Saturday, August 10, 2013

It's gettin' hot in here.

"Climate is what you expect...and weather is what you get." -NASA

A proper winter scene.
Over the past few months the issue of climate change has become an exciting discussion point between family members. During one (intense) discussion, focused on the evidence for/against human-induced climate change, I calmed all parties with the point that isotopes can be used to identify sources of carbon in the atmosphere. It's hard for an argument to continue when the fundamental properties of atoms are used to explain sources of greenhouse gases. 

These mini family feuds have made me want to write more about atmospheric things, especially as related to the changing climate in some of the regions I like to ride.

A few posts ago I wrote about different weather stations near my home mountain (Seven Springs, PA) and how it was difficult to determine what was happening with climate based on those limited data sets, from a specific date, over a period of time. The teams of scientists over at the National Oceanographic andAtmospheric Administration (NOAA) have significantly more experience than me in analyzing broader atmospheric and climatic trends across the planet, and they recently published regional info sheets with results from the Regional Climate Trends and Scenario Report. (These scientists also have much more credibility than the magic 8 ball...) 

Before jumping in to some of the findings from NOAA, here are a few important definitions* to keep in mind with the weather, climate, climate variation and climate change discussions:
Weather relates to atmospheric conditions over a short period of time, and climate refers to atmospheric behavior over long periods of time. Short term climate variations are periodic and intermittent changes due to events like volcanic eruptions, El Niño, and La Niña. Climate change means differences to the long-term atmospheric behavior. 
(*From NASA, another U.S. agency focused on climate trends.)

The general conclusions from the NOAA report are that the Northeast (ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, WV), Southwest (CA, NV, UT, AZ, CO, NM), and Northwest (WA, OR, ID) are all hotter relative to past long-term trends. These results are statistically significant at the 95% confidence interval (basically meaning that there is a 95% chance that this increased temperature observation is real; 5% chance that it isn't). 

The NOAA researchers calculated potential future changes in these different regions. The results showed that it's going to continue getting warmer in the three areas, and that the number of freeze-free days are forecasted to increase (in other words, less below-freezing temperature days ahead).

Yikes. Future increased temperature predictions based on NOAA models
show that it's going to be hotter, throughout the year. Figure from the 2013
Regional Climate Trends Report

Yikes. These are all of the places with some of my key places to ride, and even though precipitation is forecasted to increase, if these predictions hold true we're going to end up with some with wet sloppy slopes.

Next up...why those greenhouse gases love absorbing the photons from the sun, and how isotopes are used for tracking sources of carbon in the atmosphere. 

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