Friday, December 24, 2010

conceptualizing the cold

--climate happenings are at blister data --

How come global warming involves winter cooling? Last winter, complicated explanations were making the rounds. Because warming is wiggly, said some. Because there's a third wiggle, said others. That's all true, but now we know better.

In the past winter, J. Hansen et al. were saying that warming wiggles up but the zigzag of the seasons still out-wiggles the warming-wiggle for now. Hence cold winters happen in the shift to a hot world and can still be expected for a few more years.

Others were pointing to another culprit, a wiggle between the warming wiggle and the season wiggle, the Arctic Roll or Arctic Oscillation (AO), a multi-decadal climate wave. Arctic sea level pressure (SLP) oscillates around a mean. For forty years the Roll is in the low index of the mean with negative values, and then it surfs to the high index with positive values. When the AO is rolling low, SLP is above normal and we see hard winters. When the AO rolls high, SLP is below normal, and the northern hemisphere enjoys mild winters. The string of hard winters 1899-1939 was followed by mild winters 1940-1988. Now we are in a string of hard winters again, presumably until 2029. So there's a third wiggle overlaying seasonal zigzag and the warming wiggle. This AO-wiggle is giving us one cold winter after another.

A year ago, we had these two accounts: wiggles happen, and we're in a cold phase. Both are empirically true, and neither of them contradicts global warming. But as they are independent events, they make for a complicated picture. The picture was that global warming is compatible with cold winters, or it can be cold when the planet is heating up. That was then. Now we know that global warming entails cold winters, or it must be cold when the planet is heating up. The simulation Petoukhov ran in "A link between reduced Barents-Kara sea ice and cold winter extremes over northern continents" J of Geophysical Research 115 (2010) D21111 (pdf), suggests an explanation that's as powerful as it is elegant. It's beautiful, tight, and it is not paradoxical. Mother Nature operates perfectly rationally.

This is how it works. Because of all these Americans with their SUVs and the Chinese following suit etc., the planet heats up, and the ice floating on the Arctic sea is shrinking. It wiggles, like Nature is wont to do, but its summer thaws and winter freezes wiggle along a death spiral of no more summer ice pretty soon. What satellite pictures of the ice pulse show is that the annual maximum is getting smaller. What the pics don't show is that it's also getting thinner. So each winter there's less ice on the ocean; the frozen area is shrinking, and what's left is thin ice.

The winter blanket is smaller and threadbare. Less ice insulates less. The ocean used to be insulated by a large sheet of thick ice but is now exposed to the elements. The evil bloodsucking Republicans etc. etc. have pulled the lid off the sea, exposing warm water to the raw winds. The warmth rises from the water into the cold air. The cold air warms up. The warmed-up air expands outward.

Shrinking ice exposes water whose rising warmth creates a high pressure zone, hence air is moving outward and southbound. The Arctic winter air, warmer than it used to be but still searingly cold, travels south, arrives here, and makes our temperatures plummet. And here we are, shivering.

We learned from Ockham that great insights are not complicated, and Petoukhov's findings fit in one sentence. Amerigenic climate change peels ice off the Arctic ocean, and the sea reacts by belching up its inner warmth, yielding a widening high pressure disk over the Pole that drives frigid air ahead of itself. Air that would otherwise stay at the Pole is pushed south to Atlanta and Paris, and Tampa and Berlin.

That's why it's so cold on a heated-up planet.

Seventy-two months left.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

COP 16 Cancun swerve

--climate happenings are at the data bank--

The 2010 United Nations climate change summit, also known as the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (in the acronym-happy UN, that's COP-16 UNFCCC), took place about 800 klicks or 500 miles from Tampa across the Gulf of Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula in Cancun Nov 29 to Dec 10. The results are mixed and can be spun in different ways. Cancun "ends with a modest deal on emissions," says the New York Times; it led to a "compromise," writes Der Spiegel; it amounts to a "surprising success," notes The Economist. Nouvel Observateur captures the ambiguity nicely: Cancun boils down to "timid advances," but then again, especially after Copenhagen, it was really a "giant breath of fresh air" (un immense bol d'air).

The result is the "outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on long-term cooperative action under the Convention": the Cancun Agreement. There is a refreshing rationality to the document. To wit: Climate change "represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies" (preamble);
"adverse effects of climate change have a range of ... implications for the effective enjoyment of human rights" (preamble);
"climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time" (#1);
"scaled-up overall mitigation efforts ... are necessary" (#2a);
"adaptation must be addressed with the same priority as mitigation" (#2b);
"capacity-building is essential" (#2e);
"warming of the climate system is unequivocal" (#3);
"deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required" (#4);
we must "hold the increase in global average temperature below 2 C above pre-industrial levels" (#4);
and lastly, "addressing climate change requires a paradigm shift towards buliding a low-carbon society" (#10).

The Cancun Agreement codifies the cognitive consensus shared by the peoples of the world except the majority of US Americans. While the consensus is nothing new, the Agreement is the first global treaty to decree a temp rise of +2 C as safe upper limit.

There's also a practical result. The Conference of the Parties (#100) has decided "that a significant share of the new multilateral funding for adaptation should flow through the Green Climate Fund," which is to say that a pot of money is to be set aside (they're saying $ 100 billion) to help developing nations with mitigation and adapation.

And yes, this is good. Especially when you put it in context. Compared to other climate summits, COP-16 was a step forward. Think of how the discussion started and where it is now.

COP-1 Berlin 1995, UN: "Um, you know, this climate thing really sucks, and it's kinda scary, and we should do something about it."

COP-3 Kyoto 1997, UN: "Alrighty, so us rich folks agree to ease off the throttle a bit, and yes, we know that the reduction targets are too wimpy to make a difference, and yes, we also know that the Americans screwed it up, by bullying everyone else to agree on wimpy targets only, but, hey, at least we've got something here."

COP-6 The Hague 2000, USA: "Sorry world, we read Ayn Rand and the Bible, and so we don't give a hoot about saving the planet. But if you bleeding-heart foreign liberals want to be goody-two-shoes, we won't stop you. Now excuse us, we've got some invading to do."

COP-13 Bali 2007, where the representative from Papua New Guinea spoke for everyone (and this is a real quote): "There's an old saying if you're not going to lead you should get out of the way, and so I say to the United States: we ask for your leadership but if you are not going to lead, leave it to us. Get out of the way."

COP-14 Poznan 2008, where UN Secretary-General Ban said (another real quote), "What we need today is leadership: leadership by you. We look for that leadership from the European Union."

COP-15 Copenhagen 2009, ending in a sorry cacophony of voices:

EU: well then, leadership it is, so lets get down to brass-tacks, lads and ladies, and let's cut emissions by a third for starters." --

US: "But ... cutting emissions ain't good for Detroit motors! And us Democrats are afraid of them Republicans! And they think climate change ain't real! We can't tick them off! Cutting emissions? Do you realize how many problems we have now because of eight years of Bush? We need another challenge like we need a hole in the head! The two wars basically bankrupted us. We don't have any extra money, not to mention wiggle-room. We're glad if we can hold on to the status quo. Cutting emissions? Plus our people are really confused whether this climate thing is actually for real and are definitely not happy to make any sacrifices for the greater good just because a bunch of nerdy scientists tell them so." --

China: "Cutting down emissions? Now? When we just got started with our industrial revolution? Don't you remember that industrial revolutions are dirty? What do you want us to do? Remain an agrarian society and forgo large-scale industrialization? So basically the EU wants us to take one for the team? Screw this! We're mainlanders, we're next in line, and now it's our turn!"

Developing World: "Well, this sucks, because without emission cuts we'll go down, but China has a point: why take one for the team? Especially when the team is the rich folks up North who screwed up the climate in the first place? Why should we poor folks down South foot the bill? Something's not fair here. We gotta talk about it."

And at COP-16 Cancun 2010 they did. Hence the Green Climate Fund. Now the playing field levels a bit.

Seventy-two months left.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

blister data update

A new climate events collection is posted at blister data. Highlights? Events: climate amplitude widens; it's frigid in Florida & elsewhere.
Trends: food situation worsens; jungles won't make it.
American Disenlightenment: Republican skeptics take over climate, energy, environ panels; Wisc., Ohio reject high-speed rail funds; WikiLeaks shows how US & China sabotaged COP-15 Copenhagen.
Global Enlightenment: China boosts bullets (longest, fastest, newest)
Cancun: despite all odds, manages to make a deal.

Seventy-two months left.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

blister data update

A new climate findings collection has been added to blister data. First I wanted to scan the lit and post on the uneven sea level rise, but then I saw Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, with the papers of the Four Degrees and Beyond conference at Oxford. [4 C = 7.5 F] Basically, the window of a +2 C temp rise has closed. So we're now looking at what these articles are about.

Seventy-two months left.