Monday, October 31, 2011

Satellite Imagery from our first snow

Here's some great satellite imagery from our first snowfall created by CIMSS at the University of Wisconsin, my undergraduate university.  You'll want to check out their blog for some great images and loops:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

7 Revolutions Conference

Three other Metro professors joined me in Fresno, CA for a 7 Revolutions Institute.  The goal of the 7 Revolutions is to educate globally competent citizens.  The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has put together course materials that can be used in parts or as a standing course.  They suggested using it as a course to inspire freshman college students to think globally.  This would fit really nicely under Metro's new general studies requirements, that include a global diversity course, which my new Global Climate Change course will fulfill for students coming in on the 2012 catalog.

The course is written as a blended course, meaning that the students meet regularly for class, but when they go home, they have this lovely place where they can go online to see class notes, assignments, free articles from the New York Times on related topics, and a forum for communicating with other class members.  Instead of Blackboard, they use Epsilen, which seems to have some of the nice perks of social media built in to a more traditional online course hosting site.  The idea is that college students might not be spending enough time out of class on their coursework.  I was always told that for a 3-credit course, I should be spending 6 hours at home on studying, reading, and doing homework for that class.  Therefore, students taking 15 credits should be spending ~15 hours in class and 30 hours outside of class on their coursework.  One way to force that out of class time is the blended learning model, where students can spend an hour a day, every day, visiting the website, and doing the required readings, assignments, and discussions.

Here's a list of the seven revolutions and subtopics for each.  "This framework encompasses most of the key global issues facing our contemporary and future world."
1.  Population-- growth, aging, migration, urbanization
2.  Resource management-- food, water, energy, climate
3.  Technology-- computation, robotics, biotechnology, nanotechnology
4.  Information-- data growth, access/privacy, knowledge
5.  Economics-- the future of the interconnected economy, new players, debt, extreme poverty
6.  Security-- new security dynamics, terrorism and traditional weapons, cybersecurity, infectious disease/Health
7.  Governance-- difficulty in organizing groups, corporations, NGOs, diaspora/individual

Some professors worry that they don't know enough about these topics to teach all of them, but the course materials can get you started. Having taught classes in the past that I was not comfortable teaching, it can be a fun experience to learn as you teach and have your students contribute where they can.

After taking the course, some students feel a sense of helplessness rather than inspiration, so some professors choose to include some service learning in the course to show the students how to get involved and make a difference.   

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

First snowfall of the season

Sometimes the weathermen are right!  Congratulations to the great forecast put out by the National Weather Service, nailing this storm.  At 9:00PM the rain turned to snow, just as they predicted.  The snow is still falling as I write this, but I'm hearing rumors of 15" in Fort Collins, I had about 10" in Boulder and it was coming down in buckets when I left for work, and Denver has maybe 5" so far.  Here's a few pictures of the beautiful first snow.
My poor little rain gauge is that yellow thing sitting on the left chair buried under the snow. 
Bus stop in Boulder

The line for Obama.  I between the Science building and North Classroom looking west. 

Line for Obama stretching around the Science building, looking east.
 Lastly, here's this morning's 18Z (noon) forecast from the 12Z run of the NAM.  I use my undergraduate university's weather page, since that's how I first learned how to forecast.  However, similar maps can be found other places.  University of Wisconsin AOS page or NCAR RAL 

A top-down view.

300 mb winds are shaded showing a split jet.  The right entrance region and left exit region of the jet will help enhance upward vertical motions, leading to snow.

The 500 mb heights and vorticity shades are showing the trough axis still west of us.

850 mb temperatures and heights.  (Boulder sits at 830mb).  The strong color gradient (green areas) are showing the position of the cold front that moved through last night, bringing us a new air mass.  (Remember, it was 79 degrees on Monday, which was the record high for that day.)  This also shows wind vectors, which have an easterly component over us, due to the counterclockwise winds associated with the low pressure over the four corners and the clockwise high pressure in Wyoming.

Surface sea level pressure contours and precipitation shades as well as yellow dotted lines for 1000-500mb thickness.  The forcing for this storm was upper level, but the clockwise rotation of the high pressure (anticyclone) north of us and the counterclockwise rotation of the low pressure (cyclone) southwest of us are enhancing the easterly component of the wind, leading to upslope.
Let it snow!  (Until tomorrow, when I have to fly to Fresno, CA for the 7 Revolutions conference!)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Arctic Sea ice young, thin

Here is a great video showing the movement of multi-year sea ice. (Updated) Arctic sea ice nearly tied the all time minimum in September.  This video visualizes why low sea ice extent is becoming the norm. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Total Carbon Emissions

My Global Climate Change course had their second part of their project due on Thursday.  Each person had to tell the class how their assigned country contributed to climate change.  The first part of the project they told me about how the culture of their region relates to the climate of their region, so we were building from there.  They answered the following questions in a paper, and then during a class discussion that Dr. Wagner and I lead, we discussed the differences between all of these countries.  

·         How is this region contributing to climate change through emission of greenhouse gases? 
·         Where does this region get its fuel? 
·         How does this affect the region’s interdependence on other regions and its economy? 
·         How is this region sequestering greenhouse gases? 
Here are the countries that the students represent:
United States-- actually, I play the role of the US in the class so the students can fulfill their global diversity requirement.  
Developed countries:  Canada, Australia, Japan
European Union:  France, Germany, UK, Denmark (includes Greenland)
Large Asian Countries:  China, India, Russia
Latin America:  Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Chile
Middle East:  Iran and Afghanistan, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia
Coastal South Asia:  Indonesia, Maldives, Bangladesh, Thailand
East Africa:  Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania
West Africa:  Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone

In preparation for our discussion, Dr. Wagner found a great source for emission data, the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center.  I was able to take data from this page, throw it into Excel, and make the following graphs, which are just loaded with interesting information.
Notice that China recently shot right by the U.S. and is now the number one emitter as a country.  If you look with a cumulative perspective, though, think of how much responsibility the U.S. has for climate change since the dawn of the industrial revolution.  The area under the U.S. blue line is much greater than the area under China's line.  In fact, the U.S. has contributed three times the amount of CO2 into the atmosphere than China and ten times that of India.  

Even though the top graph shows that China is currently our biggest threat to continued global warming, China has over four times the number of people we do.  On a per capita (per person) basis, the U.S. citizens are personally much more responsible for global climate change.  In fact, from the per capita perspective, Australia is the worst of the countries we covered, but a few other small countries were even worse than them.
These are the countries we use for projects in my course, so there are a few worse than Australia not listed here.  The data for this was found here
In three weeks, my students will be telling me how their countries are currently impacted by climate change, and how they are forecasted to be impacted by climate change.  I'm excited for them to see how some of the smallest contributors to the problem, are the people most at risk of climate change impacts. 

Thanks to my students for a great discussion and well-researched answers to all of my questions!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Poster Templates

At science conferences, scientists often give oral presentations or they present their research in poster form.  I'm giving a poster presentation this fall at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco on my new Global Climate Change course.  Today I started gathering materials for my new poster.  I highly recommend making your poster using a previously designed poster template.  They are located on this webpage and they are free. 

Here's the poster I presented in 2009, which was not made using a template, which means it took more time than necessary.  You can see a larger version of it here

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Book Recommendation The Weathermakers

I'm 2/3 through this amazing book on climate change and I love it!  I'm learning new things and during the parts that I already understand, I'm still enjoying his commentary.  It's at a level that anyone could read.  Check it out!

Monday, October 10, 2011

I speak for the trees!

The Lorax is a great Dr. Seuss book that tells a wonderful story about the environment.  I remember it well from my childhood.  If you have children, this book, as well as the movie, are a necessity!  You can watch it on YouTube with your kids tonight!  Here you go.

The Lorax.  He speaks for the trees. 

The Lorax's home, post Thneed factory.

Friday, October 7, 2011

2011 Arctic Sea Ice Minimum

Well, I had a bet going that we'd break the record September Arctic sea ice minimum set in 2007 this year.  I didn't bet any money, just the honor of being right.  I lost, which is probably for the best, considering the stability of the climate system.  We had extensive sea ice loss early on when I placed the bet, but recovery happened a bit early this year, so we ended up with the second lowest recorded September sea ice extent.  The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is just next door in Boulder, CO where two of my old PhD committee members run the place.  Read more on this year's sea ice here.

Something to note about sea ice loss is that, because it is floating ice, it does not contribute to sea level rise.  It does, however, play a huge role in the ice-albedo positive feedback loop.  Less ice during seasons with sunlight allow the absorptive surface of the ocean to take in more sunlight, warming the system, causing more ice loss, more absorption of sunlight, and higher temperatures, and so on.  The warmer the Arctic, the more likely we'll get increased sea level rise from sea ice's big brother, the Greenland Ice Sheet.  This is a huge concern!

A few figures from NSIDC: 
Can you see how I was fooled?  Look at the cyan line for 2011, it was dropping pretty fast!

Monthly September ice extent for 1979 to 2011 shows a decline of 12.0% per decade.

Arctic sea ice extent for September 2011 was 4.61 million square kilometers (1.78 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1979 to 2000 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole.
Note that the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route were both open this year.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


The only movie I've ever shown during a class is called "Crude, the incredible journey of oil."  It patches together my global climate change course's carbon cycle chapter with the paleoclimate chapter very nicely.  Luckily for you, it's available to watch online!  I highly recommend part 1 and 3, which we'll be watching today in class.
Jurassic Respiration

Carbon Dioxide

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Arctic Ozone Loss 2011

A timely paper just came out in Nature by Manney et al. (2011) informing us that the Arctic saw an Unprecedented Arctic Ozone Loss in 2011.  Here is their abstract:

"Chemical ozone destruction occurs over both polar regions in local winter–spring. In the Antarctic, essentially complete removal of lower-stratospheric ozone currently results in an ozone hole every year, whereas in the Arctic, ozone loss is highly variable and has until now been much more limited. Here we demonstrate that chemical ozone destruction over the Arctic in early 2011 was—for the first time in the observational record—comparable to that in the Antarctic ozone hole. Unusually long-lasting cold conditions in the Arctic lower stratosphere led to persistent enhancement in ozone-destroying forms of chlorine and to unprecedented ozone loss, which exceeded 80 per cent over 18–20 kilometres altitude. Our results show that Arctic ozone holes are possible even with temperatures much milder than those in the Antarctic. We cannot at present predict when such severe Arctic ozone depletion may be matched or exceeded."
Remember, the ozone layer is in the stratosphere, which is above the layer where our weather takes place, the troposphere.  A cooling stratosphere and warming troposphere are signatures of "global warming," which is probably better called "global climate change" for this reason.  While the stratosphere had ideal conditions for our very first Arctic ozone hole in spring, the troposphere had ideal conditions for record-low sea ice extent in fall.  More on this newsworthy item later!

I also think it is worth noting that even though we have a global policy to reduce CFC emissions (Montreal Protocol), CFCs have a long lifetime in the atmosphere and those big bangs I was sporting in the 80's and the accompanying hairspray bottle that used CFCs are still around doing damage to the ozone layer.  (Well, the big bangs aren't doing damage, but the CFCs are, you get the idea.)  Carbon dioxide, the culprit for global warming, also has a long lifetime in the atmosphere.

Lastly, the intensity of polar ozone depletion depends on not only CFC concentrations, but the strength of the polar vortex as well as the number of polar stratospheric clouds present.