Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


Bonn Climate Negotiations Predictably Go Nowhere

As I predicted last week, the climate deal negotiations held in Bonn, Germany resulted in … nothing.  Well, that’s not completely accurate.  There was plenty of bickering and diplomatic drama, but the negotiations produced nothing of substance.  Put simply, there are too many competing interests for any global-scale deal to be decided on or put into place in the next 5-10 years.  Economic growth garners more attention and too many people still incorrectly believe that scientific innovation doesn’t facilitate that growth.

The quickest way to get countries to act on the climate is to improve their peoples’ standard of living.  Pull or push the developing world up to developed-world standards and hundreds of millions more people will be able and willing to take action on anthropogenic climate change.  As the world stands now, too many people are still forced to prioritize their personal survival.  Environmental NGOs would do themselves and the world a favor by focusing efforts toward cheap, clean energy access to billions who don’t currently have it.

Additionally, interested countries need to take the lead on action and set up mechanisms that allow them to benefit as currently recalcitrant countries climb on the climate action bandwagon.  While it would be unwieldy in the mid-term, countries should consider establishing multiple climate treaties that perform various tasks, then combining those treaties at some point in the future.  Almost everyone agrees that some action is better than none.  So why should everyone shoot for the moon from the start?

Negotiators will meet again in Qatar in November of this year.  The stated goal is to have drafted something by 2015 that goes into force by 2020.  I don’t think they will succeed for the reasons I briefly discussed above in addition to ones left out of this post.  Let’s see if I’m wrong.


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2011 CO2 Emissions Up

In 2011, global emissions of carbon reached an all-time high of 31.6 Gigatonnes, according to preliminary IEA estimates.  That was 3.2% (1.0 Gt) higher than 2010 emissions.  The IEA has developed an energy pathway consistent with a 50% chance of limiting global temperature increases to only 2°C, which requires CO2 emissions to peak at 32.6 Gt no later than 2017.  This reinforces statements I’ve made in the past year that a maximum of 2°C warming is no longer feasible.  There is no reason short of worldwide economic collapse that emissions will peak at or below 32.6 Gt prior to 2017.  As emissions continue, more warming and additional effects are locked into Earth’s climate system.  The good news is due to transfer of power generation from coal to natural gas (more natural gas plants as gas prices fell in 2009 and 2010), US CO2 emissions fell by 92 Mt (1.7%) from 2010 to 2011.  Indeed, emissions have fallen 7.7% from 2006 levels in the US.  A significant portion of that decrease was due to the economic troubles from which we still haven’t recovered, of course.  Do market forces exist to help reduce those emissions?  Absolutely they exist: taxes and permit systems.  Note that the second article includes a brief discussion of why previous environmental action was taken.  It cites the immediate identification of the causality behind environmental disasters.  I disagree with the author’s assessment that such an event will ever occur with respect to climate change.  I further disagree that such a “Climate Pearl Harbor” (as it has been described elsewhere) is the only means by which bottom-up action and support can be generated.

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NASA & NOAA: April 2012 Among Top 5 Warmest On Record

According to data released by NASA and NOAA this month, April 2012 ranked among the top 5 warmest Aprils on record: NASA recorded the 4th (tied) warmest April in its dataset; NOAA recorded the 5th warmest April in its dataset.  The two agencies have slightly different analysis techniques, which actually helps to reinforce the results from each other.

The details:

April’s global average temperatures were 0.56°C above normal (1951-1980), according to NASA.  The warmest regions on Earth are exactly where climate models have been projecting the most warmth to occur for years: high latitudes (especially within the Arctic Circle in April 2012).  The past three months have a +0.47°C temperature anomaly.  And the latest 12-month period (May 2011 – Apr 2012) had a +0.49°C temperature anomaly.

According to NOAA, April’s global average temperatures were 0.65°C (1.17°F) above the 20th century mean of 13.7°C (56.7°F).  NOAA’s global temperature anomaly map for April reinforces the message: high latitudes continue to warm at a faster rate than the mid- or low-latitudes.  The extreme warmth over Siberia is especially worrisome due to the vast methane reserves locked into the tundra and under the seabed near the region.  Methane is a stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide,which is the leading cause of the warmth we’re now witnessing.  As I discussed in the comments in a recent post, the warming signal from methane likely hasn’t been captured yet since the yearly natural variability and the CO2-caused warming signals are much stronger.  It is likely that we will not detect the the methane signal for many more years.

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Sea-Level Rise Accounting; Climate Negotations; UK Energy Bill

An estimate of terrestrial water storage changes in the recent past (1961-2003) provides a potential answer for a significant portion of total (~42%) sea-level rise in a new study (summary):


The next round of climate negotiations are in Bonn, Germany this week.  Countries are trying to come up with the next climate agreement, but members disagree over whether and how such a measure would bind them.  I’ve concluded in the past year that international efforts haven’t and won’t work for the foreseeable future.  There are simply too many interests at the table trying to conceive something from scratch and the technological solutions aren’t readily at hand.  I think it would better for interested parties to form smaller groups and work on mutually beneficial goals with an eye toward keeping any agreements flexible and dynamic to accommodate new members and goals as needed.  The focus on a grand global bargain isn’t and won’t get the job done.

The U.K. is working on an energy bill and this article asks the question: will the bill help the U.K. meet its climate (emissions) goals?  Call me Debbie Downer, but the answer is relatively easy: no, it will not.  Nothing that is politically feasible in the UK (or US) right now will meet any kind of emissions goals in any time frame (unless those goals include larger numbers than exist today.)

The government is committed to decarbonising electricity generation by 2030, as well as slashing overall carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050.

The UK will not decarbonize electricity generation by 2030.  Any way you look at it (e.g. here or here), the UK generates most of its electricity with fossil fuels (coal and natural gas).  Renewable sources are responsible for only ~3.5% of the electricity generated.  Is the UK seriously going to replace all currently existing coal and natural gas plants with renewable sources in 18 years, to say nothing of expectations of increasing electricity demand in that 18 year time span?  The scale of that project boggles the mind – it simply will not be accomplished.  And just so I am clear, the same thing holds true for every other nation, including the US.  This is exactly the type of project I worked on late last year – and I promise I will share those results in the future.  I look forward to hearing from my favorite UK blogger (Martin) both now and when I put that future post together on this topic – what think you?

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Research: Observations Decisively Indicate External Forcing Cause of Arctic Sea Ice Loss

It unfortunately takes a little bit of time, but climate skeptics’ claims that observations don’t support climate model projections aren’t supported as more observations are made of the Earth system.  The latest instance: instead of using just climate projections, a pair of researchers have used observations to try to determine whether internal variability (natural year-to-year changes), self-acceleration (positive feedback loops), or external forcing were most the likely drivers of observed sea-ice retreat in the past 30 years.

The takeaway from this research: external forcing (CO2) is shown to be most responsible.  This is a good case of how science works: investigate multiple potential causal factors and let the observed data speak for themselves.

The captions for the figures below come directly from the paper.


Figure 1. Evolution of Arctic sea-ice extent in (a) March and (c) September and the year-to-year changes in (b) March and (d) September. For this figure, an offset of +0.35 106 km2 in September and of 0.16  106 km2 in March has
been added to the entire original NSIDC dataset [Fetterer et al., 2002, 2010] to make the time series consistent with the original HadISST satellite time series during the period 1979–1996 [Met Office Hadley Centre, 2006].

The investigation included 60 years of robust sea ice data – from HadISST as well as NSIDC.  They used NSIDC in the satellite era because it provides a more consistent interpretation of the period.  As you can see, conditions in the Arctic started changing in the 1980s.  By 2000, both March and September conditions were different than conditions in the middle of the 20th century.  One big question when looking at this or similar time series data is whether the recent decline in sea ice is natural or not.  The following figure helps to answer that question quite definitively:


Figure 2 [4 in paper]. Relationship between sea-ice evolution and various forcings. (a) Temporal evolution of solar irradiance [Fröhlich, 2000], AO-index [Thompson and Wallace, 1998], PDOindex [Mantua and Hare, 2002], and CO2 concentration (scaling with a 1.66 W/m2 equivalence for a 100 ppm increase [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007]). The thin lines denote monthly values, while thick lines denote averages over 1 year (CO2), 5 years (AO-index, PDO-index) and 10 years (solar irradiance). (b–e) September sea ice extent from 1953 until 2010 is plotted against annual mean values of the various forcings whenever data was available. The R2 values are calculated for a standard linear regression as indicated by the shading (2s).

The primary message of this figure is the takeaway from the research: the correlation between sea-ice extent and CO2 is a remarkably strong 0.84.  Moreover, no similar correlation was found between sea-ice extent and any other forcing: not irradiance, PDO-index, AO-index (shown in figure above), cosmic rays, volcanic eruptions, or poleward oceanic heat transport (not shown in paper).  In other words, the set of explanations that skeptics like to use to explain away a multitude of climate change effects has been shown to not explain the decline in sea-ice.  Irradiance has a positive, but much smaller relationship than does CO2 concentration.  The PDO- and AO-indexes have no statistical explanation for sea-ice extent.

The paper includes this important passage:

Note that the same reasoning allows us to conclude that changes in CO2 concentration are not the main driver for the observed sea-ice evolution in the Antarctic. With no clear trend in the sea-ice extent there, there is virtually no correlation with the increasing CO2 concentration. This underpins the fact that in the Antarctic, sea-ice extent is at the moment primarily governed by sea-ice dynamics. In contrast, in the Arctic the sea-ice  movement is constrained by the surrounding land masses and the thermodynamic forcing becomes more relevant there.

At this point, the rise in CO2 remains the leading explanation for the decline in Arctic sea-ice extent.  Since this work was based on statistical analyses of observational data, I eagerly await observational-type climate change skeptics to accept the work as valid.  It won’t happen, of course, as I’ve found that the vast majority of skeptics won’t accept any amount or type of evidence.  That’s because the real issue is based on values, which skeptics don’t want to discuss.  Instead, they use climate change as a proxy argument.

For the rest of us, this is an important result.  I truthfully do await scientific responses to this work.  It should be challenged on legitimate scientific grounds, if it is challenged at all.


In Wake of JP Morgan Chase Debacle, Where is the Tea Party Again?

The fine folks at JP Morgan Chase continued to make unchecked bets (the same kind that A.I.G. made and got burned) and lost big: $2 Billion in the last 6 weeks.  A few of those folks have since lost their jobs.  But not the man who lobbied the hardest against regulations that would prevent Chase from making those bets – no, he still has his job.  The shareholders are doing what they’re supposed to be doing: asking tough questions.  Will Dimon keep his job?  Sure – crony capitalism rewards failures at the top.

What I want to know is where are the massive rallies by the Tea Party calling for Dimon to be fired and regulations to be imposed on gamblers masquerading as bankers?

The answer is easy: there aren’t any and there won’t be any.  The Tea Party was co-opted by the same folks who perpetrated the worst activities that led up to the Great Recession and our continued economic malaise.  No substantive changes were made in the way Chase or other banks do business – save the tens of Trillions of dollars they got for free from the Federal Reserve.

The co-opting included distracting the populists in the Tea Party with the supposedly scarier threat of a Black Man in the White House.

Meanwhile, speculators were allowed to run up the cost of oil and gasoline, which acts as a choke collar on the American economy, and other right-wing economic theories were imposed across Europe, which has led to what is likely to be another recession:

[h/t Bonddad]

The combination of high oil/gas prices, US corporations sitting on Trillions of dollars in cash (not hiring), and European economic weakness will not help the US economy.  Will our “recovery” be over soon; will we follow Europe into weaker and weaker economic conditions?  Don’t ask the Tea Party, they don’t truly care.


State of the Poles – May 2012: Arctic Ice Extent Near Normal; Antarctic Ice Returning To Normal

The state of global polar sea ice area in early May 2012 has convincingly returned to climatologically normal conditions (1979-2009).  Arctic sea ice recovered to near-normal conditions after a late start to the freeze season and a late-season slowdown due to certain atmospheric and oceanographic conditions; Antarctic sea ice has melted only slightly more slowly than is normal during the austral autumn.  Put another way, polar sea ice has recovered from an extensive deficit of -2 million sq. km. area a couple of months ago to a +750,000 sq. km. anomaly today.  That said, sea ice area spent an unprecedented length of time near the -2 million sq. km. deficit in the modern era in 2011.  Generally poor environmental conditions established and maintained this condition, predominantly across the Arctic last year.

Arctic Ice

According to the NSIDC, weather conditions this winter and early spring were slightly less conducive for Arctic sea ice freezing on the Atlantic side of the Arctic while conditions were more conducive than usual for freezing on the Pacific side.  Melting during April was slightly less than normal: 1.07 million sq. km. instead of 1.21 million sq. km.  As such, April′s extent was the near average for the month in the satellite record.  Arctic sea ice extent on in April averaged 14.73 million sq. km.  Barents Sea ice remained below normal, as it did in recent years.  The Bering Sea, which saw ice extent growth due to anomalous northerly winds in previous months, instead witnessed more normal conditions.  Overall, near surface temperatures were warmer than average across the Arctic Ocean.

In terms of longer, climatological trends, Arctic sea ice extent in April has decreased by -2.6% per decade.  This rate is lowest in the winter months than the late summer months.  Note that this rate also uses 1979-2000 as the climatological normal.  There is no reason to expect this rate to change significantly (more or less negative) any time soon.  Additional low ice seasons will continue.  Some years will see less decline than other years (like this past year) – but the multi-decadal trend is clear: negative.  The specific value for any given month during any given year is, of course, influenced by local and temporary weather conditions.  But it has become clearer every year that humans are establishing a new normal in the Arctic with respect to sea ice.  This new normal will continue to have far-reaching implications on the weather in the mid-latitudes, where most people live.

Arctic Pictures and Graphs

The following graphic is a satellite representation of Arctic ice as of March 9, 2012:

Figure 1 – UIUC Polar Research Group‘s Northern Hemispheric ice concentration from 20120309.

Compare this with April 28th’s satellite representation, also centered on the North Pole:

Figure 2 – UIUC Polar Research Group‘s Northern Hemispheric ice concentration from 20120428.

Once Hudson Bay finally froze over around the time of the New Year, ice extent grew toward the Atlantic Ocean.  The sea ice in the Bering Sea, as mentioned above, formed more quickly and to a further southern extent than is normally seen.  What remained missing this winter and early spring is the sea ice north of Scandinavia.  This is the result of anomalously warm waters from the Gulf Stream being drawn further north than is normal.  This is due to the positive AO & NAO indices during this winter.  As a side note, this phenomenon combined with the moderate La Nina in the Pacific Ocean has led to Dec-Apr being an anomalously warm and dry month for most of the U.S. in March and April.

Overall, the health of the remaining ice pack is not healthy, as the following graph of Arctic ice volume from the end of April demonstrates:

Figure 3 – PIOMAS Arctic sea ice volume time series through April 2012.

As the graph shows, volume hit a record minimum earlier in 2011 before returning to the -2 standard deviation envelope.  I understand that most readers don’t have an excellent handle on statistics, but conditions between -1 and -2 standard deviations are rare and conditions outside the -2 standard deviation threshold (see the line below the shaded area on the graph above) are incredibly rare: the chances of 2 of them occurring in 2 subsequent years under normal conditions are very, very remote.  Hence my assessment that “normal” conditions in the Arctic are shifting from what they were in the past few centuries.

Switching back from volume to area, take a look at April’s areal extent time series data:

Figure 4 – NSIDC Arctic sea ice extent time series through mid-May 2012.

This winter allowed the extent to do something it had not done for the most recent handful of winters: a return of ice extent to within the -2 standard deviation envelope.  Indeed, the extent in April briefly matched average conditions before a relatively warm spell melted ice quickly in mid-April.  The reason for this is a shift in wind conditions: speed and direction both changed from late winter through this last month.  Those winds piled sea ice up instead of pushing it apart.  The disadvantage: ice extent decreased, as seen in Figure 4.  The advantage: ice volume grew, as seen in Figure 3.  The effect on this September’s minimum extent will indicate how helpful the early season winds were in building sea ice that doesn’t melt every year back up.

Occasionally, I also like to include a supplemental time series graph that the NSIDC report contains.  Here is this month’s supplemental graph:

Figure 5 – NSIDC Arctic sea ice extent time series through April 2012.

This graph contains all of the same data as the previous graph and adds the time series lines from the previous 5 winters.  As you can see, extent varies during the same month from year to year.  The recent decline in extent, caused by a change in wind direction and speed, has reduced Arctic ice extent back to ~14 million sq. km., which is near normal for late April.  The past three winters also saw similar magnitude reductions near the end of April, though the starting and ending values were obviously different.  Despite these differences in subsequent years, the minimum ice extent values were quite similar: at or near the record low set in 2007.  Will fall 2012 be any different or will the surge in ice growth on the Pacific side of the Arctic help to stave off the worst effects seen in the past five years?

Antarctic Pictures and Graphs

Here is a satellite representation of Antarctic sea ice conditions from March 9th:


Figure 6 – UIUC Polar Research Group‘s Southern Hemispheric ice concentration from 20120309.

Compare that graphic with the same view from April 28th:

Figure 7 – UIUC Polar Research Group‘s Southern Hemispheric ice concentration from 20120428.

Ice gain is easily visible around the continent, especially east of the Antarctic Peninsula.  Conditions of Antarctic sea ice remain strong this year.  As a reminder, this is largely and somewhat confusingly due to the ozone depletion that took place over the southern continent.  This depletion has caused a colder southern polar stratosphere than it otherwise would be, reinforcing the polar vortex over the Antarctic Circle.  That vortex has helped keep cold, stormy weather in place over Antarctica that might not otherwise would have occurred to the same extent and intensity.  As the “ozone hole” continues to recover during this century, the effects of global warming will become more clear in this region.  For now, we should perhaps consider the lack of global warming signal due to lack of ozone as relatively fortunate.

Here is the Antarctic sea ice extent time series from mid-May:

Figure 8 – NSIDC Antarctic sea ice extent time series through mid-May 2012.

Antarctic sea ice extent has remained above average to some extent for months now, which is good news.  The difference in conditions from the first part of 2011 to the similar time period in 2012 is obvious: NSIDC measured last year’s extent near the bottom of the standard deviation envelope while this year’s extent is much healthier.


Here are my State of the Poles posts from March and  January.

You can find NSIDC’s May report here.