How did they know the global average temperature in 1880? -a curious science follower
A question by Anonymous
Great question! Simplest answer: thermometers. Simple instruments such as thermometers and barometers have been used for centuries. Governments began to collect data from these instruments beginning in the early 1700s. (There are early data sets, but these focused on local or route specific locations rather than globally. For example, shipping companies collected ocean temperatures during the 1600s along specific routes to report conditions to insurance companies.).
The old-school instruments were placed in locations all around the world (locations ranged from trees, church steeples and clocks, tall poles, cliff faces, to just stuck in the ground). Governments collected the temperatures typically for military, farming, and shipping purposes.
The U.S. Weather Bureau, established in 1735, was sporadically managed by a few individual states (rather than the Federal Government). The bureau collected local information - not global.
In 1814, the U.S. Federal Government established the U.S.’s first nation wide weather service. Army doctors and ‘war’ hospitals were instructed to keep diaries of local weather. But, again, this was not a global system.
In 1870, President Ulysses Grant established the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS):
The beginning of the National Weather Service we know today started on February 9th, 1870, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed a joint resolution of Congress authorizing the Secretary of War to establish a national weather service. This resolution required the Secretary of War:
“to provide for taking meteorological observations at the military stations in the interior of the continent and at other points in the States and Territories…and for giving notice on the northern (Great) Lakes and on the seacoast by magnetic telegraph and marine signals, of the approach and force of storms”
After much thought and consideration, it was decided that this agency would be placed under the Secretary of War because military discipline would probably secure the greatest promptness, regularity, and accuracy in the required observations. Via NOAA
The NWS worked internationally. It collected data from its own instruments, and also from data shared by other countries, such as Denmark, France, India, and the U.K.
The NWS’s information was collected over time, and digitized into big data sets. These sets are used today!
The chart below shows temperature data over 1,000 years. (NOTE: This chart is from wikipedia entry “Temperature record of the past 1,000 years." I do not endorse this chart. I’m posting for illustrative purposes to help answer anon’s question about records from 1880).
Note the black line (far right). It shows collected instrument data from 1850 to 2004. Data prior to 1850 is collected by climate proxies.
Finally, if you’re interested, you can read about the weather data sets collected in the 1850s. This paper, Uncertainty estimates in regional and global observed temperature changes: a new dataset from 1850, covers the history of that data, as well as issues with using it in modern climate models.
Hope that helps!
The Year the Monarch Didn't Appear
The precipitous loss of native vegetation [to agriculture] across the United States has led to a dramatic decline of insect populations.
This year, for or the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.
It is only the latest bad news about the dramatic decline of insect populations.
Another insect in serious trouble is the wild bee, which has thousands of species. Nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids are implicated in their decline, but even if they were no longer used, experts say, bees, monarchs and many other species of insect would still be in serious trouble.
That’s because of another major factor that has not been widely recognized: the precipitous loss of native vegetation across the United States.
“There’s no question that the loss of habitat is huge,” said Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, who has long warned of the perils of disappearing insects. “We notice the monarch and bees because they are iconic insects,” he said. “But what do you think is happening to everything else?”
A big part of it is the way the United States farms. As the price of corn has soared in recent years, driven by federal subsidies for biofuels, farmers have expanded their fields. That has meant plowing every scrap of earth that can grow a corn plant, including millions of acres of land once reserved in a federal program for conservation purposes.
Related to Obama’s voracious support for ethanol. See my earlier post on how the president’s policies supporting ethanol fuel is devastating conservation land across the United States.
Tens of thousands of cattle feared dead after South Dakota storm
Excellent reporting by Carey Gillam of Reuters. Gillam dives into how the ranchers and families will cope with the losses. The federal government shut down comes into play, as does a tax-payer subsidized bailout for their losses under the - imo - ridiculously bloated and unfairly skewed US Farm Bill.
The story of why nearly 100,000 head of cattle perished is a complicated one, one not just due to freak weather. And Gillam really nails it.
Swirling snow lodged in some of the animals’ lungs, suffocating them. Hypothermia killed more. And others were caught in gullies, or plunged off slickened rock ledges, livestock experts said.
"I’ve been in this business 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Jobgen, who estimated her family lost nearly half of its herd of 350 when the storm swept through October 3-5. “The vision of seeing all these cattle dead is something you can’t wipe out of our eyes.”
South Dakota had the sixth-largest cattle herd in the United States with some 3.85 million head in January 2013, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Most of those are in the western part of the state, where the storm struck, leaving carcasses strewn on the Plains and hitting ranchers with tens of millions of dollars in losses.
What are your thoughts on vegetarianism/veganism? Especially taking into consideration the possibility of a (worsening) global food crisis.
A question by Anonymous
I generally avoid food posts, but am interested in the infrastructure that supports food systems.
One part of my current contract with USAID is a resilient wheat project in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is the 6th largest wheat producer in the world and mostly exports to east and central Europe, the Caucuses, and Asia.
Farmers there are facing three main issues: extreme temperature swings, which are increasing in frequency and causing terrible economic havocs; when to plant their crop, a problem because the planting timing and growing seasons are shifting; and shortage of storage silos for the wheat, especially in bumper seasons.
This last part - where to store the wheat - is probably the biggest issue developing countries (DCs) face with respect to dealing with climate impacted growing seasons. The farmers in Kazakhstan don’t trust the government, nor their seasonal forecastings. Nor do they (generally) reliably purchase crop insurance. So, the farmers tend to plant “when my neighbor plants,” put their finger to the wind, and hope for a good season. It’s very risky, and very unstable. They lose when there is a bad year, due to bad timing of planting, storms, droughts, etc.
But, and back to your question-ish, some years produce so much wheat that the farmers actually lose money. The reason is two fold. First, they lose on market price. The market price goes down when there is an abundance of wheat, it goes up when there is a shortage. The other problem with high-volumes is that there’s no storage system or infrastructure to support a storage system. Thus, all the silos get filled very quickly when all farmers produce record crops - when the silos are filled, the wheat is literally thrown away.
Tl;dnr, “the food crisis” is typically not due to a bad weather year, but due to inefficiencies in distribution. There’s plenty of food grown in the world. Climate change will affect the patterns of growth, but not to such an extent that the systems cannot adapt and adjust.
Getting crops from farm to table is the real issue…
Check out the UN’s Food Security program for more.
Not All Industrial Food Is Evil
Mark Bittman visits an industrial tomato farm in California. I like that he swipes at ‘heirloom’ tomatoes. But his admiration for sustainable farming permeates the entire piece.
I’VE long wondered how producing a decent ingredient, one that you can buy in any supermarket, really happens. Take canned tomatoes, of which I probably use 100 pounds a year. It costs $2 to $3 a pound to buy hard, tasteless, “fresh” plum tomatoes, but only half that for almost two pounds of canned tomatoes that taste much better. How is that possible?
The answer lies in a process that is almost unimaginable in scope without seeing it firsthand. So, fearing the worst — because we all “know” that organic farming is “good” and industrial farming is “bad” — I headed to the Sacramento Valley in California to see a big tomato operation.
I began by touring Bruce Rominger’s farmin Winters. With his brother Rick and as many as 40 employees, Rominger farms around 6,000 acres of tomatoes, wheat, sunflowers, safflower, onions, alfalfa, sheep, rice and more. Unlike many Midwestern farm operations, which grow corn and soy exclusively, here are diversity, crop rotation, cover crops and, for the most part, real food — not crops destined for junk food, animal feed or biofuel. That’s a good start.