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Geo-engineering in vogue…

Filed under: — gavin @ 28 June 2006

There was an interesting article in the NY Times this week on possible geo-engineering solutions to the global warming problem. The story revolves around a paper that Paul Crutzen (Nobel Prize winner for chemistry related to the CFC/ozone depletion link) has written about deliberately adding sulphate aerosols in the stratosphere to increase the albedo and cool the planet – analogous to the natural effects of volcanoes. The paper is being published in Climatic Change, but unusually, with a suite of commentary articles by other scientists. This is because geo-engineering solutions do not have a good pedigree and, regardless of their merit or true potential, are often seized upon by people who for various reasons do not want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, these ideas keep popping up naturally since significant emission cuts continue to be seen as difficult to achieve, and so should be considered fairly. After all, if there was a cheaper way to deal with the CO2 problem, or even a way to buy time, shouldn’t we take it? More »

Ice Sheets and Sea Level Rise: Model Failure is the Key Issue

Filed under: — group @ 26 June 2006

Guest post by Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton University

A plethora of research articles has appeared over the past year reporting new observations of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets along with associated modeling results. RealClimate has reviewed the issues raised by these articles and attempted to clarify the sometimes conflicting inferences about the current mass balance of the ice sheets, as well as their future contributions to global mean sea level rise (see here and here).

Nevertheless, the issue still seems to perplex many journalists and others because there are two entirely distinct aspects of the sea level rise problem that are emphasized, depending on which scientists are speaking. On the one hand, these ices sheets are large enough to ultimately raise sea level by 7m and about 5m, for Greenland and West Antarctica, respectively. On the other, the recent observations that caused such a stir report a current contribution to the rate of sea level rise not exceeding ~1mm/yr from both ice sheets taken together. If this rate were maintained, the ice sheets would make a measurable but minor contribution to the global sea level rise from other sources, which has been 1-2mm/yr averaged over the past century and 3mm/yr for 1993-2003, and is projected to average 1-9mm/yr for the coming century (see IPCC Third Assessment Report).

The key question is whether the ice sheet contribution could accelerate substantially (e.g., by an order of magnitude) either in this century or subsequently. Sea levels were indeed much higher in the distant, warmer past but the timing of earlier sea level rise is very uncertain. From the point of view of societal and ecosystem adaptation, the timescale over which ice sheets might disintegrate, which may be on the order of centuries or millennia according to the two extremes posited in the literature, is crucial. More »

Communicating Science & Technology

Filed under: — rasmus @ 23 June 2006

I recently attented a conference on communicating science and technology in Tromsø, Norway June 6-9 (CST060606). The conference was filmed and the presentations can be viewed over the internet broadcast. There were many very good presentations bringing up important points, and one by Lawrence Krauss (Science under Attack) should not be missed. Also, the presentation by the nobel laurate Ivar Giaever provides a lot of food for thought, and Janet Sumner told how the science can be ‘jazzed up’ and made more accesible on the BBC (touching onto the climate science – climate chaos season – and showing clips of ‘Rough science’, ‘Labrats’ and ‘Science Shack’, in association with the Open University). The conference was attended by scientists, teachers, politicians, and people from the media. The topics of presentations span issues such as climate, ID, media, schools, and politics (the Norwegian minister of education). [I also gave a fairly diasterous :-( presentation on communicating climate with reference to :-).]

National Academies Synthesis Report

Filed under: — group @ 22 June 2006

The long-awaited NAS synthesis report on surface temperature reconstructions over the last few millennia is being released today. It’s a long (155 page) report and will take a while to digest, but we applaud the committee for having tried to master a dense thicket of publications and materials on the subject over a relatively short time.

It is probably expecting too much for one report might to put to rest all the outstanding issues in a still-developing field. And given the considerable length of the report, we have little doubt that keen contrarians will be able to mine the report for skeptical-sounding sentences and cherry-pick the findings. However, it is the big picture conclusions that have the most relevance for the lay public and policymakers, and it is re-assuring (and unsurprising) to see that the panel has found reason to support the key mainstream findings of past research, including points that we have highlighted previously:
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Sea level in the Arctic

Filed under: — gavin @ 20 June 2006

A recent conference presentation at AGU (reported here) while confirming that global sea level is indeed rising (in line with other estimates), showed that Arctic sea levels may actually be falling. On the face of it these preliminary results are a little puzzling (though note that this isn’t yet a properly peer reviewed paper, and so may not reflect what ends up in the journal), but it does reveal some of the complexities in analysing sea level in relatively small enclosed basins and so a brief overview of the different factors involved is probably useful. More »

NOAA: Hurricane forecasts

Filed under: — group @ 9 June 2006

Guest commentary from Thomas Crowley

NOAA has issued its annual forecast for the hurricane season, along with its now-standard explanation that there is a natural cycle of multidecadal (40-60 year) length in the North Atlantic circulation (often referred to as the “Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation”–see Figure), that is varying the frequency of Atlantic tropical cyclones, and that the present high level of activity is due to a concurrent positive peak in this oscillation. More »

On a Weakening of the Walker Circulation

by Ray Pierrehumbert and Rasmus Benestad

Second article of our 3-part series on atmospheric circulation and global warming

In Part I we outlined some general features of the tropical circulation, and discussed ways in which increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gases might affect El Niño. Now we take up the question of how global warming might affect the quasi-steady east-west overturning circulation known as the Walker Circulation. The Walker circulation affects convection and precipitation patterns, the easterly Trade Winds, oceanic upwelling and ocean biological productivity; hence, changes in this circulation can have far-reaching consequences. It also provides the background state against which El Niño events take place, and so changes in the Walker circulation should form an intrinsic part of thinking about how global warming will affect El Niño. In a paper that recently appeared in Nature, Vecchi, Soden, Wittenberg, Held, Leetmaa and Harrison present intriguing new results which suggest that there has already been a weakening of the Walker circulation in the past century, and that the observed changes are consistent with those expected as a response to increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gases. The discussion in Vecchi et al. also raises some very interesting issues regarding the way the hydrological cycle might change in a warming world.

More »