It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Texas Drought on the Ground


The trees were hanging in there until now. Many trees are suddenly turning brown in the relentless Texas heat/drought. Days which do not exceed 100F have been few and far between for two months now. A few small local storms pop upevery few days, usually missing the spot you happen to stand upon. Most days the skies are clear and even cloudless. There is little sign of remission in the forecast.

Suburban areas around Austin are now trucking in water. (h/t John Fleck) Reservoirs are flirting with historic lows . Domestic water use is not threatened but strict limitations on watering are in effect. Famous springs and swimming holes are threatened.

Trees and shrubs are visibly stressed at last. It seemed sudden to me. Until this week I was amazed at how long they managed to stay green. Now the stress is visible. Juvenile specimens that aren't watered are mostly dying. I'm not sure what that means for fire danger, but I guess it's not good. South Central Texas was tallgrass prairie before fire suppression. There are far more stands of trees than is natural.

Texas remains prosperous, though not very pretty these days. Nobody's starving except wild animals. I saw a four foot wingspan hawk hanging around the city the other day, two doors down from my house, about three miles from the state capitol.
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Photo: examiner.com

11 comments:

Marion Delgado said...

are you going to get El Nino water?

Marion Delgado said...

are you going to get El Nino water?

Dano said...

Texas remains prosperous, though not very pretty these days. Nobody's starving except wild animals.

As the human economy is completely and utterly dependent upon ecosystem services, changing the indicators reveals that this statement is insufficient to describe the conditions down there.

Best,

D

Michael Tobis said...

We happily ship energy and energy services, and we're competitive in information services as well. (Rackspace ships a lot of bits.)

We may have to import water.

Our farms and backcountry are in an emergency, possibly embedded in a longer term decline.

Our cities are still thriving. You see one of the reasons I am disinclined to put too heavy a weight on localism.

climatesight said...

I need some help.

I am not a scientist, and have only been interested in this issue for a few years. I'm fine to point people in the right direction for broad concepts. But I don't even know any calculus yet.

I have a commenter who knows a heck of a lot about Steve McIntyre and the Hockey Stick controversy. He's got a complicated chain of logic and citations which supposedly show that every 1000-year temperature graph ever used by the IPCC is flawed, when the flaws are taken out (specifically bristlecone pine data) the conclusion falls apart, and this has been suppressed by the IPCC which proves they have an agenda.

I've been holding up okay until now. But now I really need someone who knows their climate science well - either to help me out or to (preferrably) take over. I'm not the right person to be taking part in this debate. I'm not a scientist.

The thread starts here - http://climatesight.org/2009/08/13/by-your-own-logic/comment-page-1/#comment-547 - and really gets into the specifics around here - http://climatesight.org/2009/08/13/by-your-own-logic/comment-page-1/#comment-634.

Any takers?

Michael Tobis said...

CS, I've passed your request on.

Personally, I've never found the 1000 year record to be an important piece of the puzzle at this level.

Interesting and revealing of climate dynamics on the century time scale, but as is usual with denialist arguments, incapable of carrying the weight they put on it.

But I haven't followed the McIntyre camp closely because I don't think their whole approach is especially fruitful.

I summarize it as a bottom-up attack on a top-down argument. Defending at the level of details is necessary, but not sufficient.

I've passed your request on to others who might be able to better cope with the details. But remember, all the McIntyre people do is go after details.

I'm not always a fan of "Pharyngula" by any means. I think he is too contentious, and I think he misunderstands the nature of religion and indulges in bad politics. But in this case I think he got it just about right.

My expertise is not in climate, but in biology, and I'm familiar with his type — it's a common strategy among creationists, who do dearly love to collect complaints. There are people who put together a coherent picture of a scientific issue, who review lots of evidence and assemble a rational synthesis. They're called scientists. Then there are the myopic little nitpickers, people who scurry about seeking little bits of garbage in the fabric of science (and of course, there are such flaws everywhere), and when they find some scrap of rot, they squeak triumphantly and hold it high and declare that the science everywhere is similarly corrupt. They lack perspective. They ignore everything that doesn't fit their search criterion, and of course, they're focused only on putrescence. They aren't scientists, they're more like rats.

And the worst of the rats are the sanctimonious ones that declare that they're just 'policing' science. They aren't. They're just providing fodder for their fellow denialists, and like them all, have nothing of value to contribute to advance the conversation. You can quit whining that you and McIntyre are finding valid errors; it doesn't matter, since you're simultaneously spreading a plague of lies and ignorance as you go.

So bugger off, denialists. I am not impressed.

Michael Tobis said...

The El Nino is likely to help the immediate situation in S and Central TX, more likely than not. And it can't come too soon. But it hasn't come yet.

Dano said...

Localism has nothing to do with what I wrote. Ecology does. Are your systems resilient is the key. If not, you will have some population shifts as some sectors will fail. If other sectors are OK, you may have in-migration, and so on. No water, no ag, no growth. Environmental history.

Best,

D

Michael Tobis said...

Dano, I agree in principle. But as far as humans are concerned, there is only one economic unit.

Losing South Texas as a source of food, if it comes to that, is not a huge hit as far as the world is concerned. (Texas has had severe droughts before, too, so this, while very odd, is not yet totally unprecedented.)

My point is that it isn't a huge hit so far as Texas is concerned either. I'm pretty sure Texas is a net importer of food even in good years. Yet the population continues to increase.

Yes, as climate disruptions increase, and consequences of other unsustainable practices pile up, eventually

When gasoline flirted worth $4, I was sure I would lose the ability to afford imported cheese. But Jarlsberg is still cheap. Why? Because shipping food long distances is not energy intensive.

Texas, whatever else you may say about it, is extremely successful in providing services the rest of the world wants. So I don't see the Texas population declining anytime soon unless and until the whole USA is disrupted, drought or otherwise. Which in turn won't happen unless the whole world is disrupted.

John Mashey said...

You may want to study "Texas Aquifers" in TAMU report.

Dano said...

Agreed Michael. The issue is that this is an indicator for resilience. And it is happening in India, China, Africa, Murray-Darling...

Take this indicator and add it to all the others and then ask how long it can continue.

The point is that mitigating nature with the brute force of cheap energy is coming to an end, and we'll return to the Malthusian Trap. We must discuss the landing and how to call attention to it. Trying to change your scale a bit, is all.

Best,

D