Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Massive Loss of North Cascades Glacial Ice This Summer

Foss Glacier, North Cascades, Summer 2015.  Source: http://blogs.agu.org/fromaglaciersperspective/2015/08/20/disastrous-year-for-north-cascade-glacier-mass-balance-snowice-economy/
Although I'm in Europe, here's some disturbing news from the U.S.

In a recent post for the AGU Blogosphere entitled Disastrous Year for North Cascade Glacier Mass Balance, Mauri Pelto, Professor of Environmental Science at Nichols College, reports on the massive loss of glacial ice in the North Cascades this year.  Assuming normal loss for the rest of the summer, the North Cascades will lose an astounding 5-7% of its glacial ice in just one year.  The sad thing about this is that it takes a long time to build up glacial ice.  This ice is gone and it's not coming back.
Click on the link above for more info.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bavarian Climate Change and "Research"

Apologies for light blogging during this stretch as I'm in Innsbruck this coming week for the International Conference on Alpine Meteorology, which meets every other year to discuss the latest and greatest research pertaining to mountain meteorology.  Thanks to substantially lower hotel costs and conference fees, I can go to this meeting for only $200 less than the latest meeting I attended that was hosted in the U.S. by the American Meteorological Society (including airfare).  Clearly my professional society has something to learn from our European friends.

Prior to the meeting, we spent a day in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, host of the 1936 Winter Olympics and the capital of winter sports and mountaineering in Germany.  Towering 2200 m above G-P is the Zugspitze, the highest peak in Germany.

Like many resort areas of the Alps, a remarkable infrastructure of rail, cog railways, and aerial trams services the high mountain areas.  Below is the end of the cog railway at the Zugspitzeplatt at 2588 m.  About 4.5 km and 1000 vertical meters of the ascent are within the mountain.  It's unbelievable the effort that was undertaken to build a train to this location.

At the Zugspittzeplatt you can access Germany's longest ski season, but things are closed down this time of year.  What you see before you is the remnants of a dying glacier.  The photo below shows the scene in 1890.  These lower altitude glaciers will be gone soon.

Although I didn't bother to visit it, the Schneefernerhaus, a center for environmental research exists just below the summit of the Zugspitze and is accessed from the Zugspitzeplatt.  Looks like my kind of place.  More info here.  You realize that the U of U had a research station at Alta back in the 60s but they sold it.  It wasn't as spectacular as the Schneefernerhaus, but it would have done just fine!

From the Zugspitzeplatt you can take a short tram to the summit of the Zugspitze.  There, you'll find two faster ways to the summit.  One is the Eibsee cable car, which rises about 2000 vertical meters, the last 2/3 or so in a continuous span at a ridiculous pitch. 

To find the other, you have to walk along the summit platforms and pass into Austria.

There you'll find the  Tiroler Zugspitzbahn cable car.  There was a time when there was a border check on the summit, but thanks to the European Union, passage is seamless today.

Despite the haze (and probably some smog), the views from the summit are pretty good.  Below is G-P.

It's very hot right now by European standards, so after our alpine adventures, we hiked up the Partnatchklamm, a wet, cool Alpine slot canyon.

Time to nap.  I have a talk to give tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Short-Term Variability and Long Term Trends: Market and Meteorological

What would the media do without short-term market and meteorological variability?  On slow news days they could attempt to cover substantive issues in depth, but that would require investigation and analysis.  Ignore the media hype and separate the short-term variability from the long-term signal and life will be better.

From a meteorological perspective, both the short-term variability and long-term signal are looking pretty good right now.  Yesterday's high was 98ºF, but today will be much cooler.  A potent monsoon surge has pushed into northern Utah.  Check out the rise in precipitable water from ~1.5 cm yesterday morning to over 3 cm this morning.  Looks like they need to reset the scale on the plot below!

Source: ESRL
It's cool and comfortable out there this morning and today's high will probably be only in the high 70s, not much warmer than it is right now.  Showers and thunderstorms will abound.  Enjoy.  This short-term variability is just what the doctor ordered.

As is the long-term trend.  Signs of fall are beginning to appear.  Check out the yellow tint in the trees and the down leaves along the roadside in City Creek Canyon yesterday.  

I don't know what the next few months will be bringing investors, but for us, the long-term trend is a good one.  Fall and winter will be here soon.  

Monday, August 24, 2015

More Good Reasons to Kill Your Parking Pass

Today is the first day of classes at the U.  Insanity will prevail.  Mother Nature is already stirring the pot.  She produced a stray shower on campus just before 8 am that produced a direct hit on the new northwest parking garage.  You could barely see it on radar as it was only a few pixels wide and it was over as fast as it started.

Yup, Mother Nature is not too happy about these new parking garages.  There are two more opening up this semester, the central parking garage in the business loop and the aforementioned northwest parking garage next to my building (INSCC).  The latter, which is still under construction (although it appears they are allowing some people to park in it), is pictured below.

I have great disdain for these parking garages for a variety of reasons.  They are expensive.  They encourage driving to campus.  They block the sun, the sky, and the views of the mountains.  Did I say they are expensive?

In terms of annual parking fees, the central parking garage is a relative steal.  You can get a central A pass to park in it or A lots on campus for $552 or a central U pass also valid in U lots for $498.

However, for northwest campus commuters, commuter services has a special treat for you.  You need a T permit to park in the northwest parking garage, which costs $942, or an even pricier R permit (see http://commuterservices.utah.edu/).  Yikes.  @theU claims this morning that faculty and staff can park in the northwest parking garage today with any permit, but if you are driving in this morning, you will be greeted by a sign saying differently.  I guess "this morning" means before 8 am.

Moving to alternative commuting options isn't possible for everyone, but perhaps it is for you.  In April, I told commuter services to stick it.  I canceled my parking pass and since then I've driven to campus once and paid a few bucks to park in a visitor slot.  There are also options for paying for a day pass to park in an A or U lot, although it's a damn shame that those options aren't easier to access to encourage more mixed mode commuting (see my earlier post How I Told Commuter Services to Stick It).

U student Annie Putman has produced a great video discussing the many campus computing options, including some that I was not aware of, like Zimride for finding others to carpool with.

Perhaps this is the year for you to tell Commuter Services to stick it, at least with regards to your parking pass.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Temporary Reprieve

I woke up this morning, looked out the window and lo and behold there were the mountains.  It wasn't clear, but it was less hazy than I've seen it in the morning in a few days.

I decided to get out for a quick hike while the getting was good.  I opted to hike up Hidden Peak to take advantage of the tram on the descent as my knees have been feeling tender of late.  Up high it was actually fairly nice.  Smoky, but not terribly so.  If you look carefully at the photo below, you can see considerable layering of the flow with a nice clear layer near crest level.

Things are, however, deteriorating again, at least in the valley.  The trace below shows the PM2.5 concentrations at the University of Utah over the past five days.  There was a brief drop to just below 10 ug/m3 at about noon yesterday, followed by another bing increase, and then the drop overnight to the lowest values we've seen since the 18th.  Unfortunately, PM2.5 concentrations have jumped back up to 20, although at least for now, they are lower than they have generally been the past few days.

Amongst the many fundamental differences between this pollution event and our winter inversion events is that most of the PM2.5 is being transported in rather than being produced from local emissions. As a result, changes in flow direction can cause some large variations in PM2.5.  I guess for now the best approach if you want to get outside is to take advantage of the less hazy periods when you can.

Friday, August 21, 2015

CPC Gives Northern Utah Skiers No Love

The NOAA/NWS Climate Prediction Center (CPC) issued their latest three-month outlooks yesterday and they give northern Utah skiers no love.

For December through February, they give northern Utah slightly elevated chances of above average temperature and slightly elevated chances of below average precipitation.

Source: CPC
Source: CPC
Does this mean we're in for another warm winter with bad snow?  No.  In the images above, equal chance (EC) areas in white are not projected to have an average winter.  Instead, EC means that the likelihood of below average, average, or above average temperature or precipitation does not differ from their climatological odds of 33.3% each.  In other words, the tools available for seasonal forecasting do not allow us to anticipate a strong loading of the seasonal climate dice one way or the other.  Areas in red (temperature) or brown (precipitation) are areas where the likelihood of above average temperature or below average precipitation, respectively, are higher than climatology.  So, for northern Utah, they are giving us just slightly higher than climatological odds of above average temperature and below average precipitation since the odds are between 33% and 40%.  In other words, the seasonal climate dice are loaded just slightly on the side of above average temperature and below average precipitation.

These outlooks are based on a variety of tools including seasonal climate forecasts, composites (averages) of past years stratified by El Nino, La Nina, and neutral conditions (this year they are banking on El Nino), and a few other statistical tools relating past weather to various factors.  El Nino composites typically feature a precipitation dipole with below average precipitation over the interior northwest and above average precipitation over the southwest, roughly consistent with the outlook above.  Below is the average precipitation anomalies from three ensemble suites produced by the NCEP Climate Forecast System (CFS) for December to February.  I've drawn a black line at the approximate position of the central Wasatch.  Each of these ensemble means has a dry northwest and a wet southwest relative to climatology, with the central Wasatch in the transition zone.

Source NCEP
Keep in mind that the composites generated by CPC use very coarse precipitation data that does not specifically look at the central Wasatch, while the CFS does not resolve the Wasatch in any way, shape, or form.  Thus, one needs to be cautious in interpreting these outlooks and projections.  We can, however, use past data from Alta Guard to stratify central Wasatch snowfall by El Nino, La Nina, and Neutral and even strong El Nino and La Nina events, as we have done several times in the past (e.g., El Nino Likely for the 2015-16 Winter).  You probably know the story here.  Not much signal in the noise.  We've boldly put a linear trend line on the data, which does show a very small trend to lower values as one transitions to strong El Nino, but the scatter is so large that I think that's neither physically or statistically significant (we haven't bothered looking at the latter).  Note that this is for various 3-month periods during the cool season, not specifically December to February as in the plots above.  This scatter exists because: (1) Utah sits in the transition zone between the El Nino/La Nina precipitation dipoles, (2) other factors affect the seasonal climate besides El Nino, and (3) there is always some randomness in the weather that occurs during any given season.  

So, we may be looking at a Godzilla El Nino, but for the central Wasatch, that means nothing.  Don't fall for the hype.  For the central Wasatch, we really have no idea what kind of winter we are going to have.  It could be big, it could be bad, or it could be average.  Further, the amount of snow we get isn't always as important as when it comes and how it comes and those details are even more uncertain.