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Can 2°C warming be avoided?

Filed under: — group @ 31 January 2006 - (Français)

Guest comment by Malte Meinshausen, Reto Knutti and Dave Frame

Yesterday’s BBC article on the “Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change” report of the Exeter meeting last year, carried two messages that have left some a little confused. On the one hand, it said that a stabilization of greenhouse gases at 400-450 ppm CO2-equivalent concentrations is required to keep global mean warming below 2°C, which in turn is assumed to be necessary to avoid ‘dangerous’ climate change. On the other hand, people are cited saying that “We’re going to be at 400 ppm in 10 years’ time”.

So given that we will exceed 400 ppm CO2 in the near future, is a target of 2°C feasible? To make a long story short: the answer is yes.
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Hansen in the New York Times

Filed under: — gavin @ 29 January 2006

The more astute of you may have noticed the headline NYT story this weekend on Jim Hansen’s ongoing tussles with the (politically appointed) public affairs people at NASA HQ (Jim is my immediate boss so you need to read this with that in mind!). Most of the recent fuss has been about the GISS analysis of surface air temperatures (GISTEMP), which used to routinely be made available as soon as the analysis was done (usually a week or so after the end of any particular month). This data was generally released with little or no fuss (and no press releases) except for the end of year summary. However, as it started to become clearer that 2005 was a contender for warmest year, journalists and others started paying direct attention to the raw figures and writing stories that were bypassing public affairs. For instance, Juliet Eilperin’s October story in WaPo (discussed here and here) was one of the stories that they were most definitely not happy with (as alluded to in today’s WaPo). No follow-up media requests to interview relevant scientists were approved.
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Calculating the greenhouse effect

Filed under: — gavin @ 21 January 2006

In another forum (on a planet far, far away), the following quote recently came up:

….the combined effect of these greenhouse gases is to warm Earth’s atmosphere by about 33 ºC, from a chilly -18 ºC in their absence to a pleasant +15 ºC in their presence. 95% (31.35 ºC) of this warming is produced by water vapour, which is far and away the most important greenhouse gas. The other trace gases contribute 5% (1.65 ºC) of the greenhouse warming, amongst which carbon dioxide corresponds to 3.65% (1.19 ºC). The human-caused contribution corresponds to about 3% of the total carbon dioxide in the present atmosphere, the great majority of which is derived from natural sources. Therefore, the probable effect of human-injected carbon dioxide is a miniscule 0.12% of the greenhouse warming, that is a temperature rise of 0.036 ºC. Put another way, 99.88% of the greenhouse effect has nothing to do with carbon dioxide emissions from human activity8.

We’ve discussed the magnitude of the greenhouse effect before, but it might be helpful to step through this ‘back-of-the-agenda’ calculation and see what the numbers really give. (Deltoid has also had a go at some of these mis-statements). More »

Daily Kos interview

Filed under: — group @ 20 January 2006

A brief welcome to anyone coming over from Daily Kos today. Three of us (Mike, Gavin and Stefan) are interviewed by DarkSyde on climate change, this site and walking the line between science and politics. To find something specific, check out the Highlights on the side bar, the index, or use the search bar above.

Atlantic circulation change summary

Filed under: — gavin @ 19 January 2006 - (Français)

Nature this week has an excellent summary of the state of the science with regards to possible changes in the ocean thermohaline (or meridional) circulation in the Atlantic and its impact on climate. Even though it quotes a couple of us, it’s still worth reading if you want to understand how results like the Bryden et al paper – that suggested that the Atlantic overturning had reduced by 30% in recent decades – are assimilated into the scientific picture. More »

New look

Filed under: — group @ 19 January 2006

Hopefully readers will appreciate the new look we have given the site (you may need to reload for it to work properly). We have added some new features attached to the buttons above – an index which may prove useful in navigating the site, a more prominent Search function (which searches posts and comments), a link to the archives etc. This has allowed us to reduce some of the clutter and hopefully make this site a little more user friendly. If there are any problems, wrinkles that need to be ironed out, or if you have suggestions for further improvement, let us know at contrib -at- realclimate -dot- org.

Was the record Amazon drought caused by warm seas?

Filed under: — rasmus @ 13 January 2006

On December 11, 2005, The New York Times ran a story on record drought conditions in the Amazonas region of Brasil, linking it to global warming, and specifically the warm ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic that have also been linked to the ferocity of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. This prompted a response from Chris Mooney, calling for a comment from RealClimate about whether such an assertion is valid, as we earlier made it very clear that it is impossible to say whether one single extreme event in a very noisy environment – such as Hurricane Katrina – is related to climate change. So we decided to take a look at this phenomena, and address why there might be a connection and what it takes to make an attribution. More »

Scientists baffled!

Filed under: — gavin @ 11 January 2006 - (Français)

Every so often a scientific paper comes out that truly surprises. The results of Keppler et al in Nature this week is clearly one of those. They showed that a heretofore unrecognised process causes living plant material to emit methane (CH4, the second most important trace greenhouse gas), in quantities that appear to be very significant globally. This is surprising in two ways – firstly, CH4 emission is normally associated with anaerobic (oxygen-limited) environments (like swamps or landfills) but chemistry in plants is generally thought of as ‘aerobic’ i.e. not oxygen-limited, and secondly, because although the total budget for methane has some significant uncertainty associated with it (see the IPCC assessment here), the initial estimates of this effect (between 62–236 Tg/yr out of a total source of 500+ Tg/yr!) give numbers that might be difficult to incorporate without some significant re-evaluations elsewhere.

Reactions so far have been guarded, and there will undoubtedly be a scramble to check and refine the estimates of this process’s importance. Once the dust settles though, the situation may not be so different to before – some emissions may turn out to have been mis-identified, this source may not be as large as these initial estimates (10-30% of total sources) suggest, or it might radically challenge our current understanding of methane’s sources and sinks. However, the process by which this is decided will demonstrate clearly that the scientific method is alive and well in the climate sciences. That is, as long as a work is careful and the conclusions sound, papers that upset the apple cart can appear in the major journals and have a good chance of ending up being accepted by the rest of the field (providing the conclusions hold up of course!).

Update 19 Jan: The authors of the study have released a clarification of their study to counter some of the misleading conclusions that had appeared in the press.

Polar Amplification

Guest commentary by Cecilia Bitz, University of Washington

“Polar amplification” usually refers to greater climate change near the pole compared to the rest of the hemisphere or globe in response to a change in global climate forcing, such as the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) or solar output (see e.g. Moritz et al 2002). Polar amplification is thought to result primarily from positive feedbacks from the retreat of ice and snow. There are a host of other lesser reasons that are associated with the atmospheric temperature profile at the poles, temperature dependence of global feedbacks, moisture transport, etc. Observations and models indicate that the equilibrium temperature change poleward of 70N or 70S can be a factor of two or more greater than the global average. More »