Transcript of Dr. Josefino Comiso’s talk on Climate Change, Climate gate, and Geo-engineering at Manila Observatory


by Dr. Josefino C. Comiso

Josefino C. Comiso, Ph.D.
Cryospheric Science Branch, Code 614.1, NASA/Goddard Space Flight
Center, Greenbelt, MD, 20771, USA

Place: klima Conference Room, Manila Observatory
Date / Time: Feb. 2, 2011 (Wed), 3:30 pm

Global warming due to anthropogenic greenhouse gases has been postulated more than 100 years ago and verified in recent years by advanced and sophisticated numerical models but many contentious issues remains.  Skeptics had taken advantage of email information derived from a hacking of emails at the Climate Research Center in UK to keep countries from getting into an agreement on climate change protocols.  Current observations of global warming signals as revealed in the polar regions, at mid-latitudes and in the tropics and some of the associated issues will be discussed. Among the most visible changes as observed from space has been the rapid decline in the Arctic perennial sea ice cover as first revealed in international journals by the speaker.  The results of analysis of thirty two years of continuous coverage by satellite passive microwave sensors now indicates that the area of the perennial ice cover in the Arctic is declining at the rate of about 13% per decade while the area of the thicker multiyear ice cover is declining at more than 15% per decade. This could mean having an ice free Arctic in summer in the foreseeable future and large impacts on the ecology and climate not just in the region but over the entire Earth.  Some instabilities in the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica that can be triggered by some physical phenomena could also lead to more drastic changes in sea level affecting billions of people living in coastal areas.  A key question is whether human technology, called geo-engineering, can be used to counteract the current trends in the climate.  The pros and cons of such technology is currently being debated in many countries and new legislations to do research in this area are now being considered.  While the benefits, if done successfully, are obvious, there are great concerns of unknown or unforeseen effects.  Also, some countries would benefit more than others while for some, the net effect might even be negative creating potential international political conflicts as well.

About the presentor:
Dr. Comiso is a Senior Scientist at the NASA Laboratory for Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences, Goddard Space Flight Center. His  research interests include Polar oceanography, climate change and satellite remote sensing in the microwave, infrared, and visible regions. He can be contacted at:

Dr. Josefino Comiso, Director Antonia Yulo Loyzaga, Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, and Dr. Greg Tangonan (photo courtesy of Kendra Castillo)

(Editors note: The following talk was transcribed by Dr. Quirino Sugon Jr. of the Physics Department and of Manila Observatory.  Permission to publish the transcript was given by Dr. Comiso as long as no proprietary figures are included that other authors plan to include in their journal submissions.  Dr. Comiso has not reviewed the manuscript.  Corrections and comments may be placed in the comment box of this article.)

A.  Climate Change

Climate is what you expect weather is what you get. I don’t know if anybody disagrees with that definition. Climate change has been an issue that has been in contention in the last seven years. The reason for that is its association with anthropogenic influence. The energy companies who feel they will become affected created a battalion of skeptics. As far back as 1996 the impact of human activities has been analyzed by Svante Arrhenius. He came out with a conclusion: if we double the amount of carbon of dioxide, the temperature of the earth will increase by 2 to 2.5 degrees Celsius. Even with supercomputers and models that have been assimilated with satellite data, the key results that have been reproduced. And one of the most respected meteorologists in the US, Roger Revelle, has asserted that human beings have been doing a large scale geophysical experiment on carbon dioxide. We went to Honolulu Hawaii and experimented on CO2 at Manuna Loa Observatory. We have all this mission from planet to Mars, Venus, maybe this mission to planet earth is important. The earth is the only entity with intelligent life.

As you see, there is a monotonic rise in the Carbon Dioxide from 320 to 380 parts per million. The fluctuations are seasonal. But the rate of increase is not constant, sometimes higher in other years. There is an relationship of carbon dioxide with temperature. What this reveals from 1880 to 2000, the highest temperature is at year 2010–the warmest year. The warming of the earth is not uniform. There are areas where the warming is. The warmest is the polar regions, because when you are looking for climate change signal there is amplification is polar regions because of high albedo of ice and snow. And that is indeed what we found using 30 years of satellite data. The first 15 years and second 15 years of data. The features are very similar. Because you would imagine that the coldest parsts of earth is not changing. Greenland is consistent. But if you take the difference of the two there is positive difference in North America. There are also some negative differences sespecially in previous months.

The main signal that you see after that is the ice cover. On the average you produce about 3 meters of ice. At that thickness, what normally survives during the summer (…). This is the average over the 30 year period. The time when we started monitoring this. You see the small hole here is because it cannot be covered by satellite data. But you can see the retreat of ice cover. When this came out, it basically shock the world. W e can lose the ice cap within the decade. Some predicted 2030. Since we do not have information about thickness, we looked at older ice cover, which are thicker than seasonal ice, in the years 1979-90 and every year after that. We can see that the ice cover is much smaller than the previous year, at the rate of 15 to 16 percent per decade. The thicker ice type is even declining rapidly than the perennial ice, implying the thickness of the ice cover to be going down. There is this feedback effect that makes the temperature of the water to increase. As the ice retreats there is more ice cover. The sun’s radiation that strikes the surface gets re-emitted. Open water absorbs radiation.

Our results gotten a bit a quite of attention when it was published in Physics Today. In an arctic things look different. Michael Crichton’s State of Fear in 2005 which was used by some members of the Congress as a proof that there is no global warming. I indicated there was cooling in the antarctic. He didn’t cite my paper in the arXiv. Antarctic sea ice cover has been increasing at the rate of 1.2 per decade. The big suprise is Bel-Adm (?) sea is decreasing. There are having a lot of discharges of icebergs. It turned out that there is an association with the ozone hole. There is a circulation in West Antartica. Winds of Ross have been strong as previous, causing the formation of open water within the ice. As the Ross Sea gets to cold, the ice freezes right away. As the wind gets stronger, you manufacture a lot more ice. Dependent on Ross sea is an aclimatically anomalous area. And we have a study accepted for publication. Ice production has been increasing over the years. I bring our own measurements to confirm the kind of validation that we need in the Philippines for classification of crops and forests, and location of peace population.

And this is part of the problem: Antartica. Pressure system around Antartica. Anomalies for ice cover. You can see succession of succession of ice cover. Red means advances in ice cover. The arctic circumpolar wind. And in fact, what this diagram shows, this might represent the blues in a particular spot. You see that it propagates downward. What that means is that feature propagating around the periphery. The period of propagation is around 8 years. They have been associating the El Nino with this kind of variability in the ice cover.

When we look at worked data set, there is an overall warming in the Antarctic region. We have an ozone in the 1989s . But overall in the long term, we observe this kind of changes. That signal propagates everywhere over the permafrosts over the arctic. The the Himalayas layer glaciers have been declining. If you look at volume of glaciers in Europe, they have been declining 40 percent. Sea level rise increasing 3.2 mm per year. This increase has been associated with the increase in sea surface temperature. And there is also an increase in melting in Greenland. The red shows the surface of Greenland in summer. In 2002 there is more red. The problem of increasing the amount of surface area. You get this type of phenomenon where the surface gets melted and you get a river of water in the ice sheet, and it percolates at the bottom where it gets a lubricant for the ice sheet. If you change the velocity of that, then it changes the rate of sea level rise very easily, especially if you get chunks of Greenland out. And we put GPS in the region and indeed we have a large melt period. The ice sheet tends to move faster. We have a new sensor, GRACE, that can indicate what is going on as the mass changes. These areas have been declining in volume. In areas greater than 2000 (?) has been increasing volume, permafronts storm, which may lead to warming of the ocean.

If you lose Greenland, China is very vulnerable. Europe is also vulnerable. These are the populations of the world that may be affected with 6 m sea level rise . Antartica is the size of US and Alaska. The thickness is thicker than the average than Greenland. If you lose Antartical, the sea level would go up by 75 m.

This is just an idea of the elevations of the Philippines. Manila is now slowly sinking. And we should be able to monitor that. So we have been hit with stronger hurricanes like Katrina. Indeed the surface temperature went up when Katrina strike. Sea surface temperature causes the enhancement of intensity of phenomena. And this is the power of microwave imaging. Normally we use visible light, but we cannot see through clouds. Microwave gives you the idea of the amount of rainfall. That is the power of combining microwave and visible data.

Typhoon Ondoy. You can see what areas of the Philippines are vulnerable to sea level rise by looking out the areas flooded by Ondoy. We have been monitoring the rate of frequency of rise in the US. And there have been spikes. Direr years. We can monitor that with MODIS data. We can see the fire here burning. Drought is a problem. This is how the data loks right now from 15 to 35 percent. And the projection to the future 2100 by more 50 percent. If we have vegetation that looks like that, there is no more food for man and animals.

Why do you think that there is global warming when temperature varies so much. There is variability which we can get from cores from Antartica, which tells you the history of the climate from the last million years or so. And you can see the periodicity of about 100 years to l40 years, and these has been associated with the Milankovitch hypothesis. What you will notice is that the carbon dioxide has gone into levels that is not available in the previous years. In Milankovitch theory, we have orbital eccentricity and when the earth is close to the sun. The axis of the earth has a wobble, even the tilt of the axis changes every time with 41 years periodicity.

B.  Climate gate 2009

The hacking. November 19, 2009. They hacked one of the scientist that have been very vocal about the global warming. Phil Jones, Michael Mann, and Tim Osborn, and Mike Hulme. About 99% of the emails are ordinary mails, but a firestorm erupted. This is the world’s scientifc scandal of our generation. Climategate. They try to destroy credibility of the data . And these are the questions that have been posted. Did Al Gore get rich from global warming hoax? Is NASA’s full cost accounting to blame?

And one of the questions that has been brought up that have three data centers in the world: GISS, NCSDS, ad HadCRU. From 1880 to 2000. As you see the values have been different but when you get data since 1998, the temperature actually went down; the other data set doesn’t confirm that. NASA and GISS has more complete coverage via interpolation. NCSDS lacks polar coverage. CRU lacks Antartica and incomplete Northern hemisphere coverage. This is not a truly global coverage. You can explain the difference between these.

Then there is controversy about tree rings. By looking at the distance between the rings you can infer the temperature. These are data. Mann published this data. McIntyre and McKitrick have opposite results, that this is warmer than 15th centrury. McIntyre used second eigenvalue. Mann used the 5 eigenvalues to get 40.5 % over the variance. What this shows is that Mann’s analysis is more accurate.

Because of that Climategate, it made the Copehagen meeting…. which makes government make decisions regarding carbon emissions. Such activity can have negative effect on all our projections. This is the IPCC projection for the world which gets very warm in the Arctic and the Tropics.

The sun has nothing to do with warming. We have to reduce or eliminate the use of fossil fuels. Develop clean alternative sources of energy including nuclear power. Encourage conservation in the use of energy. Develop new designs for green buildings.

C. Geo-Engineering

Geo-engineering is defined as intentional large scale manipulation of the global environment by altering climate with the primary intention of reducing undesired climate change caused by human influence (Keith 1999). It is not a new idea. It has been thought in 1992. Geo-eningeering in place to prevent anthropogentic earsols. Paul Crutzen began advocating it in 2006. From Washington Post article on geoengineering, they were considering a bill in Congress to do research in geo-engineering. Put a lot of aerosols in the air. Cloud seeding. Iron fertization of seea. Pumping of carbon dioxide.

The idea behind the aerosols. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo made the global temperature go down. If you do a compendium of previous volcanic eruptions you have this kind of effect in the system. How would you introduce these? Artillery? aircraft balloons? Then cloud’s reflectance can be modified through this concept introuduced by Flettner rotor ship to inject seawater to a height of a few hudred feet to introduce clouds.

These are the potentials. For cloud albedo modification, the cost is 40 billion dollars; stratospheric aerosols, 10 million to 1 billion dollars per year.

Land surface albedo modification. Maybe we can raise crops in forests and trees where the leaves has higher albedo than at present, then you reflect more solar radiation.


1. Dr. Tangonan asked: Where is the responsibility for these guys. This is not a close system.

Once they figure out the viable techinques in geoengineering they have to discuss this in UN. Some of the procedure is direct capture of CO2. There is iron fertization. Planktons are plants. They can sequester carbon dioxide in the ocean. They have done these fertizations. Some potential benefits. We can have a cooler planet, reduction or sea ice delcline, sea level rise, productivity rise, beautiful sunsets.

Potential problems with geoengineering. Regional climate change. Drought possiblities. Rapid warming when geoengineering ends. Effects may not be easy to stop. Ocean acidification will continue. There are spots on the ocean that are dead. Ozone depletion wil continue. Enhanced acid preciptation. Sky will whiten but sunsets will be nice. Solar radiation less efficent for solar power. Some unknonwn effects may have impacts on plants. Cirrus clouds as aerosols fall in the trophosphere. Evnvironmental impacts of delivering aerosol.

The only viable solution is to to practical mitigation. Need for good adaptation strategies. The residence time of CO2 is about 100 years and can be as long as 1000 years. Global warming will not stop instantaneously. People in the Tropics will be seriously affected. We are very close to dangerous threshholds. We know that people are resilient but we know there are limits. But we can still have beautiful Philippine sunsets.

2.  Director Loyzaga asked: What should be the top three problems in climatology?

There are data gaps in climate. As you said there are 50 years or 100 years data in the Philippines. The other thing is I think we should use more satellite data. The emphasis has been making in situ measurements. You can only do so much with in situ. These must be complemented with satellite data. We can make better predictions on what will happen in the Philippines in foreseeable future, like pollution, landslides, red tides, and things like that.

3.  Dr. Tangonan comments: Some of our Indonnesian and Japanses partners. They are working closely together where they link satellite where they mesure CO2 to reforestation to carbon credits. And I saw some numbers. If they can help to prevent the peak fires that cause huge perturbations, we save as much carbon. They get return of investments. These must be the most clever use of remote sensing.

That is a good idea but I think tha carbon credit system is so controversial. It has not been accepted in the US. We will have more and more satellites. When this can be launched and we can better monitor emissions from CO2 for each country. The budget can be distributed properly.

4. Dr. Tess Perez comments: Im am thinking on the geoengineering. Do you think it would be useful to identify that would be good for geoengineering? We have potential plant species.

If you can develop that kind of tree you will be very rich.

5.  Question on using STRM 19. Indonesia can access with STRM 30. Digital elevation model.

May be you should start using new altimeter data set. We have laser data set that are coming in. There is also CryoSat which accurately measures surface well. You only have to do it once every ten years to see what is happening. And I would rather believe that than your models

6.  Comment: Philippines is so small. If we do geoengineering we would be just be wasting our money. Will it contribute significantly?

If we develop something that the world can eventually adapt, then we can have our contribution to geo-engineering to the whole world. You can improve the albedo of the Philippines but still the albedo of the forest around the world is the same as they were. If you can find these trees with this high albedo, the impact will be much bigger. I am thinking with some exceptions of the fact that the populations of the Philippines would also be increasing. It is really a big stress on the resources on the Philippines. We need to develop new technologies that would create new industries for the Filipinos, that would provide jobs for everybody. There can be a lot of jobs related to biofuel.

(end of presentation. picture taking.)


About ateneophysicsnews
Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

One Response to Transcript of Dr. Josefino Comiso’s talk on Climate Change, Climate gate, and Geo-engineering at Manila Observatory

  1. Chad Pennington says:

    The sun has nothing to do with climate change? Why would anyone believe a word out of this guy’s mouth after that statement.

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