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It has now become all too common. Peculiar weather precipitates immediate blame on global warming by some, and equally immediate pronouncements by others (curiously, quite often the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in recent years) that global warming can’t possibly be to blame. The reality, as we’ve often remarked here before, is that absolute statements of neither sort are scientifically defensible. Meteorological anomalies cannot be purely attributed to deterministic factors, let alone any one specific such factor (e.g. either global warming or a hypothetical long-term climate oscillation).
Lets consider the latest such example. In an odd repeat of last year (the ‘groundhog day’ analogy growing ever more appropriate), we find ourselves well into the meteorological Northern Hemisphere winter (Dec-Feb) with little evidence over large parts of the country (most noteably the eastern and central U.S.) that it ever really began. Unsurprisingly, numerous news stories have popped up asking whether global warming might be to blame. Almost as if on cue, representatives from NOAA’s National Weather Service have been dispatched to tell us that the event e.g. “has absolutely nothing to do with global warming”, but instead is entirely due to the impact of the current El Nino event.
[Update 1/9/07: NOAA coincidentally has announced today that 2006 was officially the warmest year on record for the U.S.]
[Update 2/11/08: It got bumped to second place. ]
Net ocean heat content changes are very closely tied to the net radiative imbalance of the planet since the ocean component of the climate system has by far the biggest heat capacity. Thus we have often made the point that diagnosing this imbalance through measurements of temperature in the ocean is a key metric in evaluating the response of the system to changes in CO2 and the other radiative forcings (see here).
In a paper I co-authored last year (Hansen et al, 2005), we compared model results with the trends over the 1993 to 2003 period and showed that they matched quite well (here). Given their importance in evaluating climate models, new reports on the ocean heat content numbers are anticipated quite closely.
Recently, a new preprint with the latest observations (2003 to 2005) has appeared (Lyman et al, hat tip to Climate Science) which shows a decrease in the ocean heat content over those two years, decreasing the magnitude of the long-term trend that had been shown from 1993 to 2003 in previous work (Willis et al, 2004) – from 0.6 W/m2 to about 0.33 W/m2. This has generated a lot of commentary in some circles, but in many cases the full context has not been appreciated.
by Ray Pierrehumbert and Rasmus Benestad
Second article of our 3-part series on atmospheric circulation and global warming
In Part I we outlined some general features of the tropical circulation, and discussed ways in which increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gases might affect El Niño. Now we take up the question of how global warming might affect the quasi-steady east-west overturning circulation known as the Walker Circulation. The Walker circulation affects convection and precipitation patterns, the easterly Trade Winds, oceanic upwelling and ocean biological productivity; hence, changes in this circulation can have far-reaching consequences. It also provides the background state against which El Niño events take place, and so changes in the Walker circulation should form an intrinsic part of thinking about how global warming will affect El Niño. In a paper that recently appeared in Nature, Vecchi, Soden, Wittenberg, Held, Leetmaa and Harrison present intriguing new results which suggest that there has already been a weakening of the Walker circulation in the past century, and that the observed changes are consistent with those expected as a response to increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gases. The discussion in Vecchi et al. also raises some very interesting issues regarding the way the hydrological cycle might change in a warming world.
By Rasmus Benestad & Raymond Pierrehumbert
This is the first part of a planned mini-series of 3 posts on tropical climate, circulation, and oceanic response in conjunction with a global warming. Climate change related to a global warming is more than just temperature and precipitation -massive atmospheric circulations change too, and these changes can have consequences.
The Washington Post picked up on the latest update to the 2005 temperature anomaly analysis from NASA GISS. The 2005 Jan-Sep land data (which is adjusted for urban biases) is higher than the previously warmest year (0.76°C compared to the 1998 anomaly of 0.75°C for the same months, and a 0.71°C anomaly for the whole year) , while the land-ocean temperature index (which includes sea surface temperature data) is trailing slightly behind (0.58°C compared to 0.60°C Jan-Sep, 0.56°C for the whole of 1998). The GISS team (of which I am not a part) had predicted that it was likely the 2005 would exceed the 1998 record (when there was a very large El Niño at the beginning of that year) based on the long term trends in surface temperature and the estimated continuing large imbalance in the Earth’s radiation budget.
In 1998 the last three months of the year were relatively cool as the El Niño pattern had faded. For the 2005 global land-ocean index to exceed the annual 1998 record, the mean anomaly needs to stay above 0.51°C for the next three months. Since there was no El Niño this year, and the mean so far is significantly above that, this seems likely. More »
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