Skip to comments.Explaining the Global Warming Hiatus: Grappling with climate-change nuance in a toxic political...
Posted on 06/21/2013 8:20:12 AM PDT by neverdem
Grappling with climate-change nuance in a toxic political environment
Even as scientists asserted an incontrovertible consensus on climate change, a funny thing has happened over the last 15 years: Global warming has slowed down. Since 1998, the warmest year of the twentieth century, temperatures have not kept up with computer models that seemed to project steady warming; theyre perilously close to falling beneath even the lowest projections.
Some people are playing the hiatus as good news: Apocalypse perhaps a little later, the Economist put it. But in a political environment where vast swathes of the American right reject even the premise of global warmingand where prominent right-wing pols suggest its an enormous fraudthis inconvenient news could easily lead to still more acrimony over the subject. Especially since scientists themselves arent entirely sure what the evidence means. If scientific models cant project the last 15 years, what does that mean for their projections of the next 100?
It might seem like a decade-long warming plateau would cause a crisis for climate science. It hasnt. Gerald Meehl, a Senior Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has seen hiatus periods before. They occur pretty commonly in the observed records, and there are climate models showing a hiatus as long as 15 years. As a result, Isaac Held, a Senior Research Scientist at NOAAs Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, says no one has ever expected warming to be continuous, increasing like a straight line. Those much-cited computer models are composed of numerous simulations that individually account for naturally occurring variability. But, Meehl says, the averages cancel it out.
The phenomena that most clearly causes the Earths temperature to rise and fall are El Nino and La Nina. During El Nino, heat is brought to the surface of the eastern Pacific, raising global air temperatures. The reverse happens during La Nina. Conveniently, the hiatus is said to begin in 1998, when a historic El Nino produced the warmest year of the twentieth century. That starting point amounts to cherry-picking: The 2000s were warmer than the 1990s, and the nine warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.
But all this leaves a big question, one that scientists have been trying to answer: If the atmosphere is warming more slowly than projected, where did the heat go?
There are two ways to create a global-warming hiatus: The heat can go somewhere other than the atmosphere, or there might be less heat in the climate system than scientists predicted.
Global warming estimates usually center on measures of air temperature. But the climate system also can move heat from the atmosphere to somewhere else, like melting ice.
The most obvious culprit is the ocean, which absorbs 90 percent of the heat added to the climate system. With the oceans holding so much heat, the focus on mean surface temperature as the measure of global warming misses much of the point. Minor shifts between the oceans and the air could keep the planet heating up, even while slowing the pace of atmospheric warming. And that wouldnt necessarily be good news, since warmer oceans would raise sea levels, change the climate, and hurt the oceans ecosystem.
But sea surface temperatures and the upper ocean heat content didnt increase over the last decade, not by enough to account for what Trenberth called missing heatthe heat that greenhouse gas emissions should have trapped in the Earths climate system, but couldnt be found.
Scientists speculated that the heat might be hidden in the deep ocean, beneath 700 meters, where there are not reliable temperature measurements. Without good data, they couldnt prove heat was going into the deep oceans. So Meehl and his colleagues turned to computer models. Their approach was straightforward: Look at naturally occurring hiatus decades in climate models, and see where the computers put the heat. In the simulations, the deep ocean warmed by 19 percent more during hiatus periods, even as sea surface temperatures cooled in the tropical Pacific, creating a pattern similar to the prolonged La Nina-like pattern of the last decade. They then plugged in the conditions of the last decade and found that the models produced roughly 20 percent less warming than the free running models.
More proof of the deep ocean hypothesis: Over the last decade, more than 3,000 Argo floatsbasically, seaborne thermometerswere deployed across the worlds oceans to measure oceanic heat content. The floats can measure temperatures down to 2000 meters. They found that more than 30 percent of ocean warming over the past decade occurred beneath 700 meterspotentially covering most of the missing heat.
But analysis was limited by the absence of historical data: Without knowledge of how much heat was trapped in the deep ocean in the past, scientists couldnt prove much. Just last month, an intriguing paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters suggested a way around this problem. Using a model that projects ocean temperatures back to 1961, its trio of authors found that the surge in deep ocean heat intake over the last decade was indeed historic.
But other scientists think that the heat is missing because it never made into Earth's climate system. The idea that heat might not have made it relates to the concept of forcing. The term refers to the forces that add or remove heat from the climate system. The best known example of forcing is the Greenhouse effect, where greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap heat that might otherwise radiate into space. But theres negative forcing, tooi.e., other pollutants that reflect energy back into space.
The sun itself is a major factor in forcing. Over an average of eleven years, the suns energy output ebbs and wanes, subtly influencing earths climate. The last solar maximum was in 2000, but a prolonged solar minimum has kept the sun even dimmer than usual. According to Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, lower levels of solar radiation account for 10 to 15 percent of the hiatus.
Explaining the rest is more difficult. Susan Solomon, an MIT professor best known for research on the ozone hole, has focused on stratospheric water vapor and aerosols. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas, and satellite data shows stratospheric water vapor decreasing since 2000meaning less heat is getting trapped.
Working in the opposite way is an increase in stratospheric aerosols, which counter greenhouse gases and serve as a giant parasolreflecting energy away from the Earth. But even there, the theory means rethinking former givens. Until recently, scientists believed large volcanic eruptions were the culprit when stratospheric aerosol levels rose. But stratospheric aerosol levels have risen since 2002, even though there hadnt been a large volcanic eruption since 1991. Some initially attributed the trend to increased coal burning from South and East Asia. The data hints at another explanation: a wave of smaller volcanic eruptions, previously assumed to be too small to contribute to stratospheric aerosol. Ground and satellite-based observations show a correlation between increases in stratospheric aerosol and this decades smaller volcanic eruptionslike Monserrat, Ruang in Indonesia, and Manam in Papua New Guinea.
What all of these discoveries hint at is that scientists, at long last, have developed a better understanding of year-to-year climate variations. In a way, you could think of it like the stock market. Watching Wall Street, we see the indices rise and fall, and we know the news that has influenced the swings. Watching annual temperatures, scientists could see the fluctuations but, until recently, knew little about the news--even though they were confident that increased carbon dioxide would ensure a bull market over the longer run. With an updated understanding of deep ocean temperatures and stratospheric aerosols, that has changed. Solomon thinks weve learned a lot about interdecadal variability as a result of the hiatus.
Piecing together the hiatus puzzlethe competing effects of the oceans, stratospheric water vapor and aerosols, and sunlight on the global climate systemis difficult. Scientists want an exact account of earths energy budget or balance, or how much energy enters the earths atmosphere from the sun, how much is absorbed by the oceans and atmosphere, and how much is radiates back into space.
Ideally, scientists could use satellites to measure how much energy is getting trapped inside of the climate system. But even the CERES satellite constellation, which is designed to do exactly that, gives estimates that cant be reconciled with other data.1 And without an absolute measurement, Trenberth and other scientists are forced to measure from the bottom up how much energy is absorbed by the oceans or the air. Scientists have a good idea of how much energy is coming from the sun, and how much is absorbed by the atmosphere and the upper ocean. But here again, the problem of measuring oceans returns. Some scientists are content to rely on the Argo data, while others use climate models to estimate the net-energy balance, including an account of volcanic aerosols and changes in sunlight. Then they use CERES to measure changes over time.
All of which leads to very different estimates of how much heat is getting trapped in the Earths climate system. Using computer models, Trenberth estimates that the earths net-energy balance is about 50 percent larger than James Hansen, a prominent ex-NASA scientist who relies on Argo data.
The difference matters: If the Earths energy balance was actually a third lower than the computer models suggest, it would mean rethinking assumptions of climate science, such as whether aerosols are reflecting even more heat out into space than previously imagined. But Trenberth thinks the problem is Hansens data, not the climate science. Argo misses key thingsthe top ten meters of oceans and the seas around Indonesia, among other huge patches.2 After accounting for those differences, Trenberth thinks that his estimate "lines-up pretty well with the values from the ocean data. Hansen says most of the difference is due to the solar cycle, as his analysis assumed the solar minimum, while Trenberth's estimate is for the entire decade. Adjusting for the solar cycle reduces the difference between the two estimates from 50 percent to 20 percent.
Meanwhile, Trenberths model doesnt directly account for changes in stratospheric water vapor or aerosols from small volcanoes, since those effects should be included in the CERES top-of-atmosphere measurements. Whether his approach accounts for these subtle changes in forcing depends on just how good the CERES values are. Solomon approaches the problem from the opposite perspective. She emphasizes that the role of volcanoes is unambiguous, supported by great satellite measurements, and multiple sources of data. As a result, she argues that stratospheric water vapor might cover roughly 20 percent of the hiatus along with 30 percent from volcanoesthe oceans, and whatever else, must cover the outstanding 50 percent.
Nonetheless, the combination of imperfect data, overlapping explanations, and continued uncertainty mean that scientists cannot discount the possibility that they have overestimated the climates sensitivity to additional greenhouse gas emissions. For Held, the last 10 to 15 years make it more plausible that the size of climate response to greenhouse gas increase is on the lower side of what models have been projecting over the last 10 or 20 years rather than over the high side. Held is not alone.
In the end, the so-called scientific consensus on global warming doesnt look like much like consensus when scientists are struggling to explain the intricacies of the earths climate system, or uttering the word uncertainty with striking regularity. Nowhere is there more uncertainty than in the clouds. Its like cancer, Held said, referring to the many, many research problems posed by the many kinds of clouds, each with their own special properties that might reflect or trap more or less of the suns heat. Some progress has been made on clouds, especially with cirrus clouds.
In the current political climate, debates about things like climate change are carried out in broad-brush assertions. The challenge for scientists is that the more they understand the climate system, the more complex it gets, and the harder it gets to model with precisionnot to mention making the kinds of sweeping statements the news cycle requires.
Last summer, Mark Maslin and Patrick Austin wrote that climate sciences embrace of more-complex processes means adding in known unknowns, like the rate at which ice falls through clouds, or the rate at which different types of land cover and the oceans absorb carbon dioxide. Known unknowns create uncertainty and a bigger spread between models. They fear that this will look like the scientific understanding of climate change is becoming less, rather than more, clear. That fear seems well-founded, especially as climate skeptics deploy the latest research, like Solomons on volcanoes, as evidence that scientists dont understand whats going on.
Public doubts about climate change are already increasing, even as scientists warn that the window for forestalling dangerous warming is closing. According to Pew Research, just 45 percent of Americans believe that scientists agree that warming is mostly because of human activities, down from 59 percent in 2006. The recent wave of news and magazine articles about scientists struggling to explain the warming slowdown could prolong or deepen the publics skepticism.
But the consensus never extended to the intricacies of the climate system, just the core belief that additional greenhouse gas emissions would warm the planet. The greenhouse effect is truly undeniablejust consider Venus, where 96.5 percent of the atmosphere is composed of carbon dioxide, and the average surface temperature is more than 860 degrees Fahrenheit. Conversely, without greenhouse gases, Earths average surface temperature would be 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
And once you concede the existence of the greenhouse effect, its tough to dispute the role of greenhouse gas emissions in warming the planet: Over the last ten years, increased carbon emissions added trapped about as much heat in the climate system as small volcanic eruptions, the solar cycle, and stratospheric water vapor combined to deduct. But since the start of the industrial age, carbon dioxide has added nearly seven times as much positive forcing, and that number will keep growing with additional carbon emissions.3 So heres whats clear: Over the longer term, temperatures will increase. As Held puts it, warming over 100 years isnt that sensitive to fluctuations.
I dont see how you can argue against it, Solomon observed after declaring that carbon dioxide will be king over the long run. The amount of warming over the last century has not been small, and there has to be a source, if you believe in basic thermodynamics. Skeptics point to internal variationsthe natural shifts that scientists have struggled to explain over the last decade. But oceanic heat content has also been increasing, ruling out the possibility that atmospheric warming is due to internal variability. To Held, thats pretty much a smoking gun.
The last decade is proof of climate change, not a cause for reflexive skepticism. It was the warmest on record, despite a laundry-list of mitigating factors like prolonged La Nina, a wave of modest volcanic eruptions, and an ebb in solar activity. As those attenuating factors subside, climate scientists anticipate another round of rapid warming.
That's patently false except for a minor thermal expansion. Put ice cubes in a glass of water. The author hasn't heard about Archimedes and the displacement of water?
The author forgot to code for his references:
The Sun comes up it gets warm ,the Sun goes down it cools
But...but...but they assured me that we were all gonna die!
What kind of sick, twisted people-hating freak would NOT see the absence of warming as good news. It's like they WANTED something bad to happen and are disappointed that it didn't.
* prominent right-wing pols suggest its an enormous fraud *
...plus 31,000 scientists and the founder of the Weather Channel...
...oh yeah, don’t forget about Climategate One and Two exposing it as a fraud without a doubt.
It seems like this article is admitting that the AGW hoax is a bunch of baloney without wanting to.
I wish someone could break through the liberal clutter and noise on global warming.
For example, man may well be contributing some amount to changes in the weather. But there are natural cycles which we do not fully understand, and which we have no control over.
During the last ice age, Chicago was buried under a mile of ice. Due to global warming over thousands of years, the glaciers receded. So is global warming always a bad thing, even it is were really happening? Did ice ages end because Cro-magnon man had coal fired power plants??? Or did ice ages end due to natural cycles which we don’t understand and have no control over anyway?
And is global warming always a bad thing, even if it is happening? For example, the midwest is a very fertile agriculatural region, but one constraint is that they have severe winters and shorter growing seasons than other places. A touch of warming could make the farmland in that region even more productive. That would be a positive development.
Why is “Superstorm Sandy” blamed on global warming? While rare, the New York/New Jersey coastline has been struck by such storms in the past. Was it because the media center of the country was struck by that storm that they decided to play it up as due to climate change?????
Even if it's a fraud, it may be "fake but accurate". [Courtesy of Dan Rather's libel against Bush.]
The seriousness of the charges mean that we should respond as if Global Warming was true. [Courtesy of the media's libel against Clarence Thomas.]
Yup. 42 first thing when I got up this morning. Now it’s 57. True globull warming at it’s finest. Note he mentions “recorded history”? Guess “un-recorded history” doesn’t matter. In the past I believe that folks (since they didn’t have all these “renowned” scientists) used an age old method of “adapting” to the changes. Even they were smart enough to know that mother nature is gonna do whatever she wants. Humans be damned.
“And my computer model just hasn’t got the right algos to specifically smooth the 24 hour cycle and how it fits to the longer horizon of months and years.”
TRANSLATION: Global Warming Alarmists are Communists
I predict that by late October and November, that we will see significant cooling in this country, which will lead some to say that we’re entering a period of global cooling. Snowstorms will occur. Cold temperatures will be magnified by strong winds. Snow will fall in some places and not melt due to the low temperatures.
By January, we will be locked into a severe cooling cycle. It might even snow at the Super Bowl in New Jersey in February. If it doesn’t snow, it will still be a cold day there. Liberals all over will be swearing that we’re seeing global cooling rather than global warming.
Wouldn't it be simpler to look at the data around us with an open mind, and make whatever hypothesis seemed to explain reality?
[[Explaining the Global Warming Hiatus: Grappling with climate-change nuance in a toxic political...]]
there are no freakin nuances- The earth wamrs, the earth cools- case closed-
Glaciers melt, glaciers form- case colsed
Tropics form, ice caps form case closed
CO2 occures 99.996% NATURALLY- case closed
Man’s insignificant 0.004% contribution to total amospheris CO2 levels isl ike a man pissing i nthe ocean once every 100 years- NOTHING is goign to happen- the ocean wiull be fine- case closed
[[* prominent right-wing pols suggest its an enormous fraud *
...plus 31,000 scientists and the founder of the Weather Channel...
...oh yeah, dont forget about Climategate One and Two exposing it as a fraud without a doubt.
It seems like this article is admitting that the AGW hoax is a bunch of baloney without wanting to.]]
$10 dollars says our dear leader ignores all this and puts through ‘man-caused’ cliamte change regulation anyways via executive order before his term is up-
By all rights- just hte fact that he is threatenign to STEAL money from folks for a ‘problem’ that is NOT of our making shoul;d get him immedfiately thrown out opf office- yet the media WILL NOT do their job- and so he WILL (hell, he already IS) pass ‘man-caused’ global wamring laws that cripple this nation
The EPA is already poised to shut down coal plants- just waitign on the go ahead fro mtheir supreme leader
[[For example, man may well be contributing some amount to changes in the weather.]]
When you look at the evidence, the evidence does NOT support that- man’s insignificant 0.004% contribution does nothign to affect climate- nothign at all- the only thing man’s development causes is isolated local ‘hot zones’ due to things liek pavement, parking lots, buildings where trees once stood etc- but these local issues have nothgin to do with global tempurature increases- Nature is entirely 100% responsible for it’s natural cyclical wamrign periods
As well- CO2 ises AFTER global warming starts- many many years AFTER it begins- so that right there compeltely refutes the false claim that CO2 ‘causes global warming’
[[So is global warming always a bad thing, even it is were really happening?]]
Warnming did infact happen- but we haven’t had an increase in warmign since 1989 globally- there’s been no warmign at all- and just liek scientists (real scientists that is) discovered, the trend very closely follows solar activity on the sun- but by golly world leaders can’t very well blame or tax the sun, so they must falsely accuse man of causing global warming
[[Why is Superstorm Sandy blamed on global warming?]]
For the same reasion last years US dry season was blamed on GW- for hte same reason a lack of tornadoes was blamed on GW for the same reason 3 years ago’s wet season was blamed on GW for the same reason cold snaps are blsamed on GW for the same....... on and on it goes- No matter qwhich way the wind blows- the left will ALWAYS blame man for it
Plus the plants and trees dig it!!!! (CO2 that is)
Ask a group of six year olds about the existence of Santa Claus and you will have your CONSENSUS. When socialist see one side and conservatives another it is POLITICAL SCIENCE nothing more. If we spend trillions on new regulations and taxes it will all go away. Yeh.
Cold weather is just weather; warm weather is proof of global warming (except when there is less warm weather than expected, then it's proof of climate change which, in turn, is proof of global warming without it really being warmer).
There are so many lies in the article that it is not worth explaining. Things are said actually in support of global warming but are simply lies, Warming has not slowed as the article states, we are actually cooling.
When people run out of food because of cold weather then maybe perhaps people will believe.
If you would like to know more I suggest:
Not that I agree with the global warmists, but their contention is that warming will melt the ice above ground and the seas (polar caps, glaciers, etc.), run into it and cause the sea level to rise. So displacement from floating ice is not part of it.
But even if all the ice on earth melted, how much of a percentage would the water volume of the sea go up? I bet in the hundredths of a percent.
“TRANSLATION: Global Warming Alarmists are Communists”
Nah, they are just useful idiots.
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