Posts Tagged NOAA

2011: a hot cold year Gareth Renowden Jan 22

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The NASA numbers are in, and 2011 was the ninth warmest year since 1880 — 0.51ºC above the 1951-80 global mean. Nine of the ten warmest years in the long term record have occurred in this century. According to the analysis released by James Hansen and his team at GISS, a combination of low solar activity and the continuing cool phase (La Niña) of the El Niño Southern Oscillation kept global temperatures down — but as this map from the Earth Observatory shows, many parts of the world still managed to experience a very warm year, especially over the Arctic and Russia:


NOAA’s overview of last year puts 2011 in eleventh place in their long term series, and confirms that the USA experienced a record 14 extreme weather events that caused more than $1 billion in damage — up two from their previous estimate.

At the end of last year I considered the prospects for a new global temperature record in 2012, but the GISS team’s analysis provides a much more detailed look at the factors influencing global temperature. The NASA news release quotes James Hansen:

Hansen said he expects record-breaking global average temperature in the next two to three years because solar activity is on the upswing and the next El Niño will increase tropical Pacific temperatures. The warmest years on record were 2005 and 2010, in a virtual tie.

“It’s always dangerous to make predictions about El Niño, but it’s safe to say we’ll see one in the next three years,” Hansen said. “It won’t take a very strong El Niño to push temperatures above 2010.”

Thermal lags in the system – the delayed effects of a switch from La Niña to El Niño (discussed in the analysis), and the similar but slightly longer delay in the solar radiation upturn — means that 2012 is unlikely to be a record-breaker. Meanwhile, ENSO watchers expect the current La Niña to continue into the northern hemisphere spring, and then fade towards neutral conditions (NOAA ENSO advisories here).

Shapes of things (2012 and all that) Gareth Renowden Dec 29

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‘Tis the silly season, time for journalists with little real news to report to reflect on the year past and make predictions for the year to come. I don’t normally play that game because there are too many interesting things to write about on the climate beat, but this year I’m going to make an exception. Glenn “Climate Show” Williams persuaded me to have a chat with him on his summer Radio Live show — and yes, we did cover the last year, and the prospects for 2012. The audio’s available to stream for the next week from the Radio Live site (select Dec 28th, then the 1-15pm segment — my bit starts after about 5 minutes). You may regard this post as an expanded version of my comments there (and a bit of recap on the last Climate Show of the year).

So: 2011 was the year of extremes, beyond any shadow of doubt. Wherever you looked around the world, there were record-breaking floods, heatwaves and hugely damaging extreme weather events. The USA alone had 14 separate extreme weather events with billion dollar plus damage bills (NOAA puts it at 12 with 2 more to finalise, the World Meteorological Organisation plumps for 14). The year broke no records for global average temperature — 2011 will probably end up as the 10th or 11th warmest year in the long term record — but it will be the warmest ever La Niña year. Here’s a WMO graph to illustrate the point:


The prospects for 2012 depend in large part on what happens to the El Niño Southern Oscillation this year. Will the current La Niña hang around for another year, decay to neutral conditions, or swing round to an El Niño? The odds, according to NOAA’s Klaus Wolters (on Dec 7th) are interesting:

Based on current atmosphere-ocean conditions, I believe the odds for this La Niña event to continue right through early spring (March-April 2012) are higher than 50%. Beyond that, it is worth noting that of the ten two-year La Niña events between 1900 and 2009, four ended up as a three-year event, so I would put the odds for this to occur in 2012-13 at 40% right now. Interestingly, the other six all switched to El Niño, leaving no ENSO-neutral case. Will be interesting to see how 2012 evolves.

It will indeed. A return to El Niño conditions in the first half of 2012 would boost global average temperatures, and that, coupled with the currently active phase of the 11 year solar cycle, might be enough to push 2012 above 2010 and 2005 for a new record. But more importantly, a return to El Niño would also change the patterns of weather around the world, and with them change the places that experience record extremes. Exactly how this will play out is impossible to predict, because the timing of a move out of La Niña conditions is difficult to forecast, and because the nature of El Niño’s impacts on weather patterns around there planet depend on the season (see Wikipedia, NOAA and NIWA for more).

So what do am I looking out for in 2012?

  • More extreme weather events, with a pattern shift if ENSO changes phase.
  • Possible new global temperature record, if El Niño arrives early enough in the year.
  • Continued Arctic sea ice melt (in both volume and area), with a possibility1 of a new record minimum in September.
  • Lots of fine words at the Rio +20 conference in June, but little concrete action. Ditto for COP 18 in Qatar in December.
  • At least one nasty surprise emerging from current research. I hope it isn’t East Siberian seabed methane, but we’ll know more when the papers describing the 2011 Arctic research season are published.

And a very happy new year for all Hot Topic readers…

[Update 31/12: Jeff Masters' end of year review counts "32 weather disasters costing at least $1 billion worldwide. Five nations experienced their most expensive weather-related natural disasters on record during 2011--Thailand, Australia, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia." The year of extremes, indeed...]

  1. No I’m not betting, but greater than 50% chance, I’d say, because at some point volume reductions have to show up in extent/area numbers.

We can’t rule out catastrophic climate change Gareth Renowden Oct 28

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A couple of weeks ago I plugged an upcoming talk by Pieter Tans of NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Lab in Boulder — a carbon cycle specialist and winner of the Roger Revelle Medal. The talk has now been and gone (on Wednesday in Wellington), and the Science Media Centre has made an audio recording available. It’s embedded below the fold, and very well worth a listen. After an excellent introduction to climate basics (basic physics and chemistry mean that the climate’s changing), Tans traverses our addiction to fossil fuels, and how we might fix the problem.

Pieter Tans

Climate Change and the End of Exponential Growth Gareth Renowden Oct 12

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An intriguing title for what promises to be an interesting seminar in Wellington later this month. Pieter Tans of NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Lab in Boulder — a carbon cycle specialist and winner of the Roger Revelle Medal at the 2010 Fall AGU — will be the guest of the NZ Climate Change Research Institute. Here’s a flavour of what he’ll be talking about:

Man-made climate change is a clear manifestation that we have reached limits of resource consumption by our species, and that continuing business‐as‐usual has a substantial chance of destroying civilization. It is also likely that fossil fuel resources will not remain cheap for much longer, with high energy prices becoming an impediment to development. Vigorous policies to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels are necessary to continue enabling development and to safeguard it by reducing the risk of catastrophic climate change.

Tans’ talk is scheduled for Wednesday 26 October at 6:00 pm in Lecture Theatre 1, Old Government Buildings. I’d be there, if I were in Wellington. I’m not, so I’d welcome first hand reports. For more information, contact at the CCRI.

Wet, wet, wet Gareth Renowden Jul 19

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Sunshine is pouring down on the Arctic, and the high summer melting season is well under way. This photograph from NASA’s Earth Observatory shows crew from the US Coast Guard cutter Healey collecting a supply drop canister from melt ponds on the surface of the ice in the Beaufort Sea during the current Icescape exercise. Which is a good looking way to introduce a rather serious graph…


That’s the Japanese version of the current sea ice extent as measured by satellite, and it shows that up to July 18 the ice was melting faster than in 2007 — the year that set the record for the summer minimum extent. Jeff Masters explained why July might be interesting in a post a couple of weeks ago, and today the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in the US released an update on the summer melt so far:

Arctic sea ice extent declined rapidly through the first two weeks of July, at a rate averaging nearly 120,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) per day. Ice extent is now tracking below the year 2007, which saw the record minimum September extent.

The next six weeks will determine whether we see a new record. The experts involved in the ARCUS “sea ice outlook” forecasting exercise are still being cautious, with only three teams in the latest round calling for a new record. But only two projections (one of them being based on a vote at µWatts) call for a higher minimum than last summer.

As ever, the best way to follow the summer melt is to visit Neven’s excellent Arctic Sea Ice Blog, and in particular his excellent single page overview of just about every graph, chart and webcam covering the region. Here’s what NOAA’s North Pole webcam was showing at the time of writing:


Whatever happens in September, there’s still lots of interest to look out for. Will the NW Passage and the Northern Route above Russia both open? (My money is on yes, and quite soon). And if I had a bet on this year’s minimum, I’d say the chances of a new record were looking pretty good. Although “good” is not the right word to use for a rapid change at one end of the planet that could have very significant consequences for the climate of the northern hemisphere. We do indeed live in interesting times…

[Reg Presley is reputed to have made £1 million in royalties from the WWW cover, and to have spent most of it on investigating "crop circles".]

Something for the weekend: poles, podcasts and Chomsky Gareth Renowden Feb 12

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Casanova - 1996Something for everyone this weekend: a few podcasts to grab, ice news from both ends of the planet, interesting reading, and a great interview with Noam Chomsky. Audio first: Radio NZ National’s Bryan Crump interviewed Prof Jean Palutikof, Director of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility at Griffith University in Queensland at the beginning of the week. It’s a wide-ranging discussion: Palutikof is an engaging speaker and frank about the dangers we confront. Grab the podcast now, because it’ll disappear from the RNZ site on Monday.

Matthew Woods’ Journeys to the Ice blog (part of the Sciblogs network) recently featured a two-part podcast on “the Greenland ice sheet in a high CO2 world” — an extended interview with Canadian ice modeller Jeremy Fyke. It’s interesting both for the light Fyke’s work sheds on possible futures for the ice sheet, but also a fascinating insight to the process of building and running complex climate models.

At the other end of the planet:

  • Aussie researchers working on the Lambert Glacier ice stream have discovered evidence that the huge East Antarctic ice sheet may respond to warming rather more quickly than had been thought. Oh dear.
  • Antarctica New Zealand has finished provisioning a new camp at Roosevelt Island, 700 km East of the NZ and US bases on the western edge of the Ross ice shelf for the Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution (RICE) project, a seven nation collaboration between NZ, the US, Denmark, Germany, Britain, Australia, and Italy. Drilling starts next summer with the expectation of producing a high resolution core that will shed light on the stability of the Ross ice shelf and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet during the transition out of the last ice age.
  • The BBC looks at the secrets of Antarctica’s fossilised forests — how gingkos survived the long night (the long summers more than made up for the dark, apparently), and how the local dinosaurs adapted.

On the big island to the north of Tasmania, the government’s chief climate adviser Ross Garnaut has begun releasing updates to his 2008 report: three in the last ten days. I’m waiting with interest to hear what he has to say about the state of the science (due on March 10), but he wasn’t afraid to draw the obvious conclusion about weather extremes when releasing the first update, Weighing the costs and benefits of climate change action. One point seemed well made: “the presence of uncertainty in the range of possible climate outcomes strengthens the case for climate change action” — something that every politician needs to understand.

On the subject of extremes, Reuters has a long feature on how the US insurance industry is responding. “It’s a tough time to be in the $500 billion U.S. property insurance business. Storms are happening in places they never happened before, at intensities they have never reached before and at times of year when they didn’t used to happen.”

Some good new web sites:

  • NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) has relaunched its web presence with a very good looking and informative site. Plenty of material on ocean acidification and the oceanic carbon cycle, with excellent graphics. Worth having a dig around there…
  • If you ever get confused but all those acronyms for ocean/atmosphere interactions — PDO, ENSO, NAO, SAM and so on, UCAR has the page for you. Good clear explanations and nice illustrations.
  • The Carbon Brief is a new UK climate news site. It’s a professional effort, with good news coverage, excellent background articles and profiles of key players. Keep an eye on their Twitter or RSS feed.

A prominent scientist is fighting back against the libels slung around so freely by the denial campaign. Canadian climatologist Andrew Weaver is suing “freelance climate change denier” Tim Ball. DeSmogBlog and the New York Times have the details, but it looks like an open and shut case. Ball went too far, and picked on the wrong person…

And finally: Noam Chomsky. Many years ago, in a classroom far, far away, I had to parse a page of Chomsky (writing about grammar) as part of the entrance exam to a well-known university. It was damn near impenetrable (but I got in). In this interview, he’s anything but. In some senses, his views are old fashioned — you don’t hear many people (especially not in the US) talking about class issues — but even if you don’t agree with everything he says, the man talks sense. Discussing the election of so many Republican climate deniers he says: ’If this was happening in some small country it wouldn’t matter much. But when it’s happening in the richest, most powerful country in the world, it’s a danger to the survival of the species.’ I fear he’s right [via Energy Bulletin].

[The Divine Comedy]

Everyone agrees: 2010 ties for top temperature Gareth Renowden Jan 15

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All of the major global temperature series — surface and satellite — report that 2010 is tied for first place as the warmest year in the long term record. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center both have 2010 tied with their previous record holder 2005, while the UK’s Climatic Research Unit and the satellite series from the University of Alabama Huntley (UAH) report that 2010 is tied with 1998. Commenting on the surface record, NZ climate scientist Jim Salinger said:

The three sources of global mean temperature analysis shows that the globe continues to warm with nine of the top ten years occurring between 2001 and 2010. Global average temperatures for the decade 2001 to 2010 were 0.44 deg C above the 1961 to 1990 average for HadCRUT3, making it the warmest decade on record going back to 1850.

Despite differences in detail between the various surface records, the GISS graph above clearly demonstrates that they show nearly identical long term trends. As the NZ Herald pointed out, 2010 should spells the end for that favourite denialist trope — it’s been cooling since (pick a year), but I’m a bit more sanguine. I confidently predict that with the current intense La Niña likely to ensure that 2011 is not a record-setter, the usual suspects will insist there’s been a plateau in temperatures, with cooling sure to follow. Until the next strong El Niño comes along, of course, because with the solar cycle moving towards maximum insolation, the global average will almost certainly set a clear new record. 2012, perhaps?

[Small milestone: This is the 1,000th post at Hot Topic since the site launched in April 2007.]

Warm oceans killing coral Bryan Walker Dec 01

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This has not only been a bad year for the Amazon rainforest, it has also been a year in which coral reefs, the rainforests of the ocean as they are sometimes called, have suffered severe bleaching because of raised ocean temperatures. Not a matter likely to strike the public consciousness. A recent Yale University survey found 75 percent of Americans have not heard of coral bleaching. But the reefs are one of the world’s great ecosystems and they matter enormously.

Mark Eakin, who coordinates the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch and is frequently quoted in reports on this year’s bleaching events, explains that coral bleaching happens when ocean temperatures get too warm and stay warm for too long, and the relationship between the coral and the algae gets stressed. This thermal stress to corals, he said, is the highest it’s been since 1998, when 15% of the world’s coral reefs died.

’When you have high temperatures, in conjunction with normal high light conditions, the photosynthetic apparatus in the algae starts to poison the coral. They’ll spit them out into the water. When they do this, they lose their colour, look white, which is why they’re called bleached. If that persists for a long time, it can cause the corals to die.’

In July an article in the Telegraph on the coral bleaching events becoming apparent quoted Eakin:

“The bleaching is very strong throughout south east Asia and the central Indian Ocean. The reports are that it is the worst since 1997/1998. This is a really huge event and we are going to see a lot of corals dying.”

Indonesian reefs were badly affected. Some detail is provided in a report from the International Coral Reef Initiative which indicated the extent and severity of bleaching in different areas, and commented on the high rate of coral mortality following the bleaching.

In September Pierre Fidenci, president of Endangered Species International, wrote in a Mongabay article of severe wide-scale bleaching in the Philippines. The bleaching has been observed at many sites around the Philippines featuring mass mortality of corals including the coral triangle outside the Philippines. He considers this environmental catastrophe will probably be considered the most damaging bleaching event ever recorded in the Philippines, surpassing the big one of 1998.

’Prior to this year’s bleaching, it was estimated that about 85 percent of the reefs have been damaged or destroyed in the Philippines, now the current estimate is likely to be close to 95 percent.’

The Telegraph article noted scientists in Thailand have reported reefs suffering 90% of their corals being bleached and up to 20% of the corals dead. Olivia Durkin, who is leading the bleaching monitoring at the Centre for Biodiversity in Peninsular Thailand, said: ’This year’s severe coral bleaching has the potential to be the worst on record.’

In June The Maldives reported the most serious incidence of coral bleaching since the major 1998 El Niño-event that destroyed most of the country’s shallow reef coral. Since then there has been gradual reef recovery but the 2010 event will be at least a major setback.

Eakin warned in September that this year had the potential to be also one of the worst bleaching seasons for some reefs in the Caribbean. It follows hard on the heels of the 2005 bleaching which caused record losses to Caribbean reefs, according to a collaborative study published a couple of weeks ago.  More than 80 percent of surveyed corals bleached and over 40 percent of the total surveyed died as a result of the 2005 event. It will be a while before the effects of this year’s bleaching can be measured, but it is already apparent that in some locations this year’s event is worse than the event in 2005. Not only are temperatures causing further damage to reefs hit hard during the 2005 event, but new locations have also been impacted.

Eakin’s comment on the release of the study of the 2005 impacts:

’This severe, widespread bleaching and mortality will undoubtedly have long-term consequences for reef ecosystems, and events like this are likely to become more common as the climate warms.’

Bleaching is a consequence of a warming ocean, but it’s not the only adverse effect of global warming on corals. The other major impact is from the increase in ocean acidification as carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise. The double whammy is very clearly explained by Australian scientist and coral reef expert John Veron in his 2009 lecture to the Royal Society. I summarised his content in this post last year, and suggest any readers who’d like a longer explanation of what bleaching and acidification mean for the future of coral reefs take a look at it. The link to the video of the lecture provided in the post is outdated, but this link will get you there if you want to hear him in person. He is sombre about the outlook for coral reefs if greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise, and nothing that has happened this year suggests he is getting it wrong.

Polar warming, Amazon drought, coral reefs bleaching and dying: I’ve gathered material for posts on all three of them within the past week. They are all sending out danger signals. They all threaten massive effects which cannot but have drastic consequences for humanity if they continue. And they’re only part of what threatens from climate change. They ought to have us scurrying to do what we are still able to do to prevent them developing further. The Cancún conference should be charged with a sense of high urgency.

I found myself applauding our Prime Minister when he said on Sunday that nothing less than the future of underground coal mining in New Zealand rests on the investigation into the Pike River tragedy. ’We can’t put people into mines that are dangerous.’ I also found myself wondering how that sentiment would go down with some of our economic interests. I thought John Key was absolutely right, and I presume in saying it he was not unaware of the economic implications. I guess I needn’t spell out the obvious parallel with the dangers from climate change and the perspective they put on the protests that economic interests mustn’t be harmed by climate change measures.

Johann Hari, in the eloquent article Gareth has already drawn attention to, wrote, ’At Cancún, the real question will be carefully ignored by delegates keen to preserve big business as usual.’  It’s the wrong choice, Hari points out. But as he also says it’s not too late to change.

Buffoons in arms: Goddard joins Monckton at SPPI Gareth Renowden Oct 30

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Oh frabjous day! Steven Goddard is joining “potty peer” Christopher, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley as one of the slithy toves contributing to the Science and Public Policy Institute‘s never-ending stream of climate denier propaganda, and on the evidence of his first “paper” he will be a valuable* addition to the team. The SPPI pantheon is in dire need of a fillip, given Monckton’s lacklustre recent performance (of which more later), and so Goddard is given his head to produce a truly wondrous counterblast to the recent NOAA 2010 Arctic Report CardTo a geologist, ’the past is key to the future’. To give you a flavour of his wisdom, here are Goddard’s conclusions:

  1. The widespread belief that the poles are rapidly melting down is incorrect, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere.
  2. Arctic temperatures are cyclical. Much of the Arctic has been warmer during the last 100 years.
  3. The satellite record from 1979-2010 coincided with the warm phase of the PDO. It covers less than one half of an Arctic temperature cycle. Given this cyclical behavior, it makes little scientific sense to extrapolate linearly based on a time period which is too short. Until satellites record at least one entire Arctic cycle, the extrapolations are misleading.
  4. There is little (if any) evidence linking recent changes in the Arctic to CO2. At this point there is no solid reason to believe we are seeing anything other than natural Arctic cycles. Greenland temperatures are cooler than 70 years ago.

Great stuff. Either completely wrong, not supported by the evidence or pure wishful thinking. Positively Moncktonian in its cavalier disregard for the facts, but lacking the great man’s prolix delivery and intellectual turgidity…

Followers of events in the Arctic will know Goddard as the erstwhile author of numerous and inventive “sea ice updates” at Anthony Watts’ µWatts blog — a man with an amazing ability to conjure cooling out of nothing. A few months ago an obdurate Goddard appears to have strained the patience of the saintly Watts and he departed to set up his own blog called, with no apparent hint of irony, Real Science.

To illustrate just how far Goddard’s SPPI opus stays from reality, let’s consider his claim that “Greenland temperatures are cooler than 70 years ago“. To arrive at this conclusion he chooses two Greenland temperature stations from the NASA GISTEMP dataset (Godthab Nuuk and Angmagssalik), plots their annual averages over the last 100 years, finds two periods of warming, and then — after long detours around sea ice and CO2 — declares that Greenland has cooled over the last 70 years. Cherry-picking at its finest…

What does the NOAA Arctic Report Card have to say about current Greenland temperatures?

A clear pattern of exceptional and record-setting warm air temperatures is evident at long-term meteorological stations around Greenland. For instance:

Nuuk (64.2°N along Greenland’s west coast): Year 2010 summer, spring, and winter 2009/2010 were the warmest on record since record keeping began in 1873.

Temperature records were being set all round Greenland during the last year, leading to a record ice melt season: the area of the ice sheet that melted was 8% greater than the previous record, set in 2007, and melt continued for much longer than usual:

The melt duration was as much as 50 days greater than average in areas of west Greenland that had an elevation between 1200 and 2400 meters above sea level.

The obvious disconnect between Goddard’s reporting and the real state of Greenland goes a long way to suggest why he was dropped by Watts, and it says just as much about SPPI’s decision to run his material. To paraphrase former NZ prime minister Rob Muldoon, Goddard’s move has raised the average IQ at both places…

Meanwhile, followers of the antics of Monckton will be puzzled by the poor quality of his recent output, and mystified by his inability to carry the floor at a recent debate in Cork. The peer’s attempted rebuttal of the dismemberment of his testimony to Congress earlier this year is thin stuff, long on words (of course) but woefully short of substance.

Slightly meatier is his attempt to debunk a recent keynote address given by Obama’s science adviser John Holdren in Oslo in September. Here’s a chunk of classic Monckton:

On go the lurid scares. ’Melting permafrost’ is next. The fact that many of the burial grounds of the Vikings around the Hvalsey settlement are still under permafrost to this day, when they were certainly not under permafrost when the bodies were buried, is conveniently overlooked.

This is a claim that has popped up in a number of Monckton’s articles, and one that’s often repeated by sceptics who want to pretend that conditions in Greenland are not unusual. Unfortunately, as is so often the case when you look into the details, it turns out that Monckton is talking nonsense. The Citizen’s Challenge blog decided to do some exhumation of the facts, and got in touch with a few experts who know the Hvalsey site well. Here’s what Georg Nyegaard, curator of the Greenland National Museum & Archives had to say:

I know the site of the Hvalsey Fjord Church very well — was the curator of the nearby museum of Qaqortoq for 12 years. You are completely right about your doubts: There is absolutely no permafrost at this site.

I look forward to Monckton’s retraction and apology for so grievously misleading his readers, but history suggests I would not be wise to hold my breath while waiting. But Monckton isn’t finished with permafrost. Here’s his next sentence:

In fact, melting permafrost is nothing but a good thing: despite the lurid tales of methane trapped in the permafrost and waiting to erupt and give the planet a fever, methane is really a non-issue now that the Russian pipeline to Europe has been repaired. There has been no noticeable increase in atmospheric methane since the repairs were completed in the year 2000. If the permafrost were to thaw, billions of acres of productive agricultural land would become available.

Breathtaking stuff. Manages to ignore the evidence, downplay the danger, and blame the Russians, all in one sentence. It’s the sort of claim Monckton can make in a debate, leaving his opponents wondering whether they should unpack the falsehoods or ignore them. But such sophistry didn’t work for the prolix peer when he took part in a debate with Graham Parkes, professor of philosophy and head of the school of sociology and philosophy for University College Cork, at the beginning of October. Scott Mandia has Parkes’ full speech here.

The result? Parkes won the debate by 100 votes to 3. Sic transit gloria Moncktonii…

(*) “Valuable”, in so far as it makes SPPI’s output look even less credible (if that’s possible).

[Dire, that's what it is.]

Arctic report card 2010: a one-way trip to warming Gareth Renowden Oct 25

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Last week NOAA released the 2010 update of its Arctic Report Card, covering the 2009/10 winter season and 2010 summer sea ice minimum. It makes for sobering reading. Greenland experienced record high temperatures, ice melt and glacier area loss, sea ice extent was the third lowest in the satellite record, and Arctic snow cover duration was at a record minimum. It’s worth digging through the whole report — it’s concise, well illustrated and referenced back to the underlying research — but a couple of things struck me as really important.

The first is the dramatic melting seen in Greenland this summer. From the Greenland report card:

Summer seasonal average (June-August) air temperatures around Greenland were 0.6 to 2.4°C above the 1971-2000 baseline and were highest in the west. A combination of a warm and dry 2009-2010 winter and the very warm summer resulted in the highest melt rate since at least 1958 and an area and duration of ice sheet melting that was above any previous year on record since at least 1978.


Abnormal melt duration was concentrated along the western ice sheet (Figure GL3), consistent with anomalous warm air inflow during the summer (Figure GL1) and abnormally high winter air temperatures which led to warm pre-melt conditions. The melt duration was as much as 50 days greater than average in areas of west Greenland that had an elevation between 1200 and 2400 meters above sea level. In May, areas at low elevation along the west coast of the ice sheet melted up to about 15 days longer than the average. NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis data suggest that May surface temperatures were up to 5°C above the 1971—2000 baseline average. June and August also exhibited large positive melting day anomalies (up to 20 days) along the western and southern ice sheet. During August temperatures were 3°C above the average over most of the ice sheet, with the exception of the northeastern ice sheet. Along the southwestern ice sheet, the number of melting days in August has increased by 24 days over the past 30 years.

Not good news for the ice sheet. The atmosphere report card draws attention to the impact Arctic warming is having further south, dubbing it the warm arctic/cold continents pattern (WACC).

While 2009 showed a slowdown in the rate of annual air temperature increases in the Arctic, the first half of 2010 shows a near record pace with monthly anomalies of over 4°C in northern Canada. There continues to be significant excess heat storage in the Arctic Ocean at the end of summer due to continued near-record sea ice loss. There is evidence that the effect of higher air temperatures in the lower Arctic atmosphere in fall is contributing to changes in the atmospheric circulation in both the Arctic and northern mid-latitudes. Winter 2009-2010 showed a new connectivity between mid-latitude extreme cold and snowy weather events and changes in the wind patterns of the Arctic; the so-called Warm Arctic-Cold Continents pattern.

So now you know where the WACCy winter weather’s coming from…

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