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Posts Tagged: climate change

Climate is indeed an angry beast

Global warming promises to be among the most immense challenges to human adaptation in history, as big as social media. But the climate topic has been overshadowed in recent years by the recession. Just as the Dow Jones can’t be described by the fluctuations of a single decade, climate science is not defined by periods less than centuries.

These thoughts were shared at a breakfast Oct. 16 at UC Davis hosted by Capital Public Radio. The speaker: Ben Santer, MacArthur Fellow (1998), National Academy Member (2012), and atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Santer said that when he hears about the tragedy of burdening youth with the national debt, he would like to hear more about the burdening of youth with global climate change. The verbal references have vaporized.

It was appropriate that Santer opened his talk with a graphic depicting changes in global water vapor, the greenhouse gas that Earth relies on to sustain its water cycles. This greenhouse gas inspired 10,000 years of human supplication to climate gods that could meet their need for rain. But he didn’t come to talk about the largely unpredictable weather (he calls this noise), except as an indicator of a more predictable long-term climate trend (he calls this the signal). Scientists have methods to work out the signal to noise ratio and finding the major trends among frequent short-term fluctuations.

Santer's water vapor map

Santer has been involved with the IPCC since 1990. It wasn’t until 1995 that this international mouthpiece of global climate science announced that the evidence suggested that there was a human influence on global climate.  

To his surprise, Santer spent the next year and a half defending that cautionary statement, and his research role turned into that of a messenger. Two more IPCC reports and 17 years later, he is still confirming human influences through testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Global Warming (2010). His message remains the same, “Climate science is not a scam, a hoax, or a conspiracy.” It is not a belief system, so he doesn’t have to “believe in it.” He does believe in scientific facts, and proving hypotheses. His graphics make a strong case for the science, but his research problem is one of communication. He resolved to talk to everyone he meets about it.

His advice, when asked this question from the audience, would be to make the U.S. a leader in solutions rather than a leader in finger pointing. He believes that the leaders who make economic decisions based on climate science will be better able to adapt and manage the impending change, however placing blame on other nations is counterproductive to this goal.

What can we expect from the next IPCC global climate report? Santer predicts that there will be a downsizing of scale to regional scenarios. Following sage advice, if the problem is too big, break it down. His last word, a quote from climate scientist Wally Broecker, “Climate is an angry beast and we are poking it with a sharp stick.” 

Posted on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 9:30 AM

Climate change fuels western wildfires

From California’s Ponderosa fire to Colorado’s record-breaking Waldo Canyon fire and other blazes burning across the West, the summer of 2012 -- like many recent summers -- has been marked by a long, intense wildfire season. It has claimed thousands of acres, hundreds of homes, and in some cases, lives.

Malcolm North, professor in the Department of Forest Ecology at UC Davis and U.S. Forest Service research scientist, studies the effects of fire on Sierra Nevada coniferous forests. In this video, North explains how climate change and a history of fuel suppression in the forest mean wildfires will burn hotter, faster, longer and more often -- indefinitely.

“I believe very strongly we’re going to have more fires, larger fires, and those fires are going to be of higher severity,” he says. “We do need to figure out a means of making the forest more resilient.”

North is principal investigator on the Teakettle Ecosystem Experiment, which is looking at the effects of fires and forest thinning on a forest ecosystem.

Posted on Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 8:30 AM
Tags: climate change (31), Malcolm North (1), UC Davis (5), wildfire (4)

UC research predicts climate change effects in California

Walnuts depend on synchronization between male and female flowering that is regulated by the amount of chilling hours. Climate change may reduce winter chill and disrupt pollination.
A report on climate change and its effects on California released on July 31 by the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Energy Commission features more than 30 reports by UC scientists. Experts from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC San Diego/Scripps Institution for Oceanography, UC Santa Cruz, UC Cooperative Extension and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory contributed to "Our Changing Climate."

The report, the third such assessment since 2006, provides new data to help Californians plan and adapt to climate change.

"Significant increases in wildfires, floods, severe storms, drought and heat waves are clear evidence that climate change is happening now. California is stepping up to lead the way in preparing for — and adapting to — this change," said state Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird. "These reports use cutting-edge science to provide an analytical roadmap, pointing the way for taking concrete steps to protect our natural resources and all Californians."

A study led by Louise Jackson, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, took an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions on Yolo County farmland and studied how agriculture can adapt to climate change.

An op-ed co-authored by Richard Rominger, a farmer and member of the UC President’s Advisory Commission on Agriculture and Natural Resources, and published in the Sacramento Bee noted the study “found that urban land accounts for 70 times more greenhouse gas emissions per acre than cropland.” A good reason to protect cropland.

The website based on the Jackson study provides a tool for Yolo County farmers and policymakers to plan for the changes that occur at the regional level with climate change.

For planning on a larger scale, a coalition of scientists and state agencies has developed Cal-adapt, a web-based climate adaptation planning tool. Cal-adapt allows users to identify potential climate change risks in specific geographic areas throughout the state. Users can query by location or click on an interactive map to explore what climate impacts are projected to occur in different regions of the state.

“Climate change is expected to affect the quantity and timing of water flow in the state,” explained Kaveh Madani, a former postdoctoral research scholar in UC Riverside’s Water Science and Policy Center, who led a research project on climate change effects on hydropower production, demand, and pricing in California. 

“If California loses snowpack under climate warming, these high-elevation reservoirs might not be able to store enough water for hydropower generation in summer months when the demand is much higher and hydropower is priced higher,” said Madani, currently an assistant professor of civil, environmental, and construction engineering at the University of Central Florida. “California might, therefore, lose hydropower in warmer months and hydropower operators may lose considerable revenues.”

Max Moritz, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, contributed a paper to the extensive report about increased vulnerability to wildland fires in the state.

“The incredible breadth of studies, as well as the depth of their analyses, reveals just how much the University of California has to offer in preparing us all to adapt to a changing climate,” Moritz said of the full report.

Read more on specific campus researchers' contributions to the report in these news releases:

For highlights of the reports in Our Changing Climate, see the California Energy Commission’s press release. The full reports can be downloaded from the CEC’s website.


Posted on Friday, August 3, 2012 at 10:56 AM

When, where and how wood is used impacts carbons emissions

How wood is used after it is cleared from a forest and where that forest is located largely affects the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere, according to a new study by UC Davis.


The study, published this week in the advance online edition of the journal Nature Climate Change, provides a deeper understanding of the complex global impacts of deforestation on carbon storage and greenhouse gas emissions.

When trees are felled to create solid wood products, such as lumber for housing, that wood retains much of its carbon for decades, the researchers found. In contrast, when wood is used for bioenergy or turned into pulp for paper, nearly all of its carbon is released into the atmosphere. Carbon is a major contributor to greenhouse gases.

“We found that 30 years after a forest clearing, between 0 percent and 62 percent of carbon from that forest might remain in storage,” said lead author J. Mason Earles, a doctoral student with the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. “Previous models generally assumed that it was all released immediately.”

The researchers analyzed how 169 countries use harvested forests. They learned that the temperate forests found in the United States, Canada and parts of Europe are cleared primarily for use in solid wood products, while the tropical forests of the Southern Hemisphere are more often cleared for use in energy and paper production.

“Carbon stored in forests outside Europe, the USA and Canada, for example, in tropical climates such as Brazil and Indonesia, will be almost entirely lost shortly after clearance,” the study states.

The study’s findings have potential implications for biofuel incentives based on greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, if the United States decides to incentivize corn-based ethanol, less profitable crops, such as soybeans, may shift to other countries. And those countries might clear more forests to make way for the new crops. Where those countries are located and how the wood from those forests is used would affect how much carbon would be released into the atmosphere.  

Earles said the study provides new information that could help inform climate models of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading international body for the assessment of climate change.

“This is just one of the pieces that fit into this land-use issue,” said Earles. Land use is a driving factor of climate change. “We hope it will give climate models some concrete data on emissions factors they can use.”

In addition to Earles, the study, “Timing of carbon emissions from global forest clearance,” was co-authored by Sonia Yeh, a research scientist with the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, and Kenneth E. Skog of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

The study was funded by the California Air Resources Board and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Posted on Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 7:56 AM

Cruise to uncover climate change

Gary Acton
Tree rings. Ice core records. Cave stalactites. All of these things tell the story of Earth’s history and climate. Now, a UC Davis researcher and others are expanding on that story from the ocean’s point of view. They just returned from scouring the seafloor — digging deep into layer upon layer of mud — to uncover centuries of climate data from beneath the ocean floor.

UC Davis geophysicist Gary Acton is one of 34 international scientists that set sail from the Azores Islands on Nov. 17 aboard the drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution. They finished their Mediterranean voyage on Jan. 17, docking in Lisbon, Portugal.

“The climate change recovered at one of the drill sites will be dedicated to providing the most complete marine record of climate change over the past 2 million years of Earth’s history,” said Acton.

The vessel is run by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program and has the unique ability to core into the deepest reaches of the ocean. The IODP Expedition 339 targeted thick sediment drifts that accumulated from warm, salty water—called Mediterranean Outflow Water—flowing from the Mediterranean through the Strait of Gibraltar. The researchers drilled, sampled and analyzed the sediment to understand the influence that the MOW water mass has on climate, sea level change and the environment.

“A fascinating aspect of these sediments is their ability to record subtle changes in environmental conditions through measurable changes,” said Acton.

Made heavy by its high salt content, the MOW’s warm waters plunge over 3,000 feet—a drop greater than that of Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall—into the Atlantic Ocean. It scours the rocky seafloor, coursing along the margins of Spain and Portugal. Passing Scotland and heading toward Norway, the MOW becomes part of the global conveyor belt that overturns the oceans and circulates water and heat around the globe. Along its journey, sand, silt, clay and microorganisms are deposited along the continental margin as thousands of layers of mud, eventually building into sediment drifts. Each layer contains information about Earth’s history.

“My goal is to reconstruct centennial-scale changes in climate and in Earth’s magnetic field for a time period spanning the past 400,000 years,” said Acton. “Only thick, rapidly deposited sedimentary units like those we are coring provide that ability. They are virtual prehistoric observatories.”

During the expedition, the scientists sailed more than 1,200 nautical miles, drilled 19 holes in 7 different locations, and collected 681 sediment cores—equal to about three miles of mud and sand.  Now that the researchers have returned to their homes, they will continue to collaborate as they sift through the data.

“Part of the true value of participating on an expedition like this is the incredible amount of science that can be completed, particularly when scientists with a variety of expertise are confined to a 471-foot-long ship and asked to work 12-hour shifts for two months,” said Acton. “That may seem an odd thing to do over the holidays, but we were all thrilled to be a part of this expedition and to have the chance to continue to work together following the cruise.”

Posted on Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Tags: climate change (31)

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