Lance Armstrong and Superstorm Sandy were both doped

This house was floated off its foundation by Sandy. Fairfield Beach, CT. (Genevieve Reilly/Fairfield Citizen)

If you’re a cycling enthusiast, you’re no doubt aware that Lance Armstrong was recently stripped of all of his Tour de France wins because the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency found evidence of doping. While there are some questions that remain unanswered in the case and there are certainly reasonable criticisms that can be levied against the USADA’s investigation, the scientific evidence appears to be overwhelming.

But I’m not here to talk about Lance Armstrong. Instead, there’s another example where the scientific evidence of doping is overwhelming even though there are a few reasonable criticisms and a few unanswered questions – the doping of Superstorm Sandy by the performance enhancer known as industrial climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change).

Industrial climate disruption increases the amount of heat stored in the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere. When the oceans heat up, they expand, raising sea level. When a warmer ocean and atmosphere melts ice caps (as is happening in Antarctica and Greenland), sea level rises even more. And when sea levels rise, the storm surge that accompanies large storms like Sandy (and Hurricane Katrina) is that much higher than it would have been without a storm surge sea level rise.

But there is another effect of industrial climate disruption that doped sea level rise specifically in the region hardest hit by Sandy. The region of the east cost between Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts appears to be a “hot spot” for local sea level rise that is driven in part by the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current (AMOC), of which the Gulf Stream is part. When the AMOC speeds up, local sea level drops, and vice-versa. Recently, industrial climate disruption has warmed the air over Greenland enough to significantly increase the amount of freshwater entering the North Atlantic. More fresh water makes the North Atlantic less salty, and thus less dense. Since the AMOC is driven in large part by the warm, salty Gulf Stream cooling and sinking in the North Atlantic, adding lots of fresh water to the Gulf Stream will make it sink slower, and thus slow down the AMOC, leading to sea level rise in the region hit by Sandy that was, according to the paper linked above, 3-4x larger than the global average sea level rise.

Surface temperatures using data from NASA GISS.

There’s a third way that industrial climate disruption enhanced Sandy’s performance, and this is related directly to the warmer oceans. Hurricanes derive their energy from the ocean, and the warmer the ocean is under the storm, the more powerful the hurricane can become. Not all hurricanes become powerful storms over hot water because other factors matter too, but no hurricane can get large and/or powerful without ocean heat. The Atlantic Ocean has become, on average, between 0.9 and 3.6 °F (0.5 to 2 °C) warmer in the area traversed by Sandy over the period from the early 1900’s to the last decade during the months of November and December. This extra ocean heat boosted Sandy’s performance dramatically.

Warmer oceans due to industrial climate disruption also mean more water vapor in the air (over the ocean, anyway), and that means more intense rainfall. And there’s evidence that the dramatic drop in Arctic ice cover changes weather patterns across North America. One of those changes is more common “atmospheric blocking” pattern, which is part of what Sandy fused with to become a superstorm in the first place.

Critics claim that Sandy wasn’t caused by industrial climate disruption. Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France wins weren’t caused by his doping, after all. But he was still stripped of his wins because the doping made it much more likely he’d win.

Industrial climate disruption may not have caused Sandy, but it made Sandy more likely and more devastating. And until we stop emitting greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere, industrial climate disruption will continue to dope up hurricanes, droughts, floods, wildfires, and more.

Milloy's latest climate op-ed riddled with errors

Today, the Washington Times ran an op-ed by science-denier-for-hire Steve Milloy titled “2012 GOP guide to the climate debate.” Based on the number of errors and irrelevancies masquerading as serious concerns I discovered while reading it, the Washington Times should have titled the op-ed “How to lie to voters about climate disruption.”

Here’s a brief rundown of all the problems I found. I’ll be dealing with a few of the worse errors in greater depth in a follow-up post.


  1. “Al Gore and his enviros duck debating so-called ‘climate skeptics.'” – So debates like Dessler vs. Lindzen or Lambert vs. Monckton don’t count? It’s true that debates like these are rare, but that’s because debating a climate disruption denier is about as effective as debating evolution with a young-earth creationist or a proponent of “intelligent design.”
  2. Continue reading

Nota Bene #106: [no title due to budget cuts]

“Working for a major studio can be like trying to have sex with a porcupine. It’s one prick against thousands.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #100: Il Planetario di Figaro

Wow, 100 issues of Nota Bene! Props to Russ for helping me for a while with this nifty little S&R feature. Never mind all that now, let’s get on with this issue. “What splendid buildings our architects would be able to execute if only they could finally be less obedient to gravity!” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #97: toDwI'ma' qoS yItIvqu'!

“To be truly free, and truly to appreciate its freedom, a society must be literate.” Continue reading

Two new studies point to significant ice melt-driven sea level rise this century

laseralticesheet-smIn 2007, the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) refused to stake a firm position on how fast and how high sea levels would rise. The IPCC claimed that, while there was widespread agreement on sea level rise due to thermal expansion of seawater, scientists did not yet know enough about how the ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica would respond to climate disruption. The science has advanced considerably since 2007 and the majority of the new results (for example, this paper, this paper, and this consensus statement from earlier this year) have confirmed that the IPCC estimates were too low.

Two recent studies measuring different changes on the Greenland and Antarctic ice shelves have added more evidence that sea levels are going to rise higher and faster than the IPCC estimates. One used highly accurate measurements of the changes in ice sheet thickness to estimate how much ice was exiting the ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica via glaciers dumping ice into the ocean. The other used the GRACE gravity measurement satellites to estimate the total amount of mass being lost from Antarctica. Both found significant losses in ice, but GRACE found something more significant – a loss of ice mass from the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, a mass of ice that was previously believed to be stable or even adding ice mass. Continue reading

20 million years of CO2 and ice sheet/sea level correlation

iceageWhen you look at the ice core record, there’s a significant amount of correlation between sea level rise and the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air at the time. But the ice core record goes back less than a million years. A study published a couple of weeks ago in the journal Science measured proxy data for CO2 concentration in the ocean and compared that data to other data on the stability of ice sheets. The authors discovered that there is strong correlation between the two going back at least 20 million years.

One of the challenges that the authors had was the fact that few available previous studies didn’t show correlation between the amount of CO2 in the air and the global climate prior to the start of ice core data. The authors hypothesized that this was a problem with the other datasets and developed a set of tests to check their hypothesis. Continue reading

Nota Bene #87: Supersize Moi

There’s an old saying in Tennessee Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: U.S. Chamber of Commerce files for EPA climate disruption trial (update #2)



Earlier this week, the LATimes reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (hereafter “the Chamber”) has petitioned the EPA to hold a trial-like hearing on the science of climate disruption. According to the article, officials for the Chamber want to make it “‘the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century.'”

EPA officials interviewed for the LATimes article are dismissive of the Chamber’s petition, referring to it in the article as “frivolous” and a “waste of time.” However, given that the Chamber has threatened to take the EPA to federal court to force them to hold this trial-like hearing, it’s unlikely that the Chamber considers their petition “frivolous.” Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: Pew poll says climate lowest priority, but results are curious



A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in early January says that, of the priorities listed in the poll, “dealing with global warming” was dead last, with only 30% of respondents declaring it a “top priority.” This was below other issues such as the economy, jobs, fixing Medicare, crime, and the environment. But as is so often the case with polls, the devil is in the details and the methodology. For example, climate disruption is certainly an environmental issue, yet the issues are polled separately. And when you broaden the poll results beyond just the “top priority” category to include “important but lower priority,” global warming attracts support of 67% of the poll’s respondents. Continue reading

So, does the end justify the means?

by JS O’Brien

Sunday, January 18 will be the 97th anniversary of the day Robert Falcon Scott’s British Terra Nova Expedition arrived at the South Pole in 1912.  As many may know, there was a race to the Pole with the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen — a race the British lost.  They also lost their lives, with the weakened, last three members of the five-man team to reach the Pole slowly dying of dehydration, starvation, and gangrene only 11 miles from the  safety of One Ton Depot, where supplies, medical attention, and a relief party awaited them.

At the time, the story of the party’s demise made headlines larger than those for the sinking of the Titanic, because the elements of the story, interpreted in an ever-so-slightly-post-Edwardian way, made for a tragic tale in the heroic literary tradition.  In many ways, those elements still do, but with a twist that is both modern and at least as ancient as Sophocles.

Terra Nova is an utterly marvelous but rarely performed play about the Scott Expedition written by Ted Tally, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for Silence of the Lambs.  Tally wrote Terra Nova as a graduate project at Yale, and it went on to win the Obie Award for best Off-Broadway play — a nearly unheard of accomplishment for a first-time effort.  The play is currently being produced in Longmont, Colorado through January 24, and this trailer provides some insights into the history, production, and script. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: water vapor effect on climate measured


One of the larger problem with climate models, and with climate science in general, is a general lack of fidelity in how the water cycle will be affected by anthropogenic climate disruption. This is especially important given that water vapor in the atmosphere is responsible for the bulk of the energy absorption (aka the greenhouse effect) that keeps the Earth’s average temperature well above freezing. But because of water vapor’s relatively short lifetime in the atmosphere before it’s removed via precipitation or chemical reactions, scientists have generally had a difficult time estimating just how water vapor affects climate. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: new data reveals human-caused warming at both poles


According to a new paper published in Nature Geoscience and available online here, scientists from the UK, US, and Australia have detected anthropogenic influence on the climate of both the Arctic and Antarctica. Ana according to a Scientific American article on the paper, one of the paper’s reviewers, Andrew Monaghan of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, believes that the paper may be understating the effect of anthropogenic carbon emissions on Antarctica. Monaghan’s reason? The new paper gives equal weight to cooling in the interior of Antarctica as to heating on the periphery, while interior cooling is suspected to be a result of the CFC-caused ozone hole. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: So much for the "1970s cooling consensus" myth


Most scientists and activists who understand the realities of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) have heard it repeatedly – climate scientists are wrong about global heating this time because they were wrong about global cooling in the 1970’s. Ignore for a moment the obvious logical fallacy here and focus instead on the claim that there was supposedly a scientific consensus in the 1970s that, due to global temperature data, the Earth was about to go into a new ice age. This claim by deniers is clearly verifiable, and that’s exactly what a team of researchers led by National Climatic Data Center climatologist Thomas C. Peterson has done. The team’s results revealed something surprising, given how widespread the “cooling consensus” claim is among climate skeptics and deniers: only 10% of related journal papers published between 1965 and 1979 supported a global cooling hypothesis – and 62% of papers supported the idea of global heating. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: traditional media errs on latest permafrost study


Scientists are understandably concerned about the impact that thawing and decaying permafrost will have on the world’s climate. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2), and there’s a massive amount of organic matter stored in the world’s permafrost, up to 1/6 the entire amount of carbon in the atmosphere just in North America’s permafrost, never mind offshore methane hydrates and permafrost in Asia that is already showing signs of melting. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic

coskata_logo.gifThis week we start off with some interesting news from the world’s largest auto maker, General Motors. According to the AFP via Raw Story, GM is partnering with renewable energy company Coskata to convert trash into ethanol. Supposedly, the energy return is 7.7x more energy out than is used in creating the fuel, and the inputs are pretty much anything that has carbon in it – trees, grass, oil, even plastic bags and trash. In the case of trash, tree bits, and even biological wastes, I can buy that this might be true. And given that Coskata’s process might be able to help us address another persistent environmental problem, namely trash disposal, further research and development is certainly warranted. However, it’s unclear from Coskata’s website and description of their process how it can do that. Last week’s Carboholic showed that switchgrass, when grown on actual farms, had only a 5.4x energy output just from the farm yields (never mind the losses incurred in the actual ethanol conversion process), yet Coskata claims that they’re getting much more than that from a lot of different feedstocks. Something’s not adding up here, and I hope it’s not GM marketingspeak getting ahead of the actual science. One thing that the renewable biofuel market doesn’t need more of is false hope – biofuels have enough problems as it is. Continue reading