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On the Road to Extinction: Maybe it’s Not All About Us

On the Road to Extinction: Maybe it’s Not All About Us

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

It is crystal clear—unlike the smoky skies where I live–to most of us who are willing to consider the facts: this summer’s ‘natural’ disasters have been seeded anthropogenically.  Wildfires in the northwestern United States and Canada, in Greenland, and in Europe are often referred to in the media as ‘unprecedented’ in size and fury. Hurricanes and monsoons, with their attendant floods and destruction, are routinely described as having a multitude of ‘record-breaking’ attributes. No one reading this is likely to need convincing that humans –our sheer numbers as well as our habits—have contributed significantly to rising planetary temperatures and thus, the plethora of somehow unexpected and catastrophic events in the natural world. I’d like to include earthquakes, particularly those in Turkey (endless) and Mexico (massive), in this discussion, and while intuition tells me that there is a connection between them and climate change, research to support this supposition is just emerging, so for the nonce I will leave the earthquakes out of it.

Our proclivity for advancing our own short-term interests has made a mess of things from the beginnings of this current iteration of civilization. Irrigating the Fertile Crescent, which was not very fertile prior to the ingenious innovation of bringing water from the mountains down into the dusty plains, opened the way for a massive increase in food production and a concomitant population rise. Cities grew and became kingdoms. After a reasonably good run, though, irrigation led to salination of the soil and ultimately left it sterile and useless (for agriculture) once again. Many people and their livestock starved or were forced to migrate in large numbers. Great idea, irrigation.

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100 Percent Wishful Thinking: the Green-Energy Cornucopia

100 Percent Wishful Thinking: the Green-Energy Cornucopia

At the People’s Climate March back last spring, all along that vast river of people, the atmosphere was electric. But electricity was also the focus of too many of the signs and banners. Yes, here and there were solid “System Change, Not Climate Change” – themed signs and banners. But the bulk of slogans on display asserted or implied that ending the climate emergency and avoiding climatic catastrophes like those that would occur a few months later—hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the mega-wildfires in the U.S. West—will be a simple matter of getting Donald Trump out of office and converting to 100-percent renewable energy.

The sunshiny placards and cheery banners promising an energy cornucopia were inspired by academic studies published in the past few years purporting to show how America and the world could meet 100 percent of future energy demand with solar, wind, and other “green” generation. The biggest attention-getters have been a pair of reports published in 2015 by a team led by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, but there have been many others.

A growing body of research has debunked overblown claims of a green-energy bonanza. Nevertheless,  Al Gore, Bill McKibben (who recently expressed hope that Harvey’s attack on the petroleum industry in Texas will send a “wakeup call” for a 100-percent renewable energy surge), and other luminaries in the mainstream climate movement have been invigorated by reports like Jacobson’s and have embraced the 100-percent dream.

And that vision is merging with a broader, even more spurious claim that has become especially popular in the Trump era: the private sector, we are told, has now taken the lead on climate, and market forces will inevitably achieve the 100-percent renewable dream and solve the climate crisis on their own. In this dream, anything’s possible; Jacobson even believes that tens of thousands of wind turbines installed offshore could tame hurricanes like Katrina, Harvey, and Irma.

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Adjusting Measurements to Match the Models – Part 3: Lower Troposphere Satellite Temperatures

Adjusting Measurements to Match the Models – Part 3: Lower Troposphere Satellite Temperatures

Except for small gaps over the poles the satellite temperature series are the only truly global temperature series we have; their defect is that they do not begin until 1979. Published series are constructed using raw records from different satellites that require large adjustments to bring them into line, but the good comparison between the most widely-referenced series – the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) lower troposphere (TLT) series – and radiosonde series suggests that these adjustments are valid. The other widely-referenced series – the Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) TLT series was adjusted in 2015 to show over 0.2C more warming since 1979 than UAH. Data reviews do not tell us which series is the more correct, but the circumstances surrounding the RSS adjustments are suspicious. In any event, both series show significantly less warming in the lower troposphere than predicted by climate model simulations – yet another instance of the measurements not matching the models.

First a disclaimer. Satellite temperatures are a highly-specialized field in which I have no particular expertise, so I may have made some factually incorrect statements. Readers who find any are encouraged to point them out.

Satellite temperature measurements

Satellites use microwave sounding unit (MSU) sensors to measure radiances in various wavelength bands that require mathematical inversion to obtain temperature values. Three MSU units measure temperatures at three different atmospheric levels:

  • MSU2: The middle troposphere (TMT)
  • MSU3: The upper troposphere/lower stratosphere (TTS)
  • MSU4: The lower stratosphere (TLS)

Rather than pinpoint a specific elevation the three MSUs measure temperatures over wide and overlapping ranges of elevations, as shown in Figure 1A. But none of them zero in on the lower troposphere, so to obtain TLT data the outputs of the three MSUs are weight-averaged (UAH uses 1.538*MSU2 – 0.548*MSU3 + 0.01*MSU4).

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Natural Disasters and the Common Cause

Natural Disasters and the Common Cause

We have suffered brutal direct hits. Over half of the state of Florida is without power, in the dark. It is too soon to know what the losses are. Houston, America’s fourth largest city, suffered the most extreme rain event in U.S. history. Casualties are mounting; damages are estimated at a staggering $125 billion.

Ash from wildfires in the West is blanketing Seattle; every county in Washington is under state of an emergency. The smoke is felt in the air all the way to the East Coast. Last year was the hottest on record, exceeding the record set the year before that which exceeded the record set the year before that.

Extreme weather is becoming more frequent and more extreme. For climate scientists, this is predictable and predicted. As the Earth warms, the ice caps melt, the oceans grow warmer; more moisture is absorbed in the clouds, the rains become worse and the severe storms more severe.

The Trump administration denies climate science, even seeks to suppress it. Trump’s political appointees are doing their best to ban the very term “climate change” from government reports. They are dismantling agencies that study and report on the changing climate. Ironically, among their biggest allies were Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who banned the phrase “climate change” from state reports, and the Texas Republican Party devoted to pumping every drop of oil that can be found.

Bad storms, record heat and record wildfires won’t alter their denials. But the catastrophes are real. When they occur, even rock-headed reactionaries turn to government for help. The same Texan legislators who voted against aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the Mid-Atlantic coast in 2012, lined up to demand aid for their constituents after Harvey. Those who say the government is broke appropriate billions.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

I Was an Exxon-Funded Climate Scientist

I Was an Exxon-Funded Climate Scientist

Photo by Mike Mozart | CC BY 2.0

ExxonMobil’s deliberate attempts to sow doubt on the reality and urgency of climate change and their donations to front groups to disseminate false information about climate change have been public knowledge for a long time, now.

Investigative reports in 2015 revealed that Exxon had its own scientists doing its own climate modeling as far back as the 1970s: science and modeling that was not only accurate, but that was being used to plan for the company’s future.

Now, a peer-reviewed study published August 23 has confirmed that what Exxon was saying internally about climate change was quantitatively very different from their public statements.

Specifically, researchers Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes found that at least 80 percent of the internal documents and peer-reviewed publications they studied from between 1977 and 2014 were consistent with the state of the science – acknowledging that climate change is real and caused by humans, and identifying “reasonable uncertainties” that any climate scientist would agree with at the time.

Yet over 80 percent of Exxon’s editorial-style paid advertisements over the same period specifically focused on uncertainty and doubt, the study found.

The stark contrast between internally discussing cutting-edge climate research while externally conducting a climate disinformation campaign is enough to blow many minds. What was going on at Exxon?

I have a unique perspective – because I was there.

From 1995 to 1997, Exxon provided partial financial support for my master’s thesis, which focused on methane chemistry and emissions. I spent several weeks in 1996 as an intern at their Annandale research lab in New Jersey and years working on the collaborative research that resulted in three of the published studies referenced in Supran and Oreskes’ new analysis.

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In a Summer of Wildfires and Hurricanes, My Son Asks “Why Is Everything Going Wrong?”

In a Summer of Wildfires and Hurricanes, My Son Asks “Why Is Everything Going Wrong?”

THE NEWS FROM the natural world these days is mostly about water, and understandably so.

We hear about the record-setting amounts of water that Hurricane Harvey dumped on Houston and other Gulf cities and towns, mixing with petrochemicals to pollute and poison on an unfathomable scale. We hear too about the epic floods that have displaced hundreds of thousands of people from Bangladesh to Nigeria (though we don’t hear enough). And we are witnessing, yet again, the fearsome force of water and wind as Hurricane Irma — one of the most powerful storms ever recorded — leaves devastation behind in the Caribbean, with Florida now in its sights.

Yet for large parts of North America, Europe, and Africa, this summer has not been about water at all. In fact it has been about its absence; it’s been about land so dry and heat so oppressive that forested mountains exploded into smoke like volcanoes. It’s been about fires fierce enough to jump the Columbia River; fast enough to light up the outskirts of Los Angeles like an invading army; and pervasive enough to threaten natural treasures, like the tallest and most ancient sequoia trees and Glacier National Park.

For millions of people from California to Greenland, Oregon to Portugal, British Columbia to Montana, Siberia to South Africa, the summer of 2017 has been the summer of fire. And more than anything else, it’s been the summer of ubiquitous, inescapable smoke.

For years, climate scientists have warned us that a warming world is an extreme world, in which humanity is buffeted by both brutalizing excesses and stifling absences of the core elements that have kept fragile life in equilibrium for millennia. At the end of the summer of 2017 — with major cities submerged in water and others licked by flames — we are currently living through Exhibit A of this extreme world, one in which natural extremes come head-to-head with social, racial, and economic ones.

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Mortal Mugginess

Mortal Mugginess

Extreme Heat Stress in Florida and in the Persian Gulf

A spate of new research warns of lethally hot, humid weather in many regions by the end of this century- weather in which it would be dangerous even to walk outside, or turn off the air conditioning.

These are very long range projections, with all the uncertainty that that implies; it’s hard enough to forecast weather a few days ahead. But they got me thinking about heat stress. We see it every summer in Florida. I always thought of it as something to be dealt with and endured, not as a danger.

This July and August, the Heat Index (“feels like” temperature) seemed to climb into the “Danger” zone every day and stay there for hours, its peak often exceeding the forecast. Could we be approaching deadly weather already? What about other, even muggier parts of the planet?

Researchers descibe this extreme weather in unfamiliar terms, usually involving the “wet bulb temperature” in degrees Celsius. What we hear in daily weather reports and forecasts is the Heat Index, in degrees Fahrenheit. How do these measures relate- or do they? Here’s the official NOAA chart of Heat Index values:


Official NOAA chart of the Heat Index: How the combination of heat and humidity feels to a person wearing a short sleeved shirt and slacks, walking at 3.1 mph in shade. Direct sunlight can make you feel much hotter, up to an additional 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
Calculating the wet bulb temperature for each cell of the chart (Note 1), you see the same pattern in both measures. They line up so well you could estimate one from the other with fair accuracy, even though one is a physical measurement and the other is based on experiments with human subjects reporting how hot they feel. Both are measuring heat stress.

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The Terrifying Risk of Climate Change in Scotland

The Terrifying Risk of Climate Change in Scotland

“Major parts of Scotland’s vital infrastructure are under threat from coastal erosion and flooding, according to the latest government assessments of the dangers of climate change.

Thousands of homes and businesses and long stretches of roads and railway lines are also at risk. So are power stations, wind farms, sewers, bridges, and farmland, as well as many other crucial facilities and even golf courses.

Seabirds, fish and plants are endangered, as well as butterflies, food crops and peat bogs. Scotland can expect more rain, more droughts, more storms, more wild fires, more landslides, more pests and more diseases – and snow is disappearing from the mountains.”

I don’t know if its my imagination, but the media seem to have gone into overdrive reporting the terrifying risks of climate change alongside too-cheap-to-meter solar and wind power that is to be our salvation. Last week, the Sunday Herald carried one of the worst pieces of climate change doomer porn I’ve ever seen: Revealed: climate change and the terrifying risk to Scotland. One problem I have with this post is that The Herald article does not link to the reports cited. Reference is made to Scottish National Heritage (a government agency) and The UK Committee on Climate Change. Friends of The Earth and World Wildlife Fund are also mentioned. Roger Andrews helped me out and compiled the references listed at the end of this post upon which I assume Rob Edwards reporting for the Sunday Herald used in compiling his article.

In my last post on UK flooding I felt inclined to forgive the BBC for simply reporting the dross published by accademics in Science. However, I will not forgive Rob Edwards and the editorial staff at The Herald for uncritically hyping the contents of what appear to be wildly inaccurate government and NGO reports.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Hurricane Harvey, Climate Denial, Fake News and ExxonMobil

Hurricane Harvey, Climate Denial, Fake News and ExxonMobil

For well over twenty years, climate deniers have tried to stymie discussion of extreme weather events and climate change. Why? Because extreme weather kills people, destroys property, trashes things and costs billions of dollars.  And that’s when people start searching for accountability blame. Hurricane Harvey’s damage is breaking records. Who will pay, remains an unanswered question.  What we do know is that a concerted campaign of climate denial, over the past three decades, has measurably slowed down society’s reaction to the climate crisis and has wasted valuable time and money.

For example, in October 1998, the Cooler Heads Coalition put together a “Media and Congressional Briefing” titled “Extreme Weather and Climate Change”, held in the Cannon House of Representatives office building. The sponsoring organizations are a who’s who of ‘free market’ anti-government groups. Many of the organizations are connected to Koch money and most of them were being funded by ExxonMobil in 1998 and subsequent years. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell was the chair of Cooler Heads then and now. CEI received $85,000 from Exxon in 1998. The full roster of Cooler Heads members got over $472,000 in grants from Exxon that year.

The guest speaker was the famous hurricane scientist Wizard of Oz, Dr. William Gray (who passed away in 2016).

In the wake of hurricane Harvey, its important to recall the corporate fake news campaign of 2006 to suppress the discussion of hurricanes and climate change.  The campaign was spearheaded by DCI Group, then employed by ExxonMobil, and connected to TechCentralStation, a news site DCI Group set up to insert corporate friendly messages and third party messengers onto the internet before blogs were really a thing.  Video cassettes with a prepared news segment were distributed to Gulf state local TV stations.

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Before Our Eyes

Before Our Eyes

A submerged highway in Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. (J. Daniel Escareño / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Climate breakdown, as George Monbiot calls it, is happening before our eyes at the same time the science on climate change grows stronger and has wider acceptance. Hurricane Harvey, which struck at the center of the petroleum industry – the heart of climate denialism – provided a glimpse of the new normal of climate crisis-induced events. In Asia, this week the climate message was even stronger where at least 1,200 people died and 41 million were impacted. By 2050, one billion people could be displaced by climate crises.

Climate disasters demonstrate the immense failure of government at all levels. The world has known about the likely disastrous impacts of climate change for decades. Next year will be the thirtieth anniversary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which  operates under the auspices of the United Nations and was founded in 1988. The IPCC published the first of five reports in 1990. Thousands of scientists and other experts write and review the reports and 120 countries participate in the process. The most common surprises in successive reports are more rapid temperature increases and greater impacts than scientists had predicted.

We Can No Longer Ignore the Science and the Evidence Before Us

The science on climate change has become extremely strong as the final draft of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Climate Science Special Report showed. The document was leaked last month because scientists feared the Trump administration would amend, suppress or destroy it. The report describes overwhelming evidence of man-made climate change impacting us right now and the urgent need to get to zero net carbon emissions.

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In media res: Houston, Harvey and the catastrophe of climate change

In media res: Houston, Harvey and the catastrophe of climate change

“In media res” is Latin for “in the middle of things.” Frequently, it refers to the literary device of plunging readers into some central action of a story (often an epic) and then filling in the details and background later.

The residents of Houston must have felt that they were plunged into the middle of some epic story as Hurricane Harvey dumped up to 50 inches of rain on them and flooded much of the city. Early estimatessuggest that this hurricane could end up being the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Hurricane Harvey is almost certainly an epic story unfolding before our eyes. That means the significance of events and outcomes surrounding the hurricane will only be filled in later–creating analysis, folklore and perhaps even a cultural output on par with that which followed Hurricane Katrina (think: the television series “Tremé”).

There will be stories about the failure or success of the emergency response effort. There will be denunciations of those officials who recommended staying put and recriminations of those doing the denouncing. There will be riveting accounts of suffering and also of heroic rescues and exceptional kindness. And, there will be stories of lawlessness and cruelty.

Harvey will almost certainly be styled as a tragedy. The storm is undoubtedly a colossal misfortune, and we should have compassion for those affected. But from a literary standpoint, it is not a tragedy at all. A genuine tragedy requires that the main players be unaware of how their own flawed character is leading them to self-destruction. A genuine tragedy depicts an ineluctable course of events. Nothing and no one could have prevented them. Greek tragedians relied on Ananke, the goddess of fate, to drive the action of their plays.

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Meeting Paris Goals Means Dealing with Climate Impacts of Eating Meat

Meeting Paris Goals Means Dealing with Climate Impacts of Eating Meat

Environmental groups place a lot of attention on trying to stop new oil, gas, and coal development since current fossil fuel projects would likely already blow us past the less-than 2°C upper limit for warming laid out in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. In fact, there’s a whole movement, known as “Keep It in the Ground,” predicated on this idea.

But when faced with a resurgence of support for fossil fuels from the White House, perhaps just as important is talking about how to “Keep It in the Cow,” according to some reports. Right now, experts predict agriculture is set to eat up half the greenhouse gas emissions the world can release by 2050 and still stay below 2°C (3.6°F) of warming.

That is, unless the world takes a big bite out of its meat consumption, especially from cattle and other livestock that chew their cud, say researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. Raising these ruminants produces a lot of methane, a much more potent but shorter-lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

While “Meatless Mondays” is one approach to this problem, their studies show that it’s not necessarily how much meat people eat that’s linked to the climate impacts of their diet. Instead, it’s the amount of beef, lamb, and dairy.

A 2017 Chalmers study concluded that: “A switch from diets rich in ruminant meat to diets with meat from monogastric animals (pork, chicken) reduces [methane] emissions by almost the same amount as a switch to an entirely vegan diet.” Researchers at the University of Oxford in 2016 found similar benefits, concluding that shifting to a vegetarian diet could lessen greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds.

(If you want to eat vegan, of course, that’s also an option. In addition, eggs and dairy each have about half the climate impact of eating chicken and beef.)

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Harvey: Fierce Climate Change at Work

Harvey: Fierce Climate Change at Work

Photo by The National Guard | CC BY 2.0

Is Harvey a force of nature or something more?

Clearly, Harvey is a natural disaster of monstrous proportions. Its destructiveness is the hottest topic on TV coast-to-coast and around the world. Still, cynics of climate change say natural disasters, like hurricanes, are normal and nothing more than nature’s way. The evidence, however, points in another direction; climate change is no longer simply nature doing its thing. It’s lost purity of the force of nature, only nature.

Similar to the record setting massive meltdown of Arctic ice in a flash of geologic time, fierce storms and zany weather patterns are setting all-time records, hyper-speeding nature’s time clock. In point of fact, bigger/faster all-time records have become the norm, racing ahead of nature, prompting the question: Why is this happening?

The likely answer is: The human footprint is driving climate change to hyper speed; in some instances 10xs faster than climate change over the past millennia.

Indeed, today’s rapidly changing climate is the upshot of the Great Acceleration or post WWII human footprint into/onto the ecosystem, with authority, knocking down weather records along the way. Abnormal is now normal. One-hundred-year floods are passé, outmoded, old hat. Epic floods and historic droughts are the norm. It’s all happened within the past couple of decades. Recent examples include the following:

It was only a couple of years ago that Hurricane Sandy caused $75B in damages as the 2nd costliest hurricane in U.S. history. But then again, New York is not located in hurricane country. Still, it happened and is but one more example of a climate gone bonkers.

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Is Hurricane Harvey a Harbinger for America’s Future?

Is Hurricane Harvey a Harbinger for America’s Future?

Over the past week we have seen two major tropical storms devastate different parts of the world. First Typhoon Hato struck Hong Kong and Southern China killing at least a dozen people. And over the weekend Hurricane Harvey made landfall from the Gulf of Mexico, bringing extremely heavy rain to southern Texas and causing devastating floods in Houston.

Tropical cyclones are, of course, a natural feature of our climate. But the extreme impacts of these recent storms, especially in Houston, has understandably led to questions over whether climate change is to blame.

How are tropical cyclones changing?

Tropical cyclones, called typhoons in the Northwest Pacific and hurricanes in the North Atlantic, are major storm systems that initiate near the Equator and can hit locations in the tropics and subtropics around the world.

When we look at the Atlantic Basin we see increases in tropical storm numbers over the past century, although there is high year-to-year variability. The year 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, marks the high point.

There is a trend towards more tropical storms and hurricanes in the North Atlantic. US National Hurricane Center

We can be confident that we’re seeing more severe tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic than we did a few decades ago. It is likely that climate change has contributed to this trend, although there is low statistical confidence associated with this statement.

What that means is that this observed increase in hurricane frequency is more likely than not linked with climate change, but the increase may also be linked to decadal variability.

Has Harvey been enhanced by climate change?

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CO2 is Changing the Jet Stream in Ways that will Create more Harveys

“The record for total rainfall from a tropical system has been BROKEN!” the National Weather Service tweeted Tuesday morning. The previous record for wettest tropical system in the continental United States was 48 inches. Harvey had already hit 49.20, and the rain was still coming.

“Many textbooks have the 60-inch mark as a once-in-a-million-year recurrence interval,” as the Washington Post Weather Gang reported Sunday.

We’re seeing these staggering rainfall totals because this tropical storm hovered in place for days over southeast Texas, sweeping in vast quantities of moisture from the warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico. And the latest science points a finger at climate change for this.

“The kind of stalled weather pattern that is drenching Houston is precisely the sort of pattern we expect because of climate change,” climatologist Michael Mann explained in an email to ThinkProgress. Earlier this year, Mann co-authored a study explaining how human-caused warming is changing our atmosphere’s circulation, including the jet stream, in a way that leads to “increase in persistent weather extremes” during the summer.

“I agree with Mike [Mann] that the weak steering currents over the south-central US coincident with Harvey are consistent with our expectations for a warmer world, which of course includes effects of a very warm Arctic,” Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, told ThinkProgress.

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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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