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The Rise and Fall of the “Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation”

Filed under: — mike @ 4 March 2021

Two decades ago, in an interview with science journalist Richard Kerr for the journal Science, I coined the term the “Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation” (AMO) to describe an internal oscillation in the climate system resulting from interactions between North Atlantic ocean currents and wind patterns. These interactions were thought to lead to alternating decades-long intervals of warming and cooling centered in the extra-tropical North Atlantic that play out on 40-60 year timescales (hence the name). Think of the purported AMO as a much slower relative of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), with a longer timescale of oscillation (multidecadal rather than interannual) and centered in a different region (the North Atlantic rather than the tropical Pacific).

Today, in a research article published in the same journal Science, my colleagues and I have provided what we consider to be the most definitive evidence yet that the AMO doesn’t actually exist.

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Surprised by the shallows – again

Filed under: — group @ 20 February 2020

Guest commentary from Jim Acker (GSFC/Adnet)

Research on the ocean carbonate cycle published in 2019 supports results from the 1980s – in contrast to many papers published since then.

During my graduate school education and research program in the 1980s, conducted at the Department of Marine Science (now the College of Oceanography) of the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, I participated in research on the production (biogenic calcification) and fate of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the open waters of the northern Pacific ocean. There were two primary aspects of this research: one, to measure the sinking flux of biogenic materials in the water column of the Pacific Ocean, and two, to measure the dissolution rates of aragonite, a CaCO3 crystal structure (polymorph) formed by pteropods, under in situ conditions of temperature, pressure, and seawater chemistry.

Figure 1. Drawings of pteropods from Cooke, A. H .; Shipley, A. E .; Reed, F. R. C. (1895) Molluscs, Cambridge Natural History, v.3, London: Macmillan and Co. A. Limacina retroversa australis syn. L. australis; B. Clio cuspidata syn. Cleodora cuspidata; C. Cuvierina columnella; D. “Crecia virgula“, E. Clio recurva syn. C. balantium. (Wikimedia Commons)
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New Ocean Heat Content Histories

Guest commentary from Laure Zanna (U. Oxford) and G. Jake Gebbie (WHOI)

Two recent papers, Zanna et al. (2019) (hereafter ZKGIH19) and Gebbie & Huybers (2019) (hereafter GH19), independently reconstructed ocean heat content (OHC) changes prior to the instrumentally-based records (which start ~1950). The goals (and methodologies) of the two papers were quite different – ZKGIH19 investigated regional patterns of ocean warming and thermal sea level rise, while GH19 analyzed the long-term memory of the deep ocean – but they both touch on the same key questions of climate forcing and response.

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  1. L. Zanna, S. Khatiwala, J.M. Gregory, J. Ison, and P. Heimbach, "Global reconstruction of historical ocean heat storage and transport", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 116, pp. 1126-1131, 2019.
  2. G. Gebbie, and P. Huybers, "The Little Ice Age and 20th-century deep Pacific cooling", Science, vol. 363, pp. 70-74, 2019.

Bending low with Bated breath

Filed under: — gavin @ 22 December 2018

“Shall I bend low and in a bondman’s key,
With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness…?”

Shylock (Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 3)

As dark nights draw in, the venerable contrarians at the GWPF are still up late commissioning silly pseudo-rebuttals to mainstream science. The latest, [but see update below] which no-one was awaiting with any kind of breath, is by Dr. Ray Bates (rtd.) which purports to be a take-down of the recent #SR15 report. As Peter Thorne (an IPCC author) correctly noted, this report is a “cut-and-paste of long-debunked arguments”. I’ve grown a little weary of diving down to rebut every repetitive piece of nonsense, but this one has a few funny aspects that make it worthwhile to do so.

When they go low, we go “sigh…”.

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The long story of constraining ocean heat content

Filed under: — gavin @ 21 November 2018

Scientists predicted in the 1980s that a key fingerprint of anthropogenic climate change would be found in the ocean. If they were correct that increases in greenhouse gases were changing how much heat was coming into the system, then the component with the biggest heat capacity, the oceans, is where most of that heat would end up.

We have now had almost two decades of attempts to characterize this change, but the path to confirming those predictions has been anything but smooth…

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Resplandy et al. correction and response

Filed under: — group @ 14 November 2018

Guest commentary from Ralph Keeling (UCSD)

I, with the other co-authors of Resplandy et al (2018), want to address two problems that came to our attention since publication of our paper in Nature last week. These problems do not invalidate the methodology or the new insights into ocean biogeochemistry on which it is based, but they do influence the mean rate of warming we infer, and more importantly, the uncertainties of that calculation.

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  1. L. Resplandy, R.F. Keeling, Y. Eddebbar, M.K. Brooks, R. Wang, L. Bopp, M.C. Long, J.P. Dunne, W. Koeve, and A. Oschlies, "Quantification of ocean heat uptake from changes in atmospheric O2 and CO2 composition", Nature, vol. 563, pp. 105-108, 2018.

Does a slow AMOC increase the rate of global warming?

Filed under: — stefan @ 18 July 2018

Established understanding of the AMOC (sometimes popularly called Gulf Stream System) says that a weaker AMOC leads to a slightly cooler global mean surface temperature due to changes in ocean heat storage. But now, a new paper in Nature claims the opposite and even predicts a phase of rapid global warming. What’s the story?

By Stefan Rahmstorf and Michael Mann

In 1751, the captain of an English slave-trading ship made a historic discovery. While sailing at latitude 25°N in the subtropical North Atlantic Ocean, Captain Henry Ellis lowered a “bucket sea-gauge” down through the warm surface waters into the deep. By means of a long rope and a system of valves, water from various depths could be brought up to the deck, where its temperature was read from a built-in thermometer. To his surprise Captain Ellis found that the deep water was icy cold.

These were the first ever recorded temperature measurements of the deep ocean. And they revealed what is now known to be a fundamental feature of all the world oceans: deep water is always cold. The warm waters of the tropics and subtropics are confined to a thin layer at the surface; the heat of the sun does not slowly warm up the depths as might be expected. Ellis wrote:

“This experiment, which seem’d at first but mere food for curiosity, became in the interim very useful to us. By its means we supplied our cold bath, and cooled our wines or water at pleasure; which is vastly agreeable to us in this burning climate.”

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Does global warming make tropical cyclones stronger?

Filed under: — stefan @ 30 May 2018

By Stefan Rahmstorf, Kerry Emanuel, Mike Mann and Jim Kossin

Friday marks the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, which will be watched with interest after last year’s season broke a number of records and e.g. devastated Puerto Rico’s power grid, causing serious problems that persist today. One of us (Mike) is part of a team that has issued a seasonal forecast (see Kozar et al 2012) calling for a roughly average season in terms of overall activity (10 +/- 3 named storms), with tropical Atlantic warmth constituting a favorable factor, but predicted El Nino conditions an unfavorable factor.  Meanwhile, the first named storm, Alberto, has gone ahead without waiting for the official start of the season.

In the long term, whether we will see fewer or more tropical cyclones in the Atlantic or in other basins as a consequence of anthropogenic climate change is still much-debated. There is a mounting consensus, however, that we will see more intense hurricanes. So let us revisit the question of whether global warming is leading to more intense tropical storms. Let’s take a step back and look at this issue globally, not just for the Atlantic. More »

If you doubt that the AMOC has weakened, read this

A few weeks ago, we’ve argued in a paper in Nature that the Atlantic overturning circulation (sometimes popularly dubbed the Gulf Stream System) has weakened significantly since the late 19th Century, with most of the decline happening since the mid-20th Century. We have since received much praise for our study from colleagues around the world (thanks for that). But there were also some questions and criticisms in the media, so I’d like to present a forum here for discussing these questions and hope that others (particularly those with a different view) will weigh in in the comments section below. More »

Stronger evidence for a weaker Atlantic overturning circulation

Filed under: — stefan @ 11 April 2018

Through two new studies in Nature, the weakening of the Gulf Stream System is back in the scientific headlines. But even before that, interesting new papers have been published – high time for an update on this topic.

Let’s start with tomorrow’s issue of Nature, which besides the two new studies (one of which I was involved in) also includes a News&Views commentary. Everything revolves around the question of whether the Gulf Stream System has already weakened. Climate models predict this will be one consequence of global warming – alongside other problems such as rising sea levels and increasing heat waves, droughts and extreme precipitation. But is such a slowdown already underway today? This question is easier asked than answered. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC, also known as Gulf Stream System) is a huge, three-dimensional flow system throughout the Atlantic, which fluctuates on different time scales. It is therefore by no means enough to put a current meter in the water at one or two points. More »