Blue Marble - July 2012

New England Is 85 Percent Rainier Than It Was in 1948

| Tue Jul. 31, 2012 12:50 PM EDT

Lightning over Brooklyn on October 11, 2010.

We know that droughts in parts of the country have likely been exacerbated by climate change and are expected to get worse in the future. But climate shifts are also causing bigger, badder rainstorms in other parts of the country, according to a new report Environment America released released on Tuesday.

Extreme precipitation events are getting bigger, says the report, which is aptly titled, "When It Rains, It Pours":

Environment AmericaEnvironment America

And big downpours are also happening more often:

Environment AmericaEnvironment America

To put together the report, Environment America looked at 80 million daily precipitation records in the US dating back to 1948, and found a 30 percent increase in the frequency of extreme rain- and snowstorms. That means that fierce downpours that used to happen once a year or so back around 1948 are now happening every 9 months. This is particularly true in the northeast, as New England saw an 85 percent increase in heavy precipitation and the Mid-Atlantic saw a 55 percent increase. (The authors defined "extreme storms" as "those expected to occur no more than once per year on average at a particular location based on the historical record," or the 64 highest precipitation totals for a 24-hour period at each weather station.)

The reason is pretty simple: "Warmer temperatures cause more evaporation, and warmer air holds more water, intensifying the water cycle," they write. 

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Does Climate Change Mean More Polar-Grizzly Bear Hybrids?

| Tue Jul. 31, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Polar bear

It's been a rough half-million years for the polar bear, so it sure doesn't help that man-made climate change is driving them toward extinction

According to a model published recently in PNAS, polar bears prospered during cool periods but struggled during warm ones, and their numbers have been declining since an exceptionally balmy period starting 420,000 years ago. That's bad news (bears) with climate change now melting Arctic ice at unprecedented rates. 

As polar bears become rarer, they may also be forced to mate with brown bears, which this new study suggests has happened before in the distant past. Modern polar and brown bears can and do produce fertile offspring, but biologists classify them separate species because geographical distance usually prevents the two from ever meeting. In zoos that keep bears in the same enclosure, distance is not a problem. A handful of hybrid polar-grizzly bears (grizzlies are a subspecies of brown bears) have been born in zoos in the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Poland, Russia, and Spain, according to the BBC.

In the wild, climate change is erasing the distance between the two species, too. Brown bears are moving north into polar bear territory, and polar bears are being forced off melting ice to spend more time on land, where they're more likely to encounter brown bears. In 2006, a hunter in Canada shot a white bear with patches of brown fur and the humped back and long claws of a grizzly—DNA tests confirmed this first modern report of a hybrid. In 2010, another hunter in Canada shot a bear that turned out to be a second generation polar-grizzly hybrid. Although exact data is scant, the study's lead author Charlotte Lindqvist of SUNY-Buffalo says, "It certainly seems that hybrids are becoming more common."

Notorious Astroturf Firm Nabbed Sending Forged Letters Has a New Name

| Mon Jul. 30, 2012 10:51 AM EDT

Remember Bonner & Associates, the "grassroots" consulting firm that got busted in 2009 for sending forged letters to members of Congress claiming to be from local minority and senior citizen groups? Apparently they're back, with a new corporate identity.

The notorious astroturf shop has either rebranded or launched an offshoot: Advocacy to Win (A2W). Its website doesn't mention the Bonner connection, but the domain for A2W is registered to Jack Bonner, the president and namesake of Bonner & Associates. No one answered the phones at the numbers provided for Bonner or A2W on Friday, nor did anyone respond to emails sent to addresses at both organizations. A tipster, who used to work for Bonner, alerted us to A2W in an email: "The infamous Bonner & Associates has quietly changed their name—must be trying to hide from Google searches on your articles!"

The outfit, launched in 1984 by Jack Bonner, a former GOP senate aide, has good reason to want to wipe the slate clean. The group drew congressional scrutiny after it got caught sending forged faxes to the office of former Rep. Tom Perriello, a Democrat representing central Virginia, while the House was debating a climate change bill. The letters claimed to be from the Charlottesville branch of the NAACP and the Latino group Creciendo Juntos, but were signed with fake names. Later, two other members of Congress discovered that they, too, had received forged letters. At least 13 letters urging the lawmakers to vote against the climate bill were determined to be forgeries, claiming to come from groups like the American Association of University Women and the Erie Center on Health & Aging. It was soon revealed that the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a coal industry front group, had contracted with a strategic communications firm known as the Hawthorn Group, which had in turn hired Bonner to generate "grassroots" opposition to the climate bill.

When the forgeries came to light, Bonner blamed a rogue temporary employee. But as documents released in the course of the ensuing congressional investigation and interviews with former staffers demonstrated, the firm's standard procedures relied on misleading people about the corporate interests behind Bonner's campaigns and hiring a fleet of temp workers who were paid according to the number of letters they generated. Back in 1997—well before the forged letter controversy—a Mother Jones investigation deemed Bonner & Associates "a leader in the growing field of fake grassroots." Perhaps A2W will one day earn such Astroturf acclaim.

Do Sports Drinks Really Work?

| Mon Jul. 30, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Just in time for the Summer Olympics in London, a top science journal has issued a blistering indictment of the sports drink industry. According to the series of reports from BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal), the makers of drinks like Gatorade and Powerade have spent millions in research and marketing in recent decades to persuade sports and medical professionals, not to mention the rest of us suckers, that a primal instinct—the sensation of thirst—is an unreliable guide for deciding when to drink. We've also been battered with the notion that boring old water is just not good enough for preventing dehydration.

I've been as susceptible to this scam as anyone else; I knew, or thought I knew, that if I'm thirsty after my half-hour go-round on the elliptical trainer, it means I was underhydrated to begin with. So for years I've been trying to remember to ignore my lack of thirst and make myself drink before working out. Not any more.

The BMJ's package of seven papers on sports performance products packs a collective wallop. The centerpiece is a well-reported investigation of the long-standing financial ties between the makers of Gatorade (PepsiCo), Powerade (Coca-Cola, an official Olympic sponsor), and Lucozaid (GlaxoSmithKline) with sports associations, medical groups, and academic researchers. It should come as no great surprise that the findings and recommendations that have emerged through these affiliations have tended to include alarming warnings about dehydration and electrolyte imbalance—warnings that conveniently promote the financial interests of the corporate sponsors. 

And who knew there was something called the Gatorade Sports Science Institute? According to the BMJ investigation, "one of GSSI's greatest successes was to undermine the idea that the body has a perfectly good homeostatic mechanism for detecting and responding to dehydration—thirst." The article quotes the institute's director as having declared, based on little reliable evidence, that "the human thirst mechanism is an inaccurate short-term indicator of fluid needs."

Another study in the BMJ package finds that the European Food Safety Authority, which is authorized to assess health claims in food labels and ads, has relied on a seriously flawed review process in approving statements related to sports drinks. A third study reports that hundreds of performance claims made on websites about sports products, including nutritional supplements and training equipment as well as drinks, are largely based on questionable data, and sometimes no apparent data at all. One overall theme emerging from the various papers is that much of the research cited was conducted with elite and endurance athletes, who have specific nutritional and training needs; any such findings, however, should not be presumed to hold for the vast majority of those who engage in physical activity.

Critics have long blasted sports drinks as being loaded with calories and unnecessary ingredients. (Not to mention concerns about the environmental costs of producing, shipping, and discarding all those millions of plastic bottles.) Yet the product category represents a lucrative and growing market, with US sales of about $1.6 billion a year, according to the BMJ. In fact, Powerade is the official sports drink of the London Olympics, and Coca-Cola is hyping the brand with a campaign featuring top-tier athletes.

The BMJ papers address two related but distinct questions: Should people who exercise seek to proactively replace fluids lost, or can they rely on thirst to guide them during and after physical activity? And when they rehydrate, do they need all the salts, sugars, and other ingredients dumped into sports drinks, or is water fine? The correct answers are: best to rely on thirst, and water is fine. All that stuff about replacing electrolytes and so on you've been hearing all these years? Never mind! The evidence doesn't support it.

Overhydration presents a far greater risk of serious complications, and even death, than dehydration.

In a commentary accompanying the investigations in the journal, Timothy Noakes, chair of sports science at the University of Cape Town, points out that overhydration presents a far greater risk of serious complications, and even death, than dehydration. Moreover, he notes, the notion that fluid and electrolytes must be immediately replaced is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of our past as "long distance persistence hunters" in arid regions of Africa.

"Humans do not regulate fluid balance on a moment to moment basis," Noakes writes. "Because of our evolutionary history, we are delayed drinkers and correct the fluid deficits generated by exercise at, for example, the next meal, when the electrolyte (principally sodium but also potassium) deficits are also corrected…People optimize their hydration status by drinking according to the dictates of thirst. Over the past 40 years humans have been misled—mainly by the marketing departments of companies selling sports drinks—to believe that they need to drink to stay 'ahead of thirst' to be optimally hydrated."

Is the Natural Gas Industry Buying Academics?

| Mon Jul. 30, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Last week the University of Texas provost announced he would reexamine a report by a UT professor that said fracking was safe for groundwater after the revelation that the professor pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Texas natural gas developer. It's the latest fusillade in the ongoing battle over the basic facts of fracking in America.

Texans aren't the only ones having their fracking conversations shaped by industry-funded research. Ohioans got their first taste last week of the latest public-relations campaign by the energy policy wing of the US Chamber of Commerce. It's called "Shale Works for US," and it aims to spend millions on advertising and public events to sell Ohioans on the idea that fracking is a surefire way to yank the state out of recession.

The campaign is loaded with rosy employment statistics, which can be traced to an April report authored by professors at three major Ohio universities and funded by, you guessed it, the natural gas industry. The report paints a bright future for fracking in Ohio as a job creator.

One coauthor of the study, Robert Chase, is prominent enough within the state's natural gas universe that his case was recently taken up by the Ohio Ethics Commission, whose chairman called Chase "more than a passing participant in the operations of the Ohio oil and gas industry" and questioned his potential conflicts of interest. As landowners in natural-gas-rich states like Texas and Ohio struggle to decipher conflicting reports about the safety of fracking, Chase is a piece in what environmental and academic watchdogs call a growing puzzle of industry-funded fracking research with poor disclosure and dubious objectivity.

"It's hard to find someone who's truly independent and doesn't have at least one iron in the fire," said Ohio oil and gas lease attorney Mark F. Okey. "It's a good ol' boys network and they like to take care of their own." 

"It's a good ol' boys network and they like to take care of their own."

Chase got his petroleum engineering Ph.D. from Penn State University. In 2009, long after Chase left the university, it came under fire for a fracking report, widely cited by state politicians as evidence for opening up the fracking market, which an in-house investigator said "crossed the line between policy analysis and policy advocacy." Early in his career, Chase worked as a consultant for many of the nation's biggest oil and gas developers, including Halliburton, Cabot, and EQT. In 1978 he began teaching petroleum engineering at Marietta College, the small Ohio liberal arts school where he remains on faculty today. In 2008, Ohio's then-Gov. Ted Strickland appointed him to the Ohio Oil & Gas Commission, an independent judiciary board that hears complaints from landowners and developers against the state's Division of Mineral Resources Management. And last year, he founded his own consultancy, Chaseland LLC, that helps connect landowners with gas companies seeking drilling rights, for which Chase collects a commission.

Should You Buy Beef to Help US Ranchers Survive the Drought?

| Mon Jul. 30, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Meet the Vintons, a ranching family in the Sandhills region of northeast Nebraska. Last week I spoke to Sherry, the smart, friendly matriarch of the family (in red). She began ranching 30 years ago, shortly after marrying her husband Chris (in brown), whose family has worked this land for five generations. Today, Sherry and Chris run the operation with help from their two grown children and their spouses. Their youngest daughter (front and center) is in college. Photo appears courtesy of the Vinton familyPhoto appears courtesy of the Vinton family

So far this year, the Vintons' ranch has received less than two inches of rain. In a typical year, it would have gotten eight or nine by now. When I asked Sherry to describe the difference between a typical year and this drought year, she sent me a set of photos taken by one of her daughters. Here's a view of her pasture from August 2007:

Photo by Jessica Vinton TaylorPhoto by Jessica Vinton TaylorAnd this photo of the same pasture was taken this summer:
Photo by Jessica Vinton TaylorPhoto by Jessica Vinton Taylor

The Vintons' ranch is a cow-calf operation, which means that they keep a herd of mother cows who give birth to beef calves. All told, the Vintons have about 1,500 head of cattle, though the number varies. In a good year, most of the mother cows will give birth to calves in the spring. The Vintons will keep the young calves around till the following September, by which time they'll have gained enough weight to fetch a good price; a good slaughter weight is about 1,200 pounds. 

But in order to gain that weight, the young calves need to eat a lot, either on pasture or in feed composed of hay, corn, and other grain. In a drought year, pasture is scarce, and grain is expensive. In drought years, keeping the calves around until they reach market weight isn't cost effective, since it costs so much to feed them. It's also important to keep enough grass for the mother cows so that they'll continue to be healthy and productive in the long term.

So all winter and spring, it's a guessing game: Will the drought end in time for the rancher to be able to afford to keep the mother cows healthy and the babies growing? Or will they have to sell some so that the remaining animals have enough to eat? And if they do keep them around, will they be able to afford feed once the pasture is gone?

This year for the Vintons, unfortunately the answer was pretty clear. "This drought is so widespread that it is going to be difficult to find feed," Sherry told me. "And feed is very expensive." Already the Vintons have sold three truckloads of cattle to ranchers in Texas who haven't been hit as hard by the drought. Some of the animals they sold were pregnant cows—a tough decision, says Sherry, since they lose money both on the cow and the calf it would have given birth to. As for the yearling calves, by selling them now instead of in September, they'll lose about $350 per animal. Sherry estimates that before the drought is over, they'll have to reduce their herd size by 43 percent. "And it could be worse than that," she says. "We have a pretty good sense that this is going to extend through October. There is no relief in sight."

There's a lot of guesswork that goes into making these decisions. But weather forecasts and news about the droughts in other regions help a lot. In earlier years, Vinton told me, she and her husband relied on predictions in monthly farming publications. Now they use this web-based map from the US government that allows them to see conditions all across the United States (an interactive version is here):

The U.S. Drought Monitor is a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center, United States Department of Agriculture, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC-UNL.The US Drought Monitor is a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center, United States Department of Agriculture, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC-UNL.

Sherry has been through other tough years: '88, '95, and '02 were all very dry. But nothing as long-lasting or widespread as this. "This drought has become very severe very fast," she says. "That's one of the things that’s different about it."

David Anderson, a livestock economist with Texas A&M University's ag extension, agrees: This year is drier and hotter than anything he can remember. "As this drought gets worse, where can those cows go?" says Anderson. "There is no place for them to go but to slaughter." Anderson notes that slaughtering decisions can have long-term consequences. Conception rates among mother cows are typically lower in the year following a drought. What's more, ranchers spend a lot of time and resources perfecting the genetics of their herd—ensuring that the mother cows are bred to be productive and the steers to yield high quantities of valuable meat. If ranchers have to send a large portion of their herd to slaughter, they lose valuable breeding resources. 

Of course, all this affects the price of beef. Last week, the Climate Desk's James West reported that many foods—milk, eggs, chicken, and bread—will become more expensive in the coming months because of the drought. Interestingly, says Anderson, beef prices will actually take a nosedive in the short term—say, through September. Since so many ranchers are being forced to sell their cows right now, the market will be flooded with beef. But after that, there will be a scarcity, so the prices will rise again.

So should you buy beef to support the ranchers through the drought? It's a really tough question. From a purely environmental standpoint, the answer is probably no. In terms of energy use, emissions, and waste production, beef—especially the conventionally raised kind—has a bigger footprint than almost any other meat. Hardline environmentalists recommend against eating any beef at all.

But I think it's more complicated than that. As I wrote in this column a few years back, grazing animals, if managed correctly, can actually enhance the land. Unfortunately, the way the beef industry is structured now, most ranchers can't afford to keep their animals on pasture for their entire lives. It's simply too expensive. That said, ranchers like the Vintons put an enormous amount of time and effort into caring for the land—they have to, in order to ensure that their ranch is profitable in years to come. Without grass, there would be no cows.

The truth is that if droughts like this continue in the years to come, it's going to be harder and harder for families like the Vintons to care for the land. Since pasture will become even more scarce, they'll have to feed grain—which is much worse for the environment than grass. The evidence that recent droughts and heat waves are linked to climate change is piling up. As my colleague Kate Sheppard wrote recently, one study placed the odds of this year's extreme heat happening without climate change at 1 in 1.6 million.

So to help ensure that droughts like this don't become the new norm, the best thing you can probably do for America's ranchers is to help curb climate change. Aside from that, you can buy American beef rather than the cheap imports from South America, which tend to drive prices down.

In the meantime, Sherry and her family will be closely monitoring the drought map and hoping that this year's dry weather finally gives way to rain, she says. "I'd be lying if I didn't say this made me nervous about providing for our family."

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Alarming Loss of Species in Protected Forests

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Tropical  forest, Malaysia Peter Coxhead via Wikimedia CommonsTropical forest, Malaysia: Peter Coxhead via Wikimedia Commons

I was interested to read a new paper in the science journal Nature this week. Not least because it was co-authored by more than 200 scientists from around the world—a veritable who's-who of researchers from the world of tropical forest ecology.

The gist of the paper is alarming:

  1. The rapid disruption of tropical forests worldwide probably imperils global biodiversity more than any other force today.
  2. The best hope lies in protected areas.
  3. Yet many protected areas are not effectively protecting biodiversity.

The authors write:

Our analysis reveals great variation in reserve 'health:' about half of all reserves have been effective or performed passably, but the rest are experiencing an erosion of biodiversity that is often alarmingly widespread taxonomically and functionally.

Comparison of ecological changes inside vs outside protected areas: Laurance, et al, Nature 2012 DOI:10.1038/nature11318Comparison of ecological changes inside vs outside protected areas, for selected environmental drivers. The bars show percentage of reserves with improving vs worsening conditions: Laurance, et al, Nature 2012, DOI:10.1038/nature11318

The authors studied more than 30 different categories of species—from trees and butterflies to primates and large predators—in protected areas across the tropics in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. They calculated how these groups have fared in recent decades and identified the drivers of environmental change.

Lead author William Laurance of James Cook University in Australia and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama told me:

One of the things our study demonstrated was a sort of "mirror effect"—that the changes inside vs. outside [the reserves] tend to be positively correlated.

In other words, the reserves are only as strong as the lands surrounding them. And their power to protect biodiversity—that is, a full, healthy spectrum of lifeforms from the smallest to the largest—is threatened by activities on their borders, particularly from the illegal encroachment of colonists, hunters, and loggers.  

Jaguar, an apex predator: US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia CommonsThe jaguar, an apex predator: US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia CommonsThe authors found that some guilds—that is, ecological groups of plants and animals—were more at risk than others. The most sensitive guilds included apex predators, large non-predatory vertebrates, bats, stream-dwelling amphibians, terrestrial amphibians, lizards and larger reptiles, non-venomous snakes, freshwater fish, large-seeded old-growth trees, epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants, like orchids), and ecological specialists.

Several other groups were somewhat less vulnerable, including primates, understory insectivorous birds, large frugivorous [fruit-eating] birds, raptorial birds [birds of prey], venomous snakes, species that require tree cavities, and migratory species. In addition, five groups increased markedly in abundance in the reserves, including pioneer and generalist trees, lianas and vines, invasive animals, invasive plants and human diseases.

Considering that the most endangered species are living in protected areas that are themselves embedded in extremely degraded landscapes, then the picture looks even gloomier.

Juvenile howler monkey picking berries: Alphamouse via Wikimedia CommonsJuvenile howler monkey picking berries: Alphamouse via Wikimedia Commons

But in my article in the May/June 2012 issue of Mother Jones, Can One Incredibly Stubborn Person Save an Ecosystem?, I wrote about the need to spend more time discussing and dissecting success stories in conservation biology. As things stand, the bad news stories overwhelm us and threaten to defeat our willpower and continued efforts.

So I asked Laurance, if we were to turn his paper around for a moment, what can we say is working in the 50 percent of reserves that are doing a decent job protecting biodiversity? His answer:

In very general terms, the 50 percent of reserves that were doing relatively well had (1) better on-the-ground protection inside the reserve, and (2) had suffered less-intense changes outside the reserve. 

Thus the paper presents a blueprint of what to do, as well as what not to do, if we want to maintain Earth's biodiversity in a rapidly changing world. The authors conclude:

Protected areas are a cornerstone of efforts to conserve tropical biodiversity. It is not our intent to diminish their crucial role but to highlight growing challenges that could threaten their success. The vital ecological functions of wildlife habitats surrounding protected areas create an imperative, wherever possible, to establish sizeable buffer zones around reserves, maintain substantial reserve connectivity to other forest areas and promote lower-impact land uses near reserves by engaging and benefiting local communities. A focus on managing both external and internal threats should also increase the resilience of biodiversity in reserves to potentially serious climatic change in the future.

The paper:

  • William F. Laurance, et al. Averting biodiversity collapse in tropical forest protected areas. Nature (2012). DOI:10.1038/nature11318

Conservative Bloggers' Campaign Against "the Jerry Sandusky of Climate Science"

| Wed Jul. 25, 2012 1:45 PM EDT

In a July 13 blog post, a writer for the The Chronicle of Higher Education's Innovations blog wrote a post that was ostensibly about the child sex abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University and the school's complicity in covering it up. But the blogger, Peter Wood, didn't stop there. He went on in the piece to compare it to how the school has handled the work of one of its climate scientists.

He refers in the piece to the work of Michael Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State, who has been on the receiving end of a variety of attacks over the years, including the smear campaign resulting from emails that were stolen and put online in the fake scandal known as "Climategate." Wood uses the fact that a university investigation into "Climategate" (not to mention at least six other investigations on the subject conducted by outside institutions) exonerated Mann from allegations that he'd falsified data or hidden information as proof that there is "a culture of evasion" at the school. "Penn State has a history of treading softly with its star players," Wood writes. "Paterno wasn't the only beneficiary."

In case that wasn't clear, Wood is comparing how the university has responded to the research of a well-regarded climate scientist whose work is well within the mainstream to the university's effort to cover up a serial child rapist. He does make a point of saying that his other examples have "no direct connection to the Sandusky scandal" before going on to compare them just the same.

Wood has previously made it clear that he doesn't agree with mainstream climate science, scientists, or people who defend them; see here and here. But this seems to take things a bit farther.

Of course, it is an opinion blog, and writers are entitled to write about their opinions. But The Chronicle's editors have previously stated that they do still hold opinion bloggers to certain standards—standards that one might assume don't allow a blogger to compare a scientist to a child rapist. A few months ago, The Chronicle drew fire after blogger Naomi Schaefer Riley posted a piece suggesting that universities get rid of black studies and saying all kinds of not-very-nice things about people's dissertations based on their titles. At first editors at the paper stood by it, but after a week, the Chronicle published a mea culpa stating that the post "did not meet The Chronicles basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles" and the writer had been fired.

Wood had already hedged his bets on this sort of issue, posting a blog shortly after the Naomi Schaefer Riley incident explicitly that he feared her dismissal might mean that the same could happen if "someone mounts a campaign of vilification against me" based on his writing on a "controversial topic."

I asked The Chronicle's editors about the post. Here's what editor Liz McMillen wrote in response:

We don't think Peter Wood's post "equates" the sexual assault of children to the investigation of Michael Mann. Wood is describing what he sees as the culture of secrecy and cover up at Penn State during Graham Spanier’s years as university president. The consequences of that culture were most apparent and terrible regarding Jerry Sandusky, but in Wood's view, "The underlying culture that made this heedlessness possible among the senior officials extends to quite a few topics that have no direct connection to the Sandusky scandal." Wood also cites changes in the university policy on academic freedom and Spanier’s attempts, at a public university, not to disclose his and Paterno’s salaries as evidence of that culture.
And it should be pointed out that this is Wood's opinion; as we clearly state, posting on a blog does imply any endorsement of these views by The Chronicle.

Others in the climate science community have responded to what they call a "smear" in a "highly respected venue" like The Chronicle. You can read Wood's original post and decide for yourself.

UPDATE: Looks like bloggers from both the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and the National Review Online have also jumped on board this meme, calling Mann "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science." Mann's lawyer has asked NRO to retract the blog post and apologize.

What's Up With Drilling and Earthquakes?

| Tue Jul. 24, 2012 4:44 PM EDT

There has been increasing concern about the potential role of fracking in earthquakes. The worries prompted the the US Geological Survey to look into it, and scientists found that the increase in earthquakes is likely man-made, but probably caused more by wastewater disposal than fracking itself. Now, a fabulous new piece from EnergyWire looks a little more deeply at the wastewater connection.

Reporter Mike Soraghan visited Oklahoma, where state officials are taking their time investigating the connection between the industrial processes and a magnitude-5.6 quake that damaged homes and highways along the Wilzetta Fault last year:

The oil companies that operate the nearby wells say they couldn't have triggered the quake. But scientists say injection certainly can unleash earthquakes. University of Oklahoma seismologist Katie Keranen, who has been studying the earthquake since the day it happened, says there's evidence to back up Loveland's hunch.
"There's a compelling link between the zone of injection and seismicity," Keranen said at a seismological conference in April. She's one of a handful of scientists who see evidence of such a connection.
Like Loveland, people who see potential connections between the quake and drilling activities are resigned rather than resentful. Most seem ready to wait while the state gathers information.

The whole article is an informative read on the state of science and policy when it comes to these quakes.

Greenland's Summer Mega Melt

| Tue Jul. 24, 2012 1:39 PM EDT

 Extent of surface melt over Greenland's ice sheet on July 8, 2012 (left) and July 12, 2012 (right), melting shown in pink: Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory and Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI and Cryospheric Sciences LaboratoryExtent of surface melt over Greenland's ice sheet on 08 July 2012 (left) and 12 July 2012 (right), melting shown in pink: Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory and Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI and Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory Satellites recorded an unprecedented rate of ice sheet melt in Greenland this month. Over the course of four days in July virtually the entire surface melted—an area larger than at any time in more than 30 years of satellite observations.

On average about half the surface area of the ice sheet melts in summer. But between 08 and 12 July 2012 the melt spread from 40 percent to 97 percent of the Greenland ice sheet.

A researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena was analyzing radar data from the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) Oceansat-2 satellite last week when he noticed that most of Greenland appeared to be melting.

The extreme melt coincided with a heat dome over Greenland—one of a series of unusually strong ridges of warm air dominating Greenland's weather since May. Each successive ridge has been stronger than the previous one this summer.

Atmopsheric carbon dioxide measurements at Summit, Greenland, 1985-2010: NOAA | Earth System Reserach LaboratoryAtmospheric carbon dioxide measurements at Summit, Greenland, 1996-2010: NOAA | Earth System Research Laboratory

Even the NOAA observatory Summit Station in central Greenland—2 miles (3.2 kilometers) above sea level and near the highest point of the ice sheet—showed signs of melt. Such widespread thawing has not occurred since 1889, according to ice-core analyses.

"Ice cores from Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average. With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time," said Lora Koenig, a Goddard glaciologist and a member of the research team analyzing the satellite data. "But if we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome."