The oceans are dying. See their condition on World Oceans Day!

Summary: Amidst the decades-long bombardment of doomster predictions, it’s difficult to see the actual threats to our world. The oceans rank high on the danger list, under pressure from pollution, overfishing, and climate change. World Oceans Day is an opportunity to assess the danger, and see how you can help.

Healthy oceans, Healthy planet. From the website.

World Oceans Day

World Oceans Day is a global day of ocean celebration and collaboration for a better future. This site serves as the central coordinating platform for World Oceans Day, with free resources and ideas for everyone – no matter where you live – to help expand the reach and impact of World Oceans Day on June 8 and year round.

The ocean is the heart of our planet. Like your heart pumping blood to every part of your body, the ocean connects people across the Earth, no matter where we live. The ocean regulates the climate, feeds millions of people every year, produces most of the oxygen we breathe, is the home to an incredible array of wildlife, provides us with important medicines, and so much more! In order to ensure the health and safety of our communities and future generations, it’s imperative that we take the responsibility to care for the ocean as it cares for us.

Everyone’s health depends on a clean, productive ocean. During our celebration this year, we encourage our partners and friends to once again think about what actions each of us can take to safeguard vulnerable ocean communities. Please focus on whatever issues you think are most important for a healthy ocean future. …

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Five trillion is a red line. Cross it and the environment crashes.

Summary: Here are three stories about environmental destruction, all featuring “five trillion” as the horrific number. Scary stories. Are they accurate?

To understand a trillion, look at it in cash

What is a trillion dollars?

(1) Five trillion tons of ice has melted!

5 Trillion Tons of Ice Lost Since 2002” by climate propagandist Phil Plait at Slate.

“…land ice loss is perhaps most important as a political trigger; the sheer amount of land ice being lost every year is immediate, here, now. And the numbers are staggering … From 2002 to mid-November 2014 — less than 13 years — the combined land ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland is more than 5 trillion tons. Five. Trillion. Tons. That’s beyond staggering; that’s almost incomprehensible. It’s a volume of about 5,700 cubic kilometers, a cube of ice nearly 18 kilometers — more than 11 miles — on a side.”

This is vintage propaganda, giving big numbers with no context. Much as the Right does with the Federal deficit (which if converted into pennies could build a bridge to Mars!).

The total mass of Earth’s ice is roughly 33 thousand trillion metric tons (per table 2 of 2013 USGS; other estimates differ). Five trillion metric tons over 13 years is 0.112% per year.  At that rate the Earth’s ice will melt in 6,600 86,000 years. What level of technology will we have in a thousand years? Children in the year 3,000 will probably consider conflate burning oil and cow dung, both things done by primitive people in the dark ages.

Also, estimates of Antarctica’s ice loss differ widely. A December 2015 NASA study found that Antarctica gained ice mass from 1992-2008 (see the press release).

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Science into agitprop: “Climate Change Is Strangling Our Oceans”

Summary:  The public policy debate about climate science shows the dysfunctional nature of the US media. It’s one reason why making effective public policy has become difficult or impossible. Here’s another example of how propaganda has contaminated the news reporting of this vital subject, looking at stories about a new study of our oceans.

Oxygen loss in the oceans
Image courtesy Matthew Long, NCAR. It is freely available for media use.

NCAR’s press research accurately describes the paper: “Widespread loss of ocean oxygen to become noticeable in 2030s” (although it omits a crucial detail, mentioned below). Phil Plait at Slate turns this into agitprop:  “Climate Change Is Strangling Our Oceans“. His conclusion: ““messing with {the ocean} habitat is like setting fire to your own house. Which is pretty much what we’re doing.” Maddie Stone at Gizmodo also has a sensational headline “The Oceans Are Running Low on Oxygen” (the paper says nothing like that; for example, “detectable change” does not imply a “low” level).

To see how science becomes sensational propaganda let’s start by looking at the paper — “Finding forced trends in oceanic oxygen” by Matthew C. Long et al, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, February 2016. Ungated copy here. It is interesting and valuable research about climate dynamics. The abstract…

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Good news about ocean acidification! Important news about science.

Summary: Good news is rare in the news (“if it bleeds, it leads”), but here’s a twofer. First, ocean acidification is probably not certain doom, as we’ve been told. Second, new evidence that climate-related sciences are returning to their norms of careful skepticism. Our usual stream of bad news will resume tomorrow.

Coral Outcrop on Flynn Reef By Toby Hudson
Coral outcrop on Flynn Reef. Photo by Toby Hudson from Wikimedia Commons.

 

The February/March issue of the ICES Journal of Marine Science is an important special issue “Towards a Broader Perspective on Ocean Acidification Research“, with some surprising news. The Times laid it out forthrightly…

Scientists‘ are exaggerating carbon threat to marine life’

Claims that coral reefs are doomed because human emissions are making the oceans more acidic have been exaggerated, a review of the science has found.

An “inherent bias” in scientific journals in favour of more calamitous predictions has excluded research showing that marine creatures are not damaged by ocean acidification, which is caused by the sea absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

It has been dubbed the “evil twin of climate change” and hundreds of studies have claimed to show that it destroys coral reefs and other marine life by making it harder for them to develop shells or skeletons. The review found that many studies had used flawed methods, subjecting marine creatures to sudden increases in carbon dioxide that would never be experienced in real life.

“In some cases it was levels far beyond what would ever be reached even if we burnt every molecule of carbon on the planet,” Howard Browman, the editor of ICES Journal of Marine Science, who oversaw the review, said. He added that this had distracted attention from more urgent threats to reefs such as agricultural pollution, overfishing and tourism.

Dr Browman, who is also principal research scientist at the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, found there had been huge increase in articles on ocean acidification in recent years, rising from five in 2005 to 600 last year. He said that a handful of influential scientific journals and lobbying by international organisations had turned ocean acidification into a major issue.

“Such journals tend to publish doom and gloom stories … stated without equivocation,” he said. The bias in favour of doom-laden articles was partly the result of pressure on scientists to produce eye-catching work, he added. “You won’t get a job unless you publish an article that is viewed as of significant importance to society. People often forget that scientists are people and have the same pressures on them and the same kind of human foibles. Some are driven by different things. They want to be prominent.”

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How accurate are climate scientists’ findings? Look at ocean warming.

Summary:  This might be one of the more important of our 3500 posts. It looks at an often asked question about climate science — how accurate are its findings, a key factor when we make decisions about trillions of dollars (and affecting billions of people). The example examined is ocean heat content, a vital metric since the oceans absorbing 90%+ of global warming. How accurate are those numbers? The error bars look oddly small, especially compared to those of sea surface temperatures. This also shows how work from the frontiers of climate science can provide problematic evidence for policy action. Different fields have different standards.

“The spatial pattern of ocean heat content change is the appropriate metric to assess climate system heat changes including global warming.”
— Climate scientists Roger Pielke Sr. (source).

Warming of the World Ocean

NOAA: Yearly Vertically Averaged Temperature Anomaly 0-2000 meters layer
NOAA website’s current graph of Yearly Vertically Averaged Temperature Anomaly 0-2000 meters with error bars (±2*S.E.). Very tiny error bars. Reference period is 1955–2006.

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Posts at the FM website report the findings of the peer-reviewed literature and major climate agencies, and compare them with what we get from journalists and activists (of Left and Right). This post does something different. It looks at some research on the frontiers of climate science, and its error bars.

The subject is “World ocean heat content and thermosteric sea level change (0–2000 m), 1955–2010” by Sydney Levitus et al, Geophysical Research Letters, 28 May 2012. Also see his presentation. The bottom line: from 1955-2010 the upper 700 meters of the World Ocean warmed (volume mean warming) by 0.18°C (Abraham 2013 says that it warmed by ~0.2°C during 1970-2012). The upper 2,000m warmed by 0.09°C, which “accounts for approximately 93% of the warming of the earth system that has occurred since 1955.”

Levitus 2012 puts that in perspective by giving two illustrations. First…

“If all the heat stored in the world ocean since 1955 was instantly transferred to the lowest 10 km (5 miles) of the atmosphere, this part of the atmosphere would warm by ~65°F. This of course will not happen {it’s just an illustration}.”

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The New Yorker’s “The Siege of Miami” reveals a serious problem

Summary: Today’s post examines a recent example of climate fear-mongering. Not only is this misleading (at best), but it shows how this propaganda makes it more difficult for us to clearly see the world and respond to its many dangers.

AR5: projections of rising sea level

Today’s fear-mongering: “The Siege of Miami

By Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker
“As temperatures climb, so, too, will sea levels.”

The city of Miami Beach floods on such a predictable basis that if, out of curiosity or sheer perversity, a person wants to she can plan a visit to coincide with an inundation. Knowing the tides would be high around the time of the “super blood moon,” in late September, I arranged to meet up with Hal Wanless, the chairman of the University of Miami’s geological-sciences department. Wanless, who is seventy-three, has spent nearly half a century studying how South Florida came into being. From this, he’s concluded that much of the region may have less than half a century more to go.

… According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of this century. The United States Army Corps of Engineers projects that they could rise by as much as five feet; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts up to six and a half feet. According to Wanless, all these projections are probably low. In his office, Wanless keeps a jar of meltwater he collected from the Greenland ice sheet. He likes to point out that there is plenty more where that came from.

“Many geologists, we’re looking at the possibility of a ten-to-thirty-foot range by the end of the century,” he told me.

Fear-mongering like this is the path to fame for journalists and scientists in today’s America. Let’s look at Kolbert’s well-written propaganda.

“According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of this century.”

That is the high-end of the range to the worst of the four scenarios considered by the IPCC’s AR5 (RCP8.5; see the graph above).  Professor Wanless forgets to mention that the low-end for that scenario is only 21 inches, that RCP8.5 makes unlikely assumptions about population and technology (e.g., the late 21stC is a coal-burning world like the late-19th), and that the IPCC gives only “medium confidence” to their sea-level projections. See AR5’s conclusions here.

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Are we “choking the ocean with plastic”? Tracing creation of a myth.

Summary: Many of the scary stories of our time result from interactions between actual science, activist scientists, and clickbait-seeking journalists. “We’re choking the ocean with plastic” is one such tale, showing how real problems become masked by myths. This leaves us divided and unable to respond to our problems, as neither Left nor Right clearly see the world. Meanwhile, overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction are wrecking the oceans.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The first recorded sighting of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was by oceanographer Charles J. Moore (heir to oil wealth, now an environmental activist) when sailing home after a race in 1999. Here is how he describes it (from “Trashed”, Natural History, Nov 2003). Too bad he did not bring a camera to record it!

“Day after day, Alguita was the only vehicle on a highway without landmarks, stretching from horizon to horizon. Yet as I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic.

“It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments. Months later, after I discussed what I had seen with the oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, perhaps the world’s leading expert on flotsam, he began referring to the area as the “eastern garbage patch.” But “patch” doesn’t begin to convey the reality. Ebbesmeyer has estimated that the area, nearly covered with floating plastic debris, is roughly the size of Texas.”

Much of this seems odd. There are patches of debris, but no such masses of plastic “as far as the eye can see”. There is much plastic, but most is barely visible to the eye — and lies under the surface.

Like all good stories, it grew over time. From “Choking the Oceans with Plastic” — his 2014 op-ed in the New York Times: “We even came upon a floating island bolstered by dozens of plastic buoys used in oyster aquaculture that had solid areas you could walk on.” Again no photo of the floating island, let alone of him walking on it.

Moore becomes somewhat more accurate when confronted by a knowledgeable journalist, such as Suzanne Bohan in this 2011 article: “It’s not something you can walk on, or see from a satellite. We’ve always tried to dispel that fact,” Or in this quote of him from The Independent: “The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup. It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States.”

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