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

Gravity-measuring satellites and GPS confirm Greenland ice melting, affecting more of Greenland Ice Sheet

Over the last decade or so, scientists have tracked a significant loss of ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS). While some of that loss has been as a direct result of surface melting, most of it presently appears to be a result of warmer ocean waters melting the ice tongues that stretch out into fjords. Essentially, the warmer water melts the bottom of the glacier and makes it more likely to break up, and as the ice tongue breaks up, the glacier behind the tongue starts to move faster, dumping yet more ice into the ocean.

There has been a significant amount of study of the GIS, and multiple independent lines of evidence have shown that Greenland’s glaciers are thinning and thus losing mass. These include satellite radar altimetry, the GRACE gravity mapping satellites, and both airborne and satellite laser altimetry. Now a peer-reviewed paper published in March shows that another analysis of GRACE and new GPS data has found that mass loss has spread from the warmer southeast coast to the comparably cooler northwest coast, significantly increasing the amount of Greenland coastline affected by mass loss. Continue reading

Nota Bene #107: Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” Who said it? 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

Motivating climate action: Last Chance – Preserving Life on Earth


In the introduction to Last Chance – Preserving Life on Earth, author Larry J. Schweiger, the CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, comes right out and says that he’s not trying to change minds with this book. Instead, it’s his hope that the book will motivate millions of people to transform their concerns over global warming into activism.

There are three sections to the book that can be summarized as follows. First, the latest science says that disruptions due to climate change will be worse and happen faster than the best estimates of even a couple of years ago. Second, there are a few global ecosystems that are more sensitive than even average, and there are people who don’t want you to know that and who actively work to keep you ignorant of the facts. And third, there are a few things we can do to help ourselves and the Earth.

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

Oxygen isotope proxy errors corrected in Greenland ice cores

Scientists, mariners, and weather hobbyists started directly measuring temperature with thermometers globally in the late 1800s. When modern climatologists want temperature data farther back in time than those first global measurements, they have to use things called “proxies.” A proxy for temperature is something that, when calibrated properly, indirectly measures temperature. The most common proxies that are used as temperature stand-ins tend to be tree rings, the amount of an oxygen isotope in ice cores, and coral growth rings.

There are a couple of problems with proxies, however. The first problem is that scientists have to develop an appropriate and accurate calibration method to convert the width of a tree ring to an average annual or summer temperature. The second problem is that a given proxy may well be influenced by other factors beyond temperature, and so calibrating the proxy becomes a difficult and potentially error-prone process. For example, tree rings are a proxy for both temperature and moisture, and so any climatologist who wants to extract just the temperature information needs to discover a way to independently estimate the effect of moisture changes on the tree ring before the effect of temperature on the tree ring can be accurately determined.

A new study published September 17th as a letter in the journal Nature describes a new method to compensate for proxy changes due to elevation in the Greenland ice sheet (GIS) during the Holocene (the present geologic epoch, starting about 12,000 years ago). 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: as the Arctic melts



“I was in Siberia a few weeks ago, and I am now just back in from the field in Alaska. The permafrost is melting fast all over the Arctic, lakes are forming everywhere and methane is bubbling up out of them.”

“Lakes in Siberia are five times bigger than when I measured them in 2006. It’s unprecedented. This is a global event now, and the inertia for more permafrost melt is increasing.”

This is what University of Alaska ecologist Katey Walter is quoted as saying in a New Scientist article published last week titled Arctic meltdown is a threat to humanity. 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

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: "heat island" effect is minimal


One of the more common arguments you hear from global heating deniers and skeptics is that the urban heat island effect is causing global temperature measurements to look a lot hotter than they actually are. This is such a powerful argument because there is some truth to it – when you plop down a new road or build a town around what used to be a rural National Weather Service temperature monitoring station, there’s going to be a major uptick in the temperature that station measures. Skeptics like Anthony Watts of have spent a great deal of time documenting situations where new roads, new construction, even the addition of an asphalt walkway to a gas grill could be responsible for spurious temperature readings out of weather stations. However, the argument that global heating is all a misunderstanding of the urban heat island effect took a hit recently with the release of a new study that finds temperatures measured in established cities trend nearly identically to rural temperatures. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: Dr. Hansen twenty years later


Twenty years ago, on June 23, a scientist relatively unknown outside his field went before the Senate to give testimony about the greenhouse effect. Dr. James Hansen, of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Sciences (GISS) and Columbia University, went before Congress this week to tell the government and the country again what they didn’t want to hear – that human civilization was responsible for heating up the Earth’s climate and that we had only so much time before our activities shoved the climate, and possibly our own civilization, irreversibly over a metaphorical cliff. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: Not a drop to drink…


People without water will do anything – Wendon, The Ice Pirates (1984)

Deprived of water, people die within days of dehydration. So do livestock. Crops wither and, if the fields produce at all, the yields are cut dramatically from normal. And now we’re beginning to hear stern warnings about the availability of cheap potable water.

“We once assumed that water is free, air is free and power is cheap. The latter is clearly no longer true and we are increasingly realising the truth about water,” argued MIT Sloan School of Management Professor Sarah Slaughter in a May 2008 paper. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic

WFES title imageThe World Future Energy Summit is taking place this week in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Conference topics include solar and wind power, clean transportation, carbon, waste-to-fuel conversion, biofuels, geothermal and other energy sources. There’s also an exhibition where 214 corporations, NGOs, media groups, financial institutions, and government organizations are showing off their latest “future energy” options. Included are five national pavilions where national governments are hosting even more of their local companies, and exhibitions range from new energy generation techniques to energy efficiency technologies to carbon offsets (the conference itself is being billed as carbon neutral, via the CarbonNeutral Company). This conference and exhibition is being paid for and hosted by Abu Dhabi, an emirate that is wealthy precisely because of the vast reserves of carbon – in the form of oil – beneath its desert and coast. Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced that his government would offer a $2.2 million prize “to three individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions in the global response to the future of energy”, to be judged by an international panel of environmental and energy experts. Other information to come out of the conference already include and agreement between Iceland and Djibouti to supply Djibouti with geothermal energy and subsequently displace of the diesel generators that currently power most of the small nation’s electricity. Continue reading