Global warming: More evidence that geo-engineering is likely to have unintended consequences

Trying to reflect sunlight artificially could backfire

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The best path to slowing global warming is to reduce greehouse gas emissions.

FRISCO — When it comes to global warming nothing is simple — and that includes proposals to mitigate the effects of heat-trapping greenhouse gases with planetary scale geo-engineering schemes. One of the ideas that’s been floated is to seed the atmosphere with material in order to reflect some of the sun’s incoming heat.

But a recent study by German researchers suggests that it probably won’t work — and could have unexpected consequences for the global water cycle. In their model, based on an energy balance analysis, the researchers showed that the water cycle responds differently to heating by sunlight than it does to warming due to a stronger atmospheric greenhouse effect. Upsetting that balance could shift the Earth’s rainfall patterns, the researchers said. Continue reading

Study: New climate extremes just around the corner

“We are pushing the ecosystems … out of the environment in which they evolved ‘

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Tropical regions will be the first to move outside the bounds of historic norms.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Starting with the tropics, many locations on Earth will start to see new climate normals within the next few decades — Kingston, Jamaica could reach that point within the next decade, and other well-known cities, including Singapore, Mexico City and Phoenix will see off-the-chart temperatures by mid-century, according to climate scientists and geographers with the University of Hawaii, Manoa.

Their study, published Oct. 10 in Nature, creates an index of the year when the mean climate of any given location on Earth will shift continuously outside the most extreme records experienced in the past 150 years.

The index used the minimum and maximum temperatures from 1860-2005 to define the bounds of historical climate variability at any given location. The scientists then took projections for the next 100 years to identify the year in which the future temperature at any given location on Earth will shift completely outside the limits of historical precedents, defining that year as the year of climate departure.

“The results shocked us. Regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon,” said lead author Camilo Mora. “Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past.” Continue reading

Morning photo: Spring … really!

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Buttercups bloomed this week, the first wildflowers after a long winter.

FRISCO — After a few false starts, it appears that spring has truly sprung in the Colorado high country, though it shouldn’t surprise anyone if it snows once (or twice) more before all is said and done. But the past few days, we’ve experienced beneficial moistening rains and the Earth is responding in overdrive. Grass and other plants are growing almost visibly from day to day, the first few wildflowers have popped and streams are swelling in their banks. Even after many years living high in the mountains, the speed always surprises me a little. Our native plants, adapted to a short growing season, seem to know there’s no time to waste.

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The sun, captured in a raindrop.

Continue reading

NASA debunks 2012 end-of-the-world myths

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Odds are good that the world will keep on turning after Dec. 21. Image courtesy NASA.

No meteors, mysterious planets or polar reversals coming

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — When my son started questioning whether he should be studying for his geometry final — set for the same day that the world is supposed to end — I knew that I needed some strong ammunition to keep him motivated.

It’s one thing for an impressionable teenager to pay attention to far-fetched internet myths about a mysterious planet on collision course with the Earth, or a sudden reversal of our planet’s magnetic field, but it’s a bit more disturbing to realized that even some adults that could otherwise be considered fairly intelligent and reasonable attach some sort of special significance to Dec. 21, 2012, but I suppose people will believe what they want to believe. Continue reading

NASA releases stunning nighttime satellite views of Earth

‘Black Marble’

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Find your town in this composite night view of North America. Image courtesy NASA.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — One of the feeds that I eagerly look for in my social media streams each day is from NASA, mainly due to the stunning images the space agency posts on a regular basis. The pictures of Earth, from the melting ice caps to animated satellite loops of incoming weather systems, help keep things in perspective. It’s good to step back from  day to day events and realize how small this planet really is.

NASA is calling its latest images the Black Marble series because they are night shots, put together as composites from images captured on cloudless nights. Here’s part of NASA’s description of the new images. Visit this website for the full story. Continue reading

Climate: Does atmospheric dust cause warming or cooling?

NASA research adds to understanding of dust events

NASA often captures images of dust storms from orbiting satellites, but one recent study looked at the dust from the ground up, finding that the events can have localized warming effect.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Desert dust storms blowing across the Colorado Rockies from the Southwest have already been implicated as a factor  in earlier snowmelt; now, new research by NASA suggests that airborne dust can have a significant, localized effect on atmpospheric temperatures.

The study was conducted in a semi-arid region between China’s Taklimakan and Gobi deserts, where the NASA team set up a field research site in Zhangye. Using an array of upward-looking instruments for measuring airborne dust particles, they assessed the impact of dust storms from the adjacent deserts. Continue reading

Colorado: Get your Equinox groove on!

Goodbye summer, hello autumn …

Last year’s equinox from Lake Hill, above Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, Coorado.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — After a few late-summer snowfalls, there’s little doubt that change is in the air, and nothing marks that more than Saturday’s autumnal equinox, when summer turns to fall, and the nights start growing longer than the days. Technically, the equinox isn’t a day, but a single moment in time (:49 a.m.) when the sun crosses the equator, so to say, from north to south, when the Earth’s axis is tilted neither away from, nor toward the Sun. Day and night are about equal lengths in both the northern and southern hemisphere, and the sun passes directly overhead at the equator.

As Wikipedia puts it, “The equinox … is a precise moment in time which is common to all observers on Earth.”

Trace the path of the sun across the sky the next few weeks. You’ll notice that, by the middle of October, it will much farther south than it is right now, and, of course, lower in the sky. In observance of the day, the Slooh space camera will stream a free webcast of live shots of the sun from telescopes around the world.

The day of the equinox is also a good time to get a good sense of compass directions from your house or your yard, as the sun rises as close to due east as it ever will, then moving south of east the next three months until the winter solstice. For more details, check out this cool web page at Space.com. Continue reading

Morning photo: Clouds

Not just water vapor …

Clouds over Dillon Reservoir and the Tenmile Range.

SUMMIT COUNTY — When #FriFotos founder @EpsteinTravels announced the theme for this week’s popular Twitter chat I nearly fell out of my chair. Sometimes it feels like I spend half my life chasing clouds and light to get good photos. Clouds are the life-giving substance of the atmosphere, bringing snow and rain that nourishes the Earth and keeps our rivers flowing, our lakes filled and, ultimately, replenishes the oceans. A sad word of caution: Scientists tell us that the planet’s water cycle is speeding up and intensifying because of global warming. Those beautiful clouds will fill up with more water, leading to increased flooding in some places and more drought in other areas. But for now, enjoy these cloud scenes from around the world.

Climate: Study says pollution makes thunderstorms bigger and stronger — and they’re trapping more atmospheric heat

Researchers surprised by strong warming effect of big thunderclouds

A massive cumulonimbus cloud as seen from the International Space Station.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Taking a close-up look at thunderclouds enabled researchers to identify a new factor in the global warming equation — high altitude air pollution that spreads out the top of anvil-headed thunder clouds and traps more heat, especially at night.

How much the warming effect of these clouds offsets the cooling that other clouds provide is not yet clear. To find out, researchers need to incorporate this new-found warming into global climate models.

“Global climate models don’t see this effect because thunderstorm clouds simulated in those models do not include enough detail,” said  Jiwn Fan, a climate researcher with the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “The large amount of heat trapped by the pollution-enhanced clouds could potentially impact regional circulation and modify weather systems,” he said. Continue reading

Morning photo: Planet Earth

It’s a small blue marble we live on

Cloud streets around the southern tip of Greenland captured by a NASA Aqua/MODIS satellite March 6. 2012. According to NASA, Cloud streets form when cold air blows over warmer waters, while a warmer air layer—or temperature inversion—rests over top of both. The comparatively warm water of the ocean gives up heat and moisture to the cold air mass above, and columns of heated air—thermals—naturally rise through the atmosphere. As they hit the temperature inversion like a lid, the air rolls over like the circulation in a pot of boiling water. The water in the warm air cools and condenses into flat-bottomed, fluffy-topped cumulus clouds that line up parallel to the wind. PHOTO COURTESY NASA.

SUMMIT COUNTY — I’m constantly amazed by the stream of visual information coming from the many satellites orbiting the Earth, and every time I see a particularly cool image, I think to myself that it adds just another tiny piece to the puzzle of understanding how we as humans fit into the greater cosmic scheme. Even for me, as a non-scientist, the exposure to the images helps be “get” how atmospheric systems work and how land, water and the sky are really all part of the same system. That’s why I’m breaking tradition today, by running a short set of satellite images instead of Summit Voice shots. Visit the NASA Earth Observatory online or follow on Twitter to get a feed of images. Continue reading

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