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A trigger action from sea-level rise?

Filed under: — rasmus @ 2 January 2017

Can a rising sea level can act as a boost for glaciers calving into the sea and trigger a surge of ice into the oceans? I finally got round to watch the documentary Chasing Ice over the Christmas and New Year’s break, and it made a big impression. I also was left with this question after watching it.

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Record heat despite a cold sun

Filed under: — stefan @ 14 November 2016

Global temperature goes from heat record to heat record, yet the sun is at its dimmest for half a century.

For a while, 2010 was the hottest year on record globally. But then it got overtopped by 2014. And 2014 was beaten again by 2015. And now 2016 is so warm that it is certain to be once again a record year. Three record years in a row – that is unprecedented even in all those decades of global warming.

Strangely, one aspect of this gets barely mentioned: all those heat records occur despite a cold sun (Figs. 1 and 2). The last solar minimum (2008-2010) was the lowest since at least 1950, while the last solar maximum (2013-2015) can hardly be described as such. This is shown, among others, by the sunspot data (Fig. 1) as well as measurements of the solar luminosity from satellites (Fig. 2). Other indicators of solar activity indicate cooling as well (Lockwood and Fröhlich, Proc. Royal Society 2007).

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Fig. 1 Time evolution of global temperature, CO2 concentration and solar activity. Temperature and CO2 are scaled relative to each other according to the physically expected CO2 effect on climate (i.e. the best estimate of transient climate sensitivity). The amplitude of the solar curve is scaled to correspond to the observed correlation of solar and temperature data. (Details are explained here.) You can generate and adapt this graph to your taste here, where you can also copy a code with which the graph can be embedded as a widget on your own website (as on my home page). Thus it will be automatically updated each year with the latest data. Thanks to our reader Bernd Herd who programmed this. More »

Don’t make a choice that your children will regret

Filed under: — group @ 4 November 2016

Dear US voters,

the world is holding its breath. The stakes are high in the upcoming US elections. At stake is a million times more than which email server one candidate used, or how another treated women. The future of humanity will be profoundly affected by your choice, for many generations to come.

The coming four years is the last term during which a US government still has the chance, jointly with the rest of the world, to do what is needed to stop global warming well below 2°C and closer to 1.5°C, as was unanimously decided by 195 nations in the Paris Agreement last December. The total amount of carbon dioxide the world can still emit in order to have at least a 50% chance to stop warming at 1.5 °C will, at the current rate of emissions, be all used up in under ten years! This time can only be stretched out by making emissions fall rapidly.

Even 2°C of global warming is very likely to spell the end of most coral reefs on Earth. 2°C would mean a largely ice-free Arctic ocean in summer, right up to the North Pole. Even 2°C of warming is likely to destabilize continental ice sheets and commit the world to many meters of sea-level rise, lasting for millennia. Further global warming will likely lead to increasing extreme weather, droughts, harvest failures, and the risk of armed conflict and mass migration.

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Meltwater on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Photo with kind permission by Ragnar Axelsson.

In case you have any doubts about the science: in the scientific community there is a long-standing consensus that humans are causing dangerous global warming, reflected in the clear statements of many scientific academies and societies from around the world. None of the 195 governments that signed the Paris Agreement saw any reasons for doubting the underlying scientific facts; doubts about the science that you see in some media are largely manufactured by interest groups trying to fool you.

You have a fateful choice to make. The policies of candidates and parties on climate change could hardly be more different. Hillary Clinton would continue to work with the international community to tackle the global warming crisis and help the transition to modern clean and renewable energies. Donald Trump denies that the problem even exists and has promised to go back to coal and to undo the Paris Agreement, which comes into force today, the 4th of November 2016, as culmination of over twenty years of negotiations.

Please consider this carefully. This is not an election about personalities, it is about policies that will determine our future for a long time to come. While the presidential race has gotten the most attention, voters should consider climate not just at the ‘top of the ticket’, but all the way down the ballot. Don’t make a choice that you, your children and your children’s children will regret forever.

David Archer, Rasmus Benestad, Ray Bradley, Michael Mann, Ray Pierrehumbert, Stefan Rahmstorf and Eric Steig

Marvel et al (2015) Part 2: Media responses

Filed under: — gavin @ 4 January 2016

This is a second post related to the new Marvel et al (2015) paper. The first post dealing with the substantive content is here.

What with #AGU15 going on, and a little bit of overlap in content with Shindell (2014), NASA wasn’t particularly keen to put out a press release for the paper, but we did get a ‘web special‘ put out on Friday Dec 18th, the last day of AGU and a few days after the paper appeared online. I’ve been involved with many similar releases for papers and it is always a struggle to concisely say why a paper is interesting while not overselling it or being too technical (which is why only a small fraction of papers get press releases at all).

As we’ve previously remarked about other people’s press releases (eg. Stainforth et al or Willerslev et al), properly calibrating the aspect of a release that will get picked up by the media can be tricky, and so it proved in this case.

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References

  1. K. Marvel, G.A. Schmidt, R.L. Miller, and L.S. Nazarenko, "Implications for climate sensitivity from the response to individual forcings", Nature Climate Change, vol. 6, pp. 386-389, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2888

Marvel et al (2015) Part 1: Reconciling estimates of climate sensitivity

This post is related to the substantive results of the new Marvel et al (2015) study. There is a separate post on the media/blog response.

The recent paper by Kate Marvel and others (including me) in Nature Climate Change looks at the different forcings and their climate responses over the historical period in more detail than any previous modeling study. The point of the paper was to apply those results to improve calculations of climate sensitivity from the historical record and see if they can be reconciled with other estimates. But there are some broader issues as well – how scientific anomalies are dealt with and how simulation can be used to improve inferences about the real world. It also shines a spotlight on a particular feature of the IPCC process…

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References

  1. K. Marvel, G.A. Schmidt, R.L. Miller, and L.S. Nazarenko, "Implications for climate sensitivity from the response to individual forcings", Nature Climate Change, vol. 6, pp. 386-389, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2888

Bjørn Lomborg, just a scientist with a different opinion?

Filed under: — stefan @ 31 August 2015 - (Español)

Bjørn Lomborg is a well-known media personality who argues that there are more important priorities than reducing emissions to limit global warming. In a recent controversy centering on him, the Australian government (known for its contradictory position on climate change) offered the University of Western Australia (UWA) $4 million to make Lomborg professor – which UWA first accepted, but then after massive protest from its staff and students refused. The Australian government was quick to label it a “freedom of speech” issue that Lomborg should get a university position, and vowed to find another university that would host him. However, free speech doesn’t guarantee everyone a university position; there are also academic qualifications required.

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Heaven belongs to us all – the new papal encyclical

Filed under: — stefan @ 18 June 2015

Guest post by Brigitte Knopf

With his encyclical “Laudato Si” the Pope has written more than a moral appeal without obligation. He has presented a pioneering political analysis with great explosive power, which will probably determine the public debate on climate change, poverty and inequality for years to come. Thus, the encyclical is also highly relevant to me as a non-Catholic and non-believer; the implications of the encyclical are very apparent through the eyes of a secular person.

The core of the encyclical makes clear that global warming is a “global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods” (25 – where the numbers refer to the numbering in the encyclical). The reasons identified are mainly the current models of production and consumption (26). The encyclical emphasizes that the gravest effects of climate change and the increasing inequality are suffered by the poorest (48). Since we face a complex socio-ecological crisis, strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty (139). So far, however, governments have not found a solution for the over-exploitation of the global commons, such as atmosphere, oceans, and forests (169). Therefore, the encyclical focusses on actors, such as non-governmental organizations, cooperatives and intermediate groups (179) and calls for a dialogue between politics, science, business and religion.

The encyclical is, with 246 individual points, too extensive to be discussed in here in its entirety, but three aspects are particularly noteworthy:

  1. it is based unequivocally onthe scientific consensusthat global warmingis taking placeand that climate changeis man-made; itrejects thedenialof anthropogenicwarming;
  2. it unmasks the political and economic structures of power behind the climate change debate and stresses the importance of non-state actors in achieving change; and
  3. it defines the atmosphere and the environment as a common good rather than a “no man’s land”, available for anyone to pollute. This underlines that climate change is strongly related to the issues of justice and property rights.

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Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam and Climate Change

Filed under: — stefan @ 18 March 2015

Guest post by Kerry Emanuel

In the past 16 months, two exceptionally intense tropical cyclones, Haiyan and Pam, have struck the western Pacific with devastating effect. Haiyan may have had the highest wind speeds of any tropical cyclone on record, but we will never know for sure because we do a poor job estimating the intensity of storms that are not surveyed by aircraft. (Currently, only North Atlantic tropical cyclones are routinely reconnoitered by aircraft, and only if they threaten populated regions within a few days.) Pam’s analyzed intensity puts it within 10 knots of the most intense storms on record in the South Pacific, but here again this is within the error bars of satellite-derived intensity estimates.
pam2

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Climate Oscillations and the Global Warming Faux Pause

Filed under: — mike @ 26 February 2015

No, climate change is not experiencing a hiatus. No, there is not currently a “pause” in global warming.

Despite widespread such claims in contrarian circles, human-caused warming of the globe proceeds unabated. Indeed, the most recent year (2014) was likely the warmest year on record.

It is true that Earth’s surface warmed a bit less than models predicted it to over the past decade-and-a-half or so. This doesn’t mean that the models are flawed. Instead, it points to a discrepancy that likely arose from a combination of three main factors (see the discussion my piece last year in Scientific American). These factors include the likely underestimation of the actual warming that has occurred, due to gaps in the observational data. Secondly, scientists have failed to include in model simulations some natural factors (low-level but persistent volcanic eruptions and a small dip in solar output) that had a slight cooling influence on Earth’s climate. Finally, there is the possibility that internal, natural oscillations in temperature may have masked some surface warming in recent decades, much as an outbreak of Arctic air can mask the seasonal warming of spring during a late season cold snap. One could call it a global warming “speed bump”. In fact, I have.

Some have argued that these oscillations contributed substantially to the warming of the globe in recent decades. In an article my colleagues Byron Steinman, Sonya Miller and I have in the latest issue of Science magazine, we show that internal climate variability instead partially offset global warming.

We focused on the Northern Hemisphere and the role played by two climate oscillations known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation or “AMO” (a term I coined back in 2000, as recounted in my book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars) and the so-called Pacific Decadal Oscillation or “PDO” (we a use a slightly different term–Pacific Multidecadal Oscillation or “PMO” to refer to the longer-term features of this apparent oscillation). The oscillation in Northern Hemisphere average temperatures (which we term the Northern Hemisphere Multidecadal Oscillation or “NMO”) is found to result from a combination of the AMO and PMO.

In numerous previous studies, these oscillations have been linked to everything from global warming, to drought in the Sahel region of Africa, to increased Atlantic hurricane activity. In our article, we show that the methods used in most if not all of these previous studies have been flawed. They fail to give the correct answer when applied to a situation (a climate model simulation) where the true answer is known.

We propose and test an alternative method for identifying these oscillations, which makes use of the climate simulations used in the most recent IPCC report (the so-called “CMIP5” simulations). These simulations are used to estimate the component of temperature changes due to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and other human impacts plus the effects of volcanic eruptions and observed changes in solar output. When all those influences are removed, the only thing remaining should be internal oscillations. We show that our method gives the correct answer when tested with climate model simulations.

2015-02-12-Sci15FigHuffPost.png
Estimated history of the “AMO” (blue), the “PMO (green) and the “NMO” (black). Uncertainties are indicated by shading. Note how the AMO (blue) has reached a shallow peak recently, while the PMO is plummeting quite dramatically. The latter accounts for the precipitous recent drop in the NMO.

Applying our method to the actual climate observations (see figure above) we find that the NMO is currently trending downward. In other words, the internal oscillatory component is currently offsetting some of the Northern Hemisphere warming that we would otherwise be experiencing. This finding expands upon our previous work coming to a similar conclusion, but in the current study we better pinpoint the source of the downturn. The much-vaunted AMO appears to have made relatively little contribution to large-scale temperature changes over the past couple decades. Its amplitude has been small, and it is currently relatively flat, approaching the crest of a very shallow upward peak. That contrasts with the PMO, which is trending sharply downward. It is that decline in the PMO (which is tied to the predominance of cold La Niña-like conditions in the tropical Pacific over the past decade) that appears responsible for the declining NMO, i.e. the slowdown in warming or “faux pause” as some have termed it.

Our conclusion that natural cooling in the Pacific is a principal contributor to the recent slowdown in large-scale warming is consistent with some other recent studies, including a study I commented on previously showing that stronger-than-normal winds in the tropical Pacific during the past decade have lead to increased upwelling of cold deep water in the eastern equatorial Pacific. Other work by Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) shows that the there has been increased sub-surface heat burial in the Pacific ocean over this time frame, while yet another study by James Risbey and colleagues demonstrates that model simulations that most closely follow the observed sequence of El Niño and La Niña events over the past decade tend to reproduce the warming slowdown.

It is possible that the downturn in the PMO itself reflects a “dynamical response” of the climate to global warming. Indeed, I have suggested this possibility before. But the state-of-the-art climate model simulations analyzed in our current study suggest that this phenomenon is a manifestation of purely random, internal oscillations in the climate system.

This finding has potential ramifications for the climate changes we will see in the decades ahead. As we note in the last line of our article,

Given the pattern of past historical variation, this trend will likely reverse with internal variability, instead adding to anthropogenic warming in the coming decades.

That is perhaps the most worrying implication of our study, for it implies that the “false pause” may simply have been a cause for false complacency, when it comes to averting dangerous climate change.

Diagnosing Causes of Sea Level Rise

Filed under: — eric @ 8 January 2015

Guest post by Sarah G. Purkey and Gregory C. Johnson,
University of Washington / NOAA

I solicited this post from colleagues at the University of Washington. I found their paper particularly interesting because it gets at the question of sea level rise from a combination of ocean altimetry and density (temperature + salinity) data. This kind of measurement and calculation has not really been possible — not at this level of detail — until quite recently. A key finding is that one can reconcile various different estimates of the contributions to observed sea level rise only if the significant warming of the deep ocean is accounted for. There was a good write-up in The Guardian back when the paper came out.– Eric Steig


Sea leave rise reveals a lot about our changing climate. A rise in the mean sea level can be caused by decreases in ocean density, mostly reflecting an increase in ocean temperature — this is steric sea level rise. It can also be caused by an increase in ocean mass, reflecting a gain of fresh water from land. A third, and smaller, contribution to mean sea level is from glacial isostatic adjustment. The contribution of glacial isostatic adjustment, while small, has a range of possible values and can be a significant source of uncertainty in sea level budgets. Over recent decades, very roughly half of the observed mean sea level rise is owing to changes in ocean density with the other half owing to the increased in ocean mass, mostly from melting glaciers and polar ice sheets. The exact proportion has been difficult to pin down with great certainty. More »

References

  1. S.G. Purkey, G.C. Johnson, and D.P. Chambers, "Relative contributions of ocean mass and deep steric changes to sea level rise between 1993 and 2013", Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, vol. 119, pp. 7509-7522, 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2014JC010180