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Climate sensitivity: Plus ça change…

Filed under: — gavin @ 24 March 2006

Almost 30 years ago, Jule Charney made the first modern estimate of the range of climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2. He took the average from two climate models (2ºC from Suki Manabe at GFDL, 4ºC from Jim Hansen at GISS) to get a mean of 3ºC, added half a degree on either side for the error and produced the canonical 1.5-4.5ºC range which survived unscathed even up to the IPCC TAR (2001) report. Admittedly, this was not the most sophisticated calculation ever, but individual analyses based on various approaches have not generally been able to improve substantially on this rough estimate, and indeed, have often suggested that quite high numbers (>6ºC) were difficult to completely rule out. However, a new paper in GRL this week by Annan and Hargreaves combines a number of these independent estimates to come up with the strong statement that the most likely value is about 2.9ºC with a 95% probability that the value is less than 4.5ºC. More »

Reactions to tighter hurricane intensity/SST link

Filed under: — gavin @ 20 March 2006

There was another twist to the hurricanes/global warming issue in Science Express on Friday where a new paper from the Webster/Curry team just appeared. This study, lead by Carlos Hoyos, crosses a few t’s and dots a couple of i’s on the connection of increasing numbers of intense hurricanes (Cat. 4 and 5) to sea surface temperatures (SST). Basically, they looked at a number of other key variables for hurricane intensity (like wind shear and humidity) and examined whether there was any pattern to those variables across the different ocean basins that they study. Bottom line? None of the other variables have as much explanatory power for the long term trends as SST which is the only consistently trending constituent in the mix. So far, so un-surprising. However, one interesting aspect of this story is that almost all the key players in the ongoing debate were interviewed by different journalists in various media and those comments are probably more useful for gauging the state of play than the details of the new paper itself. More »

Meteors, Nuclear Tests and Global Warming

Filed under: — gavin @ 15 March 2006

What is one to make of a recent press release and submitted preprint blaming global warming on the Tunguska meteor event in 1908? Well, although it is not unknown for impact events to affect climate (the K/T boundary event springs to mind) there are a number of hurdles for any such theory to overcome before it moves into the mainstream from the wilder shores of unsubstantiated speculation.

Firstly, one would anticipate that immediate effects of the impact on climate would be strongest near the time of the impact (allowing for some inertia in the system) and decay away subsequently. Secondly, the timescales for any mechanism associated with the impact (in this case disruption of the atmopsheric water vapour) would need to be in line with the change one hopes to explain. And thirdly, one has to show that this explanation is better than the alternatives. Unfortunately, none of of these requirements are met by this hypothesis. More »

Good climate debate FAQ

Filed under: — group @ 13 March 2006

There are a number of topics in climate science that are frequently misunderstood or mis-characterised (often by those trying to ‘scientize’ their political opinions) that come up again and again in climate-related discussions. RealClimate tries to provide context on many of these issues, and commentaries on the 1970s ‘global cooling myth‘ or whether water vapour is a feedback or a forcing are among our most referenced pieces (see our FAQ category). However, our explanations of specific points have often appeared in the middle of a larger piece, or in the comment section and are not clearly referencable. Since many of these same points keep coming up in comments and discussions, having a clear and precise resource for these explanations would be very useful and we have thought about doing just that. But it now appears that we have been beaten to the punch by a new blog run by Coby Beck, a frequent commenter here and at sci.env. His new blog ‘A few things ill-considered‘ has a point-by-point rebuttal of almost all the most common ‘contrarian’ talking points. The list of topics by category is a good place to start, and it shows the huge amount of work done so far. We’re very impressed!

Art and climate

Filed under: — gavin @ 8 March 2006

Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware As anecdotal evidence of past climate change goes, some of the most pleasant to contemplate involve paintings of supposedly typical events that involve the weather. Given the flourishing of secular themes in European art from the Renaissance on, most of this art comes from the 16th to 19th centuries. As readers here will know, this coincides (in the public mind at least) with the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’ and somewhat inevitably this canon of work has been combed over with a fine tooth comb for evidence of particularly cold conditions.

The image that brought this issue to mind was seeing ‘Washington crossing the Delaware’ at the Met the other day and seeing the iceberg-like ice it was imagined (75 years after the event) that the rebels had had to row through in 1776. The first thing I noticed was that the ice is completely wrong for a river (which is just one of the errors associated with this picture apparently). River ice is almost always of the ‘pancake’ variety (as this photo from the Hudson river shows), and doesn’t form ‘growlers’. However, the confusion of artistic license with climatology appears to be a bit of a theme in other oft-cited works as well…. More »