Category Archives: Climate Change

Climate Change Guide

Earth is getting hotter. There’s really no doubt about it. This past January, for example, “was the planet’s most unusually warm month since we started measuring temperature in 1880.”

The misinformation out there about climate change is maddening and time consuming to go against. Thankfully there’s a great resource available to help sift through the BS.

It’s a YouTube channel called Scientists on Climate Change. You’ll find a number of videos there with interviews from actually climate scientists. These are the people who know what they’re talking about. These are not politicians or wishful thinkers. I highly recommend it if for no other reason than to see what real-life scientists are studying.

Climate Change Deniers’ Anthem

Love this. Funny or Die has a new take on climate change and the Koch brothers. Not much more to say except that if you want to learn more about climate change I highly recommend Climate Truth and Skeptical Science.

Oklahoma Climate Center Receives Major Award

A climate science center at the University of Oklahoma was recently given a major award by the Department of Interior.

The South Central Climate Science Center is on OU’s Research Campus. It was named a recipient of Dept. of Interior’s 2015 Environmental Achievement Award for “Climate Science and Partnerships—Increasing the Tribal Capacity for Climate Change Adaptation.”

The University of Oklahoma says the SCCSC received the award because of, “… its partnerships with other agencies to develop programs for building tribal capabilities and conducting climate science research.  The Center is a consortium codirected by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Oklahoma.  Consortium members include OU, the Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab, Louisiana State University, Oklahoma State University and Texas Tech University.”

I asked Kim Winton, the director of the South Central Climate Science Center, what this award means. She says, “This award recognizes a Departmental individual or team that has shown consistent leadership in identifying the impacts climate change will have on the Department, acting to integrate that information into their work, and sharing their experience to help others prepare.”

The award recognizes what’s being done to work with Oklahoma tribes to spread awareness and prepare for climate change. Winton says the SCCSC provides training for tribes, “…Vulnerability Assessments, and Adaptation Planning. We also do lots of things for school age children such as classroom activities, festivals etc. and provide hands-on demonstrations of how CO2 makes things warmer, and how tree rings tell us about the climate history.”

Winton says Oklahoma’s native tribes can help with climate change by doing what everyone needs to do such as, “…decrease fossil fuel use, build using sustainable materials, etc.”

How Dust can help control Climate Change

Research by a University of Oklahoma scientist could lead to novel way to fight climate change. It has to do with dust.

Dr. Gerilyn Soreghan, courtesy University of Oklahoma

Dr. Gerilyn Soreghan, courtesy University of Oklahoma

Dr. Gerilyn Soreghan and a team of researchers from the University of California Riverside, Florida State University, University of Leeds, Hampton University, and Cornell University have been looking at some really old, iron-rich dust deposits. Like 300-million year old dust from the late Paleozoic period.

(I’ve talked with Dr. Soreghan before, click here and here to learn more about her.)

Dr. Soreghan says Earth’s atmosphere was as dusty as it has ever been 300 million years ago. She says it’s important to study those dust deposits because of the impact they had back then on Earth’s climate.

Here’s why: dust carries iron- iron is a fertilizer for plants- plants use photosynthesis-photosynthesis removes carbon from the atmosphere and replaces it with oxygen.

Dr. Soreghan says deep-time dust contained a lot of iron which means it “…should have even larger consequences for burial of carbon.” As for the modern day, there’s talk of iron fertilization as a geoengineering scheme to control the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Dr. Soreghan says her study on deep-time events shines a light on how those types of geoengineering endeavors may work in the present day but, she says, more research is needed.

You can read more on the study in this brief write-up by Dr. Soreghan or here where the Geological Society of America has published an article. The National Science Foundation and American Chemical Society funded the research.

 

 

Oklahoma Spring Rains Strengthened by Global Warming

Global warming is behind that record setting rainfall we experienced last May.

The Oklahoma Climatological Survey reported a statewide average of 14 inches of rain in May, well above the previous record set in 1941.

It’s no secret that Oklahoma gets a lot of rain in the spring but a newly published study says global warming is the reason why we saw so much of it this year. Dr. Shih-Yu (Simon) Wang, the assistant director of the Utah Climate Center, is the lead author of the study. The Guardian has a good recap.

Global warming acts like a domino effect…a rise in temperatures in one part of the world, impacts rising seawaters in another part of the world, impacts precipitation in another part of the world…and so on. Dr. Wang studied how global warming impacted El Niño.

“El Niño tends to increase late-spring precipitation in the southern Great Plains and this effect has intensified since 1980. There was a detectable effect of anthropogenic global warming in the physical processes that caused the persistent precipitation in May of 2015: Warming in the tropical Pacific acted to strengthen the teleconnection towards North America…”              

You can expect to see many more studies like this linking global warming to natural disasters. Some may continue to deny it but the Earth doesn’t care.

 

 

Rising CO2 Levels Not Good for Grasslands

Rising CO2 levels are not good for grasslands, that’s the result of a four decade study in Montana. Researchers with Montana State University have been studying the same meadow near Bozeman for more than 40 years. They recently published the results of their study in Nature Communications.

The study ran from 1969 to 2012. When it began the concentration of carbon dioxide was at 327 parts per million. 42 years later it had risen by 20% to 402ppm.

So what were the results? Not surprisingly at all, not good. As reported by  The Daily Climate,Dryness over the last several decades is outpacing any potential growth stimulation from increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrogen deposition,” said Jack Brookshire, one of the study’s co-author. He added, “Our results demonstrate lasting consequences of recent climate change on grassland production.”

One of the big arguments for climate change deniers is that rising CO2 emissions are good for plants. Our own illustrious Senator with the snowball has made that argument several times. He most recently said it earlier this month on the Senate floor. Here’s the video courtesy of Raw Story.

So basically more CO2 makes plants greener. In a way, that’s correct. But when looking at climate change you have take into everything into account…that includes less rainfall. So more CO2 and less rain means less productivity in grasslands.

Maybe next time the Senator with the snowball will bring a clump of grass to the Senate floor to make his case.

This Scientist is OK- Dr. Lynn Soreghan

Dr. Lynn Soreghan is a geologist at the University of Oklahoma. She studies what’s called deep time climate, basically we’re talking about Earth’s climate from hundreds of millions of years ago. She does it by studying ancient dust that has now solidified and become rock.

In this video she talks about why she loves geology, what ancient dust particles tell you about climate of the past, and what she thinks about the state of science education in Oklahoma. You can really see at the 2:52 mark as she tries to find the words to describe her frustration with some of the meddling that goes on in science education in our state.

Ancient Dust and Fossilized Raindrops (sort of)

Dr. Lynn Soreghan is a geologist at the University of Oklahoma. She has one of the more unique specialties I’ve come across. She studies deep time climate by looking at ancient dust. It was formed hundreds of millions of years ago but has now become rock or stone.

Be sure to check out the 2:05 mark where you can see what are essentially fossilized raindrops!!! Okay, not really, but you can see the imprint made when it rained millions of years ago in Colorado. It’s supercool.

We talked via Skype.

Tail feathers Changed after Severe Storms

Researchers from the University of Oklahoma and the Sutton Avian Research Center in Bartlesville have found evidence that severe storms have caused a physical change in a population of birds.

The team studied Grasshopper Sparrows near El Reno, OK. The birds survived a massive storm in May 2013. It was a deluge that saw a 2-mile wide EF5 tornado and hailstones that were more than two inches wide. The birds they studied were born just before the storm. You can read the study here.

Jeremy Ross in the field during study.

Dr. Jeremy Ross in the field during study.

Dr. Jeremy Ross was the lead researcher. He reports they found a spike in the chemical signature of what’s called pallid bands in the tail feathers of the birds. Dr. Ross says the bands contained more of a certain type of nitrogen isotope. He says the stress of living through the storm caused muscle tissue to break down which changed the composition of the nitrogen in the blood. That change plays itself out as the feathers develop. “This may be the first example of severe thunderstorms being scientifically implicated in sublethal stress impacts on wildlife,” says Dr. Ross.

Pallid band on the tail feather of a young Grasshopper Sparrow

Pallid band on the tail feather of a young Grasshopper Sparrow. Photo courtesy: W. Alice Boyle

So why would this happen? What’s it mean? Dr. Ross says the tail is less important than the wing feathers in young birds. During high-stress events, like severe storms, food can be harder to find because the hailstones can kill either one or both parents of the fledgling or kill the insects on which they feed. When that happens the body moves blood from growing feathers that are not as important in order to protect other parts of the body that need more blood and energy.

Dr. Ross say it’s not unusual for Grasshopper Sparrows to have pallid bands but it’s normally about 2% of the population. After the El Reno storm they discovered about 44% of the population showed the pallid bands.

A detailed look at the Pallid Bands in the tail feathers of young Grasshopper Sparrows

A detailed look at the Pallid Bands in the tail feathers of young Grasshopper Sparrows. Photo courtesy: W. Alice Boyle

The study came about by accident, Dr. Ross says the team was doing other research in the area when they noticed the high rate of pallid bands in the Grasshopper Sparrows. (What a great example of how fluid science can be!!) Dr. Ross told me, “This study represents the opportune accident that scientists often don’t plan for and, therefore, don’t report. We have encouraged the scientific community to follow suit and report such findings because as a connected network we can be assured that in any given year severe weather will strike an existing field study. From such events we can gain insight into what the impacts of current severe weather patterns are now and, from this insight, we can start to predict how intensifying and expanding severe weather patterns will impact wildlife populations under a changing climate.”

Oklahoma is “Ground Truth” for Climate Change Research

Oklahoma is well known for its climate change deniers, but did you know that Oklahoma is also considered a rock star, so to speak, by those who study climate change?

A research paper published in February in Nature showed that carbon dioxide is indeed trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere. The study backs up what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been saying all along. The research was conducted by scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They concluded that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 22 parts per million from 2000-2010.

The data came from two climate research facilities in the United States. One is in Barrow, Alaska and the other is right here in Oklahoma…Lamont, OK to be precise. The small town is located in Grant County, west of I-35 along Highway 60. The town’s mayor writes on Lamont’s website, “Lamont is a classic small town, where everyone knows your name, a neighbor is not just someone who lives next door, and the community is your family.” 

The climate research site in Lamont is operated by the U.S. Department of Energy. The main facility covers 160 acres of land around Lamont. You can read all about the facility here and see a map of where weather research stations are located in Oklahoma.

One of the researchers for this new study is Dr. Daniel Feldman. Here’s what he told me about the role Oklahoma is playing in the study of climate change, “The site in Oklahoma that was used for this research is actually pretty famous in the atmospheric science community, because it is heavily instrumented and has been for over two decades now. The idea for this site is to make a whole lot of high quality measurements to improve scientific understanding of atmospheric science, including weather, how thunderstorms and tornadoes form, cloud formation, interactions between the land and the atmosphere, and many other research topics. The site’s data has been used by researchers to advance science many, many times, and often is referred to as a “ground truth” because of the quality of the data there, its accessibility, and its comprehensive nature.”

So there you have it, regardless what the Senator with the Snowball says, climate change is real and Oklahoma is playing a major role in documenting it.