Did Climate Change Create Texas' Hellacious 2011 Summer, Or Just Make It Worse?

Categories: Science
cracked earth.jpg
Photo by Brandon Thibodeaux
Texas's pasture-desiccating, road-warping devil heat last summer has earned a spot alongside hot spells in Moscow (2010) and France (2003) as one of the wild outliers of a climate pushed to extremes.

A study from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Columbia Earth Institute say global warming has loaded the climate dice. Smart money is on temperature anomalies. Compared with the years for which we have the most information (1951-1980), the data are striking.

The heat we saw last summer has almost no antecedent, the study says. Forty or 50 years ago, you might have seen anomalies like that over a few 10ths of 1 percent of Earth. In the last few years, 10 percent of land areas experienced summer anomalies. "The increased frequency of these extreme anomalies, by more than an order of magnitude, implies that we can say with a high degree of confidence that events such as the extreme summer heat in the Moscow region in 2010 and Texas in 2011 were a consequence of global warming," writes Dr. James Hansen of NASA.

A business-as-usual approach to fossil fuels over the next 50 years, Hansen warns, will guarantee that our record-busting summer becomes commonplace. But it's in the interplay between weather and climate that we must be careful in how we interpret the driest, hottest year we've ever seen, state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon tells Unfair Park.

"I don't think [the study's data] should be applied to events," Nielsen-Gammon says. "But I think it's fair to interpret it as the overall chances of extreme weather increasing over time."

Without getting too far into the climatological weeds, last summer was five standard deviations above normal. But climate change can only account for some of that increase. Either way, last summer was going to be bad. Nielsen-Gammon says climate change threw an extra log on the fire and turned the state into hell on Earth.

La Niña would have knee-capped the cattle industry with drought, but it was the extreme heat that burned pastures. Weather and climate, in that regard, are difficult to separate. "Places experiencing an extended period of high atmospheric pressure develop dry conditions, which we would expect to be amplified by global warming and by ubiquitous surface heating due to elevated greenhouse gas amounts," Hansen writes.

It works the other way too. The amount of moisture the atmosphere can hold increases alongside temperature. I saw this firsthand during what some believe was a 1,000-year flood in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2010. Rainfall doubled previous records. At one point an entire house was seen floating past a tractor-trailer.

Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from the study is this: Weather variability has always made climate change a difficult thing for the layperson to detect. Problem is, we've never really understood what to look for. But if you're a Texan who was alive from the '50s to the '80s and beyond, whether you know it or not, you watched the Holocene epoch end.

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Richard Wharton
Richard Wharton

Here's the simple solution:

http://energyfromthorium.com/a...

Paul
Paul

 This also points out why this fuel cycle was never adopted for power generation.  It is very very difficult to make a weapon from this cycle.

In order to make the WWII nuclear bombs, a tremendous amount of capital was expended for the gaseous diffusion plant at Oak Ridge to produce enriched uranium, i.e., U235 and the breeder reactors at the Hanford reservation to produce Pt239.

The enriched U235 was then used by Adm Rickover to develop the reactor for the 1st nuclear powered submarine,  USS Nautilus.

The civilian nuclear power program power reactors are primarily based on a scale up of the Navy reactor design.

Some things were not anticipated in the scale up program.  The most significant is the reactor vessel embrittlement problem, where the reactor vessel walls become embrittled due to the high neutron flux density.  This was not as severe a problem in the Navy reactor  due to the smaller size and lower neutron flux density at the reactor vessel wall.

The political ramifications are that the control of fissile materials had to remain in civilian control rather than military control.  The American nuclear program had to show a civilian use in  addition to civilian control in order to counter claims of belligerency by the Soviet Union and later China (mainland).

Many people do not realize that when the Department of Energy was formed, some 95% of its budget was for the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons.  Supplying fissile material for the civilian nuclear power program was always a secondary purpose of the DOE.

hth

dallasmay
dallasmay

Why is it that conservatives believe in World Wide War, World Wide Webs, World Wide Business, World Wide Travel, etc., but World Wide Consequences are out of their grasp of understanding. 

Mike3647
Mike3647

Because it is all a scam to allow the liberal elites to control what we eat, drive, drink, use for lighting and wipe our asses with - while they get rich.  That's why Al Gore is a partner at Kleiner Perkins.

How about writing about the thousands of scientists who have differing opinions?

Manny Lomax
Manny Lomax

" it is all a scam to allow the liberal elites to control what we eat, drive, drink, use for lighting and wipe our asses with - while they get rich"

Do people who say this kinda stuff actually hear themselves? How silly would it sound if you replaced "liberal elites" with any other group? "The diabetes epidemic is all a scam to allow endocrinologists to control what we eat and drink..."

Weezwas2001
Weezwas2001

 Hey, I never thought about it that way! Damn you to HELL, endocrinologist scum!!!

Guesty Mcguest
Guesty Mcguest

Because botanists and oceanographers, while "scientists", don't know any more about climate science than you do and their opinions are no more valuable than the neighborhood plumber or florist. How about writing about the climate scientists who have differing opinions? All two or three of them at best.

Max from the Sandspit
Max from the Sandspit

Yeah like Bill Gray, Max Mayfield and Neil Frank. Jimmy Hanson is a proven nut job and a disgrace to Goddard who should be in jail for fraud. So are his buddies like Phil Jones and Mike Mann but not to worry, Van Jones will ride to the rescue.

Guest
Guest

Well it seems like global warming is really NASA's fault.Think about it. Every time we launch something from Earth into space, it makesthe Earth that much lighter. The lighter the Earth gets the more the sun's gravitationalpull becomes stronger and our planet gets closer to the sun causing it to getwarmer. Fossil fuels.....pfffff!!!!!

RTGolden
RTGolden

A couple of points I'd like you to address, if you would:

1) The Holocene epoch is the current interglacial period of the current Ice Age.  If it is the current epoch we are in, how did we watch it end?  Please point to some sort of credible source, and not the wikipedia article you linked to in your post. (The wikipedia article was very interesting, however it does more to poke holes in your article than it does to support it.)

2) Perhaps the seemingly drastic upward trend in the temperatures you are referring to, in the time period you quoted (50's to 80's) are made to seem more drastic because of the cooling trend in the first part of the time frame you mentioned.  Perhaps you're too young to remember it, but in the 70's to early 80's, the great scare was global cooling, the return to glaciation, and thus, the actual end to the Holocene (you see, the Holocene period wont end until we return to a glacial period, as it is an interglacial period).  From the mid-40's to the mid-70's there was an actual cooling trend in the Northern Hemisphere, after which temperatures returned to normal, and now have begun a warming trend.  This is not new.  It has happened several times during this Ice Age (check your own wikipedia link, we are IN an Ice Age, the Holocene is an interglacial period within this Ice Age).

3) You don't account for causes beyond our control. Plate tectonics play a huge roll in global climate, as does orbital irregularity and the 20,000 year cycle of the Earth's wobbling on it's axis.  Instead you focus on greenhouse gases as the cause of climate change.  Again, in your own wikipedia link (and supported in other documentation), increases in CO2 are indicated in glacial ice cores at the times of significant global warming, but there is no clear evidence that these increases cause the warming trend, or if they are effects of the warming trend.

4) You don't account for the political and economic factors behind the frenzy of climate change.  There is huge economic gain to be had, both at the private level and the public level, in keeping the population frantic about the weather.  Developing countries can stymie the efforts of developed countries to grow their economies (like it or not, fossil fuels power the global economy).  The biggest carbon pimp on the planet is a politician, Al Gore, who has shown he will spin any tale, sell any lie, to make a buck off of telling people to do as he says, not as he does.

This is an important topic Brantley, and it's good that you choose to tackle it, because it isn't sexy like bridges or intriguing like pig blood.  This topic will continue to affect our lives long after the Calatrava collapses from neglect, JWP is buried, and pig blood in the river is just another cost of progress. By all estimates, if CO2 reaches about 750ppm the Holocene could last another 50,000 years.  It is too important a topic for you to do a half-assed job searching only for information that supports your agenda, instead of putting aside your social and political aspirations and digging for thee truth.

Brantley Hargrove
Brantley Hargrove

 RT, I linked to the Wikipedia page only to let folks know generally what the Holocene is. I reference it at the end of the post because the authors of this study believe the temperatures we're seeing today are already outside Holocene ranges (loss of sheet ice mass in both hemispheres and rising sea level).

The authors chose these years because they are most representative of the climate to which we're accustomed. Per the study, seasonal mean temperatures during 1951-80 were defined as cold one-third of the time. They're described that way about 10 percent of the time lately. On the flip side, temperatures back then described as hot are 80 percent more likely to occur in recent years.

RTGolden
RTGolden

In other words, the authors of the study found a conveniently close string of years that supported the hypothesis they wanted to prove?  That seems to be the exact opposite of scientific method.  

A better article would be simply: "Here is our best guess as to what is happening with our climate for the next six months.  Beyond that, we basically don't have a friggin clue."

Climate science is far too politicized to be trusted.

Weezwas2001
Weezwas2001

Yeah, that's what I thought you'd say.

Weezwas2001
Weezwas2001

 Yes I have indeed read your posts, in this comment section, as well as in comment sections of articles on this site, and they are pretty much all of a pattern. Big statements, no documentation, and then silence when handed your ass by your betters. Base your questions and arguments on something more concrete than random Republican talking points (e.g. - "Climate science is far too politicized to be trusted.") or learn to enjoy the sting of my mighty "axe"!

RTGolden
RTGolden

Did you even read my posts?  Do you know a damn thing about me?  I did not challenge the fact of global climate change.  I asked for some clarifications to what I was reading, and some points that didn't make sense to me.  Far from what you describe, I don't take any one person's view as gospel on such heavy issues.  I don't listen to any conservative or liberal political talk radio.  I did not offer up any research or empirical evidence, because I was not making any claims that needed it.  The anecdotal points I made were pulled from the sources linked by Brantley in his article.  I merely questioned him as to why his sources seemed to be at odds with what he wrote.

Brantley did a fine job of answering my questions, as I knew he would.  He has always answered my questions to him as completely as possible.

Pull your head out of your ass next time you swing such a big axe.  The embarrassment you save just might be your own.

Weezwas2001
Weezwas2001

 

Brantley,

 

You may already know this, but let me affirm that youare wasting your time and keystrokes responding to RT, Mike3647 and their ilk with "Empiricaldata and peer-reviewed research". They have already had their minds madeup by Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, O'Reilly, Beck, the Kochs and the rest of theusual suspects, and have no use for it. Nor will they offer any in return. Theyhave only irrational "talking points" to parrot about liberalsgetting rich from a manufactured "global warming crisis", and"thousands of scientists" who dispute the same. They do not care tolook at those getting rich from denying that climate change has any man-made component,especially ones related to petroleum production, nor do they care to know whoemploys the scientists in question to see if there might be a bias toward oneside or the other. They are neither stupid nor ignorant - both of those can bealleviated to some degree - no, they are the willfully, venially, ignorant.It's not that they don't know, it's that they don't WANT to know, becauseknowing might create some obligation on their part to consider things beyondtheir own self-interest, and that would be a burden indeed. We can only prayfor divine intervention for them; they are impervious to the pleadings ofmortal men.

Johnny Come Early
Johnny Come Early

I wondered why RT wasnt attacking and referencing the data in the study itself instead of the points you make in your article about it.Its because he doesn't understand it. As lay-friendly as it tries to be, its still pretty technical. Which is why its so weird how completely sure RT is that the whole thing is wrong.

Brenda Marks
Brenda Marks

Brantley -- totally off subject but did you notice that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment in the MRGO litigation last week.  Might pass that along to Jim.  Sure he's working on a levee piece.

Brantley Hargrove
Brantley Hargrove

This is why: "We choose 1951-1980 as the base period for most of our illustrations, because that is a time of little global temperature trend just prior to the rapid global warming in recent decades. It is a period that older people today, particularly those of the "baby boom" generation, can remember. Global temperature in 1951-1980 is also within the Holocene temperature range, and thus it is a climate that the natural world and civilization is adapted to."

Politics and the proclamations made by the beneficiaries of the energy industry (Rick Perry, et al) are far too politicized to be trusted. Empirical data and peer-reviewed research are among the few things I'd trust these days. And it's implications are far too important to wave off as some machination, as though an egghead at NASA stands to get rich by freaking people out, or really gives two shits about the political sentiment swirling around the issue.

mm
mm

 Did you say "Plate tectonics play a huge roll in global climate" on purpose, like when the plates roll over each other?  Because if you did, that's pretty funny.

RTGolden
RTGolden

nope, it was a typo, thanks for pointing it out.

Paul
Paul

To Data Dude:

As someone who had more latin than I care to admit to, and as a scientist, ... Datum is singular; data are plural, as in "datum point" and "data points".

Data points from several individual research is still referred to as "the data".

As we often say: "Data doesn't lie, but analysis can be wrong."

Personally, I would rather data woman than data dude.

Kip Riske
Kip Riske

I think the author has that covered. In fact, it's the theme of the whole article.

Myron Mesecke
Myron Mesecke

Why does this story conveniently not mention anything before 1950 like the Dust Bowl? There is nothing that is happening today that hasn't happened in the past.

Brenda Marks
Brenda Marks

Uh, no.  The drought was present, but farming techniques used at that time lead to the giant walls of blowing dust.

Brantley Hargrove
Brantley Hargrove

 Brenda is right. It's difficult to account for the effect of untold tons of aerosolized prairie.

Imagepimp
Imagepimp

A quick science nerd note:-the "datum" is striking-the data "are" striking

That is all. And thanks for the uplifting read!

Data Dude
Data Dude

Data can be used as a singular or plural. The science community uses data as a plural, "the data were..." In that context, if you used datum, it would denote several groups of research.

Imagepimp
Imagepimp

 I'll make sure to run that by my committee, Dada Dude!

mightcan
mightcan

It's God's will! Science, above comparative duck weights, is black magic.

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