Thoughts on the ocean, the environment, the universe and everything from nearly a mile high.

Panorama of The Grand Tetons From the top of Table Mountain, Wyoming © Alan Holyoak, 2011

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Highlights from the IPCC 5th Assessment Report - Summary for Policy Makers - Humans are driving climate change!

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a draft of its Summary for Policy Makers report on Friday 9/28/2013.

This posting is a summary of the main points from that document.  The parts in bold font below are direct quotes from that document.  I inserted some additional comments clarifying or commenting on those quotes in the text in brackets below each quote.

You can read the entire document by clicking this link - it's about 30pp long:

Point #1 - Overall state of the climate:
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of  greenhouse gases have increased.

(In other words, the climate is changing, and not for the better - an observation, not a prediction, not a model)

Point #2 - State of the Atmosphere:
Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any  preceding decade since 1850

(Not only is the Earth's surface temperature warmer than it used to be, decade by decade it's getting even warmer - an observation, not a prediction, not a model)

Point #3 - State of the Ocean:
Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain (=99-100% confidence) that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010 

(The upper ocean is warmer than it used to be - an observation, not a prediction, not a model)

Point #4 - State of the Cryosphere (frozen regions):
Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent.

(Ice is melting and ice masses are in decling everywhere - an observation, not a prediction, not a model.)

Point #5 - Sea Level:
The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m 

(Sea level has risen 10" - so far - since 1901 - an observation, not a prediction, not a model)

Point #6 - Carbon and other Geochemical Cycles:
The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification. 

(Burning fossil fuels together with land use changes produced unprecedented levels of CO2 compared to its levels over the past 800K years - an observation, not a prediction, not a model)

Point #7 - Drivers of Climate Change
Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750.

(Radiative forcing is the term used to determine whether climate is warming or cooling.  Positive forcing is warming, negative forcing is cooling.  So, the largest contributor to current climate change is CO2 emissions - a conclusion based on many observations.)

Point #8 - Understanding the Climate and its Recent Changes
Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.

(What humans have done and are doing affects climate.)

Point #9 - Evaluation of Climate Models
Climate models have improved since the AR4 (4th assessment report - 2007). Models reproduce observed continental-scale surface temperature patterns and trends over many decades, including the more rapid warming since the mid-20th century and the cooling immediately following large volcanic eruptions (very high confidence)

(Climate models are better than they used to be, and are now quite good at modeling observed climate history and observed current trends in climate change)

Point #10 - 2 Quantification of Climate System Responses:
Observational and model studies of temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global warming in response to past and future forcing.

(In other words, the accumulated mass of observations collected so far, together with improved climate models increase our confidence that what we think is happening [i.e., human-driven global warming] really is happening.)

Point #11 - Detection and Attribution of Climate Change
Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid 20th century.

(The term "extremely likely" correlates with a statistical significance of 95% confidence, which is about the same degree of scientific confidence we have about the link between tobacco use and cancer.  So, the data now show that we are in the realm of scientific certainty that human activities have been the dominant cause of recent observed climate change.  Bottom line - HUMANS ARE CAUSING GLOBAL WARMING.)

Point #12 - Future Global and Regional Climate Change
Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

(Translation - if we just keep doing what we're doing, pumping CO2 into the atmosphere with reckless abandon, things will just keep getting worse.  The only way to mitigate the climate change problem is to cut back, way back, on carbon emissions.)

Point #13 - Future of Atmospheric Temperature
Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 for all RCP (modeled) scenarios except RCP2.6. It is likely to exceed 2°C for RCP6.0 and RCP8.5, and more likely than not to exceed 2°C for RCP4.5. Warming will continue beyond 2100 under all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. Warming will continue to exhibit interannual-to-decadal variability and will not be regionally uniform.

(No matter what we do, the atmosphere is already on a warming trend that will continue for some time to come, even if we cut carbon emissions to zero immediately.)

Point #14 - Future of the Atmosphere: Water Cycle
Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions.

(Most likely wet areas will get wetter, and dry areas will get drier, with some exceptions.  Get ready!)

Point #15 - Future of the Ocean
The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation.

(The ocean will continue to warm, no matter what we do - this will affect the movement of water, and consequently of heat around the planet)

Point #16 - Future of the Cyrosphere (ice regions)
It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease.

(There will be less ice on average, everywhere.)

Point #17 - Future of Sea Level
Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Under all  RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets.

(No matter what we do, sea level will continue to rise for a prolonged period of time.  All we can do now is limit how fast and how high it will rise - this is linked to carbon emissions.)

Point #18 - Carbon and Other Geochemical Cycles
Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (high confidence). Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification.

(Emitting even more carbon will make things progressively worse, and will drive ocean acidification - a change that will almost certainly affect marine ecosystems and probably cause the extinction of many marine species)

Point #19 - Climate Stabilization, Climate Change Commitment and Irreversibility
Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.

(There is no stopping anthropgenic climate change now, our actions from this point though will determine how far it will go.  It's our call.)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Backpacking in Yellowstone National Park - Bechler Region

I hike and I like to camp, well, except for the sleeping part, but I've never been backpacking...until this summer.  

Some friends and I went backpacking for three days and two nights in the back country of the Bechler Region of Yellowstone National Park (the SW corner of the park).  This area is accessed by taking Cave Falls Road east from Idaho State Highway 47.  Stay on Cave Falls Road until you see the sign on the north side of the road to the Bechler Ranger Station.  BTW, you need to pay either $25 for a one-time YNP pass or $50 for an annual pass to park there and enter the park. You are also required to view a back country safety video before you will be issued a camping permit.  

We stayed at different camp sites each night.  On Day 1 we hiked 10 miles in to campsite 9B6, and on Day 2 we hiked two more miles toward Three River Junction to camp site 9B8.

Here is our crew in a "before" shot, mid-morning on the first day.  See how clean and chipper we look?

So, Day 1 we covered 10 miles.  When/if you start to feel "hot spots" on your feet STOP!  I learned this the hard way...I waited too long, and proto-blisters became the real thing.  Sadly, I was one of the two people who got blisters mid way through the first day.  I haven't had blisters in I don't know how long!  I don't even get blisters while running a half-marathon...sheesh!

I think that I got blisters because of my shoes, either that or a slightly modified gait due to a knee injury (ACL) I had this Spring.  I did everything you are supposed to...wear broken in reliable shoes and wicking socks, stop and check feet when "hot spots" show up, and apply moleskin as needed, but no matter what I tried blisters happened.   Enough of that...for now.

A few miles into Day 1 we crossed Boundary Creek.  There's a nice suspension bridge over that muddy creek.  Make sure you take it easy as you cross, one person at a time, and step in the middle of the planks as you go over.  If it weren't for this bridge we would have been muddy at least from the knees down, and that's not really what anyone wants when you are not even halfway through a 10-mile day.

Once over the bridge we pushed on, toward Bechler Meadow.

Bechler Meadow (see below) is huge.  I hoped/expected to see moose or elk or deer there, but all we saw was meadow, meadow, and more meadow, oh, and trees, hills, and mountains in the distance.

The Tetons were visible to the south.  Beautiful!

We had only one river crossing on Day 1.  It was at the north end of Bechler Meadow.  Here we are changing into water shoes/sandals before crossing (below). Lightweight pants with zippers at the knees so the bottom half of the pant legs can removed were a good investment.  

Once across we took a break, relaxed, filled our water bottles, and had some lunch.

Pretty soon we entered for forest for good as we moved toward the mouth of Bechler Canyon (below).  The shade was a welcome change.  

We heard that the mosquitoes can be thick from the ranger station through Bechler Meadow, but, thank the Maker, we saw/heard very few of them.  

This hillside marks the mouth of Bechler Canyon.

The rest of  Day 1 we hiked up  beautiful Bechler Canyon (below).

Here are a couple of must-see waterfalls on this trail.  The first major one is Collonade Falls (below). 

A few miles farther up the canyon is Iris Falls.  You have to hike off of the main trail a hundred yards (meters) or so to an overlook to see it, otherwise you'll walk right by.  Watch for a sign on the left side of the trail.  Don't skip it!  Go and see it, after all, why are you in the park, anyway?

Here's the crew, still grinning while at Collonade Falls.

We saw lots of berries as we moved farther up the valley.  We ate wild blackberries and huckleberries too!  This is the sort of place I imagine you could see bears, but I guess we were making such a racket that if they were in the neighborhood they hot footed it out of there.  Come to think of it, we didn't see any wildlife larger than birds the entire trip.  That was kind of a let-down, but IMO that's better than having run-ins with bears.

Here's one of the huckleberry patches. 

The photo below shows campsite 9B6 where we hoisted a bear bag containing all of our food, toothpaste, deodorant, and other things that might bring in bears.  The bear bag was well off of the ground so bears can't get to them.

Bear bags MUST be used.  In fact, park rangers come by regularly to check and make sure everyone is following good back country bear procedures.  The rangers' main job is to keep the visitors, the park, and the wildlife safe.

The photo below shows the right-hand support of the bear bag hoist.  The marks are where a black bear(s) climbed the pole to try to get to bear bags.  This didn't happen while we were there, but bears had obviously been there in the past!  

Even in the middle of summer, nights can be COLD in Yellowstone.  I found that out the hard way.  I don't care for mummy style bags, but I should have brought mine...instead I opted for a bag that wasn't rated as cold...brr...I froze that first night, even with a knit hat.  

Luckily, dawn always follows even the darkest night, and a fire and a bite of hot breakfast helped me gather myself for the day.

We broke camp and hiked another two miles to 9B8 - our second camp site.  This short hike required two river crossings.  

Here's the bear bag hoist at camp site 9B8.

On an aside, it's imperative that you have one or two good water filters (below) when you go backpacking, because water is HEAVY and you want to carry as little as possible.    

Day 2 was used mainly to take a day hike to see some waterfalls and a hot pool.  My feet were in so much pain from Day 1's blisters that after about 100 yards of the day-hike I turned around and went back to camp where I put my feet up.  That was, I believe, the only way I was going to have a prayer of hiking the 12 miles back out the next day.

After the group returned some of them took advantage of a fantastic way to cool off.  The water was actually warmer here than it was father downstream because of hot/warm springs at several spots along the river.  It wasn't "warm" but it wasn't frigid either.  

Night 2 went much better for me than Night 1 for two reasons:  1) I wore ALL the clothes I had with me to bed...pants, shirt, sweatshirt, socks, knit hat, etc., so I wasn't as cold as I was on Night 1, that's not to say that I was warm, I was just not AS cold; and 2) I knew that the next day we would head home. Yeah!

The morning of Day 3 I checked my blisters...installed new mole skin around each one, laced up my shoes, bucked up my faith and courage, and set off...with pain in every footstep.

We made it back to the ranger station 7-8 hours later, around 5pm.  We forded the river three times and covered 12 miles.  I literally kissed the ranger station sign when I saw it again!

Once I got home I removed all of the moleskin and checked out my feet.  This is what I found.  I had to cover 12 miles, step after step, on these blisters.  Luckily, if you just embrace the pain and keep going it's not all THAT bad.

I had three blisters on my left foot.  This is the blister about the size of a quarter below my second toe and another one on the little toe of my left foot...

This blister was on the side of the heel of my left foot.

My right foot had only one blister, but it was a doozy!

In retrospect, I have to say that the scenery was beautiful, the friendships good, the park was amazing, and the outing was overall an unmitigated success, but for me personally, the hike was from hell.

So, what's my impression of backpacking?  At least for now if someone asks if I want to go...I'll pass.