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Phil Plait's Posts


We’re still losing ice at the poles


One of the key indicators and consequences of global warming is ice loss at the Earth’s poles. As the planet warms, on average and over time, more ice melts every summer. It refreezes in the winter, but again, as temperatures rise, in general we’ll see less ice at any given time as compared to the year before.

The situation for the two poles is different. In the north, the Arctic ice floats on the ocean, and in the south, the Antarctic ice is over land and sea. This means that they ways they melt -- how quickly, how much, even where specifically in those regions -- are different. Still, the fact is the ice at both poles is melting. We’ve known this for quite some time.

And some new data show it’s even worse than we thought.

Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent in Sep. 2013, two days earlier than usual. The orange line is the median minimum extent from 1981 - 2010; note how much lower the ice was this year.
Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent in Sep. 2013, two days earlier than usual. The orange line is the median minimum extent from 1981 - 2010; note how much lower the ice was this year.
Read more: Climate & Energy


Why debunk climate change deniers?


I recently posted yet another debunking of a climate change denial post. The claims made by the writer, David Rose, were not just flatly wrong, but actually ridiculous. He quoted scientist Myles Allen grossly out of context (confirmed by Allen himself), making it seems as if Allen were saying something he wasn’t. He compared two measurements that were not at all comparable, making it seem like other scientists didn't know what they were doing. And he made a pile of other easily disproven statements that didn’t come within a glancing blow of reality.

I’ll admit: It’s no fun writing about this kind of thing. I hate it. I hate having to do it. I’d much rather be writing about galaxies and Saturn and supernovae, and it’s depressing to wake up in the morning and see yet another nonsensical article that I know will get repeated endlessly in the deny-o-sphere echo chamber.

But that’s precisely why I have to slog through it. The more people who can show these claims for what they are -- wrong, willfully or otherwise -- the better.

Why? Because, sadly, the people who deny the reality around them have a very large megaphone, and in some cases have a lot of motivation to use it. Money, power, riling up the electorate, or, perhaps worst of all, pure zealotry. Nothing is as impenetrable as an armor wrought from fervent ideology.

Read more: Climate & Energy


A gorgeous video of a devastating fire

Matt Johnson

Over and again, I am struck by the paradox of the beauty inherent in some terror. Usually, this comes in the form of weather. Hurricanes from space are stately and serene, completely belying the destruction below. A mesocyclone swirls, dark and foreboding and gorgeous, over a Texas plain. Rapidly forming storm cells create tornadoes which devastate Oklahoma, but are delicate and soft when seen from space.

Wildfires aren’t exactly weather, but they are related, and certainly fall into this category of terrifying yet still distressingly beautiful. This summer, my home state of Colorado suffered the most destructive fire in its history. Oddly, the number and acreage of the fires haven’t broken records, but the locations are key; two lives were lost in the Black Forest fire, and the property damage was historic.

Photographer Matt Johnson traveled to Colorado in June 2013 and shot time-lapse footage of the West Fork Complex Fires, another wildfire which was triggered by lightning and eventually burned over 100,000 acres. The video he created is both stunningly gorgeous and viscerally horrifying.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Ice going, humanity: Arctic melting at alarming rates

Image (1) arctic-sea-ice-ponds-flickr-nasa.jpg for post 48962

It’s no surprise to regular readers I am quite concerned about climate change. My concern on this issue is twofold: One consists of the actual global consequences of the reality of global warming, and the other is the blatant manipulation of that reality by those who would deny it.

These two issues overlap mightily when it comes to Arctic sea ice. The ice around the North Pole is going away, and it’s doing so with alarming rapidity. I don’t mean the yearly cycle of melt in the summer and freeze in the winter, though that plays into this; I mean the long-term trend of declining amounts of ice. There are two ways to categorize the amount of ice: by measuring the extent (essentially the area of the ocean covered by ice, though in detail it’s a little more complicated) or using volume, which includes the thickness of the ice. Either way, though, the ice is dwindling away. That is a fact.

Of course, facts are malleable things when it comes to the deniosphere. One popular denier claim is that Arctic sea ice extent is higher in recent years than it was in 1989, therefore claims of it melting away are false.

This is so blatantly wrong that it’s hard to believe anyone could make that claim with a straight face. But make it they do, like Lawrence Soloman did in (surprise!) an op-ed in the Financial Post (which, like the Wall Street Journal, is a refuge for denialist claims). Soloman’s silliness is taken apart easily by Tamino on his blog. Harrison Schmitt has made this claim as well. It’s simple cherry-picking your data, and a huge no-no when it comes to real science.

When you look at the average, the trend in the ice, it goes down, down, down. Over time, there’s less.

How much less?

Read more: Climate & Energy


16 years of no global warming? Yeah, right

You can't hide from the truth.
You can't hide from the truth forever.

The difficulties in debunking blatant anti-reality are legion. You can make up any old nonsense and state it in a few seconds, but it takes much longer to show why it’s wrong and how things really are.

This is coupled with how sticky bunk can be. Once uttered, it’s out there, bootstrapping its own reality, getting repeated by the usual suspects.

Case in point: The claim that there’s been no global warming for the past 16 years. This is blatantly untrue, a ridiculous and obviously false statement. But I see it over and again online, in op-eds, and in comments to climate change posts.

The good news is, Kevin C. from Skeptical Science has created a nice, short video showing just why this claim is such a whopper.

I like this: clear, to the point, and easy to understand. The bottom line is that temperatures continue to rise, and that human-caused greenhouse gas forcing of the climate has not even slowed, let alone stopped.

Read more: Climate & Energy