Earth's climate puzzle

Earth's climate and weather can be a real puzzle!

Welcome to Climate4Kids, a blog where you can learn about how climate works, how weather works and many more wonders of planet earth.  


Earth Day 2015

Earth Day 2015
We again enter the "celebration" of Earth Day, though celebration sometimes seems the wrong word, since most of the predictions are doom and gloom.  Earth Day has become a way to make people feel guilty about actually living well on the planet.  It seems people should not be enjoying their life on this remarkable planet because somehow we "hurt" the earth by doing so.
For Earth Day 2015, give thanks for a planet that has enough resources to support billions of human beings, along with many other animals and living creatures.  Some species come and go, but that is how it has always been.  We are living in a dynamic system that changes over and over as we and the rest of the planet adapt to those changes.
Don't buy into the idea that there is more extreme weather or that things are changing faster than ever before.  Some people push this as science, but the truth is, most "extreme" weather events are actually decreasing.  You hear tornado warnings, etc, all summer long on the news.  Just as I did as child growing up in the Midwest.  Some summers we spent a lot of time in the basement due to tornado warnings.  It's just a part of life.  It's not new, it's not worse, it's as it always has been.  People have developed early warnings for these tornados, cutting deaths and injuries to incredible lows.  We should celebrate that our weather radar can help us stay safe from what nature has always sent our way.
The Earth is just fine.  Humans have their share of problems, but climate change is not among the serious problems facing mankind.  No matter what our leaders may be saying.   Humans can deal with climate changes very well.  The changes are not threats.  They are just reality--the way the world has always been.  

Celebrate Earth Day and the beautiful planet we live on and look for the wonders of the planet.  





Snow is not a thing of the past

David Viner (a climate scientist), in 2009, said children aren't going to know what snow is. Fortunately, this has not proven to be true. There is plenty of snow all over the planet. Buffalo, New York (USA) got 8 feet (2.4 meters) of snow. The East Coast of the US has been buried by snow this year, plus very cold temperatures.

Many places have seen snow that have not seen snow in many, many years:
In August 2014, Scotland was expecting snow. The temperature was dipping near freezing. The last time it what this cold was 1919.
In August of the same year, Peru was buried under snow. The Atacama Desert in Chile saw the most snowfall the area had seen in three decades.
In December 2013, there was snow in Cairo, where they had not had snow in over 100 years.

Shovel ready!

No picnicing for a bit

Shovel ready too!

Fun in the snow!


What does this mean? It tells us that gloom and doom predictions can certainly be wrong. Our planet has a very complex climate and it's unlikely we humans have discovered the way climate works or how to control it. We may believe we have, some may say they understand, but then their predictions don't come true. Weather and climate are still wonderfully unpredictable parts of nature. If you're lucky enough to live where there is snow right now, make a snowman, go sledding--just enjoy!


The fun side of CO2

CO2 has a rather unique quality that I find fascinating. It's called "sublimation". At room temperature and far below, CO2 goes from a solid to a gas without a liquid stage. This is very different from water, which is ice, water and steam. CO2 is invisible, so you don't get steam when it sublimates.

There is a liquid state for CO2. This exists between -78C (-108F) and -57C (-71F). At higher pressures, the liquid state can exist at higher temperatures. At 0F (-18C) and 300 psi, CO2 can be kept as a liquid. This is far more pressure than our atmosphere has (that is between 14 and 15 psi).

The solid state of CO2 is called "dry ice". It's used for keeping things cold when regular refrigeration is not available, such as coolers you take when camping or mailing frozen items. You should not touch dry ice with your bare hand--it can cause frostbite in a few seconds. If you hold it too long, you can get severe frostbite with blisters. However, if you handle it with thick gloves and not for very long, it's safe.

Now for what sublimation looks like:




The mist coming off the dry ice is not CO2 (remember, no steam like water). It's the very cold sublimating CO2 gas cooling the air around the remaining dry ice and forming water vapor. This effect is used to make mist for concerts and other presentations.

Watching a frozen piece of dry ice just "disappear" without any liquid is quite fun thing to watch. It shows us one of the more unique physical reactions we have on earth.

What was that about "hottest year"?

When scientists behave badly

Just last week, many news outlets announced 2014 was the hottest year on record. This was used to convince people global warming is real. However, not even a week later, the NASA scientist who made the statement then admitted that NASA is only 38% sure that this is true (note that this means they are 62% sure that it may not be the warmest year).  Wait. Aren't scientists supposed to be honest and give out accurate information? Yes, they are. Sadly, sometimes scientists do not follow that rule. This is one case. The 2014 was basically tied with 2010 and 2005 for hottest.

There is what is called a margin of error in these calculations. Figuring the global average temperature is not like measuring the temperature in your backyard. Thousands of numbers go into the equation and not all weather stations are located where hot buildings, etc. don't affect them. So the scientists "make adjustments" for these things, meaning they change the value based on what they believe the temperature would be without the buildings, etc. These adjustments and the sheer volume of data makes for a possibility of error in the final temperature reported. Even more complicated, climate science does not deal with actual temperatures, but the difference in the temperature calculated from a baseline. If by now you have realized just how complicated this is, you're on the right track.
Properly sited weather station
Reading will be too hot


Readings will be too hot

The pictures show the difference in placement of thermometers. Next to buildings, etc, will read hotter than the actual air temperature because of the heat coming off the pavement. This makes things look much hotter than they actually are. It also makes nighttime temperatures read higher because the pavement gives off

heat all night.

Then there's the leveling off of temperatures:

In spite of all the talk of "hottest" year ever, part of the problem is the last ten to 15 years have not really gotten much hotter. The difference is sometimes as small as .02 degrees. Considering how difficult it is to get accurate temperatures, the difference could just be due to the way we measure.

There are measurements made by satellites that cover the globe much better. These measurements show the average temperature of the earth is actually staying quite level.  

To get an idea of how this "hottest year", but not really, works, consider this example:

Your parents give you an allowance of $10 per week.

Four weeks ago, on your way home from school, you found a penny on the sidewalk, so that week you had $10.01.

Three weeks ago, you found two pennies on the sidewalk, so you had $10.02

Two weeks ago, you found no pennies, so you had $10.

Last week, you found three pennies on the sidewalk, so you had $10.03.

Now, we can truthfully say last week you had the most money so far. We can also say weeks four and three were above "average", if we consider the $10 the average. Do you really see the weeks you found the pennies on the sidewalk as being above average or that you were richer that week? The difference is very, very small indeed.

Here's another way to look at the "increase in temperatures" over the past century:  



This is what the average global temperature looks like, in degrees fahrenheit, when you graph the actual temperatures and not the difference from the average.  Also, the differences from the average (the anomalies) are graphed in tenths of a degree, making the differences look very large to anyone looking at the graph.

That's how the "hottest" years have been working. The difference is very tiny--tiny enough to mean we don't know which is the hottest year and it really doesn't matter because there is such a small difference.
The temperatures have leveled off for now. 

This is very good news.  Things are not getting hotter and hotter after all.

(Photos from NASA and Creative Commons, graph from suyts.wordpress.com)

Greet the New Year with optimism!


We are reaching the end of 2014. It's time to take a look at how our planet is doing. News reports say 2014 may be the hottest year on record. What the news does not tell you is that this is by a mere tenth of a degree, possibly less. Some report it as little as a thousandth of a degree. Actually, the global mean temperature has been fairly steady for several years. The number of tornadoes is down, the number of hurricanes is down. North America has seen an increase in snow and much colder temperatures. There are places that are warmer and places that are colder, just as there have always been.

It's important to remember weather and climate have always changed, always had extremes. The biggest change now is there are more people on the planet. More people means more individuals will be affected by any weather. Also, people in poorer countries are more affected since they lack the resources to rebuild. Instead of trying to push everyone to stop using fossil fuels, we need to be helping these people with housing and energy so they aren't so affected by the weather/climate. The really good news is people in many places are learning to handle the weather better. There were many fewer deaths in the Philippines from the last hurricane because people evacuated right away.

While TV sometimes emphasizes disasters, the weather and climate really have not become more extreme. The climate is not changing dramatically. The Arctic ice is increasing at this point. If it continues to do so, it will rebound to levels of the past. Antarctic ice is increasing. The polar bears are fine. There may be more snow in America and more cold, but it is not different from what the weather was like in the past, say 30 to 40 years ago. There will always be floods (humans are a big part of why things flood because of the way we engineer waterways, whether we drag the channels, etc), there will always be drought (water storage helps with this--store what you get in times of plenty and conserve when possible), there will always be tornados, blizzards, thunderstorms. This is what life is like on our planet. Ever changing and we adapt to those changes.


The earth is just fine going into 2015.

Global Warming

What is "global warming"?

We hear a lot about "global warming" or climate change. Right now, the United States is setting hundreds of new "coldest temperature" records. Doesn't that mean global warming is wrong? It's really hot in Australia right now. New high temperature records, they say. So does that mean global warming is right?

(I use global warming and not climate change because the theory is heat is building up on earth. This is believed to be causing changes in climate that are not "natural".)

Colder temperatures do not disprove global warming. Hot temperatures do not prove it is true. Nor do wildfires, drought, or any other weather variation. Global warming is based on changes in the average temperature of the planet. What does that mean?

Average is what you get when you add a group of numbers together and divide by the number of numbers. Here are two examples:
1 3 5 2 9 summed(add all) equals 20 then divide by 5: 4
2 2 12 1 3 summed equals 20 then divide by 5: 4
5 0 5 5 5 summed equals 20 then divide by 5: 4

25 75 100 -10 30 summed equals 220 divide by 5: 44
15 85 50 0 70 summed equals 220 divide by 5: 44
5 95 20 50 50 summed equals 220 divide by 5: 44

If you look at the numbers closely, you will see the numbers are very different in each set, even though the averages are the same. Which means you can have really, really different numbers and all give the same average. Colder in the United States can be cancelled by hotter in Australia. There are thousands of temperatures involved. This means scientists really don't know how temperature changes will happen in a particular place. To make this more complicated, scientists look at the changes from the average, not the average itself. All of this is quite complicated and based on math and models. In reality, things are far from certain, no one really can predict years and years into the future.

What does this all mean in real life? The warming predicted has leveled off. Over time, the warming could become cooling, but we don't know this yet. We just do not know.

Are we having more hurricanes and storms? No, those things are predicted by the theory. They are not currently happening. In some places, these weather events have actually decreased.


Right now, all the global warming is in models and so forth. In reality, the temperatures have leveled off. Are the dire predictions that keep being made possible? Of course. It's also possible that cooling could begin. No one, repeat no one, knows. To be afraid or start doing drastic things like trying to stop the use of fossil fuels is to not understand what science tells us.

How do I know?

When you're young, you often have to depend on adults to help you understand how the world works. Grown-ups seem to know everything or sometimes nothing. What does a smart, rational person (yes, kids, that means you!) do when someone in authority, older or with more experience tells you something works a certain way or is a scientific fact?

Sometimes teachers and parents know important things--like you need to wash your hands to keep from getting sick. Then you look around and Derrick over there never washes his hands and is perfectly healthy. What's up with that? Why isn't Derrick sick? Don't parents and teachers know anything?

It will always be true that there are exceptions to general rules--like hand-washing. It's believed that over the long run, hand washing helps prevent the spread of disease. It's based on past experience and observations. Does this mean everyone who washes their hands will stay well? No, but based on the way diseases are spread, it is more likely people who wash hand will be sick less often than those who don't.

What about more complicated ideas--for example, are we changing our climate by burning fossil fuels and we are going to cause a very severe temperature rise on the planet? Your teacher may have told you "everyone agrees" this is happening. That is not true. There are many climate scientists who do not agree that our burning oil and coal and natural gas are threatening our planet. These things do have an effect, just as everything on the planet affects everything else. Climate is very complicated. Wait, though, our president said it's important. Yes, President Obama did say global warming is real. He also said "We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth society" which was meant to insult those who do not agree (we know the earth is not flat so he wanted to make people who disagreed look foolish). However, it turns out some members of the Flat Earth society do believe we are changing our climate with fossil fuels. That shows clearly that there is not agreement on this and trying to insult others is not really a good way to convince people you are right.

Studying the climate and global warming also got mixed in with politics, which is a very bad thing. Science is based on evidence, politics is mostly based on emotions. So politics is what is out there trying to make people feel guilty about driving cars and living a modern life. That's not science.

How, then, can you know what is science and what is politics? Asking questions can help. Ask why the fossil fuels hurt the planet. You may get and answer such as "It's physics". Part of it is, part of it is computer models and mathematics which are not always accurate. If when you ask about why fossil fuel burning is bad the person calls you names (like denier or says you're just stupid) it's probably because this is something they believe but they don't know why. Or it could be that the person just doesn't want to be asked questions on their beliefs--which means this is politics. Science loves questions and will always take the time to explain.

Global warming is important we are told and very dangerous. There are all kinds of scary predictions. Shouldn't we DO something? Shouldn't we be worried? These are important questions. If fossil fuels really are hurting the earth, shouldn't we stop using them?

What if we did stop using fossil fuels? We would have to give up full-time electricity, cars, and go back to the old way people lived, without lights, cell phones, television, computers, etc. It would be very, very difficult and would harm a lot of people. We know this harm will happen, while we don't know for sure if CO2 and fossil fuels are actually going to cause something bad.

Wait--how about wind and solar? Can't we use those? They have free fuel. Yes, the fuel is free. The electricity is part-time and only when nature delivers it, not necessarily when we need it. Making the turbines and solar panels takes fossil fuels and mining. Then there's installation and we change the landscape. Plus, both forms of energy are very damaging to bird and bats. Neither energy source is practical today--it's why we stopped using such things and went to fossil fuels.

You're a young person who has heard all the scary stories about climate. How can you know what is true and what is fiction? Honest answer--you can't. What you can do is sensible things to keep the earth livable, like not littering, not wasting energy, reuse things and so forth. There are energy efficient lights, recycling, fuel efficient cars all of which are fine things to do if it's what you want to do. Will it save the planet? It's doubtful, both because these things are very small cuts in usage in the big picture and because we really don't know the planet is in need of saving. These are just ideas that make people feel good and do save on clutter and landfills. Keeping the planet reasonably clean is just a good idea.

Should you be worried the planet is dying--no. The science is not complete on what is involved in climate regulation on earth and whether we humans can really cause massive changes in the climate. It may not be understood before you have grandchildren. Maybe not ever. Panic and fear are the wrong responses to changes on the planet. It's also wrong to burden children with this and very wrong to try and frighten children into believing that global warming is absolutely true for political gain. Sadly, that is very often done as you can see in the news with all the name-calling and insults about those who do not agree with the global warming science.

How should you deal with this? You can be the person who finds a new efficient power source--one that truly revolutionizes things. You could be the one that does what Henry Ford did and takes us to a new way of traveling (I still want flying cars! Maybe you could be the one that creates one!) Maybe you could do like Edison and find a new way to make light (LEDs are a good start). What the planet needs is smart, curious people who try to make life better, not someone preaching fear and doom while demanding people go backward in their living conditions. Ask questions, study science and math. Learn how things work and take us to a better future. That's what you can do!


Computer Climate Games










This article contains artwork developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Electronic Arts Inc.

Birds Disappearing

Why so many birds are disappearing.








This article contains artwork developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Electronic Arts Inc.


Update on "When Extinction Isn't"

Seven years ago, the Aldara banded snail was declared extinct.  It was said to have gone extinct due to climate change.   Reports said it was one of the first species to have been lost to climate change.  The theory was that declining rainfall on their atoll had caused the snails all to die out.

Once again, nature proved to be much more capable of handling change than some scientists believe it can.  The small snail was found by a team of researchers.

Many news articles say climate change is still a threat to these snails.  It's so sad that humans can't celebrate the tough little snail instead of worrying about its future.  Nature is so remarkable and fascinating.   Enjoy it.

When Extinction Isn't


There is much talk of climate change leading to animal extinctions. The belief is more and more animals will go extinct because they cannot adapt. Humans are really very poor at knowing if animals are gone from the planet, however. Here are examples of animals science declared extinct, only to find the very resilient animals still out there.

Coelacanth
A very large fish believed to go extinct 65 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. The fish was discovered in 1938 off the shore of Southern Africa.
Bermuda petrel
A small sea bird thought to be extinct 330 years ago. Eighteen nesting pairs were found in 1951in Castle Harbor (Bermuda).


Chacoan peccary
This critter was first described in 1930 based on fossils. It was believed to be extinct. In 1971, living peccaries were discovered in Argentina.

Lord Howe Island Stick Insect
The original Lord Howe Island Stick insects disappeared after rats escaped from a ship that ran aground. The rats had a taste for the insects. By 1960, the insects were declared extinct. In 2001, they were rediscovered on Ball's Pyramid, a volcanic stack 23 km (14 miles) from Lord Howe Island, living under the one bush growing on the very barren island. Two were brought back and breeding was tried. That attempt failed, but later, another pair did reproduce in captivity. If the rats can be removed by 2015, the scientists hope to reintroduce the insect to Lord Howe Island.


Takahe
A fairly large flightless bird thought to be extinct after the last four specimens were taken in 1894. Then in 1948, after searching for the birds, a few pairs were found on the South Island, New Zealand.


Cuban solenodon
A rat-like animal found in 1861 and then thought to be extinct since no others were found. In 1974/1975 three were rediscovered in Cuba. Only 37 specimens have ever been caught.


New Caledonian Crested Gecko
Specimens were described in 1866 then none found until 1994. This gecko is popular in the pet trade, which greatly increased the species numbers and chances of remaining "not extinct".

New Holland mouse
First described in 1843 but not seen thereafter, the mouse was believed to be extinct until 1967 when it was rediscovered in Australia.

Giant Palouse earthworm
This very large worm was first seen in 1897, but disappeared thereafter. In 2010, scientists located the worm in Washington and Idaho.


Black-footed ferret
Identified in 1851, the ferret was declared extinct in 1979. In 1981, a rancher in Wyoming had a dog bring home a dead ferret. A colony was located and trapped, then a captive breeding program started. These have been reintroduced to the wild in several states.

Javan Elephant
In the 1800's the Java elephant was declared extinct. In 2006, a group of these elephants were discovered on Java Island, where they had been transplanted by a Sultan. The animal's survival was enabled by the transplant.

(no photo)

Mountain Pygmy possum
These critters were discovered in the fossil record and believed to be extinct. In 1996, some possums were discovered at a sky resort in New South Wales.

(no photo)

Pygmy tarsier
This animal looks very much like a Furby ( a child's toy, if you are not familiar with the Furby). They were believed to be extinct in the early 20th century. In 2000, they were discovered in Indonesia.


Caspian Horse
Last sighting of this horse was in 637 AD. In 1965, s person looking for a small horse for her children to ride found a small horse in northern Iran that resembled more a horse than pony. Additional research showed it to be the Caspian Horse.

Gilbert's potoroo
Discovered in 1840, the Gilbert's potoroo was considered extinct for 120 years before being found in 1994 in Australia.

Monito del Monte

A marsupial considered to be extinct for 11 million years, found only in fossil records. Then a population of these critters was found in Chile and Argentina.


As you can see from this list, which is not a complete list, we humans are not very accurate when saying things are "extinct". Just because we cannot find an animal does not mean they are gone.  Of course, some are, no doubt extinct (dinosaurs are, as are dodo birds and passenger pidgeons as far as we know) .  That's part of survival of the adequately fit that is seen in evolution.  Some species survive and others do not.  However, when people start predicting species extinctions and saying how bad this would be, remember these animals that fooled science and survived sometimes for millions of years as a species.  

(Photos are all from Wikipedia) 

Ocean Acidification, part 2 Should we be worried? (Part one is below this post)

Now that we have a basic understanding of pH, let's look at the small drop in alkalinity in the ocean.

First, the ocean is one of the major "holders" for carbon--only rocks hold more (the rocks have dead plant and animal parts in them which is how they hold carbon). Note: Carbon and carbon dioxide are not the same thing, but unfortunately, people use them interchangeably. The "carbon" in the ocean is both carbon and carbon dioxide. (Carbon is an element meaning it is one atom, carbon dioxide is a compound meaning it has more than one atom and these are joined together). The ocean is the largest CO2 reservoir when compared to air, land, and plants.  CO2 is naturally dissolved in the ocean.

CO2 in ocean water becomes carbonic acid (H2CO3):




However, only about .4% (4 molecules out of 1000 molecules of dissolved CO2) becomes carbonic acid. Most CO2 stays as dissolved CO2, kind of like soda, without the fizz.

Several things affect how much CO2 is dissolved--cold water holds more CO2, saltier water holds more CO2 and deep water with high pressure holds more. Plus the amount of CO2 in the air above the water effects how much CO2 goes into the water. Deep oceans are colder and have higher pressure so they can hold the most CO2.

After carbonic acid forms, there is a second and third splitting of molecules like this:

Bicarbonate



HCO3-








Then another transformation, losing 1 hydrogen atom but keeping the electron.



CO3-







This breakdown of carbonic acid occurs very soon after the acid has formed, meaning most of the carbonic acid quickly becomes carbonate and bicarbonate.

Carbonate ions are used by some sea life to combine with the calcium (Ca2+) ions in the ocean--which come from dissolved limestone in part--to build shells. Limestone is dissolved by the carbonic acid and releases the Ca2+.

What happens if more CO2 is added to the ocean?  More hydrogen ions are formed (H+) and combine with the carbonate, forming bicarbonate and taking away the carbonate ions.  

Ocean chemistry is very complex and cannot be fully discussed here.  While the amount of carbonic acid formed is small, remember that each molecule adds two hydrogen ions when the acid breaks down, which increases the pH of the ocean.  The carbonate ions are used by shelled critters, which takes some of the carbonate out of the ocean.  The different parts of the system are very intertwined.  

Why are some scientists worried about carbonic acid increasing in the ocean? Perhaps you have read scary headlines like "ocean dissolving shellfish due to acidity". Then maybe a teacher has you soak a shell in vinegar and see how it dissolves. Problem: the ocean is not filled with vinegar. One acid does not substitute for another except in special cases. Vinegar has a pH of 2, carbonic acid is pH 5.7. The two acids are not close in pH nor in chemical structure. The "experiment" leads to a false conclusion. Put a shell in ocean water and you'll get a more realistic conclusion. (You may be much older before you see changes. It's a very slow process.) Still, without a living organism and the surroundings of the ocean, any conclusion reached may be wrong. We must study the creatures in their own environments, not a lab. Certainly never with a substance that is "sort of like" the one we are actually researching.

The pH of the ocean changes very slowly and allow time for the residents to adapt to the pH changes.  Any experiment that does not take this into account is not going to tell us anything about ocean life adapting.  Research on pH changes in the ocean takes time, much time.

The changing of the pH of the ocean may affect some sea life, but there's not enough evidence to actually say this is a threat to the planet.

Before global warming became a big deal, ocean life dying due to pH changes would have been considered natural selection, part of evolution. For reasons unknown, science seems to have decided if humans might have caused something, it's not evolution, it's a disaster. There is no good reason for this. Species have gone extinct in the time before humans and will continue to do so even if humans try very hard not to affect the earth. Plus, humans are part of the world, so no matter what we do, people are going to have some impact and that is not a bad thing. We shouldn't just wipe out species because we can, but we can't stop the world every time we think a species will become extinct. Nor should we.

Remember the statement about CO2 being temperature dependent? Anywhere the ocean warms, it releases CO2 and where it's cooler, it absorbs it. Currents move the CO2 deep into the ocean, where the pressure is high. Rather than being afraid, we should be marveling at how very efficient the earth is at maintaining itself.


The oceans will survive and thrive no matter what humans do. Yes, different species may thrive while others dies out, but that is the way the world works. Change is something to learn from and look forward to. Few things in the world stay the same for millions of years or several hundred years.