Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

Climate in America

By: RickyRood, 3:07 AM GMT on April 29, 2008

Casual Observations from Virginia to Kansas: I am moving my headquarters for the summer from Ann Arbor to Boulder by way of Maryland and Virginia. Trying to work some along the way, most notably on a proposal about water resources for energy production, and how climate change might impact water resources.

Consciousness of climate change is spreading throughout the U.S. In West Virginia there are billboards, "Clean, Carbon Neutral Coal." They are sponsored by Walker Machinery, and have set off some controversy, especially by a group trying to stop mountain top removal as a form coal mining. (West Virginia Coal Association) On the rivers in West Virginia and on trains in Kansas there are mountains of coal. In Kansas there is debate about a coal power plant.

In Illinois Corn has corn ethanol front and center for energy security, air quality, and climate change. The same is true for virtually every state in the Corn Belt. There is news of experiments in Oklahoma on switchgrass.

Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection's We Can Solve It campaign is all over NPR sponsorship.

So there it is right in our faces, climate and climate change. It's a marketing tool, and as a marketing tool there are misrepresentations of the facts, the impacts of products.


Iconinc BBQ at Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City. Worthy new BB at PeeWees in Scottsville, Va.

Attribution of climate change series starts next week.

Updated: 3:11 AM GMT on April 29, 2008


Advocacy --- or Not?

By: RickyRood, 3:37 AM GMT on April 22, 2008

Scientists as Advocates:

This entry will be different, more in the spirit of opinion. It picks up on some of the recent comments about scientists as advocates.

I have just finished the third year of my course on climate change. This course strives to be a course on problem solving. The students work on a project that integrates climate change into their analysis and their recommendations. One of instructions for the project is to separate what is known, from what is believed – to separate what is, from what is wanted. People tend to tie all things together in their minds and words. I try to teach awareness of advocacy.

When I worked in Washington for NASA, I saw many examples of advocacy becoming the end of a project - over advocacy. In the case of a space instrument, often the advocacy blurred what an instrument could surely measure versus what it might measure with a high-risk technological development. Other times the advocacy was anchored on the potential impact of an instrument; for example, what uncertainty would be reduced or how the weather forecast might be improved. My experience was, when a scientist became an advocate that the facts of the scientist’s message were lost. The audience became polarized, those who were on the scientist’s side and those who were not. The result of this is often a call for independent, external review. Sometimes projects proceed, sometimes they do not.

It is my opinion that the influence that I have is far larger if I maintain the discipline of separating knowledge, from what is likely known, from what is derived knowledge, from what is believed. I believe it is important to separate, distinctly, knowledge-based analysis from advocacy.

There have been a number of comments in the blogs about Jim Hansen and the work that comes out of the activity at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies). Jim and I sat on the same staff at NASA, and I have no doubt that Jim and the entire group at GISS perform outstanding scientific research. Their work is some of the most highly scrutinized research, and it is some of the most influential research.

I also have no doubt that Jim Hansen is an advocate, who senses urgency for us to address the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. (Here is one of my old blogs on the basis of why there is urgency: Strange Urgency). The urgency comes first from a need to act soon if we are to stabilize the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Hansen’s work also includes the idea of using methane regulation in the near term to buy time, and most recently the need to stabilize carbon dioxide at 350 parts per million, an actual reduction below present amounts.

While I believe that I am most influential when I distinctly separate advocacy from knowledge-based analysis, there is an obvious role for the scientist as advocate. There is a need to bring important pieces of information forward, and this often requires people with a passionate belief. When a person does this, they change, in a fundamental sense, the audience to whom they are speaking. They take strong positions in order to make points; the discussion becomes more polarized, like a trial.

(It is also important to distinguish what a scientist advocates from what is reported in the different media that report opinion and news. Each step away from primary source of information is another opportunity for either a conscious or sub-conscious message to be advanced. I am occasionally interviewed, and I am always concerned about what will happen to my words.)

Not only are there advocates who argue that climate change is a far reaching problem that demands urgent attention, there are also scientists who conclude that urgency is unwarranted. One person who advocates that climate change does not carry the urgency that Hansen ascribes to is Jim O’Brien at Florida State. As some have noted this Jim is my thesis advisor, and I can say with no hesitancy that he is one of the most influential people in my life. Jim O’Brien has a long history of outstanding research. It is a history of challenging prevailing wisdom.

There is a classic split that appears again and again in science and decision making. That split is - when does one conclude that research is robust enough to make a decision? There is always uncertainty in scientific research. If the decision is based on research that has pervasive implications throughout society, or is highly related to making or losing money, then many other factors have, and should have, influence. This is not only an issue of climate change, but also of new drugs, ozone depletion, and bio-fuels. There are examples of waiting too long; there are examples of acting too early.

With climate change, most have concluded that there is enough evidence, and that the predictions are robust enough to make a decision. The arguments have been brought out of the realm of the scientific literature, and scientists being members of society, being human, advocate for what they believe in.

(I would be interested in comments of those who paid attention to the report last week, the Journal of the American Medical Association, I think, on “guest authors” on pharmaceutical tests. Some Info )

The practice of challenging conventional wisdom is an important part of science. Robust challenges have a testable hypothesis as their foundation. Robust challenges are not collections of figures that support the challenge while ignoring the evidence that does not support the challenge.

Ramble on. For me, the influence that I might have, it is important to separate advocacy from knowledge. I do believe that if the knowledge that one has implies consequential risk, then the scientist, the person, has the responsibility to act on that knowledge. For some this becomes a matter of advocacy. And with advocacy, comes a new flavor of argument and controversy.

I will next start a series on the “attribution” of climate change.


Updated: 2:26 AM GMT on March 08, 2010


The Last Beginning of Spring

By: RickyRood, 4:20 AM GMT on April 13, 2008

Getting Ready for Spring (5):

First I want to apologize for such a long absence. Thanks for keeping some discussion going. Slammed with classes. I have not even been able to keep up with my class web site. For those of you who go there, look in the next week for the rest of the lectures. There are some good new references. Speaking of good and new, and I know this will excite the people of this blog, at least the commenters, here’s something new about hurricanes from Kerry Emanuel. This from the New York Times. I expect Jeff will talk about it. (If it is old news ... sorry.)

This is the last of the series on the changing springtime. This one is a little more in the spirit of doing science. At the time of the equinox NPR did a story on the beginning of spring. It featured Kirsten de Beurs from Virginia Tech. Here is the audio link from the radio. The article talked about the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin in Washington. (If you are ever in Washington at cherry blossom time, it is a first tier event.) I contacted Kirsten and she put together a plot from satellite data for me. Here is the link on her web page, with a more detailed description than the one I give below.

Figure 1: from Kirsten de Beurs: Normalized Difference Vegetation Index ( NDVI from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer AVHRR satellite . Left 1982, Right 2006.

I want to write about these two “snap shots” from 24 years apart. First, I want to say that these two figures by themselves do not establish a trend. They are interesting figures because they show the type of details that must be addressed when trying to determine trends. This figure specifically shows when the NDVI is halfway to its yearly maximum – this could be called the time of fastest “greening.” (I always find the term greening a little confusing and you see a map with so much red, but as drawn, my ultimate point will focus on 2006 being less red! Thanks Kirsten.) This maximum increase is used to indicate the start of season. What the figure shows, then, is the date that the start of the season occurs, as defined by this satellite observation.

I have marked A, B, and C on the figures. A is in Indiana, and this region is red, showing a very late start of season. This is agricultural land and the time of maximum greening is determined by when, in this case, a whole lot of corn is planted. The point B, down in North Carolina (Weren’t we ALL disappointed in the NC-Kansas game, but you knew the emotion would be with Kansas?), and shows an alarmingly late spring in 1982. This is not a late spring as much as this was a year with sustained cloud cover over this part of the country. Clouds are notorious confounders of satellite observations, and often satellite observations are composites of cloud-free images. In 1982, apparently not much cloud-free time there.

Up in area C, in eastern Canada, is where there is evidence of a large difference in the onset of spring between the two years. (Note a discrepancy in Nova Scotia, which I know nothing about.) In area C, there are more yellows and greens, less red, as the start of the season has gotten earlier. It is the persistent signal of early spring in the recent years that is consistent with the warming temperatures.

This series of blogs started with the phenology, the onset of spring. I talked about how seeing a change in the transition from winter to spring and fall to winter, a lengthening of the warm season, would be a robust indicator of a general warming trend. The basic idea was that the random-aspect of weather would be averaged out. This would reveal a tendency in the seasonal transition. We started with birds and trees, looked at change in snow cover, and satellite data of vegetative activity. I want to bring it back to the birds and trees.

Steve Bloom in the comments of the first blog in the series and Kirsten de Beurs both pointed out this citizens science website , Project Budburst. Here is a link to the U.S. National Phenology Network, which gives guidance for how to observe. Like, siting a weather station, you don’t want to observe next to the heating vent. And from the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, a lot of information on flowers, birds, and butterflies.

Welcome to spring.


Blogs on spring getting earlier:

Getting Ready for Spring (1)
Getting Ready for Spring (2)
Getting Ready for Spring (3)
Getting Ready for Spring (4)
Jeff Masters blog on snowy winters

Updated: 4:31 AM GMT on April 13, 2008


About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.

RickyRood's Recent Photos

Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.