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Keeping Track of Energy with Useful Websites

Crowd-Sourcing Your Energy 

Though Wattzon has been around for over a year now, it’s a website that you should keep going back to. As one of the many ingenious ideas of inventor extraordinaire (and MacArthur Fellow, we might add) Saul Griffiths, this is a place where you can track with pretty reliable crowd-sourced accuracy exactly how much energy you use.

Going beyond some of the generic carbon footprint calculators that are sprinkled around the Internet, Wattzon sums all the energy you use in a year, regardless of the power source. This is, admittedly, one step removed from the concern of increasing carbon dioxide emissions that are a byproduct of fossil-fuel based energy sources. But getting this fairly complete perspective on personal power usage is a good way to identify areas where individuals can trim their energy consumption.


Check out Griffith’s talk from PopTech a couple years ago. It’s an illustrative look at both the complexity and the value of projects like Wattzon. And kudos to him for showing his math throughout the presentation; it’s always helpful to see exactly how figures of energy and power are calculated.

New Energy Bulletin on the Block

Speaking of energy, there aren’t too many places on the Internet where you can go for a comprehensive look at energy news and information. Yes, there are the run-of-the-mill Google and Yahoo news aggregators, but they cast an awfully wide net and it can be hard to tell whether the stories co...


Climate in Context: Facing Off With Climate Skeptics; Arctic Ice Melting Affects Phytoplankton

Schneider, 1: Skeptics, 0

Shortly before his untimely death in July at the age of 65, Stephen Schneider, a renowned climate scientist from Stanford University, fielded questions from a room full of climate change skeptics in Sydney, Australia. As part of the television show Insight, on Australia’s SBS public broadcasting network, Schneider faced a barrage of questions about the existence of man-made climate change and uncertainties in climate science from an audience of non-scientists. And one by one, Schneider managed to fend off their doubts with clear and concise (and for the most part, patient) answers on what the scientific evidence shows. It even seems that by the end of the hour-long show, he managed to change the minds of some of those in the audience.

Click to view the episode of Insight with Stephen Schneider. Credit: SBS.

We put this in the same category as the Skeptical Science iPhone app – a great resource when you’re not sure what to say to your friends who say that yesterday’s snowfall is proof that the Earth isn’t getting hotter.

Arctic Phytoplankton Bloom Changes with Melting Sea Ice

Considering their small size (microscopic, actually), phytoplankton sure are getting a lot of attention these days. Recent research has suggested that large swaths of these tiny plant-like marine microbes have been wiped out in recent decades, possibly due to rising ocean temperatures. Now, a new study has found that earlier summer melting of Arctic se...


Microscopic Evidence of a Warming World

By Michael D. Lemonick

Much of the skepticism about whether humans are causing climate change would probably go away if only the Neanderthals had invented a good, reliable thermometer. Whenever someone announces that this year or that season was the warmest or the third warmest or whatever on record, “on record” only goes back to the late 1800’s at best. That’s when accurate instrument measurements of temperature began. To obtain readings from before that time, scientists have to rely on proxy measurements — things like tree rings or pollen deposits or oxygen-isotope ratios that change as temperature changes. The famous (or infamous) “Hockey Stick” graph showing temperatures shooting up during the second half of the last century after hundreds of years of relative stability is based almost entirely on proxies — and records from ancient ice cores push the temperature record back hundreds of thousands of years further.

Drawings of different types
of foraminifera. Credit: NOAA.

With a few small exceptions, proxies for the past thousand years or so are in broad agreement regarding temperature trends, and now one more has been reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters — but there’s a twist.

This proxy involves the shells of tiny sea creatures called foraminifera, or forams, which lived and died in the bottom waters of the Lower St. Lawrence Estuary, in eastern Canada. The shells are made of calcium carbonate, which contains oxygen drawn from the su...


Climate in Context: Can Wildfires Worsen Climate Change? Hermine Soaks Texas, Igor Lurks in Atlantic

By Michael D. Lemonick and Andrew Freedman

Can Wildfires Worsen Climate Change?

Global warming is the most direct consequence of human-generated greenhouse gases, but it’s what the warming triggers—rising seas, melting ice, extreme weather and more—that actually causes the problems scientists worry about. One more item on that list is an increase in wildfires. This summer’s wildfires in Russia are just an example, they say, of what could be an all too common occurrence by later this century.

But if fires are a secondary effect of warming, there’s yet another, tertiary effect that’s now emerging into the scientific consciousness. Massive fires can send superheated air rising through the atmosphere, and under the right conditions, these rising columns of air can create so-called pyrocumulonimbus clouds that can reach all the way into the stratosphere. The clouds, called pyroCbs for short, can literally turn into artificial thunderstorms (cumulonimbus is the name given to typical thunderstorm clouds), or they can turbocharge existing storms.

A pyrocumulus cloud rises from the 2009 Station
Fire in California. Credit: Wikipedia Commons.

Now, thanks to a new investigation out of the Naval Research Laboratory it turns out that pyroCbs can also inject smoke particles into the stratosphere—particles that can augment the heating effect of greenhouse gases. Until recently, atmospheric scientists assumed that the atmospheric layer known as the tropopause, which se...


Climate in Context: Arctic Sea Ice Melt Season Winding Down; Irrigating the Climate

By Michael D. Lemonick and Andrew Freedman

Daily Arctic sea ice extent as of September 6, 2010, along with daily ice extents for years with the four lowest minimum extents. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Arctic Sea Ice Melt Season Winding Down, Ice Extent Now Third Lowest in Satellite Record

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colo. announced today that Arctic sea ice extent had declined to the third lowest in the satellite record, surpassing last year's seasonal minimum. However, sea ice extent is not as low as it was in 2007, when the seasonal minimum shattered records, and with just about two weeks remaining in the melt season, a new record low is not expected this year. According to the NSIDC, ice extent during the month of August was the second lowest in the satellite record, after 2007. 

Notably, both the famed Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route are currently described as "largely free of ice," and the NSIDC reports that there are at least two expeditions that are attempting to take advantage of these conditions to accomplish a historical feat: circumnavigating the Arctic Ocean. One of the ships is helmed by the Norwegian explorer Borge Ousland, while the other – the Peter I yacht – hails from Russia.

According to NSIDC:

Average ice extent for August was 5.98 million square kilometers (2.31 million square miles), 1.69 million square kilometers (653,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 averag...



Longer Heat Streaks Across the U.S. The length of annual heat streaks — the number of consecutive hot days — is increasing in these cities.

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