst impacts — in the four years leading up to the Syrian revolution.



Why were the ancient oceans favorable to marine life when atmospheric carbon dioxide was higher than today?

Posted on 12 November 2015 by Rob Painting

When we look back through the geological record, we see that for much of the last 500 million years there was an abundance of life in the oceans and that atmospheric carbon dioxide was much higher than today for the vast majority of that time. Though it may seem counterintuitive, especially considering that ocean pH was lower than present-day, the ancient oceans were generally more hospitable to marine calcification (building shells or skeletons of calcium carbonate) than they are now [Arvidson et al (2013)].

Numerous examples exist to support this, such as the enormous coccolith deposits that make up the White Cliffs of Dover in England. These tiny coccolith shells are made of calcium carbonate (chalk) and date from the Cretaceous Period (Cretaceous is Latin for chalk) about 145 to 65 million years ago - when atmospheric CO2 concentration was several times that of today. So conducive to marine calcification was the Cretaceous ocean that it also saw the emergence of giant shellfish called rudists as a major reef-builder.


Figure 1 - Rudist fossils dating from the Cretaceous Period. Marine calcification during this time of higher-than-present atmospheric CO2 concentrations was very clearly not a problem for this marine organism. Image from Schumann & Steuber (1997).

Given the relationship between the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the pH of the ocean, why are scientists concerned about falling ocean pH when it was lower for much of the last 500 million years?  The simple answer is that these were not times of ocean acidification per se, and the key difference is in understanding the time scales and chemical processes involved. Ocean acidification only occurs when atmospheric carbon dioxide increases in a geologically-rapid manner because pH and carbonate ion abundance decline in tandem, and it’s the decrease in carbonate ions that makes seawater corrosive to calcium carbonate forms [Kump et al (2009)] . While the increase in dissolved CO2 and hydrogen ion concentration (falling pH) would have proven stressful for some ancient marine life, such as coral [Cohen & Holcomb (2009), Cyronak et al (2015)], the corrosive state of surface waters likely delivered the decisive blow. 

A perfect illustration of the marked difference between high and low carbonate saturation states is shown in Figure 2. Both marine fossils (discoaster) are from ancient periods of high atmospheric CO2 (i.e. low pH), however the fossil on the left pre-dates the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) some 55-56 million years ago. Carbonate ions were abundant prior to the PETM, however a geologically-rapid pulse of CO2 entered the atmosphere during the PETM, and thus lowered the abundance of carbonate ions. The fossil on the right dates from the PETM and shows clear signs of dissolution, indicating that the oceans back then were corrosive to marine calcifiers, as we'd expect, because ocean acidification was underway (Penman et al (2014).



Lamar Smith, climate scientist witch hunter

Posted on 11 November 2015 by John Abraham

Apparently eager to ride the coattails of Vin Diesel’s new movie, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) seems intent on taking up the mantle of Witch Hunter by harassing the scientists at NOAA. These scientists published a study that joined a growing body of research debunking the supposed “pause” in warming, a trope regularly trotted out by deniers looking to argue against climate action.

In his capacity as Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Smith has demanded a number of documents from NOAA and threatened them with prosecution if they don’t comply. He’s asking for the data and methods related to the study itself, which doesn’t sound too unreasonable at first. But when you learn that this information is already public, it seems odd that he would want to waste his and the scientists’ time demanding information that anyone with an internet connection can freely access.

Another odd factor is that NOAA scientists already took time out of their busy schedules of doing actual science to personally explain the study to Smith. But all this wasn’t enough for him, so he is also demanding all the scientists’ study-related email correspondence. Smith is spending all this time, energy, and taxpayer money to chase these scientists around because he is a conspiracy theorist, and has publicly espoused the belief that scientists are deliberately manipulating the temperature record to manufacture the climate crisis. This unusual position might be related to the massive quantities of oil and gas industry funding that he receives—in 2014; Smith got more money from fossil fuels than he did from any other industry.




Posted on 10 November 2015 by Riduna

Have you heard of Sir Andre Geim?

You should have heard of him. In 2004 he, together with his research colleague Sir Konstantin Novoselov, made what is likely to prove the most momentous achievement of the 21st century. They isolated the 2 dimensional material graphene, identified many of its extraordinary properties and subsequently described other 2 dimensional materials. Their work is of such importance that both were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics, knighted by the Queen and by the King of the Netherlands and over the past decade have been showered with numerous honours and awards.


Graphene does not occur naturally. It is produced from pure graphite by stripping away layers of the material until left with a single layer – a feat initially achieved using adhesive tape. It comprises atoms of carbon linked together in a hexagonal pattern forming a sheet one atom (0.35 nm) thick. 1 gram of graphene is sufficient to cover an area of 2,630 square metres and one square metre weighs 0.77 milligrams.

Fig. 1 Atomic structure of graphene. Each atom in the hexagon lattice is only 0.14 nm apart, preventing passage of any molecule.  Source: Wikipedia.

It is a very stable, chemically inert material which has x200 the strength of steel yet is malleable - its surface area can be stretched by 20%. It can be folded and crumpled, vastly increasing its surface area within the confines of a very small space.  When coated with Lithium it becomes a superconductor, having no resistance to an electric current at room temperature. Graphene is an excellent thermal conductor and in its pure form is 97.7% transparent.



By rejecting Keystone, President Obama cements his climate legacy

Posted on 9 November 2015 by John Abraham

The stupid-from-the-beginning Keystone XL pipeline is dead. It was designed to make it easier to sell the dirtiest of all fuels (tar sands and petcoke), which pollute our air and are inefficient as fuels. The proposed project was incompatible with solving climate changeSecretary of State John Kerry and President Obama have now decided that building the pipeline is not in our best interest.

This latest decision was often used as a symbol for all of Obama’s actions on the environment. The reality is that Obama’s decision on Keystone is only one part of his legacy. Under the Obama Administration, we have gone from being a laggard to a leader. We have created multiple international agreements with other countries like China to deal with pollution and climate change. 

These agreements are tough for everyone involved. But, they are doable and they are necessary if we are going to solve this climate problem. The Obama Administration has also introduced increased efficiency requirements for vehicles and pollution rules for coal-based electricity in the U.S.