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Climate indices to watch

Filed under: — rasmus @ 31 August 2012

What is the most important climate condition to keep tabs on? We have recently mentioned the record-low Arctic sea-ice extent, but hurricanes this year seem to be getting the most attention because of timing ofHurricane Isaac (I know of no evidence suggesting that the Arctic sea-ice has such a direct impact on U.S. politics!).

In addition, the status of ENSO issued by NOAA on August 27, 2012, states that El Niño conditions are likely to develop during August or September 2012, although the present state is classified as ‘ENSO-neutral‘. El Niño has a strong influence on local economies and societies in fairly extensive regions of the world. ENSO is a natural phenomenon, but may change under a changing climate and is interesting to watch over the long term.

It’s important to avoid getting lost into single indicators, however, as the climate system is complex, with many different parts interacting with one another. The American Meteorological Society (AMS) recently put out a statement on climate change, referring to a wide range of different climate indicators (here is a link for the most common ones). The AMS is not alone – the National Academy for Sciences (NAS) is also concerned about our climate and its many aspects: A fairly recent movie called Climate change at the NAS Climate Change: Lines of Evidence provides a comprehensive overview.

Both AMS and NAS accounts provide a rich picture of many different aspects with many different (important) details, which make them fairly long and complicated. This is why simple indices sometimes are used – to convey a simple message. We need both, and that’s why the NAS video and the AMS statement are so valuable – at least for the readers who understand what they are talking about. I’m not sure that everybody does, though.

R-script for making pretty picture

An update on the Arctic sea-ice

Filed under: — rasmus @ 26 August 2012

We noted earlier that the Artic sea-ice is approaching a record minimum. The record is now broken, almost a month before the annual sea-ice minima usually is observed, and there is probably more melting in store before it reaches the minimum for 2012 – before the autumn sea-ice starts to form.

The figure shows annual variations in the area of sea-ice extent, and the x-axis marks the time of the year, starting on January 1st and ending on December 31st (for the individual years). The grey curves show the Arctic sea-ice extent in all previous years, and the red curve shows the sea-ice area for 2012.

(The figure is plotted with an R-script that takes the data directly from NSIDC; the R-environment is available from CRAN)

UPDATE on the update The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced today (August 27th, 2012) that the 2007 record has now been broken by their more conservative 5-day running average criterion. They also note that “The six lowest ice extents in the satellite record have occurred in the last six years (2007 to 2012).”

Antarctic Peninsula warming: natural variability or “global warming”?

Filed under: — eric @ 23 August 2012

Most people know that the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming places on earth. But like everywhere else in Antarctica, the length of available temperature data is short — most records begin in 1957 (when stations were put in place during the International Geophysical Year); a few start in the late 1940s. This makes the recent rapid warming difficult to evaluate; in general, what’s interesting is how the trend compares with the underlying variability. As anyone who’s been there can tell you, the weather on the Antarctic Peninsula is pretty wild, and this applies to the climate as well: year to year variability is very large. Put another way, the noise level is high, and discerning the signal requires more data than is available from the instrumental temperature record. This is where ice cores come in handy — they provide a much longer record, and allow us to evaluate the recent changes in a more complete context.

A new paper in Nature this week presents results from an ice core drilled by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) at James Ross Island on the Antarctic Peninsula. More »

Language Intelligence – Lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga: A Review

Filed under: — mike @ 20 August 2012

Any book that manages to link together the lessons of the Bible, Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, and Lady Gaga (not to mention Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Bob Dylan, and Jerry Seinfeld), can’t be all bad. With Joe Romm’s new book Language Intelligence, it is, in fact, ALL good. There are lessons galore for the scientists among us who value public outreach and communication. The book is a de facto field guide for recognizing and assimilating many of the key tools of persuasive language and speech, something that is ever more important to science communicators who face the daunting challenge of having to communicate technical and nuanced material to an audience largely unfamiliar with the lexicon of science, sometimes agnostic or even unreceptive to its message, and—in the case of contentious areas like climate change and evolution—already subject to a concerted campaign to misinform and confuse them.
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Extreme metrics

Filed under: — gavin @ 18 August 2012

There has been a lot of discussion related to the Hansen et al (2012, PNAS) paper and the accompanying op-ed in the Washington Post last week. But in this post, I’ll try and make the case that most of the discussion has not related to the actual analysis described in the paper, but rather to proxy arguments for what people think is ‘important’.
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  1. J. Hansen, M. Sato, and R. Ruedy, "Perception of climate change", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 109, pp. E2415-E2423, 2012.

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