Arquivo da tag: Mediação tecnológica

Latour on digital methods (Installing [social] order)

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In a fascinating, apparently not-peer-reviewed non-article available free online here, Tommaso Venturini and Bruno Latour discuss the potential of “digital methods” for the contemporary social sciences.

The paper summarizes, and quite nicely, the split of sociological methods to the statistical aggregate using quantitative methods (capturing supposedly macro-phenomenon) and irreducibly basic interactions using qualitative methods (capturing supposedly micro-phenomenon). The problem is that neither of which aided the sociologist in capture emergent phenomenon, that is, capturing controversies and events as they happen rather than estimate them after they have emerged (quantitative macro structures) or capture them divorced from non-local influences (qualitative micro phenomenon).

The solution, they claim, is to adopt digital methods in the social sciences. The paper is not exactly a methodological outline of how to accomplish these methods, but there is something of a justification available for it, and it sounds something like this:

Thanks to digital traceability, researchers no longer need to choose between precision and scope in their observations: it is now possible to follow a multitude of interactions and, simultaneously, to distinguish the specific contribution that each one makes to the construction of social phenomena. Born in an era of scarcity, the social sciences are entering an age of abundance. In the face of the richness of these new data, nothing justifies keeping old distinctions. Endowed with a quantity of data comparable to the natural sciences, the social sciences can finally correct their lazy eyes and simultaneously maintain the focus and scope of their observations.

Direct brain interface between humans (Science Daily)

Date: November 5, 2014

Source: University of Washington

Summary: Researchers have successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people as part of a scientific study following the team’s initial demonstration a year ago. In the newly published study, which involved six people, researchers were able to transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.

In this photo, UW students Darby Losey, left, and Jose Ceballos are positioned in two different buildings on campus as they would be during a brain-to-brain interface demonstration. The sender, left, thinks about firing a cannon at various points throughout a computer game. That signal is sent over the Web directly to the brain of the receiver, right, whose hand hits a touchpad to fire the cannon.Mary Levin, U of Wash. Credit: Image courtesy of University of Washington

Sometimes, words just complicate things. What if our brains could communicate directly with each other, bypassing the need for language?

University of Washington researchers have successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people as part of a scientific study following the team’s initial demonstration a year ago. In the newly published study, which involved six people, researchers were able to transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.

At the time of the first experiment in August 2013, the UW team was the first to demonstrate two human brains communicating in this way. The researchers then tested their brain-to-brain interface in a more comprehensive study, published Nov. 5 in the journal PLOS ONE.

“The new study brings our brain-to-brain interfacing paradigm from an initial demonstration to something that is closer to a deliverable technology,” said co-author Andrea Stocco, a research assistant professor of psychology and a researcher at UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. “Now we have replicated our methods and know that they can work reliably with walk-in participants.”

Collaborator Rajesh Rao, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering, is the lead author on this work.

The research team combined two kinds of noninvasive instruments and fine-tuned software to connect two human brains in real time. The process is fairly straightforward. One participant is hooked to an electroencephalography machine that reads brain activity and sends electrical pulses via the Web to the second participant, who is wearing a swim cap with a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil placed near the part of the brain that controls hand movements.

Using this setup, one person can send a command to move the hand of the other by simply thinking about that hand movement.

The UW study involved three pairs of participants. Each pair included a sender and a receiver with different roles and constraints. They sat in separate buildings on campus about a half mile apart and were unable to interact with each other in any way — except for the link between their brains.

Each sender was in front of a computer game in which he or she had to defend a city by firing a cannon and intercepting rockets launched by a pirate ship. But because the senders could not physically interact with the game, the only way they could defend the city was by thinking about moving their hand to fire the cannon.

Across campus, each receiver sat wearing headphones in a dark room — with no ability to see the computer game — with the right hand positioned over the only touchpad that could actually fire the cannon. If the brain-to-brain interface was successful, the receiver’s hand would twitch, pressing the touchpad and firing the cannon that was displayed on the sender’s computer screen across campus.

Researchers found that accuracy varied among the pairs, ranging from 25 to 83 percent. Misses mostly were due to a sender failing to accurately execute the thought to send the “fire” command. The researchers also were able to quantify the exact amount of information that was transferred between the two brains.

Another research team from the company Starlab in Barcelona, Spain, recently published results in the same journal showing direct communication between two human brains, but that study only tested one sender brain instead of different pairs of study participants and was conducted offline instead of in real time over the Web.

Now, with a new $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, the UW research team is taking the work a step further in an attempt to decode and transmit more complex brain processes.

With the new funding, the research team will expand the types of information that can be transferred from brain to brain, including more complex visual and psychological phenomena such as concepts, thoughts and rules.

They’re also exploring how to influence brain waves that correspond with alertness or sleepiness. Eventually, for example, the brain of a sleepy airplane pilot dozing off at the controls could stimulate the copilot’s brain to become more alert.

The project could also eventually lead to “brain tutoring,” in which knowledge is transferred directly from the brain of a teacher to a student.

“Imagine someone who’s a brilliant scientist but not a brilliant teacher. Complex knowledge is hard to explain — we’re limited by language,” said co-author Chantel Prat, a faculty member at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences and a UW assistant professor of psychology.

Other UW co-authors are Joseph Wu of computer science and engineering; Devapratim Sarma and Tiffany Youngquist of bioengineering; and Matthew Bryan, formerly of the UW.

The research published in PLOS ONE was initially funded by the U.S. Army Research Office and the UW, with additional support from the Keck Foundation.


Journal Reference:

  1. Rajesh P. N. Rao, Andrea Stocco, Matthew Bryan, Devapratim Sarma, Tiffany M. Youngquist, Joseph Wu, Chantel S. Prat. A Direct Brain-to-Brain Interface in Humans. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (11): e111332 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111332

Cockroach cyborgs use microphones to detect, trace sounds (Science Daily)

Date: November 6, 2014

Source: North Carolina State University

Summary: Researchers have developed technology that allows cyborg cockroaches, or biobots, to pick up sounds with small microphones and seek out the source of the sound. The technology is designed to help emergency personnel find and rescue survivors in the aftermath of a disaster.


North Carolina State University researchers have developed technology that allows cyborg cockroaches, or biobots, to pick up sounds with small microphones and seek out the source of the sound. The technology is designed to help emergency personnel find and rescue survivors in the aftermath of a disaster. Credit: Eric Whitmire.

North Carolina State University researchers have developed technology that allows cyborg cockroaches, or biobots, to pick up sounds with small microphones and seek out the source of the sound. The technology is designed to help emergency personnel find and rescue survivors in the aftermath of a disaster.

The researchers have also developed technology that can be used as an “invisible fence” to keep the biobots in the disaster area.

“In a collapsed building, sound is the best way to find survivors,” says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and senior author of two papers on the work.

The biobots are equipped with electronic backpacks that control the cockroach’s movements. Bozkurt’s research team has created two types of customized backpacks using microphones. One type of biobot has a single microphone that can capture relatively high-resolution sound from any direction to be wirelessly transmitted to first responders.

The second type of biobot is equipped with an array of three directional microphones to detect the direction of the sound. The research team has also developed algorithms that analyze the sound from the microphone array to localize the source of the sound and steer the biobot in that direction. The system worked well during laboratory testing. Video of a laboratory test of the microphone array system is available athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJXEPcv-FMw.

“The goal is to use the biobots with high-resolution microphones to differentiate between sounds that matter — like people calling for help — from sounds that don’t matter — like a leaking pipe,” Bozkurt says. “Once we’ve identified sounds that matter, we can use the biobots equipped with microphone arrays to zero in on where those sounds are coming from.”

A research team led by Dr. Edgar Lobaton has previously shown that biobots can be used to map a disaster area. Funded by National Science Foundation CyberPhysical Systems Program, the long-term goal is for Bozkurt and Lobaton to merge their research efforts to both map disaster areas and pinpoint survivors. The researchers are already working with collaborator Dr. Mihail Sichitiu to develop the next generation of biobot networking and localization technology.

Bozkurt’s team also recently demonstrated technology that creates an invisible fence for keeping biobots in a defined area. This is significant because it can be used to keep biobots at a disaster site, and to keep the biobots within range of each other so that they can be used as a reliable mobile wireless network. This technology could also be used to steer biobots to light sources, so that the miniaturized solar panels on biobot backpacks can be recharged. Video of the invisible fence technology in practice can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWGAKd7_fAM.

A paper on the microphone sensor research, “Acoustic Sensors for Biobotic Search and Rescue,” was presented Nov. 5 at the IEEE Sensors 2014 conference in Valencia, Spain. Lead author of the paper is Eric Whitmire, a former undergraduate at NC State. The paper was co-authored by Tahmid Latif, a Ph.D. student at NC State, and Bozkurt.

The paper on the invisible fence for biobots, “Towards Fenceless Boundaries for Solar Powered Insect Biobots,” was presented Aug. 28 at the 36th Annual International IEEE EMBS Conference in Chicago, Illinois. Latif was the lead author. Co-authors include Tristan Novak, a graduate student at NC State, Whitmire and Bozkurt.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number 1239243.

Projecting a robot’s intentions: New spin on virtual reality helps engineers read robots’ minds (Science Daily)

Date: October 29, 2014

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Summary: In a darkened, hangar-like space inside MIT’s Building 41, a small, Roomba-like robot is trying to make up its mind. Standing in its path is an obstacle — a human pedestrian who’s pacing back and forth. To get to the other side of the room, the robot has to first determine where the pedestrian is, then choose the optimal route to avoid a close encounter. As the robot considers its options, its “thoughts” are projected on the ground: A large pink dot appears to follow the pedestrian — a symbol of the robot’s perception of the pedestrian’s position in space.

A new spin on virtual reality helps engineers read robots’ minds. Credit: Video screenshot courtesy of Melanie Gonick/MIT

In a darkened, hangar-like space inside MIT’s Building 41, a small, Roomba-like robot is trying to make up its mind.

Standing in its path is an obstacle — a human pedestrian who’s pacing back and forth. To get to the other side of the room, the robot has to first determine where the pedestrian is, then choose the optimal route to avoid a close encounter.

As the robot considers its options, its “thoughts” are projected on the ground: A large pink dot appears to follow the pedestrian — a symbol of the robot’s perception of the pedestrian’s position in space. Lines, each representing a possible route for the robot to take, radiate across the room in meandering patterns and colors, with a green line signifying the optimal route. The lines and dots shift and adjust as the pedestrian and the robot move.

This new visualization system combines ceiling-mounted projectors with motion-capture technology and animation software to project a robot’s intentions in real time. The researchers have dubbed the system “measurable virtual reality (MVR) — a spin on conventional virtual reality that’s designed to visualize a robot’s “perceptions and understanding of the world,” says Ali-akbar Agha-mohammadi, a postdoc in MIT’s Aerospace Controls Lab.

“Normally, a robot may make some decision, but you can’t quite tell what’s going on in its mind — why it’s choosing a particular path,” Agha-mohammadi says. “But if you can see the robot’s plan projected on the ground, you can connect what it perceives with what it does to make sense of its actions.”

Agha-mohammadi says the system may help speed up the development of self-driving cars, package-delivering drones, and other autonomous, route-planning vehicles.

“As designers, when we can compare the robot’s perceptions with how it acts, we can find bugs in our code much faster,” Agha-mohammadi says. “For example, if we fly a quadrotor, and see something go wrong in its mind, we can terminate the code before it hits the wall, or breaks.”

The system was developed by Shayegan Omidshafiei, a graduate student, and Agha-mohammadi. They and their colleagues, including Jonathan How, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics, will present details of the visualization system at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ SciTech conference in January.

Seeing into the mind of a robot

The researchers initially conceived of the visualization system in response to feedback from visitors to their lab. During demonstrations of robotic missions, it was often difficult for people to understand why robots chose certain actions.

“Some of the decisions almost seemed random,” Omidshafiei recalls.

The team developed the system as a way to visually represent the robots’ decision-making process. The engineers mounted 18 motion-capture cameras on the ceiling to track multiple robotic vehicles simultaneously. They then developed computer software that visually renders “hidden” information, such as a robot’s possible routes, and its perception of an obstacle’s position. They projected this information on the ground in real time, as physical robots operated.

The researchers soon found that by projecting the robots’ intentions, they were able to spot problems in the underlying algorithms, and make improvements much faster than before.

“There are a lot of problems that pop up because of uncertainty in the real world, or hardware issues, and that’s where our system can significantly reduce the amount of effort spent by researchers to pinpoint the causes,” Omidshafiei says. “Traditionally, physical and simulation systems were disjointed. You would have to go to the lowest level of your code, break it down, and try to figure out where the issues were coming from. Now we have the capability to show low-level information in a physical manner, so you don’t have to go deep into your code, or restructure your vision of how your algorithm works. You could see applications where you might cut down a whole month of work into a few days.”

Bringing the outdoors in

The group has explored a few such applications using the visualization system. In one scenario, the team is looking into the role of drones in fighting forest fires. Such drones may one day be used both to survey and to squelch fires — first observing a fire’s effect on various types of vegetation, then identifying and putting out those fires that are most likely to spread.

To make fire-fighting drones a reality, the team is first testing the possibility virtually. In addition to projecting a drone’s intentions, the researchers can also project landscapes to simulate an outdoor environment. In test scenarios, the group has flown physical quadrotors over projections of forests, shown from an aerial perspective to simulate a drone’s view, as if it were flying over treetops. The researchers projected fire on various parts of the landscape, and directed quadrotors to take images of the terrain — images that could eventually be used to “teach” the robots to recognize signs of a particularly dangerous fire.

Going forward, Agha-mohammadi says, the team plans to use the system to test drone performance in package-delivery scenarios. Toward this end, the researchers will simulate urban environments by creating street-view projections of cities, similar to zoomed-in perspectives on Google Maps.

“Imagine we can project a bunch of apartments in Cambridge,” Agha-mohammadi says. “Depending on where the vehicle is, you can look at the environment from different angles, and what it sees will be quite similar to what it would see if it were flying in reality.”

Because the Federal Aviation Administration has placed restrictions on outdoor testing of quadrotors and other autonomous flying vehicles, Omidshafiei points out that testing such robots in a virtual environment may be the next best thing. In fact, the sky’s the limit as far as the types of virtual environments that the new system may project.

“With this system, you can design any environment you want, and can test and prototype your vehicles as if they’re fully outdoors, before you deploy them in the real world,” Omidshafiei says.

This work was supported by Boeing.

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utM9zOYXgUY

Citizen science network produces accurate maps of atmospheric dust (Science Daily)

Date: October 27, 2014

Source: Leiden University

Summary: Measurements by thousands of citizen scientists in the Netherlands using their smartphones and the iSPEX add-on are delivering accurate data on dust particles in the atmosphere that add valuable information to professional measurements. The research team analyzed all measurements from three days in 2013 and combined them into unique maps of dust particles above the Netherlands. The results match and sometimes even exceed those of ground-based measurement networks and satellite instruments.

iSPEX map compiled from all iSPEX measurements performed in the Netherlands on July 8, 2013, between 14:00 and 21:00. Each blue dot represents one of the 6007 measurements that were submitted on that day. At each location on the map, the 50 nearest iSPEX measurements were averaged and converted to Aerosol Optical Thickness, a measure for the total amount of atmospheric particles. This map can be compared to the AOT data from the MODIS Aqua satellite, which flew over the Netherlands at 16:12 local time. The relatively high AOT values were caused by smoke clouds from forest fires in North America, which were blown over the Netherlands at an altitude of 2-4 km. In the course of the day, winds from the North brought clearer air to the northern provinces. Credit: Image courtesy of Leiden, Universiteit

Measurements by thousands of citizen scientists in the Netherlands using their smartphones and the iSPEX add-on are delivering accurate data on dust particles in the atmosphere that add valuable information to professional measurements. The iSPEX team, led by Frans Snik of Leiden University, analyzed all measurements from three days in 2013 and combined them into unique maps of dust particles above the Netherlands. The results match and sometimes even exceed those of ground-based measurement networks and satellite instruments.

The iSPEX maps achieve a spatial resolution as small as 2 kilometers whereas satellite data are much courser. They also fill in blind spots of established ground-based atmospheric measurement networks. The scientific article that presents these first results of the iSPEX project is being published in Geophysical Research Letters.

The iSPEX team developed a new atmospheric measurement method in the form of a low-cost add-on for smartphone cameras. The iSPEX app instructs participants to scan the blue sky while the phone’s built-in camera takes pictures through the add-on. The photos record both the spectrum and the linear polarization of the sunlight that is scattered by suspended dust particles, and thus contain information about the properties of these particles. While such properties are difficult to measure, much better knowledge on atmospheric particles is needed to understand their effects on health, climate and air traffic.

Thousands of participants performed iSPEX measurements throughout the Netherlands on three cloud-free days in 2013. This large-scale citizen science experiment allowed the iSPEX team to verify the reliability of this new measurement method.

After a rigorous quality assessment of each submitted data point, measurements recorded in specific areas within a limited amount of time are averaged to obtain sufficient accuracy. Subsequently the data are converted to Aerosol Optical Thickness (AOT), which is a standardized quantity related to the total amount of atmospheric particles. The iSPEX AOT data match comparable data from satellites and the AERONET ground station at Cabauw, the Netherlands. In areas with sufficiently high measurement densities, the iSPEX maps can even discern smaller details than satellite data.

Team leader Snik: “This proves that our new measurement method works. But the great strength of iSPEX is the measurement philosophy: the establishment of a citizen science network of thousands of enthusiastic volunteers who actively carry out outdoor measurements. In this way, we can collect valuable information about atmospheric particles on locations and/or at times that are not covered by professional equipment. These results are even more accurate than we had hoped, and give rise to further research and development. We are currently investigating to what extent we can extract more information about atmospheric particles from the iSPEX data, like their sizes and compositions. And of course, we want to organize many more measurement days.”

With the help of a grant that supports public activities in Europe during the International Year of Light 2015, the iSPEX team is now preparing for the international expansion of the project. This expansion provides opportunities for national and international parties to join the project. Snik: “Our final goal is to establish a global network of citizen scientists who all contribute measurements to study the sources and societal effects of polluting atmospheric particles.”


Journal Reference:

  1. Frans Snik, Jeroen H. H. Rietjens, Arnoud Apituley, Hester Volten, Bas Mijling, Antonio Di Noia, Stephanie Heikamp, Ritse C. Heinsbroek, Otto P. Hasekamp, J. Martijn Smit, Jan Vonk, Daphne M. Stam, Gerard van Harten, Jozua de Boer, Christoph U. Keller. Mapping atmospheric aerosols with a citizen science network of smartphone spectropolarimeters. Geophysical Research Letters, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/2014GL061462

Scientists find ‘hidden brain signatures’ of consciousness in vegetative state patients (Science Daily)

Date: October 16, 2014

Source: University of Cambridge

Summary: Scientists in Cambridge have found hidden signatures in the brains of people in a vegetative state, which point to networks that could support consciousness even when a patient appears to be unconscious and unresponsive. The study could help doctors identify patients who are aware despite being unable to communicate.

These images show brain networks in two behaviorally similar vegetative patients (left and middle), but one of whom imagined playing tennis (middle panel), alongside a healthy adult (right panel). Credit: Srivas Chennu

Scientists in Cambridge have found hidden signatures in the brains of people in a vegetative state, which point to networks that could support consciousness even when a patient appears to be unconscious and unresponsive. The study could help doctors identify patients who are aware despite being unable to communicate.

There has been a great deal of interest recently in how much patients in a vegetative state following severe brain injury are aware of their surroundings. Although unable to move and respond, some of these patients are able to carry out tasks such as imagining playing a game of tennis. Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, which measures brain activity, researchers have previously been able to record activity in the pre-motor cortex, the part of the brain which deals with movement, in apparently unconscious patients asked to imagine playing tennis.

Now, a team of researchers led by scientists at the University of Cambridge and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, have used high-density electroencephalographs (EEG) and a branch of mathematics known as ‘graph theory’ to study networks of activity in the brains of 32 patients diagnosed as vegetative and minimally conscious and compare them to healthy adults. The findings of the research are published today in the journal PLOS Computational Biology. The study was funded mainly by the Wellcome Trust, the National Institute of Health Research Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

The researchers showed that the rich and diversely connected networks that support awareness in the healthy brain are typically — but importantly, not always — impaired in patients in a vegetative state. Some vegetative patients had well-preserved brain networks that look similar to those of healthy adults — these patients were those who had shown signs of hidden awareness by following commands such as imagining playing tennis.

Dr Srivas Chennu from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge says: “Understanding how consciousness arises from the interactions between networks of brain regions is an elusive but fascinating scientific question. But for patients diagnosed as vegetative and minimally conscious, and their families, this is far more than just an academic question — it takes on a very real significance. Our research could improve clinical assessment and help identify patients who might be covertly aware despite being uncommunicative.”

The findings could help researchers develop a relatively simple way of identifying which patients might be aware whilst in a vegetative state. Unlike the ‘tennis test’, which can be a difficult task for patients and requires expensive and often unavailable fMRI scanners, this new technique uses EEG and could therefore be administered at a patient’s bedside. However, the tennis test is stronger evidence that the patient is indeed conscious, to the extent that they can follow commands using their thoughts. The researchers believe that a combination of such tests could help improve accuracy in the prognosis for a patient.

Dr Tristan Bekinschtein from the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit and the Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, adds: “Although there are limitations to how predictive our test would be used in isolation, combined with other tests it could help in the clinical assessment of patients. If a patient’s ‘awareness’ networks are intact, then we know that they are likely to be aware of what is going on around them. But unfortunately, they also suggest that vegetative patients with severely impaired networks at rest are unlikely to show any signs of consciousness.”


Journal Reference:

  1. Chennu S, Finoia P, Kamau E, Allanson J, Williams GB, et al. Spectral Signatures of Reorganised Brain Networks in Disorders of Consciousness. PLOS Computational Biology, 2014; 10 (10): e1003887 DOI:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003887

City and rural super-dialects exposed via Twitter (New Scientist)

11 August 2014 by Aviva Rutkin

Magazine issue 2981.

WHAT do two Twitter users who live halfway around the world from each other have in common? They might speak the same “super-dialect”. An analysis of millions of Spanish tweets found two popular speaking styles: one favoured by people living in cities, another by those in small rural towns.

Bruno Gonçalves at Aix-Marseille University in France and David Sánchez at the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems in Palma, Majorca, Spain, analysed more than 50 million tweets sent over a two-year period. Each tweet was tagged with a GPS marker showing whether the message came from a user somewhere in Spain, Latin America, or Spanish-speaking pockets of Europe and the US.

The team then searched the tweets for variations on common words. Someone tweeting about their socks might use the word calcetas, medias, orsoquetes, for example. Another person referring to their car might call it theircoche, auto, movi, or one of three other variations with roughly the same meaning. By comparing these word choices to where they came from, the researchers were able to map preferences across continents (arxiv.org/abs/1407.7094).

According to their data, Twitter users in major cities thousands of miles apart, like Quito in Ecuador and San Diego in California, tend to have more language in common with each other than with a person tweeting from the nearby countryside, probably due to the influence of mass media.

Studies like these may allow us to dig deeper into how language varies across place, time and culture, says Eric Holt at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

This article appeared in print under the headline “Super-dialects exposed via millions of tweets”

The rise of data and the death of politics (The Guardian)

Tech pioneers in the US are advocating a new data-based approach to governance – ‘algorithmic regulation’. But if technology provides the answers to society’s problems, what happens to governments?

The Observer, Sunday 20 July 2014

US president Barack Obama with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Government by social network? US president Barack Obama with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

On 24 August 1965 Gloria Placente, a 34-year-old resident of Queens, New York, was driving to Orchard Beach in the Bronx. Clad in shorts and sunglasses, the housewife was looking forward to quiet time at the beach. But the moment she crossed the Willis Avenue bridge in her Chevrolet Corvair, Placente was surrounded by a dozen patrolmen. There were also 125 reporters, eager to witness the launch of New York police department’s Operation Corral – an acronym for Computer Oriented Retrieval of Auto Larcenists.

Fifteen months earlier, Placente had driven through a red light and neglected to answer the summons, an offence that Corral was going to punish with a heavy dose of techno-Kafkaesque. It worked as follows: a police car stationed at one end of the bridge radioed the licence plates of oncoming cars to a teletypist miles away, who fed them to a Univac 490 computer, an expensive $500,000 toy ($3.5m in today’s dollars) on loan from the Sperry Rand Corporation. The computer checked the numbers against a database of 110,000 cars that were either stolen or belonged to known offenders. In case of a match the teletypist would alert a second patrol car at the bridge’s other exit. It took, on average, just seven seconds.

Compared with the impressive police gear of today – automatic number plate recognition, CCTV cameras, GPS trackers – Operation Corral looks quaint. And the possibilities for control will only expand. European officials have considered requiring all cars entering the European market to feature a built-in mechanism that allows the police to stop vehicles remotely. Speaking earlier this year, Jim Farley, a senior Ford executive, acknowledged that “we know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone.” That last bit didn’t sound very reassuring and Farley retracted his remarks.

As both cars and roads get “smart,” they promise nearly perfect, real-time law enforcement. Instead of waiting for drivers to break the law, authorities can simply prevent the crime. Thus, a 50-mile stretch of the A14 between Felixstowe and Rugby is to be equipped with numerous sensors that would monitor traffic by sending signals to and from mobile phones in moving vehicles. The telecoms watchdog Ofcom envisionsthat such smart roads connected to a centrally controlled traffic system could automatically impose variable speed limits to smooth the flow of traffic but also direct the cars “along diverted routes to avoid the congestion and even [manage] their speed”.

Other gadgets – from smartphones to smart glasses – promise even more security and safety. In April, Apple patented technology that deploys sensors inside the smartphone to analyse if the car is moving and if the person using the phone is driving; if both conditions are met, it simply blocks the phone’s texting feature. Intel and Ford are working on Project Mobil – a face recognition system that, should it fail to recognise the face of the driver, would not only prevent the car being started but also send the picture to the car’s owner (bad news for teenagers).

The car is emblematic of transformations in many other domains, from smart environments for “ambient assisted living” where carpets and walls detect that someone has fallen, to various masterplans for the smart city, where municipal services dispatch resources only to those areas that need them. Thanks to sensors and internet connectivity, the most banal everyday objects have acquired tremendous power to regulate behaviour. Even public toilets are ripe for sensor-based optimisation: the Safeguard Germ Alarm, a smart soap dispenser developed by Procter & Gamble and used in some public WCs in the Philippines, has sensors monitoring the doors of each stall. Once you leave the stall, the alarm starts ringing – and can only be stopped by a push of the soap-dispensing button.

In this context, Google’s latest plan to push its Android operating system on to smart watches, smart cars, smart thermostats and, one suspects, smart everything, looks rather ominous. In the near future, Google will be the middleman standing between you and your fridge, you and your car, you and your rubbish bin, allowing the National Security Agency to satisfy its data addiction in bulk and via a single window.

This “smartification” of everyday life follows a familiar pattern: there’s primary data – a list of what’s in your smart fridge and your bin – and metadata – a log of how often you open either of these things or when they communicate with one another. Both produce interesting insights: cue smart mattresses – one recent model promises to track respiration and heart rates and how much you move during the night – and smart utensils that provide nutritional advice.

In addition to making our lives more efficient, this smart world also presents us with an exciting political choice. If so much of our everyday behaviour is already captured, analysed and nudged, why stick with unempirical approaches to regulation? Why rely on laws when one has sensors and feedback mechanisms? If policy interventions are to be – to use the buzzwords of the day – “evidence-based” and “results-oriented,” technology is here to help.

This new type of governance has a name: algorithmic regulation. In as much as Silicon Valley has a political programme, this is it. Tim O’Reilly, an influential technology publisher, venture capitalist and ideas man (he is to blame for popularising the term “web 2.0″) has been its most enthusiastic promoter. In a recent essay that lays out his reasoning, O’Reilly makes an intriguing case for the virtues of algorithmic regulation – a case that deserves close scrutiny both for what it promises policymakers and the simplistic assumptions it makes about politics, democracy and power.

To see algorithmic regulation at work, look no further than the spam filter in your email. Instead of confining itself to a narrow definition of spam, the email filter has its users teach it. Even Google can’t write rules to cover all the ingenious innovations of professional spammers. What it can do, though, is teach the system what makes a good rule and spot when it’s time to find another rule for finding a good rule – and so on. An algorithm can do this, but it’s the constant real-time feedback from its users that allows the system to counter threats never envisioned by its designers. And it’s not just spam: your bank uses similar methods to spot credit-card fraud.

In his essay, O’Reilly draws broader philosophical lessons from such technologies, arguing that they work because they rely on “a deep understanding of the desired outcome” (spam is bad!) and periodically check if the algorithms are actually working as expected (are too many legitimate emails ending up marked as spam?).

O’Reilly presents such technologies as novel and unique – we are living through a digital revolution after all – but the principle behind “algorithmic regulation” would be familiar to the founders of cybernetics – a discipline that, even in its name (it means “the science of governance”) hints at its great regulatory ambitions. This principle, which allows the system to maintain its stability by constantly learning and adapting itself to the changing circumstances, is what the British psychiatrist Ross Ashby, one of the founding fathers of cybernetics, called “ultrastability”.

To illustrate it, Ashby designed the homeostat. This clever device consisted of four interconnected RAF bomb control units – mysterious looking black boxes with lots of knobs and switches – that were sensitive to voltage fluctuations. If one unit stopped working properly – say, because of an unexpected external disturbance – the other three would rewire and regroup themselves, compensating for its malfunction and keeping the system’s overall output stable.

Ashby’s homeostat achieved “ultrastability” by always monitoring its internal state and cleverly redeploying its spare resources.

Like the spam filter, it didn’t have to specify all the possible disturbances – only the conditions for how and when it must be updated and redesigned. This is no trivial departure from how the usual technical systems, with their rigid, if-then rules, operate: suddenly, there’s no need to develop procedures for governing every contingency, for – or so one hopes – algorithms and real-time, immediate feedback can do a better job than inflexible rules out of touch with reality.

Algorithmic regulation could certainly make the administration of existing laws more efficient. If it can fight credit-card fraud, why not tax fraud? Italian bureaucrats have experimented with the redditometro, or income meter, a tool for comparing people’s spending patterns – recorded thanks to an arcane Italian law – with their declared income, so that authorities know when you spend more than you earn. Spain has expressed interest in a similar tool.

Such systems, however, are toothless against the real culprits of tax evasion – the super-rich families who profit from various offshoring schemes or simply write outrageous tax exemptions into the law. Algorithmic regulation is perfect for enforcing the austerity agenda while leaving those responsible for the fiscal crisis off the hook. To understand whether such systems are working as expected, we need to modify O’Reilly’s question: for whom are they working? If it’s just the tax-evading plutocrats, the global financial institutions interested in balanced national budgets and the companies developing income-tracking software, then it’s hardly a democratic success.

With his belief that algorithmic regulation is based on “a deep understanding of the desired outcome”, O’Reilly cunningly disconnects the means of doing politics from its ends. But the how of politics is as important as the what of politics – in fact, the former often shapes the latter. Everybody agrees that education, health, and security are all “desired outcomes”, but how do we achieve them? In the past, when we faced the stark political choice of delivering them through the market or the state, the lines of the ideological debate were clear. Today, when the presumed choice is between the digital and the analog or between the dynamic feedback and the static law, that ideological clarity is gone – as if the very choice of how to achieve those “desired outcomes” was apolitical and didn’t force us to choose between different and often incompatible visions of communal living.

By assuming that the utopian world of infinite feedback loops is so efficient that it transcends politics, the proponents of algorithmic regulation fall into the same trap as the technocrats of the past. Yes, these systems are terrifyingly efficient – in the same way that Singapore is terrifyingly efficient (O’Reilly, unsurprisingly, praises Singapore for its embrace of algorithmic regulation). And while Singapore’s leaders might believe that they, too, have transcended politics, it doesn’t mean that their regime cannot be assessed outside the linguistic swamp of efficiency and innovation – by using political, not economic benchmarks.

As Silicon Valley keeps corrupting our language with its endless glorification of disruption and efficiency – concepts at odds with the vocabulary of democracy – our ability to question the “how” of politics is weakened. Silicon Valley’s default answer to the how of politics is what I call solutionism: problems are to be dealt with via apps, sensors, and feedback loops – all provided by startups. Earlier this year Google’s Eric Schmidt even promised that startups would provide the solution to the problem of economic inequality: the latter, it seems, can also be “disrupted”. And where the innovators and the disruptors lead, the bureaucrats follow.

The intelligence services embraced solutionism before other government agencies. Thus, they reduced the topic of terrorism from a subject that had some connection to history and foreign policy to an informational problem of identifying emerging terrorist threats via constant surveillance. They urged citizens to accept that instability is part of the game, that its root causes are neither traceable nor reparable, that the threat can only be pre-empted by out-innovating and out-surveilling the enemy with better communications.

Speaking in Athens last November, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben discussed an epochal transformation in the idea of government, “whereby the traditional hierarchical relation between causes and effects is inverted, so that, instead of governing the causes – a difficult and expensive undertaking – governments simply try to govern the effects”.

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman

Governments’ current favourite pyschologist, Daniel Kahneman. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer

For Agamben, this shift is emblematic of modernity. It also explains why the liberalisation of the economy can co-exist with the growing proliferation of control – by means of soap dispensers and remotely managed cars – into everyday life. “If government aims for the effects and not the causes, it will be obliged to extend and multiply control. Causes demand to be known, while effects can only be checked and controlled.” Algorithmic regulation is an enactment of this political programme in technological form.

The true politics of algorithmic regulation become visible once its logic is applied to the social nets of the welfare state. There are no calls to dismantle them, but citizens are nonetheless encouraged to take responsibility for their own health. Consider how Fred Wilson, an influential US venture capitalist, frames the subject. “Health… is the opposite side of healthcare,” he said at a conference in Paris last December. “It’s what keeps you out of the healthcare system in the first place.” Thus, we are invited to start using self-tracking apps and data-sharing platforms and monitor our vital indicators, symptoms and discrepancies on our own.

This goes nicely with recent policy proposals to save troubled public services by encouraging healthier lifestyles. Consider a 2013 report by Westminster council and the Local Government Information Unit, a thinktank, calling for the linking of housing and council benefits to claimants’ visits to the gym – with the help of smartcards. They might not be needed: many smartphones are already tracking how many steps we take every day (Google Now, the company’s virtual assistant, keeps score of such data automatically and periodically presents it to users, nudging them to walk more).

The numerous possibilities that tracking devices offer to health and insurance industries are not lost on O’Reilly. “You know the way that advertising turned out to be the native business model for the internet?” he wondered at a recent conference. “I think that insurance is going to be the native business model for the internet of things.” Things do seem to be heading that way: in June, Microsoft struck a deal with American Family Insurance, the eighth-largest home insurer in the US, in which both companies will fund startups that want to put sensors into smart homes and smart cars for the purposes of “proactive protection”.

An insurance company would gladly subsidise the costs of installing yet another sensor in your house – as long as it can automatically alert the fire department or make front porch lights flash in case your smoke detector goes off. For now, accepting such tracking systems is framed as an extra benefit that can save us some money. But when do we reach a point where not using them is seen as a deviation – or, worse, an act of concealment – that ought to be punished with higher premiums?

Or consider a May 2014 report from 2020health, another thinktank, proposing to extend tax rebates to Britons who give up smoking, stay slim or drink less. “We propose ‘payment by results’, a financial reward for people who become active partners in their health, whereby if you, for example, keep your blood sugar levels down, quit smoking, keep weight off, [or] take on more self-care, there will be a tax rebate or an end-of-year bonus,” they state. Smart gadgets are the natural allies of such schemes: they document the results and can even help achieve them – by constantly nagging us to do what’s expected.

The unstated assumption of most such reports is that the unhealthy are not only a burden to society but that they deserve to be punished (fiscally for now) for failing to be responsible. For what else could possibly explain their health problems but their personal failings? It’s certainly not the power of food companies or class-based differences or various political and economic injustices. One can wear a dozen powerful sensors, own a smart mattress and even do a close daily reading of one’s poop – as some self-tracking aficionados are wont to do – but those injustices would still be nowhere to be seen, for they are not the kind of stuff that can be measured with a sensor. The devil doesn’t wear data. Social injustices are much harder to track than the everyday lives of the individuals whose lives they affect.

In shifting the focus of regulation from reining in institutional and corporate malfeasance to perpetual electronic guidance of individuals, algorithmic regulation offers us a good-old technocratic utopia of politics without politics. Disagreement and conflict, under this model, are seen as unfortunate byproducts of the analog era – to be solved through data collection – and not as inevitable results of economic or ideological conflicts.

However, a politics without politics does not mean a politics without control or administration. As O’Reilly writes in his essay: “New technologies make it possible to reduce the amount of regulation while actually increasing the amount of oversight and production of desirable outcomes.” Thus, it’s a mistake to think that Silicon Valley wants to rid us of government institutions. Its dream state is not the small government of libertarians – a small state, after all, needs neither fancy gadgets nor massive servers to process the data – but the data-obsessed and data-obese state of behavioural economists.

The nudging state is enamoured of feedback technology, for its key founding principle is that while we behave irrationally, our irrationality can be corrected – if only the environment acts upon us, nudging us towards the right option. Unsurprisingly, one of the three lonely references at the end of O’Reilly’s essay is to a 2012 speech entitled “Regulation: Looking Backward, Looking Forward” by Cass Sunstein, the prominent American legal scholar who is the chief theorist of the nudging state.

And while the nudgers have already captured the state by making behavioural psychology the favourite idiom of government bureaucracy –Daniel Kahneman is in, Machiavelli is out – the algorithmic regulation lobby advances in more clandestine ways. They create innocuous non-profit organisations like Code for America which then co-opt the state – under the guise of encouraging talented hackers to tackle civic problems.

Airbnb's homepage.

Airbnb: part of the reputation-driven economy.

Such initiatives aim to reprogramme the state and make it feedback-friendly, crowding out other means of doing politics. For all those tracking apps, algorithms and sensors to work, databases need interoperability – which is what such pseudo-humanitarian organisations, with their ardent belief in open data, demand. And when the government is too slow to move at Silicon Valley’s speed, they simply move inside the government. Thus, Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America and a protege of O’Reilly, became the deputy chief technology officer of the US government – while pursuing a one-year “innovation fellowship” from the White House.

Cash-strapped governments welcome such colonisation by technologists – especially if it helps to identify and clean up datasets that can be profitably sold to companies who need such data for advertising purposes. Recent clashes over the sale of student and health data in the UK are just a precursor of battles to come: after all state assets have been privatised, data is the next target. For O’Reilly, open data is “a key enabler of the measurement revolution”.

This “measurement revolution” seeks to quantify the efficiency of various social programmes, as if the rationale behind the social nets that some of them provide was to achieve perfection of delivery. The actual rationale, of course, was to enable a fulfilling life by suppressing certain anxieties, so that citizens can pursue their life projects relatively undisturbed. This vision did spawn a vast bureaucratic apparatus and the critics of the welfare state from the left – most prominently Michel Foucault – were right to question its disciplining inclinations. Nonetheless, neither perfection nor efficiency were the “desired outcome” of this system. Thus, to compare the welfare state with the algorithmic state on those grounds is misleading.

But we can compare their respective visions for human fulfilment – and the role they assign to markets and the state. Silicon Valley’s offer is clear: thanks to ubiquitous feedback loops, we can all become entrepreneurs and take care of our own affairs! As Brian Chesky, the chief executive of Airbnb, told the Atlantic last year, “What happens when everybody is a brand? When everybody has a reputation? Every person can become an entrepreneur.”

Under this vision, we will all code (for America!) in the morning, driveUber cars in the afternoon, and rent out our kitchens as restaurants – courtesy of Airbnb – in the evening. As O’Reilly writes of Uber and similar companies, “these services ask every passenger to rate their driver (and drivers to rate their passenger). Drivers who provide poor service are eliminated. Reputation does a better job of ensuring a superb customer experience than any amount of government regulation.”

The state behind the “sharing economy” does not wither away; it might be needed to ensure that the reputation accumulated on Uber, Airbnb and other platforms of the “sharing economy” is fully liquid and transferable, creating a world where our every social interaction is recorded and assessed, erasing whatever differences exist between social domains. Someone, somewhere will eventually rate you as a passenger, a house guest, a student, a patient, a customer. Whether this ranking infrastructure will be decentralised, provided by a giant like Google or rest with the state is not yet clear but the overarching objective is: to make reputation into a feedback-friendly social net that could protect the truly responsible citizens from the vicissitudes of deregulation.

Admiring the reputation models of Uber and Airbnb, O’Reilly wants governments to be “adopting them where there are no demonstrable ill effects”. But what counts as an “ill effect” and how to demonstrate it is a key question that belongs to the how of politics that algorithmic regulation wants to suppress. It’s easy to demonstrate “ill effects” if the goal of regulation is efficiency but what if it is something else? Surely, there are some benefits – fewer visits to the psychoanalyst, perhaps – in not having your every social interaction ranked?

The imperative to evaluate and demonstrate “results” and “effects” already presupposes that the goal of policy is the optimisation of efficiency. However, as long as democracy is irreducible to a formula, its composite values will always lose this battle: they are much harder to quantify.

For Silicon Valley, though, the reputation-obsessed algorithmic state of the sharing economy is the new welfare state. If you are honest and hardworking, your online reputation would reflect this, producing a highly personalised social net. It is “ultrastable” in Ashby’s sense: while the welfare state assumes the existence of specific social evils it tries to fight, the algorithmic state makes no such assumptions. The future threats can remain fully unknowable and fully addressable – on the individual level.

Silicon Valley, of course, is not alone in touting such ultrastable individual solutions. Nassim Taleb, in his best-selling 2012 book Antifragile, makes a similar, if more philosophical, plea for maximising our individual resourcefulness and resilience: don’t get one job but many, don’t take on debt, count on your own expertise. It’s all about resilience, risk-taking and, as Taleb puts it, “having skin in the game”. As Julian Reid and Brad Evans write in their new book, Resilient Life: The Art of Living Dangerously, this growing cult of resilience masks a tacit acknowledgement that no collective project could even aspire to tame the proliferating threats to human existence – we can only hope to equip ourselves to tackle them individually. “When policy-makers engage in the discourse of resilience,” write Reid and Evans, “they do so in terms which aim explicitly at preventing humans from conceiving of danger as a phenomenon from which they might seek freedom and even, in contrast, as that to which they must now expose themselves.”

What, then, is the progressive alternative? “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” doesn’t work here: just because Silicon Valley is attacking the welfare state doesn’t mean that progressives should defend it to the very last bullet (or tweet). First, even leftist governments have limited space for fiscal manoeuvres, as the kind of discretionary spending required to modernise the welfare state would never be approved by the global financial markets. And it’s the ratings agencies and bond markets – not the voters – who are in charge today.

Second, the leftist critique of the welfare state has become only more relevant today when the exact borderlines between welfare and security are so blurry. When Google’s Android powers so much of our everyday life, the government’s temptation to govern us through remotely controlled cars and alarm-operated soap dispensers will be all too great. This will expand government’s hold over areas of life previously free from regulation.

With so much data, the government’s favourite argument in fighting terror – if only the citizens knew as much as we do, they too would impose all these legal exceptions – easily extends to other domains, from health to climate change. Consider a recent academic paper that used Google search data to study obesity patterns in the US, finding significant correlation between search keywords and body mass index levels. “Results suggest great promise of the idea of obesity monitoring through real-time Google Trends data”, note the authors, which would be “particularly attractive for government health institutions and private businesses such as insurance companies.”

If Google senses a flu epidemic somewhere, it’s hard to challenge its hunch – we simply lack the infrastructure to process so much data at this scale. Google can be proven wrong after the fact – as has recently been the case with its flu trends data, which was shown to overestimate the number of infections, possibly because of its failure to account for the intense media coverage of flu – but so is the case with most terrorist alerts. It’s the immediate, real-time nature of computer systems that makes them perfect allies of an infinitely expanding and pre-emption‑obsessed state.

Perhaps, the case of Gloria Placente and her failed trip to the beach was not just a historical oddity but an early omen of how real-time computing, combined with ubiquitous communication technologies, would transform the state. One of the few people to have heeded that omen was a little-known American advertising executive called Robert MacBride, who pushed the logic behind Operation Corral to its ultimate conclusions in his unjustly neglected 1967 book, The Automated State.

At the time, America was debating the merits of establishing a national data centre to aggregate various national statistics and make it available to government agencies. MacBride attacked his contemporaries’ inability to see how the state would exploit the metadata accrued as everything was being computerised. Instead of “a large scale, up-to-date Austro-Hungarian empire”, modern computer systems would produce “a bureaucracy of almost celestial capacity” that can “discern and define relationships in a manner which no human bureaucracy could ever hope to do”.

“Whether one bowls on a Sunday or visits a library instead is [of] no consequence since no one checks those things,” he wrote. Not so when computer systems can aggregate data from different domains and spot correlations. “Our individual behaviour in buying and selling an automobile, a house, or a security, in paying our debts and acquiring new ones, and in earning money and being paid, will be noted meticulously and studied exhaustively,” warned MacBride. Thus, a citizen will soon discover that “his choice of magazine subscriptions… can be found to indicate accurately the probability of his maintaining his property or his interest in the education of his children.” This sounds eerily similar to the recent case of a hapless father who found that his daughter was pregnant from a coupon that Target, a retailer, sent to their house. Target’s hunch was based on its analysis of products – for example, unscented lotion – usually bought by other pregnant women.

For MacBride the conclusion was obvious. “Political rights won’t be violated but will resemble those of a small stockholder in a giant enterprise,” he wrote. “The mark of sophistication and savoir-faire in this future will be the grace and flexibility with which one accepts one’s role and makes the most of what it offers.” In other words, since we are all entrepreneurs first – and citizens second, we might as well make the most of it.

What, then, is to be done? Technophobia is no solution. Progressives need technologies that would stick with the spirit, if not the institutional form, of the welfare state, preserving its commitment to creating ideal conditions for human flourishing. Even some ultrastability is welcome. Stability was a laudable goal of the welfare state before it had encountered a trap: in specifying the exact protections that the state was to offer against the excesses of capitalism, it could not easily deflect new, previously unspecified forms of exploitation.

How do we build welfarism that is both decentralised and ultrastable? A form of guaranteed basic income – whereby some welfare services are replaced by direct cash transfers to citizens – fits the two criteria.

Creating the right conditions for the emergence of political communities around causes and issues they deem relevant would be another good step. Full compliance with the principle of ultrastability dictates that such issues cannot be anticipated or dictated from above – by political parties or trade unions – and must be left unspecified.

What can be specified is the kind of communications infrastructure needed to abet this cause: it should be free to use, hard to track, and open to new, subversive uses. Silicon Valley’s existing infrastructure is great for fulfilling the needs of the state, not of self-organising citizens. It can, of course, be redeployed for activist causes – and it often is – but there’s no reason to accept the status quo as either ideal or inevitable.

Why, after all, appropriate what should belong to the people in the first place? While many of the creators of the internet bemoan how low their creature has fallen, their anger is misdirected. The fault is not with that amorphous entity but, first of all, with the absence of robust technology policy on the left – a policy that can counter the pro-innovation, pro-disruption, pro-privatisation agenda of Silicon Valley. In its absence, all these emerging political communities will operate with their wings clipped. Whether the next Occupy Wall Street would be able to occupy anything in a truly smart city remains to be seen: most likely, they would be out-censored and out-droned.

To his credit, MacBride understood all of this in 1967. “Given the resources of modern technology and planning techniques,” he warned, “it is really no great trick to transform even a country like ours into a smoothly running corporation where every detail of life is a mechanical function to be taken care of.” MacBride’s fear is O’Reilly’s master plan: the government, he writes, ought to be modelled on the “lean startup” approach of Silicon Valley, which is “using data to constantly revise and tune its approach to the market”. It’s this very approach that Facebook has recently deployed to maximise user engagement on the site: if showing users more happy stories does the trick, so be it.

Algorithmic regulation, whatever its immediate benefits, will give us a political regime where technology corporations and government bureaucrats call all the shots. The Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, in a pointed critique of cybernetics published, as it happens, roughly at the same time as The Automated State, put it best: “Society cannot give up the burden of having to decide about its own fate by sacrificing this freedom for the sake of the cybernetic regulator.”

The New Abolitionism (The Nation)

Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds (Science)

12 May 2014 3:00 pm

Blah? Traditional lecture classes have higher undergraduate failure rates than those using active learning techniques, new research finds.

Wikimedia. Blah? Traditional lecture classes have higher undergraduate failure rates than those using active learning techniques, new research finds.

Are your lectures droning on? Change it up every 10 minutes with more active teaching techniques and more students will succeed, researchers say. A new study finds that undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, so-called active learning methods.

“Universities were founded in Western Europe in 1050 and lecturing has been the predominant form of teaching ever since,” says biologist Scott Freeman of the University of Washington, Seattle. But many scholars have challenged the “sage on a stage” approach to teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses, arguing that engaging students with questions or group activities is more effective.

To weigh the evidence, Freeman and a group of colleagues analyzed 225 studies of undergraduate STEM teaching methods. The meta-analysis, published online today in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that teaching approaches that turned students into active participants rather than passive listeners reduced failure rates and boosted scores on exams by almost one-half a standard deviation. “The change in the failure rates is whopping,” Freeman says. And the exam improvement—about 6%—could, for example, “bump [a student’s] grades from a B– to a B.”

“This is a really important article—the impression I get is that it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data,” says Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University who has campaigned against stale lecturing techniques for 27 years and was not involved in the work. “It’s good to see such a cohesive picture emerge from their meta-analysis—an abundance of proof that lecturing is outmoded, outdated, and inefficient.”

Although there is no single definition of active learning approaches, they include asking students to answer questions by using handheld clickers, calling on individuals or groups randomly, or having students clarify concepts to each other and reach a consensus on an issue.

Freeman says he’s started using such techniques even in large classes. “My introductory biology course has gotten up to 700 students,” he says. “For the ultimate class session—I don’t say lecture—I’m showing PowerPoint slides, but everything is a question and I use clickers and random calling. Somebody droning on for 15 minutes at a time and then doing cookbook labs isn’t interesting.” Freeman estimates that scaling up such active learning approaches could enable success for tens of thousands of students who might otherwise drop or fail STEM courses.

Despite its advantages, active learning isn’t likely to completely kill the lecture, says Noah Finkelstein, a physics professor who directs the Center for STEM Learning at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and was not involved in the study. The new study “is consistent with what the benefits of active learning are showing us,” he says. “But I don’t think there should be a monolithic stance about lecture or no lecture. There are still times when lectures will be needed, but the traditional mode of stand-and-deliver is being demonstrated as less effective at promoting student learning and preparing future teachers.”

The current study didn’t directly address the effectiveness of one new twist in the traditional lecturing format: massive open online courses that can beam talks to thousands or even millions of students. But Freeman says the U.S. Department of Education has conducted its own meta-analysis of distance learning, and it found there was no difference in being lectured at in a classroom versus through a computer screen at home. So, Freeman says: “If you’re going to get lectured at, you might as well be at home in bunny slippers.”

The Change Within: The Obstacles We Face Are Not Just External (The Nation)

The climate crisis has such bad timing, confronting it not only requires a new economy but a new way of thinking.

Naomi Klein

April 21, 2014

(Reuters/China Daily)

This is a story about bad timing.

One of the most disturbing ways that climate change is already playing out is through what ecologists call “mismatch” or “mistiming.” This is the process whereby warming causes animals to fall out of step with a critical food source, particularly at breeding times, when a failure to find enough food can lead to rapid population losses.

The migration patterns of many songbird species, for instance, have evolved over millennia so that eggs hatch precisely when food sources such as caterpillars are at their most abundant, providing parents with ample nourishment for their hungry young. But because spring now often arrives early, the caterpillars are hatching earlier too, which means that in some areas they are less plentiful when the chicks hatch, threatening a number of health and fertility impacts. Similarly, in West Greenland, caribou are arriving at their calving grounds only to find themselves out of sync with the forage plants they have relied on for thousands of years, now growing earlier thanks to rising temperatures. That is leaving female caribou with less energy for lactation, reproduction and feeding their young, a mismatch that has been linked to sharp decreases in calf births and survival rates.

Scientists are studying cases of climate-related mistiming among dozens of species, from Arctic terns to pied flycatchers. But there is one important species they are missing—us. Homosapiens. We too are suffering from a terrible case of climate-related mistiming, albeit in a cultural-historical, rather than a biological, sense. Our problem is that the climate crisis hatched in our laps at a moment in history when political and social conditions were uniquely hostile to a problem of this nature and magnitude—that moment being the tail end of the go-go ’80s, the blastoff point for the crusade to spread deregulated capitalism around the world. Climate changeis a collective problem demanding collective action the likes of which humanity has never actually accomplished. Yet it entered mainstream consciousness in the midst of an ideological war being waged on the very idea of the collective sphere.

This deeply unfortunate mistiming has created all sorts of barriers to our ability to respond effectively to this crisis. It has meant that corporate power was ascendant at the very moment when we needed to exert unprecedented controls over corporate behavior in order to protect life on earth. It has meant that regulation was a dirty word just when we needed those powers most. It has meant that we are ruled by a class of politicians who know only how to dismantle and starve public institutions, just when they most need to be fortified and reimagined. And it has meant that we are saddled with an apparatus of “free trade” deals that tie the hands of policy-makers just when they need maximum flexibility to achieve a massive energy transition.

Confronting these various structural barriers to the next economy is the critical work of any serious climate movement. But it’s not the only task at hand. We also have to confront how the mismatch between climate change and market domination has created barriers within our very selves, making it harder to look at this most pressing of humanitarian crises with anything more than furtive, terrified glances. Because of the way our daily lives have been altered by both market and technological triumphalism, we lack many of the observational tools necessary to convince ourselves that climate change is real—let alone the confidence to believe that a different way of living is possible.

And little wonder: just when we needed to gather, our public sphere was disintegrating; just when we needed to consume less, consumerism took over virtually every aspect of our lives; just when we needed to slow down and notice, we sped up; and just when we needed longer time horizons, we were able to see only the immediate present.

This is our climate change mismatch, and it affects not just our species, but potentially every other species on the planet as well.

The good news is that, unlike reindeer and songbirds, we humans are blessed with the capacity for advanced reasoning and therefore the ability to adapt more deliberately—to change old patterns of behavior with remarkable speed. If the ideas that rule our culture are stopping us from saving ourselves, then it is within our power to change those ideas. But before that can happen, we first need to understand the nature of our personal climate mismatch.

› Climate change demands that we consume less, but being consumers is all we know.Climate change is not a problem that can be solved simply by changing what we buy—a hybrid instead of an SUV, some carbon offsets when we get on a plane. At its core, it is a crisis born of overconsumption by the comparatively wealthy, which means the world’s most manic consumers are going to have to consume less.

The problem is not “human nature,” as we are so often told. We weren’t born having to shop this much, and we have, in our recent past, been just as happy (in many cases happier) consuming far less. The problem is the inflated role that consumption has come to play in our particular era.

Late capitalism teaches us to create ourselves through our consumer choices: shopping is how we form our identities, find community and express ourselves. Thus, telling people that they can’t shop as much as they want to because the planet’s support systems are overburdened can be understood as a kind of attack, akin to telling them that they cannot truly be themselves. This is likely why, of the original “Three Rs”—reduce, reuse, recycle—only the third has ever gotten any traction, since it allows us to keep on shopping as long as we put the refuse in the right box. The other two, which require that we consume less, were pretty much dead on arrival.

› Climate change is slow, and we are fast. When you are racing through a rural landscape on a bullet train, it looks as if everything you are passing is standing still: people, tractors, cars on country roads. They aren’t, of course. They are moving, but at a speed so slow compared with the train that they appear static.

So it is with climate change. Our culture, powered by fossil fuels, is that bullet train, hurtling forward toward the next quarterly report, the next election cycle, the next bit of diversion or piece of personal validation via our smartphones and tablets. Our changing climate is like the landscape out the window: from our racy vantage point, it can appear static, but it is moving, its slow progress measured in receding ice sheets, swelling waters and incremental temperature rises. If left unchecked, climate change will most certainly speed up enough to capture our fractured attention—island nations wiped off the map, and city-drowning superstorms, tend to do that. But by then, it may be too late for our actions to make a difference, because the era of tipping points will likely have begun.

› Climate change is place-based, and we are everywhere at once. The problem is not just that we are moving too quickly. It is also that the terrain on which the changes are taking place is intensely local: an early blooming of a particular flower, an unusually thin layer of ice on a lake, the late arrival of a migratory bird. Noticing those kinds of subtle changes requires an intimate connection to a specific ecosystem. That kind of communion happens only when we know a place deeply, not just as scenery but also as sustenance, and when local knowledge is passed on with a sense of sacred trust from one generation to the next.

But that is increasingly rare in the urbanized, industrialized world. We tend to abandon our homes lightly—for a new job, a new school, a new love. And as we do so, we are severed from whatever knowledge of place we managed to accumulate at the previous stop, as well as from the knowledge amassed by our ancestors (who, at least in my case, migrated repeatedly themselves).

Even for those of us who manage to stay put, our daily existence can be disconnected from the physical places where we live. Shielded from the elements as we are in our climate-controlled homes, workplaces and cars, the changes unfolding in the natural world easily pass us by. We might have no idea that a historic drought is destroying the crops on the farms that surround our urban homes, since the supermarkets still display miniature mountains of imported produce, with more coming in by truck all day. It takes something huge—like a hurricane that passes all previous high-water marks, or a flood destroying thousands of homes—for us to notice that something is truly amiss. And even then we have trouble holding on to that knowledge for long, since we are quickly ushered along to the next crisis before these truths have a chance to sink in.

Climate change, meanwhile, is busily adding to the ranks of the rootless every day, as natural disasters, failed crops, starving livestock and climate-fueled ethnic conflicts force yet more people to leave their ancestral homes. And with every human migration, more crucial connections to specific places are lost, leaving yet fewer people to listen closely to the land.

› Climate pollutants are invisible, and we have stopped believing in what we cannot see.When BP’s Macondo well ruptured in 2010, releasing torrents of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, one of the things we heard from company CEO Tony Hayward was that “the Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” The statement was widely ridiculed at the time, and rightly so, but Hayward was merely voicing one of our culture’s most cherished beliefs: that what we can’t see won’t hurt us and, indeed, barely exists.

So much of our economy relies on the assumption that there is always an “away” into which we can throw our waste. There’s the away where our garbage goes when it is taken from the curb, and the away where our waste goes when it is flushed down the drain. There’s the away where the minerals and metals that make up our goods are extracted, and the away where those raw materials are turned into finished products. But the lesson of the BP spill, in the words of ecological theorist Timothy Morton, is that ours is “a world in which there is no ‘away.’”

When I published No Logo a decade and a half ago, readers were shocked to learn of the abusive conditions under which their clothing and gadgets were manufactured. But we have since learned to live with it—not to condone it, exactly, but to be in a state of constant forgetfulness. Ours is an economy of ghosts, of deliberate blindness.

Air is the ultimate unseen, and the greenhouse gases that warm it are our most elusive ghosts. Philosopher David Abram points out that for most of human history, it was precisely this unseen quality that gave the air its power and commanded our respect. “Called Sila, the wind-mind of the world, by the Inuit; Nilch’i, or Holy Wind, by the Navajo; Ruach, or rushing-spirit, by the ancient Hebrews,” the atmosphere was “the most mysterious and sacred dimension of life.” But in our time, “we rarely acknowledge the atmosphere as it swirls between two persons.” Having forgotten the air, Abram writes, we have made it our sewer, “the perfect dump site for the unwanted by-products of our industries…. Even the most opaque, acrid smoke billowing out of the pipes will dissipate and disperse, always and ultimately dissolving into the invisible. It’s gone. Out of sight, out of mind.”

* * *

Another part of what makes climate change so very difficult for us to grasp is that ours is a culture of the perpetual present, one that deliberately severs itself from the past that created us as well as the future we are shaping with our actions. Climate change is about how what we did generations in the past will inescapably affect not just the present, but generations in the future. These time frames are a language that has become foreign to most of us.

This is not about passing individual judgment, nor about berating ourselves for our shallowness or rootlessness. Rather, it is about recognizing that we are products of an industrial project, one intimately, historically linked to fossil fuels.

And just as we have changed before, we can change again. After listening to the great farmer-poet Wendell Berry deliver a lecture on how we each have a duty to love our “homeplace” more than any other, I asked him if he had any advice for rootless people like me and my friends, who live in our computers and always seem to be shopping for a home. “Stop somewhere,” he replied. “And begin the thousand-year-long process of knowing that place.”

That’s good advice on lots of levels. Because in order to win this fight of our lives, we all need a place to stand.

Read more of The Nation’s special #MyClimateToo coverage:

Mark Hertsgaard: Why TheNation.com Today Is All About Climate
Christopher Hayes: The New Abolitionism
Dani McClain: The ‘Environmentalists’ Who Scapegoat Immigrants and Women on Climate Change
Mychal Denzel Smith: Racial and Environmental Justice Are Two Sides of the Same Coin
Katrina vanden Heuvel: Earth Day’s Founding Father
Wen Stephenson: Let This Earth Day Be The Last
Katha Pollitt: Climate Change is the Tragedy of the Global Commons
Michelle Goldberg: Fighting Despair to Fight Climate Change
George Zornick: We’re the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Cheap Date
Dan Zegart: Want to Stop Climate Change? Take the Fossil Fuel Industry to Court
Jeremy Brecher: ‘Jobs vs. the Environment’: How to Counter the Divisive Big Lie
Jon Wiener: Elizabeth Kolbert on Species Extinction and Climate Change
Dave Zirin: Brazil’s World Cup Will Kick the Environment in the Teeth
Steven Hsieh: People of Color Are Already Getting Hit the Hardest by Climate Change
John Nichols: If Rick Weiland Can Say “No” to Keystone, So Can Barack Obama
Michelle Chen: Where Have All the Green Jobs Gone?
Peter Rothberg: Why I’m Not Totally Bummed Out This Earth Day
Leslie Savan: This Is My Brain on Paper Towels

‘Dressed’ laser aimed at clouds may be key to inducing rain, lightning (Science Daily)

Date: April 18, 2014

Source: University of Central Florida

Summary: The adage “Everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it” may one day be obsolete if researchers further develop a new technique to aim a high-energy laser beam into clouds to make it rain or trigger lightning. Other possible uses of this technique could be used in long-distance sensors and spectrometers to identify chemical makeup.

The adage “Everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it,” may one day be obsolete if researchers at the University of Central Florida’s College of Optics & Photonics and the University of Arizona further develop a new technique to aim a high-energy laser beam into clouds to make it rain or trigger lightning. Credit: © Maksim Shebeko / Fotolia

The adage “Everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it” may one day be obsolete if researchers at the University of Central Florida’s College of Optics & Photonics and the University of Arizona further develop a new technique to aim a high-energy laser beam into clouds to make it rain or trigger lightning.

The solution? Surround the beam with a second beam to act as an energy reservoir, sustaining the central beam to greater distances than previously possible. The secondary “dress” beam refuels and helps prevent the dissipation of the high-intensity primary beam, which on its own would break down quickly. A report on the project, “Externally refueled optical filaments,” was recently published in Nature Photonics.

Water condensation and lightning activity in clouds are linked to large amounts of static charged particles. Stimulating those particles with the right kind of laser holds the key to possibly one day summoning a shower when and where it is needed.

Lasers can already travel great distances but “when a laser beam becomes intense enough, it behaves differently than usual — it collapses inward on itself,” said Matthew Mills, a graduate student in the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL). “The collapse becomes so intense that electrons in the air’s oxygen and nitrogen are ripped off creating plasma — basically a soup of electrons.”

At that point, the plasma immediately tries to spread the beam back out, causing a struggle between the spreading and collapsing of an ultra-short laser pulse. This struggle is called filamentation, and creates a filament or “light string” that only propagates for a while until the properties of air make the beam disperse.

“Because a filament creates excited electrons in its wake as it moves, it artificially seeds the conditions necessary for rain and lightning to occur,” Mills said. Other researchers have caused “electrical events” in clouds, but not lightning strikes.

But how do you get close enough to direct the beam into the cloud without being blasted to smithereens by lightning?

“What would be nice is to have a sneaky way which allows us to produce an arbitrary long ‘filament extension cable.’ It turns out that if you wrap a large, low intensity, doughnut-like ‘dress’ beam around the filament and slowly move it inward, you can provide this arbitrary extension,” Mills said. “Since we have control over the length of a filament with our method, one could seed the conditions needed for a rainstorm from afar. Ultimately, you could artificially control the rain and lightning over a large expanse with such ideas.”

So far, Mills and fellow graduate student Ali Miri have been able to extend the pulse from 10 inches to about 7 feet. And they’re working to extend the filament even farther.

“This work could ultimately lead to ultra-long optically induced filaments or plasma channels that are otherwise impossible to establish under normal conditions,” said professor Demetrios Christodoulides, who is working with the graduate students on the project.

“In principle such dressed filaments could propagate for more than 50 meters or so, thus enabling a number of applications. This family of optical filaments may one day be used to selectively guide microwave signals along very long plasma channels, perhaps for hundreds of meters.”

Other possible uses of this technique could be used in long-distance sensors and spectrometers to identify chemical makeup. Development of the technology was supported by a $7.5 million grant from the Department of Defense.

Journal Reference:

  1. Maik Scheller, Matthew S. Mills, Mohammad-Ali Miri, Weibo Cheng, Jerome V. Moloney, Miroslav Kolesik, Pavel Polynkin, Demetrios N. Christodoulides.Externally refuelled optical filamentsNature Photonics, 2014; 8 (4): 297 DOI:10.1038/nphoton.2014.47

Repercussões do novo relatório do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC)

Brasil já se prepara para adaptações às mudanças climáticas, diz especialista (Agência Brasil)

JC e-mail 4925, de 02 de abril de 2014

Com base no relatório do IPCC,dirigente do INPE disse que o Brasil já revela um passo adiante em termos de adaptação às mudanças climáticas

Com o título Mudanças Climáticas 2014: Impactos, Adaptação e Vulnerabilidade, o relatório divulgado ontem (31) pelo Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) sinaliza que os efeitos das mudanças do clima já estão sendo sentidos em todo o mundo. O relatório aponta que para se alcançar um aquecimento de apenas 2 graus centígrados, que seria o mínimo tolerável para que os impactos não sejam muito fortes, é preciso ter emissões zero de gases do efeito estufa, a partir de 2050.

“O compromisso é ter emissões zero a partir de 2040 /2050, e isso significa uma mudança de todo o sistema de desenvolvimento, que envolve mudança dos combustíveis”, disse hoje (1º) o chefe do Centro de Ciência do Sistema Terrestr,e do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe), José Marengo, um dos autores do novo relatório do IPCC. Marengo apresentou o relatório na Academia Brasileira de Ciências (ABC), no Rio de Janeiro, e destacou que alguns países interpretam isso como uma tentativa de frear o crescimento econômico. Na verdade, ele assegurou que a intenção é chegar a um valor para que o aquecimento não seja tão intenso e grave.

Com base no relatório do IPCC, Marengo comentou que o Brasil já revela um passo adiante em termos de adaptação às mudanças climáticas. “Eu acho que o Brasil já escutou a mensagem. Já está começando a preparar o plano nacional de adaptação, por meio dos ministérios do Meio Ambiente e da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação”. Essa adaptação, acrescentou, é acompanhada de avaliações de vulnerabilidades, “e o Brasil é vulnerável às mudanças de clima”, lembrou.

A adaptação, segundo ele, atenderá a políticas governamentais, mas a comunidade científica ajudará a elaborar o plano para identificar regiões e setores considerados chave. “Porque a adaptação é uma coisa que muda de região e de setor. Você pode ter uma adaptação no setor saúde, no Nordeste, totalmente diferente do Sul. Então, essa é uma política que o governo já está começando a traçar seriamente”.

O plano prevê análises de risco em setores como agricultura, saúde, recursos hídricos, regiões costeiras, grandes cidades. Ele está começando a ser traçado como uma estratégia de governo. Como as vulnerabilidades são diferentes, o plano não pode criar uma política única para o país. Na parte da segurança alimentar, em especial, José Marengo ressaltou a importância do conhecimento indígena, principalmente para os países mais pobres.

Marengo afiançou, entretanto, que esse plano não deverá ser concluído no curto prazo. “É uma coisa que leva tempo. Esse tipo de estudo não pode ser feito em um ou dois anos. É uma coisa de longo prazo, porque vai mudando continuamente. Ou seja, é um plano dinâmico, que a cada cinco anos tem que ser reavaliado e refeito. Poucos países têm feito isso, e o Brasil está começando a elaborar esse plano agora”, manifestou.

Marengo admitiu que a adaptação às mudanças climáticas tem que ter também um viés econômico, por meio da regulação. “Quando eu falo em adaptação, é uma mistura de conhecimento científico para identificar que área é vulnerável. Mas tudo isso vem acompanhado de coisas que não são climáticas, mas sim, econômicas, como custos e investimento. Porque adaptação custa dinheiro. Quem vai pagar pela adaptação? “, indagou.

O IPCC não tem uma posição a respeito, embora Marengo mencione que os países pobres querem que os ricos paguem pela sua adaptação às mudanças do clima. O tema deverá ser abordado na próxima reunião da 20ª Convenção-Quadro sobre Mudança do Clima COP-20, da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU), que ocorrerá em Lima, no Peru, no final deste ano.

Entretanto, o IPCC aponta situações sobre o que está ocorrendo nas diversas partes do mundo, e o que poderia ser feito. As soluções, salientou, serão indicadas no próximo relatório do IPCC, cuja divulgação é aguardada para este mês. O relatório, segundo ele, apontará que “a solução está na mitigação”. Caso, por exemplo, da redução das emissões de gases de efeito estufa, o uso menor de combustíveis fósseis e maior uso de fontes de energia renováveis, novas opções de combustíveis, novas soluções de tecnologia, estabilização da população. “Tudo isso são coisas que podem ser consideradas”. Admitiu, porém, que são difíceis de serem alcançadas, porque alguns países estão dispostos a isso, outros não. “É uma coisa que depende de acordo mundial”.

De acordo com o relatório do IPCC, as tendências são de aumento da temperatura global, aumento e diminuição de precipitações (chuvas), degradação ambiental, risco para as áreas costeiras e a fauna marinha, mudança na produtividade agrícola, entre outras. A adaptação a essas mudanças depende do lugar e do contexto. A adaptação para um setor pode não ser aplicável a outro. As medidas visando a adaptação às mudanças climáticas devem ser tomadas pelos governos, mas também pela sociedade como um todo e pelos indivíduos, recomendam os cientistas que elaboraram o relatório.

Para o Nordeste brasileiro, por exemplo, a construção de cisternas pode ser um começo no sentido de adaptação à seca. Mas isso tem de ser uma busca permanente, destacou José Marengo. Observou que programas de reflorestamento são formas de mitigação e, em consequência, de adaptação, na medida em que reduzem as emissões e absorvem as emissões excedentes.

No Brasil, três aspectos se distinguem: segurança hídrica, segurança energética e segurança alimentar. As secas no Nordeste e as recentes enchentes no Norte têm ajudado a entender o problema da vulnerabilidade do clima, acrescentou o cientista. Disse que, de certa forma, o Brasil tem reagido para enfrentar os extremos. “Mas tem que pensar que esses extremos podem ser mais frequentes. A experiência está mostrando que alguns desses extremos devem ser pensados no longo prazo, para décadas”, salientou.

O biólogo Marcos Buckeridge, pesquisador do Instituto de Biociências da Universidade de São Paulo (USP) e membro do IPCC, lembrou que as queimadas na Amazônia, apesar de mostrarem redução nos últimos anos, ainda ocorrem com intensidade. “O Brasil é o país que mais queima floresta no mundo”, e isso leva à perda de muitas espécies animais e vegetais, trazendo, como resultado, impactos no clima.

Para a pesquisadora sênior do Centro de Estudos Integrados sobre Meio Ambiente e Mudanças Climáticas – Centro Clima da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Carolina Burle Schmidt Dubeux, a economia da adaptação deve pensar o gerenciamento também do lado da demanda. Isso quer dizer que tem que englobar não só investimentos, mas também regulação econômica em que os preços reflitam a redução da oferta de bens. “Regulação econômica é muito importante para que a gente possa se adaptar [às mudanças do clima]. As políticas têm que refletir a escassez da água e da energia elétrica e controlar a demanda”, apontou.

Segundo a pesquisadora, a internalização de custos ambientais nos preços é necessária para que a população tenha maior qualidade de vida. “A questão da adaptação é um constante gerenciamento do risco das mudanças climáticas, que é desconhecido e imprevisível”, acrescentou. Carolina defendeu que para ocorrer a adaptação, deve haver uma comunicação constante entre o governo e a sociedade. “A mídia tem um papel relevante nesse processo”, disse.

(Agência Brasil)

* * *

Mudanças climáticas ameaçam produtos da cesta básica brasileira (O Globo)

JC e-mail 4925, de 02 de abril de 2014

Dieta será prejudicada por queda das safras e da atividade pesqueira

Os impactos das mudanças climáticas no país comprometerão o rendimento das safras de trigo, arroz, milho e soja, produtos fundamentais da cesta básica do brasileiro. Outro problema desembarca no litoral. Segundo prognósticos divulgados esta semana pelo Painel Intergovernamental de Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC), grandes populações de peixes deixarão a zona tropical nas próximas décadas, buscando regiões de alta latitude. Desta forma, a pesca artesanal também é afetada.

A falta de segurança alimentar também vai acometer outros países. Estima-se que a atividade agrícola da União Europeia caia significativamente até o fim do século. Duas soluções já são estudadas. Uma seria aumentar as importações – o Brasil seria um importante mercado, se conseguir nutrir a sua população e, além disso, desenvolver uma produção excedente. A outra possibilidade é a pesquisa de variedades genéticas que deem resistência aos alimentos diante das novas condições climáticas.

– Os eventos extremos, mesmo quando têm curta duração, reduzem o tamanho da safra – contou Marcos Buckeridge, professor do Departamento de Botânica da USP e coautor do relatório do IPCC, em uma apresentação realizada ontem na Academia Brasileira de Ciências. – Além disso, somos o país que mais queima florestas no mundo, e a seca é maior justamente na Amazônia Oriental, levando a perdas na agricultura da região.

O aquecimento global também enfraquecerá a segurança hídrica do país.

– É preciso encontrar uma forma de garantir a disponibilidade de água no semiárido, assim como estruturas que a direcione para as áreas urbanas – recomenda José Marengo, climatologista do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe) e também autor do relatório.

Marengo lembra que o Nordeste enfrenta a estiagem há três anos. Segundo ele, o uso de carros-pipa é uma solução pontual. Portanto, outras medidas devem ser pensadas. A transposição do Rio São Francisco também pode não ser suficiente, já que a região deve passar por um processo de desertificação até o fim do século.

De acordo com um estudo realizado em 2009 por diversas instituições brasileiras, e que é citado no novo relatório do IPCC, as chuvas no Nordeste podem diminuir até 2,5mm por dia até 2100, causando perdas agrícolas em todos os estados da região. O déficit hídrico reduziria em 25% a capacidade de pastoreiro dos bovinos de corte. O retrocesso da pecuária é outro ataque à dieta do brasileiro.

– O Brasil perderá entre R$ 719 bilhões e R$ 3,6 trilhões em 2050, se nada fizer . Enfrentaremos perda agrícola e precisaremos de mais recursos para o setor hidrelétrico – alerta Carolina Dubeux, pesquisadora do Centro Clima da Coppe/UFRJ, que assina o documento. – A adaptação é um constante gerenciamento de risco.

(Renato Grandelle / O Globo)
http://oglobo.globo.com/ciencia/mudancas-climaticas-ameacam-produtos-da-cesta-basica-brasileira-12061170#ixzz2xjSEUoVy

* * *

Impactos mais graves no clima do país virão de secas e de cheias (Folha de S.Paulo)

JC e-mail 4925, de 02 de abril de 2014

Brasileiros em painel da ONU dizem que país precisa se preparar para problemas opostos em diferentes regiões

As previsões regionais do novo relatório do IPCC (painel do clima da ONU) aponta como principais efeitos da mudança climática no país problemas na disponibilidade de água, com secas persistentes em alguns pontos e cheias recordes em outros. Lançado anteontem no Japão, o documento do grupo de trabalho 2 do IPCC dá ênfase a impactos e vulnerabilidades provocados pelo clima ao redor do mundo. Além de listar os principais riscos, o documento ressalta a necessidade de adaptação aos riscos projetados. No Brasil, pela extensão territorial, os efeitos serão diferentes em cada região.

Além de afetar a floresta e seus ecossistemas, a mudança climática deve prejudicar também a geração de energia, a agricultura e até a saúde da população. “Tudo remete à água. Onde nós tivermos problemas com a água, vamos ter problemas com outras coisas”, resumiu Marcos Buckeridge, professor da USP e um dos autores do relatório do IPCC, em entrevista coletiva com outros brasileiros que participaram do painel.

Na Amazônia, o padrão de chuvas já vem sendo afetado. Atualmente, a cheia no rio Madeira já passa dos 25 m –nível mais alto da história– e afeta 60 mil pessoas. No Nordeste, que nos últimos anos passou por secas sucessivas, as mudanças climáticas podem intensificar os períodos sem chuva, e há um risco de que o semiárido vire árido permanentemente.

Segundo José Marengo, do Inpe (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais) e um dos autores principais do documento, ainda é cedo para saber se a seca persistente em São Paulo irá se repetir no ano que vem ou nos outros, mas alertou que é preciso que o Brasil se prepare melhor.

MITIGAR E ADAPTAR
O IPCC fez previsões para diferentes cenários, mas, basicamente, indica que as consequências são mais graves quanto maiores os níveis de emissões de gases-estufa. “Se não dá para reduzir as ameaças, precisamos pelo menos reduzir os riscos”, disse Marengo, destacando que, no Brasil, nem sempre isso acontece. No caso das secas, a construção de cisternas e a mobilização de carros-pipa seriam alternativas de adaptação. Já nos locais onde deve haver aumento nas chuvas, a remoção de populações de áreas de risco, como as encostas, seria a alternativa.

Carolina Dubeux, da UFRJ, que também participa do IPCC, afirma que, para que haja equilíbrio entre oferta e demanda, é preciso que a economia reflita a escassez dos recursos naturais, sobretudo em áreas como agricultura e geração de energia. “É necessário que os preços reflitam a escassez de um bem. Se a água está escassa, o preço dela precisa refletir isso. Não podemos só expandir a oferta”, afirmou.

Neste relatório, caiu o grau de confiança sobre projeções para algumas regiões, sobretudo em países em desenvolvimento. Segundo Carlos Nobre, secretário do Ministério de Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação, isso não significa que o documento tenha menos poder político ou científico.

Everton Lucero, chefe de clima no Itamaraty, diz que o documento será importante para subsidiar discussões do próximo acordo climático mundial. “Mas há um desequilíbrio entre os trabalhos científicos levados em consideração pelo IPCC, com muito mais ênfase no que é produzido nos países ricos. As nações em desenvolvimento também produzem muita ciência de qualidade, que deve ter mais espaço”, disse.

(Giuliana Miranda/Folha de S.Paulo)
http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/fsp/cienciasaude/159305-impactos-mais-graves-no-clima-do-pais-virao-de-secas-e-de-cheias.shtml

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Relatório do IPCC aponta riscos e oportunidades para respostas (Ascom do MCTI)

JC e-mail 4925, de 02 de abril de 2014

Um total de 309 cientistas de 70 países, entre coordenadores, autores, editores e revisores, foram selecionados para produzir o relatório

O novo relatório do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) diz que os efeitos das mudanças climáticas já estão ocorrendo em todos os continentes e oceanos e que o mundo, em muitos casos, está mal preparado para os riscos. O documento também conclui que há oportunidades de repostas, embora os riscos sejam difíceis de gerenciar com os níveis elevados de aquecimento.

O relatório, intitulado Mudanças Climáticas 2014: Impactos, Adaptação e Vulnerabilidade, foi elaborado pelo Grupo de Trabalho 2 (GT 2) do IPCC e detalha os impactos das mudanças climáticas até o momento, os riscos futuros e as oportunidades para uma ação eficaz para reduzir os riscos. Os resultados foram apresentados à imprensa brasileira em entrevista coletiva no Rio de Janeiro nesta terça-feira (1º).

Um total de 309 cientistas de 70 países, entre coordenadores, autores, editores e revisores, foram selecionados para produzir o relatório. Eles contaram com a ajuda de 436 autores contribuintes e 1.729 revisores especialistas.

Os autores concluem que a resposta às mudanças climáticas envolve fazer escolhas sobre os riscos em um mundo em transformação, assinalando que a natureza dos riscos das mudanças climáticas é cada vez mais evidente, embora essas alterações também continuem a produzir surpresas. O relatório identifica as populações, indústrias e ecossistemas vulneráveis ao redor do mundo.

Segundo o documento, o risco da mudança climática provém de vulnerabilidade (falta de preparo), exposição (pessoas ou bens em perigo) e sobreposição com os riscos (tendências ou eventos climáticos desencadeantes). Cada um desses três componentes pode ser alvo de ações inteligentes para diminuir o risco.

“Vivemos numa era de mudanças climáticas provocadas pelo homem”, afirma o copresidente do GT 2 Vicente Barros, da Universidade de Buenos Aires, Argentina. “Em muitos casos, não estamos preparados para os riscos relacionados com o clima que já enfrentamos. Investimentos num melhor preparo podem melhorar os resultados, tanto para o presente e para o futuro.”

Reação
A adaptação para reduzir os riscos das mudanças climáticas começa a ocorrer, mas com um foco mais forte na reação aos acontecimentos passados do que na preparação para um futuro diferente, de acordo com outro copresidente do GT, Chris Field, da Carnegie Institution for Science, dos Estados Unidos.

“A adaptação às mudanças climáticas não é uma agenda exótica nunca tentada. Governos, empresas e comunidades ao redor do mundo estão construindo experiência com a adaptação”, explica Field. “Esta experiência constitui um ponto de partida para adaptações mais ousadas e ambiciosas, que serão importantes à medida que o clima e a sociedade continuam a mudar”.

Riscos futuros decorrentes das mudanças no clima dependem fortemente da quantidade de futuras alterações climáticas. Magnitudes crescentes de aquecimento aumentam a probabilidade de impactos graves e generalizados que podem ser surpreendentes ou irreversíveis.

“Com níveis elevados de aquecimento, que resultam de um crescimento contínuo das emissões de gases de efeito estufa, será um desafio gerenciar os riscos e mesmo investimentos sérios e contínuos em adaptação enfrentarão limites”, afirma Field.

Problemas
Impactos observados da mudança climática já afetaram a agricultura, a saúde humana, os ecossistemas terrestres e marítimos, abastecimento de água e a vida de algumas pessoas. A característica marcante dos impactos observados é que eles estão ocorrendo a partir dos trópicos para os polos, a partir de pequenas ilhas para grandes continentes e dos países mais ricos para os mais pobres.

“O relatório conclui que as pessoas, sociedades e ecossistemas são vulneráveis em todo o mundo, mas com vulnerabilidade diferentes em lugares diferentes. As mudanças climáticas muitas vezes interagem com outras tensões para aumentar o risco”, diz Chris Field.

A adaptação pode desempenhar um papel-chave na redução destes riscos, observa Vicente Barros. “Parte da razão pela qual a adaptação é tão importante é que, devido à mudança climática, o mundo enfrenta uma série de riscos já inseridos no sistema climático, acentuados pelas emissões passadas e infraestrutura existente”.

Field acrescenta: “A compreensão de que a mudança climática é um desafio na gestão de risco abre um leque de oportunidades para integrar a adaptação com o desenvolvimento econômico e social e com as iniciativas para limitar o aquecimento futuro. Nós definitivamente enfrentamos desafios, mas compreender esses desafios e ultrapassá-los de forma criativa pode fazer da adaptação à mudança climática uma forma importante de ajudar a construir um mundo mais vibrante em curto prazo e além”.

Conteúdo
O relatório do GT 2 é composto por dois volumes. O primeiro contém Resumo para Formuladores de Políticas, Resumo Técnico e 20 capítulos que avaliam riscos por setor e oportunidades para resposta. Os setores incluem recursos de água doce, os ecossistemas terrestres e oceânicos, costas, alimentos, áreas urbanas e rurais, energia e indústria, a saúde humana e a segurança, além dos meios de vida e pobreza.

Em seus dez capítulos, o segundo volume avalia os riscos e oportunidades para a resposta por região. Essas regiões incluem África, Europa, Ásia, Australásia (Austrália, a Nova Zelândia, a Nova Guiné e algumas ilhas menores da parte oriental da Indonésia), América do Norte, América Central e América do Sul, regiões polares, pequenas ilhas e oceanos.

Acesse a contribuição do grupo de trabalho (em inglês) aqui ou no site da instituição.

A Unidade de Apoio Técnico do GT 2 é hospedada pela Carnegie Institution for Science e financiada pelo governo dos Estados Unidos.

Mapa
“O relatório do Grupo de Trabalho 2 é outro importante passo para a nossa compreensão sobre como reduzir e gerenciar os riscos das mudanças climáticas”, destaca o presidente do IPCC, RajendraPachauri. “Juntamente com os relatórios dos grupos 1 e 3, fornece um mapa conceitual não só dos aspectos essenciais do desafio climático, mas as soluções possíveis.”

O relatório do GT 1 foi lançado em setembro de 2013, e o do GT 3 será divulgado neste mês. O quinto relatório de avaliação (AR5) será concluído com a publicação de uma síntese em outubro.

O Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudança do Clima é o organismo internacional para avaliar a ciência relacionada à mudança climática. Foi criado em 1988 pela Organização Meteorológica Mundial e pelo Programa das Nações Unidas para o Ambiente (Pnuma), para fornecer aos formuladores de políticas avaliações regulares da base científica das mudanças climáticas, seus impactos e riscos futuros, e opções para adaptação e mitigação.

Foi na 28ª Sessão do IPCC, realizada em abril de 2008, que os membros do painel decidiram preparar o AR5. O documento envolveu 837 autores e editores de revisão.

(Ascom do MCTI, com informações do IPCC)
http://www.mcti.gov.br/index.php/content/view/353700/Relatorio_do_IPCC_aponta_riscos_e_oportunidades_para_respostas.html

Exoesqueleto do projeto ‘Walk Again’ funciona em teste documentado no Facebook (O Globo)

JC e-mail 4924, de 01 de abril de 2014

Voluntários já estão treinando em um laboratório de São Paulo para usar a veste robótica

Um paraplégico se levanta da cadeira de rodas, anda e dá o primeiro chute da Copa do Mundo de 2014 vestindo um exoesqueleto robótico controlado pela mente. O traje robótico complexo, construído a partir de ligas leves e alimentado por sistema hidráulico, foi construído por Gordon Cheng, da Universidade Técnica de Munique, e tem a função de trabalhar os músculos da perna paralisada.

O exoesqueleto é fruto de anos de trabalho de uma equipe internacional de cientistas e engenheiros do projeto “Walk Again”, liderado pelo brasileiro Miguel Nicolelis, que lança nesta terça-feira, em sua página no Facebook, a documentação do projeto até as vésperas da Copa do Mundo. Nicolelis já está treinando em um laboratório de São Paulo nove homens e mulheres paraplégicos, com idades de 20 a 40 anos, para usar o exoesqueleto. Três deles serão escolhidos para participar do jogo de abertura entre Brasil e Croácia.

No mês passado, a equipe de pesquisadores foi a jogos de futebol em São Paulo para verificar se a radiação do telefone móvel das multidões pode interferir com o processo. As ondas eletromagnéticas poderiam fazer o exoesqueleto se comportar mal, mas os testes foram animadores. As chances de mau funcionamento são poucas.

O voluntário que usar o exoesqueleto vestirá também um boné equipado com eletrodos para captar suas ondas cerebrais. Estes sinais serão transmitidos para um computador em uma mochila, onde serão descodificados e usados para mover condutores hidráulicos na roupa. O exoesqueleto é alimentado por uma bateria que permite a duas horas de uso contínuo.

Sob os pés do operador estarão placas com sensores para detectar quando o contato é feito com o solo. A cada pisada, um sinal dispara até um dispositivo vibratório costurado no antebraço da camisa do usuário. O dispositivo parece enganar o cérebro, que pensar que a sensação vem de seu pé. Em simulações de realidade virtual, os pacientes sentiram que suas pernas estavam se movendo e tocando alguma coisa. Em outros testes, os pacientes usaram o sistema para andar em uma esteira.

http://oglobo.globo.com/ciencia/exoesqueleto-do-projeto-walk-again-funciona-em-teste-documentado-no-facebook-12053200#ixzz2xe8W6LR5

Relatório do IPCC sugere adaptação baseada em ecossistemas (Estado de S.Paulo)

JC e-mail 4923, de 31 de março de 2014

Modelo adotado no Brasil e região foi indicado como alternativa a infraestutura cara

Além das recomendações usuais para que os países invistam mais em infraestrutura para aumentar sua resiliência às mudanças climáticas, no novo relatório do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC), divulgado neste domingo, 30, ganhou espaço uma alternativa mais barata que pode, em alguns locais, conseguir efeitos parecidos: a adaptação baseada em ecossistemas.

O tema aparece em maior ou menor profundidade em cerca de metade dos capítulos e teve destaque especial no capítulo regional de América Central e do Sul, onde técnicas como criação de áreas protegidas, acordos para conservação e manejos comunitários de áreas naturais estão sendo testadas.

Mas o que isso tem a ver com adaptação? De acordo com o ecólogo Fabio Scarano, da Conservação Internacional, e um dos autores do capítulo, a ideia é fortalecer serviços ecossistêmicos que são fundamentais. Um ambiente bem preservado tem a capacidade de prover um clima estável, o fornecimento de água, a presença de polinizadores. “Como se fosse uma infraestrutura da própria natureza”, diz.

Como premissa, está a conservação da natureza aliada ao incentivo do seu uso sustentável – a fim também de evitar a pobreza, que é um dos principais motores da vulnerabilidade de populações.

“Normalmente quando se fala em adaptação se pensa na construção de grandes estruturas, como um dique, por exemplo, para evitar uma inundação. O que em geral é muito caro, mas em uma adaptação baseada em ecossistemas, conservar a natureza e usá-la bem é uma forma de diminuir a vulnerabilidade das pessoas às mudanças climáticas”, afirma.

Ele cita como exemplo uma região costeira em que o mangue tenha sido degradado. “Esse ecossistema funciona como uma barreira. Em um cenário de ressacas mais fortes, elevação do nível do mar, a costa vai ficar mais vulnerável, será necessário construir diques. Mas se mantém o mangue em pé e se oferece um auxílio para que as pessoas possam ter uma economia básica desse mangue, com técnicas mais sustentáveis, e elas recebam para mantê-lo assim, vai ser mais barato do que depois ter de fazer um dique.”

Segundo o pesquisador, para ser mais resiliente é importante acabar com a pobreza e preservar a natureza. “Se for possível ter os dois, a gente consegue o tão falado desenvolvimento sustentável”, opina.

(Giovana Girardi / Estado de S.Paulo)

http://www.estadao.com.br/noticias/vida,relatorio-do-ipcc-sugere-adaptacao-baseada-em-ecossistemas,1147134,0.htm

Outras matérias sobre o assunto:

O Globo
Painel da ONU apresenta medidas contra aquecimento global
http://oglobo.globo.com/ciencia/painel-da-onu-apresenta-medidas-contra-aquecimento-global-12038245#ixzz2xXy60bbZ

Valor Econômico
Mudança do clima afeta a todos e está acontecendo agora, alerta IPCC
http://www.valor.com.br/internacional/3500174/mudanca-do-clima-afeta-todos-e-esta-acontecendo-agora-alerta-ipcc#ixzz2xYAtWVsg

Esqueleto-robô da Copa usará técnica já criticada por criador (Folha de S.Paulo)

JC e-mail 4923, de 31 de março de 2014

Cientista Miguel Nicolelis muda método para fazer criança paraplégica dar chute inicial na competição

Na abertura da Copa do Mundo do Brasil, uma criança com lesão medular usando um exoesqueleto dará o pontapé inicial da competição. A demonstração pública será o primeiro resultado do projeto “Andar de Novo”, liderado pelo neurocientista brasileiro Miguel Nicolelis. Mas uma recente mudança na maneira como serão captados os sinais cerebrais que controlarão o exoesqueleto traz dúvidas sobre os avanços do projeto no campo da neurociência.

Em sua carreira, Nicolelis sempre fez uma defesa intransigente do implante de eletrodos dentro do cérebro para captar a atividade simultânea de neurônios individuais. Era crítico de métodos não invasivos, como a eletroencefalografia (EEG) –técnica desenvolvida no começo do século passado que usa eletrodos colocados no couro cabeludo para obter tais registros.

Até pelo menos maio do ano passado, Nicolelis ainda dava declarações públicas sobre o desenvolvimento de eletrodos para serem implantados. Mas a partir de outubro de 2013, passou a dizer que usaria sinais obtidos por EEG. Críticas a essa técnica estão em seu livro, em artigos e já rendeu até embates públicos.

Em artigo publicado em 2008 na revista “Scientific American Brasil” e assinado com John Chapin, Nicolelis diz: “Os sinais de EEG, no entanto, não podem ser usados diretamente em próteses de membros, pois mostram a atividade elétrica média de populações amplas de neurônios. É difícil extrair desses sinais as pequeníssimas variações necessárias para codificar movimentos precisos dos braços ou das mãos.”

Em um debate da Associação Americana para o Avanço da Ciência de 2013, o brasileiro dirigiu provocações a Todd Coleman, da Universidade da Califórnia em San Diego, que pesquisa a EEG para controlar próteses. Na ocasião, Nicolelis disse que “haverá aplicações de implantes invasivos porque eles são muito melhores do que dispositivos de superfície”.

Segundo Márcio Dutra Moraes, neurocientista da UFMG, a mudança de metodologia é uma modificação “conceitual em como abordar a questão”. Ele aponta que isso ocorreu não porque a EEG é melhor, mas porque a proposta original era “estupidamente mais complexa” e o uso da EEG simplifica muito as coisas, ainda que não traga nenhum avanço substancial. Segundo Moraes, a mudança “certamente se deu pela impossibilidade de resolver de forma satisfatória e ética o projeto inicial dentro do limite de tempo imposto pela Copa”.

Segundo um cientista com experiência internacional que não quis se identificar, o projeto atual, como será apresentado na Copa, não justificaria os R$ 33 milhões investidos pelo governo.

Edward Tehovnik, pesquisador do Instituto do Cérebro da UFRN, chegou a trabalhar com Nicolelis, mas rompeu com o cientista, que o demitiu. Ele questiona quanto da demonstração de junho será controlada pelo exoesqueleto e quanto será controlada pelo cérebro da criança.

“Minha análise, baseada nos dados publicados, sugere que menos de 1% do sinal virá do cérebro da criança. Os outros 99% virão do robô”. E ele pergunta: “Será mesmo a criança paralisada que vai chutar a bola?”.

Sergio Neuenschwander, professor titular da UFRN, diz que a opção pelo EEG é uma mudança muito profunda no projeto original. Ele diz que é possível usar sinais de EEG para dar comandos ao robô, mas isso é diferente de obter o que seria o código neural de andar, sentar, chutar etc.

“O fato de ele ter optado por uma mudança de técnica mostra o tamanho do desafio pela frente.”

(Fernando Tadeu Moraes/Folha de S.Paulo)

http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/fsp/cienciasaude/158644-esqueleto-robo-da-copa-usara-tecnica-ja-criticada-por-criador.shtml

Global warming dials up our risks, UN report says (AP)

By SETH BORENSTEIN, 30 March 2014

FILE – In this Aug. 20, 2013 file photo, Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border point in Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. In an authoritative report due out Monday, March 31, 2014, a United Nations climate panel for the first time is connecting hotter global temperatures to hotter global tempers. Top scientists are saying that climate change will complicate and worsen existing global security problems, such as civil wars, strife between nations and refugees. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)
FILE – In this Dec. 17, 2011 file photo, an Egyptian protester throws a stone toward soldiers, unseen, as a building burns during clashes near Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt. In an authoritative report due out Monday, March 31, 2014, a United Nations climate panel for the first time is connecting hotter global temperatures to hotter global tempers. Top scientists are saying that climate change will complicate and worsen existing global security problems, such as civil wars, strife between nations and refugees. (AP Photo/Ahmad Hammad, File).
FILE – In this Nov. 10, 2013 file photo, a survivor walks by a large ship after it was washed ashore by strong waves caused by powerful Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines. Freaky storms like 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan, 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and 2008’s ultra-deadly Cyclone Nargis may not have been caused by warming, but their fatal storm surges were augmented by climate change’s ever rising seas, Maarten van Aalst, a top official at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said. Global warming is driving humanity toward a whole new level of many risks, a United Nations scientific panel reports, warning that the wild climate ride has only just begun. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File).
FILE – This Nov. 9, 2013 file photo provided by NASA shows Typhoon Haiyan taken by astronaut Karen L. Nyberg aboard the International Space Station. Freaky storms like 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan, 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and 2008’s ultra-deadly Cyclone Nargis may not have been caused by warming, but their fatal storm surges were augmented by climate change’s ever rising seas, Maarten van Aalst, a top official at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said. Global warming is driving humanity toward a whole new level of many risks, a United Nations scientific panel reports, warning that the wild climate ride has only just begun. (AP Photo/NASA, Karen L. Nyberg, File).
FILE – This May 6, 2008 file photo, shows an aerial view of devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis, seen at an unknown location in Myanmar. Freaky storms like 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan, 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and 2008’s ultra-deadly Cyclone Nargis may not have been caused by warming, but their fatal storm surges were augmented by climate change’s ever rising seas, Maarten van Aalst, a top official at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said. Global warming is driving humanity toward a whole new level of many risks, a United Nations scientific panel reports, warning that the wild climate ride has only just begun. (AP Photo/File).
FILE – This Oct. 31, 2012 file photo, shows an aerial view of the damage to an amusement park left in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, in Seaside Heights, N.J. Freaky storms like 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan, 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and 2008’s ultra-deadly Cyclone Nargis may not have been caused by warming, but their fatal storm surges were augmented by climate change’s ever rising seas, Maarten van Aalst, a top official at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said. Global warming is driving humanity toward a whole new level of many risks, a United Nations scientific panel reports, warning that the wild climate ride has only just begun. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)
FILE – In this Oct. 22, 2005 file photo, a motorcyclist rides past a mountain of trash, sheet rock and domestic furniture, removed from homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina, at one of three dump areas setup for that purpose, in New Orleans, LA. In the cases of the big storms like Haiyan, Sandy and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the poor were the most vulnerable, a United Nations scientific panel reports said. The report talks about climate change helping create new pockets of poverty and “hotspots of hunger” even in richer countries, increasing inequality between rich and poor. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)
FILE – In this Aug. 7, 2010 file photo, a firefighter tries to stop a forest fire near the village of Verkhnyaya Vereya in Nizhny Novgorod region, some 410 km (255 miles) east of Moscow. Twenty-first century disasters such as killer heat waves in Europe, wildfires in the United States, droughts in Australia and deadly flooding in Mozambique, Thailand and Pakistan highlight how vulnerable humanity is to extreme weather, says a massive new report from a Nobel Prize-winning group of scientists released early Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr., File)
FILE - This Nov. 13, 2013 file photo, shows typhoon damaged fuel tanks along the coast in Tanawan, central Philippines. A United Nations panel of scientists has drafted a list of eight ``key risks” about climate change that’s easy to understand and illustrates the issues that have the greatest potential to cause harm to the planet. The list is part of a massive report on how global warming is affecting humans and the planet and how the future will be worse unless something is done about it. The report is being finalized at a meeting on the weekend of March 29, 2014 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (AP Photo/Wally Santana, File)
FILE – This Nov. 13, 2013 file photo, shows typhoon damaged fuel tanks along the coast in Tanawan, central Philippines. A United Nations panel of scientists has drafted a list of eight “key risks” about climate change that’s easy to understand and illustrates the issues that have the greatest potential to cause harm to the planet. The list is part of a massive report on how global warming is affecting humans and the planet and how the future will be worse unless something is done about it. The report is being finalized at a meeting on the weekend of March 29, 2014 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (AP Photo/Wally Santana, File)
CJ. Yokohama (Japan), 31/03/2014.- Renate Christ, Secretary of the IPCC attends a press conference during the 10th Plenary of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II and 38th Session of the IPCC in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, 31 March 2014. The IPCC announced that the effects of climate change are already taking place globally on all continents and across ocean waters. Although the world today is not prepared for risks resulting from a climate change, there are opportunities to act on such risks. EFE/EPA/CHRISTOPHER JUE
CJ. Yokohama (Japan), 31/03/2014.- Renate Christ, Secretary of the IPCC attends a press conference during the 10th Plenary of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II and 38th Session of the IPCC in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, 31 March 2014. The IPCC announced that the effects of climate change are already taking place globally on all continents and across ocean waters. Although the world today is not prepared for risks resulting from a climate change, there are opportunities to act on such risks. EFE/EPA/CHRISTOPHER JUE
CJ. Yokohama (Japan), 31/03/2014.- Rajendra Pachauri (L) Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Christopher Field (R), IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair attend a press conference during the tenth Plenary IPCC Working Group II and 38th Session of the IPCC in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, 31 March 2014. The IPCC announced that the effects of climate change are already taking place globally on all continents and across ocean waters. Although the world today is not prepared for risks resulting from a climate change, there are opportunities to act on such risks. EFE/EPA/CHRISTOPHER JUE
CJ. Yokohama (Japan), 31/03/2014.- Rajendra Pachauri (L) Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Christopher Field (R), IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair attend a press conference during the tenth Plenary IPCC Working Group II and 38th Session of the IPCC in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, 31 March 2014. The IPCC announced that the effects of climate change are already taking place globally on all continents and across ocean waters. Although the world today is not prepared for risks resulting from a climate change, there are opportunities to act on such risks. EFE/EPA/CHRISTOPHER JUE
CJ. Yokohama (Japan), 31/03/2014.- Christopher Field, IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair, speaks at a press conference during the tenth Plenary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II and 38th Session of the IPCC in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, 31 March 2014. The IPCC announced that the effects of climate change are already taking place globally on all continents and across ocean waters. Although the world today is not prepared for risks resulting from a climate change, there are opportunities to act on such risks. EFE/EPA/CHRISTOPHER JUE
CJ. Yokohama (Japan), 31/03/2014.- Christopher Field, IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair, speaks at a press conference during the tenth Plenary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II and 38th Session of the IPCC in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, 31 March 2014. The IPCC announced that the effects of climate change are already taking place globally on all continents and across ocean waters. Although the world today is not prepared for risks resulting from a climate change, there are opportunities to act on such risks. EFE/EPA/CHRISTOPHER JUE
Smoke is discharged from chimneys at a plant in Tokyo, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Along with the enormous risks global warming poses for humanity are opportunities to improve public health and build a better world, scientists gathered in Yokohama for a climate change conference said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Smoke is discharged from chimneys at a plant in Tokyo, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Along with the enormous risks global warming poses for humanity are opportunities to improve public health and build a better world, scientists gathered in Yokohama for a climate change conference said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Demonstrators participate in a silence protest in front of a conference hall where the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is meeting in Yokohama, near Tokyo, Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
Demonstrators participate in a silence protest in front of a conference hall where the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is meeting in Yokohama, near Tokyo, Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Rajendra K. Pachauri, center, speaks during a press conference in Yokohama, near Tokyo, Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Rajendra K. Pachauri, center, speaks during a press conference in Yokohama, near Tokyo, Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
A guard speaks on a mobile phone in front of demonstrators participating in a silence protest in front of a conference hall where the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is meeting in Yokohama, near Tokyo, Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
A guard speaks on a mobile phone in front of demonstrators participating in a silence protest in front of a conference hall where the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is meeting in Yokohama, near Tokyo, Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
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YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — If the world doesn’t cut pollution of heat-trapping gases, the already noticeable harms of global warming could spiral “out of control,” the head of a United Nations scientific panel warned Monday.

And he’s not alone. The Obama White House says it is taking this new report as a call for action, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying “the costs of inaction are catastrophic.”

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that issued the 32-volume, 2,610-page report here early Monday, told The Associated Press: “it is a call for action.” Without reductions in emissions, he said, impacts from warming “could get out of control.”

One of the study’s authors, Maarten van Aalst, a top official at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said, “If we don’t reduce greenhouse gases soon, risks will get out of hand. And the risks have already risen.”

Twenty-first century disasters such as killer heat waves in Europe, wildfires in the United States, droughts in Australia and deadly flooding in Mozambique, Thailand and Pakistan highlight how vulnerable humanity is to extreme weather, according to the report from the Nobel Prize-winning group of scientists. The dangers are going to worsen as the climate changes even more, the report’s authors said.

“We’re now in an era where climate change isn’t some kind of future hypothetical,” said the overall lead author of the report, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science in California. “We live in an area where impacts from climate change are already widespread and consequential.”

Nobody is immune, Pachauri and other scientists said.

“We’re all sitting ducks,” Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer, one of the main authors of the report, said in an interview.

After several days of late-night wrangling, more than 100 governments unanimously approved the scientist-written 49-page summary — which is aimed at world political leaders. The summary mentions the word “risk” an average of about 5 1/2 times per page.

“Changes are occurring rapidly and they are sort of building up that risk,” Field said.

These risks are both big and small, according to the report. They are now and in the future. They hit farmers and big cities. Some places will have too much water, some not enough, including drinking water. Other risks mentioned in the report involve the price and availability of food, and to a lesser and more qualified extent some diseases, financial costs and even world peace.

“Things are worse than we had predicted” in 2007, when the group of scientists last issued this type of report, said report co-author Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University in Bangladesh. “We are going to see more and more impacts, faster and sooner than we had anticipated.”

The problems have gotten so bad that the panel had to add a new and dangerous level of risks. In 2007, the biggest risk level in one key summary graphic was “high” and colored blazing red. The latest report adds a new level, “very high,” and colors it deep purple.

You might as well call it a “horrible” risk level, said van Aalst: “The horrible is something quite likely, and we won’t be able to do anything about it.”

The report predicts that the highest level of risk would first hit plants and animals, both on land and the acidifying oceans.

Climate change will worsen problems that society already has, such as poverty, sickness, violence and refugees, according to the report. And on the other end, it will act as a brake slowing down the benefits of a modernizing society, such as regular economic growth and more efficient crop production, it says.

“In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans,” the report says.

And if society doesn’t change, the future looks even worse, it says: “Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts.”

While the problems from global warming will hit everyone in some way, the magnitude of the harm won’t be equal, coming down harder on people who can least afford it, the report says. It will increase the gaps between the rich and poor, healthy and sick, young and old, and men and women, van Aalst said.

But the report’s authors say this is not a modern day version of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Much of what they warn of are more nuanced troubles that grow by degrees and worsen other societal ills. The report also concedes that there are uncertainties in understanding and predicting future climate risks.

The report, the fifth on warming’s impacts, includes risks to the ecosystems of the Earth, including a thawing Arctic, but it is far more oriented to what it means to people than past versions.

The report also notes that one major area of risk is that with increased warming, incredibly dramatic but ultra-rare single major climate events, sometimes called tipping points, become more possible with huge consequences for the globe. These are events like the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which would take more than 1,000 years.

“I can’t think of a better word for what it means to society than the word ‘risk,'” said Virginia Burkett of the U.S. Geological Survey, one of the study’s main authors. She calls global warming “maybe one of the greatest known risks we face.”

Global warming is triggered by heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide, that stay in the atmosphere for a century. Much of the gases still in the air and trapping heat came from the United States and other industrial nations. China is now by far the No. 1 carbon dioxide polluter, followed by the United States and India.

Unlike in past reports, where the scientists tried to limit examples of extremes to disasters that computer simulations can attribute partly to man-made warming, this version broadens what it looks at because it includes the larger issues of risk and vulnerability, van Aalst said.

Freaky storms like 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan, 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and 2008’s ultra-deadly Cyclone Nargis may not have been caused by warming, but their fatal storm surges were augmented by climate change’s ever rising seas, he said.

And in the cases of the big storms like Haiyan, Sandy and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the poor were the most vulnerable, Oppenheimer and van Aalst said. The report talks about climate change helping create new pockets of poverty and “hotspots of hunger” even in richer countries, increasing inequality between rich and poor.

Report co-author Maggie Opondo of the University of Nairobi said that especially in places like Africa, climate change and extreme events mean “people are going to become more vulnerable to sinking deeper into poverty.” And other study authors talked about the fairness issue with climate change.

“Rich people benefit from using all these fossil fuels,” University of Sussex economist Richard Tol said. “Poorer people lose out.”

Huq said he had hope because richer nations and people are being hit more, and “when it hits the rich, then it’s a problem” and people start acting on it.

Part of the report talks about what can be done: reducing carbon pollution and adapting to and preparing for changing climates with smarter development.

The report echoes an earlier U.N. climate science panel that said if greenhouse gases continue to rise, the world is looking at another about 6 or 7 degrees Fahrenheit (3.5 or 4 degrees Celsius) of warming by 2100 instead of the international goal of not allowing temperatures to rise more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 degrees Celsius). The difference between those two outcomes, Princeton’s Oppenheimer said, “is the difference between driving on an icy road at 30 mph versus 90 mph. It’s risky at 30, but deadly at 90.”

Tol, who is in the minority of experts here, had his name removed from the summary because he found it “too alarmist,” harping too much on risk.

But the panel vice chairman, Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, said that’s not quite right: “We are pointing for reasons for alarm … It’s because the facts and the science and the data show that there are reasons to be alarmed. It’s not because we’re alarmist.”

The report is based on more than 12,000 peer reviewed scientific studies. Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, a co-sponsor of the climate panel, said this report was “the most solid evidence you can get in any scientific discipline.”

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University who wasn’t part of this report, said he found the report “very conservative” because it is based on only peer reviewed studies and has to be approved unanimously.

There is still time to adapt to some of the coming changes and reduce heat-trapping emissions, so it’s not all bad, said study co-author Patricia Romero-Lankao of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.

“We have a closing window of opportunity,” she said. “We do have choices. We need to act now.”

___

Online:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: http://www.ipcc.ch

___

 

Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears

Um oceano nos ares (Fapesp)

Radares e sobrevoos detalham os mecanismos de formação de chuva e o efeito da poluição urbana sobre o clima da Amazônia

CARLOS FIORAVANTI | Edição 217 – Março de 2014

O mundo das águas: nuvens escuras cobrem o rio Negro e Manaus no dia 18 de fevereiro de 2014, antecipando mais uma chuva amazônica

De Manaus

Aqui em Manaus e por esta vasta região Norte chove muito o ano todo, mas as chuvas são diferentes. No início do ano – fevereiro e março – chove quase todo dia, com poucos relâmpagos, e o aguaceiro lava a floresta e as cidades durante horas seguidas. Já no final do ano – de setembro a novembro – as tempestades são mais intensas, com muitos relâmpagos, acordando medos atávicos, e as chuvas são localizadas e mais breves. Para confirmar e detalhar os mecanismos de formação da chuva – diferente em cada região do país e mesmo dentro de uma mesma região – e o efeito da poluição de Manaus sobre o clima da Amazônia, um grupo de 100 pesquisadores do Brasil, dos Estados Unidos e da Alemanha começou a escrutinar o céu da região de Manaus com radares e aviões, por meio do programa Green OceanAmazon (GOAmazon). Lançado oficialmente no dia 18 de fevereiro em Manaus, o GOAmazon conta com orçamento de R$ 24 milhões e apoio financeiro da FAPESP, Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Amazonas (Fapeam) e Departamento de Energia e Fundação Nacional de Ciência (NSF) dos Estados Unidos.

A expressão green ocean nasceu em 1999, na primeira grande campanha do programa Experimento de Grande Escala da Biosfera-Atmosfera na Amazônia (LBA). Sobrevoando a floresta de Ji-Paraná, em Rondônia, os pesquisadores – muitos deles integrantes deste novo programa – notaram que as nuvens não se comportavam como o esperado. Nessa região da Amazônia já próxima à Bolívia, imaginava-se que as nuvens tivessem até 20 quilômetros (km) de altura e apresentassem alta concentração de material particulado e de gotas pequenas de chuva, características das chamadas nuvens continentais. Em vez disso, elas tinham características das nuvens oceânicas, com pouco material particulado, de formação mais rápida e topos relativamente baixos, como em áreas oceânicas – era um oceano, não azul, mas verde, por estar sobre a floresta. Antonio Manzi, pesquisador do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (Inpa), que participou daquela e de outras expedições do LBA e agora integra o GOAmazon, lembra-se de que foi também em 1999 que verificaram que as chamadas nuvens quentes, que não formam cristais de gelo, eram as predominantes na região – um fato inesperado em áreas continentais.

 

016-021_CAPA_Chuva_217-extraO volume de chuva que cai sobre a bacia amazônica equivale a um oceano. Segundo Manzi, são em média 27 trilhões de toneladas de água por ano. Em termos mais concretos, a chuva, se se acumulasse em vez de escoar no solo, formaria uma lâmina d’água com uma espessura de 2,3 metros ao longo dos 6,1 milhões de quilômetros quadrados da bacia amazônica, que se espalha pelo Brasil e por vários países vizinhos. Luiz Augusto Machado, pesquisador do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe), calculou o volume médio da água de chuva em todo o país: são 14 trilhões de toneladas por ano. Caso se acumulasse, essa água da chuva formaria uma camada de 1,7 metro de altura cobrindo todo o país. Machado é também o coordenador do Projeto Chuva, que integra o GOAmazon e fará agora em Manaus a última etapa de um levantamento sobre os tipos e distribuição de nuvens de chuva no Brasil. 

Ainda não está claro como esse oceano aéreo se forma. “As nuvens podem ou não gerar chuva”, diz Gilberto Fisch, do Instituto de Aeronáutica e Espaço (IAE), de São José dos Campos, e pesquisador do Projeto Chuva. “Costuma-se dizer que, quando há vapor-d’água, a chuva se forma e cai, mas não é bem assim.” A maioria das gotículas que formam as nuvens, com dezenas de micrômetros de diâmetro, se dispersa na forma de vapor. Só uma minoria consegue ganhar volume e se transformar em gotas com diâmetro de 1 a 5 milímetros e cair, por ação da gravidade. Entender como as nuvens se formam e crescem e em quais a chuva efetivamente se forma é uma das metas da equipe do GOAmazon.

Em um dos locais de coleta de informações, no município de Manacapuru, 80 km a oeste de Manaus, 120 equipamentos estão funcionando dia e noite – alguns expostos, outros no interior de 15 contêineres – para levantar informações sobre o clima na região, com o reforço dos balões meteorológicos, soltados a cada seis horas. Sobre um dos contêineres está um radar com alcance de 100 km que examina o formato e a constituição de nuvens formadoras de chuva e, desde 2010, fez o mesmo serviço em outras cidades brasileiras. As informações apuradas sobre as nuvens serão confrontadas com as do satélite GPM, que deve ser lançado em 27 de fevereiro do Japão e permanecer em uma órbita de 400 km de altura, enviando informações sobre as nuvens de chuva em quase todo o planeta. “O GPM vai passar duas vezes por dia sobre Manaus, complementando nossas informações”, diz Machado.

Um avião de pesquisa vindo dos Estados Unidos chegou a Manaus no dia 16 de fevereiro com a previsão de começar a voar nos dias seguintes para examinar diretamente os tipos de cristais de gelo do interior das nuvens e os teores de gás carbônico (CO2) e material particulado. O avião norte-americano e outro da Alemanha devem sobrevoar a cidade e a floresta em setembro para medir as eventuais alterações do clima na estação seca.

Os experimentos, previstos para terminarem em dezembro de 2015, devem resultar em previsões meteorológicas de curto prazo (duas horas) e modelos computacionais de circulação atmosférica mais apurados. Em algumas regiões do país o monitoramento do volume de chuvas, dependente de satélites meteorológicos, ainda é muito impreciso, adiando as medidas de alerta que poderiam salvar vidas antes de as chuvas fortes chegarem.

Varrendo o céu: o radar de nuvem (esquerda) e o de chuva, instalados em Manacapuru, a 80 km de Manaus

Uma metrópole na floresta
Com forte base industrial,  uma frota de 700 mil veículos e quase 2 milhões de habitantes, Manaus, capital do estado do Amazonas, é a maior metrópole tropical do mundo cercada por centenas de quilômetros de floresta. Como a pluma de poluentes produzida por essa megacidade no centro da Amazônia altera o ciclo de vida dos aerossóis e das nuvens em áreas de mata preservada e como esses elementos interagem na atmosfera e provocam mais ou menos chuvas na região?

Essas são as questões centrais que o experimento internacional GOAmazon tentará responder nos próximos anos. Um conjunto detalhado de medidas sobre aerossóis, gases traço (gás carbônico, metano e outros) e nuvens será realizado em seis diferentes sítios. Três se encontram a leste, antes de o vento passar por Manaus, e, portanto, sua atmosfera ainda não foi contaminada pela pluma de poluição da capital. Um quarto posto de medição será na própria metrópole e os dois últimos se situam em Iranduba e Manacapuru, a oeste, onde a atmosfera já carrega a influência dos poluentes emitidos em Manaus.

“Não há outra cidade com uma situação similar à da capital do Amazonas”, afirma Paulo Artaxo, coordenador de projeto temático ligado ao GOAmazon. “Sabemos que a poluição altera a precipitação, mas em que tipo de nuvem e em que circunstância?” Os estudos de Scott Martin, pesquisador da Universidade Harvard e integrante do GOAmazon, indicaram que o efeito dos aerossóis sobre o clima da Amazônia varia de acordo com a época do ano. Já se viu também que as nuvens que passam sobre a cidade recebem poluição e apresentam uma refletividade maior que as sem poluição. As nuvens da floresta têm uma carga de material particulado equivalente à da era pré-industrial.

Maria Assunção da Silva Dias, pesquisadora do Instituto de Astronomia, Geofísica e Ciências Atmosféricas da Universidade de São Paulo (IAG-USP) que coordenou a campanha do LBA em 1999, vai modelar a influência da brisa fluvial originada pelos rios Negro, Solimões e Amazonas sobre o vento que carrega a pluma de poluentes da capital amazonense. A brisa sopra do rio para a terra durante o dia. À noite, ela inverte o sentido.  “Em rios com margens largas, como o Negro, a brisa pode ser um fator capaz de alterar a direção e a intensidade dos ventos, modificando o regime de chuvas em áreas próximas”, diz Maria Assunção, que em 2004 realizou um estudo semelhante sobre a brisa do rio Tapajós, em Santarém, no Pará.

Neve no nordeste
Dispostos a entender melhor a formação de chuva pelo país e a evitar tragédias climáticas, a equipe do Inpe coletou nos últimos quatro anos dados em cinco pontos de amostragem: Alcântara, no Maranhão; Fortaleza, no Ceará; Belém, no Pará; São José dos Campos, em São Paulo; e Santa Maria, no Rio Grande do Sul. Um radar e outros equipamentos agora instalados em Manaus medem o tamanho das gotas nas nuvens e os tipos de cristais que as formam. As formas das gotas, a propósito, são bem diferentes: podem ser horizontais, elípticas ou oblongas, mas todas longe do formato abaulado com que normalmente se representam as gotas de chuva.

Preparando balão meteorológico para soltura

“Esse é o primeiro recenseamento da distribuição de gotas de chuvas e cristais de gelo no território nacional”, diz Machado. O que se notou, em linhas gerais, é que diferentes tipos de nuvens (mais altas ou mais baixas), com diferentes tipos de cristais de gelo (em forma de estrela, coluna ou cone), se formam e se desfazem continuamente em todas as regiões do país. Também se viu que há particularidades regionais, que indicam processos distintos de formação de chuvas e fenômenos surpreendentes. As formas e os humores da chuva pelo país ao longo do ano são diversificados a ponto de lembrarem o poema Caso pluvioso, no qual o poeta Carlos Drummond de Andrade descobre que Maria é que chovia (ele não conta quem era Maria) e a chama de chuvadeira, chuvadonha, chuvinhenta, chuvil e pluvimedonha. E em seguida: “Choveu tanto Maria em minha casa / que a correnteza forte criou asa / e um rio se formou, ou mar, não sei, / sei apenas que nele me afundei”.

A realidade também exibiu um pouco de poesia. “Detectamos neve nas nuvens mais altas sobre a cidade de Fortaleza”, diz Machado. Para decepção dos moradores locais, porém, a neve derrete e cai como chuva comum. No Nordeste predominam as nuvens quentes, assim chamadas porque o topo está abaixo do limite de temperatura de 0oCelsius (ºC) e, por essa razão, nelas não se formam cristais de gelo, como nas regiões mais altas dos outros tipos de nuvens. Por não abrigarem gelo, essas nuvens passam despercebidas pelos satélites meteorológicos e pelos equipamentos de micro-ondas usados para prever a formação de chuvas, resultando em medições imprecisas. As medições de nuvens quentes feitas por radar em Alcântara indicaram que os valores de volume de água, comparados com as medições feitas por satélite, estavam subestimados em mais de 50%, como descrito por Carlos Morales, pesquisador da USP que integra o Projeto Chuva.

O limite – ou isoterma – de 0ºC separa cristais de gelo (acima) e água líquida (abaixo): é uma espécie de porta invisível da chuva, onde o gelo derrete e forma água. Não é lá muito rigorosa, porque no Sudeste, por causa das fortes correntes ascendentes, a água permanece líquida a temperaturas de até 20 graus negativos, acima da camada de derretimento do gelo. “A combinação entre água e gelo em altitudes mais elevadas é a principal razão da maior incidência das descargas elétricas na região Sudeste”, diz Machado.

Manaus sob chuva

Por meio do radar, pode-se examinar a proporção de água e de gelo no interior das nuvens, desse modo obtendo informações que escapam dos satélites usados na previsão do tempo. “Os satélites não detectam as gotas grandes de água e de baixa concentração que vêm do Atlântico e formam as nuvens das regiões Nordeste e Sudeste”, Machado exemplifica. No Nordeste as nuvens, que se concentram na zona costeira, são alimentadas pelas massas de ar vindas de regiões próximas ao equador, que se movem do oceano para o continente. Já no Sul e no Sudeste as chuvas se devem principalmente às massas de ar frio (frentes frias) que vêm da Argentina. Os especialistas dizem que os satélites também não detectam fenômenos que não escapariam ao radar, como a transformação de um vento quente que veio do oceano, esfriou rapidamente ao encontrar as regiões mais frias do alto das serras no Sul do Brasil e desabou como uma chuva impiedosa sobre Blumenau e toda a região leste de Santa Catarina em 2008.

O radar de dupla polarização, em conjunto com outros instrumentos, envia ondas horizontais e verticais que, por reflexão, indicam o formato dos cristais de gelo e das gotas de chuva, desse modo elucidando a composição das nuvens e os mecanismos de formação e intensificação das descargas elétricas (raios) durante as tempestades. Os pesquisadores verificaram que as nuvens com muitos raios são mais altas e abrigam uma diversidade maior de cristais de gelo e mais granizo (pedras de gelo) do que aquelas que produzem menos raios. Além disso, de acordo com esse levantamento, as cargas elétricas negativas permanecem na mesma altura, logo acima do limite de 0oC, e as positivas podem ficar mais altas, acompanhando o topo das nuvens e o aumento da intensidade da descarga elétrica (ver detalhes no infográfico).

“Quem não quer saber onde vai chover antes de sair de casa?”, indaga Machado. Os especialistas acreditam que os dados coletados, combinados com a modelagem computacional já utilizada para a previsão do clima, podem criar uma base sólida de conhecimento teórico e aplicado sobre a chuva continental. Em uma das ramificações do Projeto Chuva – o SOS, Sistema de Observação de Tempo Severo –, o grupo do Inpe trabalhou com equipes da Defesa Civil e de universidades em cada uma das cidades em que se instalaram com os equipamentos para prever a chegada de chuvas com duas horas de antecedência e uma resolução espacial que define possíveis pontos de alagamentos nos bairros, complementando as previsões fornecidas por supercomputadores como o Tupã, instalado no Inpe. Com base nessas experiências, Machado acredita que o radar, acoplado a um sistema de informação geográfica (SIG) e às tecnologias já em uso de previsão de chuva em alta resolução, da ordem de centenas de metros, viabiliza a previsão imediata de tempestades e desastres climáticos, para que o morador de um bairro possa saber, antes de sair de casa, se está chovendo no bairro vizinho, para onde está indo. “Para isso”, ele diz, “precisamos conhecer o tamanho das gotas de chuva e dos fenômenos que se passam no interior das nuvens, como já estamos fazendo”. Eles continuam trabalhando, enquanto agora, como na canção de Tom Jobim, chegam as águas de março, fechando o verão.

Com colaboração de Marcos Pivetta

Projetos
1. Processos de nuvens associados aos principais sistemas precipitantes no Brasil: uma contribuição a modelagem da escala de nuvens e ao GPM (medida global de precipitação) (nº 2009/15235-8); Modalidade Projeto Temático; Pesquisador responsável Luiz Augusto Toledo Machado – Inpe; Investimento R$ 2.188.914,06 (FAPESP).
2. GoAmazon: interação da pluma urbana de Manaus com emissões biogênicas da floresta amazônica (nº 2013/05014-0); Modalidade Projeto temático; Pesquisador responsável Paulo Eduardo Artaxo Netto – IF-USP; Investimento R$ 3.236.501,79 (FAPESP).

Northern and southern hemisphere climates follow the beat of different drummers (Science Daily)

Date: March 30, 2014

Source: University of Bern

Summary: Over the last 1000 years, temperature differences between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres were larger than previously thought. Using new data from the Southern Hemisphere, researchers have shown that climate model simulations overestimate the links between the climate variations across the Earth with implications for regional predictions.

Field work in the Indian Ocean. The corals off the Broome coast, Western Australia, store information about past climate. Credit: Copyright Eric Matson, Australian Institute of Marine Science

Over the last 1000 years, temperature differences between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres were larger than previously thought. Using new data from the Southern Hemisphere, researchers have shown that climate model simulations overestimate the links between the climate variations across Earth with implications for regional predictions.

These findings are demonstrated in a new international study coordinated by Raphael Neukom from the Oeschger Centre of the University of Bern and the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL and are published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The Southern Hemisphere is a challenging place for climate scientists. Its vast oceans, Antarctic ice, and deserts make it particularly difficult to collect information about present climate and, even more so, about past climate. However, multi-centennial reconstructions of past climate from so-called proxy archives such as tree-rings, lake sediments, corals, and ice-cores are required to understand the mechanisms of the climate system. Until now, these long-term estimates were almost entirely based on data from the Northern Hemisphere.

Over the past few years, an international research team has made a coordinated effort to develop and analyse new records that provide clues about climate variation across the Southern Hemisphere. Climate scientists from Australia, Antarctic-experts, as well as data specialists and climate modellers from South and North America and Europe participated in the project. They compiled climate data from over 300 different locations and applied a range of methods to estimate Southern Hemisphere temperatures over the past 1000 years. In 99.7 percent of the results, the warmest decade of the millennium occurs after 1970.

Surprisingly, only twice over the entire last millennium have both hemispheres simultaneously shown extreme temperatures. One of these occasions was a global cold period in the 17th century; the other one was the current warming phase, with uninterrupted global warm extremes since the 1970s. “The ‘Medieval Warm Period’, as identified in some European chronicles, was a regional phenomenon,” says Raphael Neukom. “At the same time, temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere were only average.” The researchers ascribe these large differences to so-called “internal variability.” This term describes the chaotic interplay of the ocean and atmosphere within the climate system that leads to temperatures changing in one or the other direction. Regional differences in these fluctuations appear to be larger than previously thought.

The scientists discovered that most climate models are unable to satisfactorily simulate the considerable differences between the hemispheres. The models appear to underestimate the influence of internal variability, in comparison with external forcings like solar irradiation, volcanic eruptions or human greenhouse gas emissions. “Regional differences in the climatic evolution of the next decades could therefore be larger than the current models predict,” says Neukom.

Journal Reference:

  1. Raphael Neukom, Joëlle Gergis, David J. Karoly, Heinz Wanner, Mark Curran, Julie Elbert, Fidel González-Rouco, Braddock K. Linsley, Andrew D. Moy, Ignacio Mundo, Christoph C. Raible, Eric J. Steig, Tas van Ommen, Tessa Vance, Ricardo Villalba, Jens Zinke, David Frank. Inter-hemispheric temperature variability over the past millenniumNature Climate Change, 2014; DOI:10.1038/NCLIMATE2174

Luciana Vanni Gatti: Na trilha do carbono (Fapesp)

MARCOS PIVETTA e RICARDO ZORZETTO | Edição 217 – Março de 2014

© LÉO RAMOS

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Emoldurado por um nascer do sol no município acreano de Senador Guiomard, um castanheiro-do-pará ocupou o primeiro plano da capa de 6 de fevereiro da revista científica inglesa Nature, uma das mais prestigiadas do mundo. A árvore tropical simbolizava a Amazônia, tema central de um artigo que teve como autor principal Luciana Vanni Gatti, 53 anos, coordenadora do Laboratório de Química Atmosférica do Instituto de Pesquisas Energéticas e Nucleares (Ipen). Luciana e os coautores do trabalho calcularam o chamado balanço de carbono da floresta amazônica  que é uma comparação entre a quantidade de carbono na forma de dióxido de carbono (CO2) emitida e a absorvida pela bacia Amazônica – em dois anos consecutivos que apresentaram temperaturas acima da média dos últimos 30 anos, mas uma variação significativa no regime de chuvas.

O ano de 2010 foi marcado por uma estiagem extrema e o de 2011 por chuvas acima da média. “Vimos que a Amazônia se comportou como uma fonte de carbono no ano seco quando também levamos em conta as queimadas”, diz Luciana, que dividiu a coautoria do artigo com Emanuel Gloor, da Universidade de Leeds, na Inglaterra, e John Miller, da Universidade do Colorado, em Boulder, nos Estados Unidos. “Mas, no ano úmido, seu balanço de carbono foi próximo a neutro, a quantidade emitida e a absorvida foram mais ou menos equivalentes.” Os dados do estudo sobre gases atmosféricos foram obtidos por uma iniciativa comandada desde 2010 pela brasileira, cujos esforços de pesquisa fazem parte do Amazonica (Amazon Integrated Carbon Analysis), um grande projeto internacional coordenado por Gloor. A cada duas semanas, pequenos aviões alçam voo de quatro localidades amazônicas (Santarém, Alta Floresta, Rio Branco e Tabatinga) e coletam amostras de ar ao longo de um perfil vertical descendente, entre 4,4 quilômetros de altitude e 200 ou 300 metros do solo. As amostras são enviadas para o laboratório de Luciana no Ipen onde são quantificados gases de efeito estufa, entre outros. No trabalho foram estudados o CO2, o monóxido de carbono (CO) e o hexafluoreto de enxofre (SF6).

Os resultados foram interpretados como preocupantes, pois sugerem que a capacidade de a Amazônia absorver da atmosfera o CO2, principal gás de efeito estufa, parece estar associada à quantidade de chuvas. Em anos secos, como 2010, ocorrem mais incêndios em áreas com floresta e também nas já desmatadas, que liberam grandes quantidades de CO, e o estresse hídrico aparentemente reduz os níveis de fotossíntese das plantas e as fazem retirar menos CO2 da atmosfera. Nesta entrevista, Luciana fala dos resultados e das implicações de seu estudo e conta um pouco de sua carreira.

Você esperava que o trabalho parasse na capa daNature?
Mais pela importância do tema do que pela qualidade do trabalho, esperava que saísse sim, mas não imaginava que fosse capa. Vou a muitos congressos e encontro gente do mundo inteiro falando da Amazônia. Essas pessoas não têm ideia do que é a região. Nunca vieram aqui e ficam fazendo modelagem, extrapolando dado local como se fosse representativo de toda a região. Vejo resultados muito variados de modelagem, mostrando a Amazônia como sendo desde grande absorvedora até grande emissora de CO2. A Amazônia faz diferença no balanço global de carbono. Por isso, descobrir qual é o seu peso nesse balanço é tremendamente importante. Hoje do que mais se fala? De mudança climática. O planeta está ficando hostil ao ser humano. Mas inicialmente pretendíamos publicar na Science.

Por quê?
Era meu objetivo porque o [Simon] Lewis [pesquisador da Universidade de Leeds] publicou na Science em 2010 um paper com conclusões que queríamos contestar. Ele disse que a Amazônia tinha emitido naquele ano o equivalente à queima de combustíveis fósseis de todo os Estados Unidos. Era um trabalho feito com modelagem e tinha chegado a um resultado muito exagerado. Queria publicar na Science para responder ao Lewis. Chegamos a submeter para a revista uma versão de nosso artigo, na época apenas com os dados de 2010, um ano muito seco. Era um trabalho que determinava o balanço de carbono naquele ano. A Science disse que era um estudo relevante, mas que tinha um escopo técnico demais, fora de sua linha editorial. Nem mandaram o artigo para ser analisado por referees e sugeriram que o enviássemos para uma revista mais especializada. Mas, quando analisamos os dados de 2011, encontramos uma situação completamente diferente daquela de 2010. O entendimento de por que os efeitos sobre o balanço de carbono foram tão diferentes em 2010 e 2011 foi o que fez a Nature gostar do paper. Por esse motivo, sou a favor de estudos de longa duração. Se tivesse feito uma campanha em 2010, ia achar que a Amazônia se comporta daquele jeito todos os anos.

Em editorial, a Nature disse que os resultados do artigo são uma notícia ruim. Concorda com essa avaliação?
Concordo. É uma notícia bem triste. Não esperávamos que a Amazônia pudesse apresentar um resultado tão baixo de absorção de carbono. Nunca ninguém mediu isso da forma como fizemos agora. Existem vários trabalhos que, a partir de um dado local, extrapolam uma média para a região. Mas tirar uma média é válido? Já sabemos que existe muita variação dentro da Amazônia.

Qual era o senso comum sobre o balanço de carbono na região?
Que a Amazônia absorvia em torno de meio petagrama de carbono por ano, era o que se estimava. Todo mundo acha que a Amazônia é um grande sink [sumidouro] de carbono. Mas em 2010, por causa do estresse hídrico, as plantas fizeram menos fotossíntese e aumentou sua mortalidade. Então a floresta na média absorveu apenas 0,03 petagrama de carbono. Muito pouco. Isso equivale a 30 milhões de toneladas de carbono. O valor é igual à margem de erro do estudo. Devido a queimadas propositais e a incêndios florestais, a Amazônia emitiu 0,51 petagrama de carbono (510 milhões de toneladas de carbono). Portanto, no balanço de carbono a emissão foi muito maior do que a absorção. É uma notícia horrível. Em 2011, que foi mais úmido, o balanço foi praticamente neutro [a floresta emitiu 0,30 petagrama de carbono, mas abosorveu 0,25 petagrama, oito vezes mais que no ano anterior].

A quantidade de chuvas é o fator principal para entender o balanço de carbono na Amazônia?
Não é bem isso. Nosso estudo mostra que a disponibilidade de água é um fator mais importante do que a temperatura. É questão de peso. Mas isso não quer dizer que a temperatura não seja importante. A grande diferença entre 2010 e 2011 foi a questão hídrica, só que ela também está ligada à variação de temperatura. É difícil dar uma resposta definitiva. Esse dado indica que não dá para fazer modelo de previsão climática levando em conta apenas o aumento de temperatura. É preciso colocar todas as consequências desse aumento de temperatura. Um modelo muito simplista vai ficar longe do que vai acontecer no futuro.

A seca de 2010 e as chuvas de 2011 foram anormais para a Amazônia?
Não podemos dizer que a chuva de 2011 foi extrema, porque ela não foi acima da máxima histórica. Foi um ano chuvoso, acima da média, mas não incomum. É uma questão de definição. Houve outros anos com níveis semelhantes de precipitação. A seca de 2010 foi extrema, incomum, abaixo da mínima histórica. No entanto, não posso dizer que a capacidade de absorção em 2011 equivale à média de um ano chuvoso. Em 2010, a floresta tinha sofrido muito com a seca e, no ano seguinte, a vegetação ainda poderia estar sob efeito do impacto desse estresse absurdo. A história de um ano pode estar influenciando o ano seguinte. Pode ser que, depois de um ano chuvoso, o sequestro de carbono seja maior se houver em seguida um segundo ano também chuvoso.

Os dados de um ano não devem ser analisados de forma isolada.
Exatamente! Por isso, temos que realizar estudos de longo prazo. Quando participei de campanhas e vi que havia essa variabilidade de ano para ano, desisti desse tipo de estudo. Acho vantajoso o fato de se reunir [em campanhas] muitos pesquisadores de varias áreas e os estudos de uns complementarem o de outros. Os avanços em alguns aspectos do conhecimento são muitos nesse tipo de situação, mas não no sentido de se conhecer um valor significativo que represente toda a Amazônia. Nesse aspecto existe muita variabilidade. Não dá pra estudar um mês na estação seca e outro na chuvosa e achar que esses períodos representam tudo o que ocorre no período de estiagem e no úmido e se estender o resultado para todo o ano. Esse número pode ser o dobro ou a metade do real, por exemplo. Durante nosso estudo de 10 anos em Santarém, vi essa grande variabilidade. Sou muito perfeccionista. Se sei que meu número pode estar muito errado, isso não me satisfaz.

Com dados de apenas dois anos, é seguro chegar a alguma conclusão sobre o balanço de carbono na Amazônia?
Como 2010 foi tão diferente de 2011, concluímos que nem com quatro ou cinco anos, que era nosso plano original, chegaremos a uma média conclusiva. Agora estamos à procura de recursos para financiar a continuidade desse projeto por uma década. A média de 10 anos é suficiente? Sim, estudos sobre o ciclo de carbono são mais conclusivos se forem decadais. Mas é importante entender que a Amazônia está sendo alterada, tanto pelo homem como pelo clima, que o homem também está alterando. Então o que acharmos de resultado mediano pode ser diferente do que ocorreu na década passada e na retrasada. Vamos submeter um projeto para continuar esse estudo. Mas, além de recursos para as medidas, precisamos de recursos para ter uma equipe para conduzir o projeto também. Sou a única funcionária do Ipen atuando no projeto, todos os demais são pagos pelos projetos envolvidos nesse estudo. E, sem essa equipe tão afinada, não existiria esse projeto incrível. É um esforço muito grande de muitas pessoas.

Alguns estudos sugerem que o aumento dos gases de efeito estufa pode levar algumas plantas a fazer mais fotossíntese. Isso não poderá alterar o balanço de carbono na Amazônia no longo prazo?
Não é só isso. É verdade que mais COna atmosfera estimula a planta a fazer mais fotossíntese. Mas há outros mecanismos. Em uma situação de estresse hídrico, a raiz absorve menos água. A planta diminui seu metabolismo e assim absorve menos carbono. O que sabemos ao certo é que a floresta reduz sua capacidade de absorver carbono com a diminuição da disponibilidade de água.

Como o ar coletado em quatro pontos da Amazônia pode representar a atmosfera de toda essa enorme região?
Em qualquer um dos pontos, as amostras coletadas nos voos representam uma massa de ar que passou por várias partes da Amazônia, desde a costa brasileira até o ponto de coleta e, no caso de Santarém, até de trechos do Nordeste. Se ela levou sete dias para chegar até o ponto de coleta, representa uma semana e não apenas o momento em que foi obtida. Ela guarda toda a história do caminho que percorreu dentro da Amazônia nesses sete dias, de todas as emissões e absorções que ocorreram nesse percurso. Não estamos, portanto, coletando uma amostra de ar referente a uma hora. Estamos coletando a história de uma coluna de ar que viajou todo esse caminho desde a costa brasileira. Calculamos o caminho que cada massa de ar fez até ser coletada em cada altitude amostrada.

Esse método não tem alguma limitação?
A grande limitação é só termos feito coletas até 4,4 quilômetros de altura. O que ocorre acima disso está fora da nossa área de medição. Uma nuvem convectiva pode levar o ar que estava embaixo para cima e vice-versa. Isso pode fazer com que nossa coluna de ar seja parcialmente levada para uma altitude acima do nosso limite de voo. Nesse caso, perdemos informação. Essa é a maior fonte de erro do nosso método. O ideal seria voarmos a até 8 ou 12 quilômetros de altura. Já começamos a fazer isso no inicio de 2013 no ponto de estudo próximo a Rio Branco e os resultados são muito animadores. Nessa faixa de altitude, em um ano, não observamos uma variação muito significativa que indique um erro grande. Isso é muito animador.

Os quatro pontos de coleta de amostras de ar se comportam iguais?
O ponto próximo a Santarém é diferente de tudo em termos de resultado. Vamos pensar em sua área de influência. Todo litoral tem uma densidade populacional grande. Nesse ponto da região amazônica temos a maior relação área/população. Nossos dados coletados ali sofrem influência urbana, antropogênica e de combustíveis fósseis que não aparecem tanto em outros pontos da Amazônia. Haveria influência inclusive da poluição vinda das cidades do Nordeste. Às vezes, na estação chuvosa, observamos nesse ponto emissão de carbono, enquanto nos outros três pontos que monitoramos há absorção.

O que explica essa diferença?
Podem ser as atividades antropogênicas em áreas próximas a Santarém. As Guianas estão acima do equador. Quando é a estação chuvosa no Brasil, lá é a seca. Tem também as queimadas e as atividades antrópicas nas cidades próximas de nosso litoral. Dizem para eu parar as medidas em Santarém, que não representa a Amazônia. Mas tenho uma série histórica de 14 anos. O Brasil não tem série histórica de medidas desse tipo. Se pararmos de medir em Santarém… Fico em um dilema.

Mas Santarém não representa uma parte importante da Amazônia oriental?
Na área de influência de Santarém, 40% é floresta. Se considerar a área de toda a floresta amazônica, Santarém pega uma “fatiazinha”, entre aspas porque é gigante, de 20%. Só descobrimos isso quando passamos a estudar o outro lado da Amazônia. As amostras obtidas no avião são resultantes de uma história de tudo o que aconteceu antes de o ar chegar lá. Com exceção do monóxido de carbono, que vem das queimadas de floresta, não há como saber a contribuição de cada fonte de carbono. No caso de Santarém, essa abordagem não funciona muito bem. Acreditamos que uma parte do monóxido de carbono venha de outras queimas de biomassa, talvez de combustíveis fósseis e não basicamente da queima de vegetação florestal.

Como começou seu trabalho na Amazônia?
Participei do LBA [Experimento de Grande Escala da Biosfera-Atmosfera na Amazônia] desde o início, em 1998. Fiz campanhas de campo. Há 10 anos, comecei as medidas sistemáticas em Santarém. Até então, as amostras dos perfis de ar iam para os Estados Unidos para serem analisadas em um laboratório da Noaa [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]. Em 2004 montei meu laboratório no Ipen e as amostras pararam de ir para os Estados Unidos. Meu laboratório é uma réplica do laboratório da Noaa, o melhor laboratório do planeta de gás de efeito estufa. Fiz tudo igualzinho e importamos uma réplica do laboratório deles. Botamos tudo dentro de caixas e trouxemos para cá. Tudo, tudo. Do mouse à estante. O sistema todinho encaixotado. Podemos medir CO2, CH4, N2O, CO, SF6 e H2. O laboratório foi pago pela Nasa e o usamos no LBA. Tudo o que aprendi nessa área foi com a equipe da Global Monitoring Division da Noaa. Passei três temporadas lá. Estamos juntos sempre, eles têm acesso ao Magic, que é esse nosso sistema de análise. Tudo é feito em parceria com eles. São 10 anos trabalhando com esses caras. Sou filha deles. Depois de 2004 conseguimos uma frequência maior de medidas em Santarém. Naquele ano, voamos na estação seca e na estação chuvosa pela primeira vez. Tentamos também realizar medições em Manaus, mas dos três anos de coletas tivemos problemas de autorização de voo em um ano e no ano seguinte com as análises de CO2. Então o dinheiro acabou. Como só tinha dados de um ano inteiro, acabei nunca publicando essas informações. Mas isso é uma falha que tenho de corrigir. Ficamos só em Santarém até 2009, quando ganhamos verba da FAPESP e da Nerc [agência do Reino Unido de financiamento de pesquisas] e passamos a fazer medições em mais três pontos.

Quando os estudos se restringiam a Santarém foi possível chegar a alguma conclusão?
Observamos que existe uma variabilidade muito grande no balanço de carbono durante a estação chuvosa na Amazônia. Publicamos esses dados num paper em 2010. Vimos que não adianta fazer um estudo de um ou dois anos. Tem de ser de muitos anos. Essa foi a primeira lição importante que aprendi com esse estudo.

Qual é o passo seguinte do trabalho na Amazônia?
Calcular o balanço de carbono em 2012 e 2013. Já temos os dados. O ano de 2012, por exemplo, está no meio do caminho entre 2010 e 2011. Choveu absurdamente na parte noroeste e no resto foi mais seco do que em 2010. Por isso gosto do dado coletado em avião, que nos possibilita calcular a resultante [das emissões e absorções de carbono]. Se eu trabalhasse apenas com uma torre de emissão e ela estivesse no lado seco, concluiria uma coisa. Se estivesse do lado chuvoso, concluiria outra. Com o tipo de dado que usamos, podemos levar tudo em consideração e ver o que predominou. Calcular tudo e tirar a média. E, na média, 2012 foi seco na bacia toda. Em número de focos de queimada, deu bem entre 2010 e 2011.

Você começou sua carreira fora da química atmosférica. Como foi o início?
Fiz iniciação científica e mestrado em eletroquímica. Mas tinha uma frustração enorme e me perguntava para que isso serviria. Houve então a primeira reunião de química ambiental no Brasil, que o Wilson Jardim [professor da Unicamp], organizou lá em Campinas em 1989. Fui lá e me apaixonei. Era aquilo que eu queria fazer da minha vida.

Você é de onde?
Sou de Birigui, mas saí da cidade com 3 anos. Morei boa parte do tempo em Cafelândia, que tinha então 11 mil habitantes. Lá todo mundo se conhece. Por isso sou assim. Falo com todo mundo. Também falo muito com as mãos. Meus alunos dizem que, se amarrarem minhas mãos, não dou aula. O pessoal da portaria no Ipen nem pede meu crachá. É coisa de interiorano. O paulistano é capaz de estar sozinho no meio de uma multidão. De Cafelândia, minha família mudou-se para Ribeirão Preto, porque meu pai não queria que os filhos saíssem de casa para estudar. Ele escolheu uma cidade com muitas faculdades e mudou a família toda para lá. Ele era representante da Mobil Oil do Brasil. Para ele, tanto fazia estar em Cafelândia ou em Ribeirão. O engraçado é que minha irmã foi para Campinas, eu fui para a Federal de São Carlos, meu irmão foi para a FEI de São Bernardo e a única que ficou em casa foi a terceira irmã. Tive problema de saúde e precisei voltar para a casa dos meus pais antes de me formar. Me transferi para a USP de Ribeirão, mas ali o curso de química tinha quase o dobro de créditos do da federal de São Carlos. Levei mais três anos e meio para fazer o que faltava, que consumiria apenas um e meio na federal. Tudo tinha pré-requisito. Mas foi muito legal porque em São Carlos estudei bem apenas durante o primeiro ano. Depois virei militante de partido semiclandestino, dirigente estudantil. Fazia mais política que estudava. Éramos proibidos de assistir às aulas. Quando chegava a época de prova, xerocava o caderno dos amigos, varava a noite estudando e de manhã, sem ter dormido, ia lá, fazia prova e passava. Mas imagine o que ficava na cabeça. Ainda bem que praticamente tive de refazer a graduação. Que profissional seria eu se não tivesse tido que fazer a graduação de novo e aprendido a estudar muito?

Como eram as aulas na USP?
Larguei o movimento estudantil, que tinha me decepcionado muito. Queria um mundo mais justo. Mas tive um namorado que era da direção nacional do partido revolucionário. Terminei com ele, que se vingou de mim usando o poder dele. Compreendi que o problema não estava no modo de produção, comunista ou socialista, mas no nível evolutivo do ser humano. Então resolvi que a única pessoa que eu podia mudar era eu mesma. Virei zen e espiritualizada e comecei a minha revolução interna. Compreendi que não podia mudar o mundo, mas podia me tornar uma pessoa melhor. Aí comecei minha carreira, praticamente do zero, porque na USP de Ribeirão Preto é muito puxado. Se não estuda, não passa. Fiz iniciação científica, ganhei bolsa da FAPESP, fui me embrenhando e me apaixonando pela química ambiental.

Como foi seu doutorado?
Foi o que deu para fazer. Quando eu comecei o doutorado com o [Antonio Aparecido] Mozeto, era para ser sobre compostos reduzidos de enxofre, já na área de gases. Naquela época, ninguém trabalhava com gás. Só tinha um no Brasil, Antonio Horácio Miguel, que trabalhava na área, mas ele tinha ido para o exterior. Eu tinha que fazer tudo. Tinha, por exemplo, que desenvolver um padrão com tubo de permeação. Tive de desenvolver o tubo, comprar o líquido para permear e tudo mais. Quando fiz tudo funcionar e coloquei o tubo dentro do cromatógrafo, o aparelho pifou. O professor tinha comprado um cromatógrafo para medir compostos de enxofre que um professor da Universidade do Colorado tinha decidido fabricar. O projeto veio todo errado. Tinha uma cruzeta de aço inoxidável, com uma chama que, quando queima, produz hidrogênio e água. A chama esquentou a cruzeta e vazou água na fotomultiplicadora e queimou o aparelho. Durou um dia. O problema é que eu estava já havia dois anos fazendo isso e precisava de um novo aparelho para desenvolver o doutorado. O Wilson Jardim então me perguntou por que eu achava que ninguém trabalhava com gás no país. “Esse negócio é difícil! O único que trabalhava foi para fora do Brasil. Larga desse tema e vai para outra coisa”, ele me disse. Mas, a essa altura, eu já tinha perdido dois anos e era a única docente da Federal de São Carlos sem doutorado. Um professor então me disse que eu ainda estava em estágio probatório e que, se eu não fizesse um doutoradozinho de um ano para comprovar o título, não iam aprovar o estágio probatório. Saí correndo atrás de um tema que dava para fazer e que eu não me envergonhasse de ter feito. Fiz análise de sedimento de fundo de lagoas próximas ao rio Mogi-Guaçu. Apliquei análises que são usadas em trabalhos com aerossóis para descobrir a origem dos sedimentos e também datá-los. Dessa forma, dá para saber a história da ocupação da bacia dos rios. Acabei o doutorado na Federal de São Carlos e entrei para a química atmosférica, que era o que eu queria, área carente entre os pesquisadores brasileiros.

A mobilidade dos movimentos sociais (Fapesp)

Análise das redes de organizações da sociedade civil contraria tese da “onguização”

MÁRCIO FERRARI | Edição 216 – Fevereiro de 2014

© NARA ISODA

Movimentos sociais tiveram papéis ativos nos processos de democratização ocorridos na América Latina nas últimas décadas do século XX. Daquele período até os dias de hoje, muitos passaram por uma evolução amplamente registrada na literatura das ciências sociais, especialmente naquela dedicada ao estudo da sociedade civil na região. Um aspecto quase consensual entre os pesquisadores do setor é que a partir dos anos 1990 houve uma renovação da sociedade civil e que ela se deu de forma substitutiva – isto é, com certos tipos de atores tomando o lugar de outros. Isso teria culminado, a partir dos anos 1990, numa preponderância das organizações não governamentais (ONGs), deslocamento que ficou conhecido como “onguização” dos movimentos sociais, entre os que estudam esses fenômenos.

Em suma, os movimentos populares, formados pelos próprios interessados nas demandas de mudança, teriam cedido espaço para organizações que também defendem mudanças, mas em nome de grupos que não são seus membros constituintes (atividade chamada de advocacy nas ciências sociais). Essas ações teriam acarretado uma despolitização da sociedade civil.

O cientista político Adrian Gurza Lavalle, da Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas da Universidade de São Paulo (FFLCH-USP), pesquisador do Centro de Estudos da Metrópole (CEM), no entanto, vem conduzindo estudos que contradizem a tese da “onguização”. Um mapeamento das organizações em dois dos maiores conglomerados urbanos da América Latina, São Paulo e Cidade do México, que configuram as “ecologias organizacionais” das cidades da região, demonstrou que as ONGs conquistaram e mantiveram protagonismo, mas os movimentos sociais também estão em posição de centralidade, apesar das predições em contrário. “Nossas pesquisas contrariam diagnósticos céticos que mostram uma sociedade civil de organizações orientadas principalmente para a prestação de serviços e a trabalhar com assuntos públicos de modo desenraizado ou pouco voltado para a população de baixa renda”, diz Gurza Lavalle, que também é pesquisador do Centro Brasileiro de Análise e Planejamento (Cebrap). “Mais: elas mostram que a sociedade civil se modernizou, se diversificou e se especializou funcionalmente, tornando as ecologias organizacionais da região mais complexas, sem que essa complexidade implique a substituição de um tipo de ator por outro.”

© MARA ISODA

Essas conclusões vêm de uma sequência de estudos comandados por ele nos últimos anos. Os mais recentes foram desenvolvidos em coautoria com Natália Bueno no CEM, um dos 17 Centros de Pesquisa, Inovação e Difusão (Cepid) financiados pela FAPESP. O trabalho tem como pesquisadores convidados Ernesto Isunza Vera (Centro de Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, de Xalapa, México) e Elisa Reis (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro). Concentra-se no papel das organizações civis e na composição das ecologias organizacionais nas sociedades civis de diversas cidades no México e no Brasil.

O que o cientista político apresenta nos seus estudos de rede pode ser uma contribuição para que os tomadores de decisão conheçam melhor a heterogeneidade das organizações civis. “Há implicações claras para a regulação sobre o terceiro setor, no sentido de que ela se torne menos uma camisa de força e mais um marco que ofereça segurança jurídica aos diferentes tipos de organizações da sociedade civil que recebem recursos públicos ou exercem funções públicas”, diz o pesquisador.

“O trabalho que vem sendo realizado por Gurza Lavalle, seus alunos e colaboradores é especialmente valioso porque, por meio da análise de redes, permite mapear com mais rigor e de maneira mais fina as relações entre os movimentos sociais”, diz Marisa von Bülow, professora do Instituto de Ciência Política da Universidade de Brasília (UnB), especializada no estudo das sociedades civis latino-americanas. “A análise de redes não é necessariamente o melhor método, mas complementa muito bem métodos como as pesquisas qualitativas e de campo, as entrevistas etc. Permite que se vejam coisas que não poderiam ser lidas com tanta clareza pelas vias tradicionais. No caso das pesquisas de Gurza Lavalle, acabaram mostrando que as sociedades civis da região são mais diversas e plurais do que se pensava.”

“As análises que tínhamos eram geralmente leituras impressionistas ou dados sem capacidade de produzir inferências”, diz Gurza Lavalle. Ele tirou da literatura local a evolução dos atores sociais na região, que identifica duas ondas distintas de inovação na mobilização social: tomando como plano de comparação as organizações tradicionais como as entidades assistenciais ou as associações de bairro, a nova onda de atores surgida nos anos 1960, 1970 e metade dos 1980, e a novíssima onda de atores que ganhou força nos anos 1990.

A primeira se caracterizou pelas organizações criadas em razão de demandas sociais de segmentos amplos da população durante a vigência do regime militar. É o caso das pastorais incentivadas pela Igreja Católica e os movimentos por moradia, pela saúde e contra a carestia. As organizações da segunda onda costumam ser agrupadas na denominação de ONGs, que por sua vez deram origem às entidades articuladoras, aquelas que trabalham para outras organizações, e não para indivíduos, segmentos da população ou movimentos localizados – por exemplo, a Associação Brasileira de Organizações Não Governamentais (Abong) ou a Rede Brasileira Agroflorestal (Rebraf).

A análise de redes, segundo Gurza Lavalle, permitiu avaliar a influência das associações, “tanto no seio da sociedade civil quanto em relação a outros atores sociais e políticos”. Esse resultado foi obtido por um conjunto de medidas de centralidade que computam os vínculos no interior da rede, não só aqueles diretos ou de vizinhança, mas, sobretudo, aqueles indiretos ou entre uma organização e os vínculos de outra organização com a qual a primeira interage e aos quais não tem acesso direto. “Quando nos relacionamos, estamos vinculados de forma indireta aos vínculos dos outros”, diz o pesquisador.

© NARA ISODA

A análise de redes, de acordo com o cientista político, registrou desenvolvimento acelerado nas últimas duas décadas e é aplicável a diversas áreas do conhecimento. “Graças aos avanços da análise de redes é possível, por exemplo, detectar padrões de difusão de doenças, pois permite identificar estruturas indiretas que não estão à disposição dos indivíduos, mas atuam num quadro maior. É um caminho para superar as caracterizações extremamente abstratas e estilizadas dos atores comuns nas ciências sociais, mas sem abrir mão da generalização de resultados.” Segundo Gurza Lavalle, uma das principais vantagens desse método é complementar e ir além dos estudos de caso e controlar as declarações das próprias organizações estudadas (autodescrição) e investigar as posições objetivas dos atores dentro das redes, bem como as estruturas de vínculos que condensam e condicionam as lógicas de sua atuação.

O método de amostragem adotado para apurar a estrutura de vínculos entre as organizações é conhecido como bola de neve. Cada entidade foi chamada a citar cinco outras organizações importantes no andamento do trabalho da entidade entrevistada. Na cidade de São Paulo foram ouvidos representantes de 202 associações civis, que geraram um total de 827 atores diferentes, 1.368 vínculos e 549.081 relações potenciais. Essa rede permitiu identificar claramente a vitalidade dos movimentos sociais, semelhante à das ONGs. Além disso, o estudo detectou quatro tendências da ecologia organizacional da sociedade civil em São Paulo e, em menor grau, na Cidade do México: ampliação, modernização, diversificação e, em alguns casos, especialização funcional (capacidade de desenvolver funções complementares com outras organizações).

O que o pesquisador utiliza como aproximação aos “movimentos sociais” são organizações populares, “entidades cuja estratégia de atuação distintiva é a mobilização popular”, como o Movimento de Moradia do Centro, a Unificação de Lutas de Cortiços e, numa escala bem maior, o Movimento dos Sem-Terra. Estas, na rede, estão em pé de igualdade com as ONGs e as articuladoras. Numa posição de “centralidade intermediária” estão as pastorais, os fóruns e as associações assistenciais. Finalmente, em condição periférica, estão organizações de corte tradicional, como as associações de bairro e comunitárias.

“As organizações civis passaram a desempenhar novas funções de intermediação, ora em instituições participativas como representantes de determinados grupos, ora gerindo uma parte da política, ora como receptoras de recursos públicos para a execução de projetos”, diz Gurza Lavalle. “As redes de organizações civis examinadas são produto de bolas de neve iniciadas em áreas populares da cidade e por isso nos informam a respeito da capacidade de intermediação das organizações civis em relação a esses grupos sociais.”

Outros estudos confirmam as conclusões do trabalho conduzido por Gurza Lavalle, como os de Lígia Lüchmann, professora do Departamento de Sociologia e Ciência Política da Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, que vem estudando as organizações civis de Florianópolis. “Eu confirmaria a ideia de que a sociedade civil é hoje funcionalmente mais diversificada do que costumava ser, com atores tradicionais coexistindo com os novos”, diz. Ela cita, na capital catarinense, a atuação de articuladoras como a União Florianopolitana de Entidades Comunitárias e o Fórum de Políticas Públicas.

No cenário latino-americano, Gurza Lavalle e Marisa von Büllow veem o Brasil como um caso excepcional de articulação das organizações sociais ao conseguir acesso ao poder público, o que não ocorre no México. Gurza Lavalle cita como exemplos os casos do Estatuto da Cidade, que teve origem no Fórum Nacional da Reforma Urbana, e do ativismo feminista no interior do Movimento Negro, cuja história é um componente imprescindível da configuração do campo da saúde para a população negra dentro da política nacional de saúde, embora sejam mais conhecidos os casos do movimento pela reforma da saúde ou do ativismo de organizações civis na definição das diretrizes das políticas para HIV/Aids.

Projeto
Centro de Estudos da Metrópole – CEM (nº 2013/07616-7); Modalidade Centros de Pesquisa, Inovação e Difusão (Cepid); Pesquisadora responsável Martha Teresa da Silva Arretche; Investimento R$ 7.103.665,40 para todo o Cepid (FAPESP).

Artigo científico
GURZA LAVALLE, A. e Bueno, N. S. Waves of change within civil society in Latin America: Mexico City and Sao PauloPolitics & Society. v. 39, p. 415-50, 2011.

Volcanoes contribute to recent global warming ‘hiatus’ (Science Daily)

Date: February 24, 2014

Source: DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Summary: Volcanic eruptions in the early part of the 21st century have cooled the planet, according to a new study. This cooling partly offset the warming produced by greenhouse gases.

LLNL scientist Benjamin Santer and his climbing group ascend Mt. St. Helens via the “Dogshead Route” in April 1980, about a month before its major eruption. The group was the last to reach the summit of Mt. St. Helens before its major eruption that May. New research by Santer and his colleagues shows that volcanic eruptions contribute to a recent warming “hiatus.” Credit: Image courtesy of DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Volcanic eruptions in the early part of the 21st century have cooled the planet, according to a study led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. This cooling partly offset the warming produced by greenhouse gases.

Despite continuing increases in atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, and in the total heat content of the ocean, global-mean temperatures at the surface of the planet and in the troposphere (the lowest portion of Earth’s atmosphere) have shown relatively little warming since 1998. This so-called ‘slow-down’ or ‘hiatus’ has received considerable scientific, political and popular attention. The volcanic contribution to the ‘slow-down’ is the subject of a new paper appearing in the Feb. 23 edition of the journalNature Geoscience.

Volcanic eruptions inject sulfur dioxide gas into the atmosphere. If the eruptions are large enough to add sulfur dioxide to the stratosphere (the atmospheric layer above the troposphere), the gas forms tiny droplets of sulfuric acid, also known as “volcanic aerosols.” These droplets reflect some portion of the incoming sunlight back into space, cooling Earth’s surface and the lower atmosphere.

“In the last decade, the amount of volcanic aerosol in the stratosphere has increased, so more sunlight is being reflected back into space,” said Lawrence Livermore climate scientist Benjamin Santer, who serves as lead author of the study. “This has created a natural cooling of the planet and has partly offset the increase in surface and atmospheric temperatures due to human influence.”

From 2000-2012, emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere have increased — as they have done since the Industrial Revolution. This human-induced change typically causes the troposphere to warm and the stratosphere to cool. In contrast, large volcanic eruptions cool the troposphere and warm the stratosphere. The researchers report that early 21st century volcanic eruptions have contributed to this recent “warming hiatus,” and that most climate models have not accurately accounted for this effect.

“The recent slow-down in observed surface and tropospheric warming is a fascinating detective story,” Santer said. “There is not a single culprit, as some scientists have claimed. Multiple factors are implicated. One is the temporary cooling effect of internal climate noise. Other factors are the external cooling influences of 21st century volcanic activity, an unusually low and long minimum in the last solar cycle, and an uptick in Chinese emissions of sulfur dioxide.

“The real scientific challenge is to obtain hard quantitative estimates of the contributions of each of these factors to the slow-down.”

The researchers performed two different statistical tests to determine whether recent volcanic eruptions have cooling effects that can be distinguished from the intrinsic variability of the climate. The team found evidence for significant correlations between volcanic aerosol observations and satellite-based estimates of lower tropospheric temperatures as well as the sunlight reflected back to space by the aerosol particles.

“This is the most comprehensive observational evaluation of the role of volcanic activity on climate in the early part of the 21st century,” said co-author Susan Solomon, the Ellen Swallow Richards professor of atmospheric chemistry and climate science at MIT. “We assess the contributions of volcanoes on temperatures in the troposphere — the lowest layer of the atmosphere — and find they’ve certainly played some role in keeping Earth cooler.”

The research is funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Science in the Office of Science. The research involved a large, interdisciplinary team of researchers with expertise in climate modeling, satellite data, stratospheric dynamics and volcanic effects on climate, model evaluation and computer science.

Journal Reference:

  1. Benjamin D. Santer, Céline Bonfils, Jeffrey F. Painter, Mark D. Zelinka, Carl Mears, Susan Solomon, Gavin A. Schmidt, John C. Fyfe, Jason N. S. Cole, Larissa Nazarenko, Karl E. Taylor, Frank J. Wentz. Volcanic contribution to decadal changes in tropospheric temperatureNature Geoscience, 2014; DOI:10.1038/ngeo2098

Better way to make sense of ‘Big Data?’ (Science Daily)

Date:  February 19, 2014

Source: Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics

Summary: Vast amounts of data related to climate change are being compiled by researchers worldwide with varying climate projections. This requires combining information across data sets to arrive at a consensus regarding future climate estimates. Scientists propose a statistical hierarchical Bayesian model that consolidates climate change information from observation-based data sets and climate models.

Regional analysis for climate change assessment. Credit: Melissa Bukovsky, National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR/IMAGe)

Vast amounts of data related to climate change are being compiled by research groups all over the world. Data from these many and varied sources results in different climate projections; hence, the need arises to combine information across data sets to arrive at a consensus regarding future climate estimates.

In a paper published last December in the SIAM Journal on Uncertainty Quantification, authors Matthew Heaton, Tamara Greasby, and Stephan Sain propose a statistical hierarchical Bayesian model that consolidates climate change information from observation-based data sets and climate models. “The vast array of climate data — from reconstructions of historic temperatures and modern observational temperature measurements to climate model projections of future climate — seems to agree that global temperatures are changing,” says author Matthew Heaton. “Where these data sources disagree, however, is by how much temperatures have changed and are expected to change in the future. Our research seeks to combine many different sources of climate data, in a statistically rigorous way, to determine a consensus on how much temperatures are changing.” Using a hierarchical model, the authors combine information from these various sources to obtain an ensemble estimate of current and future climate along with an associated measure of uncertainty. “Each climate data source provides us with an estimate of how much temperatures are changing. But, each data source also has a degree of uncertainty in its climate projection,” says Heaton. “Statistical modeling is a tool to not only get a consensus estimate of temperature change but also an estimate of our uncertainty about this temperature change.” The approach proposed in the paper combines information from observation-based data, general circulation models (GCMs) and regional climate models (RCMs). Observation-based data sets, which focus mainly on local and regional climate, are obtained by taking raw climate measurements from weather stations and applying it to a grid defined over the globe. This allows the final data product to provide an aggregate measure of climate rather than be restricted to individual weather data sets. Such data sets are restricted to current and historical time periods. Another source of information related to observation-based data sets are reanalysis data sets in which numerical model forecasts and weather station observations are combined into a single gridded reconstruction of climate over the globe. GCMs are computer models which capture physical processes governing the atmosphere and oceans to simulate the response of temperature, precipitation, and other meteorological variables in different scenarios. While a GCM portrayal of temperature would not be accurate to a given day, these models give fairly good estimates for long-term average temperatures, such as 30-year periods, which closely match observed data. A big advantage of GCMs over observed and reanalyzed data is that GCMs are able to simulate climate systems in the future. RCMs are used to simulate climate over a specific region, as opposed to global simulations created by GCMs. Since climate in a specific region is affected by the rest of Earth, atmospheric conditions such as temperature and moisture at the region’s boundary are estimated by using other sources such as GCMs or reanalysis data. By combining information from multiple observation-based data sets, GCMs and RCMs, the model obtains an estimate and measure of uncertainty for the average temperature, temporal trend, as well as the variability of seasonal average temperatures. The model was used to analyze average summer and winter temperatures for the Pacific Southwest, Prairie and North Atlantic regions (seen in the image above) — regions that represent three distinct climates. The assumption would be that climate models would behave differently for each of these regions. Data from each region was considered individually so that the model could be fit to each region separately. “Our understanding of how much temperatures are changing is reflected in all the data available to us,” says Heaton. “For example, one data source might suggest that temperatures are increasing by 2 degrees Celsius while another source suggests temperatures are increasing by 4 degrees. So, do we believe a 2-degree increase or a 4-degree increase? The answer is probably ‘neither’ because combining data sources together suggests that increases would likely be somewhere between 2 and 4 degrees. The point is that that no single data source has all the answers. And, only by combining many different sources of climate data are we really able to quantify how much we think temperatures are changing.” While most previous such work focuses on mean or average values, the authors in this paper acknowledge that climate in the broader sense encompasses variations between years, trends, averages and extreme events. Hence the hierarchical Bayesian model used here simultaneously considers the average, linear trend and interannual variability (variation between years). Many previous models also assume independence between climate models, whereas this paper accounts for commonalities shared by various models — such as physical equations or fluid dynamics — and correlates between data sets. “While our work is a good first step in combining many different sources of climate information, we still fall short in that we still leave out many viable sources of climate information,” says Heaton. “Furthermore, our work focuses on increases/decreases in temperatures, but similar analyses are needed to estimate consensus changes in other meteorological variables such as precipitation. Finally, we hope to expand our analysis from regional temperatures (say, over just a portion of the U.S.) to global temperatures.”
 
Journal Reference:
  1. Matthew J. Heaton, Tamara A. Greasby, Stephan R. Sain. Modeling Uncertainty in Climate Using Ensembles of Regional and Global Climate Models and Multiple Observation-Based Data SetsSIAM/ASA Journal on Uncertainty Quantification, 2013; 1 (1): 535 DOI: 10.1137/12088505X