Friday, February 7, 2014


Rain comes to a dry land... It’s a fine metaphor for relief after a time of oppression.  But the relief of real rain after a long period without is 'oh so satisfying'! February has given us an inch and there is promise of more.    The villain in all of this has been a mass of cold air sitting offshore over the Pacific ocean near our shores - Cold air is dense and it just sits there acting like a rock to deflect any moisture carrying air masses that would normally bring us moisture.  

We are used to these cold, high-pressure air masses - they form every summer over our ocean - and are the cause of our normal dry summer weather pattern ... but it is unusual for them to persist into the winter.  Usually we are wide open for tropical air masses rich in moisture that sweep over us dumping their moisture.   Finally by some twist of meteorological whimsy the cold high pressure ocean air masses have dissipated and we are getting some relief.

         Our understanding of climate change is evolving as the data has emerged over the past couple of decades.  At first the most evident change was changes in average temperature many places on earth.
         This is a good place to remind ourselves of the difference between two related factors:  Weather is the study of day to day meteorological events - temperature, rainfall, frost... 

NOAA ( national weather service ) weather map - Go to this site and enter your zip code for a personalized weather information - this type is map in down and to the right on the screen that pops up.

Climate is long-term weather patterns. The climate of the Mohave Desert is drier and hotter on the average from the climate of the Mendocino coastal forests.  The plants and animals that can live in a location are determined by fine tuned adaptations to the climate patterns not so much by the occurrence of normal weather events. 
        Currently, climate data shows definite changes in average conditions, not just for average temperature but also for other factors of climate.  Climatologists are now not so much using the term " global warming" but "climate change" to describe what is happening.

This is not to diminish the facts of global warming but the recognition that the pattern is bigger than just an increase in temperature.  One thing we can agree upon - the intensity of storms (hurricanes, snow storms, rain, intense cold spells) has shown a pattern of increase.  We have seen recent unprecedented droughts, artic cold, and killer typhoons...  Sure events have "always happened" - but it is rare to be in a pattern where such storms have been setting new records, displaying new patterns, and showing such intensity over such a brief span of years.

         To get to specifics - If we average over all land and ocean surfaces on earth, between 1880 to 2012, temperatures warmed roughly 1.53°F (0.85ÂșC).  This doesn’t sound so serious... but consider the effects.  Many organisms in the sea and on the land lead a tenuous life - and even a small change in conditions changes what regions can support the lives of the organisms.  Wide scale small changes can lead to extinction of entire populations. ( extinction is forever).  Also consider how small changes in temperature change the ice/liquid water balance on earth. Many ice packs or glaciers will undergo substantial melting for each degree change in climate.  Melting ice leads to changes in the level of the ocean, affecting our cities and coastal agricultural areas. 

         It is a challenge to understand why this change is occurring.   Some point to the tree ring record and geological evidence to point out that change is normal for our planet... this is most definitely tree - but the scale of change that we have witnessed in the last couple of decades is far more rapid that the patterns of change that re can read from the past... It might be normal to expect such patters of climate change over many thousands of years - but not within the span of human experience. Here is strong correlation to look at changes in CO2 level brought about by human burning of fossil carbon fuels.  Scientists cannot instantly come up with "facts" - but they examine data and look for patterns ... so the CO2 aspect is highly probably.  The removal of vast portions of the earth’s carbon sinks - forests and grasslands - to make our concrete covered cities and freeways are a factor.

I prefer putting my faith in the slow interpretation of scientific data rather than the unsubstantiated opinions of Fox news punditsl

         We live on an amazing planet - and the sooner we realize that everything we do is interrelated, the better able we will be to work in harmony with our earth.  Resources are limited - they will be used up.  There is no "away" - it is not possible to throw anything away without impacting something else.  New water is not formed - what we have is what he "got"...   As the worlds population continues to increase change in our life style will be necessary and inevitable.