New Studies Increase Confidence in @NASA’s Measure of Earth’s Temperature #ActOnClimate

This animated figure shows the seasonal cycle in global temperature anomalies for every month since 1880. Each line shows how much the global monthly temperature was above or below the annual global mean from 1980–2015. The column on the right lists each year when a new global temperature record was set. These seasonal anomalies are drawn from the Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2) model run by NASA’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office.
Credit; NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens

From NASA (Jessica Merzdorf):

A new assessment of NASA’s record of global temperatures revealed that the agency’s estimate of Earth’s long-term temperature rise in recent decades is accurate to within less than a tenth of a degree Fahrenheit, providing confidence that past and future research is correctly capturing rising surface temperatures.

The most complete assessment ever of statistical uncertainty within the GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP) data product shows that the annual values are likely accurate to within 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit (0.05 degrees Celsius) in recent decades, and 0.27 degrees Fahrenheit (0.15 degrees C) at the beginning of the nearly 140-year record.

This data record, maintained by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City, is one of a handful kept by major science institutions around the world that track Earth’s temperature and how it has risen in recent decades. This global temperature record has provided one of the most direct benchmarks of how our home planet’s climate has changed as greenhouse gas concentrations rise.

The study also confirms what researchers have been saying for some time now: that Earth’s global temperature increase since 1880 – about 2 degrees Fahrenheit, or a little more than 1 degree Celsius – cannot be explained by any uncertainty or error in the data. Going forward, this assessment will give scientists the tools to explain their results with greater confidence.

GISTEMP is a widely used index of global mean surface temperature anomaly — it shows how much warmer or cooler than normal Earth’s surface is in a given year. “Normal” is defined as the average during a baseline period of 1951-80.

NASA uses GISTEMP in its annual global temperature update, in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (In 2019, NASA and NOAA found that 2018 was the fourth-warmest year on record, with 2016 holding the top spot.) The index includes land and sea surface temperature data back to 1880, and today incorporates measurements from 6,300 weather stations, research stations, ships and buoys around the world.

Previously, GISTEMP provided an estimate of uncertainty accounting for the spatial gaps between weather stations. Like other surface temperature records, GISTEMP estimates the temperatures between weather stations using data from the closest stations, a process called interpolation. Quantifying the statistical uncertainty present in those estimates helped researchers to be confident that the interpolation was accurate.

“Uncertainty is important to understand because we know that in the real world we don’t know everything perfectly,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of GISS and a co-author on the study. “All science is based on knowing the limitations of the numbers that you come up with, and those uncertainties can determine whether what you’re seeing is a shift or a change that is actually important.”

The study found that individual and systematic changes in measuring temperature over time were the most significant source of uncertainty. Also contributing was the degree of weather station coverage. Data interpolation between stations contributed some uncertainty, as did the process of standardizing data that was collected with different methods at different points in history.

After adding these components together, GISTEMP’s uncertainty value in recent years was still less than a tenth of a degree Fahrenheit, which is “very small,” Schmidt said.

The team used the updated model to reaffirm that 2016 was very probably the warmest year in the record, with an 86.2 percent likelihood. The next most likely candidate for warmest year on record was 2017, with a 12.5 percent probability.

“We’ve made the uncertainty quantification more rigorous, and the conclusion to come out of the study was that we can have confidence in the accuracy of our global temperature series,” said lead author Nathan Lenssen, a doctoral student at Columbia University. “We don’t have to restate any conclusions based on this analysis.”

Another recent study evaluated GISTEMP in a different way that also added confidence to its estimate of long-term warming. A paper published in March 2019, led by Joel Susskind of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, compared GISTEMP data with that of the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), onboard NASA’s Aqua satellite.

GISTEMP uses air temperature recorded with thermometers slightly above the ground or sea, while AIRS uses infrared sensing to measure the temperature right at the Earth’s surface (or “skin temperature”) from space. The AIRS record of temperature change since 2003 (which begins when Aqua launched) closely matched the GISTEMP record.

Comparing two measurements that were similar but recorded in very different ways ensured that they were independent of each other, Schmidt said. One difference was that AIRS showed more warming in the northernmost latitudes.

“The Arctic is one of the places we already detected was warming the most. The AIRS data suggests that it’s warming even faster than we thought,” said Schmidt, who was also a co-author on the Susskind paper.

Taken together, Schmidt said, the two studies help establish GISTEMP as a reliable index for current and future climate research.

“Each of those is a way in which you can try and provide evidence that what you’re doing is real,” Schmidt said. “We’re testing the robustness of the method itself, the robustness of the assumptions, and of the final result against a totally independent data set.”

In all cases, he said, the resulting trends are more robust than what can be accounted for by any uncertainty in the data or methods.

Access the paper here.

#Drought news: Colorado is officially drought free — The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Chris Bianchi):

As of Thursday’s official drought monitor update from the Department of Agriculture, the entire state of Colorado is out of drought conditions for the first time since the Aug. 28, 2017 update.

There is a tiny sliver of Colorado – 0.01% of the state’s total landmass – that is officially experiencing “abnormally dry” conditions. But, that tiny area is not considered to be in a drought.

In fact, according to Colorado Climate Center meteorologist Becky Bolinger, Colorado is now experiencing the lowest level of abnormally dry and drought conditions statewide since the drought monitor started nearly two decades ago.

This rapid recovery – more than half of Colorado was in a drought just a few months ago – is almost entirely the product of one of the biggest winters in Colorado’s recent memory, both in terms of mountain snowfall and abundant precipitation along the Front Range and throughout eastern Colorado…

After a horrendous 2018 summer and early fall wildfire season, along with depleted reservoirs in the mountains, the news is especially welcome for a wide range of recreational, tourism and agricultural interests.


3 tips for minding your outdoor manners this summer — News on TAP

Denver Water makes some of its land available for recreation, but please don’t feed the bears. The post 3 tips for minding your outdoor manners this summer appeared first on News on TAP.

via 3 tips for minding your outdoor manners this summer — News on TAP

Sparking interest in the mystery and magic of water in our lives – News on TAP

The sixth annual Denver Metro Water Festival drew 1,300 students from across the metro area.

Source: Sparking interest in the mystery and magic of water in our lives – News on TAP

Giving up the ski town dream — Katie Klingsporn

Originally posted on March 18 in Adventure Journal. I tried to make it. I really did. But from the beginning, Telluride seemed too good to be true. Like that sexy, dangerous girlfriend your parents don’t approve of. The one they know you’ll come to your senses about, grow up and move on from. It a […]

via Giving up the ski town dream — Katie Klingsporn

150 years after John Wesley Powell ventured down the #ColoradoRiver, how should we assess his legacy in the west? — @WaterEdFdn #COriver #aridification #Powell150 @MajorJWPowell

Western Water Q&A: University of Colorado’s Charles Wilkinson on Powell, water and the American west

From Gary Pitzer writing for the Water Education Foundation (Click through for the photo gallery.)

Explorer John Wesley Powell and Paiute Chief Tau-Gu looking over the Virgin River in 1873. Photo credit: NPS

Powell scrawled those words in his journal as he and his expedition paddled their way into the deep walls of the Grand Canyon on a stretch of the Colorado River in August 1869. Three months earlier, the 10-man group had set out on their exploration of the iconic Southwest river by hauling their wooden boats into a major tributary of the Colorado, the Green River in Wyoming, for their trip into the “great unknown,” as Powell described it.

Powell’s trip down the Colorado River and his subsequent account are a staple of the history of the American West and a key moment in the understanding of the region’s geology and hydrology. One hundred and fifty years after Powell and his party began their trip on May 24, 1869, the magnitude of his accomplishment remains fascinating. After enduring a harrowing ride through pounding rapids while surviving on near-starvation rations, six exhausted men emerged from the 930-mile journey on Aug. 30, 1869. (One man quit after a month, while three others departed on Aug. 28, never to be seen again.) Powell would return in 1871 for a second trip.

University of Colorado Professor Emeritus Charles Wilkinson has written about Powell and his legacy, including the foreword to an upcoming book on Powell by a collection of contributors called “Vision & Place: John Wesley Powell & Reimagining the Colorado River Basin.” Wilkinson described the Western icon and one-armed Civil War veteran as a complex character, a larger-than-life person and an early visionary of wise water use in an arid West. Powell, the second director of the U.S. Geological Survey, “could be viewed as an early climate scientist,” according to USGS’ official biography, because of his belief that lands west of the 100th meridian were not generally suitable for agricultural development but for a small percentage. He advocated for organizing settlements around water and watersheds, which would encourage collaboration and local control and force water users to conserve.

“I tell you gentlemen you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not enough water to supply the land,” Powell told an audience of farmers and developers in October 1893, a year before he resigned from the USGS.

Wilkinson spoke recently with Western Water about Powell and his legacy and how Powell might view the Colorado River today.

WW: How did you first become acquainted with Powell’s story?

CHARLES WILKINSON: A lot of people of my vintage give the same answer, which is Wallace Stegner’s book. (“Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West.”) I proceeded to read about half of Stegner’s other works in a month. Finally, I wrote him a letter. He said come down and we’ll talk, and we became close friends. [Former Secretary of the Interior] Bruce Babbitt said Stegner’s book was the “rock that came through the window” for him, and I think Powell is somebody you can look at that way. He opened so much for us. He was the Lewis and Clark of the Southwest. The country didn’t know about the region and Powell picked up so much information about it.

WW: What’s the context in which we view Powell and his journey today?

Route of Powell’s
expedition with key locations noted via OARS Outfitters. Used with permission

WILKINSON: It’s the specifics of going down the canyon — the sense of daring, bravery, ambition and looking out into the future. Along the way, he’s meeting with Indian tribes, Hispanic communities, Mormon communities and so you are starting to get a sense of land-based people and diverse societies. Powell believed in cooperation in water policy and public land policy. On the public land side, he had ideas about homesteading. He favored it, but the problem in the mid-19th century was the big combines were the ones benefiting because they would find ways to buy up homestead land and make money out of it. Also, there was this notion that the U.S. wanted everyone to move west and there were a whole lot of people coming out saying, ‘there’s no rain out here through the summer’ and everything was brown instead of green. Powell favored a truth-in-lending approach toward homesteading so that potential homesteaders knew what they were in for.

WW: What did Powell contribute to our modern thinking about water in the West?

A stopover during Powell’s second expedition down the Colorado River. Note Powell’s chair at top center boat. Image: USGS

WILKINSON: David Getches [former dean of the University of Colorado Law School] wrote the best legal book about the Colorado River and he called for community governance, but he got that from Powell. The idea of the people of the watershed and the different large river tributaries being communities and being able to have their own values evidenced in land policy and water policy really dates to Powell. Would Powell be an environmentalist? Not exclusively in any way explicitly. He was kind of just before John Muir … and during his formative years … environmentalism in any modern sense hadn’t come about yet. He never would have argued for using every drop of the river, but he thought agriculture was the future of the West, the Jeffersonian ideal, and so he saw Western rivers and the Colorado River watershed as having a lot of diversions from it for agriculture.

WW: Does the attention paid to Powell’s story come at the expense of others?

John Wesley Powell

WILKINSON: When we talk about Powell, we talk about what he had to offer us. One was intellectual ambition. Powell came up with comprehensive plans for the settlement of the West that were beyond what anyone was thinking. He did think big. He thought big about going down the river in the first place. His policy proposals were easily the most important work done in the 19th century in terms of Western land. He was a man who refused to have any limitations to his intellect and there wasn’t any idea he didn’t want to take on. He wanted to take on the biggest and toughest ones he could find.

With Indians, it’s a big subject and as a starting point, I think you have to say Powell had a very unfortunate impact on Indian policy. He was the head of the Bureau of Ethnology and his ethnologies were very patronizing. He didn’t think of governance for tribes. Of course, today, tribes are known as sovereign. He has these immense proposals of different kinds for how to govern Western lands and paid a lot of attention to water rights generally, but he never proposed any right for tribes, so this is a black mark against him.

WW: How would he view the issues that exist on the Colorado River today?

WILKINSON: We had [with the Drought Contingency Plan] a partial approach toward reconciling Upper Basin and Lower Basin water interests and I think Powell would have liked that very much because it fits with his idea of local government and people of the watershed making decisions. He favored reclamation, and the Reclamation Act of 1902 was partly his work. But I can’t help but feel that the way it spun out of control with so much development on so many rivers, that he would have thought it was out of proportion. But who can say?

The best way to go about Powell is to recognize his general philosophical position and be inspired that somebody could do so much conceptualizing about what the West ought to be. It tells us that we should think big. His belief in science is something we should really respect. He was the person who started the use of public science in American natural resource management, and that’s an example of a person thinking big.

LEARN MORE about John Wesley Powell’s life and accomplishments here

Reach Gary Pitzer:, Twitter: @gary_wef
Know someone else who wants to stay connected with water in the West? Encourage them to sign up for Western Water, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

@EPA finalizes near-term plan for cleanup at the Bonita Peak Superfund site: This summer’s work aims to reduce the flow of acid mine drainage

Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

From The Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Denver Post:

The work includes dredging contaminated sediment from streams and ponds, diverting water away from tainted mine waste piles and covering contaminated soil at campgrounds.

The agency first outlined the plan last June and finalized it Thursday.

This summer’s work is aimed at reducing the volume of toxic heavy metals that escape from mining sites and into rivers while the EPA searches for a more comprehensive solution under the Superfund program…

The Gold King is not on the list of 23 sites chosen for this summer’s work. The EPA installed a temporary treatment plant below the Gold King two months after the spill, and it’s still cleaning up wastewater flowing from the mine.

Two of the 23 sites are campgrounds, and three are parking areas or places where people meet for tours. The EPA plans to cover contaminated rocks and soil at those sites with gravel or plant vegetation to reduce the chance of human exposure and keep contaminants from being kicked into the air.

Besides the dredging work, the EPA will dig ditches and berms to keep rain, melting snow and mine wastewater from reaching piles of contaminated waste rock and carrying pollutants into streams.

The initial project will cost about $10 million and take up to five years, the agency said.

The EPA said last year the initial cleanup would include 26 sites. But three mines were removed from the list because work will be done there later.