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Global warming is turning 35! Not only has the current spate of global warming been going on for about 35 years now, but also the term “global warming” will have its 35th anniversary next week. On 8 August 1975, Wally Broecker published his paper “Are we on the brink of a pronounced global warming?” in the journal Science. That appears to be the first use of the term “global warming” in the scientific literature (at least it’s the first of over 10,000 papers for this search term according to the ISI database of journal articles).
In this paper, Broecker correctly predicted “that the present cooling trend will, within a decade or so, give way to a pronounced warming induced by carbon dioxide”, and that “by early in the next century [carbon dioxide] will have driven the mean planetary temperature beyond the limits experienced during the last 1000 years”. He predicted an overall 20th Century global warming of 0.8ºC due to CO2 and worried about the consequences for agriculture and sea level.
Guest commentary by Corinne Le Quéré, Michael R. Raupach, and Joseph G. Canadell
There is a letter in Nature Geoscience this month by Manning et al (sub. reqd.) “Misrepresentation of the IPCC CO2 emission scenarios” discussing some recent statements about the growth rates of CO2 emissions compared to the IPCC scenarios that informed the climate modeling in the last IPCC report. In it they refer to results published by us and colleagues in a couple of recent papers (Raupach et al. 2007; Le Quéré et al. 2009), and to statements made by others on the basis of our results (Ganguly et al. 2009; Anderson et al. 2008; Reichstein 2010). Specifically, Manning et al object to the claim that “current CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning were higher than the values used in climate projections by the IPCC”.
We agree with the Manning et al’s main point, and appreciate the chance to provide some clarification on the graph in question and subsequent use of our result. To be specific, recent emissions were not higher than each and every one of the climate projections by the IPCC, as has been claimed by some other studies citing our work, although they were near the top end of the range.
So what is the claim of ‘misrepresentation’ based on?
There is an interesting letter in Nature Geoscience this month on what climate changes we have actually already committed ourselves to. The letter, by Mathews and Weaver (sub. reqd.), makes the valid point that there are both climatic and societal inertias to consider.
Gilbert Plass was one of the pioneers of the calculation of how solar and infrared radiation affects climate and climate change. In 1956 he published a series of papers on radiative transfer and the role of CO2, including a relatively ‘pop’ piece in American Scientist. This has just been reprinted (as an abridged version) along with commentaries from James Fleming, a historian of science, and me. Some of the intriguing things about this article are that Plass (writing in 1956 remember) estimates that a doubling of CO2 would cause the planet to warm 3.6ºC, that CO2 levels would rise 30% over the 20th Century and it would warm by about 1ºC over the same period. The relevant numbers from the IPCC AR4 are a climate sensitivity of 2 to 4.5ºC, a CO2 rise of 37% since the pre-industrial and a 1900-2000 trend of around 0.7ºC. He makes a lot of other predictions (about the decrease in CO2 during ice ages, the limits of nuclear power and the like), but it’s worth examining his apparent prescience on these three quantitative issues. Was he prophetic, or lucky, or both?
Continuation of the open thread. Please use these threads to bring up things that are creating ‘buzz’ rather than having news items get buried in comment threads on more specific topics. We’ll promote the best responses to the head post.
Knorr (2009): Case in point, Knorr (GRL, 2009) is a study about how much of the human emissions are staying the atmosphere (around 40%) and whether that is detectably changing over time. It does not undermine the fact that CO2 is rising. The confusion in the denialosphere is based on a misunderstanding between ‘airborne fraction of CO2 emissions’ (not changing very much) and ‘CO2 fraction in the air’ (changing very rapidly), led in no small part by a misleading headline (subsequently fixed) on the ScienceDaily news item Update: MT/AH point out the headline came from an AGU press release (Sigh…). SkepticalScience has a good discussion of the details including some other recent work by Le Quéré and colleagues.
Update: Some comments on the John Coleman/KUSI/Joe D’Aleo/E. M. Smith accusations about the temperature records. Their claim is apparently that coastal station absolute temperatures are being used to estimate the current absolute temperatures in mountain regions and that the anomalies there are warm because the coast is warmer than the mountain. This is simply wrong. What is actually done is that temperature anomalies are calculated locally from local baselines, and these anomalies can be interpolated over quite large distances. This is perfectly fine and checkable by looking at the pairwise correlations at the monthly stations between different stations (London-Paris or New York-Cleveland or LA-San Francisco). The second thread in their ‘accusation’ is that the agencies are deleting records, but this just underscores their lack of understanding of where the GHCN data set actually comes from. This is thoroughly discussed in Peterson and Vose (1997) which indicates where the data came from and which data streams give real time updates. The principle one is the CLIMAT updates of monthly mean temperature via the WMO network of reports. These are distributed by the Nat. Met. Services who have decided which stations they choose to produce monthly mean data for (and how it is calculated) and is absolutely nothing to do with NCDC or NASA.
Further Update: NCDC has a good description of their procedures now available, and Zeke Hausfather has a very good explanation of the real issues on the Yale Forum.
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