Saturday, January 11, 2014
2014: The Year Global Warming Deniers Will Wish They Were Right!
Two and a half years ago, in a blog post entitled 'If You Think It's Hot Now Just Wait a Few Years', I referenced climatologist S. George Philander who - 13 years earlier- wrote a hot-button piece in Eos: Transactions of the American Geophysical Union (March 31, 1998) entitled:‘Who is El Nino?’
Philander argued that El Nino and its sister cycle 'La Nina' are not merely the yings and yangs of a meteorological cycle but offshoots of climate change in terms of their expected future behavior. Thus, as more CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere (as indicated by the Keeling curve - which shows CO2 injection has exceeded the absorption capacity of the oceans), El Nino will ramp up leading to blistering hot and dry conditions, even as La Nina brings cooler spells and precip in alternate periods. However, unmentioned is the game changer of altered albedo.
Each El Nino cycle that over-warms, has pernicious and permanent effects on the Arctic, leading to ever more polar ice melting and large glaciers retreating, including much of the land mass of Greenland. The situation worsens as rising temperatures (from higher CO2 levels) lead to earlier and earlier melting, Prolonged Arctic melting- the mechanism of which is shown below:
exposes ever more surface area- thereby reducing the albedo or reflectivity of the surface - leading to increased absorption of solar radiation. Meanwhile, bare ice is much less reflective than snow, absorbing even more solar radiation and further speeding any melting. (In the diagram, the red arrows indicate incoming radiation and the blue arrows indicate radiation reflected back into space. Percentages give the amounts of reflected incoming solar radiation).
As anyone can see (even without a physics background)the above process over time results in ever diminished reflection of solar radiation back into space, a darker Earth surface - with more IR (infrared radiation)absorbed - which reinforces more melting, which in turn leads to more absorbed solar radiation and ever more melting - in a positive feedback loop that will become ever more consolidated.
Now, we learn that El Nino is about to ramp up again this year. This is bad news given that even in the absence of El Nino, 2013 was one of the hottest years on record. Readers may find this incredible given the bone chilling cold recently, but last month was the warmest December in 30 years. Now, with El Nino's next onset the stage is set for heat records to be broken like never before. In some quarters there are projections that this may be the hottest year ever recorded (TIME, 'El Nino Is On Its Way', Jan. 13, p.41)
As Philander and others have noted (op. cit.) El Nino conditions are incepted when the surface waters of the Southern Pacific become abnormally warm. This is critical given the Pacific covers some 30 percent of the planet's area. With the solar insolation at some 1360 watts/m^2 this means the added energy will force an array of radical weather changes globally. It can also trigger extremes of weather conditions such as we've seen the past few El Nino cycles, i.e. extreme rainfall in parts of the Western Hemisphere along with prolonged dry conditions in Asia.
Other dynamical changes triggered by El Nino can affect quality of life, even food availability. For example, because El Nino can reduce the upwelling of cold, nutrient rich sea water (i.e. that supports large fish populations in the Pacific) and destroy coral reefs - marine life can be decimated. Already there are shortages of certain fish, e.g. blue fin tuna, and these are going to get much worse over this year as El Nino unfolds.
Apart from that, there is the spread of more tropical diseases, including dengue fever, schistosomiasis, malaria, and West Nile fever - and likely others. (I look for an emergence of Rift Valley Fever in the U.S. along with dengue.) It is estimated the strong 1997-98 El Nino cost the U.S. some $25b in health care costs and hours lost on the job. This marked the year when West Nile really began to spread, and it also marked the increased incidence of worm infestation of human brains, especially around the world, e.g.
The three warmest years on record were all El Nino Years: 1998, 2005 and 2010. This year will likely beat those if the Southern Pacific heats up enough (about 0.9F) in which case climate scientists can declare an 'El Nino Effect'. In this case, 2014 will likely break all prior heat records with extended heat waves with high temperatures rising above 105-110F and never dipping below 80-85F at night.
Bear in mind also, the unusual warmth of last year (despite no El Nino) comports with the controversial 2008 Nature paper of Noel Keenlyside et al, which looked at past and (forecast) future global average temperatures, with the particular graphic for reference labeled:
"Hindcast/forecast decadal variations in global mean temperature, as compared with observations and standard climate model projections".
The termination of the running ten-year mean labeled as "flat warming" thus would have ended last year. Recall that a source of confusion in the paper leading deniers to circulate the myth that "warming had ceased from 1998" is that each point on the graph represented a ten-year centered mean. That is, each point represented the average temperature of the decade starting 5 years before that point and ending 5 years after that point. Thus, the statistics for potential “cooling” could not possibly have been justifiably extrapolated beyond 1998 + 5 = 2003.
One key marker was the red line in the Nature publication, highlighting actual global temperature data from the U.K.'s Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research. Another marker was the black line in the same Figure, which was actually one of the IPCC scenario projections, labeled 'A1B.' It denoted a relatively high-CO2-growth model -- but actual carbon emissions since 2000 have wildly outpaced it. A further check by skeptics of the additional solid green line - the "hindcast" of the authors – e.g. how well their model compared to actual data (and the A1B scenario) could also be done. It would have been seen that, if extended (in dashes) through 2010 and finally to 2025, it JOINED up with A1B. In other words, a general trend of much higher warning.
The period 2013-14 marks the termination of the Keenlyside et al flat line trend and a general increase to higher and higher global surface temperatures on past 2025. This also comports with the most recent findings that much hotter climate change regimes are in store for us. According to a new study published in Nature, climate-change will “lock” into place by the year 2047 (plus or minus 14 years, when the uncertainty is factored in). Once that happens, every year after 2047 will be hotter than even the current hottest year on record.
By 2047, the study concludes, our current record temperatures will become the new normal temperatures. Of course, since the planet has differing temperature regions, latitudes etc. the emergence of the new heat world will not be uniform. The Nature study estimates that Singapore, for example, will reach its temperature point-of-no-return as soon as 2028. Cairo, they say, could start to see a “lock-in” of global warming in 2036, 11 years before the global X-year 2047.
According to Chris Field, one of the scientists who worked on the project, "One can think of this year  as a kind of threshold into a hot new world from which one never goes back.”
People -adults living now, still alive in 2047, will remember 2014 as the year leading up to the new heat regime on Earth. Instead of overly complaining about the cold, snow etc. Earthlings would do well to enjoy the next several weeks while they can. It may be the last "cool relief" they see for some time! Spring with massive tornado outbreaks, heat and wildfires will be here soon enough. If the warming deniers are still babbling when this year concludes, well......all I can say is they are disconnected from the rest of the planet. Disconnected to the extent of being certifiable for special insane asylum domiciling.