When I talk about Climate Change, I don’t talk about science.

Climate Change is real. It’s happening now. And the best available data points to us as the cause.

That the foundational science is settled is a point of unending frustration to scientists, science writers, and policy advocates who face continuous partisan push back, from whitewashing government websites to threatening scientists with legal repercussions for reporting the data.  During my International Marine Conservation Congress keynote last year, I argued that Climate Change denial is not a science literacy problem, but rather a product of increasing political bifurcation. Political ideology is a much stronger predictor of Climate Change understanding than science literacy.

The term “Climate Change” is now loaded with so much political baggage that it becomes almost impossible to hold a discussion across political lines. In stakeholder interviews, people generally understand and acknowledge the impacts of climate change on local and regional scales, as long as you don’t call it “Climate Change”. This has been my experience working in rural coastal communities, which tend to be strongly conservative and intimately connected to the changing ocean.

Which is why, when I talk about Climate Change, I don’t talk about science.  Read More

Fun Science FRIEDay – Water to Wine? Close, CO2 to Alcohol (ethanol)

Science brings us many wonderful things (honestly if you enjoy the benefits of the modern era, go out and hug a scientist). One of humanities age old desires is the ability to convert something invaluable, or a nuisance, into something desirable. The old midas touch if you will. Recently some scientist stumbled onto the process of converting CO2, a primary culprit of anthropogenic climate change, into alcohol… though not the kind you drink, the kind that humanity could use as fuel.

(Photo credit: Getty + Space Images)

(Photo credit: Getty + Space Images)

Producing fuel from CO2 is huge because it lets us take a nuisance compound, and converts it into a productive one. This was accomplished by scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee by using common materials (copper and carbon), but arranging them with nanotechnology. The researchers were attempting to find a series of chemical reactions that could turn CO2 into a useful fuel, such as ethanol. They figured they would go from CO2 to methanol, and then work out the logistics of going from methanol to ethanol, when they realized the first step in their process managed to do it all by itself. Science for the win!

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Singing Science: Weather vs. Climate with lyrics for teachers

The month of February 2016 just broke a global temperature recordpreviously held by… January…2016.

While the Trubama climate plans are being praised, the comments section of this Guardian article was still inundated with “Well, it’s cold where I am” posts.  Perhaps we need to create more awareness about the difference between weather and climate…

I know, I’m not supposed to talk about this, but I love to sing.  Every neighbor, flat mate, and unwilling car passenger knows this.  In fact, the only thing I love as much as singing is teaching science, but the metaphorical light bulb didn’t come on until I attended a SciComm workshop in Portugal.  Why not sing about science like many others?  Maybe even weather and climate??

Adele songs were the obvious choice, both for singability and availability of karaoke versions on YouTube, so I began my research.  I asked facebook if this would be a valuable addition to the internets, or best not to talk about it ever again, and the response was significantly positive.  Thus, #SingingScience was born and with it a commitment to do more of these when I have free time.

Enjoy, Weather vs. Climate set to Adele’s “Hello”

**Note (because evidently it’s not obvious):  This is not real meteorological data.

Here are the lyrics for any science teachers who would like them: Read More

The War on Climate Change is a Guaranteed Job Creator

Our human history is measured in a sequence of “epochs”, periods of time defined by events or advancements. Today, we are entering the epoch of climate change.  In this era, Lindsay Graham acknowledges that climate change is real and humans are causing it. Conversations finally turn away from “Do we need to do anything?” to “What are we going to do now?”

This question terrifies conservative political parties across the globe. “What are we going to do now?” cannot be answered by old techniques aging politicians are comfortable with. The beginning of the climate change epoch is the end of their political/economical relevance just as the DVR was the death of Laser Disc. We cannot save our economies and address these new challenges by using strategies developed 30+ years ago during a completely different environment.   Read More

Fun Science FRIEDay – Ocean Acidification, More Than Just pH

You have probably heard that as the global climate changes due to human influence the sea surface is going to rise and the oceans will get warmer and more acidic. The bit about the oceans increasing in acidity is particularly troubling because it implies calcium carbonate based organisms (oysters, snails, corals, etc.) will simply dissolve in this future dystopian acid-ocean (that is a bit of an oversimplification, but you get the idea).

Ocean acidity is determined by measuring the pH, which relates acidity based on the number of hydrogen ions found in the water. So long story short, as more and more carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted into the atmosphere, it in-turn fluxes into the oceans forming carbonic acid which results in the release of hydrogen ions lowering the pH. Simple logic would suggest that this spells bad news for calcifying organism (poor Mr. Snail).

Healthy Pretopod shell (left) and degraded Pteropod shell due to ocean acidification (right). (Photo credit: NOAA [climate.gov])

Healthy Pretopod shell (left) and degraded Pteropod shell due to ocean acidification (right). (Photo credit: NOAA [climate.gov])

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To dyke, or not to dyke: A debate coming to a town near you

Finally, President Obama’s state of the union called out Congress’s problem with climate change. Their denial is merely a symptom of overall scientific ignorance, a simply medieval issue that has temporarily stalled many great nations’ progress throughout history. Yet, President Obama’s points about climate change and it’s relevance to the nation gives one hope that there is a small smoldering ember of collaborative-driven leadership buried under piles of Benghazi reports, and it couldn’t come a moment too soon. The USA has stalled its scientific and technological growth at a key time in global history and is already generations behind the modern world in technological advancements to protect its people against a rising threat – the ocean.

Let me present you with a case study. I live in Zeeland in the Netherlands, and this area is protected by the world-famous Oosterschelde surge barrier; a 9km system of dams, movable concrete slabs, and artificial islands.  The Oosterschelde is one of many ocean barriers strategically placed along the Dutch coast and has been deemed one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.  During storm events, the Oosterschelde’s massive concrete slabs shut and cut off Zeeland’s waterways from the surge of the North Sea.

By Nils van der Burg from Madrid, Spain (IMG_7446) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Oosterschelde Delta Works – 9km long: By Nils van der Burg from Madrid, Spain (IMG_7446) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Unhappy feet – why we need more than a day of penguin awareness

A couple of days ago (20th January) was penguin awareness day1. But do we really need to be more aware of penguins?  Well, actually yes.


 Photo by Chris Parsons

 We conducted a study a couple of years ago  (pdf also available) to look at public awareness of penguins (using university students as a sample) and found that nearly half (43%) of those questioned though that  penguins were protected under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) and were thus listed as  “endangered.” At the time only one penguin was listed on the ESA (the Galapagos penguin, Spheniscus mendiculus). The IUCN currently classifies five species of penguin as “endangered” 2 and six as “vulnerable” 3. The biggest threat to penguins generally is, unsurprisingly, climate change. The chicks of Magellanic penguins (S. magellanicus) in Argentina have experienced increasing mortality because of increasing numbers and severity of storms, and will continue to experience mortality as these further increase, in addition to additional mortality  from increasing rainfall and temperatures. Changing patterns of sea ice cover are impacting Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) foraging at Ross Island, Antarctica. In various locations in the Antarctic Penninsula in particular, Adelie colonies are expected to be impacted by warming temperatures and changes in sea ice with perhaps as many as 75% of colonies decreasing or declining. Although in some locales, melting ice has increased potential Adelie habitat.  Chinstrap colonies have been reported to be in decline as well, despite this being a more open water species, that was previously being thought of as potential benefactors from melting sea ice – penguin nest occupation on Deception Island declined by more than third between 2002/2003 and 2009/10. These chinstrap penguins are likely being impacted by declining krill stocks, as will their  Adelie penguin cousins, in addition to ice loss which so affects this latter species. Overall, across the Antarctic Pennisula, there has been a decline in both Adelie and chinstrap penguin numbers. Read More

Southern California is basically Mordor: Climate forcing effects in Middle Earth

“It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash and dust, the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume.”

Boromir, The Lord of the Rings

Mordor, images from Lord of the Ring Wiki

Mordor, images from Lord of the Ring Wiki

Mordor, the seat of the Dark Lord’s power, a barren wasteland crawling with orcs, dry and desolate. Or at least, that’s what we’re led to believe thanks to documentaries about the Ring War and other literature related to the great, but fallen kingdom. As one astute reader of the ancient texts point out “Orcs still have to eat, right?” (Shiffman, 2014).

So what is Mordor really like, when the cameras stop rolling?

Mordor is a combination of massive industrial powerhouse and agricultural heavy-weight. Mordor is among the most volcanically active regions in Middle Earth. While areas in the immediate vicinity of volcanoes like Amon Amarth are better suited for forging and other activities that take advantage of the incredible (and environmentally-friendly!) geothermal power, the constant rain of ash makes the land untenable, however volcanic soil is incredibly rich and makes for some of the best farming in the worlds. So we see, in Mordor, great garrisons and forges to the north, where the fires burn. However, in the south, Mordor is home to a vast inland sea, Núrnen, where the fields and farms that feed the amassed armies of men and orcs bear fruit. Mordor has agriculture, and, despite the incredibly dry climate, quite a lot of it.

Oh yes, Mordor is dry. Thanks to a thorough analysis of the climate of Middle Earth (also available in Elvish and Dwarvish) we know that Mordor receives at most 0.5 mm of rainfall per day. This is thanks to the rain-shadow effect of the Misty Mountains and the sub-tropical positioning of the kingdom–Mordor is affected by a Hadley cell. So even though climate would indicate that Mordor be more barren desert and less most-significant-kingdom-of-the-age, the combination of freshwater access and geology has led to some of the largest agricultural operations in all of Middle Earth. In fact, Mordor is rather similar to another geopolitical powerhouse–Southern California.

Or, at least, it was.

California is currently experiencing the worst drought in recorded history. With water tables dropping, wildfires raging, and the sea encroaching, it’s a wonder than humans continue to carve out settlements along this tortured coast. But, like the massive armies of Mordor, the population of Southern California continues to grow, and great fortress like that of Barad-Angeles fortify their walls against the onslaught. While Mordor enjoys up to 0.5 mm of rainfall a day, Southern California has suffered even greater drought, logging barely 0.14 millimeters per day since June 1.

Which means that, as the California drought continues, Southern California may actual be dryer, hotter, and less habitable than Mordor.

#DrownYourTown Coastal States Road Trip is coming to your (virtual) town

Last week, I kicked off the #DrownYourTown Coastal States Road Trip with a cruise through California. Over the next few weeks, we’ll visit every coastal US state (and territory) and see what they look like after 5 meters of sea level rise. The first week of images is available at the #DrownYourTown tumblr and you can follow along in real time on twitter @DrownYourTown.

Panama City, FL after 5 meters of sea level rise.

Panama City, FL after 5 meters of sea level rise.

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