Do these heat waves mean climate change is happening faster than expected?
Scientists simply have had too short of a time period with a climate system warmed by human actions to determine the answers to those sorts of questions.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to these unprecedented and record-shattering events,” said Flavio Lehner, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell, in an email. “You can’t, with the highest confidence, say the models get this or don’t get this,” when it comes to certain extreme events.
What other forces could be contributing to very hot heat waves?
A variety of researchers are exploring the degree to which certain forces could be exacerbating heat waves, and whether they are accurately represented in the models today, Lehner says.
Those include potential feedback effects, such as the drying out of soil and plants in some regions. Beyond certain thresholds, this can accelerate warming during heat waves, because energy that would otherwise go into evaporating water goes to work warming the air.
Another open scientific question is whether climate change itself is increasing the persistence of certain atmospheric patterns that are clearly fueling heat waves. That includes the buildup of high-pressure ridges that push warm air downward, creating so-called heat domes that hover over and bake large regions.
Both forces may have played a major role in fueling the Pacific Northwest heat wave last year, according to one forthcoming paper. In Europe, researchers have noted that a split in the jet stream and warming ocean waters could be playing a role in the uptick in extreme heat events across the continent.
Why didn’t the scientists warn us properly?
Ugh. Some publications have actually printed words to this effect, in response to increasingly extreme weather events.
But, to be clear, scientists have been sounding the alarm for decades, in every way they could, that climate change will make the planet warmer, weirder, harder to predict, and in many ways more dangerous for humans, animals, and ecosystems. And they’ve been forthright about the limits of their understanding. The chief accusation they’ve faced until recently (and still do, in many quarters) is that they are doomsday fearmongers overstating the threat for research funding or political reasons.
Real-world events highlighting shortcomings in climate models, to the degree they have, don’t amount to some “aha, gotcha, scientists were wrong all along” kind of revelation. They offer a stress test of the tools, one researchers eagerly use to refine their understanding of these systems and the models they’ve created to represent them, Lehner says.
Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, put it bluntly, in a letter responding to the New York Times’ assertion that “few thought [climate change] would arrive so quickly”: “The problem has not been that the scientists got it wrong. It has been that despite clear warnings consistent with the evidence available, scientists dedicated to informing the public have struggled to get their voices heard in an atmosphere filled with false charges of alarmism and political motivation.”
Inside the conference where researchers are solving the clean-energy puzzle
The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) funds high-risk, high-reward energy research projects, and each year the agency hosts a summit where funding recipients and other researchers and companies in energy can gather to talk about what’s new in the field.
As I listened to presentations, met with researchers, and—especially—wandered around the showcase, I often had a vague feeling of whiplash. Standing at one booth trying to wrap my head around how we might measure carbon stored by plants, I would look over and see another group focused on making nuclear fusion a more practical way to power the world.
There are plenty of tried-and-true solutions that can begin to address climate change right now: wind and solar power are being deployed at massive scales, electric vehicles are coming to the mainstream, and new technologies are helping companies make even fossil-fuel production less polluting. But as we knock out the easy wins, we’ll also need to get creative to tackle harder-to-solve sectors and reach net-zero emissions. Here are a few intriguing projects from the ARPA-E showcase that caught my eye.
“I heard you have rocks here!” I exclaimed as I approached the Quaise Energy station.
Quaise’s booth featured a screen flashing through some fast facts and demonstration videos. And sure enough, laid out on the table were two slabs of rock. They looked a bit worse for wear, each sporting a hole about the size of a quarter in the middle, singed around the edges.
These rocks earned their scorch marks in service of a big goal: making geothermal power possible anywhere. Today, the high temperatures needed to generate electricity using heat from the Earth are only accessible close to the surface in certain places on the planet, like Iceland or the western US.
Geothermal power could in theory be deployed anywhere, if we could drill deep enough. Getting there won’t be easy, though, and could require drilling 20 kilometers (12 miles) beneath the surface. That’s deeper than any oil and gas drilling done today.
Rather than grinding through layers of granite with conventional drilling technology, Quaise plans to get through the more obstinate parts of the Earth’s crust by using high-powered millimeter waves to vaporize rock. (It’s sort of like lasers, but not quite.)
The emergent industrial metaverse
Annika Hauptvogel, head of technology and innovation management at Siemens, describes the industrial metaverse as “immersive, making users feel as if they’re in a real environment; collaborative in real time; open enough for different applications to seamlessly interact; and trusted by the individuals and businesses that participate”—far more than simply a digital world.
The industrial metaverse will revolutionize the way work is done, but it will also unlock significant new value for business and societies. By allowing businesses to model, prototype, and test dozens, hundreds, or millions of design iterations in real time and in an immersive, physics-based environment before committing physical and human resources to a project, industrial metaverse tools will usher in a new era of solving real-world problems digitally.
“The real world is very messy, noisy, and sometimes hard to really understand,” says Danny Lange, senior vice president of artificial intelligence at Unity Technologies, a leading platform for creating and growing real-time 3-D content. “The idea of the industrial metaverse is to create a cleaner connection between the real world and the virtual world, because the virtual world is so much easier and cheaper to work with.”
While real-life applications of the consumer metaverse are still developing, industrial metaverse use cases are purpose-driven, well aligned with real-world problems and business imperatives. The resource efficiencies enabled by industrial metaverse solutions may increase business competitiveness while also continually driving progress toward the sustainability, resilience, decarbonization, and dematerialization goals that are essential to human flourishing.
This report explores what it will take to create the industrial metaverse, its potential impacts on business and society, the challenges ahead, and innovative use cases that will shape the future. Its key findings are as follows:
• The industrial metaverse will bring together the digital and real worlds. It will enable a constant exchange of information, data, and decisions and empower industries to solve extraordinarily complex real-world problems digitally, changing how organizations operate and unlocking significant societal benefits.
• The digital twin is a core metaverse building block. These virtual models simulate real-world objects in detail. The next generation of digital twins will be photorealistic, physics-based, AI-enabled, and linked in metaverse ecosystems.
• The industrial metaverse will transform every industry. Currently existing digital twins illustrate the power and potential of the industrial metaverse to revolutionize design and engineering, testing, operations, and training.
The Download: China’s retro AI photos, and experts’ AI fears
Across social media, a number of creators are generating nostalgic photographs of China with the help of AI. Even though these images get some details wrong, they are realistic enough to trick and impress many of their followers.
The pictures look sophisticated in terms of definition, sharpness, saturation, and color tone. Their realism is partly down to a recent major update of image-making artificial-intelligence program Midjourney that was released in mid-March, which is better not only at generating human hands but also at simulating various photography styles.
It’s still relatively easy, even for untrained eyes, to tell that the photos are generated by an AI. But for some creators, their experiments are more about trying to recall a specific era in time than trying to trick their audience. Read the full story.
Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on tech in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.
Read more of our reporting on AI-generated images:
+ These new tools let you see for yourself how biased AI image models are. Bias and stereotyping are still huge problems for systems like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion, despite companies’ attempts to fix it. Read the full story.