Thursday, April 11, 2013

Told ya so

I love talking about spring partly because the additional words make it appear longer than it actually is. This spring I should be writing Haiku as it gathers only enough steam for short phrases cut by weather.

Yellow flowers show
 Heavy ice-snow falling now 
Flat daffodils lie

I should say that I predicted the crazy weather back in September. The autumnal equinox found the arctic sea ice at its lowest extent ever, and I said that the record arctic melt would: “force the jet stream into some sort of apocalyptic undulation that will intermittently bring shockingly cold air into southern latitudes”. Well, my predictions came true, and you should all acknowledge me as a climate scientist with enough prediction cred as to really stoke my ego furnace.

Unfortunately I also pointed out that it was not actually my prediction, and that my knowledge of climate science was too weak for me to assign any level of credibility to the prediction. I should learn not to deny credit for predictions until after they turn out to be wrong. However, my purpose has been to present some data, some potential ramifications of the data, and then re-visit it to see what the connections might mean. This post is the re-visiting part.

The wild weather rollercoaster that brought record snowfall almost everywhere apparently also brought a little more to some areas of Utah. The Alta ski resort reported receiving 403 inches of snow as of the 8th of April. Last year on the 11th of April they reported having received 353 inches.

However, the Utah snowpack is being reported at 73% of average today. Some of that increased snowfall must have melted away before its time. We are supposed to suffer another drought year with increased wildfire potential.

Warming-weather-wildfires…will this cycle be re-run with increasing power? I should make a prediction.

This week the arctic ice began its annual melt cycle in earnest. Last month’s vernal equinox brought sunshine to the north pole and ended the arctic’s long night. The thin edges of the arctic ice became brittle and calved icebergs into the northern parts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Soon puddles will start to form on the ice, and it will fracture into billions of pieces; though if we are to have another record ice melt it will not be evident till late summer.

The overwhelming and accumulating evidence suggests that these cycles, meltings, and warmings are caused by accumulated greenhouse gasses –most significantly carbon dioxide- in the atmosphere. It may be time to talk about doing something about that gas accumulation. However, there are groups that are actively impeding response efforts.

Shortly after I made my prediction last year a former crew member of Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior  named Russ George dumped 100 tons of iron rich ore into the north pacific. He did this despite the social stigma of having two first names.

100 tons of dust sounds like a lot, and it is. I don’t have enough closet space to store half that amount, and I’m often struck by how much dust is in my closets. But compared to annual runoff caused by tropical deforestation 100 tons is nothing; literally.

Haiti loses 13.1 million tons of soil into the sea through erosion every year, and that number would probably be much higher if they did not have such a long history of soil erosion. Costa Rica loses 860 million tons of soil annually. I have no idea how they even get numbers like these.  These are both tiny countries, but the amount of dust Russ put into the Pacific was much less than the measurement error for the soil spewed into the sea by either of them.Think of how much more is dumped into the sea by everyone; it is surely a mind-bogglingly huge amount. 

Russ was hoping to stimulate a phytoplankton bloom. The idea was that phytoplankton would fix carbon from the air, and the fixed carbon would be sequestered into more attractive forms than free-floating greenhouse gasses; some may hopefully end up as lox. I like lox a lot.

There are some serious questions about the overall efficacy of trudging iron ore dust from Alberta a couple hundred miles offshore and dumping it to fix a little carbon. I personally do not like the overall economy of this approach.

Despite the fact that iron fertilization may not work well enough for prime time Russ’s experiment apparently did work. The experiment resulted in Phytoplankton blooms that were visible from satellites.

This was not the first time Russ had set out to attempt a large-scale iron fertilization experiment.  Back in November of 2007 he and former Rainbow Warrior skipper Peter Willcox filled their ship Weatherbird with 50 tons of iron dust, and attempted to drop it into the Pacific somewhere west of the Galapagos Islands.

The 2007 experiment would not have been Peter Willcox's first time dumping large quantities of iron into the Pacific Ocean.  On 12 December 1987 the ship Rainbow Warrior was scuttled at Matauri Bay in the Cavalli Islands . Peter was captain of the ship when French intelligence agents critically damaged it with explosives in New Zealand.  One of Peter's 12 person crew, a photographer named Fernando Pereira, was killed in the attack.

During the protests against French nuclear testing in the mid-1980s Peter regularly piloted the Rainbow Warrior into harms way.  French commandos had already attacked the ship once, forcefully boarding it near the atoll of Moruroa.  That time they did not murder any of the crew.

The 2007 experiment did not take place.  The crew of the Weatherbird came under attack.  This time the attack was a passive-aggressive bureaucratic attack instigated by people who called themselves environmentalists and ocean stewards.

Chief amongst these were members of the organization Sea Shepperd.  These are the stars of the reality-TV show Whale Wars.  Sea Shepperd pilots its multimillion dollar fleet in front of cameras in a constant bid to stop whaling and attract donations.  They are very successful, and flashy, and oh so dedicated. 

Paul Watson is the founder of the Sea Shepperd Conservation Society, and Captain of their flagship The Steve Irwin.  Paul also credits himself as a founder of Greenpeace, a claim Greenpeace denies.  Paul calls Russ and Peter "Rapists" and "Insane" and "Dangerous ecological criminals".  Paul is a TV star so I'm sure he can defame their characters with dramatic zest.

Questions have been raised about large-scale iron fertilization of the ocean.  One important concern is the risk that the fertilization will cause toxigenic dinoflagalate blooms. 

Prior to last October's experiment there had been quite a few midi-scale experiments.  None of these was large enough to properly address the toxigenic dinoflagalate bloom.  The only real harm Russ and Peters large-scale experiment could have done was to show that the toxigenic dinoflagalate bloom risk was less than expected.

Paul's crusade against phytoplankton carbon sequestration appears to be more of a high definition multimedia defense of ignorance and fear.  If I was one to make predictions I might suggest that Sea Shepperd will be burning books next. 

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