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Simple physics and climate

Filed under: — rasmus @ 12 November 2013

No doubt, our climate system is complex and messy. Still, we can sometimes make some inferences about it based on well-known physical principles. Indeed, the beauty of physics is that a complex systems can be reduced into simple terms that can be quantified, and the essential aspects understood.

A recent paper by Sloan and Wolfendale (2013) provides an example where they derive a simple conceptual model of how the greenhouse effect works from first principles. They show the story behind the expression saying that a doubling in CO2 should increase the forcing by a factor of 1+log|2|/log|CO2|. I have a fondness for such simple conceptual models (e.g. I’ve made my own attempt posted at arXiv) because they provide a general picture of the essence – of course their precision is limited by their simplicity.

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References

  1. T. Sloan, and A.W. Wolfendale, "Cosmic rays, solar activity and the climate", Environ. Res. Lett., vol. 8, pp. 045022, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/8/4/045022

A review of cosmic rays and climate: a cluttered story of little success

Filed under: — rasmus @ 25 December 2012

A number of blogs were excited after having leaked the second-order draft of IPCC document, which they interpreted as a “game-changing admission of enhanced solar forcing”.

However, little evidence remains for a link between galactic cosmic rays (GCR) and variations in Earth’s cloudiness. Laken et al. (2012) recently provided an extensive review of the study of the GCR and Earth’s climate, from the initial work by Ney (1959) to the latest findings from 2012.

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References

  1. B.A. Laken, E. Pallé, J. Čalogović, and E.M. Dunne, "A cosmic ray-climate link and cloud observations", J. Space Weather Space Clim., vol. 2, pp. A18, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/swsc/2012018

Curve-fitting and natural cycles: The best part


It is not every day that I come across a scientific publication that so totally goes against my perception of what science is all about. Humlum et al., 2011 present a study in the journal Global and Planetary Change, claiming that most of the temperature changes that we have seen so far are due to natural cycles.

They claim to present a new technique to identify the character of natural climate variations, and from this, to produce a testable forecast of future climate. They project that

the observed late 20th century warming in Svalbard is not going to continue for the next 20–25 years. Instead the period of warming may be followed by variable, but generally not higher temperatures for at least the next 20–25 years.

However, their claims of novelty are overblown, and their projection is demonstrably unsound.

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References

  1. O. Humlum, J. Solheim, and K. Stordahl, "Identifying natural contributions to late Holocene climate change", Global and Planetary Change, vol. 79, pp. 145-156, 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2011.09.005

AGU 2011: Day 2

Filed under: — group @ 7 December 2011

(Day 1)

Tuesday


There were two interesting themes in the solar sessions this morning. The first was a really positive story about how instrumental differences between rival (and highly competitive) teams can get resolved. This refers to the calibration of measurements of the Total Solar Irradiance (TSI). As is relatively well known, the different satellite instruments over the last 30 or so years have shown a good coherence of variability – especially the solar cycle, but have differed markedly on the absolute value of the TSI (see the figure). In particular, four currently flying instruments (SORCE, ACRIM3, VIRGO and PREMOS) had offsets as large as 5W/m2. However, the development of a test-facility at NASA Langley the
University of Colorado, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder
Colorado
– an effort led by Greg Kopp’s group – has allowed people to test their instruments in a vacuum, with light levels comparable to the solar irradiance, and have the results compared to really high precision measurements. This was a tremendous technical challenge, but as Kopp stated, getting everyone on board was perhaps a larger social challenge.

The facility has enabled the different instrument teams to calibrate their instruments, and check for uncorrected errors, like excessive scattering and diffusive light contamination in the measurement chambers. In doing so, Richard Wilson of the ACRIM group reported that they found higher levels of scattering than they had anticipated, which was leading to slightly excessive readings. Combined with a full implementation of an annually varying temperature correction, their latest processed data product has reduced the discrepancy with the TIM instrument from over 5 W/m2 to less than 0.5 W/m2 – a huge improvement. The new PREMOS instrument onboard Picard, a french satellite, was also tested before launch last year, and they improved their calibration as well – and the data that they reported was also very close to the SORCE/TIM data: around 1361 W/m2 at solar minimum.

The errors uncovered and the uncertainties reduced as a function of this process was a great testament to the desire of everyone concerned to work towards finding the right answer – despite initial assumptions about who may have had the best design. The answer is that space borne instrumentation is hard to do, and thinking of everything that might go wrong is a real challenge.

The other theme was the discussion of the spectral irradiance changes – specifically by how much the UV changes over a solar cycle are larger in magnitude than the changes in the total irradiance. The SIM/SOLSTICE instruments on SORCE have reported much larger UV changes than previous estimates, and this has been widely questioned (see here for a previous discussion). The reason for the unease is that the UV instruments have a very large degradation of their signal over time, and the residual trends are quite sensitive to the large corrections that need to be made. Jerry Harder discussed those corrections and defended the SIM published data, while another speaker made clear how anomalous that data was. Meanwhile, some climate modellers are already using the SIM data to see whether that improves the model simulations of ozone and temperature responses in the stratosphere. However, the ‘observed’ data on this is itself somewhat uncertain – for instance, comparing the SAGE results (reported in Gray et al, 2011) with the SABER results (Merkel et al, 2011), shows a big difference in how large the ozone response is. So this remains a bit of a stumper.

The afternoon sessions on water isotopes in precipitation was quite exciting because of the number of people looking at innovative proxy archives, including cave records of 18O in calcite, or deuterium in leaf waxes, which are extending the coverage (in time and space) of this variable. Even more notable, was the number of these presentations that combined their data work with interpretations driven by GCM models that include isotope tracers that allow for more nuanced conclusions. This is an approach that was pioneered decades ago, but has taken a while to really get used routinely.

(Days 3&4)(Day 5 and wrap up)

References

  1. L.J. Gray, J. Beer, M. Geller, J.D. Haigh, M. Lockwood, K. Matthes, U. Cubasch, D. Fleitmann, G. Harrison, L. Hood, J. Luterbacher, G.A. Meehl, D. Shindell, B. van Geel, and W. White, "SOLAR INFLUENCES ON CLIMATE", Rev. Geophys., vol. 48, 2010. http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2009RG000282
  2. A.W. Merkel, J.W. Harder, D.R. Marsh, A.K. Smith, J.M. Fontenla, and T.N. Woods, "The impact of solar spectral irradiance variability on middle atmospheric ozone", Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 38, pp. n/a-n/a, 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2011GL047561

Cosmic rays and clouds: Potential mechanisms

Filed under: — group @ 26 September 2011

Guest Commentary by Jeffrey Pierce (Dalhousie U.)

I’ve written this post to help readers understand potential physical mechanisms behind cosmic-ray/cloud connections. But first I briefly want to explain my motivation.

Prior to the publication of the aerosol nucleation results from the CLOUD experiment at CERN in Nature several weeks ago Kirkby et al, 2011, I was asked by Nature Geoscience to write a “News and Views” on the CLOUD results for a general science audience. As an aerosol scientist, I found the results showing the detailed measurements of the influences of ammonia, organics and ions from galactic cosmic rays on aerosol formation exciting. While none of the results were entirely unexpected, the paper still represents a major step forward in our understanding of particle formation. This excitement is what I tried to convey to the general scientific audience in the News and Views piece. However, I only used a small portion of the editorial to discuss the implications to cosmic rays and clouds because (1) I felt that these implications represented only a small portion of the CLOUD findings, and (2) the CLOUD results address only one of several necessary conditions for cosmic rays to affect clouds, and have not yet tested the others.

Many of the news articles and blog posts covering the CLOUD article understandably focused much more on the cosmic-ray/cloud connection as it is easy to tie this connection into the climate debate. While many of the articles did a good job at reporting the CLOUD results within the big picture of cosmic-ray/cloud connections, some articles erroneously claimed that the CLOUD results proved the physics behind a strong cosmic-ray/cloud/climate connection, and others still just got it very muddled. A person hoping to learn more about cosmic rays and clouds likely ended up confused after reading the range of articles published. This potential confusion (along with many great questions and comments in Gavin’s CLOUD post) motivated me to write a general overview of the potential physical mechanisms for cosmic rays affecting clouds. In this post, I will focus on what we know and don’t know regarding the two major proposed physical mechanisms connecting cosmic rays to clouds and climate.
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References

  1. J. Kirkby, J. Curtius, J. Almeida, E. Dunne, J. Duplissy, S. Ehrhart, A. Franchin, S. Gagné, L. Ickes, A. Kürten, A. Kupc, A. Metzger, F. Riccobono, L. Rondo, S. Schobesberger, G. Tsagkogeorgas, D. Wimmer, A. Amorim, F. Bianchi, M. Breitenlechner, A. David, J. Dommen, A. Downard, M. Ehn, R.C. Flagan, S. Haider, A. Hansel, D. Hauser, W. Jud, H. Junninen, F. Kreissl, A. Kvashin, A. Laaksonen, K. Lehtipalo, J. Lima, E.R. Lovejoy, V. Makhmutov, S. Mathot, J. Mikkilä, P. Minginette, S. Mogo, T. Nieminen, A. Onnela, P. Pereira, T. Petäjä, R. Schnitzhofer, J.H. Seinfeld, M. Sipilä, Y. Stozhkov, F. Stratmann, A. Tomé, J. Vanhanen, Y. Viisanen, A. Vrtala, P.E. Wagner, H. Walther, E. Weingartner, H. Wex, P.M. Winkler, K.S. Carslaw, D.R. Worsnop, U. Baltensperger, and M. Kulmala, "Role of sulphuric acid, ammonia and galactic cosmic rays in atmospheric aerosol nucleation", Nature, vol. 476, pp. 429-433, 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature10343

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