Good thing? Of course.*
One of the benefits of working for NASA is that the enormous range of science the agency covers – from satellite records for the present day, to exoplanet climates, from early Mars and deep time on Earth to the far future – and the opportunity to think ‘big’. This week sees the publication of a paper I wrote with Adam Frank that we hope might provoke some ‘big’ thinking.
The Silurian Hypothesis (preprint) is the idea if industrial civilization had arisen on Earth prior to the existence of hominids, what traces would be left that could be detectable now? As a starting point, we explore what the traces of the Anthropocene will be in millions of years – carbon isotope changes, global warming, increased sedimentation, spikes in heavy metal concentrations, plastics and more – and then look at previous examples of similar events in the geological record. What is unique about our presence on Earth and what might be common to any industrial civilization? Can we rule out similar causes?
- G.A. Schmidt, and A. Frank, "The Silurian hypothesis: would it be possible to detect an industrial civilization in the geological record?", International Journal of Astrobiology, vol. 18, pp. 142-150, 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1473550418000095
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. [Read more…] about Stronger evidence for a weaker Atlantic overturning circulation
Some of you might have read about the lawsuit by a number of municipalities (including San Francisco and Oakland) against the major oil companies for damages (related primarily to sea level rise) caused by anthropogenic climate change. The legal details on standing, jurisdiction, etc. are all very interesting (follow @ColumbiaClimate for those details), but somewhat uniquely, the judge (William Alsup) has asked for a tutorial on climate science (2 hours of evidence from the plaintiffs and the defendents). Furthermore, he has posted a list of eight questions that he’d like the teams to answer.
Probably everyone has heard this argument, presented as objection against the findings of climate scientists on global warming: “The climate has always changed!” And it is true: climate has changed even before humans began to burn fossil fuels. So what can we conclude from that?
A quick quiz
Do you conclude…
(1) that humans cannot change the climate?
(2) that we do not know whether humans are to blame for global warming?
(3) that global warming will not have any severe consequences?
(4) that we cannot stop global warming? [Read more…] about The climate has always changed. What do you conclude?
You need to be careful in inferring climate sensitivity from observations.
Two climate sensitivity stories this week – both related to how careful you need to be before you can infer constraints from observational data. (You can brush up on the background and definitions here). Both cases – a “Brief Comment Arising” in Nature (that I led) and a new paper from Proistosescu and Huybers (2017) – examine basic assumptions underlying previously published estimates of climate sensitivity and find them wanting.
- C. Proistosescu, and P.J. Huybers, "Slow climate mode reconciles historical and model-based estimates of climate sensitivity", Science Advances, vol. 3, pp. e1602821, 2017. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1602821
Last weekend, in Reykjavik the Arctic Circle Assembly was held, the large annual conference on all aspects of the Arctic. A topic of this year was: What’s going on in the North Atlantic? This referred to the conspicuous ‘cold blob’ in the subpolar Atlantic, on which there were lectures and a panel discussion (Reykjavik University had invited me to give one of the talks). Here I want to provide a brief overview of the issues discussed.
What is the ‘cold blob’?
This refers to exceptionally cold water in the subpolar Atlantic south of Greenland. In our paper last year we have shown it like this (see also our RealClimate post about it):
Fig. 1 Linear temperature trends from 1901 to 2013 according to NASA data. Source: Rahmstorf et al, Nature Climate Change 2015.
Nature published a great new reconstruction of global temperatures over the past 2 million years today. Snyder (2016) uses 61 temperature reconstructions from 59 globally diverse sediment cores and a correlation structure from model simulations of the last glacial maximum to estimate (with uncertainties) the history of global temperature back through the last few dozen ice ages cycles. There are multiple real things to discuss about this – the methodology, the relatively small number of cores being used (compared to what could have been analyzed), the age modeling etc. – and many interesting applications – constraints on polar amplification, the mid-Pleistocene transition, the duration and nature of previous interglacials – but unfortunately, the bulk of the attention will be paid to a specific (erroneous) claim about Earth System Sensitivity (ESS) that made it into the abstract and was the lead conclusion in the press release.
The paper claims that ESS is ~9ºC and that this implies that the long term committed warming from today’s CO2 levels is a further 3-7ºC. This is simply wrong.
- C.W. Snyder, "Evolution of global temperature over the past two million years", Nature, vol. 538, pp. 226-228, 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature19798
We’ve all seen how well temperature proxies and CO2 concentrations are correlated in the Antarctic ice cores – this has been known since the early 1990’s and has featured in many high-profile discussions of climate change.
EPICA Dome C ice core greenhouse gas and isotope records.
The temperature proxies are water isotope ratios that can be used to estimate Antarctic temperatures and, via a scaling, the global values. The CO2 and CH4 concentration changes can be converted to radiative forcing in W/m2 based on standard formulas. These two timeseries can be correlated and the regression (in ºC/(W/m2)) has the units of climate sensitivity – but what does it represent?
How has global sea level changed in the past millennia? And how will it change in this century and in the coming millennia? What part do humans play? Several new papers provide new insights.
2500 years of past sea level variations
This week, a paper will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) with the first global statistical analysis of numerous individual studies of the history of sea level over the last 2500 years (Kopp et al. 2016 – I am one of the authors). Such data on past sea level changes before the start of tide gauge measurements can be obtained from drill cores in coastal sediments. By now there are enough local data curves from different parts of the world to create a global sea level curve.
Let’s right away look at the main result. The new global sea level history looks like this:
Fig. 1 Reconstruction of the global sea-level evolution based on proxy data from different parts of the world. The red line at the end (not included in the paper) illustrates the further global increase since 2000 by 5-6 cm from satellite data. [Read more…] about Millennia of sea-level change
- R.E. Kopp, A.C. Kemp, K. Bittermann, B.P. Horton, J.P. Donnelly, W.R. Gehrels, C.C. Hay, J.X. Mitrovica, E.D. Morrow, and S. Rahmstorf, "Temperature-driven global sea-level variability in the Common Era", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 113, pp. E1434-E1441, 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1517056113