Friday, May 24, 2019

Walking isnʻt just for your heart any more. Also the liver, the brain, diabetes...

The link between exercise and heart health is will understood, but new data suggests other organs, notably the liver, also benefit, and dramatically.

This doesnʻt mean you need to run marathons or go to other physical extremes. Walking is sufficient to reduce risks pretty dramatically.

The Harvard Medical School makes the point clearly: "Walking improves cardiac risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, vascular stiffness and inflammation, and mental stress.

"And if cardiac protection and a lower death rate are not enough to get you moving, consider that walking and other moderate exercise programs also help protect against dementia, peripheral artery disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, colon cancer, and even erectile dysfunction."

The article that quote comes from is a valuable lesson for the sedentary. 

The latest bit of data to support going out on regular hikes is a study that looked at 26 years of data on the exercise habits of 117,000 people. Thatʻs a big study.

The study notes that cirrhosis of the liver is increasing along with the nationʻs obesity crisis, but that regular exercise, like walking, can reverse the trend.

"Our findings show that both walking and strength training contribute to substantial reductions in risk of cirrhosis-related death, which is significant because we know very little about modifiable risk factors," said Dr. Tracey Simon, of Harvard Medical School and lead researcher on the study, which was  presented at a conference of Digestive DiseaseWeek

Their study found that those in the top fifth in terms of amount of walking reduced their likelihood of cirrhosis-related death by 73 percent. And those who added strength training cut their risk even more.

Simonʻs study was published in the May 2019 edition of the journal Gastroenterology.  Her co-authors were Edward Giovannucci, Kathleen E. Corey, Xuehong Zhang and Andrew T. Chan. The paper is entitled: Physical activity, including walking and strength training, are associated with reduced risk of cirrhosis-related mortality: Results fromtwo prospectice cohors of U.S. men and women.

They followed 68,000 women and 49,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, who reported their walking, other aerobic activities and resistance exercise over a period from 1986 to 2012. And they looked at the ones who died during the period, and whose deaths were attributable to cirrhosis.

"Compared to adults in the lowest quintile of physical activity, those in the highest quintile had a 73% lower risk for cirrhosisrelated death," the report said.

The authors said thereʻs still need for more research into the best kind of exercise, amount of exercise and intensity of exercise. But it seems clear that getting out and moving it has significant benefits for long-term health.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Forget 3 feet, Hawaii should be planning for 6 feet of sea level rise, new research says

Melting Greenland ice sheet. Credit: NOAA
Hawai`i may be planning for only half the sea level rise that is possible within the lives of todayʻs newborns.

A new study from British, American, Dutch and German climate researchers argues that sea levels could be more than 6 feet higher than now in 80 years, wiping out many of the worldʻs most important cities and coastlines.

Many of those coastal areas would be inundated far sooner than that. That includes much of Honolulu. 
Most of the worst-case planning in Hawai`i assumes a 3-foot or one-meter rise, but this study suggests we should be planning for twice that.

One planning organization in the Islands, Honoluluʻs city Climate Change Commission, is on board with the 6-foot recommendation by 2100. Commisson member Victoria Keener said 3 feet is possible much earlier, by mid-century.

The authors of the new paper are cautious about their numbers because the science is very complex. But they say that if the worldʻs great ice reservoirs—the immense Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets—melt as many climate models suggest, the world will be a very, very different place.

Imagine all cargo needing to be offloaded from ships at anchor, because all the harbor facilities are submerged. Imagine the most valuable property in Hawai`i underwater. Imagine no coastal road access—meaning many Hawaiian communities could be reached only by boat.

Part of the problem is that many researchers have been focused on keeping warming to 2 degrees Centigrade, but warming of as much as 5 degrees by the end of the century now seems possible. That is because fossil fuel use is rising instead of falling, global carbon dioxide levels are rising at faster pace rather than stabilizing, and the global ice sheets canʻt help but respond by melting.

The authors of this daunting report are some of the worldʻs premier researchers. They include Jonathan L. Bambera of the UKʻs University of Bristol School of Geographic Science, Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University, Robert E. Kopp of Rutgers University, Willy P. Aspinall of the University of Bristol School of Earth Sciences, Roger M. Cooke of the Dutch Delft University of Technology Department of Mathematics. The paper was edited by Stefan Rahmstorf, of Germanyʻs Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. They consulted with climate scientists in America and Europe.

It is entitled, " Ice sheet contributions to future sea-level rise from structured expert judgment," and was published this week in PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The authors are cautious, but they are clear that the world should stop focusing on the lower range of sea level rise estimates. Many nations are already planning and building structures to protect their shorelines from near-term sea level rise.

"Adaptation measures accounting for the changing hazard, including building or raising permanent or movable structures such as surge barriers and sea walls, enhancing nature-based defenses such as wetlands, and selective retreat of populations and facilities from areas threatened by episodic flooding or permanent inundation, are being planned or implemented in several countries," the authors write.

But it might not be enough.

"Our findings support the use of scenarios of 21st century global total (sea level rise) exceeding 2 m for planning purposes," they write. That translates to more than 6 feet, at the upper level of the estimates.

It doesnʻt stop there. Temperatures at those levels will progressively melt ice sheets, and the world in 2200 could see as much as 7.5 meters in sea level rise above todayʻs levels, the authors say. That represents a 25-foot rise.

Many of the best estimates of sea level change before now have not included the impacts of the ice sheets, because they are so extraordinarily difficult to model. They have not gotten easier to model, but both the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have been losing mass at an increasing rate, and the authors say melting ice sheets have now exceeded mountain glaciers in their contributions to sea levels.

In response, there has been "a focused effort by the glaciological community to refine process understanding and improve process representation in numerical ice sheet models." As scientists learn more, they also learn how much they still donʻt know, and the uncertainty about the future rises, the authors said.

The most common estimate of 1 meter of sea level rise by 2100 comes from the 5th International Panel on Climate Change report from 2013. Numerous studies since then have indicated that its estimates are significantly too conservative, and that temperatures and sea levels are rising and are expected to continue rising far faster than that study estimated.

Is there enough water on Earth for sea levels to rise as much as they suggest? There is. NOAA and others have calculated that if all the planetʻs ice melted, there is enough water and ice to increase sea levels by more than 200 feet. National Geographic mapped what that might look like.

But much of the polar ice would remain frozen, so such catastropic sea levels are unlikely.

Still a possible 6-plus feet by 2100 is catastrophic enough for a coastal state like Hawai`i, and it is a level that most planning has not considered.

The Hawai‘i Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission last year recommended government and other agencies plan for 3.2 feet or 1 meter of ocean rise.

The Hawai`i Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report of December 2017 also targets that level, but indicates it could come far earlier than 2100: "this magnitude of sea level rise could occur as early as year 2060 under more recently published highest-end scenarios." Thatʻs only 40 years out.

Some of the most aggressive estimates have come from the City of Honoluluʻs Climate Change Commission, which last year adopted numbers closest to those suggested by the new paper. That recommendation, adopted by the City, recommends the 6-foot number be used in planning for projects with long lifespans. Its sea level rise guidance is here.

You can view the impacts of 3 feet of rise a this site from the University of Hawai`i School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology: 

There is extensive information on sea level rise in the Islands at the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System website: 

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Higher, Hotter, Faster, More Acid: Climate Change is Speeding Up

The Mauna Loa Keeling Curve, which indicates how much carbon-dioxide is in the atmosphere, has crossed into new high territory—more than 415 parts per million.

But perhaps more dangerously, the rate of rise has locked in a new trajectory—meaning itʻs going higher faster.

Climate researchers are seeing all the secondary impacts of that—rising temperatures, rising seas and rising ocean acidity are also going up.

Climate change is coming far faster than we ever anticipated. It used to be that activists could guilt us by saying we were leaving a climate mess to our grandchildren. But it appears most of us will see dangerous changes not in our grandchildrenʻs lifetimes, but in our own.

The Keeling Curve is a measurement that started being taken at Hawai`iʻs Mauna Loa Observatory in 1958 by Charles Keeling, and it has been taken steadily since then. It is a jagged line because the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere goes up and down with the seasons. But the overall path has been up.

And more worrisome, it is angling steeper with time. We have long known that an atmosphere with higher CO2 and other greenhouse gases traps more heat than one with lower levels.

The image to the upper right is from the latest Keeling Curve (May 18, 2019) from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego. The colored lines are my alteration, showing how the trajectory has changed. The lower orange line is the rate of rise during the 1960s. The upper red line is the rate of rise during recent years. 

It means weʻre still dumping fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere, and despite all the talk about conservation and efficiency and renewables and electric cars, weʻre doing it at an increasing rate.

Is there a statistic for that? Of course there is. World oil production 50 years ago—when the Keeling Curve was young—was way under 50 million barrels a day. Now itʻs 100 million barrels a day, and rising. 
Temperatures are going up with the increased production of greenhouse gas. If you look at this NASA chart, and check the graph from 1960 onward, you can see that temperature trends follow the Keeling Curve. The source of this graph is this NASA site

Live near the ocean? In Hawai`i we all do. If itʻs not your home that will be threatened, it may be your work place, but it will certainly be your beach park and your coastal roadway. Like temperatures, sea levels are rising and seem to be rising faster in recent years.  

If you look carefully, youʻll see that it also has that increasingly upward slant in recent years, suggesting that sea levels are coming up way faster than it seemed they would a few years ago.

Ocean acidity changes the fundamental chemistry of the seas. Increasing acidity dissolves the shells of marine mollusks, weakens reefs and has all kinds of other global impacts. The acidity of the ocean is rising, along with sea levels and temperatures and carbon-dioxide.

Here is a great resource, aimed at students in grades 10-12, on understanding the chemistry and impacts of acidification of our seas. 

So with all that additional carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere, some of it dissolves into the ocean. Here's an EPA graph from 2016 showing carbon dioxide dissolved in ocean water in Hawai`i, Bermuda and the Canary Islands. And here's where that came from, another resource for students. 

Scientific American reviewed some of the latest data, which indicates that climate change is coming faster than was anticipated. It’s a sobering outlook. 

It can be useful to remember that every time you take a trip to the West Coast or Vegas, your portion of the fuel required represents roughly a full 55-gallon barrel, and burning it produces about half a ton of carbon-dioxide.

Every time you take an extra drive to the store, or fly to another island to shop, or go cruising in your pickup, you're choosing to add to the problem.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Friday, May 17, 2019

Hawaiian poi pounder located in deep space

A Hawaiian poi pounder roams deep interstellar space, looking for a poi board.

Okay, thatʻs over the top, but object MU69, deep in the Kuiper Belt, sure looks like a classic Hawaiian poi pounder, with its two lobes separated by a narrow central cylinder.

(Image: The interstellar poi pounder, viewed by the New Horizons spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute, National Optical Astronomy Observatory.)

The pounder was located and photographed by NASAʻs New Horizons spacecraft after it flew by Pluto on its route into deep space.

The Kuiper Belt is a collection of icy objects that orbits way out at the outer edges of our solar system. Pluto is among the objects in the belt. The "belt" forms a doughnut shape around the planets, centered on the sun. Even farther out is the Oort Cloud of objects that can form comets.

MU69, formally known as (486958) 2014 MU69, is nicknamed Ultima Thule, which has been translated to mean "beyond the known world."

It has been drifting out there for more than 4 billion years, in its inexorable search for taro to pound and a poi board on which to pound it.

Understandably, folks not from Hawai`i donʻt recognize its tropical origins. suggests it formed from the gentle collision of two circular objects, and describes it as looking like a snowman

Hawaiian poi pounders or ku`i, donʻt all the look the same. Here is a Bishop Museum site with images of the great range of pounder designs, which help indicate the importance of poi and its manufacture to the Hawaiian people.

And also, perhaps, to the giant aliens who fabricated the ku`i known as Ultima Thule.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Our take on the Mueller Report: Clear Case of Obstruction, but not Collusion

On reading the entire report of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, here are two takeaways:
Obstruction of justice is clear and inescapable (see Volume II.)
Russian collusion, not so much. (See Volume I.)
You can find the full text of the redacted Mueller Report at numerous sites. Hereʻs CNNʻs. 
Iʻm not sure how many people talking about the report actually read its hundreds of pages. I did, and from my reading, there are three key points on two overarching topics: Russian interference and obstruction of justice.
1. There was ample evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election;
2. There was a lot of evidence that the Trump campaign worked with the Russians to damage Hillary Clintonʻs campaign and to bolster Trumpʻs. Thatʻs what the President is calling collusion. But thereʻs not a lot of evidence they did it knowingly.
3. On obstruction of justice—mainly all the things President Trump to interfere with the investigation—the case is absolutely clear. There was a lot of evidence.
Mueller laid out all the facts and legal arguments needed to reach a conviction on obstruction, but he stopped short of declaring guilt, noting that a sitting president canʻt be prosecuted.
In count after count, Mueller laid out each of the three elements needed to convict. The three are: An overt act of obstruction; Whether that act was tied to an official proceeding; and Whether the obstruction was done with intent.
Here is just one of the many counts, recounted briefly, from Vol. II, P. 12, and Vol II, PP. 44-46:
Obstructive Act: The President repeatedly asked FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn for lying to the FBI.
Nexus to a proceeding: There was evidence President Trump had been informed that there was a likelihood of prosecution of Flynn over Russian issues.
Intent: The President told others that he wanted to end the Russia investigation.
Thatʻs just one of many counts. Here is another, from Vol. II, PP. 77-90:
Obstructive Act: The President ordered several officials to fire Mueller.
Nexus to a proceeding: The President knews that Mueller was investigating him for federal crimes, including the previous firing of the FBI director.
Intent: "Substantial evidence indicates that the President's attempts to remove the Special Counsel were linked to the Special Counsel's oversight of investigations that involved the President's conduct-and, most immediately, to reports that the President was being investigated for potential obstruction of justice."
So, why didnʻt Mueller take the next step and declare outright that the President had obstructed justice?
He pretty much did, but he did it oddly.
"If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the  facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state," Mueller said.
A reasonable plain language translation of that would be, "If he were innocent weʻd say so, and weʻre not, so heʻs not."
So Mueller didnʻt outright say the President is guilty. What Mueller did say, in case after case,  was that it takes three things to prove obstruction, and he had all three things."
The Russian interference case is a little less clear.
Mueller clearly lays out the many ways in which the Russian government actively interfered—hacking websites (Vol.1, P. 36), recruiting Americans (Vol.1, P. 31), arranging public rallies (Vol.1, P. 29), using social media to promote pro-Trump and anti-Clinton themes (Vol.1, P. 26), and so on.
And lots of Trump campaign personnel were meeting with lots of Russians, were doing what Russians were asking them to do, and were passing campaign information to Russians. Although that sounds like coordination, Mueller says it is at least possible that some Trump organization people werenʻt aware that they were doing Russian bidding.
Examples of some of the links between Russia and the Trump organization:
Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort gave Russians Trump campaign internal polling data on the states where the Trump campaign needed help. (Vol.1, P. 140)
Russians asked the Trump campaign to help promote Russiaʻs social media activity, and the Trump campaign then tweeted links to Russian-controlled sites. (Vol.1, P. 33) Both President Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. were among those tweeting and retweeting Twitter posts (Vol.1, P. 34) prepared by the Russian Internet Research Agency.
What is not clear is whether the Trump campaign always knew that they were responding to and retweeting Russian disinformation.
Mueller concluded that there wasnʻt enough evidence to file criminal charges:
"The investigation did not...yield evidence sufficient to sustain any charge that any individual affiliated with the Trump Campaign acted as an agent of a foreign principal," the report says.
Thereʻs our conclusion: Mueller has laid out a clear case of obstruction, not so clear on collusion.
©Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Climate models keep getting scarier. Think 5-10degF hotter than now,

CO2 over time. Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.)

The International Panel on Climate Change, aware of political blowback, has been conservative on its predictions of how fast the planet is changing, and now new studies are arguing that perhaps it should have been leaning the other way.

The new data suggests that things are going to get worse far faster than those conservative estimates, and indeed far faster than the previous worst case scenarios.

This is all starting to read like some science fiction scenario, but itʻs real and itʻs one of our own making. Hereʻs the evidence.

The best climate models from research centers around the world are showing that itʻs getting hotter faster than we thought it would. That translates into faster-melting glaciers, faster-rising oceans, faster changes in storm frequency, faster disruption in weather patterns.

The new climate models are being prepared for the next release of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is to be issued in 2021.
To be clear, the analysis of the newest climate studies is far from done, and it might not be nearly as problematic as it looks. But it might be.

In a post at the blog Carbon Brief, researchers from France and the United Kingdom agreed that the new figures look alarming. 

The last outlook suggested that in a few hundred years, climate will settle—reach equilibrium—at between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Centigrade hotter than now. The new computerized climate models are suggesting that range will actually be between 2.8 and 5.8 degrees Centigrade.

Those are catastrophic numbers. In Fahrenheit, means our descendants will face a world between 5 and 10 degrees hotter on average than now.

Getting higher faster means a lot of bad things. The authors of the Carbon Brief piece suggested one: "Higher warming would allow less time to adapt and mean a greater likelihood of passing climate ʻtipping pointsʻ–such as thawing of permafrost, which would further accelerate warming."

Does this all sound a little like a broken record? Well, yes, it sounds familiar. Thatʻs because records are being broken constantly in this arena.

The U.S. Climate Change Research Program, which is online at, makes the point that the planet is warming faster than at any time in human history.

The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, in its latest State of the Climate report, noted that 2015, 2016 and 2017 were the three hottest years since the tally has been kept, and that both sea level rise and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were also at record levels.

©Jan TenBruggencate 2019