30th Anniversary of Farman et al. (1985) – the ozone hole paper

May 15, 2015

It’s been 30 years since Farman et al. published their paper on the ozone “hole”. (Well, I’m a day early but who posts on Saturdays, eh?)

Farman_abstract

It had a huge impact: it’s been cited nearly 3,000 times and accelerated the negotiations that resulted in the Montreal Protocol, which helped phase out the chemicals that were damaging the ozone layer. Those chemicals can stay in the atmosphere for a very long time so the ozone “hole” is far from fixed, which can sometimes cause confusion over the effectiveness of the Montreal Protocol. It’ll probably be decades still until the “hole” is fixed (see the Annual Records at the bottom left-hand side of this NASA page for historical data.)

This slow recover particularly interests me at the moment as I recently did a little bit of work on the health risks associated with the hole at its peak for those living and working in Antarctica. This may become a more important problem in the future if further warming and ice sheet retreat make regions like the Antarctic Peninsula easier to inhabit, work in and/or exploit. Hopefully I’ll get to a bit more work on this soon.

And I’ve always had a real soft spot for the paper as the ozone “hole” was the first time that I remember being aware of an environmental issue, despite being pretty young at the time (I was at primary school 30 years ago). I suspect that it played a large in shaping my view of the world and my career direction so I thought I should note the anniversary.

So, Happy Birthday Farman et al. (1985)!

If you want to get deeper into the ozone “hole” then Chapter 7 in Volume I of “Late Lessons from Early Warnings”, written by Joe Farman, is quite nice and the chapter in Merchants of Doubt is a good read on this as well. [Update, 15/5/2015 0937] There also a BBC “Costing the Earth” episode on the 30th anniversary of the ozone hole but I’ve not listened to it yet (thanks to @jimmcquaid on twitter for pointing me in that direction).

Reference

Farman, J., Gardiner, B., & Shanklin, J. (1985). Large losses of total ozone in Antarctica reveal seasonal ClOx/NOx interaction Nature, 315 (6016), 207-210 DOI: 10.1038/315207a0

Electoral reform in the UK?

May 9, 2015

We had a General Election in the UK this week. We use a first-past-the-post system in our General Elections, which isn’t particularly representative.

I’m not going to say too much about this but I thought it was interesting to see how many votes each party received in relation to the number of parliamentary seats they got…

Party Seats Votes Votes per seat
Conservative 331 11,334,920 34244
Labour 232 9,347,326 40290
Scottish National Party 56 1454436 25972
Liberal Democrat 8 2,415,888 301986
Democratic Unionist Party 7 184260 26323
Sinn Fein 4 176,232 44058
Plaid Cymru 3 181,694 60565
Social Democratic & Labour Party 3 99809 33270
Ulster Unionist Party 2 114935 57468
UKIP 1 3881129 3881129
Green Party 1 1157613 1157613

image

 

Update Places to do something about it: Electoral Reform Society; Avazz.

British Council Institutional Links project – Environmental Health in Kazakhstan

April 9, 2015

BritishCouncilI recently found out that I’d been successful with Newton-Al Farabi Institutional Links grant. Go me!

It should be really interesting and will involve a lot of collaboration with a couple of universities out in Kazakhstan. I’ll also be working with a larger team here at Brunel than I normally would. I’m sure there’ll be more posts here once the project is up and running properly.

In the meantime, here’s a little summary from the Brunel press release for the grant award:

A team of academics from Brunel University London have been given a prestigious award to help reduce health risks and environmental damage in Kazakhstan.

The cross-disciplinary group received the £157,000 grant from the British Council’s Newton Institutional Links programme, with the aim of developing evidence-based recommendations for policy-makers in the central Asian country.

The two-year project, titled “A multi-dimensional environment-health risk analysis system for Kazakhstan”, will begin in April 2015. The research will bring together two universities in Kazakhstan (Kokshetau State University and Pavlodar State University) with Brunel staff from the College of Health and Life Sciences, College of Business, Arts and Social Sciences and College of Engineering, Design and Physical Sciences.

Project lead Dr Andrew Russell, from the Institute for Environment, Health and Societies, said: “Kazakhstan is a really interesting place from an environment and health perspective.

“GDP is quite high, mostly due to natural resources, but health levels are generally quite poor. Environmental degradation plays a large role in this ‘health lag’ as there have been many years of lax environmental control going all the way back to Soviet era nuclear tests.”

The project will employ “Big Data” techniques and scientific knowledge will be applied to health and environment data to identify important relationships. This will enable the development of efficient and robustly tested solutions.

 

Health risks on the Antarctic Peninsula – what’s happening with the ozone hole, UV exposure, environmental change and funding for Antarctic science?

April 3, 2015

ResearchBlogging.org

I recently had a paper published in Antarctic Science – I don’t think that it’ll set the world on fire but it was quite interesting in how it came about so I thought I’d write a blogpost about it.

The study

The measurements for the study were taken by a team who sailed across the Drake Passage and then then spent some time on and around the Antarctic Peninsula. They deployed a small “badge” each day that responds to sunlight in a way that allows you to subsequently work out how much UV radiation they were exposed to. From these measurements we concluded that the UV exposure experienced was comparable to temperate, mid-latitude locations in the spring/late summer. Obviously the team was very well covered as it’s cold down there but this can nonetheless have impacts on the eyes and exposed skin.

This is quite important as the ozone “hole” over Antarctica is likely to be about as bad as it will get before recovering over the next few decades and exposure risk might increase in this region if there are significant environmental changes (e.g. further warming, ice sheet retreat). This paper represents something of a pilot study so I’d love to get a more rigorous experiment up-and-running one day.

The BSAE team on the Antarctic Peninsula. The badges were mounted on one of the sledges. Photo taken by Martin Densham.

The BSAE team on the Antarctic Peninsula. The badges were mounted on one of the sledges. Photo taken by Martin Densham.

The study’s origins: networking on social media

The idea for the experiment and the paper first came about on twitter. Someone I’d never previously worked with (or met) invited me along to a planning meeting for the 2012 British Services Antarctic Expedition (BSAE) simply because I had a twitter account where I posted interesting stories about Antarctica.

I then cobbled together a tiny bit of money from the Royal Meteorological Society and the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) to get the badges produced and analysed at the University of Manchester.

I was quite impressed that we managed to get a relatively interesting bit of work done with so little resource. Which brings us on to…

…funding for Antarctic science

Budgets for science have not been increasing recently so perhaps it’s time that we have to start thinking of less traditional ways of getting work done. My example might not be particularly useful as it all happened largely by accident! However, there’s an interesting piece in The Conversation by Adrian McCallum about the role of private funding in Antarctic research that is probably more informed on this topic. Might be worth a read if you’re thinking of this type of thing.

Reference

Russell, A., Gohlan, M., Smedley, A., & Densham, M. (2014). The ultraviolet radiation environment during an expedition across the Drake Passage and on the Antarctic Peninsula Antarctic Science DOI: 10.1017/S0954102014000790

How to stay below 2°C…

February 4, 2015

A quick post to draw attention to the Global Calculator, which is an excellent and simple tool looking at how different actions will change greenhouse gas emissions out to 2100. The tool is from DECC and I think that’s it’s a follow up from something they launched a few years ago (but I don’t remember being particularly impressed with that first version).

In contract, this one is really easy to use and has lots of background information. It’s a nice teaching tool as well and sparked a lot of interesting discussions with our students.

In particular, the role of food was really interesting – some scenarios can massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions just by controlling global calorie intake and reducing meat production!

Anyway, go and have a play! (And there’s a long post over on The Carbon Brief about the calculator.)

News Year’s Honours: Eric Pickles still sucks; and well done Tim Palmer!

December 31, 2014

I just had a quick look through the New Year’s Honours list and was surprised and happy to see quite a few (6 or 7) people with a link to flood management, including a few from the Environment Agency.

I thought that this was significant as it wasn’t that long ago that Eric Pickles (the Communities Secretary) was questioning the EA’s expertise, which was stupid. And it seems that the UK Honours Committee doesn’t agree with him either. So good on them.

Also good news that Tim Palmer (Professor in Climate Physics at Oxford) got recognised too (OBE). I love Tim’s papers and it was his work that largely inspired me to go into climate research.

Is the public debate on climate change turning a corner?

September 23, 2014

When I started this blog in late 2009, things were not good with climate change in the media: the UEA/climategate emails had just been leaked and COP15 in Copenhagen didn’t go so well.

A couple of years before that, though, I felt that there was quite a lot of optimism. IPCC AR4 and the Stern Review had made a real splash. It felt like there could be some significant, global action on climate change. But that didn’t happen.

However, maybe we’ve turned a corner in the last week or so.

The obvious focal point is the really successful People’s Climate March, which took place at many locations around the world and attracted far more people than were estimated in advance. I went along to the London one and there was a good atmosphere and loads of people, somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 according to different estimates. I think the prediction beforehand was for around 10,000 people turning out.

400,000 at the climate march in New York

400,000 at the climate march in New York

But that’s not the only positive news.

The Rockerfeller family have decided to withdraw their investments in fossil fuels. The Guardian describe this as a big “symbolic boost” for the fossil fuel divestment movement in general. I suppose I should investigate our investments at Brunel University and see if we can do anything on this front as well.

And Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, has used some strong words in announcing their decision to leave the American Legislative Exchange Council lobby group, who also work to stifle progress on positive climate change responses. The choice quote from Schmidt being:

The facts of climate change are not in question anymore. Everyone understands climate change is occurring, and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people — they’re just, they’re just literally lying.

So hopefully this means that there’ll be lots of people watching the UN Climate Summit today and expecting something positive.

I won’t be holding my breath but I’m feeling more confident than I have done for a few years.

Book review: Brunel by LTC Rolt

January 30, 2014

LTC_ROLTShort review
Excellent read on 2 levels: the actual biography is really enjoyable and authoritative because of Rolt’s access to Brunel’s papers; and the introduction describing how Rolt’s hatchet job of John Scott Russell (the “other” engineer on the failed SS Great Eastern project) is probably unfair is fascinating from a historical/interpretation point of view. Overall, I came from a position of relative ignorance about Brunel’s life and work and was surprised at how unsuccessful Brunel was a commercial engineer (though his innovation is almost unrivalled).

Long review
Somehow, I have now been a lecturer at Brunel University for 3.5 years. It seems like only yesterday that I was starting this blog as a postdoc at the University of Manchester. In those 3.5 years my responsibilities have expanded (at home and at work) so, as I said in my last post, blogging has taken a backseat, which is a shame as I quite enjoy it.

The point of a brief autobiographical introduction is that my knowledge of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s life and work was relatively low when I took the job here at Brunel University. I knew he was an official, BBC advocated “Great Briton” but that was about it.

I did have a little go at addressing the conflict of being a climate scientist at a university named after one of the fathers of the Industrial Revolution on my work blog recently (and in a talk for the London Science Festival) but I still felt that I really needed to find out more.

So I picked up a relatively old biography – LTC Rolt’s Isambard Knigdon Brunel, first publsihed in 1957 – which is still considered authoritative as Rolt had unprecedented access to the Brunel archive.

I’m glad I did. It’s really well written and has a nice mix of quotes from contemporary documents and descriptions of the engineering projects alongside important personal events. It flows really well too, which is surprising given the temporal overlap of much of Brunel’s work: I’ve tried to summarise this overlap in a little timeline that you can see below.

A timeline of Brunel’s major projects. Bridges and tunnels are shown in blue; railways in black; ships in red; and other projects in green. Start and end dates are not definitive. I’ve washed out the shading where a project continued without Brunel’s intense contribution. Brunel died in 1859.

A timeline of Brunel’s major projects. Bridges and tunnels are shown in blue; railways in black; ships in red; and other projects in green. Start and end dates are not definitive. I’ve washed out the shading where a project continued without Brunel’s intense contribution. Brunel died in 1859.

The timeline also demonstrates how Brunel’s work was very intense (in a relatively short life – 1806-1859) and covered a wide range of areas: tunnels, bridges, railways, ships and other projects.

As an academic, I was quite interested in Brunel’s “impact”. What surprised me was that relative few of his projects were successful commercially. His ships were all failures commercially. The Thames Tunnel was a death trap that was never used for its intended purpose. The Great Western Railway’s legacy is somewhat tarnished by the “Gauge Wars”.

Perhaps this is a harsh summary of his work but it made me feel a bit closer to him: he wasn’t a great businessman but he was a successful innovator and researcher. His ideas were ahead of their time and were difficult to monetise in that period. His longer term legacy was much more important and changed the way that engineering was done globally.

Perhaps the most interesting passages in the book are those relating to John Scott Russell, who worked on one of Brunel’s biggest failures: the SS Great Eastern. Rolt tries to argue that Scott Russell was the villain in that piece and deliberately tried to undermine Brunel’s ship. However, the excellent introduction (by RA Buchanan) highlights some of the flaws in Rolt’s argument and supposes that Rolt’s position was driven by his desire to absolve Brunel of the SS Great Eastern’s failure and was biased by the contents of the Brunel archives.

Overall, highly recommended reading.

Thunderstorms in the IPCC AR5

January 28, 2014

It’s been a while since I blogged; I hope you didn’t think I’d forgotten you! My workload has “shifted” recently and I’m doing a bit more teaching/supervision/management these days. Blogging has taken a bit of a backseat. So I’m a bit late on this one but thought that it was still interesting. Anyway, enough of the excuses…

I’ve often thought it was odd that the potential changes in frequency and/or intensity of small scale severe storms/thunderstorms – one of my areas of research – was absent from the IPCC TAR, AR4 and SREX.

This has been put right in the IPCC AR5, which was published in late 2013 but, if anything, it highlights some of the problems with the slow and rigidly structured IPCC process.

So here’re a few sentences from IPCC AR5 that deal with severe thunderstorms:

The large-scale environments in which [severe thunderstorms] occur are characterized by large Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE) and deep tropospheric wind shear (Brooks et al., 2003; Brooks, 2009). Del Genio et al. (2007), Trapp et al. (2007; 2009), and Van Klooster and Roebber (2009) found a general increase in the energy and decrease in the shear terms from the late 20th century to the late 21st century over the United States using a variety of regional model simulations embedded in global-model SRES scenario simulations. The relative change between these two competing factors would tend to favour more environments that would support severe thunderstorms, providing storms are initiated.

Overall, for all parts of the world studied, the results are suggestive of a trend toward environments favouring more severe thunderstorms, but the small number of analyses precludes any likelihood estimate of this change.

It’s a pretty good, concise summary of work in this area up to 2012/13. (I’ve not included some of the text on examples and the few studies outside of the US, you can find the full text here towards the end of section 12.4.5.5 Extreme Events in the Water Cycle. There’s another bit in 2.6.2.4 Severe Local Weather Events as well.)

However, whilst the IPCC report was being published, this paper came out:

Diffenbaugh, N. S., Scherer, M. and Trapp, R. J. (in press) “Robust increases in severe thunderstorm environments in response to greenhouse forcing” PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1307758110

They say:

We use an ensemble of global climate model experiments to probe the severe thunderstorm response. We find that this ensemble exhibits robust increases in the occurrence of severe thunderstorm environments over the eastern United States. In addition, the simulated changes in the atmospheric environment indicate an increase in the number of days supportive of the spectrum of convective hazards, with the suggestion of a possible increase in the number of days supportive of tornadic storms.

It’s a much more up-to-date and robust analysis of the problem and even uses the CMIP5 climate projections that form the backbone of the IPCC AR5. (I’ve been working on something similar for the Northern Hemisphere but not quite finished it yet!) I guess that this paper must have been accepted for publication after the deadline for the IPCC process so it isn’t mentioned. It’s a shame as a citation to this paper would have added something to the argument.

And this seems to be a problem with the IPCC. Climate science research is a much bigger area now than when the IPCC process started in the late 1980s/early 1990s. So a whole area of research (e.g. severe thunderstorms in a changing climate) becomes a couple of sentences with the most up-to-date paper missing.

As good as the IPCC has been over the years, perhaps it’s time to move on. The SREX example seems to be a good one: a multi-disciplinary, timely analysis of an important area. I think that a series of special reports like SREX would be a better use of valuable time than an AR6.

MOOCtual Assured Destruction

July 15, 2013

Similar to MAD, where every state feels they need nuclear weapons simply because every other state does, perhaps every university needs a MOOC simply because their competitors do.

So the question “How do we make money from MOOCs?” becomes moot. The MOOC (nuke) is of no real use to the university (state) but not having it is a disadvantage.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,670 other followers