It’s been almost half a year since Glenn, Gareth and John last met over the intertubes to discuss climate news — but we’re 97% sure we’re back, catching up on all the recent climate news. John discusses the recent Cook et al (where al is the Skeptical Science team) paper on the 97% consensus on climate science and the accompanying Consensus Project web site, “sticky” facts like using Hiroshima bombs as a unit of warming. Plus all the news on recent weather extremes — flooding in India, Canada, and Europe, climate impacts on the wine business, and Gareth’s recent interview with Bill McKibben. Show notes below the fold…
Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold.
I took Rosie the truffle machine for a walk around the farm just before dark yesterday. We were both a bit stir-crazy after four days of cold, cold rain and a couple of days of screaming southerlies that brought snow to our hills. The ground passed field capacity at the beginning of last week, when an atmospheric river brought torrential downpours and flooding to much of the South Island. Now the soil is sodden, quivering with water and oozing mud at every footstep. Every drop of extra rain is taking that mud and sluicing it down to the river. A stream runs through my black truffle plantation. I spent this afternoon digging a drainage trench. Truffles don’t enjoy sitting in water. My crop might rot. The Waipara is roaring along at the bottom of our cliff at about 50 cumecs1, an impressive sight for a river that normally dribbles down to the sea at under a cumec. It peaked last week at about 110 cumecs. The riverbed will have been reshaped. But we got off lightly.
Over the last couple of days the New Zealand news has been dominated by extreme weather. The southerly storm that soaked us also battered Wellington and brought deep snow2 to much of the South Island. It made for compelling pictures. But what’s going on elsewhere in the world is even more dramatic:
The early arrival of particularly intense monsoon rain has brought flooding and chaos to northern India. At the time of writing, it is estimated that 600 people have died and 40,000 are stranded by rivers and landslides [BBC, NASA Earth Observatory, Jeff Masters.]. In The Times of India, government earth sciences secretary Shailesh Nayak was reported as saying that climate change played a role in the flooding:
The catastrophic rainfall in Uttarakhand was most likely a climate change event as it is in keeping with a pattern of increasing incidents of extreme weather events that often cause phenomenal damage as was seen in the hill state…
The central European flooding that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago at The Daily Blog is now estimated to have cost the regional economy US$22 billion. Germany is now “enjoying” a heatwave.
Meanwhile, Alaska has been experiencing a heatwave of record proportions as a slow moving giant loop in the jet stream has allowed a dome of high pressure to linger over the state.
New Zealand’s recent extreme weather was also down to a large excursion the in the southern hemisphere jet stream, as Jim Renwick told the Science Media Centre:
To get an event like this, which is pretty extreme, we need the westerly wind that normally blow across New Zealand and the southern oceans to slow down and to buckle into a series of big meanders, north-south waves around the hemisphere. […] Right now we have a series of large-scale waves around the southern hemisphere, with big southerlies near New Zealand, over the central Pacific, off the eastern South American coast, over the eastern South Atlantic, and over the central Indian Ocean. The southerly flow over/near New Zealand is the most impressive, as it reaches all the way south to south of 60S […] which is almost down to the edge of the sea ice at this time of year.
So where’s the climate change in all this? In India, Canada, Alaska and Europe we have extreme weather events happening more or less simultaneously, with a common factor — jet stream meanders — playing a significant role. Those meanders are most likely a symptom of a reduced equator to Arctic temperature differential, as Jennifer Francis and Stu Ostro explain in this recent Climate Desk event. We also have to consider the fact that the climate system is now operating at higher energy levels than before — a warmer atmosphere can carry more water vapour, and water vapour is the fuel for weather systems. More water vapour, more rain — and more intense rainfall.
Weather extremes are where the climate change rubber hits the road3. We might think that our future is described by the smoothly rising curves we see in multi-model means of global temperature projections over the next 100 years, but we don’t live in a multi-model world. We only have the one climate system, and we all live in regions, not in a notional global average.
We have to live through the noise — the bumps, the lumps, and the jumps that go with energy accumulating in the planet’s climate system. There will be more floods, more lives lost to climate instability. It’s happening now, and it’s going to get worse.
In my column at The Daily Blog today, I ruminate on the links between the historic and damaging floods in central Europe and the rapid warming of the Arctic. What will it take to make the world’s leaders wake up to the rapid changes that are happening now? Comments at TDB, please…
Extreme weather events are where the climate change rubber hits the road, and if events over the last month are anything to go by, global warming is currently doing doughnuts and burnouts on tarmac right round the globe. Kevin Trenberth put it rather nicely in an interview with PBS Newshour in the US: “This is a view of the future, so watch out.” John Vidal in The Guardiansums up the situation rather well:
…how much more extreme weather does it take for governments and individuals to act, or for the oil companies to withdraw from the Arctic, or the media to link global warming with the events now being witnessed around the world? Must the sea boil, the Seine run dry, New York flood and the London Olympics be consumed by fire before countries are shocked into taking concerted action?
Damn good question.
Let’s review the recent evidence. The extraordinaryheatwave in the USA, coupled with horrendous forest fires, occurring in parallel with torrential rainfall and flooding and a rare but incredibly fierce derecho event1, has been making all the headlines, but the rest of the world has also been suffering. In India, heavy monsoon rains have drowned Assam, killing 77 people and driving over two million people from their homes. Britain and much of Europe has had a record wet spring and early summer. Huge forest fires have been burning in Siberia, and the Arctic sea ice is in record low territory for the time of year. It’s on track for a new record minimum come September2.
All of these events are taking place in an atmosphere that has already changed. Weather is being generated in a measurably different context to the recent past. There’s more water vapour — 4% more, globally, since the 1970s — available to drive storms and fall as rain. The retreat of sea ice in the Arctic is changing seasonal surface to atmosphere energy flows dramatically. As a consequence, northern hemisphere weather patterns are changing.
The atmosphere has already changed, and with it, our climate. Climate change is not some far off thing we can chose to ignore: it’s happening now. It’s here. Weather extremes are the most visible symptom of these changes, the most dramatic of near term impacts. Current events should be driving us towards taking action, but instead we have politicians paying lip service to reality while doing nothing of substance.
Bill McKibben got close to the truth in a piece earlier this week, in which he finally exposed climate change as a hoax:
It looks real, but it isn’t—it’s just nature trying to compete with James Cameron. So please don’t shout fire in the global 3-D theater. Stay cool. And get a big tub of popcorn—in this epic disaster flick we’re not even close to the finale.
Bill’s “hoax” may have been tongue in the cheek, but he’s right about the ending. We ain’t seen nothing yet3.
Grab some holly, deck your halls, heat up some mince pies, and then settle down to the last Climate Show of 2011. We look at the outcome of the Durban conference, discuss heavy rain in New Zealand and record-breaking weather extremes in the USA, and ponder the implications of news of more methane erupting from the seabed off Siberia. Glenn interviews Chris Paine, director of EV documentary Revenge of the Electric Car, and we round off the show with some optimistic news on possible energy solutions.
Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold…
Game Changing Technologies Promise Climate Change Optimism: Celsias NZ
U.S. Geothermal Resources Could Replace Coal 10 Times Over: Ecogeek
Solar Power Much Cheaper to Produce Than Most Analysts Realize, Study Finds: Science Daily
Solution Fail: Congress spared the 100-watt incandescent light bulb from a government-enforced phaseout in a win for Tea Party activists over manufacturers who said they are already switching to more energy-efficient products: Business Week
Bad news on carbon emissions balanced by good news on solar photovoltaics, a Medicane bringing dramatic flash flooding to Italy and France, a scientist who thinks the Arctic could be effectively ice free in late summer in only four years, and the inside story on what the New Zealand election might mean for climate policy down under. John Cook joins us to talk about the new BEST temperature record (great gifs, Dana!), and in the solutions section Gareth and Glenn talk about solar powered airships, China’s plans to ban incandescent light bulbs, and a continent spanning â‚¬400bn solar thermal power plan for North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. All this and more as The Climate Show comes of age with its 21st show…
Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold…
Arctic forecast: Peter Wadhams thinks there’s a good chance the Arctic will be ice-free in summer by 2015:
“It is really showing the fall-off in ice volume is so fast that it is going to bring us to zero very quickly. 2015 is a very serious prediction and I think I am pretty much persuaded that that’s when it will happen.”
The National party’s climate change policy, which is being released today in Nelson by the prime minister, has appeared. The important bit is this, from Key’s statement: ’We intend to slow the phasing in of the emissions trading scheme from 2013 to 2015, at which point we will look to align our scheme with that adopted by Australia. Any change to our emissions trading scheme will be fiscally neutral.’ Fiscally neutral, maybe, but not environmentally neutral. The door to a teal deal creaks closer to shutting.
LABOUR TV 3 News: The Labour Party will not allow Solid Energy to mine for liquid fuels in Southland because of the increase to greenhouse gas emissions, it has been announced today.
Full Labour climate policy here.
The BEST (Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature) of times…
“I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong’ Anthony Watts, March 2011
DENIAL STAGE 1: ’IT’S NOT HAPPENING’
’I consider the paper fatally flawed as it now stands, and thus I recommend it be removed from publication consideration by JGR until such time that it can be reworked….it appears they have circumvented the scientific process in favor of PR.’ Anthony Watts, October 2011
DENIAL STAGE 2: ’IT’S HAPPENING BUT IT’S NOT US’
“All sceptics believe in “global warming” (depending on what time scale you use); what they doubt to various degrees is the “man made” element.” James Delingpole
DENIAL STAGE 3: BACK TO ’IT’S NOT HAPPENING’
Daily Mail showed cooling from BEST data (animated GIF):
Animated GIF of cooling trends throughout warming period:
Thailand is experiencing its worst monsoon flooding for at least 50 years. The NASA Earth Observatory image above shows the waters piling up to the North of the capital Bangkok, which is already beginning to experience flooding (visit the EO page to see a comparison with earlier floods, and The Guardian for a striking set of flood pictures). The Thai government yesterday declared a five day weekend to allow the city’s inhabitants to make preparations. The intense monsoon season has also brought extensive flooding to Cambodia and northeastern India over the last couple of months, and destroyed a significant part of SE Asia’s rice crop. On the other side of the planet, heavy rain and flooding has been affecting Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Jeff Masters reported that in the ten days up to October 20th, Huizucar in El Salvador received an astonishing 1.513 metres of rain.
At first glance, it looks like a continuation of the remarkable series of extreme weather events — especially heavy rainfall and flooding — that we’ve seen over the last few years. But apart from the human suffering and economic dislocation being experienced around the world, it appears there’s another interesting consequence of all this precipitation — it’s causing global sea level to fall.
I stumbled across this idea in a NASA news item released back in August, and referred to it in the last edition of The Climate Show, but I think it’s worth developing the idea a little further. Here’s what NASA had to say:
[Josh] Willis said that while 2010 began with a sizable El NiÃ±o, by year’s end, it was replaced by one of the strongest La NiÃ±as in recent memory. This sudden shift in the Pacific changed rainfall patterns all across the globe, bringing massive floods to places like Australia and the Amazon basin, and drought to the southern United States.
Data from the NASA/German Aerospace Center’s twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) spacecraft provide a clear picture of how this extra rain piled onto the continents in the early parts of 2011. “By detecting where water is on the continents, Grace shows us how water moves around the planet,” says Steve Nerem, a sea level scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
So where does all that extra water in Brazil and Australia come from? You guessed it–the ocean. Each year, huge amounts of water are evaporated from the ocean. While most of it falls right back into the ocean as rain, some of it falls over land. “This year, the continents got an extra dose of rain, so much so that global sea levels actually fell over most of the last year,” says Carmen Boening, a JPL oceanographer and climate scientist. Boening and colleagues presented these results recently at the annual Grace Science Team Meeting in Austin, Texas.
The story included a couple of graphs to illustrate the point. Here’s the drop in sea level, as recorded by satellite:
And here’s where the GRACE satellites showed it ended up.
When I first read the NASA article, I was amazed. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been. After all, lots of things can cause sea level to rise and fall — thermal expansion, ice melt (or freeze), and so on. During ice ages lots of ocean ends up on land in the form of the great ice sheets that are built by accumulating snowfall. But this is, to coin a phrase, a really neat demonstration of an interesting effect — one that we can only begin to appreciate because of the application of truly remarkable technology.
So what’s happening now? Here’s the latest sea level chart from the University of Colorado (data to Sept 19th):
There’s been a slight upwards tick over the last few months, but no dramatic surge back towards to the trend line. That suggests to me that the processes that caused the drop in the first place are still operating. The population of Thailand might agree…
Eventually, as Josh Willis says at the conclusion of the NASA article, the floodwaters will run off the land and return to the ocean, La NiÃ±a will swing back to El NiÃ±o, and sea level rise will resume its upwards trajectory. With La NiÃ±a likely to stay in place through the southern summer, it will be some time before El NiÃ±o returns and imposes its own pattern on the world’s weather. But when it does we could be in for a wild ride as sea level surges and global temperatures reach new peaks. We live in interesting times.
[Update 27/10] Flash flooding has ripped through Liguria and Tuscany in Italy. Both the Guardian and BBC videos open with water roaring down the streets of (I think) Monterosso — a place I visited in September. Dublin has also experienced torrential rain and flash flooding in the last few days: video here. Intensification of the hydrological cycle anyone?
The extraordinary sequence of extreme weather events during the last 18 months is probably the worst run of natural disasters since 1816, when a huge volcanic eruption at Mt Tambora cooled the earth enough to cause the famous “year without a summer“, according to a powerful blog post by Weather Underground founder Jeff Masters. He runs through the list, giving details of each:
Earth’s hottest year on record
Most extreme winter Arctic atmospheric circulation on record
Arctic sea ice: lowest volume on record, 3rd lowest extent
Record melting in Greenland, and a massive calving event
Second most extreme shift from El NiÃ±o to La NiÃ±a
Second worst coral bleaching year
Wettest year over land
Amazon rainforest experiences its 2nd 100-year drought in 5 years
Global tropical cyclone activity lowest on record
A hyperactive Atlantic hurricane season: 3rd busiest on record
A rare tropical storm in the South Atlantic
Strongest storm in Southwestern U.S. history
Strongest non-coastal storm in U.S. history
Weakest and latest-ending East Asian monsoon on record
No monsoon depressions in India’s Southwest Monsoon for 2nd time in 134 years
The Pakistani flood: most expensive natural disaster in Pakistan’s history
The Russian heat wave and drought: deadliest heat wave in human history
Record rains trigger Australia’s most expensive natural disaster in history
Heaviest rains on record trigger Colombia’s worst flooding disaster in history
Tennessee’s 1-in-1000 year flood kills 30, does $2.4 billion in damage
Masters argument is straightforward:
…it is highly improbable that the remarkable extreme weather events of 2010 and 2011 could have all happened in such a short period of time without some powerful climate-altering force at work. The best science we have right now maintains that human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases like CO2 are the most likely cause of such a climate-altering force.
There’s more heat accumulating in the system, and more water vapour in the atmosphere to drive weather events.
A naturally extreme year, when embedded in such a changed atmosphere, is capable of causing dramatic, unprecedented extremes like we observed during 2010 and 2011. That’s the best theory I have to explain the extreme weather events of 2010 and 2011–natural extremes of El NiÃ±o, La NiÃ±a and other natural weather patterns combined with significant shifts in atmospheric circulation and the extra heat and atmospheric moisture due to human-caused climate change to create an extraordinary period of extreme weather.
However Masters doesn’t think that this sort of weather is the new normal — at least not yet — but it does suggest where we may be heading in 20-30 years time:
…the ever-increasing amounts of heat-trapping gases humans are emitting into the air puts tremendous pressure on the climate system to shift to a new, radically different, warmer state, and the extreme weather of 2010 – 2011 suggests that the transition is already well underway.
You don’t have to be an alarmist to find that alarming.
Jim Salinger’s spending the summer at the University of Tasmania in Hobart. This reflection on the lessons of Australia’s recent floods first ran in the Waikato Times at the beginning of the month, but I felt it deserved a wider audience and so with Jim’s permission reproduce it here.
As I watch from my summer roaring forties perch in Hobart, Tasmania the somewhat unprecedented rains that are deluging parts of Australia raise some pertinent lessons on climate and risk management for New Zealand. Firstly let’s look at some figures and ask the question of what are the climate mechanisms behind the deluges.
For December 2010 the Bureau of Meteorology figures show that eastern Australia (the states of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania) had its wettest December on record, with an average area total of 167 mm (132% above normal). What caused Brisbane to flood were the heavy falls to the north and west between 10-12 January with totals for the three days exceeding 200 mm. In Toowoomba over 100 mm fell in less than an hour.
Further south in Victoria heavy rainfall and flash flooding occurred between 10 to 15 January, with more than 100 mm of rain across two thirds of the state. Bureau of Meteorology figures show many weather stations in Victoria have now broken their all-time January records in over 100 years of observationd: 259 mm fell on Dunolly (the previous record was 123 mm), and the 282 mm of rain that fell in 1 day at Faimouth in the north east of Tasmania – the highest 1-day total for any gauge on record for the state.
The extremely wet December had eastern Australia primed for the record floods that were to follow in January. The soil could not take any more moisture and the heavy rains turned into runoff, with record floods in some parts.
The causes of these floods have been laid at the feet of the La NiÃ±a climate pattern — the sister of El NiÃ±o. La NiÃ±a brings strengthened moisture-laden easterly winds on to the Australian continent. This year the La NiÃ±a event is strong, with it being amongst the top three in magnitude, ranking with the 1918/19 and 1973/74 events. However there is one distinct difference this season: temperatures in Australia this past decade have been 0.5 deg C warmer than in the 1970s, and 0.9 deg C warmer than in the 1910s, all as a result of global warming. And during the 2010/11 season, La NiÃ±a seas off eastern Australia have been much warmer than average, being 1 to 2 deg C above the 1985-1998 average.
It is a simple law of physics that a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. With the long term heating of the oceans more moisture has been measured in the atmosphere during the last decade. The consequence is that global warming leads to an increase in the magnitude and incidence of heavy rainfall, and the resultant floods.
Global warming has arrived, and the climate has warmed. Global warming is no longer a theory…
The first lesson from the Australian flooding events is that global warming has arrived, and the climate has warmed. Global warming is no longer a theory based on abstract calculations of what the climate is very likely to do in future decades. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that ’It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent.’
The second lesson — the canary in the coal mine — is that because of global warming the frequency of these extreme weather events is only going to increase. Thus the one in 100 year high rainfall event will become far more common, with highest-ever totals being exceeded more and more often in the future.
The third lesson is that there needs to be better preparation for these events by civil society. The responsibility in New Zealand falls on local bodies through the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act (CDEM). It’s local government that is responsible for district plans and granting developers the permission to build. Firstly should major towns be located on river floodplains? This is where there is pressure from developers. A solution is to build higher and higher flood levees but should the cost be borne by the community? Perhaps the full costs should be placed on the developer. Another option is to ban development in flood-prone areas.
However New Zealand is the lucky country in regard to the fourth lesson. We have an Earthquake Commission that covers citizens for flood damage, which Australia does not have. But insurance should be compulsory for all dwellings, to share the cost of these disasters between all citizens.
Global warming is here, now — and not a phenomenon for future generations to deal with. Thus we must embark on a course of emissions reductions targets as soon as possible, to claw back rapidly rising greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. If we do not act now the severity of such floods, and the subsequent loss of life and property — let alone the effect on the economy — will increase dramatically. There is no time like the present to invest in our future wellbeing.
This astonishing video was shot on Monday as flash flooding hit the Queensland town of Toowoomba after a reported 140mm of rain fell in only 30 minutes. 12 people are confirmed to have been killed in the region, and 90 more are missing according to state premier Anna Bligh. Floodwaters are rising in the state capital Brisbane, with the central business district closed down. Flood levels are expected to top out above the levels reached in 1974 — the previous record holder. I know that Hot Topic‘s readers will join me in wishing the people of Queensland well. This ABC page has a list of relief funds to which you can donate. I can confirm that Skeptical Science’s John Cook is OK, and not expecting any direct impacts. We’ll be talking to him about the floods in the next Climate Show, scheduled for recording next week.
Has global warming had an impact on this event? Watching the deniers quotes The Age saying that the floods are “consistent with (although not proof of) climate change predictions for northern Australia”, and that seems fair. The direct “cause” of the flooding is the current strong La NiÃ±a (possibly the strongest since records began, according to AMOS president Prof Neville Nicholls). This phase of ENSO causes warm water to pile up against NE Australia, helping to fuel large rainfall events. The record floods of 1974, for example, were associated with a La NiÃ±a event. To make matters worse, over the last year sea surface temperatures around Australia have been running at record levels, as this Bureau of Meteorology chart from their climate summary for 2010 shows:
The recipe seems clear enough: an intense La NiÃ±a and record sea surface temperatures combining to cause record floods. A more precise attribution of warming’s influence on the event will have to wait for the studies to be done, but for the time being it certainly looks likely that this is another extreme weather event which has been made worse by recent warming.