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Unforced variations: Oct 2014

Filed under: — group @ 4 October 2014

This month’s open thread.

197 Responses to “Unforced variations: Oct 2014”

  1. 101
    Chris Dudley says:


    I think your distinction is a poor one. 250 ppm is the pre-agriculture level, back when the Sahara was lush. So, either all mitigation is geoengineering (a defensible view) or this is still mitigation and not geoengineering.

    Governments just presume title to titleless land, so the bonanza works in the usual way that bonanza always work. The revenue pays down debt from investing in mitigation.

  2. 102
    Chris Dudley says:

    patrick (#95),

    You should familiarize yourself with the RCPs used by the IPCC and their extensions. The most aggressive gets close to 350 ppm a few centuries from now. That means they have not explored the consequences of a more aggressive approach to mitigation, which turns out to be profitable under their way of calculating things. So, the sit-on-your-thumb-and-spin discussions about 0.6 or 0.8% reductions in economic growth are misleading. We might see a 2 or 3% spur in growth from properly conducted mitigation.

  3. 103
    Chris Dudley says:

    Jim (#93),

    The breadbasket looks like you just need to add water:

    As Hansen points out, the climate will be manipulated to avoid another ice age. If the set point is 2 C above preindustrial or 0.5 C below, it is still the same manipulation.

  4. 104
    chris says:

    From a recent ClimateState interview with Bill McGuire

    Methane hydrate destabilisation is clearly a real worry, particularly in the context of warming ocean waters in the East Siberian Continental Shelf. It is also a concern around Greenland, where uplift as the ice continues to melt seems likely to raise submarine deposits around the margins more rapidly than sea level increases, thus having the potential to cause destabilisation of methane hydrates contained therein as a consequence of reduced pressures.

  5. 105
  6. 106
    wili says:

    Thanks for that perspective. I’ll check the stoat post out and see if I can track down those others.

  7. 107
    Tom Adams says:

    Lockeed says they are going to be selling nuclear fusion furnaces that will replace the coal furnaces in power plants 10 year hence:

  8. 108

    A newer method of studying Outgassing of methane or other gases with spectrometers like the one used on the surface of the moon seems a splendid technique possibly practiced on Earth. But a fascinating surprise photographically captured by the lunar Surveyor 6 probe in 1967 may return the favor and perhaps make it possible to see outgassing just as much here at home.

    Yes there is a very minuscule atmosphere on the moon, but the sun line observed there may suggest that it may be variable with location.

  9. 109
    Jim Larsen says:

    103 Chris D said, “The breadbasket looks like you just need to add water”

    That plants native to sand grow in sand doesn’t address the question of farming in pure sand.

  10. 110
  11. 111
  12. 112
    chrisd says:

    Can anyone explain to me how the airborne fraction works? I understand that it’s the fraction of emissions that remains in the atmosphere, but that’s pretty fuzzy. What is the timeframe involved?

    If the AF is 46%, what exactly does that mean?

    If X tonnes are emitted in 2014, when is 46% of it gone? Or is that not the right way to think of it?

  13. 113
    Hank Roberts says:

    > chris
    links to his blog where he posts his
    > ClimateState interview with Bill McGuire

    Don’t forget the swarms of volcanos and tsunamis he predicts.
    At least they’re taking a rational approach to the presentation:

    Waking the Giant
    by Prof Bill McGuire

    How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes
    Date: 7:30 PM 15th October 2014
    Venue: Manor Pavilion Theatre & Arts Centre
    Ticket Information:
    Adults: £2
    Children: FREE
    Entrance fee to be paid at the door and to include refreshments.
    Bar also open both before and after the talk.

    That’s what this place needs, an open bar.

  14. 114
    MARodger says:

    Tom Adams @107.
    I don’t think Lockheed Martin are saying they will replace coal furnaces in 10 years. The press release you link to has a link to a 4 minute video (as does their Compact Fusion web page) which puts the time line for replacing gas turbine generators at 20 years. At the end of the video you will hear:-

    “Now the old promise of ‘atoms for peace’ was a noble one but ultimately flawed because the technology wasn’t right for it. We can achieve that grand vision and bring clean power to the world. The true atomic age could start. 10 years – we have great military vehicles. 20 years – we have clean power for the world.This isn’t on-line by 2100. This is on line by … I cannot even retire after we finish this. I still have to find another job after this is done.”

    I assume that the “great military vehicles” will be somehow designed “for peace.”
    Their Compact Fusion web page perhaps implies that 15 years would see the first CFR electric plant operating. “…with the potential to power a small city in 15 years. By modifying current modular 100 megawatt class gas turbine plants to run on fusion power, we will be able to build fusion plants in a factory and then deploy them to locations where they are needed.” But the next graphic says “With the ability to deploy compact fusion reactors to whoever needs them, world-wide access to inexpensive electricity could finally be possible in the next 20 years.”

    And I tread carefully given the ruckus that has been caused here by past ‘nuclear discussions’ led to a moderation ban. So I will make no comment on the likelihood of Lockheed Martin achieving what they say.

  15. 115

    Hank relays:

    “Waking the Giant / by Prof Bill McGuire / How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes…”

    I’m banging my head on the desk.

    What is the collective noun for a group of doomers?

  16. 116
    Chris Dudley says:

    Jim (#109),

    Look like date palms. Probably someone is farming then.

  17. 117
    Edim says:

    chrisd, it’s simply the annual growth in atmospheric CO2 divided by annual anthropogenic CO2 emission.

  18. 118
    AIC says:

    On May 2, 2014 Unforced Variations #5, Hank Roberts posted about what seems to be an important paper, at least for those of us in California, and more generally in other areas suffering from drought.

    Probable causes of the abnormal ridge accompanying the 2013-14 California drought: ENSO precursor and anthropogenic warming footprint
    S.-Y. Simon Wang et al.

    DOI: 10.1002/2014GL059748


    The 2013–2014 California drought was initiated by an anomalous high-amplitude ridge system. The anomalous ridge was investigated using reanalysis data and the Community Earth System Model (CESM). It was found that the ridge emerged from continual sources of Rossby wave energy in the western North Pacific starting in late summer and subsequently intensified into winter. The ridge generated a surge of wave energy downwind and deepened further the trough over the northeast U.S., forming a dipole. The dipole and associated circulation pattern is not linked directly with either El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) or Pacific Decadal Oscillation; instead, it is correlated with a type of ENSO precursor. The connection between the dipole and ENSO precursor has become stronger since the 1970s, and this is attributed to increased greenhouse gas loading as simulated by the CESM. Therefore, there is a traceable anthropogenic warming footprint in the enormous intensity of the anomalous ridge during winter 2013–2014 and the associated drought.

    Especially note the final sentence in the abstract.

    Was there any followup discussion? I could not find any. I am rather surprised that there was not more mainstream media discussion about the possibility that this drought has been caused by global warming.

    Currently a paper by Cook et al is attracting some attention online:

    The Worst North American Drought Year of the Last Millennium: 1934

    Benjamin I Cook
    Richard Seager and
    Jason E Smerdon

    DOI: 10.1002/2014GL061661


    During the summer of 1934, over 70% of Western North America experienced extreme drought, placing this summer far outside the normal range of drought variability and making 1934 the single worst drought year of the last millennium. Strong atmospheric ridging along the West Coast suppressed cold season precipitation across the Northwest, Southwest, and California, a circulation pattern similar to the winters of 1976–1977 and 2013–2014. In the spring and summer, the drying spread to the Midwest and Central Plains, driven by severe precipitation deficits downwind from regions of major dust storm activity, consistent with previous work linking drying during the Dust Bowl to anthropogenic dust aerosol forcing. Despite a moderate La Niña, contributions from sea surface temperature forcing were small, suggesting that the anomalous 1934 drought was primarily a consequence of atmospheric variability, possibly amplified by dust forcing that intensified and spread the drought across nearly all of Western North America.

    A news article in Nature about the Cook paper also references the Wang paper, perhaps bringing fresh attention to it. How much mitigation could have been paid for with the cost of this drought?

  19. 119
  20. 120
    Thomas says:

    There is a Bern model that describes how much of a CO2 impulse is left in the atmosphere as time passes by. I created a graphic of it. After one year approx 89% remains, after 25 years approx 44%. For exponentially increasing emissions this model would predict a constant AF. If emissions slow down or stop, then AF (as measured against cumulative past emissions) would start to drop.

  21. 121
    Rafael Molina Navas, Madrid says:

    FOR SCEPTICS … Let us hope it is something quite exceptional:

    “If you doubt that parts of the planet really are warming, talk to residents of Barrow, the Alaskan town that is the most northerly settlement in the US.

    In the last 34 years, the average October temperature in Barrow has risen by more than 7°C − an increase that, on its own, makes a mockery of international efforts to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels”.

  22. 122
    chrisd says:

    @Edim #117

    Thanks. That’s basically the definition that I’d guessed at–but the Hadley definition from your link is a good deal fuzzier:

    “[T]he fraction of anthropogenic carbon emissions which remain in the atmosphere after natural processes have absorbed some of them.”

    It’s that sort of definition that has/had me puzzled. It seems rather hand-wavy. How long does the stuff get to be absorbed before we declare that it’s part of the AF? A year? Five years? A century?

    I like your definition better.

  23. 123
    Mal Adapted says:

    On the link between AGW and drought, Millennial precipitation reconstruction for the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico, reveals changing drought signal suggests that warming makes even moderate drought more severe, at least if you’re a tree:

    …An October–June precipitation reconstruction for the period AD 824–2007 was developed from multi-century tree-ring records of Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas-fir), Pinus strobiformis (Southwestern white pine) and Pinus ponderosa (Ponderosa pine) for the Jemez Mountains in Northern New Mexico … A recent segment of the reconstruction (2000–2006) emerges as the driest 7-year period sensed by the trees in the entire record. That this period was only moderately dry in precipitation anomaly likely indicates accentuated stress from other factors, such as warmer temperatures…

  24. 124
    SecularAnimist says:

    MARodger wrote: “So I will make no comment on the likelihood of Lockheed Martin achieving what they say.”

    I will also respect the moderators’ requests to eschew discussion of energy technologies here, but I would like to note that other scientists working in fusion research are commenting on Lockheed Martin’s claims with some skepticism:

    Scientists Are Bashing Lockheed Martin’s Nuclear Fusion ‘Breakthrough’
    By Jessica Orwig
    Business Insider
    October 15, 2014

  25. 125
    Gail Zawacki says:

    Chris Reynolds asks, “What is the collective noun for a group of doomers?”

    I’m not sure – Cassandras, perhaps? (remembering of course that Cassandra was right) – but in any event. we now have an online repository for all related subjects of interest to doomers, where new terminology is welcome…as are any links to add to the stacks whether art, music, fiction, documentary films, or scientific reports.

    This presents an excellent opportunity for a public acknowledgment (with no small measure of irony) to Gavin for first coining (as far as I know) in an earlier RealClimate thread the plural version, which gives the Apocalypsi Library at the End of the World its resonant name.

    Thanks Gavin!

  26. 126
  27. 127
    patrick says:

    Richard Alley–“Abrupt Climate Change In the Arctic (and Beyond) an Update”:

    Very helpful talk by Richard Alley (AGU Fall 2013) on how the planet got to now geophysically, and what geophysical now is.

    Chart (32:07) shows inverse variation of atmospheric CO2 and continental glaciation 400Ma to present.

  28. 128
    Hank Roberts says:

    Ars Technica science blogger Scott Johnson began a topic in February of this year debunking McPherson’s widely reblogged and redistributed “dire warnings of impending climate catastrophe. Those warnings go far beyond what you’ll find anywhere else …”, writing

    … lots of people run blogs that make wild claims, so why am I spending time on this one? McPherson claims to simply be passing along scientific data to the public — data that most scientists are unwilling to talk about and governments are trying to keep secret. As a result, his followers (I mean to use that term more in the Twitter sense than a religious one) seem confident that they have the weight of science behind them. It takes careful examination of McPherson’s references, and a familiarity with the present state of climate science, to uncover that his claims aren’t scientific at all. I also get the feeling that his internet following might not be insignificant (as noted by climate scientist Michael Tobis) and could be growing, yet I couldn’t find any direct challenges with a web search. This makes one.

    The topic has been flypaper for the ‘pocalyptic fans. Nine months later, with more than 1800 comments, he writes

    Do I really need to explain, yet again, why it’s not good to have someone telling people that all the climate scientists know we’re all about to die, and there’s nothing we can do about it, so you might as well retreat to a hut in the woods to buy a couple years time before the radioactive zombies (artistic license) get you? When that story is just bullshit? And we are instead at a critical point, needing to push for change? And a number of people are being sucked into whirlpools of panic and depression, believing the bullshit this person presents as common fact?

    He’s not “almost right”….

    Hat tip to a patient young science blogger who has been working to educate people.

    We all get fooled occasionally by someone overblowing or making up worries and claiming “science tells us …” — especially if the story fits our fears.

  29. 129
    MARodger says:

    Given an El Nino has yet to break, the last few months are remarkably scorchio.

    NCDC is reporting the hottest September on record. That joins May, June and August of this year and November of last all taking top spot. April took second spot. Of the 24 highest monthly aonmalies on record, 6 have occurred in the last 12 months.
    HadCRUT4 (which has recently been updated to v3.0.0) has yet to report September, but otherwise concurs with NCDC on recent hottest months. 4 of HadCRUT’s highest 16 monthly anomalies have been in the last 12 months.
    GISS is almost as scorchio. June only managed 3rd hottest June. 4 of the highest 27 monthly anomalies have been in the last 12 months.

  30. 130
    Hank Roberts says:

    Science News mentions a difference of opinion on the mechanisms (surface meltwater lakes, and melting from below) connected with ice shelf collapse:

    Balmy surface temperatures, not an unstable underbelly, probably prompted the largest ice shelf collapse ever recorded, researchers report in the Sept. 12 Science.

    … the grounding line wasn’t involved in Larsen B’s breakup, says study coauthor Eugene Domack, an earth scientist at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. “Up until now the community accepted that grounding line instability is needed for ice shelves to disintegrate,” he says. “We now show that surface warming alone can cause ice shelves to collapse.” He adds that other ice shelves in Antarctica could follow Larsen B’s lead as Antarctic surface temperatures rise under climate change ….

    Domack thinks surface melting, previously considered a secondary mechanism in Larsen B’s collapse, was the prime trigger. During Antarctic summers, a layer of snow usually sits on top of the shelf and acts like a sponge, soaking up meltwater from thawing ice and glaciers and preventing it from forming large pools. During the unusually warm summers that led up to the Larsen B collapse, Domack says, the snow on top of the ice shelf melted, allowing water to collect in large lakes on the surface. The pressure from these lakes probably burst open cracks in the ice, destabilizing the entire shelf.

    Glaciologist Eric Rignot of the University of California, Irvine remains unconvinced that surface melting alone was the driving force behind Larsen B’s collapse. He suggests other factors such as warming ocean temperatures thinning the shelf’s underside could have played a role. Rignot adds that no matter the forces involved in the ice shelf’s breakdown, Larsen B demonstrates how unusual the last few decades of warming have been….

    I’m curious whether the same surface meltwater effect is being noticed on the ice that are not floating on the ocean

  31. 131
    Terry says:

    So are we past the climate tipping point and now basically waiting to die?

    [Response: Try not to be so dramatic. – gavin]

  32. 132
  33. 133
    wili says:

    “Betting on negative emissions” Fuss et alia. Nature Climate Change (online), 21 September 2014

    We are relying on pixie dust (= wishful thinking = CCS) for the future habitability of the planet. (How’s my drama, gavin?)

  34. 134
    Terry says:

    I didn’t think I was being dramatic. But to the question, are we past the tipping point of no return?

    [Response: Runaway tipping points of no return. – gavin]

  35. 135
  36. 136
    Russell says:


    Though it’s not yet Halloween, Watts Up With That has already invoked the forces of darkness in its war on radiative forcing

  37. 137

    135–Thanks, John–There’s an excellent piece co-authored by Mike Mann, well-worth reading, linking, and (thanks Creative Commons licence!) reblogging (linked above.)

  38. 138

    Also eminently sharable:

    Thanks to Jim Scott, UU bard, and Paul Winter Consort alum, for creating this.

  39. 139
    wili says:

    Kevin Anderson’s response to EU’s “2030 Framwork”–emissions reductions should be 80%, not the 40% by 2030 proposed in the document.

  40. 140
    Chris Dudley says:


    Comparing footnotes 4 and 6 in the letter, I wonder if the math is appropriate? Would not cement emissions be under control along with fossil fuel emissions? And, is not the IPCC budget for a world with such effects already? Is this double counting? I think also that the EU is done with the equity issue in the considered time frame since Chinese per capita emissions are the same as the EUs. China must cut as well so the free ride assumed in the letter is not realistic, is it?

  41. 141
    Chris Dudley says:

    China, mimicking the treatment it received during the Unequal Treaties period, likes to support development projects that enhance its extractive capabilities abroad. Does that not make the less developed world their true competition? If so, then beginning to cut emissions now and insisting that the developing nations all do likewise preserves that competitive advantage for some time to come.

  42. 142
    wili says:

    Good questions, Chris (at #140), and thanks for reading so carefully. I haven’t looked in detail at that section of the IPCC report, but pretty much everywhere else I’ve looked cement production is counted separately from fossil fuel emissions. As for equity, advanced countries are always eager to ignore historical contributions to CO2, and I’m sure you are right that the EU would in general be happy to be ‘done with the equity issue.’ Also note that China is not the only country to consider where equity is concerned.

  43. 143
    wili says:

    Oh, and don’t forget the issue of imported/exported carbon emissions, something partly dealt with by Anderson here:

  44. 144
    Hank Roberts says:

    > China … beginning to cut emissions now
    > and insisting that the developing nations
    > all do likewise preserves that competitive
    > advantage for some time to come.

    Brilliant. Why didn’t the USA think of th … oh, wait.

  45. 145
    sidd says:

    Is there any possibility of introducing MathML or other markup for this blog. I was considerably confused for a while in another thread where the conventional symbol for heat, Q, was used for a term which was actually the time derivative dQ/dt, or in more old fashioned terms Qdot.

    In fact, are there any blogs that allow math markup in comments ? Cryosphere does it by making all comments PDF files, but that level of brutality might not be necessary …


    [Response: Quick Latex works.  $\Delta$Q, $\frac{dQ}{dt} \dot{Q}$ – gavin]

  46. 146
    Victor says:

    I’ve since added three more posts to my blog, all concerned with the limitations of expert opinion, due to a recent decline in critical thinking skills. My latest post is devoted to the unfortunate influence of Al Gore.

  47. 147
    sidd says:

    never mind.. i think that allowing latex parsing will allow malware

    thanx anyway for the effort


  48. 148
    wili says:

    Might we expect a lead post on the important new paper on the abundance of Methanoflorens in thawing permafrost? SkS just had a brief article on it here:

    It seems to me that this would alter significantly the earlier work by McDougal and others on future warming and CO2 levels as covered here:

    How much more warming should we expect in the coming decades and centuries from these additional forcings?

  49. 149
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Might we expect a lead post on … Methanoflorens

    Wili, my usual amateur reader comment here, about thinking before new worrying:

    Methanoflorens doesn’t appear to be a new organism on the Earth.
    Unless you have some reason to think this beastie suddenly evolved in recent years from something that behaved differently, there’s no reason to assume this will change how climate changes.

    The past warming events aren’t changed by this discovery.
    The paleo record that gives us an idea of how climate change happens isn’t changed by discovery.
    The present warming won’t be different because we discovered and named one of the organisms involved.
    It’s not an additional forcing.
    It’s putting a name on one of the participants that’s been there for a long time.

    This isn’t like the evolutionary development of grasses and mid-ocean plankton, when what had been shallow coastal organisms became able to spread into the deep ocean and produce new large populations

    As grasses evolved, radiated, and expanded, increased transfer of silica to the oceans primarily via fluvial erosion and, secondarily, via aeolian transport) increased the bioavailability of silica for diatom growth (Falkowski et al. 2004a, b). This mechanism may account for the close correlation between the evolutionary histories of grasses, terrestrial grazing animals, and diatoms.

    Those developments changed how global climate changes:

    But the discovery of the Methanoflorens isn’t a change in the world. It’s a change in what we know is there — it doesn’t change what happens, it changes how we explain what we already know has happened with each climate change over deep time.

    Now I could always be wrong. Someone will publish an evolutionary tree and we’ll know soon enough how long these beasties have been managing the climate.

    But I wouldn’t add this as a brand new worry, just yet.

  50. 150
    sidd says:

    try again, with assistance from

    $latex \dot {Q} = \frac{dQ}{dt}$

    mebbe this time …


    [Response: Use short codes [ latex ] and [ /latex ] to bracket the math. i.e. \dot {Q} =  \frac{dQ}{dt} . – gavin]