Topic: Energy and Environment

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.

A Century of Precipitation Trends in Victoria, Australia

In the debate over CO2-induced global warming, projected impacts on various weather and climate-related phenomena can only be adjudicated with observed data. Even before the specter of dreaded global warming arose, scientists studied historical databases looking for secular changes or stability. With the advent of general circulation climate models, using historical data, scientists can determine whether any observed changes are consistent with the predictions of these models as atmospheric carbon dioxide increases. An example of the pitfalls in such work was recently presented by Rahmat et al. (2015), who set out to analyze precipitation trends over the past century at five locations in Victoria, Australia. More specifically, the authors subjected each data set to a series of statistical tests to “analyze the temporal changes in historic rainfall variability at a given location and to gain insight into the importance of the length of data record” on the outcome of those tests. And what did their analyses reveal?

When examining the rainfall data over the period 1949-2011 it was found that all series had a decreasing trend (toward less rainfall), though the trends were significant for only two of the five stations. Such negative trends, however, were reversed to positive in three of the five stations when the trend analyses were expanded over a longer time domain that encompassed the whole of the 20th century (1900-2011 for four stations and 1909-2011 for the fifth one). In addition, the two stations with statistically significant negative trends during the shorter time period were also affected by the longer analysis. Though their trends remained negative, they were no longer statistically significant when calculated over the expanded 112 years of analysis. In summation, in the expanded analysis the “annual rainfall time series showed no significant trends for any of the five stations.”

In light of the above findings, Rahmat et al. write that “conclusions drawn from this paper point to the importance of selecting the time series data length in identifying trends and abrupt changes,” adding that due to climate variability, “trend testing results might be biased and strongly dependent on the data period selected.” Indeed they can be; and this analysis shows the absolute importance of evaluating climate model projections using data sets that have been in existence for sufficiently long periods of time (century-long or more) that are capable of capturing the variability of climate that occurs naturally. And when such data sets are used, as in the case of the study examined here, it appears that the modern rise in CO2 has had no measurable impact on rainfall trends in Victoria, Australia.



Rahmat, S.N., Jayasuriya, N. and Bhuiyan, M.A. 2015. Precipitation trends in Victoria, Australia. Journal of Water and Climate Change 6: 278-287.

You Ought to Have a Look: Paris Agreement Prospects, EPA Shenanigans, House Says No to a Carbon Tax

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. 

We’ll get right to it.

First up this week is an examination by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) of the prospects of a quick ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement—something that President Obama desperately wants in order to insure that if the next president proves hostile to the Agreement, he won’t be able to derail the whole thing.

While Obama was all smiles when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in town recently discussing cooperation on the climate, Indian officials were quick to point out that we shouldn’t get the wrong idea, stating that India is “unlikely to sign the Agreement this year, or even the next.”

The GWPF analysis takes us through India’s stance was well as the opinions of other countries which are vital to the Agreement’s ratification. Some have ratified it already, while others, like India, aren’t rushing forward.  From the GWPF:

Representing the two largest greenhouse gas emitters, the joint US and Chinese commitment to early entry into force is undoubtedly significant. Nonetheless, the picture becomes significantly more complicated looking at the next two largest emitters: Russia and India. Both countries have indicated that they are prepared to wait before they ratify the Agreement, wanting a clear set of rules and a greater recognition of differentiated responsibilities. The EU process of securing unanimity between 28 member states is likely to mean a significant delay to European ratification. This means that early entry to force is dependent on building a coalition of many smaller countries, a procedure that is likely to be challenging.