A Bacterium That “Eats” Carbon Dioxide…and a Creationist Prediction

A false-color scanning electron microscope image of Escherichia coli. The different colors represent bacteria with different traits.

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are the workhorses of the bacterial world. They are found in every human being and most warm-blooded animals, but they are also found in laboratories all over the world. Because they are easy to care for, reproduce quickly, and have a genome that is reasonably well-understood, they are a popular subject of study among biologists. In addition, they end up producing a lot of chemicals that we need but are unable to produce ourselves. For example, insulin is a protein that all people need, but some people don’t make enough of it (or don’t respond well enough to it) to remain healthy. That leads to diabetes, and one treatment for diabetes is regular insulin injections.

While the insulin in pigs and cattle is close to what we find in people (and was used to treat diabetes for a long time), the best insulin for most diabetics is human insulin. Unfortunately, even with the best technology available, we aren’t good enough chemists to make insulin, but simple organisms like bacteria are. As a result, scientists have learned how to insert the human gene for insulin into a bacterium, which allows the bacterium to do the chemistry for us. As a result, much of the insulin used to treat diabetics today is human insulin produced by E. coli bacteria.

Unlike some species of bacteria, however, E. coli have to eat in order to get the energy and raw materials they need to do that chemistry. This ends up producing carbon dioxide as waste. To reduce the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, then, it would be nice to produce chemicals like insulin from an organism that does not produce carbon dioxide in order to live. There are technical problems with that, however, so right now, diabetic insulin (and many other medically-related chemicals) adds to humanity’s “carbon footprint.” There are two ways to fix this: Either figure out how to use organisms that don’t have to eat (like organisms that make their own food through photosynthesis) or change E. coli so that it doesn’t have to eat.

In a recent study, scientists have been working on the second alternative and have experienced some success. As a byproduct, they have produced something that can be used to test creationism.

Continue reading “A Bacterium That “Eats” Carbon Dioxide…and a Creationist Prediction”

What’s Really Causing Coral Bleaching?

The soft coral colony at the center of the picture is bleached. The corals to the right are not. (click for credit)

Coral are amazing animals. They live in a mutualistic relationship with algae, giving the algae a safe home in exchange for some of the food that the algae make through photosynthesis. The variety of colors seen in a coral reef are a result of this relationship. However, coral sometimes expel their algae, turning white. This is called “coral bleaching,” and it generally happens when the water is warmer than usual. the Australian Marine Conservation informs us:

Coral bleaching is a global crisis, caused by increased ocean temperatures driven by carbon pollution.

This has become a common mantra in the “global warming is going to kill us all” movement, because coral reefs are so fundamentally important to the health of ocean ecosystems. Indeed, it has become so important that if you question what the global-warming alarmists say, it can lead to dire consequences.

Consider, for example, the case of Dr. Peter Ridd. Some of his colleagues at James Cook University published work indicating that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was on the verge of collapse because of global warming. Dr. Ridd dared to question that narrative, pointing out the data that indicate there is nothing unusual about the bleaching events that have been occurring at the Great Barrier Reef and that the reef has about the same amount of healthy coral as it did back in 1985. For that transgression, he was fired. While a court has ruled the firing unlawful, the university plans to appeal the ruling. Regardless of what happens at appeal, it is clear that the firing was anti-science. Criticism of data, even data related to sacred cows such as global warming, is the hallmark of good science. To squelch such criticism is a direct assault on the progress of science.

Of course, the real question is whether or not global warming is a threat to the oceans’ coral reefs. The answer remains unclear, but the balance of the evidence indicates that it is not. For example, one study of the Great Barrier Reef shows that bleaching events were more common several hundred years ago. According to that study, bleaching events hit their peak in the 1850s. There is also some indication that bleaching is an adaptive mechanism and is not necessarily bad for the health of a coral reef.

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There Is Nothing Unusual About the Fires in the Amazon

Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest (not the Amazon region) in 2013 (click for credit)

I had another blog post planned for today, but I decided to put it off because over the weekend, I got three questions regarding the fires in the Amazon. People are concerned, mostly because of irresponsible articles like this one:

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is burning at a record rate, research center says

It’s the classic example of a story that is technically true but absurdly misleading. Indeed, the National Institute for Space Research has never seen the number of forest fires that it is currently seeing in the Amazon. However, as the article notes, that research program started in 2013. So yes, over the past six years, this is the worst year yet. However, if you just broaden your scope a bit, you will see that there is nothing unusual about this year.

While the National Institute for Space Research has only been collecting data about forest fires since 2013, researchers at the Global Fire Emissions Database have been studying them since 2003. That’s almost three times as long. What do their data tell us? Well, all you have to do is go here. It gives you a handy graph that shows you the total count of fires in the Amazon region by year.

To make it stand out, I thickened the green line, which represents this year. As you can see, this year is pretty much dead center compared to the past 16 years. If you go to the link itself, you can put your cursor over the year listed under the graph, and you can see each year clearly. If you do that, you will see that 2003-2007 were all worse than this year, with 2005 setting the record. The data are actually more detailed than this. You can click on areas of the Amazon region on the left part of the website and see data for each region. If you click on “Amazonas,” for example, you will see that a few days in 2019 did set the record in that region.

It’s probably worth noting that many of these fires are caused by people…deliberately. Natural forest fires don’t happen in the Amazon region very often. Most of the fires are being set to clear land for agriculture, and most of them are not in the heavily-forested regions. Also, while you might be worried about deforestation in general, you needn’t be. The latest research indicates the earth has been getting greener since 1982.

UPDATE (08/27/2019): It does seem that there is something unusual happening in the Amazon right now. According to this source:

…the fires were at average levels through to mid August, and then there was a huge uptick.

Why was that? Seems that it started when the farmers in the state of Para declared a “‘dia do fogo,'” or “day of fire” on August 10th. They said they did this in order to show to Bolsonaro that they want to work and that the only way to clear pastures for them to work was with fire (report in Portuguese here), This was spectacularly “successful” and there was an immediate increase in fires which continued through the following weeks.

So there is unusual fire activity right now – more than the standard land-clearing fires for agricultural use. The added fires are the result of political protests.

Forbes Censors Article About a Scientist Who Is Skeptical of Climate Hysteria

Dr. Nir Shaviv speaking in Australia
Dr. Nir J. Shaviv is an astrophysicist of some renown. He has over 100 scientific papers to his credit and is currently chairman of the Racah Institute of Physics at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I think it’s safe to say that Dr. Shaviv knows a thing or two about science and how it is done. One of his specialties is studying the effect that cosmic rays from the sun have on the earth’s climate. So just to make it clear. Dr. Nir Shaviv is a well-respected scientist who has published peer-reviewed research specifically about earth’s climate.

Does this mean we have to believe what Dr. Shaviv says when it comes to earth’s climate? Of course not. However, it does mean that he is a recognized expert in the field. Even when I disagree with experts, I still try to pay attention to what they say and the data they produce, because they know more than I do when it comes to the issue I am investigating. Thus, while I certainly don’t have to agree with the conclusions of any given expert, I do have to at least try to understand the data the expert has collected and why he or she thinks they point to a certain conclusion. If I don’t do that, I am no longer thinking scientifically. After all, the only way you can make a scientific conclusion is to consider all of the data. Ignoring data because I don’t agree with the source is not scientific; it is emotional.

Why am I bringing this up? Because last night, I was scrolling through a news feed and noticed a Forbes article entitled, “Global Warming? An Israeli Astrophysicist Provides Alternative View That Is Not Easy To Reject.” Obviously, that title was very interesting to me, so I clicked on the link. Unfortunately, what I found was a message that said:

After review, this post has been removed for failing to meet our editorial standards.

We are providing our readers the headline, author and first paragraphs in the interest of transparency.

We regret any inconvenience.

This seemed rather odd to me, so I decided to do some digging. What I found did not reflect well on Forbes.

Continue reading “Forbes Censors Article About a Scientist Who Is Skeptical of Climate Hysteria”

Data Indicate That Earth Was Warmer in The Middle Ages

Inferred temperatures for Antarctica as a Whole over the past 1500 years.
(graph from study being discussed)

For some time, climatologists have accepted the fact that from about the year AD 1000 to AD 1200, the temperature of the Northern Hemisphere was unusually warm. In fact, most studies indicate that it was warmer than it is today. This period of warm temperatures has been referred to as the “Medieval Warm Period,” the “Medieval Climate Anomaly,” or the “Medieval Climate Optimum.” A few hundred years later, the Northern Hemisphere experienced cooler-than-normal temperatures, and that part of earth’s history is sometimes called the “Little Ice Age.” Many climatologists argue that both the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age were limited to the Northern Hemisphere. However, a series of studies indicate that these periods of extreme temperatures were experienced worldwide.

I just recently became aware of these studies because the latest one appeared in my news feed. This study used the results of climate proxy data from 60 different sites. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it refers to data that scientists use to attempt to understand climate conditions of the past. Tree rings, for example, are sensitive to temperature and precipitation, so it is thought that we can use them to determine past climate conditions of the region where trees have been growing. Many climate-sensitive things like recorded harvests, coral growth, pollen grains, etc. can be used as climate proxies. The more climate proxies you have for a given region, the more likely you are to be able to determine the local climate conditions over the times for which you have those data.

As I said, the study used proxy data from 60 different sites to reconstruct the temperature of Antarctica over the past 1500 years. The overall graph from the study is given above. As you can see, according to the study, Antarctica was significantly warmer from AD 500 until AD 1250 than it is today. The pink region is the time over which the Northern Hemisphere experienced the Medieval Warm Period, and as you can see, the study’s data indicate that Antarctica was experiencing warmer-than-average temperatures as well. You can also see that those temperatures then fell over the next 750 years or so, producing colder-than-average temperatures. Thus, Antarctica seems to have experienced both the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age.

Continue reading “Data Indicate That Earth Was Warmer in The Middle Ages”

More Global Warming Nonsense

A satellite image of the Great Lakes

One reason the public doesn’t take “climate change” (the disaster previously known as global warming) seriously is because the media report on it so stupidly. Essentially, any bad thing that happens in the world is due to climate change. Consider, for example, the Great Lakes. Their depths started to decline noticeably in the year 2000. In 2007, New Scientist ran a story entitled:

Global warming is shrinking the Great Lakes

This, of course, is exactly what you would think global warming would do. Increased temperatures should increase evaporation rates, causing lake water levels to drop.

Fast forward to today, when the Great Lakes are at record high levels. What could be causing this? Climate change, of course! As PhysicsWorld puts it:

So, what has changed and why have water levels fluctuated so wildly in less than 10 years? Drew Gronewold and Richard Rood of the University of Michigan argue that climate change has disrupted the balance between evaporation and precipitation in the Great Lakes region.

Of course, when one looks at the data (compiled by the NOAA), one sees that there has been no recent “wild fluctuations” in the levels of the Great Lakes. Their levels have varied over the past 100 years, but the variation has not become “wilder” in recent years:

Now I don’t think most people take the time to look at data like those I presented above. However, they do notice desperation when they see it. When the media take great pains to find ways to blame everything on climate change, it is natural for most rational people to start questioning whether or not it is causing anything.

Another Foolish Global Warming Prediction Falsified

A display at the St. Mary Valley Visitor’s Center at Glacier National Park (click for source)

My wife and I go to Montana almost every year to visit family, and we always make at least one trip into Glacier National Park. It is truly magnificent, and if you are in the area, I highly recommend that you visit it. However, be aware that global warming hysteria is presented nearly everywhere in the park. You can’t go into a visitor’s center (or even look at some of the trash cans) without being told that global warming is destroying the glaciers.

While I never noticed the silly sign pictured above, it was apparently in the visitor’s center at St. Mary Valley for several years, but this winter, it was quietly removed. It should be obvious why. The sign says that computer models indicate the glaciers will be gone by next year. However, it’s clear that isn’t going to happen, so they had to do something. Rather than owning up to their mistake and discussing the uncertainties related to global warming, they simply changed the sign. Apparently, it now says that the glaciers will be gone at some unknown time in the future, unless we act quickly to stop global warming.

Now, of course, you might wonder if this was just a mistake. Perhaps a couple of signs got made incorrectly. After all, some signs in Glacier National Park say the glaciers will be gone in 2030. I haven’t heard whether or not those signs have been changed as well. However, we know that it was more than just a couple of signs. It was a sermon preached by at least one of the rangers. Ginna Kelly writes:

During my stay, I talked with Park Ranger Jim Muhlhausen about why the glaciers are disappearing. The reason is climate change. Jim talked about what he sees on a daily basis. “It’s disturbing. You can directly see the effects. The change in vegetation, the reduction in habitat, and the melting of the glaciers.”

The evidence that the glaciers are melting speaks for itself. When the park was founded in 1910, there were 150 glaciers. Today, 25 exist. By 2020, none will exist.

The same nonsense has been reported by other news outlets, such as USA Today.

Of course, the glaciers in Glacier National Park are melting. They have been melting since the end of the Little Ice Age, which was around 1850. Whether or not this is because of natural cycles that have occurred throughout earth’s history, current human activity, or some combination of the two, nobody knows for sure. Thus, it is impossible to give dates for when they will disappear. In fact, it is impossible to know whether or not they will ever disappear. Indeed, my own observations of the glaciers in Glacier National Park (I see it roughly the same time every year) indicate that they have been growing over the past five years, but I am certainly no glaciologist.

What I can say for sure is this: As more nonsensical predictions like this one are made, the less people will actually believe that human-induced global warming is happening. Indeed, past nonsensical predictions could be part of the reason that only a few people rank a candidate’s position on global warming as a major issue when deciding how to vote.

Not long ago, I wrote a post about ignorant people claiming that others are rejecting science. Well, if this is what passes for science these days, I can understand why some reject it!

A Classic Example of Misleading “Journalism”

View of Arkhangelsk, Russia at night (click for credit)

The headline at MSN is ominous:

It was 84 degrees near the Arctic Ocean this weekend as carbon dioxide hit its highest level in human history

Oh no! It’s sweltering in (or at least near) the Arctic! To emphasize the dire nature of this horrible news, the article goes on to say:

Over the weekend, the climate system sounded simultaneous alarms. Near the entrance to the Arctic Ocean in northwest Russia, the temperature surged to 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 Celsius). Meanwhile, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eclipsed 415 parts per million for the first time in human history.

To the average American, who was given a very poor education in both geography and critical thinking, that sounds so bad. It shouldn’t be that warm near the Arctic Ocean, should it? Of course it should! All you have to do is look at a compilation of the weather statistics for the city being discussed (Arkhangelsk, Russia). As you can see, since 1940, the highest temperature recorded at Arkhangelsk was 93.9 F (34.4 C). During that same time period, the highest May temperature was 86.4 F (30.2 C). Both of those are higher than the “alarming” temperature being discussed in the article.

Now these results are for all years since 1940. The recent, “abnormally warm” temperatures caused by global warming are setting those records, right? Wrong. You can click on various years, and you will find that the highest temperature on record (34.4 C) occurred sometime between 1960 and 1980. As you can see, then, there is nothing unusual about it being 84 F near the Arctic Ocean at this time of year. Most people don’t know that, and most people (especially those who blindly accept what the High Priests of Science proclaim) aren’t willing to do any investigation on their own to find out.

Of course, that’s what the author of this article is counting on.

These Climate Scientists Predict Global Cooling

Global Temperatures past, present, and future, according to three climate scientists. (Figure 3 from the study being discussed)

The majority of climate scientists think that global temperatures have risen over the past century mostly because of human activity. However, there are some climate scientists who think that the small changes we have seen in global temperature are mostly the result of natural variations that exist independently of people. Others simply say we don’t have enough information to know how much human activity has played a role in the process. Add to that the unreliability of much of the early data regarding global temperatures, and you end up with a picture that is far more murky than what most media outlets and politicians want you to see.

A recently-published study might help to eventually shed some light on how much human activity affects global temperatures. It comes from four climate scientists in China who are affiliated with The Climate Center of the Zhejiang Meteorologic Bureau, the Earth Science School of Zhejiang University, and the Shanghai Climate Center. They are convinced that the vast majority of the changes we have seen in global temperatures are due to natural variations, and those variations are buffered by the oceans. As a result, they have tried to analyze global temperatures from that perspective.

Since global temperature data sets don’t really agree with one another, they first had to choose which global temperatures they would actually use. They chose the Global Land Surface Temperature Anomaly Index (GLST) as compiled by the NOAA. They then tried to find correlations between those data and the Sea Surface Temperatures (SST) as compiled by the Hadley Climate Center. The correlations they found led them to develop a mathematical equation that would reproduce the GLST data. While the idea of finding a single equation that would fit all the GLST data might seem like an impossible task, it is not. One phrase I often hear from my nuclear chemistry colleagues is, “It only takes four parameters to fit an elephant.” In other words, if you have enough parameters in your equation, you can fit just about anything.

Of course, for something as complex as global temperatures, it takes more than four parameters. In fact, their paper indicates that it took 20. However, with their 20-parameter equation, they were able to reasonably reproduce the global temperature data that they were analyzing. The results can be seen in the image at the top of the post. The jagged, grey line indicates the data, and the smoother, black line indicates the results of their equation. As you can see, it does a pretty good job of fitting the known data.

Does that mean their equation is a good explanation of global temperatures? Not at all. It is simply an equation that has been forced to fit the data. What I find interesting, however, are the temperatures it predicts for the future. According to the equation, the earth has hit its maximum temperature for a while, and over the next 100+ years, the average temperature of the planet will cool. Do I think that prediction is correct? There is no way I can adequately judge that. There are simply too many unknowns in climate science for anyone to make a reliable prediction about what is going to happen in the future. Perhaps we will eventually learn enough about climate science to change that, but right now, the uncertainties simply preclude reasonable predictions.

However, here’s what I will say about this very interesting study: The authors assume that that the vast majority of the temperature variations we have seen are the result of natural processes. If, over the next 30 years, the data continue to fall in line with the predictions of their equation, that will lend more credence to their assumption. If not, that will indicate that either their assumption is wrong, or that some of the natural variations which cause global temperature changes are too long-term to show up in a century’s worth of unreliable temperature data.

Regardless of the outcome, I do think that this paper, while simple in its approach, is a valuable addition to climate science.

Another Reason to Doubt the Global Climate Models

The study discussed in this article was performed in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I am very skeptical of climate models that predict the consequences of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Initially, this was due to my own experience with large-scale computer models. In my early scientific research, I both wrote and used them, so I know how much their results are affected by the assumptions programmed into them. As time has gone on, my skepticism has increased, since it has been demonstrated over and over again that the climate models do not line up with the most relevant data.

Why do the climate models compare so poorly to the appropriate data? Mostly because they contain many assumptions that have not been tested. Typically, these assumptions neglect the idea that the earth has negative feedback mechanisms, which are the hallmark of nearly every well-designed system. As time has gone on, many such negative feedback mechanisms have been found, and they typically run counter to the assumptions programmed into the climate models (see here, here, and here, for example). It seems that a graduate student from the University of Virginia (Stephanie Roe) has found yet another of earth’s negative feedback mechanisms.

There is a lot of dead, decaying matter on the floors of the tropical forests of the world. As that dead matter decomposes, it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Well, decomposition is driven by chemical reactions, and chemical reactions speed up with increasing temperature. So, as the world warms, what should happen to the rate of carbon dioxide produced by decomposition? It should increase, right? That will release more carbon dioxide into the air, which will accelerate warming. This is an example of a positive feedback mechanism. In such a mechanism, a change promotes a process that amplifies the change. This particular positive feedback mechanism is programmed into the climate models that are being used to predict the consequences of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

While that assumption makes perfect sense, the real world often works differently from our simple assumptions. That’s one reason Stephanie Roe decided to test it. She went to Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest, where the US Forest Service set up infrared heaters in different parts of the forest. Those heaters were programmed to keep their surroundings 4 degrees Celsius warmer than the rest of the forest. Those parts of the forest, then, should behave like the tropical forests will behave if the earth warms by an average of 4 degrees. In addition, there were parts of the forest where identical, non-working heaters were placed. They served as control areas – they stayed at the normal temperature of the forest, but they had the physical structures of the heaters present. Roe introduced various kinds of dead matter (both native and non-native) to the forest in both the warmed sections and the control sections. She then collected samples later to test the rate of decomposition in each.

What did she find? She found that the result was precisely opposite of what is programmed into the climate models. The warmed areas of the forests had slower rates of decomposition than the control areas. Why? According to her research, it is because the warmer parts of the forest were drier. The process of decomposition is accelerated strongly by moisture, so the loss of moisture slowed down the decomposition more than the higher temperature sped it up. Thus, according to her research, increased temperatures should reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced by decomposition. This, of course, is an example of a negative feedback mechanism: a change promotes a process that decreases the rate of change. Once again, such mechanisms are the hallmark of designed systems, so it is not surprising that it exists here on earth.

The more we learn about climate, the less confidence I have in the predictions of the climate change doomsayers.