Tree Torture Labs

Two visually striking experiments are attempting to find out how trees will respond to climate change:  Sevilleta LTER, and Aspen FACE at Michigan Technological University. These science experiments invoke several recent landscape architecture projects, but are purely functional.

Sevilleta LTER

But we have to kill the trees to understand how they die. Not a lot of them, just a few.”  “We need to understand the mechanistic side if we’re going to model the effects of climate on a large scale, we need to understand why and where trees die. When we can do that accurately, we’ll have a shot at knowing the broader effects.– Nate McDowell

The experiments at Sevilleta focus on Pinon-Juniper woodlands of New Mexico and are subject to several experiments by researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory (U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science’s Program for Ecosystem Research).

To observe the impact of higher temperatures, 18 trees are wrapped in 15′ tall plastic cylinders with heaters that keeps the temperature about 7 degrees warmer than ambient conditions to simulate the predicted climate of 2100.

more images at

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Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project

Richard A. Muller shares the findings of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project in an NYTimes Op-Ed. Dr. Muller was a vocal critic of the IPCC and earlier climate change research, but the project finds that human carbon emissions are the entire cause of observed change in the climate over the past 250 years! (The IPCC only stated the link was for the past 50 years.)

…studied issues raised by skeptics: biases from urban heating (we duplicated our results using rural data alone), from data selection (prior groups selected fewer than 20 percent of the available temperature stations; we used virtually 100 percent), from poor station quality (we separately analyzed good stations and poor ones) and from human intervention and data adjustment (our work is completely automated and hands-off)…

How definite is the attribution to humans? The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect — extra warming from trapped heat radiation. These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism, but they raise the bar: to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as carbon dioxide does. Adding methane, a second greenhouse gas, to our analysis doesn’t change the results. Moreover, our analysis does not depend on large, complex global climate models, the huge computer programs that are notorious for their hidden assumptions and adjustable parameters. Our result is based simply on the close agreement between the shape of the observed temperature rise and the known greenhouse gas increase.

The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic -

What about the future? As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the temperature should continue to rise. I expect the rate of warming to proceed at a steady pace, about one and a half degrees over land in the next 50 years, less if the oceans are included. But if China continues its rapid economic growth (it has averaged 10 percent per year over the last 20 years) and its vast use of coal (it typically adds one new gigawatt per month), then that same warming could take place in less than 20 years.

Science is that narrow realm of knowledge that, in principle, is universally accepted. I embarked on this analysis to answer questions that, to my mind, had not been answered. I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.

So what do we do next? My money and scholarly efforts are focused on developing site and municipal scale solutions to reduce emissions, increase energy/locational efficiency, and improve the resilience of our cities. But what about the bottom billion and the majority of humanity that isn’t historically responsible for climate change (yet will bear the brunt of the impacts) – there are plenty of efforts that working to improve their standard of living (health, education, food/energy security) while reducing our global footprint. Policy is a huge factor, but don’t count on either national or global consensus or action – the polical/economic forces of the status quo have too much to loose (see ‘Canada’s oil, the world’s carbon‘) – humanity has too much to loose by inaction.

More findings

  1. Berkeley Earth Temperature Averaging Process (commonly referred to as the “Methods” paper) and its appendix
  2. Influence of Urban Heating on the Global Temperature Land Average
  3. Earth Atmospheric Land Surface Temperature and Station Quality in the United States
  4. Decadal Variations in the Global Atmospheric Land Temperatures
  5. A New Estimate of the Average Earth Surface Land Temperature Spanning 1753 to 2011 & their dataset

via The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic –

Books – summer 2011

As I pack up my UMN office, there are piles of books that are worth sharing, before they go into a box. Here are just a few of them in no particular order:

Heat Islands: Understanding and Mitigating Heat in Urban Areas

by Lisa Gartland (Earthscan 2008)

This is a well researched and comprehensive book that explores methods of shrinking the urban heat island. It’s worth noting that Gartland provides the best explanation of albedo and emissivity I’ve yet to encounter. Where the book falls short, is it doesn’t consider going against the status quo of development and engineering practices (i.e. increasing density, or narrower streets), instead just discusses using different low albedo/pervious materials and the usual fixes.

Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning

by Timothy Beatley (Island Press  2011)

A slim volume that lays out the philosophical case for creating living cities. Doesn’t get bogged down in the technical details or process, and occasionally falls into thinking that biomimicry or a pretty garden equals a fully functioning and resilient ecosystem. Overall a good introduction to the concepts of eco-cities.

Addicted to Energy: A venture capitalist’s perspective on how to save our economy and our climate

by Elton Sherwin (Energy House 2010)

Unique among the dozens of big picture saving the planet books I’ve read over the last two years. The book is framed as a letter to a governor, which allows for discussion of policy and regulations at the state level. The author also uses examples from his personal life to keep the book from becoming too dry. Very well researched, and a good introduction for business minded folks that need the economic case made for changing their own/corporate behaviors.

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