The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Russia Thing


what climate change looks like (BBC)

I am not sure how to take being definitely regarded as climate scientist by both Roger Pielke Jr (who is in and out of the Tobis-ooh-scary club) and Brad Johnson (an associate of Joe Romm), but not quite so definitively by anyone commonly regarded as a climate scientist. I suppose I should accept it as better than nothing. But Johnson's topic is worth following up. And I really liked that he got an actual meteorologist to back me up:
Like Dr. Tobis, Carver [Meteorologist Rob Carver, the Research and Development Scientist for Weather Underground] believes that manmade global warming has fundamentally altered weather patterns to produce the killer Russian heat wave. “Without contributions from anthropogenic climate change,” Carver said in an email interview with the Wonk Room, “I don’t think this event would have reached such extremes or even happened at all”:
I agree with Michael Tobis’s take at Only In It For the Gold that something systematic has changed to alter the global circulation and you’ll need a coupled atmosphere/ocean global model to understand what’s going on. My hunch is that a warming Arctic combined with sea-surface-temperature teleconnections altered the global circulation such that a blocking ridge formed over western Russia leading to the unprecedented drought/heat wave conditions. Without contributions from anthropogenic climate change, I don’t think this event would have reached such extremes or even happened at all. (You may quote me on that.)
Cool. Thanks for taking the heat, making a stronger claim than I did, Rob! And thanks for the work on this, Brad!

I want to explain my thinking in some detail on this, but I really don't have the time to do it justice right now. Of course it will be half-wittedly nitpicked and mocked to oblivion if I post it on a blog whether it's brilliant or foolish. I wonder if it rates a real paper somewhere. That would be a novelty...

But a short version occurs to me. Remember when I tried to explain that "global warming" and "anthropogenic climate change" don't mean exactly the same thing? Well, the fact that we now have situations like this one, and last year's in Australia, allows for making the point clear with some examples.

See, what we are worried about is not global warming. Global warming itself causes relatively little damage, at least at first. What we are worried about is climate change.

Anthropogenic global warming does not cause climate change.

Anthropogenic climate change causes global warming,.

Global warming (at the surface, just like global cooling in the stratosphere) is one of the more predictable symptoms of anthropogenic climate change. But if you change the forcing, you change the response. That's not a very deep scientific result, is it?

"Anthropogenic climate change" - well that's a tedious mouthful, isn't it? Not in a sense, no, not really. Not as tedious as what is happening this instant in Pakistan and in Russia, anyway. That's what abrupt climate change looks like.




Update: Tamino weighs in with a compelling graphic.



Update: Fire and Rain, a climate change anthem. Good call, Gareth.

Suzanne, the plans you made put an end to you.


28 comments:

watchingthedeniers said...

I think it's time to call it: in Russia/China/Pakistan we are witnessing the first real glimmers of a world changed by global warming.

So where exactly our we? A world changed by climate change? A world changed by global warming... the world of Anthropogenic climate change (ACC)?

It's more than just what we've done to the climate: it's the growth of our civilisation and our numbers (6 billion and counting); our use of fossil fuels and nuclear energy; the power of our sciences; the destructiveness of our wars; the mass extinctions to rival those of the KT/PT; and of course our overall impact on the "biosphere".

There is no earth system that has not been impacted by our activities in some way.

At some point, whether it be last week, last year, or mid-last century (future historians are going to debate when) we slipped into a new "era".

Let's shorten the terminology, and use a phrase that's been floating around.

Welcome to the anthropocene guys.

Gareth said...

Or: it's not the slow accumulation of energy that'll get us, it's when that energy's released...

Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground

Lou Grinzo said...

I think some guy named McKibben called it Eaarth. OK, it's not the best neologism ever, but the reasoning behind it is impeccable and, it now seems, undeniable.

Deech56 said...

But we know what will happen. ACC will be called CACC, we will have a mild summer next year, a snowstorm where the temperature varies from 25F to 30F, and we will be bombarded with cries of "recovery" and "global cooling". There will be many arguments about how many climatologists can dance on the head of a pin and fainting over how badly alarmist scientists behave in their private communications and how mean Steve Bloom and dhogaza are.

Any bets as to the next victims (now that UEA is so "oughts")? Where are the signs? Who's being attacked by CA at the moment?

[/cynicism]

watchingthedeniers said...

@ Lou

I agree, McKibben's got it right. OK, Eaarth not the best name but he is spot on with his analysis.

EliRabett said...

Eli likes his,

Before we worried if climate change was loading the dice, now we have to start thinking about whether climate change is loading the gun

Steve Bloom said...

Nice one, Eli. Let's spread that around.

Vinny Burgoo said...

Eli, you might like to look at October 1871 before claiming that this summer proves anything about loaded guns and loaded dice. Many thousands died in floods in China, and hundreds, perhaps thousands more died in floods in Bengal. Drought-caused forest-fires around the Great Lakes killed about two thousand people; the Great Fire of Chicago, which was exacerbated by drought, killed about two hundred. An unknown number of people died of starvation on Caribbean islands after a devastating hurricane, and the famine in Persia that would eventually kill about 1.5 million people (or a quarter of the population) was entering its worst phase.

Anthropogenic CO2-driven climatic change might one day load the disaster dice/gun/bazooka in some parts of the world; it might even have done this already; but you can't use one throw to prove anything and retain any credibility as a scientist - not the 2010 throw and not the 1871 throw. (But if you're going to try to use 2010 to prove that we've already calamatized the world's climates, you're going to have to explain away October 1871 - and, no doubt, many other extraordinary combinations of calamities from the days before the dice could have been significantly loaded.)

Michael Tobis said...

No, see, there's unpleasant and then there's unprecedented.

The specific configuration of the atmosphere we see now is unheard of as a near-stationary pattern.

So it depends on what happened in 1871 physically, not anecdotally. I am sure there was bad weather in 1872 as well.

Did you put this together yourself, or do you have a reference?

Steve Scolnik said...

"First climate change came for Russia, but I didn't care because I wasn't Russian" [Tom Toles]
. . . or Pakistani, or Iowan, or a resident of the Washington DC metro area.

Robert said...

I checked the 500 mb height fields for Oct. 1871 using 20th Century Reanalysis data and there's nothing that stands out after a quick glance. The monthly anomaly is also unremarkable. In other words, it's just typical weather. The Russian Block (Or is it Bloc, tovarisch?) and the Arctic Dipole? Not so typical.

Vinny Burgoo said...

It's mostly from an article on page 9 of The Times of 26th October, 1871.

'At this moment an extraordinary combination of calamities, in countries widely separated from each other, calls upon the sympathy of the British public, and no common duty is imposed on us by the contrast offered day by day between our happy condition and the miseries suffered of suffering thousands, and even millions, in other lands. [Persia, China, Bengal, Caribbean, America.] What is the British public to do when it thus looks East and West, and beholds the elements of Fire, Air, and Water wreaking devastation and misery alike among men of our own kindred, negroes and Asiatics?' (The answer: a more genteel version of Geldof's 'Give us yer feckin' money!')

It's preposterously late here so I won't try to answer your objection. I'll just say that I don't understand it.

Steve Bloom said...

Vinny, how many people died e.g. tells us very little about the climatological significance of the event. The Chinese landslide is a good example of why that's true.

Michael Tobis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Tobis said...

Steve doesn't always speak for me, but this time he speaks for me. Well said.

The smoke problems in Russia are caused by two things: the worst record of environmental management in human history AND the first historical global weirding of the world's weather.

We used to call it "regime change" until the phrase got stolen by the suits for something pretty much different.

Let's not be playing word games, guys. Look at the maps. Look at the graphs. This is lookin' mighty f'ing serious.

Vinny Burgoo said...

OK. Let's stick to the weather. The summer of 1871 is still Chicago's driest summer on record. Persian drought: unprecedented drying-up of rivers and lakes. Floods in north-east China: Peking hadn't seen that much rain for seventy years. Bengal floods: the colonial administrators patted themselves on the back for keeping the price of rice so stable given the exceptional scope of that year's deluge, what-what. Caribbean hurricane: The Times article was probably talking about a Category 3 that had hit the Antilles in August; nasty, but nothing out of the ordinary; let's put that one to one side.

But add: the unusual weather in the Arctic that trapped and destroyed most of the American whaling fleet; the 'storm of almost unprecedented fury' that wrecked 100 vessels off the Yorkshire coast, killing seventy mariners; the exceptionally cold winters of 1870/1871 and 1871/1872 in parts of North America and Europe (the latter perhaps giving a boost to Germany's smallpox epidemic); and the uncountable and unquantifiable ordinary climatic events exhibiting extraordinary severity that occurred in the greater part of the world that was still beyond the reach of correspondents from The Times (and often, alas, beyond the curiosity or competence of its rulers).

I think you lot are saying that the concurrence of a few ordinary-but-bigger-than-usual climatic events this year finally almost-proves that foo (the jet stream?) has been knocked into a new orbit by Mankind's wickedness.

Please explain 1871, or any other unlucky year from the prelapsarian Holocene.

Michael Tobis said...

No, the jet stream is not a vague abstraction, it is an observable physical phenomenon, and it is indeed in a configuration that has not been seen before.

Apparently there are some reanalyses that go back 1871. One would have to go look to see if there were persistent anomalies of some sort.

If 1871 is really of interest, we'd also start by looking at the ENSO index and volcanic forcing first. Since you are an expert on 1871, could you tell us those things? The cold winters could well indicate a well-timed volcano.

Michael Tobis said...

Robert, the 20th Century Reanalysis project claims to go back to 1892, which is obviously later than 1871. How can we know anything about the general circulation in 1871? Can you provide a link to your data set?

Vinny Burgoo said...

MT, I'm not an expert on 1871, which is lucky because 1871 isn't really the point. It's just an unlucky year, the first that I came across when searching the archives of The Times. Any unlucky year would do - even this year if we were ten years from now and the dice still hadn't be proved to be loaded.

Re the jet stream: surely one-off blockages aren't particularly novel? (I'd have to be an expert on both jet streams and 1871 to suggest that a jet-stream blockage doomed the 1871 whaling fleet, and I'm not, so I won't.)

dhogaza said...

"I think you lot are saying that the concurrence of a few ordinary-but-bigger-than-usual climatic events this year"

Hottest temps in Russia in at least a thousand years is not an "ordinary but bigger than usual" climatic event.

Now, if you want to go after the Russians who make that claim, go for it, but until someone can convince us that the Russians are exaggerating, your statement's simply wrong.

Also, tamino has done a brief analysis of the data available online. It only goes back 50 years, but this year is a 3.6 sigma outlier. That's evidence that strongly supports the Russian claim.

Also, thus far 17 countries have registered their highest temps ever this year. That's huge. Not "highest on Aug 1" or "highest on July 14" but highest ever.

Attempts to downplay the scope and magnitude of what we're seeing this year don't hold water.

Now, if you want to argue that it can't be tied to global warming, you're on slightly less tenuous ground, but claiming "it's just like 1871" based on newspaper reports ain't going to cut it.

MT - Keith Kloor's treating you shabbily over at his place (note his comment #60). But he treats everyone shabbily. Well, except for Curry. And Fuller. And a few others...

Michael Tobis said...

Vinny, first of all, the thing about "surprises in the greenhouse" (Broecker's phrase) is that they are surprising. They will be unprecedented events, which will take some time and concentrated effort to understand dynamically. We won't really understand what is happening now for a few years.

Your question is whether comparably unprecedented events are in some sense precedented. Does this level of unprecedented have a precedent?

You'll have to come up with something specific, not just a bad year.

I am not aware of any comparable event in the historical record. Turning that into a statistically testable hypothesis itself isn't easy. Consider, though, at some point an event could be bizarre enough that if you defend it, you find yourself saying something like, yes, the planes hit the towers, and yes, the towers fell down, but sometimes towers fall down without planes so the events might be unrelated.

Now what you are saying isn't that extreme, but at some point it develops the same flavor. The question is whether we have reached that point.

Have a look at Tamino's graph to get a sense of how weird this is.

Your 1871 examples remain unconvincing as an analogous event. An analogous event would have several extreme persistent anomalies over a very broad area (say at least 5,000 km in extent) occurring simultaneously. This would be indicative of a very odd hemispheric flow such as we see now.

You just show that there were several climate disasters in one year, which tells us nothing of the sort. It may tell us something else, and it may not even do that. But it doesn't demonstrate a persistent and unprecedented hemispheric-scale flow, which is the specific case we are looking at this minute.

I am also not saying this is the only kind of unpleasant surprise in the greenhouse. I am just saying that this is the kind we've got now. It's fairly clear that this exact configuration is unheard of over a millennium.

It's less clear that no other case of an abnormal flow of such magnitude has persisted for months. But you'd have to come up with specific months, a specific location for the ridges and troughs, and evidence that it only happened very rarely, to show a counterexample.

I doubt that the pre-instrumental historical record is rich enough to provide a good counterexample if it exists, but so far your 1871 evidence isn't enough. So perhaps you'd best go after Tamino's graph, which only requires evidence at a single place.

Robert said...

ESRL released more data covering 1869 to 1891, (20th Century homepage at http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/data/20thC_Rean/ , GRIB's at http://dss.ucar.edu/datasets/ds131.1/).

In 1871, the system's only two years in the run, so there may be some spinup artifacts going on, especially in the land-surface model, which is why I didn't look at 2-m temp or anything like it.

However, I think the 500 mb fields should correspond pretty well with what actually happened since pressure obs constrain the mass field pretty well in data assimilation.

Michael Tobis said...

dhogaza, I agree that Keith was unusually short with me. And unusually clueless.

We'll see if he manages enough of a retreat that I don't write him off entirely. He seems to be falling into the same trap as McIntyre; he appreciates the adulation of the clueless more than the serious engagement of the informed. His traffic is up, and his salience is down. It's a pity.

dhogaza said...

Jeff Masters has a nice piece up addressing the relationship between high SSTs and blocking highs such as the 2003 and current events, which lead to substantial rerouting of the jet stream:

http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=1576

A key section for Vinny to consider:

"The unusual jet stream pattern that led to the 2010 Russian heat wave and Pakistani floods began during the last week of June, and remained locked in place all of July and for the first half of August. Long-lived "blocking" episodes like this are usually caused by unusual sea surface temperature patterns, according to recent research done using climate models. For example, Feudale and Shukla (2010) found that during the summer of 2003, exceptionally high sea surface temperatures of 4°C (7°F) above average over the Mediterranean Sea, combined with unusually warm SSTs in the northern portion of the North Atlantic Ocean near the Arctic, combined to shift the jet stream to the north over Western Europe and create the heat wave of 2003. I expect that the current SST pattern over the ocean regions surrounding Europe played a key role in shifting the jet stream to create the heat wave of 2010. Note that the SST anomaly pattern is quite different this year compared to 2003, which may be why this year's heat wave hit Eastern Europe, and the 2003 heat wave hit Western Europe. Human-caused climate change also may have played a role; using climate models, Stott et al. (2004) found it very likely (>90% chance) that human-caused climate change has at least doubled the risk of severe heat waves like the great 2003 European heat wave."

He's being a bit cautious but it's clear that a warming world will include warming oceans, and the likely linkage between warmer SSTs and such blocking highs bodes ill for the future.

I think we're going to see a bunch of research into the linkage in the next few years ... the potential for frequent disruption of agricultural output is huge.

Steve Scolnik said...

"First climate change came for Russia, but I didn't care because I wasn't Russian . . ."
[Tom Toles]
. . . or Pakistani, or Iowan, or a resident of the Washington DC metro area.

dhogaza said...

"We'll see if he manages enough of a retreat that I don't write him off entirely."

Well, he's just started a new thread, accusing you of hypocrisy. Some retreat :)

Michael Tobis said...

Steve Skolnick twice posted this comment. It disappeared twice.

I am baffled as to why this would be the case. I did not remove or reject it.

I will try to take this up with Blogger.

====

"First climate change came for Russia, but I didn't care because I wasn't Russian . . ."
[Tom Toles]
. . . or Pakistani, or Iowan, or a resident of the Washington DC metro area.

Aaron said...

With all due respect to Tamino , the important graphic of the summer is that of Arctic sea ice volume at: (http://psc.apl.washington.edu/ArcticSeaiceVolume/IceVolume.php).

Over the last decade, the Arctic has changed from: an ice surface to a liquid surface (in places, a film of liquid). The “Old Arctic” ice surface condensed moisture out of the atmosphere. The “Old Arctic” radiated the resulting heat of vaporization out through a dry atmosphere. The new liquid surface is in equilibrium with water vapor in the atmosphere that acts as a greenhouse gas that helps to keep the “New Arctic” warm. This is a “sea change” for Northern Hemisphere weather.

As the last of the sea ice melts and the Arctic sea’s surface start to warm significantly, we will see more changes in weather. Given the rate if change in sea ice volume over the last few years, we may not have to wait too long before we see truly impressive weather.