RealClimate logo

Technical Note: Sorry for the recent unanticipated down-time, we had to perform some necessary updates. Please let us know if you have any problems.

Unforced Variations: March 2013

Filed under: — group @ 4 March 2013

A new open thread – hopefully for some new climate science topics…

350 Responses to “Unforced Variations: March 2013”

  1. 201

    Further to DBB’s comments on ENSO, there’s also an interesting radiative component to it:

    Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) data at the top of the atmosphere are observed from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) instrument aboard the NOAA polar orbiting spacecraft. Data are centered across equatorial areas from 160°E to 160°W longitude. {Ie., the equatorial Pacific.} The raw data are converted into a standardized anomaly index. Negative OLR are indicative of enhanced convection and hence more cloud coverage typical of El Niño episodes. More convective activity in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific implies higher, colder cloud tops, which emit much less infrared radiation into space.

    (Edited for easier reading.)

    Much more detail here:

    From the conclusion:

    OLR has – over the globe – decreased over 10 years. This is a result of the El-Nino phase – at the start of the measurement period we were coming out of a large El-Nino event, and at the end of the measurement period we were in a La Nina event.

    The reduction in OLR is explained by the change in the two regions identified, which are themselves strongly correlated to the Nino-4 region.

  2. 202
    Hank Roberts says:

    also for JMcDonald:

    Nature | Letter

    Probabilistic cost estimates for climate change mitigation
    “… political choices that delay mitigation have the largest effect on the cost–risk distribution, followed by geophysical uncertainties, social factors influencing future energy demand and, lastly, technological uncertainties surrounding the availability of greenhouse gas mitigation options. Our information on temperature risk and mitigation costs provides crucial information for policy-making, because it clarifies the relative importance of mitigation costs, energy demand and the timing of global action in reducing the risk of exceeding a global temperature increase of 2 °C, or other limits such as 3 °C or 1.5 °C, across a wide range of scenarios.”

  3. 203
  4. 204
    GaryM says:

    Kevin McKinney — 17 Mar 2013 @ 7:39 AM

    That is similar to an answer I got from Judith Curry, that El Ninos increase cloud cover which trap radiation. But I think it is incomplete. That is, it posits a mechanism that COULD increase GAT. But since clouds also reflect incoming solar radiation, is the net effect of cloud cover from an El Nino sufficiently positive to explain the close tracking of GAT to ENSO and AMO) oscillations?

    And I am not confusing air temps with global average. Here are some graphs of reported temps, with both land and sea included.

    And this is a list of El Nino years.

    This is from a NASA site regarding the effects of clouds on climate.

    “Overall, clouds have the effect of lessening the amount of heating that would otherwise be experienced at Earth’s surface….”

    Is there research that shows that El Ninos cause increased clouds, and that the effect of those clouds is a net positive feedback that explains the close correlation between ENSO and spikes in global average temperature, as well as decreases in the average due to other oscillations?

  5. 205
    David B. Benson says:

    GaryM @195 — jimmy @200 offers a correct explanation. The heat in the Pacific Warm Pool is not just on the surface but extends to some depth. During El Nino much of that heat is redistributed to the surface.

  6. 206
    David B. Benson says:

    Ocean Plankton Sponge Up Nearly Twice the Carbon Currently Assumed
    Carbon cycle models need revision.

  7. 207
    David B. Benson says:

    When It Rains These Days, Does It Pour? Has the Weather Become Stormier as the Climate Warms?
    This is the way a physicist looks at the data.

  8. 208
    GaryM says:

    On further reading of the links provided by Kevin McKinney, I think I understand that the research cited does support the argument that El Ninos increase cloud cover, with what appears to be a net decrease of OLR that correlates with the increase in reported GAT during that oscillation. It at least explains to me the mechanism by which the increase in “average” temps during El Ninos could be caused, which was what I asked for. My thanks.

  9. 209
    ozajh says:

    DBB #206,

    I don’t find that article particularly convincing, and am very concerned that it will give the denialists/do-nothings a good talking point.

    A superficial read of the article might give the impression that the change in CNP ratio in warmer waters will mean that more Carbon gets incorporated into plankton. A negative feedback loop!! Hurrah, we don’t need to do anything, just let Mother Nature do it for us.

    However, I suspect the truth of the matter (especially given the reference to ‘nutrient-starved areas’ is that the CNP ratio of the plankton is overwhelmed by the lower overall population per unit volume, and that in fact LESS Carbon in total is being removed in warmer water.

  10. 210
    Chuck Hughes says:

    I can never get a comment in edgewise on here but maybe this will get through. I am NOT a scientists but I follow this site very closely and am trying my best to educate myself about Climate Change. I saw this article on MSNBC this morning:

    If we carry on with this BAU situation as it appears we’re going to what will things look like in the next 5 years? Or the next 10 years? I don’t see anything changing as far as fossil fuel extraction and consumption so I can only assume that we’re headed for more extreme conditions. How much longer can we keep going like this? I would appreciate a best guess or estimation of a 5 to 10 year time horizon from anyone but especially Gavin. I have a 16 year old daughter and three young step sons so I’m wondering at what point do we hit the wall of reality? Are there any indicators that would signal an abrupt change in the climate? Do scientists ever panic about this or are they always this stoic about disaster?

    Gavin? Wili? Hank? Anyone???

    I’m just Joe Average trying to figure things out so I would appreciate any informed prediction or best guess. Thanks and keep up the great work.

  11. 211
    Paul S says:


    It’s incomplete to just think about the horizontal coverage of clouds. What also changes with El Nino is the effective height of clouds. Higher clouds are colder, which means you get reduced IR emission and therefore less OLR.

    This page shows standardized (essentially meaning detrended) OLR variations. You can see reduced OLR is associated with El Nino and increased with La Nina.

  12. 212
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Chuck Hughes,
    A lot depends on how the planet responds to our continued belching of CO2 into the atmosphere, on the response of the Sun, etc.

    About half of the carbon we’ve produced has gone into the oceans, biosphere, etc. Will that continue, or will methane from thawing clathrates and permafrost make the planet a net carbon source?

    Will the low solar activity we saw in the previous solar minimum continue as a grand solar minimum, or was the last solar min a one-off?

    Finally, what good would it do to panic? All I know how to do is to keep trying to push things in the right direction. I hope for the sake of your daughter’s generation that we succeed.

  13. 213
    Chris Dudley says:

    jyyh (#203),

    Romm has got this one wrong. He is correct that Nocera is attacking McKibben for no reason, but on the climate science he is formally incorrect and on the political side he is undercutting President Obama and former Speaker Pelosi who have both committed to reversing climate change. The formal error is that cutting emissions to zero will lead to a reduced concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and, within a decade or so, a falling global average temperature trend. There are certainly irreversible aspects of climate change under natural conditions, not all warming can be reversed that way, but some portion can be reversed.

    Since President Obama’s emissions reductions commitments are not adequate to actually reverse climate change or even stabilize the concentration of carbon dioxide, to hold him to his commitment, we must expect him to propose sequestration of carbon that is already in the atmosphere. Such a scheme was outlined in the Target paper by Hansen et al. That means reversing climate change by explicit human effort to clean up our mess. As confused as Nocera seems to be about the technology he is describing, carbon in urea is not sequestered when used in fertilizer for example, such power plants might be used to reverse climate change if fueled with wood or other biomass.

  14. 214
    Hank Roberts says:

    Chuck, I’m not a scientist (though I’ve been reading ecology since the 1950s).
    Do we hit the wall of reality? Probably not. Each new generation assumes the conditions they’re born into are natural and normal.

    Ask any urban crow or raccoon about their world: nature has provided them with telephone poles, overflowing garbage piles, big stormwater drains, and freedom from big hungry predators; life is good.

    Abrupt change is well under way; most people don’t notice anything. Individual lives are too short, and science is a very recent thing in the world.

    Despair would be a waste of time. There’s work to be done here.
    Shifting baselines

  15. 215
    Ric Merritt says:

    Chuck Hughes #210:

    The scenarios you see discussed here, presented by the IPCC, and so forth, span a large range of possibilities for future emissions. I’ll leave any further speculation to others, but for sure nobody can tell you exactly what path emissions and climate will take.

    As to the hyperventilation in your linked article, please make use of a paper bag if it starts to affect you. The next few years of US fossil fuel production are understandably important to people whose jobs or profits depend on it, but the climate responds to global FF burning, not US. And over a span of decades, not a few years. You will notice the article hardly mentions that. Look for discussions of GLOBAL production, and ignore impressive claims about reserves, for the best perspective on what will affect both economy and climate.

  16. 216
    Paul S says:

    Must have messed up my link: standardized OLR.

  17. 217
    bobbb says:

    As a non-climatologist, I am curious why there are no plots of Energy_in – Energy_out for the Earth. I would presume we have satellite measures of both? Thanks.

  18. 218
    SecularAnimist says:

    Chuck Hughes wrote: “Are there any indicators that would signal an abrupt change in the climate?”


    Rapid melting of the Arctic ice cap.

    Widespread, intense, prolonged drought afflicting major agricultural regions all over the world simultaneously.

    Increased frequency of extreme precipitation events with resultant flooding.

    And plenty of other indicators, which we are already seeing.

    By the standard of previous eras of naturally-occurring climate change, the changes that are already occurring are already “abrupt”.

  19. 219
    Hank Roberts says:

    bobbb, Paul S just above your question gave one useful link to
    standardized OLR

    (the blog software is still eating links sometimes).

    If you’re in a nation that contributes anything toward satellite programs, talk to your government. The US, for example, used to have a fairly good satellite program, but it fell apart a while back and the satellites aging out of service weren’t replaced. Some European countries and Japan are putting up satellites, but the result is still a patchwork of data sets that have to be put together.

    They do get put together; good illustration of how it’s done here:

    It’s a big problem by now:

    Almost all these satellites are in fairly low orbits so they get a narrow track on each pass, not a global view from a height.

  20. 220
    wili says:


    (reCaptcha = “autocrats had emm” !)

  21. 221
    Sven says:

    On March 8
    “I’m surprised to see no mention of Marcott et al in March 8, 2013 Science “A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years”. Comments? [coming soon... -mike]”
    Comments? [still coming soon... -mike]

  22. 222
    bobbb says:

    Thanks @219 Hank. I’m with you on the satellites, but I am not expecting any rational and thoughtful discussion of science funding here in the U.S. anytime soon.

  23. 223
    MARodger says:

    Chuck Hughes @210.
    You ask about 5 to 10 years of AGW but also ask “How much longer can we keep going like this?” (I assume the linked NBCNews article was simply an exemplar of ‘going on like this’.)

    I’m sure if we collectively try hard enough we can ignore all the natural warnings of AGW or failing that blame them on anything (or anybody) other than ourselves and so ‘keep going like this’ until we run out of fossil fuels.

    And it’s a big old world we live in. Over a 5 to 10 year period, AGW may well provide a few pointers to our climatic future. An ice-free summer Arctic Ocean looks probable. And surely there will be more extreme weather events to shock us and then forget about. Mundanely there will be more millimetres of sea level rise and average surface temperatures increasing in hundredths of ºC, and these rises could even be on a scale that contrarians would find more difficult to belittle.
    Yet it’s a big old world. Over 5 to 10 years none of this future would be much different than if we all managed to stop using fossil fuels tomorrow or more realistically started making steps tomorrow to stop using fossil fuels. And if we rely on some “abrupt change in the climate” to bring us to our collective senses, we will be likely leaving it way too late, may be waiting… …until just before the fossil fuels run out?

    Last decade there was an estimated extra 0.32 W/sq m positive forcing added to AGW (80% due to CO2). Using best estimates, that’s an extra 0.25ºC on average global temperatures in a century’s time. That don’t sound so bad, until you add up all the decades of emissions gone and the future decades we will need to wean ourselves of fossil fuels. Only then is it possible to understand how deep the do-do mankind has got itself in.
    If the science is correct (and science usually is in areas as thoroughly researched as this), the 1½ºC to 2ºC rise deemed ‘safe’ is now pretty-well inevitable. (‘Safe’ of course doesn’t mean it will be painless.) So will an extra ~0.25ºC maintain ‘safety’ for future generations? And if so, what about the next decade’s extra ~0.25ºC?
    We are truly gambling with the well-being of future generations. Yet understanding that is a very big ask for folk who simply don’t want to know.

  24. 224
    Steve Metzler says:

    Apparently, Paul Dennis of UAE has filed a comment (unfortunately, I don’t know where. What I saw this in was copy-pasta without attribution) on the Marcott et. al. paper, and in it he says this:

    “In one sense I see such statements as a form of confirmation bias. This is a very serious issue in modern science that is being driven by government policy, funding organisations etc. If ones views run counter to the prevailing orthodoxy then chances of funding, tenure, career development etc. are all affected. We have to move away from such a stance and try to re-establish the scientific method.”

    The full text of his statement is in a comment here:

    (Slate’s commenting system sucks, so I can’t link directly to the relevant comment. You should be able to find it by searching for ‘paul dennis’… after you open up all the comments :-\)

    Words fail me. That sounds like it’s right out of the AGW deniers playbook. It is almost beyond belief that a scientist would go on record saying these things. Does this person have an axe to grind with UAE?

  25. 225
    David B. Benson says:

    Ten Times More Hurricane Surges in Future, New Research Predicts
    with 2 K warming.

  26. 226
    Hank Roberts says:

    for Steve Meltzer: ‘oogle “paul dennis” comment Marcott

  27. 227
    Chuck Hughes says:

    Thank you for all the kind responses to my “average Joe” question. I think my simple question(s) is a fundamental one being asked by average Americans and others who are not scientists and do not understand all the math and terminology. I see people like Dr. James Hansen, who I greatly admire, talking on TED about the consequences of Climate Change and the future of his grandchildren… getting himself arrested etc. and I can’t help but wonder what the implications are for my own children and others hoping to live a full happy life. Will it be possible to do? How miserable will life get for people their age and at what point will the majority of folks finally “get it” or will they ever get it given our circumstances and political “climate”.

    I realize these are rhetorical, unanswerable questions and statements with no clear solutions but I believe that some sort of simple, understandable, UNIFIED message has to be articulated en mass in plain terms to people like myself and morons like James Inhofe who unfortunately have a great influence over legislation and… it has to come from YOU. It also has to be consistently repeated ad nauseum until it sinks in. I know there are many others like me who share my frustration with this situation including many of you in the scientific community. If the situation is so urgent that Dr. Hansen feels the need to be arrested, the message coming from the scientific community needs to be equally as urgent.

    I understand the demands of doing research but at some point you have to get up from your desk and do some talking to the public the same way you talk to each other.

    Again, thank you for all your hard work and bravery. “My hero’s have always been scientists”, if I my steal a quote from Willie Nelson. Cheers!

  28. 228
    MARodger says:

    Steve Metzler @224.

    The quote was attributed to this source Mar 18, 2013 at 9:20 AM – Paul Dennis [Posted at Bishop Hill blog - "OMG" Thread] in a ‘cut&paste’ comment on this blog (Frobes). The original appears to be OffMyGoogle.
    Do be conscious of who this Paul Dennis is. Yes he is on the same campus as the CRU. Yet because he has strong links to climate contrarians he found himself arrested over the ‘climategate’ affair. It sort of says it all really.

  29. 229
    Steve Metzler says:

    Many thanks to Hank and MARodger. I had found a Guardian article yesterday that linked Dennis to some climate contrarians around the time of the Climategate affair, before I posted here. Didn’t realise that he was actually arrested. I should read more carefully.

    That Dennis would bother to hang around on Bishop Hill, and agrees by and large with the conspiracy theory mongering of the fake skeptics useful fools there speaks volumes. Bishop Hill makes WUWT seem reasonable by comparison.

  30. 230
    sue says:

    Re 228 and 229: Paul Dennis was NOT arrested over ‘climategate’, as the link you put up specifically states he was questioned by police. Big difference… [edit]

  31. 231
  32. 232
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hold on there, I think MARodger has that wrong, and Steve has taken his word for it without checking the claim.

    The word “arrest” is not on the page hotlinked behind “found himself arrested” — nor in any other report Google finds about Paul Dennis and the Norfolk investigation.

    If you copied that claim from somewhere — where did it come from? Who came up with that word, where?

    That Guardian story says Dennis’s work does not support the most batshit insane imminent catastrophe alarmism. None of the published science does.
    The Guardian failed to mention that his work does support what climate scientists are saying, that an external forcing is changing rates of change:

    See also this (2009)
    Thomas, ER, Dennis, PF, Bracegirdle, TJ and Franzke, C (2009)
    Ice core evidence for significant 100-year regional warming on the Antarctic Peninsula.
    Geophysical Research Letters, 36 (20).
    “We present a new 150-year, high-resolution, stable isotope record (δ18O) from the Gomez ice core, drilled on the data sparse south western Antarctic Peninsula, revealing a ∼2.7°C rise in surface temperatures since the 1950s. The record is … a robust proxy for local and regional temperatures since the 1850s. We conclude that the exceptional 50-year warming, previously only observed in the northern Peninsula, is not just a local phenomena but part of a statistically significant 100-year regional warming trend that began around 1900…. outside of the expected range of variability … indicating that the warming is likely the result of external climate forcing.”

    Remember how science works.
    “Science is so powerful that it drags us kicking and screaming towards the truth despite our best efforts to avoid it. And it does that at least partly fueled by our pettiness and our rivalries. Science is alchemy: it turns shit into gold. Keep that in mind the next time some blogger decries the ill manners of a bunch of climate scientists under continual siege by forces with vastly deeper pockets and much louder megaphones.”

  33. 233
    Jos Hagelaars says:

    We published an English version of my Dutch post on Marcott on the site of Bart Verheggen:
    It has an English version of the graph Eli Rabett calls The Wheelchair, a name which I found amusing.

  34. 234
    Steve Metzler says:

    OK, got it. Was just questioned by police because he had suspected ties to some of the climate change contrarians who first posted the ‘Climategate’ e-mails. That’s what I took from my first reading of the Guardian article as well.

  35. 235
    MARodger says:

    Hank Roberts @232.

    Indeed my use of the word “arrest” was in error. More correctly, Paul Harris was ‘helping police with their enquiries.’
    You ask “where did it come from? Who came up with that word, where?
    I in’t sayin’ nuffin, copper. I in’t no grass! If your bothered, it was my mistake although bizarrely Paul Harris was actually jailed for selling secrets, this of course being another Paul Harris but whose story strangely appeared in the search list as I sought a link for our Paul Harris and his brush with the law. After his namesake being jailed, does ‘arrest’ seem so bad? Especially as UK police seem to be arresting people at the drop of hat these days

  36. 236
    Hank Roberts says:

    > bothered
    Nope, was curious, appreciate the reply.
    I enjoy chasing down misapprehensions; every now and then I catch one.

  37. 237
    sue says:

    May I request that comment 228 by MARodger be edited to reflect that his statement that Paul Dennis from UEA was arrested is false? TIA

  38. 238
    Peter Everett says:

    In Hansen (1988) the predicted anomaly for Scenario A (no curtailment of industrial greenhouse gas output) uses a CO2 sensitivity of 4C/doubling to arrive at a prediction of +0.9C for today, compared with an actual +0.22, relative to 1988.

    Since Scenario A is more or less what happened in the last 25 years, what value for CO2 sensitivity puts today’s global temperature anomaly at the center of the predicted range for Scenario A. Might that not be a good way to use Hansen’s model to arrive at a most likely sensitivity value?

    [Response: Scenario A is not 'what happened' (not even close). Scenario B was better, but also too high in terms of total forcing. And yes, you can use this to estimate what sensitivity would have worked better (very rough calculation given here (but see updates also). - gavin]

  39. 239

    sue @ 237: May I suggest that this would be a radical departure from normal practice both here and elsewhere? It would be an unreasonable burden to place on moderators of any site to require that they do a post hoc edit of every statement later shown to be untrue.

    These things usually come out in the comments, and that, IMO, is how it should be. (Surely Mr. Watts would agree, for once…) ;-)

  40. 240

    SecularAnimist, #218–Would you be willing to email me offline? I’d love to get your input on a matter very much related to the future costs and capacities of renewable energy. If so, you can do so by clicking on my name on any of these comments–that’ll take you to my website.

    If not, well, no sweat.

  41. 241
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Kevin and Sue,
    Might it merit an in-line response?

  42. 242
    Eli Rabett says:

    “Paul Harris was ‘helping police with their enquiries.’” has a rather different meaning in the UK, e.g. it is being “invited” down to the station house for questioning without being formally charged with anything. the BBC has a page describing this:

    * If you’re asked to go to a police station to help with enquiries, make sure you know if you are being arrested or whether it’s up to you whether you go.
    * If you’re being asked to go voluntarily, you can refuse. But the police may then decide to arrest you, in which case you have to go.
    * Even though you’re at the police station voluntarily, you’re entitled to send a message to your family or a friend telling them where you are and to receive free legal advice from a solicitor.
    * If you’ve not been arrested and go to the police station voluntarily, you can leave at any time.

  43. 243
    sue says:

    Ray, Yes it would merit an in-line response.

  44. 244
    David B. Benson says:

    Natural Climate Swings Contribute More to Increased Monsoon Rainfall Than Global Warming
    Monsoons in North America?

  45. 245
    Hank Roberts says:

    Dr. Jason Box’s Dark Snow Project has 2/3 of its funding.

    “The first-ever Greenland expedition relying on crowd source funding aims to answer the ‘burning question’: How much does wildfire and industrial soot darken the ice, increasing melt?”

    In related news, from this Discover Magazine story found at the Dark Snow page:
    “Is it a warm winter in Greenland? Yes, very warm. Incredibly warm? Worth writing home about? Not sure, but it is not the biggest anomaly in the Northern Hemisphere. That title goes to Svalbard: 10 to 12 C above normal since December.”

  46. 246

    Ray @ 240:

    I’m agnostic on that idea–FWIW.

  47. 247
    Hank Roberts says:

    And also from Discover — an explicit correction: “Winter Snow Melt in Greenland Grossly Over-Estimated, By Tom Yulsman | March 19, 2013 9:29 am”

    That correction is taken into account in updates on that first link to Discover that I posted a few minutes earlier about melt rate. Read them both.

    Here is the correction as main story in a different blog page.

    My short version: On first look the satellite info matched what would be expected from wintertime snowmelt; on a careful look what the satellites detected was the wet snow left from this past summer’s unusual melt underlying this winter’s snow layer. It’s a good reminder that satellite data isn’t ground truth, it’s interpreted.

    Good opportunity for some blogtracking if someone’s doing a PhD thesis in communications (I hope someone is). How far do the first stories travel, and how quickly are the early incorrect reports corrected?

  48. 248
    MARodger says:

    Eli Rabett @241
    “Helping police with their enquiries” is used as a euphemism for arrest as well as for cooperative interview. The difference between the two forms can be as trivial as the indicated level of cooperation perceived by the police. It can also be affected by how much searching the police can usefully carry out – objections to having your house ripped apart and computers dismantled are more difficult if you’ve been arrested. In UK arrest can mean no more than that you are not seen as entirely forthcoming with information about a (suspected) offense.
    And do remember that the not-arrested-Harris was not simply interviewed. He provided a formal statement. Why? Did he see the hacker legging it out of the CRU one dark night? I assume not.

    While Harris did not “find himself arrested” as I wrote @228 and was only “helping the police with their enquiries,” the existence of the Levenson Enquiry should remind all of the context of factual reporting within the UK.
    All is not well with the British press. Indeed, they are continually take great liberties in describing the denizens of this fair land while employing a fine mix of words to scotch any come-back. Take the Torygraph’s Delipole who on this very subject accuses the Guardian article linked @228 of indicating that they had “found the identity of the Climategate leaker” “seemingly,” before speculating on Harris being “prosecuted for this noble and selfless act” which sounds like they are happy both to condone what is a criminal act as well as, by countenancing Harris’s conviction for it, imply he may have done the deed.

  49. 249
  50. 250
    flxible says:

    David Benson @243 – yes, monsoons in N American – I recall them [fondly] growing up in Phoenix, playing in the rain.

Switch to our mobile site