AMOC running amok may cause havoc

Hooray for physics! It keeps the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) churning.

The AMOC is the product of a gigantic, ocean-wide balancing act. It starts in the tropics, where high temperatures not only warm up the seawater but also increase its proportion of salt by boosting evaporation. This warm, salty water flows northeast from the U.S. coastline toward Europe — creating the current we know as the Gulf Stream.

But as the current gains latitude it cools, adding density to waters already laden with salt. By the time it hits Greenland, it is dense enough to sink deep beneath the surface. It pushes other submerged water south toward Antarctica, where it mixes with other ocean currents as part of a global system known as the “thermohaline circulation.”

This circulation is at the heart of Earth’s climate system, playing a critical role in redistributing heat and regulating weather patterns around the world.

As long as the necessary temperature and salinity gradients exist, AMOC is self-sustaining, Boers explained. The predictable physics that make dense water sink and lighter water “upwell” keep the circulation churning in an endless loop.

The AMOC moderates our climate and is also essential for things humans like, like the North Atlantic fisheries and the pleasant beaches of the Atlantic coast of the US. You want the AMOC to keep whirling. Seriously, don’t fuck with the AMOC. The bad news, though, is that we fucked with the AMOC.

Human-caused warming has led to an “almost complete loss of stability” in the system that drives Atlantic Ocean currents, a new study has found — raising the worrying prospect that this critical aquatic “conveyor belt” could be close to collapse.

In recent years, scientists have warned about a weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which transports warm, salty water from the tropics to northern Europe and then sends colder water back south along the ocean floor. Researchers who study ancient climate change have also uncovered evidence that the AMOC can turn off abruptly, causing wild temperature swings and other dramatic shifts in global weather systems.

We know very well the consequences of disrupting the AMOC. The last time it happened was caused by the abrupt draining of Lake Agassiz into the Atlantic

It’s happened before. Studies suggest that toward the end of the last ice age, a massive glacial lake burst through a declining North American ice sheet. The flood of freshwater spilled into the Atlantic, halting the AMOC and plunging much of the Northern Hemisphere — especially Europe — into deep cold. Gas bubbles trapped in polar ice indicate the cold spell lasted 1,000 years. Analyses of plant fossils and ancient artifacts suggest that the climate shift transformed ecosystems and threw human societies into upheaval.

The Polar Vortex was bad, but you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

If this critical part of ocean circulation collapses in our lifetime, then can we drag out all the climate-denying Republicans and hang them? It would be more helpful to do it before, but I guess we have to wait until they complete the destruction of human civilization before taking action.

I blame Canada

In addition to being hot and humid (but less so than it was yesterday), the whole of Morris is hazy and smells of burning wood. Canada is on fire! Also, Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, and Idaho. Minnesota, at least, is not on fire, we’re just downwind from the conflagration. I woke up this morning wondering if the house was on fire, but no, stepping outside was enough to show me that this is a shared misery.

So how are all you Westerners holding up? I half-expect to see screaming citizens wreathed in flames to come staggering across the Dakota border.

Baked in their shells

Who guessed this would happen? The recent heat wave in the Pacific Northwest basically cooked all the coastal marine life. It’s an ugly way to die.

“Barnacles very high on the shore can survive temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit,” Harley said. “But the rocks got up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, which is far too hot for even those really, really tough animals to live through.”

“We saw the moon snails crawl out of their shells to get away from the heat,” biologist Teri King with Washington Sea Grant said. “We saw shore crabs die.”

Some mobile animals like crabs and sea stars may have been able to flee with the tide and stay underwater, and some deeper-residing clams like geoducks may have been able to burrow far enough into the mud to avoid lethal temperatures.

Shellfish farmers who saw the forecast for unheard-of heat could try to reduce their losses.

“We tried to get everything out that we could beforehand,” said Justin Stang with the Hama Hama Oyster Company on Hood Canal. “We told everyone, ‘Let’s get shellfish out to the restaurants before the big heatwave hits.’”

I hate to break the news to you, guy, but rushing to get your oysters to restaurants doesn’t exactly save them. But to continue our concerns about just us…

Beyond the immediate dieoffs, Teri King said she worries about longer-term effects.

“We’re still going to have nutrients running into Puget Sound that are still going to be fueling phytoplankton,” she said.

With fewer filter feeders like clams and oysters to slurp up plankton, harmful algae might be able to bloom unchecked, which could threaten the sound’s water quality and lead to fish kills.

This is bad. The animals we rely on to clean up the crap that runs off from our farms and cities have died! What shall we do?

All the little things add up. We think a heat wave that lasts a few weeks will cause us some substantial discomfort, but everything is interconnected, and the consequences will ripple outward. Pile up a few ripples, and soon enough you’ve got a killer wave that devastates more than your air conditioning bill.

What took them so long?

You’d think global warming and climate change would be topic #1 at the Weather Channel, but they’ve only just now announced that they’re going to make it the focus.

The Atlanta-based Weather Channel said it’s committed to tackling climate change with more vigor than it ever has.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nora Zimmett, The Weather Channel’s chief content officer and executive vice president, said they are “doubling down on climate. Climate and weather coverage are completely linked. It’s the most important topic of not just our generation, but generations to come. We have a front seat.”

She said the channel has been addressing the subject for years but not on a regular basis. “We intend to do that now,” she said. “American sentiment only recently caught up with the urgency of the issue. Years ago, our audience didn’t want to hear about it. They are much more interested in it now.”

I guess I’m not their audience, because I’d have liked to have heard more about it 40 years ago. Maybe they’re just now catching up with me?

I also immediately wondered why now, what’s changed, why weren’t they on top of this years ago? The reporter read my mind.

When Zimmett informed the owner and media mogul Byron Allen about the shift, he told her, “Why didn’t you do this sooner?

“He is the biggest advocate for climate coverage and environmental justice coverage,” she said.

Since Allen’s Entertainment Studios purchased the station for $300 million in 2018 from NBCUniversal, Zimmett has noticed his positive impact. “Byron rewards good ideas,” she said. “He’s not big on red tape and bureaucracy. This funnels down to every level. If you’re an associate producer with a great idea to shoot a story, you come up with a reasonable budget and schedule, we say, ‘Go do it!’ I’ve worked at places where they say, ‘Stay in your lane.’ Byron fosters an entrepreneurial attitude. It’s a really exciting place to be.”

You know, that doesn’t answer the question. Telling me the owner is also asking why they didn’t emphasize climate change sooner doesn’t explain why they didn’t.

It’s climate change! And global warming! It’s two, two nightmares in one!

Waking up at the end of a sweaty, restless night thanks to these hot summer temperatures (which are going to be hotter still today), I encountered this peculiar little article about the words we use to describe our climate. I didn’t like it much.

We should stop calling it “climate change.” Now, before you object, bear with me, and let’s investigate the history of the term.
We used to call it “global warming.” Not so long ago. The big we, as in, all of us, because that is what the norm was. That’s the term which dominated public discourse, and you’d read it in papers and books and articles. Not the seemingly anodyne “climate change.”
That was a far, far more accurate term. And that was the problem.
Here’s little factoid for you. Do you know who invented the term “climate change”? Frank Luntz. The Republican “strategist.” Why? Because “global warming” was dangerous. Because it was true. Too frightening. Too true. Too real. Too self-explanatory, powerful, and strong. It had to be Orwellianized. It had to memory-holed. Doublespeak had to be crafted — to create the impression that there was some “debate” on this topic.

That first bit is inaccurate. We still call it global warming, in addition to the term “climate change”. It is true that Luntz, who happens to be one of the most despicable servants of the Republican party and is evil incarnate, proposed that the Bush administration avoid the term global warming and switch to climate change because “you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate” because that’s what Luntz does — he makes rhetorical tweaks to create confusion and promote dishonesty. He’s the Republican party’s Wormtongue. But his trick is to make the truth look false, and this is a case where he has taken the language of the truth and distorted it. The answer isn’t to abandon true statements, but to make that truth known.

What the writer of that piece was doing was suggesting that we be just like Frank Luntz, and that appalls me. No, I refuse.

The truth is that scientists use both terms to clarify the phenomenon they’re discussing, not to obscure it. So here’s NASA, explaining global warming vs. climate change, first defining global warming.

Global warming is the long-term heating of Earth’s climate system observed since the pre-industrial period (between 1850 and 1900) due to human activities, primarily fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere. The term is frequently used interchangeably with the term climate change, though the latter refers to both human- and naturally produced warming and the effects it has on our planet. It is most commonly measured as the average increase in Earth’s global surface temperature.

And then climate change:

Climate change is a long-term change in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth’s local, regional and global climates. These changes have a broad range of observed effects that are synonymous with the term.

Changes observed in Earth’s climate since the early 20th century are primarily driven by human activities, particularly fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere, raising Earth’s average surface temperature. These human-produced temperature increases are commonly referred to as global warming. Natural processes can also contribute to climate change, including internal variability (e.g., cyclical ocean patterns like El Niño, La Niña and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation) and external forcings (e.g., volcanic activity, changes in the Sun’s energy output, variations in Earth’s orbit).

This is not Luntzian double-speak. Heating up the atmosphere increases climate variability, so in addition to record-breaking summer heat waves, we also get more tropical storms and the polar vortex.

The USGS also knows the difference.

What is the difference between global warming and climate change?
Although people tend to use these terms interchangeably, global warming is just one aspect of climate change. “Global warming” refers to the rise in global temperatures due mainly to the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. “Climate change” refers to the increasing changes in the measures of climate over a long period of time – including precipitation, temperature, and wind patterns.

And here Phil Plait explains the terms.

I’ve known for years that the term “climate change” was in fact promoted by Republican strategist Frank Luntz, who suggested using it because it’s less “frightening” then saying “global warming”*. But as usual, facts won’t stop the talking heads at Fox News, who claim it’s a liberal term. I like how Media Matters (who created the video) put the actual clip with Luntz in at the end.
Ironically, Luntz has a point, though not the one he meant to make. The increase in heat trapped by greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere doesn’t just make things hotter. It changes weather patterns, and can create droughts in one place and flooding in another. Over a long enough time, it will in fact change the climate, so the term is actually correct.

So don’t abandon “climate change”, use it with “global warming”. Just know what they mean.

Definitely don’t change your usage either to agree with or spite Frank Luntz, advisor to Newt Gingrich, though. That man is going to go down in history as one this generations greatest monsters, the Goebbels of anti-scientific propaganda. Fuck him.

Awesome job, Scott Hurst

I’ve got a little habit of checking in on the video footage from Fagradalsfjall now and then, and to my surprise I noticed that this one is from a friend, who went to Iceland without me. I’ll forgive him this time for his skill in getting his drone within 25m of the crater.

It looks like boiling, flowing water. Glowing red intensely hot flowing water.

If anthropomorphism works, use it

I have mixed feelings about this article about wolf behavior. It goes out of its way to cast its subject, a specific wolf called Twenty-one, as a heroic leader and kind of a male ideal: fierce but gentle, always victorious in battle but merciful to the vanquished, playful and affectionate with his cubs. It’s a lovely story, but I wondered how much the author was reading into the wolf’s behavior, and whether it was actually doing a disservice to the nature of the wolf. Then I read this, about the consequences of sparing a rival:

Wolves can’t foresee such plot twists any more than people can. But evolution does. Its calculus integrates long averages. By sparing the Casanova wolf, Twenty-one actually helped assure himself more surviving descendants. And in evolution, surviving descendants are the only currency that matters.

Yeah, I don’t think Twenty-one had been reading Hamilton about inclusive fitness in his spare time, and awareness of evolution is a recent (and often resisted) human phenomenon, so I’d suspect that there was more proximate thinking involved than long-term strategic consideration of Casanova’s potential contribution to the survival of Twenty-one’s offspring. I know, the author is saying that Twenty-one couldn’t foresee that, but then why throw in all this stuff about evolution? That would matter if we were discussing the successes of Twenty-one’s progeny, but this article doesn’t.

There’s a lot of stuff in the story that is all about imbuing this one wolf with the attributes of a human mythological ideal. They come right out and admit it.

“And if ever there was a perfect wolf,” Rick says, “it was Twenty-one. He was like a fictional character. But he was real.”

This is why scientists strive for a measure of objectivity in observing animal behavior. There’s always the potential for reading into it something that is not there, or missing something that drives the animal’s behavior that is not present in the observer’s species. Or being selective and untrustworthy in your observations because you want to preserve the Myth of Twenty-one. It’s the Great Man version of history written into the story of a wolf pack, and just as I don’t trust that model in people, I don’t trust it in wolves, either.

But then again…

The second most common cause of wolf death in the Rockies is getting killed by other wolves. (Getting killed by humans is first.) Twenty-one distinguished himself in two ways: He never lost a fight, and he never killed a vanquished wolf.

The story is about the Yellowstone wolves who live in a protected reserve, yet it’s full of incidents of wolves being illegally shot and humans are the primary cause of death in wolves, who almost always die violently. Maybe a little anthropomorphizing is necessary to get humans to be a bit less stupidly destructive.