The heat of global warming could run the world for 300 years

Since 1961, the world’s oceans have stored enough extra heat energy to meet all of the world’s power needs for 300 years (at 2008 consumption rates).

Here’s how I got to that figure.

I’ve been to a couple of climate science talks recently here in climate science central (Boulder, CO). The big topic these days is extreme weather. Warmer global climate means more heat energy in surface water and air to fuel stronger storms. What none of the scientists seemed to be able to tell me was how much more heat energy (other than “a lot” or “on the order of nuclear weapons”).

So I flipped to the 2007 IPCC report and found a disappointing figure:

The world’s oceans warmed by 0.5 degrees Celsius between 1961 and 2003.

Oo, half a degree. Big whoop. Well, you and I know that water stores incredible amounts of heat energy, and that there’s a hell of a lot of water on the surface of the Earth. So here’s a slightly more meaningful number:

14.1 x 10^22 joules or
141,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 joules

Joules is a scientific unit for energy. That number is how much extra heat energy the IPCC estimates was stored by the oceans in the last half of the 20th century. If you convert that into nuclear weapons, it’s about

2,247,000,000 Little Boys

Little Boy is the ironically named atomic bomb that incinerated the people and city of Hiroshima back in WWII. Various estimates put its total energy at between 13,000 and 20,000 tons of TNT. I went with 15,000 tons of TNT. At 4,184,000,000 joules of energy per ton of TNT, that’s 62,760,000,000,000 joules per Little Boy explosion.

But getting back to the oceans. Global warming over the past half century has put as much extra heat energy into the oceans as if each person now alive in the United States detonated 7 Little Boy-class atomic bombs to heat up the water.

2.2 billion atomic bombs’ worth of energy in the oceans that the world’s hurricanes and tropical storms now have to drawn on. Is it any wonder that weather is getting extra hairy?

Put that figure in another context: the world’s ballooning and looming energy bill, part of the problem and cause of global warming. The world used about

1.504 x 10^13 watts or
15,040,000,000,000 joules per second of electricity in 2008

Divide that into 141,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 joules and you find that the extra heat energy stored in the oceans could have powered the world for 9,375,000,000 seconds, or 300 years, if we lived all those years like we did in 2008.

Hydrothermal energy, anyone?

Representatives from recent and ancient Earth

I’m not really doing first dates anymore, but if you are trying to sweep a girl like me off her feet, you’ll do well to take her to your nearest excellent natural history museum. The CU Boulder Museum of Natural History qualifies. A few weeks ago, NEON crew got a behind-the-scenes look at loads of amaaaaazing preserved creatures in the collections there. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to tag along with a camera and an audio recorder and throw together a slideshow about the experience for the NEON blog. I’ve seen some creepy giant blind worms in jars as well as some humble but beautiful birds that became extinct almost 100 years ago. And I know way more about preserving rodents than I ever thought I would. Enough talk; time to look and listen. Some audio and photo highlights from the tour:

Latin for “testicles”

From a NYTimes interview with Katie Couric, “Katie Couric Has a Few Regrets“:

At your first job at CNN, the head of the network, Reese Schonfeld, famously said you just didn’t possess the gravitas to be in TV news.
Which I think is Latin for “testicles” by the way. But to give this some perspective: I was 23 years old.

For the 15 years you co-hosted “Today,” no one seemed capable of writing about you without using one particular descriptor. Tell me about your current relationship with the word “perky.”
It used to bother me because I thought there was a sexist undertone to that word. It meant shallow and cute, but not somebody who had any depth. It did become a pejorative word, but listen, it’s better than “bitchy.”

-Andrew Goldman

Tsunamis and the energy of atomic bombs

Despite the title, this is not about the shaky state of several nuclear power plants in post-tsunami Japan. Rather, I want to fawn over Kenneth Chang’s piece, The Destructive Power of Water (NYT 12 Mar 2011). An excerpt:

A typical bathtub holds 40 gallons or so of water. That is 330 pounds. A cubic yard of it, filling what at first glance seems a modest volume of 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet, weighs nearly 1,700 pounds, as much as the Smart micro car.

And when water is moving at 30 or 40 miles an hour, like the tsunami that inundated northern Japan on Friday, the heaviness of water turns deadly. Imagine 1,700 pounds hitting you at that speed, and each cubic yard of water as another 1,700 pounds bearing down on you. The destructiveness of a tsunami is not just one runaway car, but a fleet of them.

Explanatory science writing at its best. I love, love, love coming up with these kinds of dimensional reference points so that people really get what I’m talking about (Chang, by the way, is an alumnus of the same SciCom program at UCSC that I just finished last year). One of the professors cited in the article estimates the energy of the tsunami was comparable to that of an atomic bomb. Except we’re talking about sheer mechanical destruction instead of harmful radiation. Unless you count the shaky nuclear reactors …

Maybe I shouldn’t be talking about atomic bomb equivalents hitting Japan.

The point is that water is heavy, and it packs a punch. And the idea brings to mind a director describing the filming of an iconic scene in the 1983 movie Flashdance. A huge bucket of water is dropped on Jennifer Beals’ chest while her character, a dancer, is auditioning. Skip to about 1:25 in this Irene Cara video to watch that moment:

You can see her bracing quite hard against the chair, and watch her torso recoil in slow motion at the impact. According to the director, the first time they tried it, they used a lot more water and pretty much crushed her. And it hurt. Like trying to drink from a firehose.

Nuclear War Still Not a Good Idea

A NASA computer simulation shows that nuclear war could throws up a huge soot cloud that warms, rises, and blocks sunlight to cool the Earth. Now that’s the kind of climate change we like to see!

Except there’s also that pesky nuclear winter thing. You know, where the crops die for lack of sunlight and millions of people starve to death.  Not to mention the huge amounts of mutating radiation and radioactive isotopes that cause widespread death and suffering for many years afterward.  What’s more, all that crap in the upper atmosphere helps break down the ozone layer and let in even MORE cancer-causing radiation from the sun.

The original story from National Geographic News gets it mostly right and puts the “nuclear winter” caveat up high. Unfortunately, it has an eye-catching, idiotic headline:

Small Nuclear War Could Reverse Global Warming For Years? (National Geographic news, Feb 22)

Which spawned a ton of stupidly angled follow-ups, some from usually decent news sources:

A Small Nuclear War Would Stall Global Warming (Live Science, 2011 Feb 28)

Reuters picked up the story more than a week later, which is a sign of desperation for copy. Their version of the story doesn’t mention nuclear winter effects till near the end, which is news-speak for “that part is not important or background.” Actually, it IS important, and if you spent five minutes THINKING about the background info, you would realize that putting global warming in the lede and head is a totally cheap scrabble for readership:

NASA: Limited nuclear war could pause global warming (Reuters, 2011 Mar 03)

And it’s just a matter of time until a conservative news source like New American pitches the story as proof that government scientists are crazy:

Govt Scientists Propose Nuclear War to Curb Global Warming (New American, 2011 Mar 03)

Really, this research is about NASA flexing its computer modeling muscles. That nuclear war would be a devastatingly bad thing is decades-old news. The NEWS is that we have a much better ability to describe exactly how bad. Wired, thank goodness, got it right:

How One Nuclear Skirmish Could Wreck the Planet (Wired, 2011 Feb 25)

Yay Boo everyone else.

No unwanted babies, just neutered pets going into heat

First I see this story:

When Hormone Creams Expose Others to Risks (NYTimes, 2010 Oct 25)

Veterinarians around the country are reporting a strange phenomenon: spayed dogs and cats, even some puppies and kittens, are suddenly becoming hormonal.

In female pets, the symptoms resemble heat: swollen genitals, bloody discharge and behavioral problems. Male animals are showing up with swollen breast tissue and hair loss. Standard treatments and even repeated operations have had no effect.

Now vets have identified the culprit. The pets were all owned by women who used hormone creams on their hands, arms and legs to counter symptoms of menopause. Animals who licked or cuddled their owners, or rubbed up against their legs, were being inadvertently exposed to doses of hormone drugs.

Okay. Note to self: pets and hormone lotion don’t mix.

But not 24 hours later this story appears:

Daily Rub-On Contraceptive Skin Gel Could Replace The Pill(Popular Science, 2010 Oct 26)

Birth control I can spread on my skin like a lotion, without the side effects associated with the pill. Yay!

Wait a second …

Apples to apples in interracial marriage

This is a follow-up on a NYTimes story, Black Women See Fewer Black Men at the Altar. The range and extremes in this cursory analysis of interracial marriage rates are pretty striking:

Of all 3.8 million adults who married in 2008, 31 percent of Asians, 26 percent of Hispanic people, 16 percent of blacks and 9 percent of whites married a person whose race or ethnicity was different from their own. Those were all record highs.

Well, since Asians are the smallest ethnic group of the four, just by sheer odds we should be marrying outside our race (‘marrying out’) more often than the other groups. But how many of the interracial marriages are due to preference and how many of them are what we would expect just by the numbers?

If your choice of whom to marry were completely independent of race, the chance that you’ll marry someone from another race would be about like the chance you’ll run into someone from that race on the street. If we take the U.S. Census Bureau data from 2004 (most contemporary survey with all four of the largest races), the single (not married or separated) population over age 15 is:

3.6% Asian
13.3% Hispanic
16.5% black, and
66.5% white.
So since 96 of every 100 single people (13.3+16.5+66.5 = about 96) in the States are not Asian, you’d expect about 96 of every 100 Asians to marry out.

But only 31 of each 100 did, so it looks like Asians show some tendency to marry each other (‘marry in’) more than they marry out. Let’s look at some ratios to see how the same-race preferences compare across the races:

intermarriage rates
race expected / actual = ratio
96.4 / 31 = 3.1
Hispanic 86.7 / 26 = 3.33
black 83.5 / 16 = 5.22
white 34.5 / 9 = 3.83

The higher the ratio, the more likely that race is to ‘marry in’. Asians are, again, the biggest miscegenators, but not by a lot. Blacks, on the other hand, are far more likely than the other racial groups to marry each other based on what we would expect from race-independent marriage. We can speculate on the contributing factors – prejudice, prison, education, age structure, other socioeconomics – but I don’t have any data to support or refute any of them for now.

By the way, in 2004, the percentage of each racial group married without separation:

Asians 61%
Hispanics 50%
blacks 34%
whites 57%.

Asians are almost twice as likely to be married as blacks.

[In a New York Jewish accent] Talk amongst yourselves.

In addition to the referenced NYT story, I pulled March 2004 Census Bureau Community Survey data from these sources:

From those tables I added the numbers of widowed, divorced, and never married to get the following numbers:

3,623,000 single asians >15 both sexes in March 2004
13,294,000 single hispanics >15 both sexes in March 2004
16,499,000 single blacks >15 both sexes in March 2004
66,408,000 single whites > 15 both sexes in March 2004
99,824,000 single people total in March 2004

The percentages of each racial group that are married are taken directly from the linked tables. Yes, I am leaving out Inuit/American Indian, Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, as well as mixed-race. They account for, respectively, 0.8%, 0.14%, and 2.3% of the population, too small a percentage for the CB to have useful data on them.