A sugar syrup in your ice cream may cause thousands of deaths/year

❝ In the early 2000s, a deadly gut infection began to surge. After decades of lurking in intestines and hospitals—more opportunistic nuisance than lethal threat—the bacterium Clostridium difficile abruptly exploded, spreading rapidly and causing more severe diarrheal disease than ever before. By 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that C. diff infected nearly half a million people in the US that year, killing approximately 29,000…

❝ There was another, cryptic factor at play, it seemed…With a study published in Nature recently, scientists think they’ve finally figured out what that enigmatic element was — and it’s even more obscure than anyone may have guessed. It wasn’t some new weapon the bacteria acquired or a waning antibiotic. It was a boring, harmless sugar — one often found in ice creams…

Nice piece of scientific research for a starter. Nothing answers all the questions – yet. But, so far, it seems clear the sugar trahalose has helped the bad guys along.

Inside the firestorm

Click to enlargeNick Guy/University of Wyoming

❝ Aircraft N2UW has flown through all kinds of weather. The twin-propeller plane is sleek, petite, and so packed with scientific gear for studying the atmosphere that there’s barely room for two passengers to squeeze into its back seats. Monitors show radar reflections, gas concentrations and the sizes of cloud droplets. The plane has flown through tropical rainstorms in the Caribbean, through the gusting fronts of thunderheads over the Great Plains, and through turbulent down-slope winds that spawn dust storms in the lee of the Sierra Nevadas. But the four people on board Aug. 29, 2016, will never forget their flight over Idaho.

❝ The plane took off from Boise at 4 p.m. that day, veering toward the Salmon River Mountains, 40 miles northeast. There, the Pioneer Fire had devoured 29,000 acres and rolled 10 miles up Clear Creek Canyon in just a few hours. Its 100-foot flames leaned hungrily into the slope as they surged uphill in erratic bursts and ignited entire stands of trees at once.

But to David Kingsmill, in the plane’s front passenger seat, the flames on the ground two miles below were almost invisible — dwarfed by the dark thing that towered above. The fire’s plume of gray smoke billowed 35,000 feet into the sky, punching into the stratosphere with such force that a downy white pileus cloud coalesced on its underside like a bruise. The plume rotated slowly, seeming to pulse of its own volition, like a chthonic spirit rising over the ashes of the forest that no longer imprisoned it. “It looked,” says Kingsmill, “like a nuclear bomb.”

❝ Undaunted, Kingsmill and the pilot decided to do what no research aircraft had done: Fly directly through the plume.

Sometimes stunning, every bit as interesting as any wildfire may be. RTFA. Longish and nothing is extraneous.

Yes, fire season is already here in New Mexico.

Climate scientists predict accelerating sea level rise

One of the great things about science is that it allows you to make predictions. Three top climate scientists just made a very bold prediction regarding sea level rise; we should know in a few years if they are correct…

For instance, the oceans are rising. We know that’s indisputable. Measurements taken from physical gauges and from satellites confirm sea level rise. The cause of the rise is more complex…

The three ways we know sea levels are rising are from physical tide gauges, from satellites that measure the water height, and from satellites that measure where ice is stored across the globe. While tide gauge measurements go back many years, they only measure water levels at their location. Many tide gauges have to be in place to get an accurate sense of what is happening globally.

Satellites, on the other hand, are much more capable of taking global measurements. The problem with satellites is they have only been taking measurements since approximately 1993 (not nearly as long as tide gauges). So scientists try to combine these two measurements to get a long-term and global picture of what is really happening.

A very recent paper published in Nature has evaluated the history of sea level rise, and what they find is really interesting…Using satellite data, the authors found little evidence of an acceleration. However, they show that this is because the satellites began measuring in 1993, right after a large volcanic eruption (Mount Pinatubo). This eruption temporarily reduced global warming because particles from the eruption blocked sunlight. Just by coincidence, the timing of the satellites and the eruption has affected the water rise so that it appears to be linear. Had the eruption not occurred, the rate would have increased.

This allows the scientists to make a prediction:

barring another major volcanic eruption, a detectable acceleration is likely to emerge from the noise of internal climate variability in the coming decade.

This means that the authors will be able to statistically observe an increase, even though the Earth experiences natural changes that may mask any increase.

…Dr. Fasullo…told me:

This article shows that the acceleration of sea level rise is real and ongoing. It is also an example of how climate models can play a key role in both the interpretation of observations and the prediction of near-future climate.

While only time will tell if they are right, I’d put my money on the scientists.

I’ll second that emotion.

Global cloud coverage shifting — matching signs of climate change

Click to enlargeNASA

When scientists talk about climate uncertainty, they’re usually talking about the clouds.

Clouds are tricky because they do two things at once. All that puffy whiteness blocks solar energy from reaching the ground, bouncing it back to space, which provides a net cooling effect. But clouds also act like a blanket, capping and trapping heat in the lower troposphere, which is where people who aren’t on the International Space Station live. That ambiguity makes it difficult to simulate with desirable precision how much and how fast the planet is warming, leaving a big mystery floating lazily over our heads.

Some of that uncertainty was lifted Monday, and the news isn’t good. A new study in Nature analyzes almost 30 years of weather observations to show that clouds and cloudiness are changing in the way scientists would expect in a warming world. Continental storm tracks — think jet stream — are shifting poleward, leaving populous subtropical latitudes uncovered. And the clouds that are forming more often aren’t the low-lying, reflective ones that cool the planet—they’re the huge cottony anvils that rise high in the sky, trapping more heat…

Also, as the poleward shift continues, heat from the tropics expands further away from the equator, an unsettling development for already arid cities in places like the U.S. southwest. Less light is reflected away from the hot middle of the Earth, and increased cloud cover toward the poles creates a thickening blanket that warms the world…

A couple of things make clouds such a conundrum to climate scientists. They form through processes too small to observe, and their layering blocks satellite views of lower clouds and ground views of higher clouds. Satellite coverage goes back only to the late 1970s, with technologies designed for weather monitoring. The new study corrects the weather record to make sense for climate analysis.

The corrected data should help improve their confidence in cloud studies, which currently isn’t very high…“This is an exciting and comprehensive study,” said Kate Marvel, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “But other studies have found that these things are happening, and this work provides more evidence of these effects.”

One useful feature flowing from the natural conservatism of science and scientists is that you acquire lots of study over time. Time that derives in one sense from the process of peer review. Time also allows for revision, depth in analysis and even discovery.

Watch this space.