Tea Time With Jesse

Six of One, Half Dozen the Other

Archive for June, 2011

Culture Clash – Chaos or Boundary?

Posted by middlerage on June 20, 2011

You’d be surprised how many meteorologists have a hard time believing in global warming. This, despite the fact that most meteorologists work for NOAA, and NOAA has stated its confidence in the evidence for man-made global warming. And despite the fact most meteorologists are members of the American Meteorological Society, and the AMS has issued a society statement confirming global warming. Yet many (not all) meteorologists remain skeptical. Why is this?

Meteorologists and climatologists start from the same square – bachelor’s degrees heavy in Atmospheric Dynamics, Atmospheric Thermodynamics, Synoptic Meteorology, Physics and upper level math; their specializations begin to  diverge in graduate school and beyond… Meteorologists concern themselves with the day-to-day weather, and notice how massively hard it is to predict what the atmosphere will do tomorrow. Based on their daily experience, they are skeptical of climatology’s claim to predict the atmosphere over the next 100 years. This is because there is a fundamental difference between the input for a weather forecast and the input for a climate prediction. A weather forecast is quite specific; it wants to tell us what the atmosphere is going to do at a particular time and particular place. A climate prediction, on the other hand,  is concerned with the average over time and place. So here are some $10 words to use at your next cocktail party: Meteorology is concerned with Initial Conditions, while Climatology is concerned with Boundary Conditions.

There is a handy analogy used in climatology spheres. It goes like this…imagine a pot of boiling water. You can see many points on the bottom of the pot where bubbles form and stream to the surface. Meteorology wants to predict where on the bottom a bubble will form, how fast it will rise, how big it will expand, where on the surface it will pop. All of this requires sensitive dependence on initial conditions, aka chaos theory. The climatologist knows the pot is sitting on a stove at sea level and thus he/she is very confident that if she sticks a thermometer into the pot, the average temperature will be 100°C. This is because she knows the boundary condition is a sea level air pressure of 1013.25 hectopascals*, and she is concerned with the average water temperature of the whole pot, not with an instant temperature of a single bubble.  He/she also knows that if that boundary condition changes, say you move to a stove on a mountain top, at a pressure of 701 hectopascals, then a thermometer would measure an average boiling temperature of only 90°C. The key thing is, the climatologist doesn’t have to measure – she can accurately predict based on the boundary condition of the air pressure.

I cannot tell you what the precise weather will be like over my house on July 11th of 2025, but I can tell you July 2025 at my house will be warmer than January of 2025. This is because of the boundary conditions I know: I live in the northern hemisphere, the sun will be at a higher zenith during the day, there will be more incident solar radiation per square meter, the jet stream will have migrated north, and so on. In this sense we are all climatologists, because we are all aware of some boundary conditions.

Now, the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere is also a boundary condition. As that particular boundary condition changes – and we can predict that change with reasonable confidence** – climatological models can predict the change in the heat capacity of the atmosphere for 2025, 2100, and beyond.

Unlike the meteorologists challenge, (think chaotic butterfly flapping its wings in China), the climatologist has to contend with millions of butterflies flapping their wings but averaging out. This is not to presume that climate scientists don’t contend with complexity and non-linearities – they do – but the boundary condition is knowable.

* You may be familiar with the term millibar. A hectopascal is the same as a millibar, but it is the international standard unit. I believe in getting average readers used to the idea of SI units when talking about science. Thus I will use Celsius and other metric units as often as feasible.

** Scientific understanding of the radiative forcing of carbon dioxide, methane and other hydrocarbons is high. See figure 2.20 of the 2007 IPCC report to the U.N. The scientific understanding of other gases, such as water vapor (for instance clouds and especially contrails), some aerosols, and black carbon is considered low to medium.

Posted in Climate | 2 Comments »

What Part of ‘No’ Don’t You Understand?

Posted by middlerage on June 16, 2011

CIA spying on Americans. NYT article. Here are two relevant passages:

Glenn L. Carle, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was a top counterterrorism official during the administration of President George W. Bush, said the White House at least twice asked intelligence officials to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who writes an influential blog that criticized the war.


“These allegations, if true, raise very troubling questions,” said Jeffrey H. Smith, a former C.I.A. general counsel. “The statute makes it very clear: you can’t spy on Americans.”

Like I say, “what part of ‘no’ is unclear, here?” I don’t have anything illuminating to add to the analysis. It just pisses me off and I have a blog, so I get to say that. File under “My Beach My Waves.”

Posted in my beach my waves, Politicks, Privacy Issues | 7 Comments »

Why I Won’t Be Getting a Dog…

Posted by middlerage on June 13, 2011

…At least anytime soon.

Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs. Grew up with an awesome, purebred Samoyed that was great with kids and loved to play in the snow. Later on, I got myself a mutt, and fell in love with that special breed. I’ve got a nice, fenced back yard and I’ve been thinking seriously about adding Man’s Best Friend to the family. However, the surrounding neighbors all have dogs, and the result has been to make my yard a refuge. A wildlife refuge. We’ve had rabbits, a fox, and deer all taking a break in our backyard.

The clincher was the fox. Yep, there’s a fox that uses my yard as part of his evening commute. How cool is that? When I first saw him, I was sitting on my front steps, reading a book, and out of the corner of my eye came this shape sauntering over the neighbor’s front yard, under the truck, and up my side yard to the back. I wasn’t sure what it was at first. It was so BIG. Foxes aren’t that big! It must be a coyote. It flashed by so quickly (even at a saunter) but I tried to memorize something distinctive. It had an enormously fluffy tail and it was more gray than the red I was expecting of a fox.That made me unsure if it was a fox or a coyote.

I got online and “googled” foxes and coyotes. Note – googling ‘carolina fox’ brings up exclusively pictures of women. And not very attractive ones, either. My next try was smarter – ‘north american foxes.’ I then compared with pictures of coyotes. Damn! I could hardly tell the difference. And – wouldn’t ya know –  BOTH the fox and the coyote have bushy tails. I suspect, even some of the photographers are confused and have misidentified their photo-captures. 

It turns out there are two kinds of North American foxes – the red and the gray. The red is easy to eliminate because it really is red. Red like a Disney fox. But the gray is so similar to the coyote it is difficult to tell apart, and my ghost was gray. The identification advice said to look for a white a tip on the tail of a gray fox, and it would hold his tail straight out. Whereas a coyote would drag his tail and there would be no white tip. So I set down on the porch steps the next evening, opened my book, and waited for luck to strike, and strike it did – the fox came back. Bushy tail held straight out, short stumpy legs that just seem too stumpy to be coyote, and a handsome, pointy face.  However, no white tip, and I looked. So I am 95% sure it’s a fox, but not 100%.

As I was mentally drafting this post in my head, I carried some kitchen scraps out to the composter. I startled a big rabbit over by the wood pile. He bolted through the chain link fence – bet you didn’t know a large wild rabbit can fold himself through the tiny diamond in a chain link fence. Nothing motivates like blind fear.

And then there was the month of March, when a herd of five deer bounded over the fence and hunkered down for a midday break in our backyard. See pictures below. They didn’t forage, they just rested – maybe they’d been chased.

Anyway, I’m sure all this coolness has been brought to us courtesy of a dog-free yard, and I am loathe to change that magic. Sorry pups.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

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