Tobias Gerken

Sep 17

Book Review: Roger G. Barry, Eileen A. Hall-McKim - Essentials of the Earth’s Climate System


Understanding the Earth’s climate system is a fundamental part of any atmospheric or Earth science curriculum. When talking about climate, it is important to remember that climate science incorporates the description of key variables and concepts, climatic zones as well as climate change and its implications to society.

Essentials of the Earth’s Climate System, by Roger G. Barry and Eileen A. Hall-McKim, is a comprehensive introductory textbook that covers all aspects of the climate system. It is specifically written for a one-semester course in climate science and does not assume prior knowledge beyond a basic understanding of scientific principles. Mathematical equations are mostly omitted in favour of a combination of descriptive texts and colour figures that illustrate most concepts.

Designed for coursework, each chapter starts with an outline of the key concepts and finishes with a brief summary as well as review questions. While most questions require the student to explain a specific process or highlight important aspects, there are also questions that encourage students to work with freely available climate data and to explore climate phenomena. The text itself is divided into short sections, each covering one concept, variable or aspect of climate. These paragraphs are densely packed with facts, scientific theory and applications, but remain easy to read due to the accessible language. Even experienced scientists will find new and relevant information in this book, so that it might serve as a short reference. Throughout the book there are a multitude of text boxes that provide additional information about important scientists or interesting climate features and events such as the Tibetan Plateau or the Dust Bowl. This encourages students to do further reading.

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Aug 24

Fire clouds over California

California is in a catastrophic drought (XKCD) leading to massive wildfires.

Source: XKCD (as always)

NASA has released some stunning pictures of pyro-cumulus clouds (or towering fire clouds) as they were taken by the MODIS satellite and photographed by a fighter-jet.

Source: NASA (acquired July 31, 2014)

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Jun 04

Book review: Annalee Newitz - Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

imageDuring the last 3 billion years, life on Earth has survived 7 mass extinctions. In each one more than 70% of the Earth’s species vanished. While the dominant species were wiped away, life recovered and vacant niches were filled by evolution. Some of the prominent victims of mass extinction  live on in radically different form and ecological function like birds: Think about dinosaurs and birds.

Needless to say, if the the human race stays around for long enough, we might also face such an event. Additionally, a lot can be learned from the thought experiment, how we might cope and what strategies we might develop in order to survive.

Unfortunately, “Scatter, Adapt, and Remember ” by Annalee Newitz cannot live up to its promising title.

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May 27

Spurious correlations

Correlation does not Imply Causation!

imageSource: Spurious correlations -

On the other hand: more science funding, means more PhD students, implies more misery…
For details see:

But seriously - A message from the creator of these graphs (BBC):

1) Be critical of statistics that you see
2) Look for a causal link or mechanism
3) Demand a little bit of scientific rigour in showing that there’s a strong, statistically significant correlation

Or in other words, when you make a computer data-mine hundreds of data-sets and calculate correlations you are bound to find some interesting correlations.

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May 26

Study: Black college grads have double the unemployment rate | Al Jazeera America -

(Source: so-treu, via scinerds)

May 17

John Oliver doing some science communication

Lets have an honest debate about anthropogenic climate change:

via IFLScience