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El Nino, Global Warming, and Anomalous U.S. Winter Warmth

Filed under: — mike @ 8 January 2007 - (Slovenčina) (Svenska)

It has now become all too common. Peculiar weather precipitates immediate blame on global warming by some, and equally immediate pronouncements by others (curiously, quite often the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in recent years) that global warming can’t possibly be to blame. The reality, as we’ve often remarked here before, is that absolute statements of neither sort are scientifically defensible. Meteorological anomalies cannot be purely attributed to deterministic factors, let alone any one specific such factor (e.g. either global warming or a hypothetical long-term climate oscillation).

Lets consider the latest such example. In an odd repeat of last year (the ‘groundhog day’ analogy growing ever more appropriate), we find ourselves well into the meteorological Northern Hemisphere winter (Dec-Feb) with little evidence over large parts of the country (most noteably the eastern and central U.S.) that it ever really began. Unsurprisingly, numerous news stories have popped up asking whether global warming might be to blame. Almost as if on cue, representatives from NOAA’s National Weather Service have been dispatched to tell us that the event e.g. “has absolutely nothing to do with global warming”, but instead is entirely due to the impact of the current El Nino event.

[Update 1/9/07: NOAA coincidentally has announced today that 2006 was officially the warmest year on record for the U.S.]
[Update 2/11/08: It got bumped to second place. ]

So what’s really going on? The pattern so far this winter (admittedly after only 1 month) looks (figure on the immediate right) like a stronger version of what was observed last winter (figure to the far right–note that these anomalies reflect differences relative to a relatively warm 1971-2000 base period, this tends to decrease the amplitude of positive anomalies relative to the more commonly used, cooler 1961-1990 base period). This poses the first obvious conundrum for the pure “El Nino” attribution of the current warmth: since we were actually in a (weak) La Nina (i.e., the opposite of ‘El Nino’) last winter, how is it that we can explain away the anomalous winter U.S. warmth so far this winter by ‘El Nino’ when anomalous winter warmth last year occured in its absence?

The second conundrum with this explanation is that, while El Nino typically does perturb the winter Northern Hemisphere jet stream in a way that favors anomalous warmth over much of the northern half of the U.S., the typical amplitude of the warming (see Figure below right) is about 1C (i.e., about 2F). The current anomaly is roughly five times as large as this. One therefore cannot sensibly argue that the current U.S. winter temperature anomalies are attributed entirely to the current moderate El Nino event.

Indeed, though the current pattern of winter U.S. warmth looks much more like the pattern predicted by climate models as a response to anthropogenic forcing (see Figure below left) than the typical ‘El Nino’ pattern, neither can one attribute this warmth to anthropogenic forcing. As we are fond of reminding our readers, one cannot attribute a specific meteorological event, an anomalous season, or even (as seems may be the case here, depending on the next 2 months) two anomalous seasons in a row, to climate change. Moreover, not even the most extreme scenario for the next century predicts temperature changes over North America as large as the anomalies witnessed this past month. But one can argue that the pattern of anomalous winter warmth seen last year, and so far this year, is in the direction of what the models predict.

In reality, the individual roles of deterministic factors such as El Nino, anthropogenic climate change, and of purely random factors (i.e. “weather”) in the pattern observed thusfar this winter cannot even in principle be ascertained. What we do know, however, is that both anthropogenic climate change and El Nino favor, in a statistical sense, warmer winters over large parts of the U.S. When these factors act constructively, as is the case this winter, warmer temperatures are certainly more likely. Both factors also favor warmer global mean surface temperatures (the warming is one or two tenths of a degree C for a moderate to strong El Nino). It is precisely for this reason that some scientists are already concluding, with some justification, that 2007 stands a good chance of being the warmest year on record for the globe.

A few other issues are worthy of comment in the context of this discussion. A canard that has already been trotted out by climate change contrarians (and unfortunately parroted uncritically in some media reports) holds that weather in certain parts of the U.S. (e.g. blizzards and avalanches in Colorado) negates the observation of anomalous winter warmth. This argument is disingenuous at best. As clearly evident from the figure shown above, temperatures for the first month of this winter have been above normal across the United States (with the only exceptions being a couple small cold patches along the U.S./Mexico border). The large snowfall events in Boulder were not associated with cold temperatures, but instead with especially moisture-laden air masses passing through the region. If temperatures are at or below freezing (which is true even during this warmer-than-average winter in Colorado), that moisture will precipitate as snow, not rain. Indeed, snowfall is often predicted to increase in many regions in response to anthropogenic climate change, since warmer air, all other things being equal, holds more moisture, and therefore, the potential for greater amounts of precipitation whatever form that precipitation takes.

Another issue here involves the precise role of El Nino in climate change. El Nino has a profound influence on disparate regional weather phenomena. Witness for example the dramatic decrease in Atlantic tropical cyclones this most recent season relative to the previous one. This decrease can be attributed to the El Nino that developed over the crucial autumn season, which favored a strengthening of the upper level westerlies over the tropical North Atlantic, increased tropical Atlantic wind shear, and a consequently less favorable environment for tropical cyclogenesis.

If a particular seasonal anomaly appears to be related to El Nino, can we conclude that climate change played no role at all? Obviously not. It is possible, in fact probable, that climate change is actually influencing El Nino (e.g. favoring more frequent and larger El Nino events), although just how much is still very much an issue of active scientific debate. One of the key remaining puzzles in the science of climate change therefore involves figuring out just how El Nino itself might change in the future, a topic we’re certain to discuss here again in the future.

360 Responses to “El Nino, Global Warming, and Anomalous U.S. Winter Warmth”

  1. 251
    SecularAnimist says:

    Sashka wrote: “In my view, ve have very close to 100% chance to avoid Lovelockean scenario. There’s no need to do anything. Even continuing business as usual won’t take us there. There’s no basis for his speculation.”

    Lovelock explains the basis for his scenario in great detail in his book Gaia’s Revenge which I am 100% certain you have not read and will not read.

    You have “no basis” for your assertion that Lovelock’s scenario is without basis.

    If you want to argue that Lovelock’s scenario is highly unlikely, then rather than making plainly false assertions that there is “no basis” for it, you should discuss in detail the basis for it that Lovelock presents at length in his book and explain why the conclusions he draws from that basis are unlikely to be realized.

    “Business as usual”, according to the forecasts of the International Energy Agency, is that over the next 20 years or so, anthropogenic GHG emissions will continue to increase and by 2030, annual emissions will be 52 percent higher than they are today.

    Explain what you think the consequences of that “business as usual” scenario will be, and give the “basis” for your own conclusions, if any.

  2. 252
    Hank Roberts says:

    But we digress …

  3. 253
    Sally says:

    As usual….

  4. 254

    Re #252 where Hank says we digress and in #247 where he asked me “Would you consider the suggestion that it’s possible we are moving toward a permanent El Nino to be a ‘bunker’ mentality?”

    Perhaps bunker was the wrong word, but let’s think about El Nino since it comes into the title of this thread.

    El Nino happens when the Trade Winds can no longer hold back the warm pool of water they have blown into the Indonesian achipeligo. The warm pool of warm water flows across the Pacific, disrupting the Walker circulation, and radiates vast quantities of heat from the cloud tops that form. The air trapped beneath the clouds is also warmed by the long wave radiation the clouds produce, and so while the area beneath the clouds ie the US warms, the atmosphere as a whole cools. El Nino acts like a saftey valve keeping the the planet cool. But it is a cyclic process: the Trade Winds blow the warm water into the warm pool, then it escapes across the Pacific, and the process starts again. From a systems viewpoint, it is a cycle. The idea of a permanent El Nino is as plausible as a clapping with one hand! Anyone who imagines that is possible, and it seems that the IPCC do, has lost touch with reality. They are not realists.

    Similar arguments can be used to demolish the idea that global warming will stop the THC and cool Europe and the rest of the world as happened during the Younger Dryas. If the Arcctic ice melts and that stops the THC, then Europe and the Arctic will cool, the ice will regrow, and then the THC will restart! It does not take much systems theory to see that. However, once an idea becomes fashionable, then logic can be countered by claiming the idea is counter-intuative. That means unrealistic in my vocabulary.

    The problem is that modern science is based on reductionism – break the thing down into smaller and smaller pieces, to find out how it works. But that cannot work. If you smash something up, how can you possible tell how it operates?

    NOAA are a good example of this. They break the climate system down into small units and detect an El Nino. The effects of global warming pass them by, because they are too focussed in the small details. The RealClimate scientists can see that the current warm winter in the US (Hank, digression over :-)) is due to enhanced greenhouse gases as well as the El Nino, but do they recognise this as the start of a rapid warming? Of course not, that is a step even too far for them.

    Just as NOAA know deep down that greenhouse gases are irrelevant to weather, RealClimate knows that rapid change cannot happen. RealClimate can cast the mote out of their brother’s eye, but the beam remains in their own!

    RealClimate get real!

  5. 255
    Grant says:

    Re: Sashka’s opinion on Lovelockian future

    I usually disagree with Sashka, and this is no exception. I also agree that he gave no substantive reasons for his opinion.

    But I will point out that he did not just drop in out of the blue to dismiss Lovelock. He was replying to a previous post which solicited opinion. Under such circumstances, I think it’s valid to express one’s opinion, even without supplying substantive reasoning (although it’s better with than without).

    In fact — I did so myself! But since I seem to be much closer to the “concensus” view here, nobody objected to my failure to “back up” my opinion.

  6. 256
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #237 & “A ‘runaway greenhouse effect’ to my naive understanding happens when the feedbacks from CO2 forcing eclipse the size of the CO2 forcing itself. I don’t know if that’s possible.”

    I don’t think they “eclipse” the size of the CO2 forcing, so much as increase the CO2 (& methane, reduced albedo effect, etc), and thus increase the CO2 forcing (though they would eclipse the human GHG emissions). And #239 is referring to the permanent runaway situation, the only one scientists understand. But I think it OK for laypersons to have their own understandable jargon, and for our time period, “runaway” would be that nearer future possibility that positive feedbacks could increase the global temp by, say, 6 degrees C, which could remain there for thousands of years before getting back to present conditions.

    This is only a possibility at this point and not a huge probability….or the scientists can’t really say with any scientific level of certainty one way or the other. It certainly is not impossible, since it’s happened several times in the past — 55 mya & 251 mya.

    So as we put forth efforts to reduce our GHGs (like buying a Sunfrost refrig), we might think we are not only working to avert regular GW, but also the possibility of “limited runaway (up to 6 degree C increase) global warming.” And enjoy all that money saved from reducing our GHGs.

  7. 257
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #247

    Hey Hank;

    Not a problem, that is a small point of difference IMHO. I think that until the character of a lack of ice formation is present in the polar continental regions are still in the process of emergence. At the same time you do not agree with this point, as you contend that we have already emerged from ice age characteristics.

    Does it really matter? I believe that there maybe an indication of a small temperature increase regardless of the AGW input, you may not. As to the rest of the inputs, we are still in our infancy in collecting and documenting their contributions.

    I understand that many suggest that there is an over burden of evidence that GHG specifically CO2 are the primary contributor. Personally, I do not necessarily agree, radiative down welling evidence does not seem to be available that supports this conclusion.

    I keep hoping that the suggested radiative input will be identified and tracked. As of yet this has not been observed, to my knowledge. Yes, I am aware of the possible reasons for this failure; however, I believe that with the capabilities of the scientific community this is resolvable within the near future. Therefore, I reserve my belief that the evidence of AGW is over whelming as I anticipate the next wonderful idea to unfold in answering my concerns for direct evidence.

    Dave Cooke

  8. 258
    Sally says:

    Doesn’t the increase in nighttime temperatures provide some evidence of radiative down-welling? Or do I have the wrong end of the photon?

    Are we digressing again?

  9. 259
    Erica says:

    This comment February 2006 comment by a Daily Kos reader with first-hand experience may give insight into NOAA’s public positions:

    I work for NOAA as a contractor…been here almost 10 years…in the telecoms area (not a meteoroligist). The morale has gone straight downhill since W took office. It’s a standing joke around here that “you better not mention global warming out loud.” The restrictions as to press contacts, getting permission, have been made very, very clear. A few months ago I attended a “brown bag” lunch at the library where they had a distinguished professor from U MD who had written a book on the history of research into global warming. Attending this lecture were a group of college students who had been chosed for a year long scholar’s program where they would work at NOAA. We chatted and they expressed their amazement to me that in their welcoming breakfast from Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr. Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.)Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator, he had actually said to them “Oh, you know of course that there is no definitive proof that global warming exists.” Each of these intelligent, educated students were dumbfounded.
    I will tell you that just about every person here hates this Administration. They proudly announce their “10 year” research plan on global climate….starting from scratch, as if no previous data exists. This is very pathetic. We can’t wait for the 2008 election….we may soon reach “the tipping point” of no return.
    Now…all that being said…my impression is, that a direct causal link between global warming and increased volume and intensity of hurricanes may actually be somewhat debatable…but of course, that does not change the crime that they have only “sent out” those scientists willing to adhere to their view to talk to the press.

    by hcc in VA on Fri Feb 10, 2006 at 05:44:36 PM EST

  10. 260


    You have been a bit slow in posting your info on how bad the effect of GWB on NOAA has been since it is nearly a year old. Unfortunately it is too late now to do anything. The tipping point has passed :-( Next time act faster :-)

  11. 261

    Re #258

    Hi Sally,

    You are quite correct. If the Sun was getting hotter then day time and summer temperatures would be increasing, but with this abnormally warm night and winter warmth and even summer time night time temperatures rising then we can be sure that greenhouse gases are the cause of global warming.

    But we have known that since the IPCC TAR in 2001. It is just that certain oil men would rather make a profit for their shareholders than help save the world or even the USA. Well that is what they are paid to do!

  12. 262
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #258

    Hey Sally;

    It sure would, if the added Infra Red energy was in the frequency band of CO2 photonic emission and not in the 15-20um band. The increased detected energy appears to be both up-welling and in the long wave terrestrial radiative frequency band.

    If there were increases in the 280-320 nm, the 920-930 nm (short wave) band and down welling we could possibly consider the added input to match the commonly referred to Water Vapor radiative input. However, even this appears to be in question.

    By the same token if there was an obvious emission in the clear night time sky in the (I think it is) 6.2-6.4 um band down welling from a clear night sky it would appear that CO2 was a major player.

    The process is that the source solar radiative energy raises the energy level of the broad mix of chemicals in solution in the atmosphere. The problem in defining the energy flow sources is that the photons that are added bounce back and forth between all the various molecules.

    In essence, an element in atmospheric solution might get energized by the solar input and radiates this energy out at it’s fundamental frequency. This energy then radiates to a different molecule and it gets energized and radiates this energy out at its fundamental frequency which may be different then the input. This interference generally prevents a direct measurement according to most of the scientific analysis I have seen.

    (Meaning it is nearly impossible to confirm that the GW is due to the Greenhouse theory. This interference makes it difficult to determine the source of the detected energy. It raises the question, is the added energy we are currently seeing from increased solar, a more radiant earth or is it due to more feedback or “resonating” inputs? So it is nearly impossible to determine the source of the input energy and makes it very difficult to determine the participation of the various elements in climate change.)

    At this point, I get a little confused about the reasons this causes problems, as I figure that the detectable incoming energy reaching the earth is a reflection of the mix of molecules regardless of the interference. If I were to measure with high resolution the clear night sky down welling and the decay rate as opposed to the known TOA down welling and the earth up welling inputs in the various frequency bands I should be able to determine the necessary data, if I also knew the material mix in the column I was measuring. (What happens is the photons at the higher frequencies begin to ring the contributing elements which emit the lower frequencies until most of the energy can be found only at the lower frequencies.)

    Once the scientists can make direct measurements of this type, they can track the distribution of energy in the atmosphere and can see directly into the energy balance and the energy distribution paths. As the weather is supposedly driven by the distribution of heat energy and the change in the heat energy defines climate this should move climate science from a complicated nearly chaotic science to a nearly mechanical technology.

    (Of course, all of this may just be wishful thinking on my part. I had hoped that I might get to see this ability in my lifetime; however, it looks like that is not to be.)

    Dave Cooke

  13. 263
    Ron R. says:

    Every time I hear certain scientists saying that our increasingly abnormal weather is NOT being precipitated by CC I ask myself how do they know? When it EVER will be? Each incident is but a freak according to them. They seem to be unwilling to definitively commit to GW.

    I would think that this is exactly how CC will act: rising slowly but surely above the background noise until a clear signal is absolutely clear and continues to grow. It’s not going to suddenly STRIKE out of nowhere at which time we can then say “AHA!!”. People are now detecting that signal, and since to every action there is a reaction there are detectable reactions to the carbon we are pouring into the atmosphere – as there should be according to the laws of physics (- any possible Gaia-like feedbacks that we may not know about but will probably be overwhelmed anyway eventually).

  14. 264
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #258

    Hey Sally;

    Just as a quick follow up, it is quite possible that the transport of water vapor to higher then normal altitudes falling within a High Pressure can impart higher then normal AT which is independent of ToD. Meaning warmer air temperatures are not necessarily an indication of GHG influence.

    Based on the research I have done to date seems to indicate Adiabatic and Saturated Adiabatic transfer of heat and water can have a greater impact then GHG has in regard to changing air temperature; however, this has not been researched by a professional scientist to my knowledge.

    That there appears to be a question of what is heating the surface air temperatures is the primary driver for my focus on radiative measures. For me the question is not if GHG are playing a part; but, how much of a part are they playing. When I couple these observations with the data from the Swiss research into radiative increases and what until recently had appeared to have been decreased frozen precipitation means to me is that questions seem to remain.

    Dave Cooke

  15. 265
    Plato says:

    Re#254, McDonald:

    Similar arguments can be used to demolish the idea that global warming will stop the THC and cool Europe and the rest of the world as happened during the Younger Dryas. If the Arcctic ice melts and that stops the THC, then Europe and the Arctic will cool, the ice will regrow, and then the THC will restart!

    Maybe the question is more how long this will take, i.e. how much time till the ocean water temperature cools down, till it reaches the temerature state to tip the point which favors the THC?

    Why do we most focus on U.S. El Nino?

    El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a global coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon. The Pacific ocean signatures, El Niño and La Niña (also written in English as El Nino and La Nina) are major temperature fluctuations in surface waters of the tropical Eastern Pacific Ocean. The names, from the Spanish for “the child”, refer to the Christ child, because the phenomenon is usually noticed around Christmas time in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of South America.[1] Their effect on climate in the southern hemisphere is profound. These effects were first described in 1923 by Sir Gilbert Thomas Walker from whom the Walker circulation, an important aspect of the Pacific ENSO phenomenon, takes its name. The atmospheric signature, the Southern Oscillation (SO) reflects the monthly or seasonal fluctuations in the air pressure difference between Tahiti and Darwin. As of September 2006, El Niño is currently active, and is expected to continue into 2007.[2]

    ENSO is a set of interacting parts of a single global system of coupled ocean-atmosphere climate fluctuations that come about as a consequence of oceanic and atmospheric circulation. ENSO is the most prominent known source of inter-annual variability in weather and climate around the world (~3 to 8 years), though not all areas are affected. ENSO has signatures in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

    From the article:

    climate change is actually influencing El Nino (e.g. favoring more frequent and larger El Nino events).

    Can we connect El Nino with ocean currents?

    Example 1, how el nino manipulated ocean currents(eddy vortex).

    Abstract. Extremely anomalous water mass properties,
    with deviations as high as 35�, were observed in the
    thermocline during January 2001 at the Hawaii Ocean
    Time-series site north of Oahu. The spatial distribution
    of the anomalous waters is consistent with a sub-
    mesoscale vortex with radius 20-30 km, possibly a
    remnant of a mesoscale eddy. The most plausible source
    location of the anomalous waters is offshore of Mexico
    near Baja California. Given the southwestward sub-
    tropical gyre circulation, it is unlikely that these waters
    were transported directly westward to Hawaii. Unusual
    northward transport of Equatorial Waters along the
    coast by the 1997-98 El Niño event, and subsequent
    transport southwestward in the core of a mid-
    thermocline eddy is more plausible. El Niño modulation
    of eddy transport and diffusion of water mass properties
    may substantially impact biological productivity in the
    low-nutrient North Pacific subtropical gyre.

    Example 2, ocean currents fuel storms and i wonder if CO2 levels spikes can be called a positive feedback?

    It’s not just warmer water on the surface that’s powering the hurricanes; deeper warm water is too–at least in the Gulf of Mexico. Extending from the surface to a depth of 2,000 ft. or more is something scientists call the Loop Current, a U-shaped stream of warm water that flows from the YucatÃ�¡n Straits to the Florida Straits and sometimes reaches as far north as the Mississippi River delta. Hurricanes that pass over the Loop typically get an energy boost, but the extra kick is brief, since they usually cross it and move on. But Rita and Katrina surfed it across the Gulf, picking up an even more powerful head of steam before slamming into the coastal states. Even if those unlucky beelines had been entirely random, the general trend toward warmer Gulf water may well have made the Loop even deadlier than usual.

    “We don’t know the temperature within the Loop Current,” says Nan Walker, director of Louisiana State University’s Earth Scan Laboratory. “It’s possible that below the surface, it’s warmer than normal. This needs to be investigated.”

    Other greenhouse-related variables may also be fueling the storms. Temperature-boosting carbon dioxide, for example, does not linger in the atmosphere forever. Some of it precipitates out in rain, settling partly on the oceans and sinking at least temporarily out of sight. But the violent frothing of the water caused by a hurricane can release some of that entrained CO2, sending it back into the sky, where it resumes its role in the warming cycle. During Hurricane Felix in 1995, measurements taken in one area the storm struck showed local CO2 levels spiking 100-fold.,9171,1109337-3,00.html

  16. 266
    Ron R. says:

    Of course as these feedbacks are overwhelmed one would expect the rate of warming/climate change to increase as well.

  17. 267
    Sally says:

    Re: 262

    1) Is there any correlation between increased down-welling in the right wavelengths and the increase in CO2?

    2) I think I read that atmospheric CO2 throws out at 40 to 60um but you quote in nm. With all the bouncing around and the different interactions there must be a wide range of wavelengths. How would you hope to distinguish one from t’other?

    Sorry for the digression, guys.

  18. 268
    Hank Roberts says:

    David Cooke, Sally —

    That is part of a really good clear explanation of the basic science.
    Once you follow through from Arrhenius to the end of the AIP history, you’ll have a solid background in the basic physics — then the last 20 years or so can make more sense, by knowing what’s known and how it’s known.

    You won’t find the ‘more radiant Earth’ notion in there, though.

  19. 269
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #267

    Hey Sally;

    1) That appears to be part of the problem there does not appear to be significant indications in the CO2 emission spectrum.

    2) According to several sources the frequency band for CO2 emissions are in the 1.5-1.6 and again about 2.1-2.3um and should be closer to the correct value as the 40-60 um would nearly be in the microwave band if I remember correctly. (I am not sure where I got the original values I suggested, I thought it was in the CO2 laser spectrum and found out that the frequency there was between 9.2 and 10.6um.) The pyrometers at and other sites are supposed to have selective filtering for each pass band. (An easy read reference for CO2 participation can be found here: with more details here: )

    (Generally the older models only measured long wave or short wave which did not leave room for much discrimination. The newer models are supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread. Plus with the addition of The Western Pacific (TWP) sites, the capability to get values in the ITCZ along with the additional cloud measurement systems add a lot to the value (cloud parameterization and aerosol participation). (The only problem with the cloud measurements is the lack of Lidar during the night time measurements to check for the cloud density and participation.)

    As to the division of participants, the indication of decay in each pass band for a given molecular density in the region of measurement should help, especially when you have a known input levels and frequencies. I have been hoping our illustrious science teams might percieve a miracle breakthrough in detection and measurement techniques, so far nada to my knowledge.

    Dave Cooke

  20. 270
    Bruce Billedeaux says:

    While this warm winter may not be directly caused by high carbon dioxide levels, it can serve are a representation of the kind of changes that may occure if the average surface temperature continues to rise, wicth has been measured. While not directly corrolated, we must believe that we are a closed system, and any large changes will have some effect. That is just plain physics. So lets this take this winter as a picture of what could be come far more prevelant, and fix our carbon problem.

    Ironicly, I am working at a oil refinery for the next six weeks. It isamazing the amount of caron released just refining oil. Ask your grand parents how much stuff we used to dump in the rivers before “we knew” it was a problem.

  21. 271
    Sally says:

    Re: 268

    It’s the ‘more radiant sky’ that concerns me at the moment, Hank. Thanks for the link.

  22. 272

    Re “If the predictions as little as thirty years ago came true, there would be no oil left in the ground and the ozone layer would cover only one fourth of the earth. There was no talk of human induced global warming back then, only of stopping the aerosols.”

    Human-induced global warming has been discussed since Svante Arrhenius published the first paper on it in 1896. Chamberlain worked on it in the ’30s, Plass in the ’50s, Manabe and many others in the ’60s onward.

  23. 273

    Re “It seems to me that this process need not proceed to the Venusian scenario to be properly characterized as a “runaway greenhouse effect”.”

    Secular, I usually agree with your points on this blog, but I think you’re a bit off on this one. A “runaway greenhouse effect” has a specific meaning in planetary astronomy, involving a water-vapor feedback that gets out of control and boils the oceans. I think Sagan first proposed it for Venus in a paper in 1961, and you can find discussions of it in Houghton’s “The Physics of Atmospheres” and the much more technical Goody and Yung’s “Atmospheric Radiation.” You’re probably right that the public in general uses the term in a different sense, but then, they probably do that for “evolution” and “quantum leaps” too. :)

  24. 274

    Re ” As I’ve mentioned many times before, “runaway” does not in and of itself indicate permanent runaway, but could indicate limited runaway (or positive feedback situations) that eventually stops, stabilizes, then reverses.”

    But “runaway” means just that. It means the process gets out of control and only stops when one of the resources involved runs out. It doesn’t mean something that stabilizes on its own. That would be “run a little way and then settle down.”

  25. 275
    Hank Roberts says:

    >more radiant sky

    You’ll get good info on this from the infrared astronomy pages. It’s quite well understood which molecules absorb which wavelengths. The CO2 absorbs and re-emits infrared (except for narrow ‘windows’), that’s why the sky is bright in the infrared (except for those ‘windows’).

    In the very top of the atmosphere, an infrared photon has a chance to get away — to go out into space rather than to be caught by another CO2 molecule or the ground or the astronomer’s IR telescope as background.

    “Infrared astronomy is carried out in a series of windows in the atmosphere that allow us to see out into space. In between, the atmosphere is largely or totally opaque. Infrared radiation is absorbed by …. The very same gases that make life on our planet possible by causing a natural greenhouse effect block the radiation that we wish to detect from space. The amount of carbon dioxide, ozone and methane are quite stable all over the Earth and from night ….

    “Around 15 microns Carbon dioxide completely blocks out infrared radiation from space. …”

    Here is another good page showing these emission and absorbtion bands as seen from the astronomer’s point of view:

    “There are specific wavelengths in the infrared though called “bands” that can reach the surface; but for the most part, infrared light is absorbed by water vapor and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. J, H, and K are bands often observed in the infrared because they correspond to wavelengths that are observable on the surface. They correspond to wavelengths of 1.25, 1.65, and 2.20 microns respectively.”

    That’s how the greenhouse gases affect Earth’s radiating heat into space, by capturing it and re-emitting it so the whole sky is bright in those wavelengths.

  26. 276
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #268

    Hey Hank;

    For right now I concur with Sally, I had started on the radiative path exploration 7 years ago and the tools that were available had limited capabilities compared to what they have today. So I had backed off and looked into the aerosol and water vapor transport mechanics. (Try picking out the character of emission of H2O as opposed to CO2 when the short wave detector has a non-linear 9db sensitivity with a bandwidth from 300 nm to 3.2um.)

    The work by P. Chaung et al (2006) at now places the CCN large particle versus small particle argument in question as to regards of the apparent lack of CCN necessary for the formation of condensation surfaces. (The explanation I think is going to relate to the differences in coalition of liquids and surface as opposed to frozen crystal coalition.)

    The CloudSat and Calipso water vapor transport experimental packages have only begun adding to the knowledge base. Therefore, it will take some time to begin to get more in-depth confirmation of the physics involved. (The Colorado State ground based Lidar seems to demonstrate that the Rossby or Kelvanic waves are involving more then the troposphere / tropopause. It appears there is now involvement of the Stratosphere thickness and possibly involves some of the temperature transfer to/with the mesosphere. So until the cloud formation and water vapor condensation and heat transfer physics are clarified I am going back to explore the radiative physics.

    Other then that I am comfortably aware of the laymen level of physics that go into the current strong opinions regarding GHG participation. I continue looking for the smoking gun that will either confirm or deny the current beliefs. Logical associations or indirect correlations trouble me as a basis for significant changes in the current economic infrastructure. (Especially, when the science supporting the next generations energy sources has not been resolved, Fusion, economic Fuel Cells, inexpensive Photo-Voltaic Cells, … etc.)

    Dave Cooke

  27. 277
    John Monro says:

    Hello everyone from a cold New Zealand.

    Fascinating post, fascinating thread. I am originally from the UK, and indeed, those islands are experiencing record high temperatures, the warmest autumn ever recorded (and remember that UK data go back further than anywhere else) and a friend from Helsinki wrote to me, and said the weather “weird”. However, down in our little green islands, we have had, partly as a consequence of El Nino, one of the coldest Decembers ever recorded. Indeed, where I live in Wellington, we have born the brunt of persistent cold southerlies, and apart from being cold, it has been the windiest spring in Wellington ever recorded, in the 91 days of official spring, 79 of those days have recorded wind speeds of 60 kph or greater. See this NZ Herald Article Now that is WINDY, as I can vouch by personal experience.

    Local climate change deniers have been using our unusual weather to claim that global warming is a myth, thereby neglecting the experience of 99% of the rest of the world’s population, such as you folk in the US or in Europe. Indeed we have in New Zealand a group, the so-called “NZ Climate Science Coalition” who have done precisely this. They have just released a painfully silly and very misleading media release, which you can read here , but I append here in any case:

    Global And NZ Temperatures Are Cooling, Not Warming

    Figures just released by the U.S. National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) show that mean global temperature for 2006 was 0.24 deg C cooler than it was in 1998.

    The seven years 1999 to 2005 were also cooler than 1998.

    Unlike air temperature measured by thermometers on the ground, NSSTC data comes from highly accurate measurements by satellites, correct to one tenths of a degree C.

    NSSTC is a research organization partnership between NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama universities, US federal agencies and industry. click here

    “This data suggests global warming might have stopped eight years ago, in line with what might be expected from the natural cycles of warming and cooling that are common features of climate” said Professor Augie Auer, chairman of the scientific panel of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition.

    “It comes two days after the statement by the NIWA National Climate Centre that New Zealand can expect cooler but drier than average conditions over the next three months. This prompts the question: how much more cooling will have to occur before NIWA will admit that global warming is not happening.

    “We know that emissions of carbon dioxide are still occurring, which prompts a further question: for how much longer can NIWA support claims by the present government that CO2 causes catastrophic warming, and needs to be curbed by the imposition of special taxes or emission charges. Surely it’s now time to put a stop to these sensationalist claims, which are not supported by verifiable scientific data” said Professor Auer.

    What is particularly egregious about this nonsensical rubbish, is that Augie Auer, an immigrant from the US, is a well know professional meteorologist, this is part of his c/v – During his 22 years of service as a Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Wyoming USA, with tenure both as an educator and research meteorologist, Augie Auer took sabbatical leave from university life and worked with the former New Zealand Meteorological Service in 1984-1985. Emigrating to New Zealand in 1990, as Chief Meteorologist for the MetService from his arrival until 1998, Augie Auer was responsible for the improvement and updating of the technical competence of the MetService weather forecasting staff. His frequent liaison between the media and the MetService during major weather events, and his accurate interpretations, endeared him to the nation.

    It is not surprising that the public remains confused about global warming science, when a man with such credentials should so abuse the scientific principals that he has previously avowed. I have written him a very pointed e-mail.

    Another member of the “NZ Climate Science Coaltion” is a man named Owen McShane. It was he who said, as environmental correspondent for the “Business Review” in New Zealand, in an interview in the Dominion Post “I don’t give a stuff for future generations. They can take care of themselves. It’s immoral to care for someone who hasn’t been born yet”. I think that just about sums up the moral position of many global warming deniers, it certainly is a most convenient intellectual and ethical cop-out.

  28. 278
    SecularAnimist says:

    Barton Paul Levenson wrote:

    A “runaway greenhouse effect” has a specific meaning in planetary astronomy, involving a water-vapor feedback that gets out of control and boils the oceans […] You’re probably right that the public in general uses the term in a different sense

    Then what would the correct term be for a scenario where anthropenic global warming has heated the Earth to the point where self-reinforcing feedbacks (albedo changes, release of carbon and methane from warming soils and thawing permafrost, die-off of phytoplankton, etc) are increasing GHG concentrations as much or more than humans are, and as far as we can tell will continue to do so indefinitely, beyond human control, even if humans stop all of their GHG emissions?

  29. 279
    Nick Barnes says:

    I suspect that by “update 1/9/06”, you mean “update 2007-01-09″.

    [Response: Oops, yes thanks! Fixed. -mike]

  30. 280
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Then what would the correct term be for a scenario where …


  31. 281

    Re “Then what would the correct term be for a scenario where anthropenic global warming has heated the Earth to the point where self-reinforcing feedbacks (albedo changes, release of carbon and methane from warming soils and thawing permafrost, die-off of phytoplankton, etc) are increasing GHG concentrations as much or more than humans are, and as far as we can tell will continue to do so indefinitely, beyond human control, even if humans stop all of their GHG emissions?”

    “Global warming with geophysical feedbacks?”

  32. 282
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: What to call self sustaining warming caused by accumulated phenomena?

    In regards to the discussion I believe an appropriate term may be “avalanche”. This term should indicate an issue in which participant factors build up until the point the physical bounds are breached and the potential energy is released as kenetic energy and continues until the energy resource reaches entropy. The suggestion of GWA or Global Warming Avalanche may be an appropriate substitue term that many english speaking layman participants would be both comfortable with and may be descriptive of the phenomena.

    Dave Cooke

  33. 283

    The term “avalanche” has the advantage that it implies a small fixed change rather than the gigantic leap that “runaway” implies. Any change that might happen will most likely be of the same order as the abrupt changes which happened in the northern hemsphere at the end of the last glacial maximum and at the end of the mini-glacial – the Younger Dryas. Note both were in a warming world and temperatures rose by about 10F, 5C on average. The idea of a warming world switching into a cold one, in the same way as happened at the start of the Younger Dryas, is impossible as I have already explained.

    The problem with the term ‘runaway’ is that in many peoples minds it is associated with Venus, but a jump to that type of temperature, or even that where the oceans boil, is also impossible because before that could happen clouds would form which would reflect the solar energy, and so limit the maximum temperature.

    OTOH, ‘avalanche’ does not quite give the correct idea. With an avalanche, after it has created its damage, people can wait for summer and the snow to melt. Then they recover and get on with their lives. When an abrupt climate change happens, the climate will flip, and after that has happened the world will not recover. It will be changed for ever. Well, at least until long after our grandchildren and their grandchildren, if they survive to have them, have left this planet.

    The problem is that people like Roger Peilke Jr, Gavin Schmidt, and Sir Nicolas Stern do not believe or even know that this can happen. They are almost like people who refuse to take out fire insurance because they don’t believe that their house can burn down. (“Well, it is made of bricks and bricks don’t burn.”)

    Even Cecilia Bitz was surprised when her sea ice model showed a sharp drop in ice. We are heading for disaster, and calling people “Chicken Little” or denying that it can happen will not help.

  34. 284
    Sally says:

    Re: New term for self-sustaining climate change.

    I do not doubt the power of this blog to put a new term into circulation, so I think we need to be careful about the perception of the terminology. I was thinking of suggesting ‘automatic’ but realised that it might be used as in ‘we can’t do anything about it.’ I’m not sure whether ‘avalanche’ might be labelled alarmist and ‘runaway’ has been rejected because of it’s astronomical use.

    Having said this, I confess I am unable to think of a more appropriate term; one which indicates the potential for catastrophic climate change, without inducing a sense of helplessness or attracting cries of alarmism.

    Meanwhile, can someone tell me where this sudden big freeze throughout the mid-west fits into the whole El Nino scenario? I’ll echo an earlier post asking whether anyone is studying the jet stream and is there an index of it that tells us anything?

  35. 285
    Hank Roberts says:

    Sally, the NOAA page Jan. 12 story addresses your question, about how the current freezing conditions and jet stream location fit:

  36. 286


    There are two terms already used: rapid climate change and abrupt climate change. However, they do tend to have the connotation of a cooling caused by the THC in the North Atlantic stopping, an extremely unlikely event since a vast proglacial lake the size of Lake Agassiz is not sitting in the middle of North America.

    I do have a suggestion for a new name though – a climate excitation. In other words the climate leaps up into a higher temperature level, just as an atom does when it is excited by a photon.

    Is it better to be alamist and warn people so that they can be prepared, or is it better to keep quiet because you think they will not take action anyway? Surely the former is the correct answer, but if you are too alamist they won’t believe you anyway cf. Cassandra.

    The point to realise about the climate is that the atmosphere has a fixed mass. If one region gets high pressure then another has to get low pressure. When this happens the air flows from the high pressure area to the low pressure area. Low pressure is caused by warm or damp air rising. Damp air is less dense than dry air! Thus with the parts of the US having warm damp winters, I assume the cold air is being dragged from the Arctic over the mid-west to replace the rising air elsewhere.

    Another way of looking at it is that the jet steam is wiggly. It can stay at the same average latitude, but if a cold wiggle is over the mid west then it will be cold there. If the jet stream twists eastward then the east coast gets the wiggle and will be cool, while the mid west warm. Therefore the weather can change quickly, even if the climate is unchanged.

    So the atmosphere is like a water bed, if you force it down in one place it will pop up somewhere else. This is probably what is happening in India where there is record cold. The Indian Ocean is warmer than normal causing rising air, which is replaced by cold air from the Tibetan Plateau. These cold winds are cooling India. During the summer when the continent becomes warmer than the sea, the air flow is reversed and and the warm wet air from the ocean is drawn inland causing the monsoon.


    Cheers, Alastair.

  37. 287
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #283

    Hey Alistar;

    What about the term avalanche diode. Given the time period after entropy has been reached the CO2 -> fructose or sucrose and O2 would likely restart the system all over again, after most of the current terrestrial life forms have been reduced back to single celled or simple multi-celled organisms… Does the time period really matter?

    Dave Cooke

  38. 288
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: Misspelling:

    Hey Alastair;

    My apologies about mispelling your name!


  39. 289
    Ike Solem says:

    Regarding #259, NOAA’s public behavior has been outrageously unscientific for some time now (as has the EPA’s) but the problem is (as you say) with the newly appointed administrative heads, not the rank-and-file. Unfortunately, there are a few who curry favor and put personal advancement over scientific integrity, as usual.

    In the NBC interview cited in the comments, meteorologist Dennis Feltgen of NOAA said â��Itâ��s not global warming at all, Brian. It is El Nino, El Nino, El Nino.â�� Then on came NBC News Chief Science Correspondent Robert Bazell, who said: “Climate scientists say there is no question that the immediate cause of the unusually warm weather in the Northeast this winter is El Nino, a natural warming of the ocean halfway around the world.”

    Now take a look at the recent El Nino assessment from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology :

    “Summary: El Niño showing signs of weakening (Jan 10, 2007)

    All the main ENSO indicators show that the El Niño event has begun to weaken. This bodes well for a switch towards wetter conditions across Australia sometime in the late summer or autumn. The timing of the weakening also fits in well with that observed during previous events, although it is still possible for there to be renewed strengthening of the El Niño event for a month or two before it finally dissipates.”

    So, what does this all mean? NOAA was also predicting a steep decline in El Nino (unlike the Met Office) – but now things get weird. Under Mid-Latitude Storms (RC) I posted a link to the NOAA El Nino prediction (NCEP) output, which previously had a graph showing a strong decline in El Nino – now it is a blank field – updated today, Jan 14, 2007. The Met Office still has their graph up.

    One possibility is NOAA hasn’t updated their model after a new run… the other is that the political appointees who run NOAA now want to blame the unseasonable winter warmth on El Nino, and the graph was inconvenient. This is the kind of thing that happens when politicians are chosen to run science programs – they distort the science to serve their political agendas, which in this case appear to be preventing real action on reducing CO2 emissions and funding renewable energy programs.

    This article (thanks to mike!) has clearly spelled out the actual science involved in analyzing our anomalous winter warmth; in particular the plots showing similar temperature distributions during last year’s La Nina as compared to now were illuminating. It’s also noticeable that there’s no discussion on NBC of the role of El Nino in disrupting hurricane formation this past fall. (Gray and Klotzbach, noted climate contrarians, were predicting nine hurricanes back in May 2006, and and 82% chance of landfall; in actuality five formed and none hit the US).

    It seems to be that more frequent El Ninos are linked to global warming in the public’s mind, and so are not to be discussed, unless necessary to draw attention away from more unusual weather patterns, and certainly not in connection with suppressing hurricanes.

  40. 290
    Hank Roberts says:

    This is the source for the NOAA forecast images:

    One of the four monthly forecasts is up at the moment, the other three are blank as I post this.

    All four of the seasonal forecasts are up, this is one:

  41. 291
    Ike Solem says:

    #290 – Thanks! That’s still very strange. Why would NOAA forecasters be saying it’s “El Nino, El Nino, El Nino”? I followed that link from the Australian BOM model summary page; that link is still blank.

    In any case, blaming what is shaping up to be the warmest winter in US records on a moderate El Nino is indefensible – particularly when we are incapable of blaming ‘any single event’ on global warming – isn’t the same thing true for El Nino? A very selective use of accurate scientific terminology, wouldn’t you say?

    The statement made by Dennis Feltgen to the Washington Post was “We’re in an El Nino, which has absolutely nothing to do with global warming” – which isn’t true either; the accurate statement would be “El Nino frequencies and intensities may be increased by global warming, but the relationship is difficult to pin down, though it is what models predict.”

    Feltgen does say that “without global warming, it might be 68 or 70, instead of 73” – but that is just nonsense – what possible basis could he have for such a claim?

    See The Impact of Greenhouse Warming on the El Niño Southern Oscillation. Most of the media is doing an amazingly poor job of covering the issue – “climate paranoia” seems to be the most widely used phrase in much of the coverage, or “the world is not coming to an end” – nothing but smug dismissal.

  42. 292
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #289

    Hey Ike;

    It is not unusual in forecasts, if there remain questions about future events and you do not have enough data or the data demonstrates an inconclusive forecast to delay posting the data. At this point I suspect that NOAA has indicators of both a receding ENSO and a build up of factors that would normally lead to a EL Nino. This seems to fit Steve Sadlov’s original idea, if the ENSO were to have multiple modes, rather then a simple Positive, Neutral and Negative. It appears to point to the possibility of multiple interactions that contribute to the ENSO, SIO, NAO or any multi-decadal oscillation. The issue now is to ferret out the contributing elements!

    I understand your concern over the NOAA responsiveness seems to create a question in your mind; however, I suggest that not everyone that disagrees with the basic postulate of the physics of CO2s contribution is undermining the physics by attempting to manipulate the data. To some in the field the data is only that, it is what you do with the data that provides knowledge. Ignoring basic available data because it does not fit the mold is false science on both extremes…:-) . Just as withholding a conclusion until you have more confidence in the trend forecast is also a sign of good science.

    In the meantime, note that if Global Warming were a primary contributor to the current weather, I still go back to the old Clear Night Sky Radiative Measurement not the night time temperature. What is the decay in Terrestrial temperate at six feet under a clear night sky today as opposed to say 52 years ago for a given day over say 50 years. Has the range in temperature drop declined significantly over the last 150 years, if so you might have an example of GW trend. Now if you can prove this trend over 150 years since the expansion of the human population and no indications of it prior you might have the proof for AGW. Not saying that the logic and derivations are wrong only there are many factors and some we may not have considered as we attempt to gather even more knowledge about this wonderful world we have.

    Sometimes it gets a little frustrating when there is possible direct evidence and it seems to be unimportant because it is not flashy enough or there are too many possible other explanations. The truth is there is likely enough direct evidence in night time radiation, water vapor and barometric differentials that if CO2 was significantly the participant everyone says it is that there would be indications of it in even the simplest of measures, temperatures not included. If you can resolve this issue, it is likely you can also go back, figure out the ENSO contributors as well, helping to bolster the NOAA confidences in their forecasts.

    Dave Cooke

  43. 293
    Rhampton says:

    I consider the declining ratio of carbon isotopes in the oceans to be the “smoking gun” for anthropogenic CO2 in global warming.

    CO2 Pollution and Global Warming
    by Roberta C. Barbalace
    Environmental Chemistry, November 7, 2006

    It becomes important to determine the source of the increase in CO2 from 280 to 380 parts per million by volume between 1800 and 2005.

    Isotopes of carbon may hold a key to determining the source of the increased carbon in the atmosphere. The studies are based on the ratio of the three different carbon isotopes in atmospheric CO2. Carbon has three possible isotopes: C-12, C-13 and C-14. C-12, which has 6 neutrons, is by far the most prevalent carbon isotope and is a stable isotope. Carbon 13 is also a stable isotope, but plants prefer Carbon 12 and therefore photosynthetic CO2 (fossil fuel or wood fuels) is much lower in C-13 than CO2 that comes from other sources (e.g.: animal respiration) Carbon-14 is radioactive.

  44. 294
    cat black says:

    Re #286: There is an interesting/funny panel comic on the pros/cons for being an alarmist or not here:

    I keep it taped up on the wall of my cube. It pays to be reminded.

  45. 295
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #293

    Hey Rhampton;

    That may be a possible indication; however, it is not a direct indication as there are more means of corrupting the mix of isotopes that then are likely with radiative input. The output of the fires from the Iraq oil wells coupled with the possible methane hydrates and rampant forest fires have recently generated sufficient amounts to corrupt the Anthropogenic sources versus the above mentioned or even volcanic contributions. Granted the total associated with human contribution is higher then any one of the other sources; however, the combination of the other sources would be enough to upset the ratios. Especially when the the ratio of human to natural participation in annual CO2 generation is .037:1.

    The primary reason I am invoking proof of the radiant increase is simply that is the described mechanism that is supposedly associated with GHG rise. That there is a question of the radiant increase, seems to put the theory of how GHG are supposed to contribute to GW in question.

    In the meantime, I added a few links that suggest some interesting aspects of data regarding your reference.

    When the foraminifera data is reviewed in long term analysis, such as: ,

    seems to put the relationship between the indicated data and the fossil evidence in question.

    Then we have the incident regarding the earlier cooling indications in the Calcium Carbonate and Carbon oxide concentration in solution in the oceans as seen here:

    Data worth associating with the Carbon Oxide work should also relate to the GISP2 project. Here is a image attributing the use of fossil fuels to the indicatons in the ice cores. (I remain curious if the mix between soft and hard coal used in combustion during this period had been taken into consideration.)

    The point is though there is data that seems to both share and deny the relationships of isotope ratios, the mechanism for GHG warming does not appear in the data base over the last 7 years to my knowledge.

    Dave Cooke

  46. 296
    Matt says:

    Wow all these long posts. Here in New Zealand we have had a year averaging 0.2 degrees C less than our 1971-2000 levels. Typical of El nino where 5 degrees C temp diff works from west to east. THis is also consistant with cool siberian temps. Anyway thsi has been the coldest year for ages, sure 2007 will be hotter all i’m saying is don’t underestimate el nino. We had snow on the hills in december (thats summer down here folks)

  47. 297
    SecularAnimist says:

    This comment is not only “anecdotal” and related to local weather, but it is entirely qualitative and subjective.

    I live in the Washington DC area. I went for a walk in a nearby park this past Saturday afternoon, January 13. It was quite damp, with occasional light drizzle, and the temperature was around 65 degrees (F). I was thinking that it felt like spring had come in January.

    Then it occurred to me: no, it doesn’t feel like spring. It doesn’t feel like spring at all.

    It was not just the strangeness of having 65 degree days in January, at the wrong time of year. The weather itself was strange, somehow … unnatural. It made me think of descriptions I’ve heard of the eerie calm in the eye of a hurricane, or the nervous electrical tension in the air that precedes a thunderstorm.

    Perhaps instrumental readings of humidity and temperature would have shown that it was “like spring”, but it didn’t feel like spring at all. Winter was still there, somehow, in the background — perhaps in the low angle of the winter sun, in the trees empty of leaves, in a damp chill underlying the warm air, in other ways that I can’t put words to. The warmth and humidity was not the warmth and humidity of spring. It was someting different, something … anomalous.

    That evening, I saw a mosquito.

  48. 298
    John L. McCormick says:

    Secular/Animist, did it feel tropical? It sure did to me. And on January 15, I swatted a mosquito or two also…in Washington, D.C.

  49. 299
    SecularAnimist says:

    John L. McCormick wrote: “did it feel tropical? It sure did to me.”

    It felt like, to borrow James Hansen’s phrase, “a different planet”.

    It felt unearthly.

  50. 300
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Okay, re “runaway warming”: “PETM-like” would have no meaning for the man in the street, nor would “GW with geophysical feedbacks.” “Avalanche,” though not too bad, sounds weird. And “rapid” as I mentioned before is too general and not descriptive enough.

    I still think it’s perfectly all right to use a word that is also in use for something else that is a bit similar (but different). Otherwise what would you call it when a horse takes the bit in his mouth and gallops off like crazy and the rider can’t stop him? Should we stop talking about “runaway” horses, because it’s been copyrighted by Venus?

    So, there could be different types of “runaway” (positive feedback) situations, and different mechanisms that stablize or reverse the “runaway” condition after some time. What the person in the street might be concerned about is not earth 3 billion years from now when the sun gets very hot and causes venusian-like runaway conditions, so much as what’s happening now & in the near future, involving his/her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

    I think the term “runaway” is quite descriptive and easy to understand (as “runaway” from human control & spiralling warming) for this PETM-like situation we may be facing in the near future. It’s the perfect term.

    I’m just asking you science guys, let us use this word for this meaning. Broaden the term, give it subtypes. Work with us on this. Maybe when asked about “Is runaway warming possible in the (geological) near term,” you could say (knowing full well the person is not asking about it getting 1,000 degrees hotter, but only becoming fairly dangerous for much of biota on earth), “Yes, a type of runaway that could mean cataclysm for our way of life is possible, though not nearly to the extent of what happened on Venus.” And then get into the particulars of what could happen, and how it would be different from runaway on Venus.

    Is that too much to ask?