Thursday, May 13, 2010
Australian science body wants money to prove that the Medieval Warm Period was global
The writer below is a geoscientist but makes his case for funding by omitting a lot of the evidence he should be aware of -- such as the borehole data I mentioned yesterday. He's got Buckley's chance anyway as skeptical science doesn't get official funding
THE deferral of Australia's emissions trading scheme for three years allows us time for additional scientific studies that may be critical in shaping future legislation.
A touchstone in the debate on causes of global warming is the record of global temperatures of past millennia. Most who follow this debate are familiar with the cooling from the 16th to 18th centuries known as the Little Ice Age; this is generally accepted as a global phenomenon.
Most are also aware of the Medieval Warm Period covering much of the 9th to 15th centuries. This has been the source of greater debate because, while it is clear in anecdotal descriptions from Europe, such as Vikings growing crops in Greenland, it is less clear whether it is a global phenomenon. The debate has high stakes because the rate of warming and temperatures attained in Europe during the MWP are of similar order to the warming of past decades. If the MWP were to be proven to be global, then the basis of present science stating that industrial-era carbon emissions are the dominant cause of today's warming would be significantly undermined.
One of the giants of global warming science, Wally Broecker of Columbia University in New York, wrote a discussion in 2001 of evidence for the MWP being a global phenomenon, concluding tentative support for its global nature. Three years later, Phil Jones, now director of the Climate Research Unit, East Anglia, co-authored a review that concluded the MWP was a regional phenomenon. The IPCC4 report of 2007 concluded similarly; curiously, Broecker's paper did not get a mention.
Proving the MWP or other historic and prehistoric European warm periods to be global is not easy because large-scale atmospheric-ocean interactions are capable of producing either or both of warming in one hemisphere matched by cooling in the other, and warming in high latitudes balanced by cooling in tropical latitudes.
A statistical analysis of all the available temperature records by Michael Mann and colleagues of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, Pennsylvania State University, published in Science last year, also concluded the MWP was regional. However, that study was dominated by northern hemisphere records, leaving open the question of whether more global data may give a more global conclusion.
The ongoing importance of debate over the MWP is underscored by comments by Jones in a recent BBC interview, where he said the MWP was best expressed in records from the northern hemisphere, adding: "If the MWP was shown to be global in extent and as warm or warmer than today [based on an equivalent coverage over the northern and southern hemispheres] then obviously the late-20th-century warmth would not be unprecedented."
Undoubtedly the truth is contained in temperature records written in terrestrial biological records, ice sheets and rocks. Thus far, however, the process of deciphering those records has been successful at only a couple of dozen sites, distributed unevenly across the globe.
There are climate records from the southern hemisphere, from Cold Air Cave stalagmites in northern South Africa, tree rings in Tasmania and New Zealand, and ice core records in Law Dome, Antarctica, all of which show an imprint of a medieval warming.
One of these localities, the Cold Air Cave stalagmites, has been studied for more than a decade by a team led by Karin Holmgren of Stockholm University, Sweden. A reduction in temperature of about a degree is evident for the Little Ice Age. Before that we see a 700-year stretch of time corresponding to the MWP, which contains perhaps eight approximately 100-year-long cycles, of which five show temperatures similar to or greater than those of the past century. The authors postulate these centennial cycles are driven by variations attributable to the sun. But results from a single site do not prove the warming and cooling to be global.
I am not aware of any comparable published studies in Australia; it would be most instructive if evidence for a MWP and centennial climate cycles were to emerge - or be proved absent - from studies across a range of latitudes on this continent. Indeed, if the centennial cycles noted in South Africa are sun-driven, we may well ask if we have similar cycling in our own climate; the great Federation drought (1895-1902) and the present drought of southeastern Australia might be seen as part of a cyclic continuum rather than the latter being attributed mainly to anthropogenic global warming.
Another tool for documenting climate change in past centuries was announced in March in the journal Nature. William Patterson, an isotope chemist at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, led a team in a study of oxygen isotope data in clam shells recovered from a drill hole in a bay off the coast of Iceland. Unlike tree rings (which yield at best annual temperature variations) growth lines in the clam shells yield weekly or even daily temperature records. Patterson's work affirms evidence for the MWP in Iceland.
This high-resolution method may be applied to clam or other shells in coastal geological records the world over. It has the potential to answer quantitatively the key scientific question of whether the medieval warming was a global phenomenon. If the answer were to be yes, then warming during the past century should be seen as predominantly natural climate change rather than driven by man-made carbon emissions. A legislative response would be no less important but would focus on environmental management of the consequences of change.
There is a huge opportunity for CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology to extend their recent climate assessment, which was based on 1960-2010 data, to incorporate fossil-shell, cave-deposit and tree-ring records from tropical to Antarctic Australia and territories. This would cost a few per cent of the $652 million allocated on Tuesday to the new Renewable Energy Future Fund. It would make Australia a leader in addressing a great scientific challenge of our time.
Rudd cuts back the army
Typical Leftist budget move. The Australian army is tiny anyway -- but still has many calls on it
THE build-up of Australia's High Readiness Reserve of troops has been halted, with the Rudd government demanding a leaner, better-equipped and more capable force.
While the Howard government saw the need for rapid expansion of the HRR to help with the war on terror and overseas deployments, Labor's policy of doing more with less in Defence will see the Reserves undergo sweeping changes.
The Australian revealed in January that Defence chiefs were considering a secret plan to send more Reserves to the front line, using part-time personnel to fill skill shortages and help relieve members on multiple, repeat deployments.
The Howard government wanted 2460 in the HRR by next financial year, but Tuesday's federal budget confirms there will be only 1500 personnel, with its total strength to remain at 1626 after 2011-2012 -- much lighter than envisaged under the Coalition, and still 535 fewer than Labor anticipated a year ago.
A Defence spokesman confirmed the HRR had been "rationalised" to just six company-size combat teams. The future of its surplus personnel will be decided next financial year.
"By 2014, a full review of HRR conditions of service, training and preparedness will have been completed to see how the HRR capability may be generated more effectively," the spokesman said.
Defence is also moving to expand the general Reserves and add to its skills base, while cutting costs. The Defence spokesman said regular members who completed full-time service would be encouraged to transfer to the Reserve.
By increasing the rate of transfer by 15 per cent from 2012, Defence will not only bolster Reserve capability but reduce training costs for departing members who might otherwise take a break before returning on a part-time basis.
With certain specialist and technical ADF personnel in most demand -- and most at risk of being poached by the private sector -- the broader role of Reserves is also being redefined.
Not only is the ADF assessing and recording the civilian qualifications and experiences of its members, in the hope some can fill skill shortages, but industry bodies are also being approached with a view to establishing Sponsored Reserves.
Force modernisation reviews in the army may see full-time, part-time and civilian components integrated to maintain capability and reduce costs.
Register of UNMARRIED relationships in NSW?
The man who will be the state's attorney-general if government changes at next year's election, Greg Smith, went down with the metaphorical ship late on Tuesday night, when the Legislative Assembly voted overwhelmingly to establish a register for unmarried couples.
The register is to make it easier for such couples (opposite-sex and same-sex) to qualify for de facto status but is seen by some to be a back door into a blazing world of permissiveness.
While the government voted along party lines, the Coalition declared a conscience vote on the legislation. Cue Smith: "For too long the debate about marriage … has been dominated by ideological pontificating," he told Parliament. "The passing of this bill will be another increment in the undermining and destruction of marriage and the traditional family."
After managing to get in a reference to the Alamo (!), Smith claimed: "The supporters of marriage and the family feel like the occupants of strife-torn Derry during the troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s."
Also opposing the legislation were Michael Richardson (Lib), Greg Aplin Lib), Katrina Hodgkinson (Nat), Malcolm Kerr (Lib), Wayne Merton (Lib), Andrew Stoner (Nat), John Williams (Nat) and Thomas George (Nat).
The bill, which was to be presented to the Legislative Assembly last night, is not certain to go through. Before the session, the Premier, Kristina Keneally, who has been referring to the bill on Twitter as "My Govt's Bill" (even though she herself did not vote on it), tweeted the following: "My Govt's Relationship Register Bill, endorsed by my cabinet & caucus, risks defeat today in upper house at the hands of Barry O'Farrell."
But even Keneally must see that a conscience vote hardly constitutes a concerted effort to defeat "her" - or any - bill.
The good old State-run Queensland ambulance service again
Dad dies after 75-minute wait for ambulance following heart attack. QAS are good at that sort of thing. Public servants don't give a damn, basically
A FAMILY has been left shattered after a 45-year-old father of three died waiting for an ambulance that took 75 minutes to find him after he suffered a heart attack.
The Queensland Ambulance Service has referred the case to the Health Quality and Complaints Commission and the coroner. The QAS ethical standards unit will also investigate and notify the Crime and Misconduct Commission of its findings.
It is the third time since 2006 that a Mackay heart attack victim has died waiting for an ambulance.
Gregory van Moolenbroek was unloading a garden trench digger on Monday afternoon on a vacant block near Marian, outside Mackay, when he began feeling unwell. In desperation he contacted his wife, Sharyn, at their North Mackay home and asked her to call an ambulance. Mrs van Moolenbroek immediately called 000, telling a dispatcher in Rockhampton her husband needed help and had a heart condition.
The QAS dispatched a vehicle within five minutes. However it went to the wrong location and became lost after 30 minutes, apparently because crucial information wasn't communicated to the driver who thought he was looking for a house instead of a block of land. The entrance to the vacant block was not clearly marked, but Mr van Moolenbroek's white vehicle was visible from the road.
The call was also dispatched as a code 2a, not a code 1 (full emergency response with lights on flash).
Mr Moolenbroek's father, Adriaan, said his son, a coal terminal worker, had three children, aged 21, 19 and 17. "I will do my best for the rest of my days to make sure this never happens again," he said.
After calling 000, Mrs van Moolenbroek drove to the property to be with her husband and waited in vain as the emergency crew circled the area.
It was unclear why the dispatcher did not keep Mrs van Moolenbroek on the phone. "It was a terrible situation for her to have been left in," Mr van Moolenbroek's grieving brother, Mark, said.
Opposition emergency services spokesman Ted Malone, who has criticised QAS's management as overly bureaucratic and not focused on outcomes, demanded the Government do a thorough investigation. "This is an absolute stuff-up," he said.
The QAS confirmed the details of the incident but did not comment further.
A special investigation by The Courier-Mail over two months last year highlighted concerns about the QAS's dispatch process, equipment, spending and workplace culture.
Amazing sloth from Victorian ambulance too
And the bureaucrats are in denial
A grieving father whose son was the victim of an ambulance delay is demanding to know whether the delay was deadly. The trip from Adam Cummaudo's Epping home to the Austin Hospital should have taken about 20 minutes, But when the 25-year-old arrived at hospital, 90 minutes after an ambulance was called, he was unresponsive.
Yesterday - three years after his son's death, after collapsing at home from a stroke- Sam Cummaudo was at a parliamentary Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing to see Health Minister Daniel Andrews questioned about Adam's death, and other delays.
"I think about him every day. It is a pain that never goes away," Mr Cummaudo said. "I should know that everything was done correctly for him, but I don't know whether he was given every chance. That is all I am looking for because I don't want any other parent to go though what I have."
Mr Cummaudo has gone to Ambulance Victoria, the coroner and the Health Services Commissioner - all of whom have found no wrongdoing by paramedics or the system.
But he yesterday accused Mr Andrews of hiding behind response figures and policies. He says he still doesn't know why paramedics would not lift his son into an ambulance, why they waited 21 minutes to call more paramedics for help, and why they did not take the most direct route to the hospital.
Ambulance Victoria chief executive officer Greg Sassella said investigations did not fault the treatment: paramedics arrived within 15 minutes, stabilised the patient and travelled 29 minutes to hospital. GPS data shows they took an appropriate route to the specialist stroke centre that had the best chance of saving Mr Cummaudo, he said.
Opposition health spokesman David Davis called on Mr Andrews and Premier John Brumby to fix the ambulance system. "An hour-and-a-half from Epping to the Austin hospital is simply not acceptable," he said.