Florida shivers; Hot Arctic-Cold Continents pattern is back

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 5:36 PM GMT on December 14, 2010

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Cold air sweeping southwards behind the fierce snowstorm that roared through the Upper Midwest over the weekend is bringing record low temperatures over much of the Southeast this morning. However, preliminary indications are that Central Florida's orange groves fared better than expected, and there were no reports of widespread damage to the orange crop. Record lows this morning included 32°F at West Palm Beach, 50°F in Key West, and 20°F in Jacksonville. Cold air flowing over the relatively warm waters of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are creating heavy lake-effect snows, with 5 – 9 inches of new snow expected near Cleveland, OH today, and 2 – 5 inches near Syracuse, NY.

Hot Arctic-Cold Continents
I'm in San Francisco this week for the world's largest gathering of Earth scientists, the annual American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference. Over 15,000 scientists have descended upon the city, and there are a ridiculous number of fascinating talks on every conceivable aspect of Earth science, including, of course, climate change. One talk I attended yesterday was called, "Hot Arctic-Cold Continents: Hemispheric Impacts of Arctic Change.” The talk was given by Dr. Jim Overland of NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, one of the world's experts on Arctic weather and climate (I spent many long months flying in the Arctic with him during the three Arctic field programs I participated in during the late 1980s.) Dr. Overland discussed the remarkable winter of 2009 – 2010, which brought record snowstorms to Europe and the U.S. East Coast, along with the coldest temperatures in 25 years, but also brought the warmest winter on record to Canada and much of the Arctic. He demonstrated that the Arctic is normally dominated by low pressure in winter, and a “Polar Vortex” of counter-clockwise circulating winds develops surrounding the North Pole. However, during the winter of 2009-2010, high pressure replaced low pressure over the Arctic, and the Polar Vortex weakened and even reversed at times, with a clockwise flow of air replacing the usual counter-clockwise flow of air around the pole. This unusual flow pattern allowed cold air to spill southwards and be replaced by warm air moving poleward. This pattern is kind of like leaving the refrigerator door ajar--the refrigerator warms up, but all of the cold air spills out into the house.


Figure 1. Conceptual diagram of how Arctic sea ice loss affects winter weather, from NOAA's Future of Arctic Sea Ice and Global Impacts web page.

The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)
This is all part of a natural climate pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), which took on its most extreme configuration in 145 years of record keeping during the winter of 2009 – 2010. The NAO is a climate pattern in the North Atlantic Ocean of fluctuations in the difference of sea-level pressure between the Icelandic Low and the Azores High. It is one of oldest known climate oscillations--seafaring Scandinavians described the pattern several centuries ago. Through east-west oscillation motions of the Icelandic Low and the Azores High, the NAO controls the strength and direction of westerly winds and storm tracks across the North Atlantic. A large difference in the pressure between Iceland and the Azores (positive NAO) leads to increased westerly winds and mild and wet winters in Europe. Positive NAO conditions also cause the Icelandic Low to draw a stronger south-westerly flow of air over eastern North America, preventing Arctic air from plunging southward. In contrast, if the difference in sea-level pressure between Iceland and the Azores is small (negative NAO), westerly winds are suppressed, allowing Arctic air to spill southwards into eastern North America more readily. Negative NAO winters tend to bring cold winters to Europe and the U.S. East Coast, but leads to very warm conditions in the Arctic, since all the cold air spilling out of the Arctic gets replaced by warm air flowing poleward.

The winter of 2009 - 2010 had the most extreme negative NAO since record keeping began in 1865. This "Hot Arctic-Cold Continents pattern", resulting in a reversal of Polar Vortex and high pressure replacing low pressure over the Arctic, had occurred previously in only four winters during the past 160 years—1969, 1963, 1936, and 1881. Dr. Overland called the winter of 2009 – 2010 at least as surprising at the record 2007 loss of Arctic sea ice. He suspected that Arctic sea ice loss was a likely culprit for the event, since Francis et al. (2009) found that during 1979 - 2006, years that had unusually low summertime Arctic sea ice had a 10 - 20% reduction in the temperature difference between the Equator and North Pole. This resulted in a weaker jet stream with slower winds that lasted a full six months, through fall and winter. The weaker jet caused a weaker Aleutian Low and Icelandic Low during the winter, resulting in a more negative North Atlantic Oscillation, allowing cold air to spill out of the Arctic and into Europe and the Eastern U.S. Dr. Overland also stressed that natural chaos in the weather/climate system also played a role, as well as the El Niño/La Niña cycle and natural oscillations in stratospheric winds. Not every year that we see extremely high levels of Arctic sea ice loss will have a strongly negative NAO winter. For example, the record Arctic sea ice loss year of 2007 saw only a modest perturbation to the Arctic Vortex and the NAO during the winter of 2007 – 2008.

However, the strongly negative NAO is back again this winter. High pressure has replaced low pressure over the North Pole, and according to NOAA, the NAO index during November 2010 was the second lowest since 1950. This strongly negative NAO has continued into December, and we are on course to have a top-five most extreme December NAO. Cold air is once again spilling southwards into the Eastern U.S. And Europe, bringing record cold and fierce snowstorms. At the same time, warm air is flowing into the Arctic to replace the cold air spilling south--temperatures averaged more than 10°C (18°F) above average over much of Greenland so far this month. The latest 2-week forecast from the GFS model predicts that the Hot Arctic-Cold Continents pattern will continue for the next two weeks. However, the coldest air has sloshed over into Europe and Asia, and North America will see relatively seasonable temperatures the next two weeks.

For more information
The NOAA web page, Future of Arctic Sea Ice and Global Impacts has a nice summary of the “Hot Arctic-Cold Continents” winter pattern.

NOAA's Arctic Report Card is also a good source of information.

Francis, J. A., W. Chan, D. J. Leathers, J. R. Miller, and D. E. Veron, 2009: Winter northern hemisphere weather patterns remember summer Arctic sea-ice extent. Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L07503, doi:10.1029/2009GL037274.

Honda, M., J. Inoue, and S. Yamane, 2009: Influence of low Arctic sea-ice minima on anomalously cold Eurasian winters. Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L08707, doi:10.1029/2008GL037079.

Overland, J. E., and M. Wang, 2010: Large-scale atmospheric circulation changes associated with the recent loss of Arctic sea ice. Tellus, 62A, 1.9.

Petoukhov, V., and V. Semenov, 2010: A link between reduced Barents-Kara sea ice and cold winter extremes over northern continents. J. Geophys. Res.-Atmos., ISSN 0148-0227.

Seager, R., Y. Kushnir, J. Nakamura, M. Ting, and N. Naik (2010), Northern Hemisphere winter snow anomalies: ENSO, NAO and the winter of 2009/10, Geophys. Res. Lett., 37, L14703, doi:10.1029/2010GL043830.

Jeff Masters

Peeking Christmas Lights in Snowy Shrub (UnobtrusiveTroll10)
At my house. Their little heat has created a tiny viewing hole.
Peeking Christmas Lights in Snowy Shrub
Berry Cold Strawberries (lshunter)
Astin Farms in Plant City, FL waters their strawberry crop to prevent damage from frost as temperatures drop into the 20s overnight on December 14, 2010. More cold temperatures expected tonight.
Berry Cold Strawberries

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Quoting BigToe:
BigToe:
Aw what the heck, The Myan calander ends in 2012, as well as the human race. Who wants a beer?

me
==========
Let's serve 'em up, they're here!!
its mayans and as one cycle ends another cycle begins
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56141
Quoting bappit:

Yurk, bringing that out again? Scary stuff.


And what does "yurk" mean? I'm not up on the current lingo.
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Quoting Grothar:
So much for "Peace on Earth".

Some nights the blog is so pleasant; other nights it is like an evening with one's in-laws.

heheheheh
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Isn't Cyan pepper?
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
What is a Myan calender?


That would make it youran calender. Do we have to teach you everything.
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Quoting pottery:

I'm banging my empty glass on the bar.
Does that count?

Shoot, I'm serving.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
What is a Myan calender?

He meant Cyan.
Its sort of yellow.
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532. geepy86 3:05 AM GMT on December 16, 2010
anybody tapping a keg?
===============
Oh good, " An intergalactic Kegger"!!!!
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So much for "Peace on Earth".

Some nights the blog is so pleasant; other nights it is like an evening with one's in-laws.
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Quoting geepy86:
anybody tapping a keg?

I'm banging my empty glass on the bar.
Does that count?
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What is a Myan calender?
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BigToe:
Aw what the heck, The Myan calander ends in 2012, as well as the human race. Who wants a beer?

me
==========
Let's serve 'em up, they're here!!
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anybody tapping a keg?
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Quoting BigToe:
Aw what the heck, The Myan calander ends in 2012, as well as the human race. Who wants a beer?
Got any Yuengling?
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Quoting Quadrantid:


Much as There are many examples through history of man affecting his environment on smaller or larger scales -- take a look at the pea-souper fog/smog that was a problem in London just after WWII, the creation of desert as a result of forest clearance to make way for farming, or even the increased severe flooding in Haiti resulting from their deforestation. Man can change the climate, and his environment. Man has changed the climate and his environment, and man will continue to do so.

And on a more semantic level, your "IMPOSSIBLE" is just wrong anyways -- you might think it highly improbable (and that's your right), but nothing is impossible (though some things, such as you and I agreeing on everything we're arguing about by this time tomorrow, are admittedly highly, highly improbable).


I remember that quite well. Here is the link:


Link

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Quoting BigToe:
Aw what the heck, The Myan calander ends in 2012, as well as the human race. Who wants a beer?
Martini time!! Oh wait, that was 4 hours ago...
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Quoting geepy86:

me

Me too!
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Quoting BigToe:
Aw what the heck, The Myan calander ends in 2012, as well as the human race. Who wants a beer?

me
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Quoting Grothar:


Santa must have been doing a lot of moving over the years.



And you were there!

Good evening, Sir Fossil.
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Aw what the heck, The Myan calander ends in 2012, as well as the human race. Who wants a beer?
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Quoting DoverWxwatchter:
PSL I don't care, and neither does anyone else. This blog is not about your opinion of me. If you want to post your opinion of me, create your own blog and post it there. Dr. Master's blog is not about you, PSL.

And with that, I am done with that topic.



Apparently you do care, or I'd have landed on your ignore list. You have a very inflated opinion of yourself, to speak for an entire group.
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Quoting DDR:
Hi pottery
Most of the rain missed me today,did get a 1/2 inch though,how much did you get?
1.5" here today.
Drizzled all day........
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Pa rum pum pum pum
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It is scientifically IMPOSSIBLE for man to affect the Earth's climate.

I am so relieved to learn this...
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@503: Excellent Atmo!! and without a single inflamatory inuendo inserted. Just my opinion, of course, but well articulated without a rub. +2,123,783!
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Quoting KerryInNOLA:
Despite what the DOOM and GLOOM GW people say I am going to tell you the FACTS. The Earth has many buffer systems and natural repair mechanisms. It is scientifically IMPOSSIBLE for man to affect the Earth's climate. Humans are known to always be in a state of gloom or panic. We are ALWAYS at a "crossroads". The people who preach the GW philosophy are the same left wingers who are trying to ruin our lives. Remember this and you will be prepared for the fight.


Much as I enjoy your posts, and some of the arguments you provoke, I'm afraid you're simply wrong. Why are you wrong?

It isn't scientifically impossible for man to affect the Earth's climate. Quite the opposite. I agree that there are many other things that go on, but we're playing a significant role in changing things.

The UK, and Europe, used to be covered by a huge forest -- the whole area was trees, as far as the eye could see, and the mind could soar. Man changed that -- removed them all.

Man is more than capable of changing the planet's climate. I've moved to Australia recently, where huge fractions of the population are dealing with Melonoma caused by the UV radiation that pours through the ozone hole here. The highest ever UV levels recorded at ground level, as far as I know, were in Australia -- at a level of 17 on the Solar radiation warning scale. Here in Sydney, the level is usually at 13 or 14 on that. The highest I ever saw it in the UK was 7. Since it is a linear scale, I believe, that means when I'm out in the Sun here, I'm getting twice the UV dose than I was when I was in the UK, or even when I holidayed in the Mediterranian. Part of that is down to the Sun being higher in the sky, but part is down to the damage man has done to the ozone layer. So yep, we can change things on a global scale.

As for it being impossible with our technology to change the climate -- that's provably wrong. We already (just) have the technology to deflect kilometer-scale asteroids in their orbits (albeit currently by only a small distance -- see the Deep Impact and Don Quiote missions). That means we could, in theory, deflect an asteroid onto an Earth-impacting trajectory. A 1km asteroid hitting the Earth would definitely change our climate, trust me on this.

The emission of greenhouse gasses by man is a more subtle effect than a killer rock from space, I grant you, but to claim it can not possibly have an effect is just confrontational, provocative, and palpably untrue -- sorry! We are capable of doubling, or tripling the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere -- you're telling me that would have no effect?

I think what people forget when they say that man can't change things is that there are an awful lot of men on this planet. While the acts of one individual will have a negligible effect, when there are six thousand million doing things, it all adds up.

There are many examples through history of man affecting his environment on smaller or larger scales -- take a look at the pea-souper fog/smog that was a problem in London just after WWII, the creation of desert as a result of forest clearance to make way for farming, or even the increased severe flooding in Haiti resulting from their deforestation. Man can change the climate, and his environment. Man has changed the climate and his environment, and man will continue to do so.

And on a more semantic level, your "IMPOSSIBLE" is just wrong anyways -- you might think it highly improbable (and that's your right), but nothing is impossible (though some things, such as you and I agreeing on everything we're arguing about by this time tomorrow, are admittedly highly, highly improbable).
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Quoting atmoaggie:
Well, the magnetic north has been migrating, umm, well, north over the last 200 years...


Santa must have been doing a lot of moving over the years.
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513. DDR
Hi pottery
Most of the rain missed me today,did get a 1/2 inch though,how much did you get?
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Since you saw fit to mail me about my comment to you last night, and then blocked my reply, Dover, here ya go.

Verbatim, it went as follows:

" Despite your abrasive manner and petulant tone of voice, I genuinely have hope for you.


"Lighten up Francis", Stripes.

Good luck with the blog."




I guess I should change it to past tense.

How incredibly mature of you.
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Quoting DoverWxwatchter:


That's hard to say. Coal is a very common fuel. The USA has more than 300 years left at current consumption. China mined 2.804 billion metric tons officially in 2007.

However there are thousands of unregistered mines, the better to avoid those pesky environmental regulations (such as they are) and taxes.

A good article looks like this one, published in Technology Review in Jan 2007, the monthly magazine of MIT.

Except that I subscribe and can read it an no one else can. Blah.

OK.

BP of Gulf of Mexico fame says China has 48 years of coal reserves. MIT says more than 100 years. Given that no one knows for sure about production in illegal or unregistered mines, some hints that Chinese official reserve estimates have been doctored for political reasons, and different assumptions about future Chinese coal consumption trends, then 50-100 years seems as reasonable a guess as any.

Thanks.
As a matter of interest, Trinidad supplies 70% of liquified petroleum gas (LPG) to the USA.
Seismic studies 10 years ago showed very promising potential off the North Coast, and BP drilled a deep, expensive well out there which came up dry.
All other bidders backed-off after that, and no exploration is going on at present. The current Government is trying to re-write the tax-incentives to bring them back.

But the long and short of it is, the USA has to find an alternative supply for LPG soon. The advantage with Trinidad is cheap shipping to the US. From the MidEast, the price will rise a lot.

EDITED--the proven reserves for LPG in Trinidad, is 12 years....
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Quoting bappit:

Yurk, bringing that out again? Scary stuff.


How about this version:

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Quoting Ossqss:
New North pole? Has the Earth tilted and changed its axis in relation to the Sun? That is the only way that actually happens.......

Don't forget, without the Sun you reach absolute Zero very quickly ;)

Burrr, I feel a Monkeys song coming on with a twist, LOL --Oh my!








Well, the magnetic north has been migrating, umm, well, north over the last 200 years...
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KerryInNOLA 2:41 AM GMT on December 16, 2010
Despite what the DOOM and GLOOM GW people say I am going to tell you the FACTS. The Earth has many buffer systems and natural repair mechanisms. It is scientifically IMPOSSIBLE for man to affect the Earth's climate. Humans are known to always be in a state of gloom or panic. We are ALWAYS at a "crossroads". The people who preach the GW philosophy are the same left wingers who are trying to ruin our lives. Remember this and you will be prepared for the fight.
=====================

+100

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Oh my, here we go, China tells the truth, ya think???!!!! Next, Tunnels, exit stage left >>>>>> Think about it.......out :)



503, Yep
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Thanks all for the nice comments :)

It'll be really interesting to see where the next few years take us with regards to the changing climate -- the longer we wait to start changing things, if the change is man-made (which seems most likely!), the more expensive it will be to remedy. Maybe part of the problem is the short political terms we have? I wonder if politicians were concerned with elections ever 20 years, rather than every 5, if we'd see more action. The longer we wait, if theories are right, the more it will cost -- but it is likely that there'll be big costs up front, and the changes won't make an obvious difference in the short term... so people are minded to wait until it's someone elses problem. I mean, you'd have to be really brave, as a politician, to say "Right, I'm going to be extreme, to get something done about this major problem. As such, from tomorrow, we're putting taxes up by 10% to get a large amount of revenue to make things better.". Now, that's way more than anyone's likely to do -- but can you imagine the reaction to that? Even if it meant that, ten years down the line, everyone would be better off, and standards of living would be higher, etc., the politician would be voted out the next election, with those who replaced them running on a "Lets reduce your tax burden!" type platform.

What I would love to see is the whole thing being de-politicised, and have people talking about the science without it turning into a "he said" "she said" situation. Just because someone most people dislike/distrusts thinks or does something doesn't mean that that thing is automatically wrong. But the minute you politicise or dramatise it, that stops it being a discussion of the science, and starts it being a personality contest :(

-------------------------

At what point will the data become sufficiently convincing for those of you who get labelled "deniers" change your opinion, and start advocating that things need to be done? Do we have to wait another 5 years, 50 years? Even given that the longer we wait the more expensive and difficult repairing things will be?

Similarly - for those who are convinced climate change is man made -- what evidence would convince you that you're wrong? That's a harder one for me to ask, given that I personally think the great weight of evidence supports man-made warming... but certainly one cold winter, or a few cool summers, don't knock the bulk of the evidence. Problem is, the data and the scientific viewpoint is based on global data, while the man-in-the-street view is based on their own local evidence. One cold winter, and that global warming things must be wrong, right?

That's an issue with education, but sadly, the way science is taught is, if anything, getting worse, rather than better -- at least in the UK :( No idea how to fix it, but that's part of why I do as much outreach work as I can...

Blah -- this is another epic rambling post! Sorry about that -- I tend to hit "stream of consciousness" mode, and ramblingly write while I think... sorry about that!
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Just some musings...

I want clean air. I want a trash-free ocean. I want less cancer. I want sustainable farming, forestry, and fishery practices.

I want the river dams removed, but they need to be there or hydro power and/or agriculture would tank.

I want the state of California to get it's own water. If the resource cannot support the population, reduce the dependent population.

There are some things we know very, very well. One is that plastic still gets into the Pacific and just spins around and around in a gyre for years on end. Another is that river sediment is less than half of what it once was, depriving the building blocks of marsh land and estuaries, thus, ecology in those regions.

We know fertilizers are responsible for large areas devoid of life in the seas. But, at some point cost vs. benefit must be weighed. How many people should we expect to starve to death and/or have a reduced life expectancy so we can stop the use of the most effective fertilizers?

One thing we don't know, in my honest opinion, is that man and his CO2 emissions has contributed significantly to the temperature trends over the last 100 years. What would be global average be today without man's input?
We.
Have.
No.
Idea.

We also don't know, but can only surmise what the future holds in a warmer world. Many guesses have been put forth. Some didn't happen. Some will not happen. Others, maybe. Many haven't been thought about yet. Positive in some places and negative in others? Maybe. We don't know that either.

Sure, we could go forth with artificial increases in costs of energy consumption in the name of fringe benefits of such an act. We could single out the nasty, dirty, smelly, invasive, drill big holes petroleum sourced energy for cost increases to encourage using something not as naturally cost effective but less dirty.

BUT, I have a soft spot for those that barely enjoy a lifestyle only enabled by the cost of energy being as low as it is now, and lower. And those striving for said lifestyle. There is no cap-n-tax that really looks out for those folks. Not to mention more energy would immediately come from even dirtier sources, health-wise, among the less well-off all over the world. What exactly are the health costs associated with dung fires? Particulates from burning biomass?

Besides that, I am a science absolutist. I require more than circumstance and assumption for the imposition of artificial inflation of energy costs, for reasons above. *Could* it be? Maybe.

We certainly will have to move on from the petroleum primary source at some point, and research and planning needs to commence now. Until another source is cheaper and/or petroleum is more expensive, however, I am exceedingly unmotivated to impose a change in that.
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@494: except for the initial use of the term "denier", thanks, an excellent post
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The US might service the national debt owed to China with coal!
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:

Yurk, bringing that out again? Scary stuff.
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Quoting bappit:

Wikipedia has a table of coal reserves by country. Not sure how this plays out against consumption.

Edit: oops, next table down. 38 years for China.

Well, they are going to have to work fast to create an alternative to coal, in 30 years!
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Good post, STL.
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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