Monthly Archives: June 2012

How Well Did The ECMWF Predict The Current Extreme Heat In The Western USA?

In my post on June 14 2012

Hot And Dry Forecast For The Western USA – A Possible Extreme Event

I presented the ECMWF forecast of an extreme heat wave for the western USA. Today’s post is to document how well they did. In my view, it is an outstanding example of how well weather prediction models, which are initialized with real world data, can predict out to 10 days and longer into the future. As just one example of the magnitude of the extreme event, Denver, Colorado matched its all time record June temperature of 104F on June 23.

The ECMWF forecast of 850 hPa temperature and 500 hPa geopotential height made on June 14 2012 00UTC for June 24 2012 00UTC  is reproduced below [click on the image for a clearer view.].

The actual verifying time analysis plots are presented below.

An important conclusion from this heat wave is dominated by regional atmospheric circulation patterns. While the northern hemisphere average positive temperature anomaly could add  to the extreme event, it would be only about +0.44C (+0.8F) [from UAH MSU for May 2012]. Human climate forcings undoubtedly influence atmospheric (and ocean) circulation patterns (e.g. see Pielke et al 2009), such extreme events cannot simply be related directly to “global warming”.

Below is the map of current Northern hemispheric 500 hPa height anomalies which documents the regional characteristic of this extreme event. It also shows that the extreme event was confined to the lower levels of the troposphere, as the 500 hPa anomalies over the western USA are actually dominated by the cold anomaly off of the west coast. It must be the transport north of hot air in the lowest levels of the troposphere from the desert plateau of northern Mexico and the southwest USA which produced the extreme heat (and very dry air) over the Colorado and adjacent areas.

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Remarkable Admission By Gavin Schmidt In Response To The McKittrick and Tole 2012 Paper

On Monday, I will have a post on the relationship of the article

McKitrick, Ross R. and Lise Tole (2012) “Evaluating Explanatory Models of the Spatial Pattern of Surface Climate Trends using Model Selection and Bayesian Averaging Methods” Climate Dynamics, 2012, DOI: 10.1007/s00382-012-1418-9

to our research, as his excellent study bolsters our findings.

However, I need to post this afternoon on a remarkable admission by Gavin Schmidt on the McKitrick and Tole paper. In a reply to a comment (#260) by someone who labels themselves as MapleLeaf in the Real Climate post

Unforced Variations; June 2012

Gavin writes [highlight added]

The basic issue is that for short time scales (in this case 1979-2000), grid point temperature trends are not a strong function of the forcings – rather they are a function of the (unique realisation of) internal variability and are thus strongly stochastic…..There are other issues, but his basic conceptual error is big one from which all other stem”

This is an amazing statement with respect to multi-decadal trends. Perhaps Gavin misspoke. Otherwise, he is stating that that multidecadal local temperature trends are dominated by non-global climate effects and not by the global annual surface temperature tend.  I agree with this view, and am pleased to see recognition of the behavior of the real world climate system from Gavin.

There is also one other remarkable statement as part of this exchange (by MapleLeaf).  MapleLeaf wrote that McKittrick

….also seems to be floating a red herring when he claims that the GCMs are not good at predicting regional changes.  We know that, but what is his point when it comes to reducing GHG emissions?  That we do nothing?”

I actually agree with this view. As my son has written on many times (e.g. see The Climate Fix), the addition of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by human activity to the atmosphere is a first-order climate forcing. The science is settled on this issue. However, where MapleLeaf is missing the point is that huge amounts of research funding and time are being used to apply multi-decadal  regional climate prediction results from the global models (either directly, or dynamically or statistically downscaled)  by the impacts communities; e.g. see.

The Huge Waste Of Research Money In Providing Multi-Decadal Climate Projections For The New IPCC Report

I am pleased to see MapleLeaf also sees this as a waste of money.

I am also glad to see Gavin Schmidt admit to what we have known for a long time –  that a global annual averaged surface temperature trend tells us almost nothing of importance with respect to the risks from climate, including any changes in regional and local climate due to human activities.

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New Paper “Simulating The Biogeochemical And Biogeophysical Impacts Of Transient Land Cover Change And Wood Harvest In The Community Climate System Model (CCSM4) From 1850 to 2100” By Lawrence Et Al 2012

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There is a new global model sensitivity study of the role of land surface processes on the climate system [h/t Rezaul Mahmood]. The new paper is

Lawrence, Peter J., and Coauthors, 2012: Simulating the Biogeochemical and Biogeophysical Impacts of Transient Land Cover Change and Wood Harvest in the Community Climate System Model (CCSM4) from 1850 to 2100. J. Climate, 25, 3071–3095. doi:

While this paper continues the presentation of time periods in the future (out to 2100) when the CCSM4 has not demonstrated skill at prediction of historical changes in biogeochemical and biogeophysical impacts (i.e. hincast runs), the paper, nevertheless, is an interesting new model sensitivity study. It provides further evidence of the importance of land surface processes within the climate system, as we summarized recently in our paper

Pielke Sr., R.A., A. Pitman, D. Niyogi, R. Mahmood, C. McAlpine, F. Hossain, K. Goldewijk, U. Nair, R. Betts, S. Fall, M. Reichstein, P. Kabat, and N. de Noblet-Ducoudré, 2011: Land  use/land cover changes and climate: Modeling analysis  and  observational evidence. WIREs Clim Change 2011, 2:828–850. doi: 10.1002/wcc.144.

The abstract of the Lawrence et al 2012 paper reads [highlight added]

To assess the climate impacts of historical and projected land cover change in the Community Climate System Model, version 4 (CCSM4), new time series of transient Community Land Model, version 4 (CLM4) plant functional type (PFT) and wood harvest parameters have been developed. The new parameters capture the dynamics of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5) land cover change and wood harvest trajectories for the historical period from 1850 to 2005 and for the four representative concentration pathway (RCP) scenarios from 2006 to 2100. Analysis of the biogeochemical impacts of land cover change in CCSM4 reveals that the model produced a historical cumulative land use flux of 127.7 PgC from 1850 to 2005, which is in general agreement with other global estimates of 156 PgC for the same period. The biogeophysical impacts of the transient land cover change parameters were cooling of the near-surface atmosphere over land by −0.1°C, through increased surface albedo and reduced shortwave radiation absorption. When combined with other transient climate forcings, the higher albedo from land cover change was counteracted by decreasing snow albedo from black carbon deposition and high-latitude warming. The future CCSM4 RCP simulations showed that the CLM4 transient PFT parameters can be used to represent a wide range of land cover change scenarios. In the reforestation scenario of RCP 4.5, CCSM4 simulated a drawdown of 67.3 PgC from the atmosphere into the terrestrial ecosystem and product pools. By contrast the RCP 8.5 scenario with deforestation and high wood harvest resulted in the release of 30.3 PgC currently stored in the ecosystem.

The paper starts with the text

Recent studies have shown that historical human land use and land cover change have significantly impacted the earth’s climate through changes in the carbon cycle, through altered biogeochemical processes (Houghton 2003; Canadell et al. 2007; Bonan 2008; Shevliakova et al. 2009) and through changes in energy and moisture fluxes to the atmosphere, by altering biogeophysical processes (Betts et al. 2001; Feddema et al. 2005; Findell et al. 2007; Bala et al. 2007; Lawrence and Chase 2010).

The evidence that land surface process (both as a climate forcing and as a feedback) are at least as important as other climate forcings, including from the radiative effect of added CO2, are overwhelming, and must be part of an objective assessment of the climate system, as influenced by humans.  

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Filed under Climate Change Forcings & Feedbacks, Research Papers

New Paper “Climate Physics, Feedbacks, And Reductionism (And When Does Reductionism go Too Far?)” By Dick Lindzen

I was alerted to an important, informative new paper by Dick Lindzen (h/t to Anthony Watts) on the issue of climate. The paper is

R.S. Lindzen, 2102: Climate physics, feedbacks, and reductionism (and when does reductionism go too far?). Eur. Phys. J. Plus (2012) 127: 52 DOI 10.1140/epjp/i2012-12052-8.

The introduction reads (there is no abstract) [highlight added]

The public perception of the climate problem is somewhat schizophrenic. On the one hand, the problem is perceived to be so complex that it cannot be approached without massive computer programs. On the other hand, the physics is claimed to be so basic that the dire conclusions commonly presented are considered to be self-evident. Consistent with this situation, climate has become a field where there is a distinct separation of theory and modeling. Commonly, in traditional areas like fluid mechanics, theory provides useful constraints and tests when applied to modeling results. This has been notably absent in current work on climate. In principle, climate modeling should be closely associated with basic physical theory. In practice, it has come to consist in the almost blind use of obviously inadequate models.

In this paper, I would like to sketch some examples of potentially useful interaction with specific reference to the issue of climate sensitivity. It should be noted that the above situation is not strictly the fault of modelers. Theory, itself, has been increasingly idealized and esoteric with little attempt at real interaction. Also, theory in atmospheric and oceanic dynamics consists in conceptual frameworks that are generally not mathematically rigorous. Perhaps, we should refer to it as physical or conceptual reasoning instead. As we shall see, when reductionism goes beyond the constraints imposed by these frameworks, it is probably going too far though reductionism remains an essential tool of analysis.

The concluding remarks read

This paper considers approaches to estimating climate sensitivity involving the basic physics of the feedback processes rather than attempting to estimate climate sensitivity from time series of temperature. The latter have to assume a perfect knowledge of all sources of climate variability —something generally absent. The results of a variety of independent approaches all point to relatively low sensitivities. We also note that when climate change is due to regional and seasonal forcing, the concept of one dimensional climate sensitivity may, in fact, be inappropriate. Finally, it should be noted that I have not followed the common practice of considering the feedback factor to be the sum of separate feedback factors from water vapor, clouds, etc. The reason for this is that these feedback factors are not really independent. For example, in fig. 2, we refer to a characteristic emission level that is one optical depth into the atmosphere. For regions with upper level cirrus, this level is strongly related to the cloud optical depth (in the infrared), while for cloud-free regions the level is determined by water vapor. However, as shown by Rondanelli and Lindzen [30], and Horvath and Soden [31], the area covered by upper level cirrus is both highly variable and temperature dependent. The water vapor feedback is dependent not only on changes in water vapor but also on the area of cloud-free regions. It, therefore, cannot readily be disentangled from the cloud feedback.

One interesting statement in the paper is that, with respect to regional climate features,

“……current models do not simulate the PDO [Pacific Decadal Oscillation]. We are currently beginning such a study.”

The entire article is an important new contribution to the climate science discussion by a well-respected colleague.  I recommend reading the entire article.

My one substantive comment is the use of the terminology “climate sensitivity“.  I recognize that so much of the literature is focusing on the response of the global, annual averaged surface temperature to an imposed global averaged forcing (such as the radiative effect of added CO2) and calling this “climate sensitivity“.   However, this is but a very small part of true climate sensitivity. While I completely agree with Dick that there is a fundamental problem with “one-dimensional thinking” as he discussed in section 4 of his paper, it is an even higher dimensional (and more complex) issue than presented in the paper.

As I have often presented on my weblog, the climate system can be schematically illustrated below from NRC (2005).

The real world climate sensitivity is the influence of natural and human climate forcings on each of the components of the climate system.  Research is only just beginning to examine this issue, which needs to be completed using the bottom-up, contextual vulnerability approach that we discuss in our paper

Pielke Sr., R.A., R. Wilby, D. Niyogi, F. Hossain, K. Dairuku, J. Adegoke, G. Kallos, T. Seastedt, and K. Suding, 2011: Dealing  with complexity and extreme events using a bottom-up, resource-based  vulnerability perspective. AGU Monograph on Complexity and  Extreme Events in Geosciences, in press.

source of image at top of post

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Filed under Climate Models, Research Papers

Two Informative Climate Science Papers By Tom Quirk

I was alerted to two papers by Tom Quirk that will add to the climate science discussion.

Background information on Tom’s credentials are

Tom Quirk

M.Sc.(Melb), D.Phil., M.A.(Oxon), SMP(Harv.).

Tom Quirk trained as a physicist at the Universities of Melbourne and Oxford. He has been a Fellow of three Oxford Colleges and has worked as a high energy physicist in the United States at Fermilab, the universities of Chicago and Harvard and at CERN inEurope. In addition he has been through the HarvardBusinessSchooland subsequently worked for Rio Tinto. He was an early director of Biota, the developer of Relenza, a new influenza drug. In addition he has been involved in the management of gas and electricity transmission systems as a director of the Victorian Power Exchange (electricity) and Deputy Chairman of VENCorp, the company that managed the transmission and the market for wholesale natural gas in South East Australia.

The two papers are

Paper 1:

Tom Quirk, 2012. Did the global temperature trend change at the end of 1990s? Asia-Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Sciences, accepted for publication 7 May 2012.

The abstract reads

The apparent leveling of the global temperature time series at the end of the 1990s may represent a break in the upward trend. A study of the time series measurements for temperature, carbon dioxide, humidity and methane shows changes coincident with phase changes of the Atlantic and Pacific Decadal Oscillations. There are changes in carbon dioxide, humidity and methane measurement series in 2000. If these changes mark a phase change of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation then it might explain the global temperature behaviour

Paper 2:

Tom Quirk, 2010, Twentieth Century Sources of Methane in the Atmosphere, 43rd Seminar on Planetary Emergencies, World Scientific (pp 365-374) .

The abstract reads

Present global and national schemes for carbon regulation often include methane alongside carbon dioxide. It is therefore important to understand the sources, sinks and control of methane in the atmosphere and then consider if methane should be part of any carbon regulation scheme. Atmospheric measurements over the last 50 years show substantial changes in methane concentration. Natural gas leakage from pipelines has been the major contributor up to 1990. For the last 15 years there has been little increase in concentration and natural climate variability has been the dominant control in changing methane concentrations.

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Filed under Climate Change Forcings & Feedbacks, Climate Change Metrics, Research Papers

Guest Post “June 18, 2012 – A Commentary On 2012 Monsoon progress over India By Madhav Khandekar

June 18, 2012 ( a commentary on 2012 Monsoon progress over India) by Madhav Khandekar ((retd scientist Environment Canada & IPCC Reviewer 2007)

Indian Monsoon 2012: After a delayed start and playing “hide & seek”, monsoon rains seem poised to soak Peninsular India (18 June 2012)

The South-West (SW) Monsoon arrived at the southern tip of India (in the State of Kerala) on June 5th against the normal date of June 1st. The “arrival criteria” used by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) is based on reported rains ( of amount 2.5mm or more) at 60% of selected locations in Kerala State for two consecutive days. Following the declaration of Monsoon arrival by the IMD, further progress of the rains into the interior of the Peninsula stalled once again ( as it did in June 2009) and this has caused anxiety among many agriculturists and policymakers who monitor the progress of the SW monsoon for socio-economic planning. The SW Monsoon rains are the most important rains for India’s agricultural sector, which accounts for 15 to 20% of India’s economy today and employs up to 50% or more people in rural areas plus many more elsewhere (possibly up to 500 Million people). The SW Monsoon is also the most important climate event on an annual basis for the entire Indian subcontinent and its seven Nations (India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar/Burma, Nepal, Pakistan & Sri Lanka) with a total population of about 1.75 billion people!

What caused the stalling of monsoon progress after June 5th? A lack of general convective activity in the Bay of Bengal which is now identified as the key area for providing well distributed rains during June, the first month of the SW monsoon season. The lack of convective activity was probably due to the evolving El Nino phase in the equatorial Pacific plus possibly an unfavorable phase of IOD (Indian Ocean Dipole), which together with the ENSO Phase modulate the convective activity in the Bay of Bengal. In 2009 a significant lack of such convective activity led to a deficit of 54% in June rainfall which could NOT be overcome during the rest of that season (June-September 2009) and this made the 2009 monsoon a major drought year. The latest satellite map (June 18 2012) from the Indian satellite INSAT shows developing convective activity over the Bay and also in the Arabian Sea in the west ‘bringing in’ moisture to many west coast locations like Mumbai, Goa, Mangalore & Cochin. Per latest communiqué from the IMD, ‘A low pressure area may develop over the northwest Bay of Bengal leading to increase in rainfall activity over Andhra Pradesh ( on the east coast) and adjoining central India and east Uttar Pradesh’. The satellite map does show signs of a developing low pressure which may bring in much-needed rains over most of the Peninsular India and also in the north, especially in the Gangetic Plains & in the Himalayan foothills, which is the agricultural heartland of India with a regional population of over 200 Million. The  map at the top of the post shows the latest position of the ‘Monsoon progress” over the Indian subcontinent.

In the last three days, Mumbai (India’s largest city, population ~27 Million) received over 15 cm of rains, Goa over 25 cm, Mangalore and Cochin at about 12cm. Also interior cities like Bangalore (7 Million) and Hyderabad (8 Million) have been getting sporadic rains and bringing down maximum temperatures (by 3C to 5C ) as the low to mid-level cloud cover increases with monsoonal flow. Hyderabad recorded max temp of over 40C for several days during latter half of May and also in early June, while Bangalore recorded max temp of about 30-31C for a few days in May and June so far. ( Bangalore being at an elevation of over 1000 m has in general a moderate summertime climate). Northwest India is still sweltering in hot and humid conditions with max temp at 40C and above in New Delhi and vicinity.

Most climate models from UK and US have projected a below normal (possibly ‘significantly’ below normal) monsoon for 2012. Among the large-scale factors that adversely impact Indian Monsoon are: El Nino, heavier Eurasian snow cover in the previous winter, easterly phase of the QBO ( Quasi-Biennial Oscillation of the equatorial stratosphere) and unfavorable (west-to-east) phase of the IOD. With a developing El Nino, an easterly QBO Phase and higher than normal Eurasian snow cover the prospect of “above normal” monsoon this year seems rather small at this time. However, a possible favorable IOD phase later may help enhance convective activity in the Bay of Bengal which may help bring this year’s monsoon close to normal. The IMD has projected this year’s monsoon rains to be about 97% of the long-term normal (~90 cm for the country as a whole). How the monsoon evolves over next several weeks remains unclear at this time.

From a socio-economic perspective of many south Asian countries, timely arrival and evolution of the Indian Monsoon is very critical. Many aspects of this complex climate event are not fully understood so far. There is an urgent need for a significantly improved understanding and simulation of Indian Monsoon, the most important regional climate event for south Asia.

Acknowledgements: I am grateful to Roger Pielke sr for encouraging me to prepare this commentary. Thanks are also due to my wife Shalan for helping me extract the Figure from the IMD website.

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New Paper “A Long-Term Perspective On A Modern Drought In The American Southeast” By Pederson Et Al 2012

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There is a new paper that further illustrates the complex, nonlinear behavior of the climate system even in the absence of human climate forcings. The paper is

N Pederson et al 2012: A long-term perspective on a modern drought in the American Southeast, 2012: Environmental Research Letters Volume 7 Number 1 Environ. Res. Lett. 7 014034 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/7/1/014034

The abstract reads [highlight added]

The depth of the 2006–9 drought in the humid, southeastern US left several metropolitan areas with only a 60–120 day water supply. To put the region’s recent drought variability in a long-term perspective, a dense and diverse tree-ring network—including the first records throughout the Apalachicola–Chattahoochee–Flint river basin—is used to reconstruct drought from 1665 to 2010 CE. The network accounts for up to 58.1% of the annual variance in warm-season drought during the 20th century and captures wet eras during the middle to late 20th century. The reconstruction shows that the recent droughts are not unprecedented over the last 346 years. Indeed, droughts of extended duration occurred more frequently between 1696 and 1820. Our results indicate that the era in which local and state water supply decisions were developed and the period of instrumental data upon which it is based are  amongst the wettest since at least 1665. Given continued growth and subsequent industrial, agricultural and metropolitan demand throughout the southeast, insights from paleohydroclimate records suggest that the threat of water-related conflict in the region has potential to grow more intense in the decades to come.

The conclusion contains the text

The latter 20th century instrumental data, upon which regional water supply management decisions are based, is characterized by frequent wet events that are not representative of much of the prior 300 yr. Investigations of long-term drought in other regions of the southeastern US have similar findings: the 20th century appears wetter in the context of the last 400–1000 years…..The climatic patterns revealed here—the pervasively drier 18th century, the weak wet periods of the 19th century, and the high frequency of extreme drought in the early 18th and 19th centuries—provide valuable baseline scenarios for simulation of inter-annual climate variability and water resources planning that do not appear in the more recent, relatively wetter instrumental records. Although non-stationarity of the climate system could cause climate variability to differ from what has occurred historically …..this reconstruction provides a broader representation of the potential range of climate variability than is available from the instrumental record alone, and thus is a valuable tool for understanding the context of extreme events to which our infrastructure must be able to adapt.

This paper is an excellent application of the need to include recent paleo-data analyses into the risk society and the environment face in the coming decades, as we have urged in our article

Pielke Sr., R.A., R. Wilby, D. Niyogi, F. Hossain, K. Dairuku, J. Adegoke, G. Kallos, T. Seastedt, and K. Suding, 2011: Dealing  with complexity and extreme events using a bottom-up, resource-based  vulnerability perspective. AGU Monograph on Complexity and  Extreme Events in Geosciences, in press.

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