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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. 301
    Hank Roberts says:

    > PETM-like
    dislike that?

    E.O. Wilson, among others, has answered the question.

    This era is the Sixth Great Extinction.
    Good compilation of links here:

    Why is this appropriate? Because the law is not only on the books, it’s been to the Supremes several times. The Endangered Species Act and the sense behind it gives enough reason to take the steps needed, assuming the current Supremes don’t overturn the law.

    1978: The Supreme Court rules that the Endangered Species Act … “plain intent” of the law, say six of the nine members, is to save all species “whatever the cost.”
    1995 the Supreme Court affirms, by a six-to-three vote, that alteration of a listed species’ habitat is considered a taking” of that species and can be regulated by the Fish & Wildlife Service.

    If you could stop a large asteroid from hitting the planet by enforcing a law, would you not?
    We can have that much of an effect, because we can decide not to make it worse, at any point, if we have the intelligence to design the outcome.

    Other terms are on offer:

    “… we must face the fact that the Cenozoic, the Age of Mammals which has been in retreat since the catastrophic extinctions of the late Pleistocene is over, and that the Anthropozoic or Catastrophozoic has begun.” –Michael Soulè (1996)

  2. 302
    Urs Neu says:

    Amendment to 207

    As I noticed when using NCEP Reanalysis data for temperature analysis, there are problems with surface temperature trends. As I have learnd from the NCEP scientists (thanks to Wesley Ebisuzaki) NCEP reanalysis does not include surface measurements but relies on the model forecast results which depend among others on the land-surface model and the boundary-layer properties. These in turn depend on snow cover analysis. NCEP had to change the snow cover analysis in 1998 because the former used analysis was stopped. This discontinuity may produce artificial trends in the snow/no-snow transition regions, i.e. e.g. in the midlatitudes in winter over land, including Europe and the U.S. However, the missing trend in Europe winter temperatures since 1970 cannot be explained by a discontinuity in 1998. There might be additional problems.
    Thus: Caution is advised when using reanalysis data for near surface temperature anomalies and trends, especially in the midlatitudes in winter.

    To avoid misinterpretation: surface temperature measurements are not included in the reanalysis, because the reanalysis calculates absolute temperatures. Most measurement stations are not on the level of a grid point, they might be influenced by local effects and might have problems with calibration, thus there would be the problem to correct for all these effects.

    On the other hand, global temperature anomalies are calculated from anomalies of the individual stations. In the case of anomalies height above sea level, local effects and systematic measurement errors (if consistent over time) are unimportant. Thus the calculation of global temperature anomalies and corresponding trends is much more reliable than absolute global or regional temperature data.

    [Response: Thanks for the comment Urs. I agree that NCEP shouldn’t be used for trends, for the reasons you mention, and for other reasons (e.g. discontinuities due to the introduction of satellite data in the 70s). Trenberth and others have written extensively on this. As it happens, it does a good job for the ENSO composites. In fact, the GUI I used (and provided a link to in the first comment on this thread) allows you to use climate division temperature data rather than the NCEP product. Using the climate division data shows the same thing. -mike]

  3. 303
    matt says:

    Someone mentioned the NZ climate coalition or something, I used to comment there until they got spammed out of existance, most of us commenting were not climate skeptics myself and despite appearances nor am I. the NZ climate coalition is a dogs breakfast, just like Al Gore’s movie (Sorry I know you all like that thing)

  4. 304
    matt says:

    Mr Barton I don’t want the math. but isn’t 1 watt per square metre rise approx a 3% increase (from 35 watt per metre square) which would correlate to a 1K rise or more alone on a 33K we get from our atmosphere hence being more than enough without atmospheric involvement. Please unconfuse me or at least give me a link that will “learn me” :) No doubt i’m all mixed up on that one.

  5. 305
    David Price says:

    Re post no.2 In England flowers were blooming in to December. Even in Northumberland(near Scotland)a farmer had a crop of raspberries in early December.
    The trouble is in England ElNino’s ruin our summers. In the previous warmest year of 1998 it never stopped raining in July. It made me sceptical about the temperature readings, although then as now the winter was very mild.

  6. 306
    Michael Mott says:

    This morning I heard that the California winter crop had suffered severely as a result of a winter chill,
    Would this be related to jet stream shifts caused by climqate change.

    Michael mott

  7. 307
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #233 – El Nino, as well as other causals, which result in an exagerated Azores High, tend to, via the wave formed in the Jet Stream, result in more snow and more frequent Arctic outbreaks affecting the vast swath from the Levant over to, roughly, the Southeastern-most Himalaya spurs in SE Asia. Witness this season’s snow cover in Kurdistan, and recent record cold and near record cold temperatures in the Persian Gulf and Indian Subcontinent.

  8. 308
    Hank Roberts says:

    You can’t say any individual weather event is attributable to climate change. The prediction is that variability will increase. This was called a “record-breaking” freeze, whatever that means.

    California will have climate history info online here:

    But there’s nothing much available yet at that site.

  9. 309
    mark s says:

    I’m sure someone will tell me its rubbish, but what about ‘uncontrollable global warming’.

  10. 310
    Daniel says:

    Hi! Thanks for a great site about the global warming. I also think this is a big problem that we all have to take serious. I participate in a Seo championchip were we spread the message about the globalwarming awareness2007. Hopefully it will alert some important people. Check out

  11. 311
    Ike Solem says:


    Actually, I think the issues at NOAA and NWS are more political in nature and less scientific; they appear to be under political pressure to deny the significance of anthropogenic global warming. Their ‘anomalous behavior’ has included things like taking down the Reynolds Sea Surface Temperature page for a while (post-Katrina) and then switching from the 1961-1990 ‘baseline’ to the 1971-2000 baseline (which reduces the values of the anomalies)

    Their climatology page still asserts that

    “CO2-induced tropical cyclone intensity changes are unlikely to be detectable in historical observations and will probably not be detectable for decades to come.”

    There is a gread deal of evidence to the contrary (which has been discussed at RC: Tighter Hurricane Intensity-SST link and also at RC: Hurricanes and global warming.) The main sources NOAA uses to support that claim are Gray, Pielke, and Landsea – noted climate contrarians.

    Furthermore, there is the noted case of a political monitor telling NOAA scientists not to speak to the press about global warming. Take this together with the NWS claims that the strange weather is due to “El Nino, El Nino, El Nino” (which really doesn’t seem to fit with the current cold snap from California to Texas which is wiping out citrus crops; as I recall, you’d have very wet-warm conditions in a major El Nino) and the whole picture at NOAA/NWS looks like one where politics trumps science.

    There are also record high winter temperatures in Russia

  12. 312

    Re “Mr Barton I don’t want the math. but isn’t 1 watt per square metre rise approx a 3% increase (from 35 watt per metre square) which would correlate to a 1K rise or more alone on a 33K we get from our atmosphere hence being more than enough without atmospheric involvement. Please unconfuse me or at least give me a link that will “learn me” No doubt i’m all mixed up on that one.”

    I’m not sure where the 35 W/m2 figure comes from. If you want an overview of how the greenhouse effect works, I have some short articles about it here:

  13. 313
    TRB says:

    In response to #10 – a quick point about Katrina: this was not a particularly strong storm, just a storm which unfortunately landed on the bullseye.

  14. 314
    matt says:

    Thanks Barton, I did an environmental physics paper like 9 years ago, I was out by an order of magnitude at least, I think my Physics lecturer would be ashamed….. The thing is I now have no idea where the hell that 35W m sq came from. Anyway your link is very good, THanks

  15. 315
    Stan says:

    so what does this all mean? I live in Philadelphia and we have been at 70 degrees one day and 22 the next day, Snow one minute with the tempeture at 35 and sunshine the next with tempetures increasing to 47. what is in store for us the rest of this winter into the summer?

  16. 316
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #315

    Hey Stan;

    What I think it means is that the Jet Stream has split at a very strong Low pressure area over the Eastern Siberia region and the split is being reinforced by a weaker Low in the Mid N. Pacific. So you have a series of meanders between the northern flow and the southern flow that are mixing it up over the central N. American Continent.

    When you couple this trend with the strong low pressure that has formed over the NW European region it appears this same characteristic will extend to the Euro-Asian continent as well over the next few weeks. If the polar High and the Artic high near Finland join up it is possible that the split in the jet stream could re-merge and the lows in the 60 Deg. N region could encirle the globe providing a strong westerly wind at between 45 and 60 Deg. N tansporting much of the Arctic Ocean heat to space. It is likely going to depend what happens with the weak surface high pressure zones stretching across in the Euro-Asian region at about 35 Deg. N.

    (Here is a link so that you can see it for yourself, (pay particular attention to the 15 Jan – 18 Jan 07,
    250mb and the 850mb NH Analysis barometric energy
    transport paths): )

    Dave Cooke

  17. 317
    Ike Solem says:

    Well, you can look back and compare the current situation to the 1997-1998 El Nino.

    Here is the Reynolds SST plot for this week, Jan 1998 from Australian BOM. Straight SST’s for 1998 are here.

    Here is the current (Jan 2007) situation, also from Australian BOM. The straight SST graph from Jan 2007 is here

    The data is nicely compiled at the Australian BOM past BMRC ocean analysis. It’s well organized and easy to access.

    This, by the way, is why the shift of NOAA’s baseline from 1961-1990 to 1971-2000 for the purpose of calculating anomalies is problematic: how do you compare different years when you’re switching the baseline? Also, I couldn’t find archival data from before 2006 on the NOAA server – the ‘archival data’ page only covers the past year!

    Here is the NOAA analysis of the current anomaly 2007. If you compare this to the Australian version, there is one glaring difference – look at the artic regions. The large (purple) anomaly in near-arctic water temperatures shown in the Australian version is absent from the NOAA chart!

    NOAA’s NCEP model page also has this cryptic statement: “Base period for bias correction is 1983-2003” Wouldn’t that skew the results? The contact person for this at NOAA is

    Regarding #316, you seem to be trying to make a long-range weather forecast; climatology is something different. More generally, climate predictions are for drier continental interiors and generally wetter continental-ocean boundaries as global warming proceeds, but the exact location of this transition will probably fluctuate all over the place – resulting in unprecedented weather fluctations, which is probably what’s going on.

  18. 318
    L . David Cooke says:

    RE: #317

    Hey Ike;

    Stan had posed a weather question and based on the NCEP Analysis for generally available barometric pressure zones by altitude in the NH, I projected what appeares to be a logical possibility. This is no different then our earlier discussion regarding the recent change in the EL Nino phenomena. The question we need to take away from Stan’s question is what is the El Nino signaling as it relates to barometric pressue and Jet Stream phenomena? In other words what is it that causes atmospheric oscillations and temporary stangnant barometric zones? What is it that causes positive or negative phases to these oscillations?

    Dave Cooke

  19. 319
    Arvella says:

    Hey Dave;

    I know this is off-topic, but I can’t stand it. You said, “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…”

    Um…how can you possibly consider the CO(2) from the Iraq oil fires *non*-anthropogenic? Humans drilled the oil wells, right? And humans set them on fire, yes?

    It seems to me that all CO(2) from fossil fuels is anthropogenic. Of course, there are people smarter than me posting here, and if anyone can give me an example of non-anthropogenic fossil fuel CO(2), it would actually help me sleep better. Thanks!

  20. 320
    Violin Stringer says:

    Two years ago people here in the North East US were complaining about how harsh winter was. Al Gore had to cancel his NYC talk about global warming. Interestingly, scientist/pundits were telling us on the television that harsh winters were an expected part of “climate change” (seems the term “global warming” that winter was unadvisable to use). I do remember certain scientists mentioning that we cannot judge climate change by the “local weather”.

    Now that we have a very mild winter, you are telling me that all that I was told during the harsh winter were false. That we can equate local weather with global warming (seems we can now use that term again).

    At this point, I do not know if Global Warming is real or not. I really don’t. What I do know is that people are using every Orwellian tactic to tell me that it is true. I feel that one year if the winter is harsh, we are told “Climate Change” predicts it. If the winter is mild, we are told it is “Global Warming”.

    The sad thing is you could be right about Global Warming and yet when I see people using such tactics I cannot help but doubt you with every fibre of my being. I am sorry, but you cannot be trusted.

    [Response: This is a very odd comment, as you appear to have completely misread the post, which begins with 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). Perhaps you should try reading the whole thing again – William]

  21. 321
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    CATO Expert Likes His Winters Warm and Toasty

    Pat Michaels, writing in the American Spectator says the Little Ice Age was ended by the industrial revolution, warmer winters are to be expected, they began in 1976 and are overall, a good thing. Emissions controlling legislation is pointless, climate engineering OK as long as we all decide where to set the global thermostat, preferably higher rather than lower. Sorry, but there are no plans to “increase” global average temperatures through geoengineering.

  22. 322

    Dear Violin Stringer,

    Unlike William, I do not think your comment is odd at all!

    The problem is that the climate system is complicated with several contradictions. For instance during summer the continents WARM more than the oceans, but during the winter the continents COOL more than the oceans. The seasonal response is completely the opposite.

    Last year may have had a cold day when Al Gore had to cancel a talk but … “It’s official: 2006 is the warmest year in the temperature history of the lower 48 states. The records go back to 1895, and so far, with the exception of the far West, the winter of 2006-7 hasn’t been much cooler than your average fall. Last summer was the third hottest of all.” That was written by Pat Michael, a leading global warming sceptic! See Alvia’s link So although we are getting cold weather at times, climate change is marching on.

    Global warming causes more water to be evaporated, because ncreasing temperture makes the saturation vapour pressure rise. As a result, the air contains more water vapour and therefore there is the potential for more precipitation. So when it rains or snows, then it can be much heavier than normal. Where the higher summer temperatures happen over land, the increased evaporation leads to a drying out of the vegetation and more wild fires. Where very moist air is blown from the oceans over the cold winter continents, then the heavy snow falls and ice storms which happen are not incompatible with global warming.

    No one is claiming that a heavy snow fall proves global warming is happening. The point is that it is not inconsistent with global warming.


    Cheers, Alastair.

  23. 323
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #319

    Hey Arvella;

    Sorry for the poor communications, the intent was to differentiate the contribution of isotopic corruption from “abnormal” anthropogenic and natural processes from the contribution from normal anthropogenic processes. The idea is that there is a corruptive element contribution outside of the emissions from the maintenance or growth of the human species.

    As to non-anthropogenic fossil fuel fires, prior to 1850, there are examples from oil pools and tar pits, though that is reaching a bit. Contribution by the release of methane hydrates from the ocean floor appears a strong possibility. There are indications of “blowouts” or pits near continental troughs. (Though some of these “pits” may actually be signals of crustal fractures in the sea floor, especially when there are lateral chains of these depressions.) You also have around 200 M Tons (Data available from USGS) of geologic/tectonic events that release vast amounts of CO2 that could contribute to need to correct the measured isotope values.

    Most of these variables are traceable and it should be possible to correct for the imbalance if we can get to the point of “tagging” the various source contributions. I just have not seen the adjustments described in the studies done yet. (It may be possible that the values are corrected based on references that are called into the study. As I am not a professional, it is entirely possible that the references resolve this issue. I just figure if that were the case the participants here would gladly point out, “the log in my eye”.)

    Dave Cooke

  24. 324
    Ike Solem says:

    Dave, you ask:
    “In other words what is it that causes atmospheric oscillations and temporary stangnant barometric zones? What is it that causes positive or negative phases to these oscillations?”

    That’s weather – the trajectories of winds, the high and low pressure systems and how they interact with one another – that’s the region where chaos does matter (the butteryfly flapping region) and where detailed forecasts are limited to a week or two, even assuming ‘perfect’ initial data on temp, pressure, relative humidity, etc. (let’s say one-meter-resolution of the entire atmospheric system). Climatology is the averaged weather, and there are many discussions about this on RC, for example chaos and climate and short and simple.

    What’s your source for the “200 M Tons of geologic / tectonic events that release vast amounts of CO2”? Also, the human CO2 emissions are around 6-7 billion tons per year….Are you trying to say that the radioactive isotopic (14C) evidence that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is due to human use of fossil fuels is ‘corrupt”? You are talking about science that was established at least 40 years ago

    There have been other examples of this kind of thing on RC threads – people were also trying to claim that experiments from the 1900’s that “demonstrated the atmosphere was already saturated with respect to CO2 infrared absorption” meant that global warming wasn’t possible (it turned out that six inch tubes are poor models for the atmosphere).

  25. 325
    Mike Burnett says:

    Climate is the average of the weather, so climate change cannot cause the weather to change. Rather, climate change reflects changes in the weather. It’s like a batting average. A high batting average doesn’t cause the hitter to get hits, but rather reflects the fact that he gets a lot of hits.

  26. 326
    SecularAnimist says:

    Perhaps this is off-topic although this has become a pretty wide-ranging discussion thread.

    Two important articles:

    The first discusses the soon-to-be-released Fourth Assessment Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

    Landmark UN Study Backs Climate Theory
    by Peter Gorrie
    January 19, 2007
    The Toronto Star


    A major new United Nations report shows global scientists are more convinced than ever that human activity is causing climate change, the Toronto Star has learned.

    The rate of warming between now and 2030 is likely to be twice that of the previous century, it says.

    And it concludes that most of the global warming since the middle of the last century has been caused by man-made greenhouse gases.

    The report, to be released in Paris Feb. 2, should all but end any debate on climate change and compel governments and industries to take urgent measures to deal with it, scientists say.

    The second reports that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are increasing much faster than scientist had expected:

    Surge in Carbon Levels Raises Fears of Runaway Warming
    by David Adam
    January 19, 2007
    The Guardian / UK


    Carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere much faster than scientists expected, raising fears that humankind may have less time to tackle climate change than previously thought.

    New figures from dozens of measuring stations across the world reveal that concentrations of CO2, the main greenhouse gas, rose at record levels during 2006 – the fourth year in the last five to show a sharp increase. Experts are puzzled because the spike, which follows decades of more modest annual rises, does not appear to match the pattern of steady increases in human emissions.

    At its most far reaching, the finding could indicate that global temperatures are making forests, soils and oceans less able to absorb carbon dioxide – a shift that would make it harder to tackle global warming. Such a shift would worsen even the gloomy predictions of the Stern Review which warned that we had little over a decade to tackle rising emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

    Also, yesterday (1/18) The New York Times had an article about the climate change legislation currently proposed in the Senate, with some nice charts comparing the projected effects on CO2 levels of the different proposals.

    And today (1/19) the Times has an article about a coalition of ten major corporations including “industry giants like General Electric, DuPont and Alcoa” that have “banded together with leading environmental groups to call for a firm nationwide limit on carbon dioxide emissions that would lead to reductions of 10 to 30 percent over the next 15 years.”

  27. 327
    Hank Roberts says:

    Dave, look at the rate of change in CO2 over time. I haven’t found any reports of a massive natural release of fossil carbon in the past few centuries. The amount of fossil fuels used is documented in market information. The change in the atmosphere tracks the change in human fossil fuel use.

    Yes, pits and pingos are interesting. I don’t know if they occur all through geological history, or are typical only of the brief warmest period after a glacial cycle ends. I don’t know if there’s longterm evidence of them through time, or evidence they occur after each glaciation ends.

    Either way, they’re either a longterm continuous source or one that’s been happening since the end of the last glaciation ten or eleven thousand years ago — not one that began a couple of centuries ago.

    If pingos and pits are now increasing in the last century or two, or starting to show up more as the oceans warm — that’s a feedback not yet counted on, I gather.

  28. 328
    David Price says:

    The Spectator article raised an interesting point about warming, which the poster has ignored. Namely where to set the thermostat. Do we want to remove all the excess co2 and go back to the little ice age? Does the New York want it’s arctic winters back? The pre greenhouse climate often made life very unpleasent for people living north of 40deg latitude. What is the planet’s ambient temerature? An issue so far ignored.

  29. 329
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #324

    Hey Ike;

    I will answer the question regarding the value of CO2 gasses from the USGS (I do not know if this quote is a copyright violation or not):

    “Comparison of CO2 emissions from volcanoes vs. human activities.

    Scientists have calculated that volcanoes emit between about 130-230 million tonnes (145-255 million tons) of CO2 into the atmosphere every year (Gerlach, 1999, 1992). This estimate includes both subaerial and submarine volcanoes, about in equal amounts. Emissions of CO2 by human activities, including fossil fuel burning, cement production, and gas flaring, amount to about 22 billion tonnes per year (24 billion tons) [ ( Marland, et al., 1998) – The reference gives the amount of released carbon (C), rather than CO2.]. Human activities release more than 150 times the amount of CO2 emitted by volcanoes–the equivalent of nearly 17,000 additional volcanoes like Kilauea (Kilauea emits about 13.2 million tonnes/year)!”

    Source USGS Article:

    Also note that this was in relation to the discussion regarding 12/13 C isotopes not 14C. Also, you need to be aware of the Oxygen isotopes in the compound as in combination they may form a source “tag”.

    Dave Cooke

  30. 330
    cat black says:

    re #328 [what temp] This is very nice. Yes let’s debate what is the proper temperature for the planet. Hmm let’s see… so how about we adjust the thermostat a bit to help the New Yorkers with their winters, oh and give Canada a longer growing season, and then… plunge the American Mid West into a permanent drought? And maybe sub-Saharan Africa as well? Oh and maybe submerge half the islands of the South Pacific under permanent high tides? And thaw the Arctic Circle to the destruction of vast tracts of forest land and entire species assemblages.

    Kind of a silly question, don’t you think? And notice you’re not asking THOSE affected people what they want. Sad thing is, the economies with the most to gain short-term from global warming are also the ones burning most of the fossil fuels, so the politics of “what is the best temperature” are already in play.

    We suck. I really mean that.

  31. 331
    Ike Solem says:

    Hey Dave,
    The sources of the increased CO2 in the atmosphere have been pinned down; the lines of evidence are a) carbon-14 dating of tree rings, b) the Mauna Loa CO2 record (and records of human fossil fuel use), c) the greenland and antarctic ice core measurements of preindustrial atmospheric CO2 levels, and d) the relatively higher CO2 concentrations in the Northern Hemisphere, where most of the fossil fuel is consumed. There is no question about where the additional CO2 in the atmosphere is coming from – and notice also that volcanic releases were also part of the pre-industrial atmospheric CO2 budget, as recorded in the ice cores.

    Recall that the original thread was about the role of El Nino in current weather conditions in the US, and whether or not these conditions can all be assigned to El Nino, which is the ‘official position’ of NWS and NOAA, apparently. Now, some people are saying that It’s the North Atlantic Oscillation – after all, El Nino is no explanation for record temps in Moscow.

    These patterns all fit in with what’s to be expected under global warming. It’s not a robust El Nino year, anyway – look at the graphs I posted in #317 and compare the 1998 very strong El Nino to the present one. Note also the current hurricane-force storms smashing into Europe – while none of these weather events can be ascribed to specific causes, the totality adds up to what global warming predicts.

    One bizzare switch is Patrick Michael’s piece in the American Spectator. Michaels, the author of “The Satanic Gases”, is now saying this: “That, coupled with the people’s general satisfaction with the warm winter and their prosperity as the planet warms, should provoke the real debate concerning global warming. If, in fact, we can develop technology to choose the planet’s mean temperature, where should we set it?” It’s just the next PR position for the ExxonMobil and CO2science crowd – “global warming is good for you!”

    Of course, he doesn’t reference or discuss The Stern Report on the economic effects of global warming; nor does he reveal his extensive funding from fossil fuel associations (RE#330, keep in mind this is a PR piece by the coal/oil industry – not exactly “we”). He ends his piece with “the futility of attempting to stop warming with impotent legislative acts” – which is what he’s paid to say.

  32. 332
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #331

    Hey Ike;

    First, your attribution of the current Jet Stream abnormalities to GW is an interesting assumption. That there are deviations from the normal elliptic pathways in the upper 40’s or lower 20’s has happened throughout nautical observations for hundreds of years. The hurricane events of clustered sever storms in the northern Caribbean were the scourge of the Spanish Treasure Ships. If anything, it appears that because we have improved our ability to see the mechanisms of weather and the description of climate that comes from repeated weather characteristics we have the impression that the variability we are experiencing is “special”.

    I am not disagreeing that the increase in GHG has some effect; however, the radiative contribution of a low density gas to surface energy is very small based on every direct measure I have encountered. This brings into question do we really have an accurate representation of the physics involved. The interesting thing is that now that we are beginning to collect additional data we are seeing that the mechanisms are much more complicated then we have described so far. Does this mean that the work done in the past is incorrect, absolutely not! It simply means we have much more work to do going forward.

    As to making conclusions in the absence of data, I agree that a hypothesis based on our understanding of physical processes is a valid step in the scientific process. That this has been enhanced with specific mathematical models that have been measured against the recent past changes is also part of the theory generation process. However, when the models have significant basis in atmospheric patterns and not in defined heat flow pathways, it means that we do not have the knowledge necessary to define specific theories, scientifically speaking.

    If anything trying to note the changes in the weather patterns to define the expected, weather or define climate as a science, remains as much an art as opposed to a science. Many such as Dr. Gray or Dr. Landsea have been observing the patterns for much longer then the current models have been operating and if you went back and looked at the heart of most models you will find the work of these good gentlemen at it’s core. Much has been added in the 30 years that we have had the computational resources; however, we are still in the process of just knocking on the door of Mother Nature.

    In conclusion, when we can get to the point we can isolate the physical processes out that define the heat transport variation and intensity that define atmospheric oscillations and can define specific sources and cycle start/stop and variability in heat transport we are half way to being able to understand the science of long term weather characteristics or climate. That said, if you can add to achieving this goal I welcome the conversation, if you are simply going to be an impediment in achieving this goal, then I have no interest in pursuing further conversation.

    Dave Cooke

  33. 333
    David Price says:

    Re 331
    It has to be faced that AGW will not be universally catostrophic. Some countries will win and some will lost. To predict universal catastrophie is misleading. The Stern report was wildly alarmist and from the Lovelock school of climate science. Until a more rational tone is provided public support for reductions will be hard to get.

  34. 334
    Jonathan DeVito says:

    As much as the warming would seem to be beneficial during the Winters, the rapid rate of change of average temperature indicates to me that adaptations difficulties will be almost universally disruptive if not necessarily outright catastrophic.

    Anyway, I have a simple and maybe naive question: Is the increased CO2 actually perceptible to humans? Is the increased heat content of the solar rays during the day perceptible as when, for instance, one is in an insulated building where the infrared radiation balance from walls and windows is perceptible? Scientifically, that translates to whether or not the direct to infrared re-radiation components is significantly altered to be perceptible to humans without the use of instruments?

  35. 335
    Sally says:

    Re: 333

    If I was an ant in a colony I probably would not care much what happened to other ant colonies, but I am a human being, a sentient human being, therefore I regret catastrophe, no matter who is involved in it. Reduction is beneficial on a personal scale. I love my low energy light bulbs because not only do they save electricity, but I don’t have to change the darn things. I have one of those strips in the bathroom that had six 60 watt bulbs. I replaced them with two fluorescent bulbs and went from 360 watts to 30 watts. My car gets an extra two mpg on biodiesel, and likes it. Hanging my clothes up instead of using the drier means I don’t have to pull fluff out every time. That fluff is my clothes wearing out; they last longer if I hang them up. I don’t own an iron; what makes us think fibres like hot metal pressed against them? My electricity bill is about $40 dollars a month on average. It’s a win-win situation.

  36. 336
    Hank Roberts says:

    >Is the increased heat content of the solar rays during the day perceptible

    The increased warmth of the nights is, but that’s weather not climate. If keeping a diary qualifies as

    > … without the use of instruments

    Thermometer, pen and ink acceptable? you can probably detect it over a lifetime, paying attention, keeping a diary. But the main effect of what we’ve done so far won’t hit til after this century’s over.

    Let’s see, if you want daytime, lookup “insolation” — how much would you feel if you were a solar collector, say:

    How big’s the change expected, half a watt to a few watts per square meter; and solar collectors may be collecting kilowatts per square meter.

    I wouldn’t expect the Sun to feel warmer. If anyone keeps diaries of energy collected on systems like that, it’d still be weather driving the changes, at least til they had a decades long record. If anyone out there has been running a water heater solar panel for 20 years and keeping notes, don’t throw them out ….

    These are changes you can’t detect without a _statistician_, a thermometer and a lot of data points over a long period of time — and you have to get the statistian first, to design how you are going to be collecting the data, to have a fair idea at the end whether or not you can say there’s a trend after doing the math.

  37. 337
    __earth says:

    I’m currently living in Southeast Asia. This part of the world is known to experience rain like crazy.

    Anyway, I know that El Nino is supposed to bring in drier season to Southeast Asia. However, that is not the case currently. Instead of drought, it has been raining heavy and are causing major floods (some are worst in decades! Even some part of Singapore got flooded.)

    Could it be caused global warming or really weak El Nino or something else?

  38. 338
    pirex says:

    On page 8 of NOAA’s El Nino report, you can see the ocean anomalies for the whole globe. The whole Atlantic Ocean is warmer than average and whole Pacific Ocean is colder than average along the United States. I think it’s ridiculous to blame the odd weather on El Nino which is a small portion of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Given the ocean currents operate in a counterclockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere, we would expect it to be warm on the East Coast because the Atlantic Ocean currents come from the south and we would expect it to be cold on the West Coast because the Pacific Ocean currents come from the north. The strong coastal winds that we have seen have driven the ocean surface currents to the extreme temperatures that we have seen along the coasts of the United States. Most land is in the Northern Hemisphere and most people live in the Northern Hemisphere as a result. Hence, most pollution is generated and deposited in the Northern Hemisphere. What is driving the strong winds? Heat!

    I am referring to the 1-22-07 report, since the pdf changes frequently.

  39. 339
    Steve Sadlov says:

    With the combination of recent California extreme cold events, and, what by all measures is at very least a short term drought (if not a severe multi year one, we’ll see) I am quite concerned that the current winter may be analogous to the winter of 1975 – 1976. If indeed it is followed by a winter akin to 1976 – 1977, we are going to be in a world of hurt. Most who now live in California were either not born yet then, or lived elsewhere at the time, and have no idea what I am referring to. I hope that they don’t get to find out any time soon. Incidentally, not that is means anything scientifically, but, the period 1975 – 1977 coincided with the last flip of PDO phase.

  40. 340
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #339 – To wit, from the Monterey NWS site:

    OLD RECORD OF 0.39 INCHES IN 1976.”

  41. 341
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #339

    Hey Steve;

    I remember the summer of 1976, where Folsum Lake was a mud puddle and riding down El Segundo Ave. in 118 Deg. F on my Kawi 500.

    Dave Cooke

  42. 342
    llewelly says:

    Prex – El-Ni&#241os normally raise central North American (NAM) December temps by about 2C . However, anomalous December warmth in central NAM was about 6C, and ranged up to 10C in Canada’s Northwest Territories, where historical El-Ni&#241o data would suggest only 1-2C . So I must disagree with ‘ridiculous’. The problem is that El-Ni&#241o is insufficient – it can only account for a small fraction of the unusual weather. Unusual January cold in the south east of NAM is also consistent with El-Ni&#241o . Note – the real climate provided graphs are not equivalent – one is a 90 day average and one is a 30 day average. I relied on the ERSL link I gave earlier.

  43. 343
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #341 – And all that on the heels of a February which saw 2″ of sticking snow throughout the Bay Area, which lasted until afternoon prior to melting off. You could actually use the term “snowpack” to describe what was up on Mt. Hamilton for the rest of that winter.

  44. 344
    Hank Roberts says:

    Yup. I was out gardening and watching the robins contending over the available food in our garden — they’re squabbling for territory early this year — and noticed how dry the ground is; only the top fraction of an inch was still wet from our last rain.

    And today felt like fire weather, static electricity eveywhere and a brisk dry wind.

    In January.

    Fortunately it’s not all about California. And anyway, who’s complaining….

  45. 345
    Steve Sadlov says:

    I am not a doomer …. however:

    1973 – 1977: An unprecedented period of widespread drought world wide.
    1973: Watergate breakin investigation blows wide open.
    1973: Oil embargo
    1974: US President resigns.
    1975: North Vietnam surges into South Vietnam. Cambodia falls to the Khmer Rouge.
    1975 – 1980ish: On the back of drought and famine througout SE Asia, the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, liquidates hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens. Communist insurgency rises in Thailand. The PRC invades Vietnam.
    1975 – 1977: California nearly runs out of water.
    1978: Communist coup in Afghanistan. Later, the USSR invades.
    1979: Revolution in Iran.

    Etc … history tells us that climate can have tremendous consequences …

  46. 346
    James says:

    Re #340: The Sierra snowpack is no better. In a normal year, I would expect roadside snowbanks close to head-high. This year they’re knee high at most. Better stock up on bottled water :-)

  47. 347
    Ike Solem says:

    Well, I’m certainly not trying to serve as an ‘impediment’ to the goal of getting to the point where “we can isolate the physical processes out that define the heat transport variation and intensity that define atmospheric oscillations and can define specific sources and cycle start/stop and variability in heat transport we are half way to being able to understand the science of long term weather characteristics or climate. That said…”

    Let’s see:
    1) “the physical processes that define the heat transport…”
    Well, heat transport in the sense of the equator-to-pole heat transport? There’s the atmospheric route and the oceanic route; but there is also the heat transport from the surface to the deep ocean; it would be nice if there was more comprehensive data on this issue.

    2) ” variation and intensity that define the atmospheric oscillations…”
    Well, that would be the general circulation of the atmosphere which is itself linked to the general circulation of the oceans, but which responds on a far faster timescale (making one wonder what the physical basis of the North Atlantic Oscillation actually is; the ocean seems to time the El Nino response.)

    3) “and can define specific sources and cycle start/stop and variability in heat transport…”
    Well, again this requires far better monitoring of the oceanic heat transport then can be accomplished on a single ocean cruise – it requires an extensive network of bottom-morred current/temp sensors, not something that the denialists ever seem to call for. However, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – and the current datasets in combination with the current modelling efforts seem very conclusive – industrial CO2, CH4, N2O, CFC and aerosol emissions are having a continually increasing effect on the climate.

    4) “we are half way to being able to understand the science of long term weather characteristics or climate”
    We are really more then ‘half way’ there; saying that we should take no action because we don’t understand the system makes no sense; we do have a decent understanding of the system, as it turns out.

    My post was really about the differences between the NOAA and Australian BOM anomaly calculations, particularly with respect to the Arctic region this January – why is there a large anomaly on one and not the other for the Atlantic Arctic?



    All the evidence seems to point to a rapidly warming Arctic, and the recent warm winter conditions are hard to explain based only on the moderate El Nino conditions. The BOM archival El Nino website is far more user friendly then the NOAA website when to comparing different El Ninos – in fact, NOAA seems to have no archival El Nino data available at all! Why is that?

  48. 348
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #347

    Hey Ike;

    Thanks for the reasonable response, I was concerned that the conversation was drifting from the main focus which I took to be looking at the available reference data to see if the processes that lead to the atmospheric pattern changes could be defined. What you have clarified is that your concern was over the differences in the analysis of two scientific bodies. And you have demonstrated that there remains a need for additional work so we can move forward. As to not taking action in absence of the missing data, I agree, is foolhardy at best. Significant indications that there could be an anthropogenic handprint on the climate appears overwhelming, so until the additional data comes in it is best to act prudently. My apologies that this miscommunication should have occurred.

    As to your observations of the NOAA archive, most of this data is held in the NCDC in Ashville, NC. Primarily, NOAA will make their analysis and then store the data at that center instead of maintaining it on their active systems. ((The only data I have seen NOAA store locally appeared to be data from systems such as the TOMS experimental package in relation to Ozone density measures.) I suspect you are likely already aware of this)

    As to your observations of the Arctic warming, NASA generated a great report on this past summer and though I feel they needed to do a joint analysis with NOAA, they did a great job of demonstrating the character of the ice pack reduction. Based on the data I was looking at from NOAA at the time the Bermuda High that normally sets up around 38 Deg. N and 68 Deg. W was about 42 Deg. N and about 54 Deg. W most of last summer. This made me consider that much of the apparent warming that was occurring in the Barents Sea region may have been related to the NAO driven winds or a North Atlantic Drift eddy coming from a warm Gulf Stream.

    There does remain another question though in relation to the apparent Arctic warming and that relates to the concern of the polar ice cover reduction. The NASA paper indicated much of the issue could be related to the winds stacking up the ice in pressure floes. However, when I looked at the satellite photos I did not see significant pressure ridge formations on the windward side of most of the ice pack.

    This brought me back to a much earlier discussion regarding the possible causes of the demonstrated ice pack “melt”. If there did not seem to be issues of excessive heat in the water and there did not seem to be significant pressure ridge formation from increased winds on thinner ice, what could be driving the loss. That begins to demonstrate where the focus on radiative increase becomes a major question for me in researching climate change.

    Dave Cooke

  49. 349
    Ike Solem says:

    L. David Cooke,
    Your questions about the radiative balance have been addressed years ago, as I pointed out multiple times – in fact, what you are doing is dredging up discredited arguments from decades past and presenting them as something new. See my recent post at Human Hand on Climate for the details.

    As far as ‘wind piling up the ice’; that’s more nonsense – as previously posted, here’s the relevant reference:

    “In summary, ice draft in the 1990s is over a meter thinner
    than two to four decades earlier. The mean draft has
    decreased from over 3 m to under 2 m, and volume is down
    by some 40%. The thinning is remarkable in that it has
    occurred in a major portion of the perennially ice-covered
    Arctic Ocean. This is not a case of thicker ice appearing
    in one region simultaneously with thinner ice appearing in
    another, induced perhaps by a change in surface winds and
    ice advection.”

    Finally, your attempt at justifying NOAA’s behavior with respect to the calculation of anomalies is also nonsensical – why do they not show the large warming anomaly in the Arctic that is so obviously visible in the Australian BOM anomaly map? It looks like deliberate manipiulation to me, or at the very least exclusion of part of the dataset – and that’s not clean science.

    Here’s the most recent versions (jan 2007)


  50. 350
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #349

    Hey Ike;

    My question is why do you assume that the BOM is correct?