Archive for September, 2013

Scholars and Sci-Fi Authors to Debate Future of Humanity

Scholars and Sci-Fi Authors to Debate Future of Humanity
By Tanya Lewis, Staff Writer 5 hours ago
Scholars and Sci-Fi Authors to Debate Future of Humanity

Technology has the potential to end humanity, or to save it. Which will it be?

A group of scientists, humanists and science-fiction authors will debate the longevity of the human civilization at a free public symposium today (Sept. 12) at the Library of Congress’s John W. Kluge Center in Washington, D.C.

“We’ve reached the stage in Earth’s evolution where humans are now a major agent of planetary change,” David Grinspoon, the chair of astrobiology at the Kluge Center, said in a statement. “Will these abilities threaten our survival as a species, or even threaten the Earth as a whole, or will we come to live comfortably with these new powers and use them to avoid, rather than hasten, disaster?” said Grinspoon, who will lead the day’s talks.

The event will kick off with introductory remarks by Mary Voytek, senior scientist for astrobiology at NASA, and Carolyn Brown, director of the Office of Scholarly Programs at the Library of Congress. [Super-Intelligent Machines: 7 Robotic Futures]

The first panel discussion will address what remains of nature and how humanity can save it. Environmental journalist David Biello will chat with materials scientist Odile Madden of the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute and paleoanthropologist Rick Potts of the National Museum of Natural History.

Next up, sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson will explore the future in the literary and scientific imagination, with English professor Ursula Heise of UCLA and astronomer and science historian Steven Dick, the 2014 NASA/Library of Congress chair of astrobiology.

In the afternoon, scientists and sci-fi authors will address world-altering technologies that could affect climate or biological evolution, or prevent future disasters. Astronomer Seth Shostak of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institutein Mountain View, Calif., will sit down with science writer and New York Times blogger Andrew Revkin, atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science and planetary climatologist Jacob Haqq-Misra of the virtual research Institute Blue Marble Space, to muse about whether humans can form a healthy, long-term relationship with technology and the biosphere.

A concluding discussion with all the panelists and the audience will wrap up the day’s events.

If interested in attending, the talks will begin at 8:30 a.m. ET in room 119 of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building at 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.

Follow Tanya Lewis on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

Arctic sea ice up 60 percent in 2013

Arctic sea ice up 60 percent in 2013

Published September 09, 2013

About a million more square miles of ocean are covered in ice in 2013 than in 2012, a whopping 60 percent increase — and a dramatic deviation from predictions of an “ice-free Arctic in 2013,” the Daily Mail noted.

Arctic sea ice averaged 2.35 million square miles in August 2013, as compared to the low point of 1.32 million square miles recorded on Sept. 16, 2012, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. A chart published Sept. 8 by NSIDC shows the dramatic rise this year, putting total ice cover within two standard deviations of the 30-year average.

Noting the year over year surge, one scientist even argued that “global cooling” was here.

“We are already in a cooling trend, which I think will continue for the next 15 years at least. There is no doubt the warming of the 1980s and 1990s has stopped,” Anastasios Tsonis of the University of Wisconsin told London’s Mail on Sunday.

The surge in Arctic ice is a dramatic change from last year’s record-setting lows, which fueled dire predictions of an imminent ice-free summer. A 2007 BBC report said the Arctic could be ice free in 2013 — a theory NASA still echoes today.

“[An ice-free Arctic is] definitely coming, and coming sooner than we previously expected,“ Walt Meier, a glaciologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md, told LiveScience last month. “We’re looking at when as opposed to if.”

Noting the growth in ice, the Snow and Ice Data Center said that coverage was still well below the 30-year average. And the year over year growth in ice is “largely irrelevant,” argued The Guardian, noting that more ice is to be expected after the record low a year ago.

“We should not often expect to observe records in consecutive years. 2012 shattered the previous record low sea ice extent; hence ‘regression towards the mean’ told us that 2013 would likely have a higher minimum extent,” wrote Dana Nuccitelli.

Meanwhile, global surface temperatures have been relatively flat over the past decade and a half, according to data from the U.K.’s weather-watching Met Office.

A leaked draft of the next major climate report from the U.N. cites numerous causes to explain the slowdown in warming: greater-than-expected ash from volcanoes, a decline in heat from the sun, more heat being absorbed by the deep oceans, and so on.

Climate skeptics have spent months debating the weather pattern, some citing it as evidence that global warming itself has decelerated or even stopped.

“The absence of any significant change in the global annual average temperature over the past 16 years has become one of the most discussed topics in climate science,” wrote David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation in June. “It has certainly focused the debate about the relative importance of greenhouse gas forcing of the climate versus natural variability.”

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Climate models wildly overestimated global warming, study finds

Climate models wildly overestimated global warming, study finds

By Maxim Lott

Published September 12, 2013

Can you rely on the weather forecast? Maybe not, at least when it comes to global warming predictions over short time periods.

That’s the upshot of a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change that compared 117 climate predictions made in the 1990’s to the actual amount of warming. Out of 117 predictions, the study’s author told, three were roughly accurate and 114 overestimated the amount of warming. On average, the predictions forecasted two times more global warming than actually occurred.

Some scientists say the study shows that climate modelers need to go back to the drawing board.

“It’s a real problem … it shows that there really is something that needs to be fixed in the climate models,” climate scientist John Christy, a professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, told

But other scientists say that’s making a mountain out of a molehill.

“This is neither surprising nor particularly troubling to me as a climate scientist,” Melanie Fitzpatrick, a climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told “The work of our community is constantly to refine our understanding of the climate system and improve models based on that,” she added.

The climate models, Fitzpatrick said, will likely be correct over long periods of time. But there are too many variations in climate to expect models to be accurate over two decades.

But John Christy says that climate models have had this problem going back 35 years, to 1979, the first year for which reliable satellite temperature data exists to compare the predictions to.

“I looked at 73 climate models going back to 1979 and every single one predicted more warming than happened in the real world,” Christy said.

Many of the overestimations also made their way into the popular press. In 1989, the Associate Press reported: “Using computer models, researchers concluded that global warming would raise average annual temperatures nationwide 2 degrees by 2010.”

But according to NASA, global temperature has increased by less than half that — about 0.7 degrees Fahrenheit — from 1989 to 2010.

And in 1972, the Christian Science Monitor reported: “Arctic specialist Bernt Balchen says a general warming trend over the North Pole is melting the polar ice cap and may produce an ice-free Arctic Ocean by the year 2000.” That also proved wrong.

But people should still be concerned about global warming, Fitzpatrick says.

“The paper in no way diminishes the extensive body of observations that global warming is happening and that it is largely due to human activity,” she added.

“Global surface temperature is still rising … 2012 was in the top ten warmest years on record. The period 2001-2010 was the warmest on record since instrumental measurements began,” she added.

Christy agrees that there has been some warming over time, but says man-made greenhouse gasses are not as big of a driver of climate change as many think — and that many scientists are in denial about their mistakes.

“I think in one sense the climate establishment is embarrassed by this, and so they’re trying to minimize the problem,” he said. “The fundamental thing a climate model is supposed to predict is temperature. And yet it gets that wrong.”

The study authors did not answer questions from about the policy implications of their research.

Why were the predictions off? The study authors list many possible reasons, from solar irradiation and incorrect assumptions about the number of volcanic eruptions to bad estimates about how CO2 effects cloud patterns.

Christy said he believes the models overestimate warming because of the way they handle clouds.

“Most models assume that clouds shrink when there is CO2 warming, and that lets in more sun, and that’s what heats up the planet – not so much the direct effect of CO2, but the ‘feedback effect’ of having fewer clouds. In the real world, though, the clouds aren’t shrinking,” he said.

The study also says that an overestimate of the power of CO2 as a greenhouse gas could be why the models over-predict, but that they do not know why the models are wrong at this point.

Christy said he is not optimistic about the models being fixed.

“The Earth system is just too complex to be represented in current climate models. I don’t think they’ll get it right for a long time.”

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