Archive for December, 2015

Christmas Run

December 25, 2015

Every year I plan to do a run on Christmas Day. Or a bike ride. It’s a peaceful time to be out.

I was thinking I would run from my door to Upper Oso via Arroyo Burro trail, not Hwy 154. I thought it would be considerably shorter than the highway (though a good deal slower than driving).

About a week in advance the weather forecast showed a big rain on Christmas day, so I started thinking I might go out Christmas Eve instead. Then the forecast wiggled around and Christmas Eve was also supposed to be rainy. So I decided I’d do my long run on the 22nd.

rainbowOf course when the morning of the 22nd dawned there was suddenly a 20% chance of rain starting at 9:15. Well, 20% didn’t seem likely. I set out a little after 7, I saw a rainbow and then it started to drizzle.

So much for the forecast.

With the drought there is almost nothing blooming now, so I had my eye out for lichens. Lichens react quickly to the rain and often change color — the outer fungal layer draws back revealing the more colorful algal layer underneath.

I was also looking for fern fiddleheads and liverwort thalli. Last year they were all over the place by now, but this year I’ve just seen a few starts which have since died back.

When I got to the Jesusita mudbank, the mud had reached the point of being slippery, but not yet of being sticky. So it didn’t stick to my shoes, but did make the climb difficult. Still, it wasn’t really cold and the rain was barely noticeable, so after a bit I thought about taking off a layer, but I waited a little longer.

Once I got out of the canyon containing San Roque Creek I felt the wind, which was quite strong and suddenly chilly. I decided I’d keep all my layers on.

I found a wild cucumber vine in bloom, the first I’ve seen this year (and about a month later than I usually see the first). That was an encouraging start, but it was the only winter bloom I saw that day.

Arroyo Burro trail is quite overgrown for about a mile after the 420 rock, but after that there’s a little valley with a nice stream (which had no water in it) and the climb becomes more scenic. This is also the boundary of the Jesusita burn and the vegetation becomes older (probably unburnt since the Coyote Fire in the 60s). Anyway I start to see lichens now.

BigpodLichenThe rain has brought out the yellow in the goldspeck lichen (¿Candelariella rosulans?) which covers the trunks of the shrubs, here on bigpod Ceanothus.

As I climbed up to the pass with Camino Cielo the wind picked up. It is usually more intense on the ridgeline and when it is blustery below it is very windy above… And the wind made the rain seem worse. Or maybe it was worse. Anyway I was soaked and cold.

And my glasses fogged up. I was in a cloud here, so it was naturally foggy too. I couldn’t see where I was going and ended up on a side trail I’d never known was there. I didn’t realize it until I came to the water tank that I also didn’t know about.

So I scrubbed off my glasses, but that didn’t help I still couldn’t see. Eventually I realized that the road had to be downhill of where I was, so down I went. And got across.

The shooting range is still closed because of fire danger. This is a comfort when you run past a range in dense fog.

And down the other side, and out of the wind and fog. I took out a cliff bar, and had to use my mouth to tear it open.

ThalliThe backside of the mountains must have had more rain than the front, I found lots of Polypody fiddleheads, and some Asterella thalli. Neither of these have I seen in the front country this year, though I have seen both on other back country trails.

But there wasn’t anything blooming here.

Further down the trail there are Valley Oaks (Quercus lobata), a species not seen in the front country and I was interested if they had a similar lichen load to the Coast Live Oak of the front country. The problem is that lichens prefer branches in oaks (rather than trunks) and Valley Oaks tend to be tall. Much taller than Coast Live Oaks. Generally too tall for me to see their branches.

But one nice thing about high winds is that you get broken branches lying on the ground
And here on this one small bit of Oak branch I’ve got at least four different lichens. In the upper right the bushy whitish thing is Oakmoss Lichen (Evernia prunastri), in the middle left the bushy orange thing with the weird circles is Orange Bush Lichen (Teloschistes flavicans), the small yellow areas are probably some kind of Goldspeck Lichen (Candelariella sp.), and the grey flaky patches are probably Common Ruffled Lichen (Parmotrema perlatum). This one little stub of a stick has just about everything I was hoping to see.

FordAt the bottom of Arroyo Burro the mud had turned sticky as well as slippery and I had to run off the trail if I wanted to stay upright. The rain was slackening now, and when I got to the river there wasn’t even a puddle visible in the ford.

It is 12 miles from my house to Paradise Rd. 13.5 miles to Lower Oso, and 14.2 to Upper Oso. At least according to my watch.

When it was time for a bite to eat I found my fingers too cold to open the package. They were too weak even to pull against the grip of my mouth. I pressed my fingers against my thighs in an attempt to warm them, and after about 5 minutes I was able to eat.

On the way back I avoided the worst of the mud but taking an alternate route, but even when I couldn’t avoid it, it seemed much less of a bother going up than coming down.

As I neared the top I felt the wind picking up again, occasional drizzles of rain and my glasses were fogging, so, although it wasn’t time to eat yet, I tore open a packet in case my hands numbed out again.

At the top, I was running with the wind (so warmer) and the fog wasn’t as bad as it had been, though hardly clear. But my hands were warm enough that I could have opened my food package.
Foggy Camino Cielo

A half an hour later I had ducked under the cloud cover and weak sunlight was peaking through, and when I got to the overgrown section it was almost sunny.

When I reached the trail bottom and looked back…
it’s quite a different view from what I saw 5 hours earlier.

Although I spent about three hours in continuous rain, with a second light drizzle when I got back to the ridgeline, the county’s downtown rain gauge reported no precipitation at all. Looking at how the rainfall went across the county, it looks as if the storm was stronger farther north but petered out when it got to the mountains. So the downtown forecast was somewhat accurate, rain was unlikely there, I had just assumed that meant rain would also be unlikely 5 miles away, but that was not the case.

And, of course, when Christmas did roll around there was absolutely no chance of rain — bright sunny skies, high winds, no clouds. So I biked out to Refugio and then up Refugio Rd.

I always forget just how steep Refugio Road is, and how much steeper it seems when it follows a ~20 mile ride just to get to the base. And the wind came blowing down the canyon too.

I wanted to see if the refugio manzanitas were in bloom. This is a rare species that only grows between Refugio and Gaviota. I met it for the first time last January, but I suspected it would be blooming earlier than that, so I went for a look.

There are a few spots on Refugio Rd. where it grows, and more on Camino Ciello. I didn’t want to have to climb all the way up to the top, so at the first patch I stopped and looked hard at the plants. Two were in bloom, so I didn’t have to go any further.

One had old flowers dropped underneath it so it had clearly been blooming for a while. Next year I’ll need to check even earlier.

Pause or No Pause

December 15, 2015

Has there been a “pause” in Global Warming since 1998?

I contend that there has not, but it really depends on how you define “pause”. My contention is that definitions which show a pause are not statistically useful.

[My analysis is based on NASA’s Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index which may be obtained from here and is described here. Other datasets exist which may show slightly different results. Data extracted on 13 Dec 2015 (so this does not include a full year of 2015 and my analysis stops at 2014)]

So let’s start with the obvious. When was the last time the temperature was at the level of 1998? Why in 2012. And because these data are noisy let’s be a little generous and ask instead: When was the last time the temperature was within .04°C of 1998? In 2013. Since the last year of full data was 2014 you might say “Hey, basically the temperature hasn’t changed at all since 1998.” and draw a flat line on the graph from 1998 to now (or at least to 2013).

But this is a statistically poor technique. I mean if you look at the scatter plot it’s pretty clear a horizontal line doesn’t fit the points well. It’s sort of saying “Let’s assume there is no trend and see what we get.” A much better way of proving a pause is to say “Let’s assume there is a trend and prove that that trend is zero.”

The data are noisy. You can’t just draw a line from start to end and say “This is what is happening.” The simplest way to extract a trend from noisy data is to apply a linear regression found by least squares — that is to find the line which minimizes the sum of squares of the errors — the error being the difference between what the regression line predicts for the temperature of a year and the actual temperature reading.

If there be no trend, if global warming have paused, then the slope of the line will be near zero. It won’t be exactly zero because the data are noisy.

If we look at each year since 1998 and generate a line based on the data from 1998 to that year then if warming were paused we’d expect that about half the lines would have a positive slope and half a negative one.

Slopes of the regression line for each year since 1998 in °C/year
2000: -.105 2001: -.024 2002: +.013 2003: +.020
2004: +.013 2005: +.021 2006: +.020 2007: +.019
2008: +.012 2009: +.012 2010: +.014 2011: +.012
2012: +.010 2013: +.010 2014: +.011

But that’s not what we see. Instead we see almost no lines with negative slope (and those all in the years immediately following 1998). Instead the slopes roughly average .012°C/year, or about the slope found between 1960 and 1984.

In other words, the data do NOT show a pause, they show an increase comparable to increase from before the 1990s. The naughties are not paused, they are not anomalous, they are in line with the average over the last half century. It is the nineties which are odd.

But there is another statistical mistake in the claim of a “pause”. This is something called “Data Mining”. The only reason anyone might think there was a pause is because 1998 was an extraordinarily hot year for the time. If you base your data in 1998 you have to wait for a long time for the trend to catch up to the noise.

But if you look at the next year, 1999, there is no way anyone could find a pause in the data. Since 1999 temperatures have simply increased. This, by the way, is data mining in the reverse direction since 1999 was (for the time) a particularly cold year.

Slopes of the regression line for each year since 1999 in °C/year
2001: +.065 2002: +.076 2003: +.061
2004: +.038 2005: +.041 2006: +.034 2007: +.030
2008: +.020 2009: +.019 2010: +.020 2011: +.016
2012: +.014 2013: +.013 2014: +.014

Since we are only data-mining the start time if you wait long enough both trends will converge toward the same slope.

I have been told that the temperature change since 1998 is not statistically significant since it is less than two standard deviations. In a way, this is true, (ΔT(2014-1998): .11°C, σ: .067°C) but it ignores several things. First these years do not stand alone, they are a continuation a trend that started (at least) in 1960 and the change since 1960 is significant. And second 1998 is data-mining. If we pick 1999 as a base year then ΔT(2014-1999): .32°C, σ: .061°C, and the change is about 5σ which is very significant.

So I think the following graph is a much better way of looking at the data. There is no pause. Just three regions where the temperature increases, and in the two regions 1960-1984, 1999-2014 the temperature increases at about the same rate, while in one, 1986-1998, the temperature increases much faster.

Linear regression lines
1960-1984 T=.012*(year-1998)+14.355°C
1985-1998 T=.021*(year-1998)+14.488°C
1999-2014 T=.014*(year-1998)+14.492°C


My claim is that there has been no pause. Attempts to see a pause are based on two statistical mistakes, the first being data-mining, and the second being the belief that drawing line between two noisy datapoints is meaningful.

This analysis is based on statistics I learned in 10th grade. It isn’t hard.

El Niño?

December 15, 2015

Where is it?

Or rather, where is the rain it is supposed to bring us?

This rain year (Sept-Aug) has been the 22th driest in the 1 Sept-15 Dec period (out of 146 years recorded), and of those 21 only 3 had above average rainfall. But one of those 3, 1977-1978, had 42.34 inches.

So it’s not unprecedented that we’ll still have a wet year, just unlikely.

A fortnight ago the Independent ran an article claiming that in the big El Niño year of 1997-1998 rainfall in SB was delayed from its usual pattern and the big storms didn’t start until January. That was consoling. But then Weather Underground provided data from all the big El Niño years for SF and LA (but not SB) which said exactly the opposite.

So I grabbed the rainfall data provided by the county from their recording station downtown, and extracted the relevant points.

SB Rainfall Data at County Building
(in inches)
Year Sept Oct Nov 1-15 Dec 1 Sep-15 Dec
1957 0.00 1.41 0.51 2.95 4.87
1965 0.09 0.00 7.86 0.53 8.48
1972 0.00 0.04 5.69 0.73 6.46
1982 2.07 0.63 5.18 0.22 8.10
1997 0.05 0.15 4.30 5.78 10.28
2015 0.10 0.26 0.13 0.19 0.68
0.27 0.69 1.52 1.24 3.72

So the data I can find contradicts the Independent’s claim. In all prior “Big” El Niño years there was rainfall above the long term average at this point of the year at downtown SB.

The general consensus is that we will get a lot of rain this year — eventually.

But I worry.

The current definition of a big El Niño was not one that could be detected until (relatively) recently, thus we only have records for 6 big El Niño events. That’s not a big sample size…

This is supposed to be a bigger El Niño than any recorded, maybe we don’t get rain with exceptionally big El Niños. This is a warmer year than ever before, maybe that means something too… Weather is always random, maybe this year we’re just unlucky.

Paris — COP 21

December 12, 2015

So we have a new climate agreement out of Paris today.

Is it adequate? No.
Can it become adequate? Perhaps. We must hope so. It contains mechanisms within it to ratchet up the commitments as time goes on. Will people? Probably. Will it be enough?
Will people enact it? It is said to be “a legal instrument” which, I think, means the US Senate must approve it as a treaty. Which seems unlikely. So I doubt the US will agree to it. But perhaps there is some wiggle room I am not seeing.
Ah. Only some parts are legally-binding (the emissions commitments are not), and those parts which are binding are technically extensions to an existing treaty and, as such, do not require Senate approval. Tricky. [WeatherUnderground]
Will people live up to it? Let’s hope so.
However on the day after signing India reaffirmed that it intended to double its coal output (India is currently the 4th largest emitter. [Guardian]

What is adequate?

We really have no idea.

Back in the 1990s the best science suggested that a temperature rise of 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures would probably not lead to ecological catastrophe. And this has been the stated goal since then.

This year the average global surface temperature is expected to breach the 1°C mark and we are already seeming effects that 25 years ago were predicted for 2°C. In other words it is no longer possible to avoid catastrophic climate change. We are already too late. [Kevin Anderson]

For instance parts of the antarctic ice sheet have already passed a tipping point and entered a period of irreversible melting. The irreversible loss of the Amundsen ice sheet alone will raise sea-level by 1 meter in the next two centuries. [Guardian] The arctic ice cap is melting faster than expected, destroying ecosystems and the lives of humans dependent on those ecosystems. The incidence of “extreme” weather events is higher than expected.

To some extent this has been recognized at COP21 and the text now includes the aspiration to hold the level of warming to 1.5°C. However this has not resulted in anyone making a further commitment to reduce their emissions.

The commitments on the table are estimated to produce an increase somewhere between 2.7°C and 4°C, depending on whose climate models one looks at.

Some basic science

The earth has a large thermal mass. This means that it heats up slowly. Even if we were to stop producing any CO₂ (from non-ecosystem sources) the earth’s temperature would continue to increase for many decades.

We have a carbon budget. There is a limit to how much we can pump into the air before, eventually, the world will heat up by 2°C. The problem is that we can easily overshot that limit long before the temperature reaches 2°C.

Unfortunately no one knows what the carbon budget should be. We do know that about half of all carbon emitted gets quickly reabsorbed by plants, but the rest hangs around for centuries. Estimates suggest we can emit a range somewhere between another 100-400 gigatons of carbon. That’s a fairly wide uncertainty. [Yale] We are currently emitting approximately 35gigatons of CO₂ a year, and each year we emit more than we did the year before (though that increase is slowing). [Wikipedia, 2013 data] So at this rate we have anywhere from another 6 to 22 years before we would have locked in 2°C of warming. Unfortunately this dataset only includes CO₂ emissions. It does not include methane (which has a greater effect but is released in much smaller quantities), or water vapor, or other gasses. So worst case is we have about 5 years more of business as usual before for we guarantee 2°C warming eventually.

2°C is a global average

Some parts of the world are warming much more quickly than others. The oceans warm more slowly than the land. But there is a about twice as much ocean than there is land, and if the ocean takes longer to get to 2°C then the land will get there faster, and by the time the global temperature has averaged a 2°C increase the land temperature will be much higher.

The arctic heats up faster than the tropics, but the tropics have traditionally had a much narrower range of temperatures so in spite of that fact they will see exceptional conditions become normal much more rapidly. In both cases the ecosystems will not be able to adapt. In the arctic because there are large swings in temperature, polar ice caps disappear. In the tropics because the temperature is simply beyond what plants and animals can handle.

What about carbon capture?

Essentially all of the IPCC models which project that we will limit warming to 2°C require that we will have negative carbon emissions after about 2050. [Kevin Anderson] Not zero emissions, but negative. And this presupposes a technology we do not currently have.

We might develop it.

But as far as I know the funding for research into this area has been drastically cut in recent years. [Guardian]

In other words the paths the IPCC sees that might restrict warming to 2°C all depend on technology which does not exist and isn’t being developed. This is disturbing.

Positive Feedback

There are many areas of potential positive feedback which are not addressed by the IPCC, because we do not yet know enough to quantify them. And they are ignored in our climate models.

Melting permafrost will release a lot of methane into the atmosphere, a more potent heat-trapping gas than CO₂. This in term will lead to higher surface temperatures which will lead to more methane being released. We can see this happening but can’t quantify it. [Katia Moskvitch]

Warming ocean floors will release methane from methane hydrates with a similar feedback effect. [SWERUS-C3]

Warming tropics lead to droughts over the Amazon which leads to the death of rainforest trees which releases more CO₂ which leads to more warming and even fewer trees.

Ice and snow reflect more light and heat than oceans or land. As glaciers and ice caps melt the earth will absorb more heat meaning that more ice and snow will be lost.

This means that our current best guess are probably too conservative.

Sea level rise

With the ice caps and glaciers melting, and the ocean water warming and expanding, sea level is rising.

So far the global average is about half a foot higher now than it was 100 years ago. However the oceans aren’t rising at the same rate and on the east coast of the US the rise has been closer to a foot.

A paper posted on the next by [HansenDiscussion] suggests that the sea level may rise 10ft in the next 50 years and 15ft by 2100. This may be a worst case scenario, but past experience with climate predictions suggests that worst case scenarios have happened more frequently than best case ones. And we are very ignorant here.

Some context: Hurricane Sandy had a storm surge of about 13ft in New York. Hugo had a maximum surge of 20ft near Charleston. Katrina’s surge was about 27ft.

So by the end of the century New York might be constantly under more water than it was at the worst of Hurricane Sandy.

This would wipe out many coastal cities. It would destroy much farmland. Many island nations would no longer exist.

How fast can a marsh adapt? If the sea level rises by 15ft and the shoreline moves inward by many miles then marshes, which are very productive ecosystems will be wiped out.

But I thought climate changed stopped after 1998

This is a lie.

I have had the above statement questioned. So, a brief recap. I pulled down this dataset. I applied a linear regression least squares fit to the following year ranges of the global mean temperature:

1880-2014 T=.0068*(year-1998) + 14.36°C
1960-1984 T=.0118*(year-1998) + 14.35°C
1990-1998 T=.0230*(year-1998) + 14.49°C
1998-2014 T=.0108*(year-1998) + 14.52°C

The important thing to note here is the change/year which was .0068°C/year over the historical record; it was .0230°C/year in the 90s, and .0108°C/year in the period of the hiatus. So not only has the global temperature increased since 1998, but it has increased faster than the historical rate and about the same rate as during the 70s. It did slow down dramatically from the 90s, but that can be explained by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation [Nature].

However surface temperature is not a good indicator of heat transferred to the earth. And since 1998 more heat has gone into the deep ocean than happened before. With this year’s El Niño less heat is going into the ocean deeps and the surface temperature is again increasing quickly.

Remember in the last decade we have seen 8 of the hottest years on record, and the top 13 hottest years have all been since 1997. There is about 1 chance in 3.7 million of this happening if the climate were not warming. [Climate Central] And unless something amazing happens in the next 3 weeks, 2015 will be even hotter.

But isn’t extra CO₂ good for plants? Won’t warmer weather make ecosystems more productive?

There is some evidence that more CO₂ will make plants happier, but the effect is slight.

Basically ecosystems have adapted to current conditions. Changing those conditions will, in almost all cases be a change for the worse.

European grain productivity has already been reduced. [Frances Moore] The current drought exacerbated (and possibly caused) by climate change has reduced California’s agricultural productivity. Global grain productivity is expected to fall at about 1.5% per decade [David Lobell] Grains produce less protein in hot weather.

We don’t have any good metrics for measuring wild ecosystems, except long term extinction rates, but there is certainly evidence that the climate is changing faster than plants and animals can move to keep up. [Union of Concerned Scientists]

The woods I love to hike in will be very different when my niece’s children try them.

But the oceans will be the worst hit. The increase in CO₂ has led to an ongoing acidification of the water which prevents many animals from forming shells. The increase in heat has lead to bleaching coral reeves and the death of many.

More subtle changes happen too. Different species respond differently to climate change, some start breeding sooner than they would normally, others do not. Thus old ecological synchronizations are lost. A predator many start to breed in the spring before its prey does, resulting in starvation of the predator and over-population in the prey.

The oceans’ food chains are being disrupted and they are becoming less productive.

In other words, species are dying off. Humans are losing their food supplies.


The Guardian says it very well: “By comparison to what it [COP21] could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”

The world will be less beautiful in the future.
And there will be less for humans to eat.
And there will be more humans.