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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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Resplandy et al. correction and response

Filed under: — group @ 14 November 2018

Guest commentary from Ralph Keeling (UCSD)

I, with the other co-authors of Resplandy et al (2018), want to address two problems that came to our attention since publication of our paper in Nature last week. These problems do not invalidate the methodology or the new insights into ocean biogeochemistry on which it is based, but they do influence the mean rate of warming we infer, and more importantly, the uncertainties of that calculation.

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References

  1. L. Resplandy, R.F. Keeling, Y. Eddebbar, M.K. Brooks, R. Wang, L. Bopp, M.C. Long, J.P. Dunne, W. Koeve, and A. Oschlies, "Quantification of ocean heat uptake from changes in atmospheric O2 and CO2 composition", Nature, vol. 563, pp. 105-108, 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0651-8

Does a slow AMOC increase the rate of global warming?

Filed under: — stefan @ 18 July 2018

Established understanding of the AMOC (sometimes popularly called Gulf Stream System) says that a weaker AMOC leads to a slightly cooler global mean surface temperature due to changes in ocean heat storage. But now, a new paper in Nature claims the opposite and even predicts a phase of rapid global warming. What’s the story?

By Stefan Rahmstorf and Michael Mann

In 1751, the captain of an English slave-trading ship made a historic discovery. While sailing at latitude 25°N in the subtropical North Atlantic Ocean, Captain Henry Ellis lowered a “bucket sea-gauge” down through the warm surface waters into the deep. By means of a long rope and a system of valves, water from various depths could be brought up to the deck, where its temperature was read from a built-in thermometer. To his surprise Captain Ellis found that the deep water was icy cold.

These were the first ever recorded temperature measurements of the deep ocean. And they revealed what is now known to be a fundamental feature of all the world oceans: deep water is always cold. The warm waters of the tropics and subtropics are confined to a thin layer at the surface; the heat of the sun does not slowly warm up the depths as might be expected. Ellis wrote:

“This experiment, which seem’d at first but mere food for curiosity, became in the interim very useful to us. By its means we supplied our cold bath, and cooled our wines or water at pleasure; which is vastly agreeable to us in this burning climate.”

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Does global warming make tropical cyclones stronger?

Filed under: — stefan @ 30 May 2018

By Stefan Rahmstorf, Kerry Emanuel, Mike Mann and Jim Kossin

Friday marks the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, which will be watched with interest after last year’s season broke a number of records and e.g. devastated Puerto Rico’s power grid, causing serious problems that persist today. One of us (Mike) is part of a team that has issued a seasonal forecast (see Kozar et al 2012) calling for a roughly average season in terms of overall activity (10 +/- 3 named storms), with tropical Atlantic warmth constituting a favorable factor, but predicted El Nino conditions an unfavorable factor.  Meanwhile, the first named storm, Alberto, has gone ahead without waiting for the official start of the season.

In the long term, whether we will see fewer or more tropical cyclones in the Atlantic or in other basins as a consequence of anthropogenic climate change is still much-debated. There is a mounting consensus, however, that we will see more intense hurricanes. So let us revisit the question of whether global warming is leading to more intense tropical storms. Let’s take a step back and look at this issue globally, not just for the Atlantic. More »

If you doubt that the AMOC has weakened, read this

A few weeks ago, we’ve argued in a paper in Nature that the Atlantic overturning circulation (sometimes popularly dubbed the Gulf Stream System) has weakened significantly since the late 19th Century, with most of the decline happening since the mid-20th Century. We have since received much praise for our study from colleagues around the world (thanks for that). But there were also some questions and criticisms in the media, so I’d like to present a forum here for discussing these questions and hope that others (particularly those with a different view) will weigh in in the comments section below. More »

Stronger evidence for a weaker Atlantic overturning circulation

Filed under: — stefan @ 11 April 2018

Through two new studies in Nature, the weakening of the Gulf Stream System is back in the scientific headlines. But even before that, interesting new papers have been published – high time for an update on this topic.

Let’s start with tomorrow’s issue of Nature, which besides the two new studies (one of which I was involved in) also includes a News&Views commentary. Everything revolves around the question of whether the Gulf Stream System has already weakened. Climate models predict this will be one consequence of global warming – alongside other problems such as rising sea levels and increasing heat waves, droughts and extreme precipitation. But is such a slowdown already underway today? This question is easier asked than answered. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC, also known as Gulf Stream System) is a huge, three-dimensional flow system throughout the Atlantic, which fluctuates on different time scales. It is therefore by no means enough to put a current meter in the water at one or two points. More »

The global CO2 rise: the facts, Exxon and the favorite denial tricks

Filed under: — stefan @ 25 January 2018

The basic facts about the global increase of CO2 in our atmosphere are clear and established beyond reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, I’ve recently seen some of the old myths peddled by “climate skeptics” pop up again. Are the forests responsible for the CO2 increase? Or volcanoes? Or perhaps the oceans?

Let’s start with a brief overview of the most important data and facts about the increase in the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere:

  1. Since the beginning of industrialization, the CO2 concentration has risen from 280 ppm (the value of the previous millennia of the Holocene) to now 405 ppm.
  2. This increase by 45 percent (or 125 ppm) is completely caused by humans.
  3. The CO2 concentration is thus now already higher than it has been for several million years.
  4. The additional 125 ppm CO2 have a heating effect of 2 watts per square meter of earth surface, due to the well-known greenhouse effect – enough to raise the global temperature by around 1°C until the present.

Fig. 1 Perhaps the most important scientific measurement series of the 20th century: the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere, measured on Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Other stations of the global CO2 measurement network show almost exactly the same; the most important regional variation is the greatly subdued seasonal cycle at stations in the southern hemisphere. This seasonal variation is mainly due to the “inhaling and exhaling” of the forests over the year on the land masses of the northern hemisphere. Source (updated daily): Scripps Institution of Oceanography. More »

Snow Water Ice and Water and Adaptive Actions for a Changing Arctic

The Arctic is changing fast, and the Arctic Council recently commissioned the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) to write two new reports on the state of the Arctic cryosphere (snow, water, and ice) and how the people and the ecosystems in the Arctic can live with these changes.

The two reports have now just been published and are called Snow Water Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic Update (SWIPA-update) and Adaptive Actions for a Changing Arctic (AACA).

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There was no pause

Filed under: — rasmus @ 22 January 2017

I think that the idea of a pause in the global warming has been a red herring ever since it was suggested, and we have commented on this several times here on RC: On how data gaps in some regions (eg. the Arctic) may explain an underestimation of the recent warming. We have also explained how natural oscillations may give the impression of a faux pause. Now, when we know the the global mean temperature for 2016, it’s even more obvious.

Easterling and Wehner (2009) explained that it is not surprising to see some brief periods with an apparent decrease in a temperature record that increases in jumps and spurts, and Foster and Rahmstorf (2012) showed in a later paper how temperature data from the most important observations show consistent global warming trends when known short-term influences such as El Niño Southern oscillation (ENSO), volcanic aerosols and solar variability are accounted for.

A recent paper by Hausfather et al. (2017) adds little new to our understanding, although it confirms that there has not been a recent “hiatus” in the global warming. However, if there are doubts about a physical condition, then further scientific research is our best option for establishing the facts. This is exactly what this recent study did.

The latest findings confirm the results of Karl et al. 2015 from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which Gavin described in a previous post here on RC. The NOAA analysis received unusual attention because of the harassment it drew from the chair of the US House Science Committee and the subpoena demand for emails.

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References

  1. D.R. Easterling, and M.F. Wehner, "Is the climate warming or cooling?", Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 36, 2009. http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2009GL037810
  2. G. Foster, and S. Rahmstorf, "Global temperature evolution 1979–2010", Environmental Research Letters, vol. 6, pp. 044022, 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/6/4/044022
  3. Z. Hausfather, K. Cowtan, D.C. Clarke, P. Jacobs, M. Richardson, and R. Rohde, "Assessing recent warming using instrumentally homogeneous sea surface temperature records", Science Advances, vol. 3, pp. e1601207, 2017. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1601207
  4. T.R. Karl, A. Arguez, B. Huang, J.H. Lawrimore, J.R. McMahon, M.J. Menne, T.C. Peterson, R.S. Vose, and H. Zhang, "Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus", Science, vol. 348, pp. 1469-1472, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaa5632

The underestimated danger of a breakdown of the Gulf Stream System

Filed under: — stefan @ 4 January 2017

A new model simulation of the Gulf Stream System shows a breakdown of the gigantic overturning circulating in the Atlantic after a CO2 doubling.

A new study in Science Advances by Wei Liu and colleagues at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and the University of Wisconsin-Madison has important implications for the future stability of the overturning circulation in the Atlantic Ocean. They applied a correction to the freshwater fluxes in the Atlantic, in order to better reproduce the salt concentration of ocean waters there. This correction changes the overall salt budget for the Atlantic, also changing the stability of the model’s ocean circulation in future climate change. The Atlantic ocean circulation is relatively stable in the uncorrected model, only declining by about 20% in response to a CO2 doubling, but in the corrected model version it breaks down completely in the centuries following a CO2 doubling, with dramatic consequences for the climate of the Northern Hemisphere. More »