Saturday, January 26, 2008

State Street is ready for the Line

While one can normally count on State Street to be a bastion of conformity and bourgeois manners, not withstanding the antics of tourists and occasional juvenile hijinks. But today was a day of small revelations. On a day like this one, we can again imagine a town ready for art and conversation.

Outside of Barnes and Noble there was Greg, whose busking talent lay (literally) at his feet: a dog, a cat, and a rat in blissful harmony. Greg is energetic, enthusiastic, and likes to talk about which YouTube video does his pets the most justice.

About the time I ran into Greg, it began to rain. Here is the problem. It began to rain, a serious squall, but the sun shone brightly and not a single cloud darkened the sky. Pedestrians stood and stared at the sky. A young girl threw her arms up and cried "It cannot be raining, it just can't!" Five minutes later the rain stopped. 

Each of us on the street had a new answer to the old Creedence song, "Have you ever seen the rain?" (coming down on a sunny day).  

That's a big "yes."

Further up the street, now in the bright sun, couples and families were sitting out at Andersons bakery. A street performer, probably homeless, carrying a guitar, went from table to table passing out five-dollar bills. The first one he gave to a young girl, who showed it to her father. "It's real." He handed it back to her. The second on he laid on a table of another family. The third he gave to a couple, who tried to give it back.

"Take it," he ordered. "That's the last of my money. The final 15 dollars in my pocket. Now it's up to my guitar to save me."  

He strode away toward the Art Museum, challenging pedestrians to listen to a new song of his. We all watched him go, I was wondering what medication had he forgotten to take today. Come supper time, he'd likely want his 15 dollars back.  

The spectacle of street-people giving money away on a rainy-sunny day made the stroll up State Street just about perfect.   What with the dog-cat-rat, all it needs now is a lightblueline.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Note 2 from DC: Uncertainty in our Climate Understanding

Tom Karl, Director of the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) at NOAA, began his talk with the problem that human-induced climate change brings for our understanding of the climate system.

"For the first time," he noted, "the current climate observations are no longer reliably connected with the record from the past." 

What this means is that the uncertainties that human-induced climate change bring for our future global climate also have impacts on our current ability to use historical climate information to understand the future. As we venture into what can only be called a "new climate" the lessons we have from the "old climate" are less reliable.

This is another reason to be "climate conservatives." We need to help preserve the climate we were born into, to pass on to our children the benefits of this climate and also the benefits of knowing how to predict weather and other climate extremes.

Karl notes that models predict for the US that a day so hot it occurs once every 20 years will, by 2100 become a one in 2 year event.

Another projection about the weather is that the really heavy rainfall days... the types of storms that flood Santa Barbara, that might occur once every 20 years will occur once every 8 years by 2100. 

Note from DC: The Case for a Climate Service

I'm listening to Chet Koblinsky, Director of the Climate Program Office at NOAA ,talk about the need for a nation "Climate Service" along the lines of the weather service. He began by pointing out how extreme events in our weather increasing need to be attributed to either normal forcings or to forcings due to change in the longer term climate. We have a greater predictive understanding of the longer term climate trends, but not a lot of current knowledge on how to pin today's weather to these trends. Recently, Congress, following the lead of mayors and governors who have demanded more information on regional and local climate information, is moving toward the idea of a comprehensive climate information service for the national need.

NOAA spends about 250 million dollars a year on climate science and information. Much of this is spent on maintaining observation posts and information streams. The remainder is spent on analysis, modeling, and information services to the public. 

In order to fill the emerging need for a climate service, NOAA would need to expand its ability to assemble and predict climate features at the regional level. This means creating new observation capabilities and also models with higher resolution (a major computer challenge). 

Because climate research and information services are also done at NASA and other agencies, the proposed service would need to be a multi-agency effort. A good example of a prototype for this service is the National Integrated Drought Information Service that the Western Governors Association requested in the late 1990s. Authorized by Congress in 2006, this service provides regional predictions for drought across the US.

So we can look ahead to NOAA and other agencies that are compiling global climate and weather information to come together to provide governors, mayors, and other decision makers with the regional climate information they need... 

more soon