To veterans of the Climate Wars, the old 1970s global cooling canard – “How can we believe climate scientists about global warming today when back in the 1970s they told us an ice age was imminent?” – must seem like a never-ending game of Whack-a-mole. One of us (WMC) has devoted years to whacking down the mole (see here, here and here, for example), while the other of us (JF) sees the mole pop up anew in his in box every time he quotes contemporary scientific views regarding climate change in his newspaper stories.
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This post announces my (William Connolley’s) departure from RealClimate, and indeed from the professional climate field in general, in favour of the wide world of Cambridge software engineering. I’ve enjoyed my time with (Real)Climate, but now its time to move on.
The “iconic” Antarctic temperature trends are the large warming seen on the Antarctic Peninsula, which has had various repercussions including the collapse of several ice shelves (some documented in a previous post). Elsewhere, though, the pattern of surface warming is more complex – trends are smaller, and while more are positive than negative they are generally not significant – see this map. Contrary to what you might have heard, this is in general agreement with model predictions.
But meanwhile, there is a record for the upper atmosphere derived from radiosondes, which we have been working on – finding old datasets and digitising them to fill in gaps. What this shows is that around East Antarctica there is a general warming of the troposphere, greatest at around mid-height (at 600 hPa) at 0.7 ºC/decade over the last 30+ years.
In itself, this is an interesting observation. The obvious question is, what does it mean? Is this natural variability; is it a response to global warming, or to changes in ozone; or something else? Ozone is unlikely, because this is winter (which conveniently means that the radiosonde temperature corrections, often a source of potential trouble, are not a problem). Two ways of trying to interpret the record are to see what GCMs run for the same period show; or to look at the re-analyses (essentially, the archived outputs from the weather-prediction models). The latter, of course, incorporate many of the radiosonde observations that we are using, and so don’t count as independant. Despite this, the ECMWF re-analyses show *greater* trends than we see in the observations; and a maximum trend over West Antarctica (which has no radisonde stations to allow us to verify this). A climate model (HadCM3, with an ensemble of four members) shows similar patterns to the observations, but this time too little warming; and a good deal of variation between the ensemble members. So neither of these is helps much with the interpretation.
So we are currently left with an open question; hopefully, this will stimulate us and other researchers to explain it in the future.
[Quick addendum: the paper itself is available via this.]
The November 17th issue of Science has an interesting exchange of letters between Christy and Spencer; Mears and Wentz; and Sherwood and Lanzante (ref here; subs required for substance). The context of this discussion is the tropospheric temperature record; see Et tu LT and The tropical lapse rate quandary for two RC posts that discuss the issue, and in particular three papers in the August 11th issue of Science.