Topic: Energy and Environment

Three-and-a-Half Centuries of Drought in Southwest China

Drought is a natural hazard that climate models have predicted will increase in the future in consequence of CO2-induced global warming. One way to gauge the validity of such predictions is by examining long-term historic trends in drought to see if there is anything unusual about their occurrence over the past few decades, during which time climate alarmists claim the Earth has experienced unprecedented global warming due to rising atmospheric CO2 emissions. And that is exactly what the seven member research team of Bi et al. (2015) did in assessing drought variability for southwest China over the past three-and-a-half centuries. 

To accomplish their objective, Bi et al. analyzed 39 tree ring cores obtained from 23 Picea likiangensis trees growing on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (27.14°N, 100.23°E), located at the southern part of the Hengduan Mountains, southwest China, to reconstruct a historical spring season Palmer Drought Severity Index (PSDI) for this region. The resulting series is presented in the figure below.

Figure 1. Reconstructed spring PDSI (from March to May) for Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, southwest China. The thin line represents the annual value, while the thick line is an 11-year smoothing average. Adapted from Bi et al. (2015).

Figure 1. Reconstructed spring PDSI (from March to May) for Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, southwest China. The thin line represents the annual value, while the thick line is an 11-year smoothing average. Adapted from Bi et al. (2015).

As shown above, there have been multiple wet (positive PSDI values) and dry (negative PSDI values) periods over the 361-year record. And with respect to extremely wet or dry years (more than 2 standard deviations above or below the mean), Bi et al. note such events occurred in 1674, 1712-1714, 1728, 1824-1827, and 1941-1942 for extremely wet years and in 1736-1737, 1758, 1762, 1766, 1768-1769, 1819, 1969 and 2008 for extremely dry years. They also report that although the 2000s was a relatively dry decade, “our study reveals that spring drought events during this period were not as extreme as in some other periods within the time scope of our study.”

Consequently, given the findings presented above, there appears to be nothing unusual, unnatural or unprecedented about the recent drought history of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain region, suggesting rising atmospheric CO2 has had little, if any, measurable impact on this hazard phenomenon. And since it has had no remarkable impact on the past, there is no compelling reason to conclude that it will have any measurable impact in the future.



Bi, Y., Xu, J., Gebrekirstos, A., Guo, L., Zhao, M., Liang, E. and Yang, X. 2015. Assessing drought variability since 1650 AD from tree-rings on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, southwest China. International Journal of Climatology 35: 4057-4065.

A CO2-Induced Increase in Subtropical North Atlantic Coccolithophore Abundance

Coccolithophores are calcifying phytoplankton that comprise the base of marine food webs all across the world ocean. They play an important role in the cycling of carbon into the deep ocean and act as a feedback to climate change. Anything that alters their function or abundance, therefore, could have significant impacts on marine ecosystems and global climate. Thus, it is no surprise that scientists are interested in how coccolithophores will respond to future changes in atmospheric CO2 and climate. And in this regard, Krumhardt et al. (2016) say there has been “much speculation [that has] inspired numerous laboratory and mesocosm experiments, but how they are currently responding in situ is less well documented.” Working to provide just such an in situ analysis, the team of four researchers thus set out to analyze coccolithophore abundance in the subtropical North Atlantic over the period 1990 to 2014.

To accomplish their objective, Krumhardt et al. used coccolithophore pigment data collected at the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) site (located at 31.7°N, 64.2°W in the Sargasso Sea) in conjunction with satellite estimates of surface chlorophyll and particulate inorganic carbon as a proxy measure of coccolithophore abundance. Results of their analysis revealed that “coccolithophore populations in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre have been increasing significantly over the past two decades. More specifically, they note there was a 37 percent increase in euphotic zone-integrated (integrated from 140 m depth) in coccolithophore pigment abundance at BATS and a larger 68 percent increase in the upper 30 m of the water column (see figure below). Such findings, in the words of the authors, add to those of a growing number of studies showing that coccolithophores in the North Atlantic “are increasing in abundance and are likely stimulated by additional carbon from anthropogenic sources.”

You Ought to Have a Look: 2016’s Temperature Evolution, a Retraction of a Fracking Cancer Warning, and a Look at Antarctic Sea Ice Trends

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic.  Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

At the top of our list of things you ought to have a look at this week is a pair of blog posts by Dr. Roy Spencer updating the recent post-El Niño evolution of the satellite-observed temperature record of the earth’s lower atmosphere. In Roy’s first post, he updates the satellite record through June 2016, noting the big drop in temperatures as the effect of the recent big El Niño wanes. The take home figure looks like this:

Figure 1. Global average temperature of the lower atmosphere as derived and compiled by researchers at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, January 1979 through June 2016.

Figure 1. Global average temperature of the lower atmosphere as derived and compiled by researchers at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, January 1979 through June 2016.

Roy notes that the “2-month temperature fall of -0.37 deg. C, which is the second largest in the 37+ year satellite record.”

In a follow-on post, Roy looks to see what the prospects are for the 2016 annual temperatures being the highest in the 38-year satellite temperature history. In late June, Roy had concluded that is “2016 Will Likely See Record Global Warmth in Satellite Data.” But with the big drop in June temperatures, he is now reconsidering, writing that his previous prediction “looks…well…premature.” 

Be sure to check out all Roy’s analysis and keep tuning in to see how the year’s temperatures are progressing. We surely will be.

Elevated CO2 Stimulates the Growth of Papaya

Papayas are spherical or pear-shaped fruits known for their delicious taste and sunlit color of the tropics. Upon his arrival to the New World, Christopher Columbus apparently could not get enough of this exotic fruit, reportedly referring to it as the “the fruit of angels.” And the fruit of angels it may indeed be, as modern science has confirmed its value as a rich source of important vitamins, antioxidants and other health-promoting substances to the consumer.

Papaya production has increased significantly over the past few years to the point that it is now ranked fourth in total tropical fruit production after bananas, oranges and mango. It is an important export in many developing countries and provides a livelihood for thousands of people. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that scientists have become interested in how this important food crop might respond to increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 that are predicted for the future.

Such interest was the focus of a recent paper published in the scientific journal Scientia Horticulturae by Cruz et al. (2016). Therein, the team of five researchers examined “the effect of the elevated CO2 levels and its interaction with Nitrogen (N) on the growth, gas exchange, and N use efficiency (NUE) of papaya seedlings,” as they note there are no publications examining such for this species to date. To accomplish their objective, Cruz et al. grew Tainung #1 F1 Hybrid papaya seeds in 3.5 L plastic pots in a climate-controlled greenhouse at the USDA-ARS Crops Research Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado under two different CO2 concentrations (390 or 750 parts per million) and two separate N levels (8 mM NO3- or 3 mM NO3-). CO2 fumigation was performed for only 12 hours per day (during the day, 06:00 h to 18:00 h) and N treatments were applied to the pots weekly as a nutrient solution to reach the desired N levels. The experiment concluded 62 days after treatment initiation.

In discussing their findings, Cruz et al. report that compared to ambient levels of CO2, elevated CO2 increased photosynthesis by 24 and 31 percent in the low and high N treatments, respectively. Plant height, stem diameter and leaf area in the high N treatment were also enhanced by 15.4, 14.0 and 26.8 percent, respectively, and by similar amounts for the height and stem diameter in the low N treatment. Elevated CO2 also increased the biomass of leaf, stem plus petiole, and root dry mass of papaya plants regardless of N treatment, leading to total dry mass enhancements of 56.6 percent in the high N treatments and 64.1 percent in the low N treatments (see figure below).

Figure 1. Total dry mass of papaya plants grown in controlled chambers at two different CO2 concentrations (High and Low; 750 and 390 ppm) and two different N treatments (High and Low; 8 mM NO3- or 3 mM NO3-). Adapted from Cruz et al. (2016).

Figure 1. Total dry mass of papaya plants grown in controlled chambers at two different CO2 concentrations (High and Low; 750 and 390 ppm) and two different N treatments (High and Low; 8 mM NO3- or 3 mM NO3-). Adapted from Cruz et al. (2016).


Cruz et al. also report that “significant, but minor, differences were observed in total N content (leaf plus stem + petiole plus roots) between plants grown at different CO2 concentrations, but the same N levels.” Consequently, plant Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) – the amount of carbon fixed per N unit – was around 40 percent greater in the CO2-enriched environments, regardless of the N level in the soil.

Commenting on their findings, Cruz et al. write that contrary to some other studies, which have suggested that low N reduces plant responses to increased CO2 levels, they found no such decline. In fact, their data indicate that elevated CO2 “alleviated the effect of low N on dry matter accumulation in papaya,” which they surmised is at least partially explained by a larger leaf area and higher rate of photosynthesis per leaf area unit observed under elevated CO2.

In light of all of the above, Cruz et al. conclude that “an increase in the atmospheric CO2 concentration [is] beneficial for dry mass production of papaya and alleviate[s] the negative effects of N reduction in the substrate on papaya growth.” Thus, in the future, those who cultivate this fruit of angels should find an angel in the ongoing rise in atmospheric CO2.



Cruz, J.L., Alves, A.A.C., LeCain, D.R., Ellis, D.D. and Morgan, J.A. 2016. Interactive effects between nitrogen fertilization and elevated CO2 on growth and gas exchange of papaya seedlings. Scientia Horticulturae 202: 32-40.

What Goes Up…

Must come down. Of course, we’re referring to lower atmospheric temperatures measured by satellites.

For months we have been saying that, once they started dropping, the satellite temperatures—our only truly global measure—were going to go down with a vengeance, which is what usually happens after a strong El Niño event spikes a fever. El Niño is a dramatic slowdown (or even a reversal) in the trade winds that diverge surface water away from the South American coast, “upwelling” much colder subsurface waters. When that stops, global temperatures rocket upwards, but that also builds up more and more cold water to be unleashed when the trade winds resume.

If the 1998 El Niño is any guide, global temperatures are going to be back in (or near) “pause” mode by by the turn of the year.

If the 1998 El Niño is any guide, global temperatures are going to be back in (or near) “pause” mode by by the turn of the year.

According to University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Roy Spencer, who publishes the satellite data, the drop in the last two months was the second-largest in the entire record, missing the record by only 0.01⁰C. That record was set—not surprisingly—in the decline after the slightly bigger 1997-8 El Niño. In the tropics, where El Niño is most expressed, the drop was the largest in the entire 37-year record. 

For what it’s worth, no one knows what the ultimate cause of an El Niño is. While they are the largest secular oscillation in global surface temperatures,  computer models for global warming can’t simulate them realistically, and even short-term (year in advance) forecasting models are pretty lousy when it comes to initiating one.

Despite the recent peak, the satellite data never lost the “pause” that began in 1996. As far as the surface temperatures go, recent adjustments that “disappeared” that pause are looking more and more suspect as other independent data (like the satellites) do not corroborate them. Stay tuned for more, as we have just submitted an article on this problem.

Elevated CO2: A Key Driver of Global Greening Observations

Despite a constant barrage of stories portraying rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) as a danger and threat to the planet, more and more scientific evidence is accruing showing that the opposite is true. The latest is in a paper recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, where Lu et al. (2016) investigated the role of atmospheric CO2 in causing the satellite-observed vegetative greening of the planet that has been observed since their launch in 1978.

It has long been known that rising CO2 boosts plant productivity and growth, and it is equally well-established that increased levels of atmospheric CO2 reduce plant water needs/requirements, thereby improving their water use efficiency. In consequence of these two benefits, Lu et al. hypothesized that rising atmospheric CO2 is playing a significant role in the observed greening, especially in moisture-limited areas where soil water content is a limiting factor in vegetative growth and function. To test their hypothesis, the three scientists conducted a meta-analysis that included 1705 field measurements from 21 distinct sites from which they evaluated the effects of atmospheric CO2 enrichment on soil water content in both dryland and non-dryland systems.

TransCanada Pushes Ahead with Its NAFTA Complaint

Back in January, I blogged about TransCanada taking legal action under NAFTA-related to the rejection of its Keystone XL pipeline permit application. It is now being reported that TransCanada has taken the next step in the process. This is from Canada’s Financial Post:

TransCanada Corp. made good late Friday on its threat to challenge President Barack Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, filing a request for arbitration under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to recoup US$15 billion in damages from the U.S. government.

In the 42-page document, TransCanada claims the U.S. government “ultimately denied Keystone’s application, not because of any concerns over the merits of the pipeline, but because President Obama wanted to prove his administration’s environmental credentials to a vocal activist constituency that asserted that the pipeline would lead to increased production and consumption of crude oil and, therefore, significantly increased greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions.”

TransCanada further claims that the U.S. administration knew “those assertions were false” and that in fact, “the State Department had issued five environmental impact statements between 2008 and 2015, all of which concluded that the Keystone XL Pipeline would not result in a significant increase in GHG emissions.  The State Department reiterated that conclusion for a sixth time when it denied Keystone’s second application in November 2015.”

As I noted in January, these cases take a long time:

Keep in mind, also, that these investment cases are not quick. We’ll have a new president long before the NAFTA case is completed. If the new president is a Republican, he/she will likely approve Keystone (if TransCanada files a new application). That should end the NAFTA lawsuit (although TransCanada could still claim damages from the delay). If it’s President Clinton/Sanders, though, who both oppose Keystone, we could see a ruling in the case.

Let me amend one aspect of this, however, to take into account Donald Trump. Trump says he would approve Keystone, but only under some absurd conditions:

Donald Trump’s vow to resuscitate the Keystone XL oil pipeline in exchange for a share of its profits has a glaring problem: It risks running afoul of laws against government takings of private property. And even supporters of the project warn that it risks hurting relations with Canada, the nation’s No. 1 oil supplier.

The presumptive Republican nominee has repeatedly pledged to revive the Canada-to-Texas pipeline, a long-standing cause for Republicans in Congress, but Trump has brought a twist. He wants U.S. taxpayers to get a slice of the project’s revenue.

“I want it built, but I want a piece of the profits,” Trump said May 26 before delivering an energy speech to an oil-industry audience in North Dakota. “That’s how we’re going to make our country rich again.”

Trump’s suggestion of taking “a piece of the profits” would likely mean that TransCanada’s claim will go ahead, but with a slightly different factual and legal basis.