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One year on…

Filed under: — group @ 28 December 2005

RealClimate has been online for just over a year, and so this is probably a good time to review the stories we’ve covered and assess how well the whole project is working out.

Over the last 12 months, we’ve tackled a 100+ scientific topics that range from water vapour feedbacks, the carbon cycle, climate sensitivity, satellite/surface temperature records, glacier retreat, climate modelling to hurricanes. We’ve had guest postings that span questions of Martian climate change to Arctic ozone depletion and solar forcing. We’ve crossed virtual swords with Michael Crichton, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, George Will, Nigel Lawson, Fox News and assorted documentary makers (though only one person ever threatened to sue us). Hopefully our contributions have interested, intrigued and occasionally amused (at least a few of you…). More »

How to be a real sceptic

Filed under: — gavin @ 19 December 2005

Scepticism is often discussed in connection with climate change, although the concept is often abused. I therefore thought it might be interesting to go back and see what the epitome of 20th Century sceptics, Bertrand Russell, had to say on the subject. This is extracted from the Introduction to his ‘Sceptical Essays’ (1928):
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Naturally trendy?

Filed under: — rasmus @ 16 December 2005

From time to time, there is discussion about whether the recent warming trend is due just to chance. We have heard arguments that so-called ‘random walk‘ can produce similar hikes in temperature (any reason why the global mean temperature should behave like the displacement of a molecule in Brownian motion?). The latest in this category of discussions was provided by Cohn and Lins (2005), who in essence pitch statistics against physics. They observe that tests for trends are sensitive to the expectations, or the choice of the null-hypothesis .

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2005 temperatures

Filed under: — group @ 15 December 2005 - (Français)

Due to a historical quirk (of unknown origin), the World Meterological Organisation releases its summary for each year based on the Dec to Nov ‘meteorlogical year’ means (rather than the more usual calendar year). Anyway, the WMO summary is now available, as is the NASA GISS analysis and the CRU summary. The point upon which all the analyses agree is that 2005 was exceptionally warm and that it continues the long term mean warming trend. All show record warmth in the Northern Hemisphere since 1860, while GISS gives 2005 as the warmest year globally as well (CRU/WMO have it second after 1998). As the summaries indicate, the differences in ranking are on the order of a few hundredths of a degree (smaller than the accuracy of the analysis) and so a definitive ranking is not possible. Differences in how the separate analyses deal with missing data are responsible for most of the apparent variations. Note too that the convention for the base periods for the anomalies differ between the analyses (1961-1990 for CRU/WMO, 1951-1980 for GISS), but this does not affect the rankings.

Update 7pm: The GISS analysis curiously appears to have gone off line….
Update 8am 16 Dec: The GISS summation is still not back up, but the raw data and new figures do seem to be available . Note that as pointed in comment #5, the WMO/CRU/Hadley Centre analysis is for Jan-Nov, and not for the met. year as stated above (though the GISS analaysis is). Don’t ask us why!
Final Update 11pm 16 Dec: The GISS analysis is back!

Natural Variability and Climate Sensitivity

Filed under: — raypierre @ 15 December 2005

One of the central tasks of climate science is to predict the sensitivity of climate to changes in carbon dioxide concentration. The answer determines in large measure how serious the consequences of global warming will be. One common measure of climate sensitivity is the amount by which global mean surface temperature would change once the system has settled into a new equilibrium following a doubling of the pre-industrial CO2 concentration. A vast array of thought has been brought to bear on this problem, beginning with Arrhenius’ simple energy balance calculation, continuing through Manabe’s one-dimensional radiative-convective models in the 1960’s, and culminating in today’s comprehensive atmosphere-ocean general circulation models. The current crop of models studied by the IPCC range from an equilibrium sensitivity of about 1.5°C at the low end to about 5°C at the high end. Differences in cloud feedbacks remain the principal source of uncertainty. There is no guarantee that the high end represents the worst case, or that the low end represents the most optimistic case. While there is at present no compelling reason to doubt the models’ handling of water vapor feedback, it is not out of the question that some unanticipated behavior of the hydrological cycle could make the warming somewhat milder — or on the other hand, much, much worse. Thus, the question naturally arises as to whether one can use information from past climates to check which models have the most correct climate sensitivity.

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Methane hydrates and global warming

Filed under: — david @ 12 December 2005

There is an enormous amount of methane (CH4) on earth frozen into a type of ice called methane hydrate. Hydrates can form with almost any gas and consist of a ‘cage’ of water molecules surrounding the gas. (The term ‘clathrate’ more generally describes solids consisting of gases are trapped within any kind of cage while hydrate is the specific term for when the cage is made of water molecules). There are CO2 hydrates on Mars, while on Earth most of the hydrates are filled with methane. Most of these are in sediments of the ocean, but some are associated with permafrost soils.

Methane hydrates would seem intuitively to be the most precarious of things. Methane hydrate melts if it gets too warm, and it floats in water. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, and it degrades to CO2, another greenhouse gas which accumulates in the atmosphere just as fossil fuel CO2 does. And there is a lot of it, possibly more than the traditional fossil fuel deposits. Conceivably, climate changes could affect these deposits. So what do we know of the disaster-movie potential of the methane hydrates?

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Climate meeting blogging

Filed under: — gavin @ 8 December 2005

Two climate-related meetings are being covered quite extensively this week, the American Geophsyical Union meeting in San Francisco is being blogged for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the COP/MOP meeting in Montreal is being podcasted by the New York Times and blogged by other attendees. Hopefully this is a sign that scientists are starting to use these tools more effectively than they have so far.

Debate over the Early Anthropogenic Hypothesis

Filed under: — gavin @ 5 December 2005

There have been a few mentions of the ‘early anthropocene’ hypothesis recently (cf. the EPICA CO2 results, and Strange Bedfellows). We therefore welcome Bill Ruddiman to RealClimate to present his viewpoint and hopefully stimulate further discussion – gavin.

[Addendum: For a non-technical backgrounder on the ‘early anthropocene’ hypothesis and its significance in the context of anthropogenic climate change, see Bill Ruddiman’s article “How Did Humans First Alter Global Climate?” from the March 2005 issue of “Scientific American” (first two paragraphs available for free; full article must be purchased). -mike]

Guest posting from Bill Ruddiman, University of Virginia

The hypothesis (Ruddiman, 2003) that early agriculture caused large enough emissions of greenhouse gases millennia ago to offset a natural climatic cooling remains controversial. The centerpiece of the hypothesis was a comparison of the increases of CO2 and CH4 values in Vostok ice during the current (Holocene) interglaciation versus the (natural) drops during similar portions of the three previous interglaciations. More »