Rare "snonado" captured on Lake Superior

According to the Weather Channel, there are only six known photographs of winter waterspouts in existence. Then, last week, Jordan Detters captured a good minute and a half of video, showing winter waterspouts dancing along the waves of Lake Superior near Knife River, Minnesota.

While water spouts are relatively common in warm months, producing one in the winter requires a pretty specific set of meteorological circumstances, writes Minnesota Public Radio's chief meteorologist Paul Huttner. Thus, the dearth of images. In fact, for one to form at all you need a temperature difference between the water and the air of 19 degrees C.

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The climate of Middle Earth

Mordor has an inhospitable climate, according to Radagast the Brown (aka climate scientist Dan Lunt) who created a climate model for Middle Earth based on geography as outlined by Tolkien and climate modeling software from our world.

How the TPP will gut environmental protection


I've posted a bunch about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a shadowy, secretive trade deal that will have a disastrous effect on the Internet, privacy and free speech, thanks to the brutal copyright provisions the US Trade Rep has crammed into it. But that's not the whole story.

Michael sez, "You might be interested to know the TPP looks terrible for environmental protection too, due to a proposed mechanism called 'investor-state arbitration'. Basically this'd allow investors to sue countries for passing legislation detrimental to the financial interests of those investors. Yep, think environmental protections, workers' rights laws and any other kind of public protection that might reduce a profit margin.

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Muzzling Canadian scientists: Comparing US and Canadian routine scientific secrecy


Canada's Conservative government has become notorious for muzzling government scientists, requiring them to speak through political minders (often callow twentysomethings with no science background who received government jobs in exchange for their work on election campaigns). Government scientists are not allowed to speak to the press alone no matter how trivial the subject, and the default position when reporters seek interviews is to turn them down. (Much of Canada's state-funded science pertains to the climate and the environment; Canada's Tories were elected with strong backing from the dirty tar sands and other polluting industries)

A group of University of British Columbia students decided to measure just how extraordinarily secretive science has become in Stephen Harper's Canada. Dave Ng writes:

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Climate debate - is it about science, or values?

I haven't written much about the new IPCC report here, largely because it doesn't say much you don't already know: The Earth is getting warmer and human activities are to blame for a good chunk of that warming. So what are we still arguing about? In a new column for Ensia magazine, I talk to climate scientists who make the case that the debate is less about science and more about individual values that affect how different people want to tackle the problems that the science exposes. (And, even, how big different people think those problems really are.) While the fact of climate change is difficult to refute, there's plenty of room for legitimate disagreement (and reasonable discussion) about values and the political policies that they shape.

Insurance industry pricing climate risk as a dead certainty

Insurance underwriters generally operate in the real world, where science trumps ideology (that's why terrorism insurance is pretty darned cheap -- despite the politically successful posturing of our leaders, terrorism just isn't a very big threat). That's why climate change insurance costs big bucks -- insurers know that it's real, it's coming, and it's really, really bad news.

The difference between the general Big Business propaganda intended to sow doubt about climate science and the cold, hard economic reality of underwriting the risk of climate catastrophe is telling. It's like the Texas Young Earth Creationists who profess a public belief in the 5,000-year-old Biblically accurate planet, but still allow their geoscientists to direct oil-drilling operations in accord with the blasphemous four-billion-year-old Earth. Money talks, bullshit walks.

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Scientists march across Canada, fighting the Tory war on facts

On Monday, scientists across Canada demonstrated against the Conservative government's war on science. The Stephen Harper government has imposed political minders on scientists, requiring routine press queries to be vetted by unqualified political operatives, many of them 20-something Conservative party fundraisers without any background in science. The Harper government has taken many other unprecedented, anti-science measures, from demanding NDAs from foreign scientists working on projects in Canada to shutting down the Experimental Lakes Area, the Canadian equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider, a massive lake-system used for crucial large-scale climate research.

The Tories raised their election war-chests from tar-sands oil companies and other dirty industries, and have spent their time in government trying to abolish facts from political discourse. Canada's world-class research community had been crying foul all along, but this appears to be the breaking point.

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Google's lobbyists go big on climate change denial, raise money for Inhofe & Competitive Enterprise Insitute


Brad from Forecast the Facts sez, "Google is throwing its money around in DC politics, led by Republican operative Susan Molinari. Unfortunately, that means that Google's lobbyists have discarded its 'Don't be evil' philosophy. They're now holding fundraisers for Sen. Jim Inhofe ("Global warming is a hoax'), bankrolling Competitive Enterprise Institute ('CO2: We Call It Life'), and joining the American Legislative Exchange Council ('Even substantial global warming is likely to be of benefit to the United States').

"In response, hundreds of people have flooded the Google+ page for the Google DC headquarters with one-star reviews. The page also now includes photographs from the protest organized by Forecast the Facts and Greenpeace during the Google DC fundraiser for Inhofe. This digital activism is only part of a 150,000-person strong campaign led by Forecast the Facts, which has organized protests of Google in DC, Mountain View, and New York City. Google doesn't have to be evil to be a part of our democratic system. The company should be working to fix the corruption, not financing it."

Google - About - Google+ (Thanks, Brad!)

Solar pays


Redditor Tufflaw has been running a central air-conditioning system "24/7" during the New York heatwave. But the bills were offset by 26 home solar panels by Sharp that took three days to install and were subject to state and federal tax-credits, and will take 7-8 years to pay for themselves. Here is the most recent bill: $6.05. Tufflaw says that there are sometimes months that go by with no bill at all (and one year generated a $20 rebate from the power company!), and adds, "There's also an intangible benefit, feeling good about using a free renewable source of power."

Been running my central air 24/7 lately, especially with the recent heat wave. This is my most recent electric bill. Damn I love my solar panels.

How pregnancy is like climate change denialism

Hillary Rosner is a fantastic environmental reporter — the sort that digs facts and stories more than outrage-bait and blind activism. She's currently pregnant and, like all pregnant ladies, is finding herself subject to a deluge of warnings and "helpful" advice. When you're pregnant, there is always somebody who wants to let you know what you're doing wrong, why you're being irresponsible, and how you've totally ruined your kid's life already.

But in the midst of this, Rosner noticed something really fascinating: When it feels like the world is conspiring to make you terrified and guilty, it's sometimes easier to just tune out the world rather than investigate which claims are true and which aren't.

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Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction


Annalee Newitz, founding editor of IO9 and former EFF staffer, has a new book out today called Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, and it's terrific.

Scatter's premise is that the human race will face extinction-grade crises in the future, and that we can learn how to survive them by examining the strategies of species that successfully weathered previous extinction events, and cultures and tribes of humans that have managed to survive their own near-annihilation.

What follows from this is a whirlwind tour of geology, evolutionary biology, cultural anthropology and human history, as Newitz catalogs the terrifying disasters, catastrophes and genocides of geology and antiquity. From there, the book transitions into a sprightly whistle-stop tour of sustainable cities, synthetic biology, computer science, geoengineering, climate science, new materials science, urban theory, genomics, geopolitics, everything up to and including the Singularity, as Newitz lays out the technologies in our arsenal for adapting ourselves to upcoming disasters, and adapting our planet (and ultimately our solar system) to our long-term survival.

This has both the grand sweep and the fast pace of a classic OMNI theme issue, but one that's far more thoroughly grounded in real science, caveated where necessary. It's a refreshingly grand sweep for a popular science book, and if it only skims over some of its subjects, that's OK, because in the age of the Net, one need only signpost the subjects the reader might dive into on her own once she realizes their awesome potential.

This is a delight of a book, balanced on the knife-edge of disaster and delirious hope. It neither predicts our species' apotheosis nor its doom, but suggests paths to reach the former while avoiding the latter.

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

Climate answers sought in supercomputers

Carl Franzen, for The Verge:
There's a dark cloud hanging over the science of climate change, quite literally. Scientists today have access to supercomputers capable of running advanced simulations of Earth's climate hundreds of years into the future, accounting for millions of tiny variables. But even with all that equipment and training, they still can't quite figure out how clouds work.

Australian heatwave goes into the pink

Yesterday, Australia experienced its hottest nationwide average temperature ever — 40.33 degrees C (104.6 degrees F). Today, the country's national weather bureau added a new color to official weather forecast maps, reflecting a need to predict temperatures higher than 52 C (125.6 F). Insert your Spinal Tap jokes and terrified flailing here.

The Meteorology of Little House on the Prairie

If you read The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder's novel about narrowly avoiding starving to death during a ferocious winter on the South Dakota prairie, then you'll remember how the trains stopped running because of the snowfall. In fact, that's a big part of why Laura and her family were so hungry — their harvest had been lean and the train carried the supplies they were dependent upon.

I'd never had a real clear idea of what "the train can't get through" really meant, not being totally clear on how to adjust snow-clearing expectations from today back to the 1880s. But, as it turns out, when the train company said they couldn't get the trains through, they were not messing around. The above image, from the Minnesota Historical Society, shows you the kind of snowfall we're talking about. That picture was taken in southern Minnesota, during the same winter — 1880-1881 — that nearly killed Laura Ingalls Wilder. Please note the dude standing on top of the train. He really gives you the overwhelming sense of scale.

Last year, Barbara Mayes-Boustead, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, actually looked at the records we have for temperatures and snowfall from that winter, most of which come from military forts and major cities miles away from the small town of DeSmet, where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived. Mayes-Boustead found that the story in the book matches up reasonably accurately with actual data.

She's got a series of short audio commentaries on the winter of 1880-1881 and how it plays out in the Little House books, including a really fascinating one about the climate patterns and probably created those many months of blizzards. By looking at weather patterns from the time and at the climate systems we associate with weather like that today, Mayes-Boustead says that we can probably blame the Long Winter on a combination of a strong negative North Atlantic Oscillation — a pattern in the jet stream that sucks icy air from the Arctic down into the Midwestern US — and an El Nino year — which tends to make that same region of the county wetter than usual.

Listen to all of Barbara Mayes-Boustead's recorded presentations

Bill O'Reilly-watching climate-change-denier is moved to tears by polar melting documentary

Alexander sez, "James Balog had his movie Chasing Ice released, which is about the attempt to capture melting polar ice on film. A self-described daily Bill O'Reilly watcher, who used to tell people to get out of her house if they said global warming was anything other than 'bullshit', saw it -- and started crying. I really, really, want to see O'Reilly watching her reaction."

Synopsis « Chasing Ice (Thanks, Alexander!)