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October 01, 2009

Dear Mother Nature, What’s Two Feet Between Friends?!

By: Aaron Datesman

This not-alarming piece of news flashed across my screen last month:

Sea levels rose as much as 2 feet (60 centimeters) higher than predicted this summer along the U.S. East Coast, surprising scientists who forecast such periodic fluctuations.

The immediate cause of the unexpected rise has now been solved, U.S. officials say in a new report (hint: it wasn't global warming). But the underlying reason remains a mystery.

Fortunately, dedicated science journalists are on the job to reassure us that, while the “underlying reason” which explains this rather startling observation is not known, global warming isn’t responsible. Isn’t that fantastic science journalism? (And, no, there’s no link to the report.)

The article continues:

Now a new report has identified the two major factors behind the high sea levels—a weakened Gulf Stream and steady winds from the northeastern Atlantic.

The Gulf Stream is a northward-flowing superhighway of ocean water off the U.S. East Coast. Running at full steam, the powerful current pulls water into its "orbit" and away from the East Coast.

But this summer, for reasons unknown, "the Gulf Stream slowed down," Edwing said, sending water toward the coasts—and sea levels shooting upward.

Well, OK, I agree that sounds benign. On the other hand, this is from the abstract of an article published in the scientific journal Climatic Change in 2007:

We present results from detailed interviews with 12 leading climate scientists about the possible effects of global climate change on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). . . . Assuming a global mean temperature increase in the year 2100 of 4 K, eight experts assess the probability of triggering an AMOC collapse as significantly different from zero, three of them as larger than 40%. Elicited consequences of AMOC reduction include strong changes in temperature, precipitation distribution and sea level in the North Atlantic area. [underlining mine]

Correlation is not causation, but this article is nevertheless incredibly hacktastic. Since the author could have used his platform to convey a very valuable and important message, this failure is really A GOD-DAMN SHAME. If it’s too much to ask that National Geographic News hire a science reporter who knows how to use Google and read English, then at least they could hire reporters who don’t insert snide and idiotic “hints” revealing their terrifying lack of scientific thoughtfulness.

By the way, this is what I take away from the abstract excerpt: if climate change causes the mean temperature to rise by 7F (within IPCC projections), many leading climate scientists believe that the Gulf Stream current which today prevents all of Europe from being as cold as Siberia could very well collapse. Oh.

Posted at October 1, 2009 09:55 PM

That is indeed hacktastic, because even in the lay media it has been a meme that one feature of global warming in general will be the collapse of the Gulf Stream in particular.

Also, I've noticed a wider trend of National Geographic being not nearly as smart as it used to be (it's getting closer to the likes of Popular Science, shudder). But that could just be me getting older.

Posted by: Cloud at October 1, 2009 10:45 PM

Cloud, I've noticed that about National Geographic magazine too--and the TV channel, ye Gods.

Posted by: Mike of Angle at October 1, 2009 11:15 PM

Let's make climate change a religion so that someone will believe it. Look how well the Scientologists have done with some gibberish, a dash of hypnosis and a pinch of marketing. I think even the dumbest journalists will start to get climate change once they reach clear.

Posted by: N E at October 1, 2009 11:48 PM

I knew about the Gulf Stream / Global Warming link too. Is this not well known? Perhaps better known in Europe for some reason ;-)

Posted by: DavidByron at October 2, 2009 12:06 AM

I haven't read National Geographic in many, many years, but I'm sure it's suffering the same fate as Scientific American: being turned into a popular 'science news' mag to keep up with the plummeting general level of science knowledge or interest amongst the public. Other than peer-reviewed journals, it's difficult to think of any popular magazine that has the level of scientific or technical rigour that Scientific American had in its halcyon days.

Posted by: NomadUK at October 2, 2009 01:52 AM

to keep up with the plummeting general level of science knowledge or interest amongst the public.

Silly me. I should have said, 'to help drive down the general level...'. Clearly, if this isn't all part of an orchestrated, concerted campaign, it's certainly so beneficial to the powers that be that it should be.

Posted by: NomadUK at October 2, 2009 01:55 AM

Please ignore the negative developments in our ecosystem. There's profit to be made! Profiting off the destruction of things and the misery of others, that's economic progress! Pay attention to Al Gore, paint your roof white and buy an electric car, that will solve everything. What we need is "green" spending, not actual steps to repair the damage wrought. It's not damage if you can make a buck off it!

Posted by: The Anti-Federalist at October 2, 2009 10:10 AM

Nomad UK: How about Nature?

Posted by: N E at October 2, 2009 11:18 AM

Yes, Nature seems to be weathering the storm so far.

Posted by: NomadUK at October 2, 2009 11:36 AM

Anti-Federalist: EXACTLY! I feel there is one hell of a lot of money to be made LAUNCHING DRYICE TO THE MOON. With a STRONG Cap and Trade this could be EASILY financed and supportable with off-the-shelf technology. Also I would be favorable to a CARBON TAX added to EVERY electric bill, world wide, if possible.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 2, 2009 11:51 AM

NE/NomadUK - Nature is a peer-reviewed journal. It's tremendously hard to get published there unless you're as smart as, like, Bernard.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at October 2, 2009 12:18 PM

Yeah, the American equivalent of "Nature" is "Science"--they're both peer-reviewed. The British equivalent of Scientific American is or was New Scientist, though I think Scientific American at its peak was much better. The modern day American equivalent of what Scientific American used to be is (no joke) American Scientist.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at October 2, 2009 01:32 PM

Well, I should have known all that (and may well have at one time). Thanks for the clarification and info.

Posted by: NomadUK at October 2, 2009 03:35 PM

I didn't realize that the neo-science catchwords of the day are:

assume, if and believe.

So much for scientififc-method.

Posted by: Persona non grata at October 2, 2009 03:42 PM

Cloud, I've noticed that about National Geographic magazine too--and the TV channel, ye Gods.
Posted by Mike of Angle at October 1, 2009 11:15 PM

Yes, Mike, sometimes when I'm flipping around and see a program on NatGeo (without necessarily seeing the channel ID), I assume it's SciFi (no I won't use the new idiotic name), or history, or some other crap station. But then, NatGeo is becoming a crap station. Sad, and enraging.

Posted by: catherine at October 2, 2009 04:47 PM

Catherine, what's troubling to me is that whenever I scroll past NatGeo, it's some show about disasters, DaVinci Code junk, or plastic surgery. Utter drek. It's almost as depressing as the History Channel, which is almost entirely history-free. Both NatGeo and History are positively infested with Biblical and/or Armageddon porn.

It's not sad that there are channels that offer this stuff; it's that so many channels seem to be devolving into it. Meanwhile, here on my bookshelf sits the BBC's "I, Claudius," which has never, and will never, be on The History Channel. Shitty insta-documentary tie-ins with "300," yes. John Hurt as Caligula, no.

The future was supposed to be narrowcasting delivering more and better content, but (as with magazines) economic forces seem to be driving everybody to the same solutions.

My wife worked for "Mad Men," and now works for "Breaking Bad"; it's been interesting to see how AMC has produced quite good stuff in a relatively short period of time.

Posted by: Mike of Angle at October 2, 2009 07:50 PM

On the bright side, there is always Netflix (and perhaps competitors). Seriously, apart from losing the joy of playing with the remote, which i have to admit is chromosomally satisfying, you can get I Claudius, a gazillion documentaries, foreign films, indies, and even crap if you want, sometimes instantly online but if not by within a day or two.

Posted by: N E at October 3, 2009 07:23 AM

netflix is also an example of a future buzzword.

Posted by: hapa at October 3, 2009 07:42 PM

Can you say Holocene Extinction Event children? We might be the grand finale.

Posted by: par4 at October 4, 2009 11:13 AM

For sure the end of the Cenozoic, anyway.

Posted by: Cloud at October 5, 2009 07:39 PM

Mike of Angle:

Don't forget the military porn on both NatGeo and Hist. It sure looks like the programming at both stations is targeting Radical Reactionary Republicans (RRRs), and/or is being produced by them.

Which is a real shame. I first became aware of global warming through the pages of National Geographic as a kid in the 80s. The editors sure seem to have changed their position on the issue over the last 15 years or so, even as the predictions made in their pages 20-30 years ago are proving so prescient today.

Posted by: Mike B. at October 7, 2009 11:18 AM

I have a 1952 Mechanics Illustrated that has an article stating the US Army studies at the time show global heating was suspected to result from "industrial activity".

Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 7, 2009 12:17 PM

Mike Meyer - Can you scan in that article? That would be a really interesting thing to see!

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at October 7, 2009 12:23 PM

Aaron Datesman: I have a MASSIVE collection of MI so it make take a day or 2 but I WILL find it for YOU.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 7, 2009 01:42 PM

Aaron Datesman:Its gonna take longer than I first thought, BUT 'til then, Nov 1956 pp174 Popular Mechanics has TV drone aircraft, 250 pound station with 25 mile reach to spy past enemy lines. December 1955 pp83 Popular Mechanics has "Solar Heat Melts Minerals" 60" concave mirror-9,000 degrees. Aug 55 pp139, "Verticle-Takeoff-Turbojet Has No Propellers" Fixed wing airctaft with Cessna rectangular parasol wing, 2 side mounted turbines. I get sidetracked easily.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 7, 2009 09:16 PM

Mike Meyer, you're talking about this, correct?

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at October 7, 2009 09:59 PM