Interesting Nature

There is a lot of interest in the last Nature. Indeed so much that I’ll just blip through it…

First off, the “open peer review” debate continues (as first blogged by JA), see here (for most of these links I think a subs is req, sorry). There are lots of entries there. I was struck by: Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics was established in 2001 and last year published about 240 final papers. On average, one in four papers receives a comment from the scientific community in addition to the comments from designated reviewers. They appear to regard this as a success. But if only 1 in 4 gets any kind of public comment… that looks rather thin to me. An intersting point raised elsewhere in that is that “open review” is scary and liable to head off poor papers even being sumbitted, since you don’t want to embarass yourself in public – probably a good point.

Next, Cash for papers where various Asian countries are offering a premium – $3000 mentioned – for being first-author of a Nature or Science type paper. I would guess that over here, the career-boost from that is worth $3k intangibly. And In Pakistan, under a system introduced by the science ministry in 2002, researchers can receive $1,000 to $20,000, based mainly on the cumulative one-year impact factor of their publications. Half is given as a research grant and the rest for personal use. But inevitably, this raises the problem of excess pubs; not that that isn’t a problem already.

Then the NPOESS system is losing its climate-type sensors, apparently under a cunning scheme where the programme “will have fewer satellites and less sensors, while costing more money”, NOAA administrator Conrad Lautenbacher told a congressional hearing on 8 June. Sounds good for the contractors.

Onto the good old Tipping points stuff again… In 2004, 45 newspaper articles mentioned a ‘tipping point’ in connection with climate change; in the first five months of this year, 234 such articles were published. “Warming hits tipping point,” one UK newspaper recently warned on its front page; “Climate nears point of no return,” asserted another. The idea is spreading like a contagion.… yes indeedy, but what about the actual underlying science? there’s no strong evidence that the climate as a whole has a point beyond which it switches neatly into a new pattern, individual parts of the system could be in danger of changing state quickly *Could* be? Somewhat weak… “There is near-universal agreement that we are now seeing a greenhouse effect in the Arctic,” says Mark Serreze true enough, but nothing to do with tipping points. Open water reflects much less sunlight than ice — it has what is known as a lower albedo — so the greater the area of dark open water, the more summer warmth the ocean stores. More stored heat means thinner ice in the next winter, which is more vulnerable to melting the next summer — meaning yet more warmth being stored in the open water in the following year, a cycle known as the ‘ice-albedo feedback’. “Once you start melting and receding, you can’t go back,” says Serreze. Well no, that can’t be true: otherwise the system would long ago have shunted off to no-ice, or lots of ice, based just on interannual variation. The system is far more stable than that quote implies. According to climate modeller Jason Lowe of the UK Met Office in Exeter, the relationship between sea ice and temperature is reassuringly linear. “When you plot sea ice against temperature rise, whether from observations or models, it forms a remarkably straight line,” he says. “It’s not a runaway effect over the sorts of temperature ranges that we’re predicting here.” *thats* more like it. Maybe the end point is If disappearing ice and dying polar bears can tip public opinion over its ‘be very worried’ threshold into the realms of greater action, then further tipping points in the human world might have their own, positive, role to play.

Within that piece is an interesting snippet: Sinking air in the Arctic is an integral part of an air system called a Hadley cell; there is another Hadley cell over the tropics. Between these two cells are the fierce westerlies and the high-altitude jet streams that drive storms around the middle latitudes. “If any part of the current structure broke down, that would be profound,” I’ve called that the polar cell in the past (but arguably some of it is Hadley-like, only driven by cooling over Greenland (and the sea ice?) rather than warming as in the tropics); and am slightly doubtful that the mid-lat westerlies depend on it. And maybe less ice would be expected to affect that…

And lastly, a suggestion that night and winter flying may produce the most warming contrails so we might avoid some of that by rescheduling flights.