It’s long been known that El Niño variability affects the global mean temperature anomalies. 1998 was so warm in part because of the big El Niño event over the winter of 1997-1998 which directly warmed a large part of the Pacific, and indirectly warmed (via the large increase in water vapour) an even larger region. The opposite effect was seen with the La Niña event this last winter. Since the variability associated with these events is large compared to expected global warming trends over a short number of years, the underlying trends might be more clearly seen if the El Niño events (more generally, the El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO)) were taken out of the way. There is no perfect way to do this – but there are a couple of reasonable approaches.
By Rasmus Benestad & Michael Mann
Just as Typhoon Nargis has reminded us of the destructive power of tropical cyclones (with its horrible death toll in Burma–around 100,000 according to the UN), a new paper by Knutson et al in the latest issue of the journal Nature Geosciences purports to project a reduction in Atlantic hurricane activity (principally the ‘frequency’ but also integrated measures of powerfulness).
The close timing of the Knutson et al and Typhoon Nargis is of course coincidental. But the study has been accorded the unprecedented privilege (that is, for a climate change article published during the past 7 years) of a NOAA press conference. What’s the difference this time? Well, for one thing, the title of the paper: “Simulated reduction in Atlantic hurricane frequency under twenty-first-century warming conditions” (emphasis added).
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.
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.