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The Rise and Fall of the “Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation”

Filed under: — mike @ 4 March 2021

Two decades ago, in an interview with science journalist Richard Kerr for the journal Science, I coined the term the “Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation” (AMO) to describe an internal oscillation in the climate system resulting from interactions between North Atlantic ocean currents and wind patterns. These interactions were thought to lead to alternating decades-long intervals of warming and cooling centered in the extra-tropical North Atlantic that play out on 40-60 year timescales (hence the name). Think of the purported AMO as a much slower relative of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), with a longer timescale of oscillation (multidecadal rather than interannual) and centered in a different region (the North Atlantic rather than the tropical Pacific).

Today, in a research article published in the same journal Science, my colleagues and I have provided what we consider to be the most definitive evidence yet that the AMO doesn’t actually exist.

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Unforced Variations: Mar 2021

Filed under: — group @ 1 March 2021

This month’s open thread. Northern Hemisphere Spring is on it’s way, along with peak Arctic/minimum Antarctic sea ice, undoubtedly more discussion about the polar vortex, and the sharpening up of the (currently very uncertain) ENSO forecast for the rest of this year.

Laschamps-ing at the bit

Filed under: — gavin @ 26 February 2021

A placeholder to provide some space to discuss the paper last week (Cooper et al, 2021) on the putative climate consequences of the Laschamps Geomagnetic Excursion, some 42,000 yrs ago.

There was some rather breathless reporting on this paper, but there were also a lot of sceptical voices – not of the main new result (a beautiful new 14C dataset from a remarkable kauri tree log found in New Zealand), but of the more speculative implications – both climatically and anthropologically.

On twitter there were some good threads covering multiple aspects of the paper (and the lead author):

But let me make a couple of different points. We have occasionally discussed the Laschamps event here as a counter-example to the notion that changes in galactic cosmic rays have a major impact on climate. A reversal or near-reversal of the geomagnetic field would be expected to greatly increase the GCR getting to the lower atmosphere – in far greater amounts than over a solar cycle, or grand solar minimum (like the Maunder Minimum). So if people want to postulate a big role for GCR there, they needed to explain why there wasn’t a much bigger signal at 42kya too. These authors are thus not the only people to have looked for significant climate impacts at this time. They are perhaps the first to claim to have found them…

To be clear, the modeling that was done in this paper was good (if extreme) and suggested that the geomagnetic event combined with a severe grand solar minimum (much bigger than the Maunder minimum) would cause significant depletion of the ozone layer and some shifts in the annular modes. But the ozone depletion is less than we’ve seen due to anthropogenic ozone depletion since the 1980s, and the surface climate changes don’t seem very significant at all – especially compared to the massive variability exhibited in the ice cores throughout the last ice age (particularly in Marine Isotope Stage 3 – the Dansgaard-Oeschgar events). At best these are nuanced and subtle climate effects, and certainly not anything apocalyptic (despite Stephen Fry’s dulcet tones).

Finally, it should be called the Laschamps event (with a final, and etymologically correct, ‘s’) after the village in the Auvergne where it was first identified. There is unfortunately 50 years of legacy references to the “Laschamp” excursion, but hopefully it isn’t too late to fix!

References

  1. A. Cooper, C.S.M. Turney, J. Palmer, A. Hogg, M. McGlone, J. Wilmshurst, A.M. Lorrey, T.J. Heaton, J.M. Russell, K. McCracken, J.G. Anet, E. Rozanov, M. Friedel, I. Suter, T. Peter, R. Muscheler, F. Adolphi, A. Dosseto, J.T. Faith, P. Fenwick, C.J. Fogwill, K. Hughen, M. Lipson, J. Liu, N. Nowaczyk, E. Rainsley, C. Bronk Ramsey, P. Sebastianelli, Y. Souilmi, J. Stevenson, Z. Thomas, R. Tobler, and R. Zech, "A global environmental crisis 42,000 years ago", Science, vol. 371, pp. 811-818, 2021. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.abb8677

Regional information for society (RifS) and unresolved issues

It’s encouraging to note the growing interest for regional climate information for society and climate adaptation, such as recent advances in the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), the climate adaptation summit CAS2021, and the new Digital Europe. These efforts are likely to boost the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) needed as a guide to decision-makers on matters influenced by weather and climate. 

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Don’t climate bet against the house

Decades ago (it seems) when perhaps it was still possible to have good faith disagreements about the attribution of current climate trends, James Annan wrote a post here summarizing the thinking and practice of Climate Betting. That led to spate of wagers on continued global warming (a summary of his bets through 2005 and attempts to set up others is here).

There were earlier bets, the most well known perhaps was the one for $100 between Hugh Ellsaesser and Jim Hansen in 1989 on whether there would be a new temperature record within three years. There was (1990), and Ellsaesser paid up in January 1991 (Kerr, 1991). But these more recent bets were more extensive.

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References

  1. R.A. KERR, "Global Temperature Hits Record Again", Science, vol. 251, pp. 274-274, 1991. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.251.4991.274

Unforced Variations: Feb 2021

Filed under: — group @ 1 February 2021

This month’s open thread on climate science topics. Discussions related to solutions should go here.

Climate Adaptation Summit 2021

Filed under: — rasmus @ 31 January 2021

The first ever Climate Adaptation Summit (#adaptationsummit) that I have heard about took place last week, on January 25-26. I think such a summit was a step in the right direction. It was adapted to the Covid-19 situation and therefore an online virtual summit streamed on YouTube

I watched a few of the streamed sessions, and it struck me that climate change adaptation seems to be a fairly new concept to many leaders. It were sometimes mix-ups with mitigation during the high-level talks. Mitigation and adaptation are both important and sometimes they overlap, so mix-ups are understandable. 

One important point addressed during the summit was of course financing climate change adaptation, which is promising. Financing is clearly needed for climate change adaptation. To ensure progress and avoid lofty visions without results on the ground, there may also be a need for tangible results and to show examples and demonstrations. One specific type discussed at the summit was “Early warning systems” which play an important role.

But it was not crystal clear what was meant by the concept “early warning systems”. My interpretation is that it involves something on par with weather forecasts which would imply that they are more about weather than climate. This is of course important too. Probably the first priority in many places. 

But early warning systems, the way I understand them, don’t provide information about climate risks on longer timescales. Weather and climate – short and long timescales – are of course connected but nevertheless different (“climate” can be viewed as weather statistics). Other examples of climate adaptation can be found in a recent Eos article on food security in Africa. I think it is important to mention maladaptation and avoid long-term problems connected to short-term fixes. Resilience is a keyword. 

As with many other summits, I felt that the scientists’ voice was largely missing. There seems to be a gap between high-level politics and science. I think we need a better dialogue between the leaders and climate scientists partly to help distinguish between different and difficult concepts. But the main reason is that we need to know what we must adapt to. We need to know the situation: the state of the climate and how it is changing. This knowledge is not readily downloadable from the Internet.

There are key questions that should involve scientists: What is needed for proper climate change adaptation? And what are the challenges in terms of meeting our objectives? What do we know about future risks? In addition, biodiversity, nature conservation, cultural, social and economic aspects are important. 

Data is crucial, but is often unavailable because of lack of sharing and lack of openness. Often due to lacking finance. Information about the regional climate change must be distilled from large volumes of data, and we need to ask what information is useful and how it can be used in the best possible way.

The required analysis is often carried out in climate services and often includes downscaling. It involves tools, methods and understanding that are still evolving with regards to these topics. This fact wasn’t explained clearly during the summit in the sessions I watched. I think it would be useful with a presentation of the state of climate science relevant for climate change adaptation at a high level in the summit. Perhaps science should get an equal amount of attention as the NGOs and the businesses. 

Much of the latest research relevant to the climate adaptation summit is coordinated within the World Climate Research Programme (WRCP) which also is setting a new focus on regional information for society (“RifS”). Furthermore, there is considerable scientific experience on adaptation from the Arctic with the fastest climate change on Earth, such as the Adaptive Actions in a Changing Arctic (AACA) report for the Arctic Council. 

Climate adaptation involves many communities and disciplines (e.g. weather forecasting, climate services, regional climate modelling, “distillation“, disaster risk reduction) which I think aren’t well coordinated at the moment. One message from the summit was “Let’s work together” which I think implies a better coordination of the different disciplines and communities.

Update day 2021

Filed under: — gavin @ 22 January 2021

As is now traditional, every year around this time we update the model-observation comparison page with an additional annual observational point, and upgrade any observational products to their latest versions.

A couple of notable issues this year. HadCRUT has now been updated to version 5 which includes polar infilling, making the Cowtan and Way dataset (which was designed to address that issue in HadCRUT4) a little superfluous. Going forward it is unlikely to be maintained so, in a couple of figures, I have replaced it with the new HadCRUT5. The GISTEMP version is now v4.

For the comparison with the Hansen et al. (1988), we only had the projected output up to 2019 (taken from fig 3a in the original paper). However, it turns out that fuller results were archived at NCAR, and now they have been added to our data file (and yes, I realise this is ironic). This extends Scenario B to 2030 and Scenario A to 2060.

Nothing substantive has changed with respect to the satellite data products, so the only change is the addition of 2020 in the figures and trends.

So what do we see? The early Hansen models have done very well considering the uncertainty in total forcings (as we’ve discussed (Hausfather et al., 2019)). The CMIP3 models estimates of SAT forecast from ~2000 continue to be astoundingly on point. This must be due (in part) to luck since the spread in forcings and sensitivity in the GCMs is somewhat ad hoc (given that the CMIP simulations are ensembles of opportunity), but is nonetheless impressive.

CMIP3 (circa 2004) model hindcast and forecast estimates of SAT.

The forcings spread in CMIP5 was more constrained, but had some small systematic biases as we’ve discussed Schmidt et al., 2014. The systematic issue associated with the forcings and more general issue of the target diagnostic (whether we use SAT or a blended SST/SAT product from the models), give rise to small effects (roughly 0.1ºC and 0.05ºC respectively) but are independent and additive.

The discrepancies between the CMIP5 ensemble and the lower atmospheric MSU/AMSU products are still noticeable, but remember that we still do not have a ‘forcings-adjusted’ estimate of the CMIP5 simulations for TMT, though work with the CMIP6 models and forcings to address this is ongoing. Nonetheless, the observed TMT trends are very much on the low side of what the models projected, even while stratospheric and surface trends are much closer to the ensemble mean. There is still more to be done here. Stay tuned!

The results from CMIP6 (which are still being rolled out) are too recent to be usefully added to this assessment of forecasts right now, though some compilations have now appeared:

CMIP6 model SAT (observed forcings to 2014, SSP2-45 scenario subsequently) (Zeke Hausfather)

The issues in CMIP6 related to the excessive spread in climate sensitivity will need to be looked at in more detail moving forward. In my opinion ‘official’ projections will need to weight the models to screen out those ECS values outside of the constrained range. We’ll see if other’s agree when the IPCC report is released later this year.

Please let us know in the comments if you have suggestions for improvements to these figures/analyses, or suggestions for additions.

References

  1. Z. Hausfather, H.F. Drake, T. Abbott, and G.A. Schmidt, "Evaluating the Performance of Past Climate Model Projections", Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 47, 2020. http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2019GL085378
  2. G.A. Schmidt, D.T. Shindell, and K. Tsigaridis, "Reconciling warming trends", Nature Geoscience, vol. 7, pp. 158-160, 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2105

2020 Hindsight

Yesterday was the day that NASA, NOAA, the Hadley Centre and Berkeley Earth delivered their final assessments for temperatures in Dec 2020, and thus their annual summaries. The headline results have received a fair bit of attention in the media (NYT, WaPo, BBC, The Guardian etc.) and the conclusion that 2020 was pretty much tied with 2016 for the warmest year in the instrumental record is robust.

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Flyer tipping

Filed under: — gavin @ 12 January 2021

You would be forgiven for not paying attention to the usual suspects of climate denial right now, but they are trying to keep busy anyway.

Last week (January 8), Roy Spencer [Update Jan 13: now deleted] posted a series of Climate Change “flyers” on his personal blog that purported to be organised by David Legates (NOAA, detailed to Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), nominally on leave from (and soon to return to) U. Delaware). Each was a rather garishly colored rehash of standard climate denial talking points, but featuring the OSTP official logo, and claiming to be copyrighted by OSTP (a legal impossibility). Note that if this was an official US Govt. work, they could not copyright them, but if it wasn’t, they could not legally use the OSTP logo to indicate that it was.

Dubious use of an official government logo…

The reaction to this definitive refutation of mainstream science (ha!) was… silence. Spencer’s post was reblogged at WUWT but again, nothing happened [Update Jan 13: Also now deleted]. . Many of the authors of the pieces themselves – many of whom are active on social media – didn’t bother to tweet or post about them. Odd.

The whole thing seems to be Legates trying to get a pet project out into the world before the new administration comes in, but without bothering with all that messy peer-review, official permission, proper channels or, you know, actual science. Almost certainly this is also a violation of the Data Quality Act, something Patrick Michaels (one of the flyer authors) was quite exercised about in his effort. Consistency is also apparently optional.

Anyway, a couple of days ago (Jan 10), they were also posted on Willie Soon’s new website where they were noticed on twitter, and today there have been some media eyebrows raised.

Is there a there there?

The flyers themselves are remarkably thin on valid argumentation. Will Happer’s discussion of Radiative Transfer is mostly textbook stuff except for the last paragraph where he simply asserts that a radiative forcing of 3 W/m2 can’t possibly matter. That’s kind of the key issue, which he totally elides.

Christopher Essex purports to discuss climate models, without ever showing anything from a climate model. He seems to be arguing against some Aristotelian concept of climate models that never has to be bothered with actually looking at the real world (for instance). Weird, and totally pointless.

Spencer makes the remarkable assertion that climate has changed for natural reasons in the past (I’m shocked, shocked!), and ignores how attribution actually works (I’m not at all shocked).

The Connollys and Willie Soon’s flyer purports to talk about sun-climate connections, but they spend most of their effort talking about Milankovitch forcing before pivoting to imagining a universe where the temperatures have not in fact been steadily climbing but where they could conceivably have a higher correlation to out-of-date and unsupported reconstructions of solar activity. In so doing, they even have the chutzpah to cite a paper of mine. Meh.

Etc. If there is a demand in the comments, I could expand on the others, but for now, I think you get the idea.

Why should anyone care?

Great question! I don’t think anyone should. But this whole effort is emblematic of how far the climate question has moved. With a new US administration poised to act on climate across a whole series of fronts, this feeble throwback (were they released on a Thursday?), serves to underline how out-of-touch these old school deniers and their talking points really are. This is perhaps the last weak ‘hurrah’ of a bankrupt cause.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Update (4pm, Jan 12): that was quick: