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How good have climate models been at truly predicting the future?

A new paper from Hausfather and colleagues (incl. me) has just been published with the most comprehensive assessment of climate model projections since the 1970s. Bottom line? Once you correct for small errors in the projected forcings, they did remarkably well.

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Sensitive But Unclassified

The US federal government goes to quite a lot of effort to (mostly successfully) keep sensitive but unclassified (SBU) information (like personal data) out of the hands of people who would abuse it. But when it comes to the latest climate models, quite a few are SBU as well.

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Koonin’s case for yet another review of climate science

We watch long YouTube videos so you don’t have to.

In the seemingly endless deliberations on whether there should be a ‘red team’ exercise to review various climate science reports, Scott Waldman reported last week that the original architect of the idea, Steve Koonin, had given a talk on touching on the topic at Purdue University in Indiana last month. Since the talk is online, I thought it might be worth a viewing.

[Spoiler alert. It wasn’t].

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Unforced Variations vs Forced Responses?

Guest commentary by Karsten Haustein, U. Oxford, and Peter Jacobs (George Mason University).

One of the perennial issues in climate research is how big a role internal climate variability plays on decadal to longer timescales. A large role would increase the uncertainty on the attribution of recent trends to human causes, while a small role would tighten that attribution. There have been a number of attempts to quantify this over the years, and we have just published a new study (Haustein et al, 2019) in the Journal of Climate addressing this question.

Using a simplified climate model, we find that we can reproduce temperature observations since 1850 and proxy-data since 1500 with high accuracy. Our results suggest that multidecadal ocean oscillations are only a minor contributing factor in the global mean surface temperature evolution (GMST) over that time. The basic results were covered in excellent articles in CarbonBrief and Science Magazine, but this post will try and go a little deeper into what we found.

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  1. K. Haustein, F.E.L. Otto, V. Venema, P. Jacobs, K. Cowtan, Z. Hausfather, R.G. Way, B. White, A. Subramanian, and A.P. Schurer, "A Limited Role for Unforced Internal Variability in Twentieth-Century Warming", Journal of Climate, vol. 32, pp. 4893-4917, 2019.

First successful model simulation of the past 3 million years of climate change

Filed under: — stefan @ 3 April 2019

Guest post by Matteo Willeit, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

A new study published in Science Advances shows that the main features of natural climate variability over the last 3 million years can be reproduced with an efficient model of the Earth system.

The Quaternary is the most recent geological Period, covering the past ~2.6 million years. It is defined by the presence of glacial-interglacial cycles associated with the cyclic growth and decay of continental ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere. Climate variations during the Quaternary are best seen in oxygen isotopes measured in deep-sea sediment cores, which represent variations in global ice volume and ocean temperature. These data show clearly that there has been a general trend towards larger ice sheets and cooler temperatures over the last 3 million years, accompanied by an increase in the amplitude of glacial-interglacial variations and a transition from mostly symmetry cycles with a periodicity of 40,000 years to strongly asymmetric 100,000-year cycles at around 1 million years ago.  However, the ultimate causes of these transitions in glacial cycle dynamics remain debated.

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The best case for worst case scenarios

The “end of the world” or “good for you” are the two least likely among the spectrum of potential outcomes.

Stephen Schneider

Beware the worst case scenario

Scientists have been looking at best, middling and worst case scenarios for anthropogenic climate change for decades. For instance, Stephen Schneider himself took a turn back in 2009. And others have postulated both far more rosy and far more catastrophic possibilities as well (with somewhat variable evidentiary bases).

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  1. S. Schneider, "The worst-case scenario", Nature, vol. 458, pp. 1104-1105, 2009.

New Ocean Heat Content Histories

Guest commentary from Laure Zanna (U. Oxford) and G. Jake Gebbie (WHOI)

Two recent papers, Zanna et al. (2019) (hereafter ZKGIH19) and Gebbie & Huybers (2019) (hereafter GH19), independently reconstructed ocean heat content (OHC) changes prior to the instrumentally-based records (which start ~1950). The goals (and methodologies) of the two papers were quite different – ZKGIH19 investigated regional patterns of ocean warming and thermal sea level rise, while GH19 analyzed the long-term memory of the deep ocean – but they both touch on the same key questions of climate forcing and response.

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  1. L. Zanna, S. Khatiwala, J.M. Gregory, J. Ison, and P. Heimbach, "Global reconstruction of historical ocean heat storage and transport", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 116, pp. 1126-1131, 2019.
  2. G. Gebbie, and P. Huybers, "The Little Ice Age and 20th-century deep Pacific cooling", Science, vol. 363, pp. 70-74, 2019.

Bending low with Bated breath

Filed under: — gavin @ 22 December 2018

“Shall I bend low and in a bondman’s key,
With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness…?”

Shylock (Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 3)

As dark nights draw in, the venerable contrarians at the GWPF are still up late commissioning silly pseudo-rebuttals to mainstream science. The latest, [but see update below] which no-one was awaiting with any kind of breath, is by Dr. Ray Bates (rtd.) which purports to be a take-down of the recent #SR15 report. As Peter Thorne (an IPCC author) correctly noted, this report is a “cut-and-paste of long-debunked arguments”. I’ve grown a little weary of diving down to rebut every repetitive piece of nonsense, but this one has a few funny aspects that make it worthwhile to do so.

When they go low, we go “sigh…”.

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The long story of constraining ocean heat content

Filed under: — gavin @ 21 November 2018

Scientists predicted in the 1980s that a key fingerprint of anthropogenic climate change would be found in the ocean. If they were correct that increases in greenhouse gases were changing how much heat was coming into the system, then the component with the biggest heat capacity, the oceans, is where most of that heat would end up.

We have now had almost two decades of attempts to characterize this change, but the path to confirming those predictions has been anything but smooth…

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Cracking the Climate Change Case

I have an op-ed in the New York Times this week:

How Scientists Cracked the Climate Change Case
The biggest crime scene on the planet is the planet. We know the earth is warming, but who or what is causing it?
Emilia Miękisz

Many of you will recognise the metaphor from previous Realclimate pieces (this is earliest one I think, from 2007), and indeed, the working title was “CSI: Planet Earth”. The process description and conclusions are drawn from multiple sources on the attribution of recent climate trends (here, here etc.), as well the data visualization for surface temperature trends at Bloomberg News.

There have been many comments about this on Twitter – most appreciative, some expected, and a few interesting. The expected criticisms come from people who mostly appear not to have read the piece at all (“Climate has changed before!” – a claim that no-one disputes), and a lot of pointless counter-arguments by assertion. Of the more interesting comment threads, was one started by Ted Nordhaus who asked

My response is basically that it might be old hat for him (and maybe many readers here), but I am constantly surprised at the number of people – even those concerned about climate – who are unaware of how we do attribution and how solid the science behind the IPCC statements is. And judging by many of the comments, it certainly isn’t the case that these pieces are only read by the already convinced. But asking how many people are helped to be persuaded by articles like this is a valid question, and I don’t really know the answer. Anyone?