Global Warming Has Not Stopped

One of the most common false arguments climate change deniers make is that global warming has stopped. This is remarkable for a number of reason, the first being that it is simply not true. But, I also find it amazing how the deniers keep pulling this out, no matter how many times they are shot down. So, let’s review this claim to see just how much validity there is to it.

First, let’s be clear of what is going on. Deniers point at a plot of data such as the one below and say, ‘Ah ha! There has been no warming since 1998. If we draw a line from there to today it is a flat line!’ See for yourself.


This is what is known as cherry picking, selecting the data to get the desired result. The problem is, why pick 1998? If we pick 1999, the next point on the graph, we get a tremendously different result. The line starting at the 1998 data point is pretty flat. The line starting at the 1999 data point increases quite a bit. The fact is, both would be cherry picking and both would be false arguments. That is why scientists use averages and long-term trends. We are not trying to obtain some predetermined result – that is what the deniers do, not scientists. We are trying to find out what is going on.

But, even if we cherry pick the starting point the denier claims are not true. Look at this plot of data from NASA/GISS:

Clearly, the warming has slowed down in recent years, but is continuing. In fact, nine of the ten hottest years ever recorded, and the three hottest, have occurred since the year 2000. Those figures alone give the lie to the claims of the deniers. But, there is much more.

The biggest lie in their claim is that they have been using the data above as ‘global’ warming. But, that data is only the surface temperature, basically the temperature of the air and land. When we say ‘global’ warming, though, we mean just that – the entire globe. What the deniers don’t want anyone to think about is the oceans. If you want to know about ‘global’ warming, take a look at this plot that shows how much heat is being stored and where its being stored:

The amount of energy being stored in the oceans is many times greater than what is being stored in the air and land. And, the amount of energy stored in the oceans has continued to rise. How is it possible for any person to look at this data and still insist global warming has stopped? I repeat my oft-made claim – the only way someone can deny global warming is to deny science. Deniers prove the validity of that claim every time they say global warming has stopped.

Now, they are in for even more trouble on this point. The temperature in April was tied for the hottest April ever. And now, we are told May was the single hottest May ever recorded.

And, the news keeps getting worse – worse for all of us, unfortunately. El Nino is setting in and there is a 70% chance of one occurring this summer and an 80% chance of one this fall. If it happens, then 2014 will continue to see warming temperature averages and 2015 could be even worse.

What do you think the deniers will say to cover their rear-ends when even the average person on the street will be able to see the deniers have been lying all along?

El Nino 2014

Update: You can read a nice NSF article on El Nino here.

There are many natural climate oscillations, but one of the most important is the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO).  El Nino is the ocean oscillation where Pacific waters get warmer than usual off the coast of Peru. NOAA defines El Nino as being when the Peruvian waters are at least half of a degree Celsius warmer than average for at least three months. The Southern Oscillation is the atmospheric oscillation that roughly accompanies the ocean component.

ENSO affects the weather virtually everywhere on the planet. It has caused droughts resulting in massive famines as well as widespread floods. The 1997-1998 El Nino caused the worldwide average temperature to rise more than 2.4 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit), making 1998 the hottest year ever recorded at the time. It is still the fourth hottest year on record and was so out of line with the rising temperature trend that global warming deniers continue to cherry pick it as the starting point for trend lines to claim there is no global warming. You can clearly see the isolated peak from 1998 in this graph of global surface temperatures.
Source: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

So, it is small wonder that we keep a close eye on the formation of El Nino. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center has a very detailed website with weekly updates on the ENSO conditions, and it is looking more and more likely that 2014 will be an El Nino year. I wrote the other day that El Nino is back. I am a little more lax in my definition of El Nino and jumped the gun in comparison to the official agencies. In fact, forecast centers around the world are saying El Nino, if it occurs, won’t occur until later this summer or sometime in the fall. The consensus seems to be about 65% chance of it forming this summer and as much as 80% chance for it this fall. Forecasters are also saying it will be a mild to moderate event and nothing near as strong as some of the large events of the past. I have been reviewing the data and I agree with that assessment. There is a definite warming trend that has been going on this spring. The amount of warming that is being observed in the upper-level of the Pacific Ocean (upper-300 meters) is greater than the weak events of the past, but less than the strongest ones. That is not to say that something couldn’t happen that would tip it to being either stronger or weaker. Such an event is certainly possible. But, based on past behavior, this event is proceeding in much the same way that past moderate events have.

What is still unknown is what effect global warming is having on ENSO. That will take some time to figure out.

El Nino is back. What does it mean?

El Nino is the name given to the natural cycle that involves the eastern Pacific getting warmer in the area close to the equator. (La Nina is the name for the alternative cycle when the waters there are cooler. The two together are known as the El Nino Southern Oscillation – ENSO.) This is one of the most significant natural cycles and occurs every few years. It has the potential to change weather around the world. Take a look at this graphic showing the sea surface temperature anomaly. The darker the red, the warmer it is relative to the long-term average.

Source: Climate Reanalyzer

You can clearly see how the water temperature off western South America is warmer than usual, which is the classic definition of El Nino. The name comes from how local fishermen noticed the change  in the water and how it seemed to always arrive in the late fall – about Christmas time. El Nino means ‘the boy’ and refers to the Christ child of Christmas. The name has stuck.

But, the important thing is to notice how the warm water stretches all the way across the Pacific Ocean. The significance of this lies in the fact that warm water creates atmospheric low-pressure areas which results in thunderstorms. There is now a Pacific Ocean-wide corridor of low pressure which will allow thunderstorms to develop and travel all the way from Asia to South America. One of the things this leads to is a change in the Hadley Cells.

Hadley Cells are circulation patterns in the atmosphere. Warm air near the equator rises and then travels towards the poles at high altitude. When the air reaches the mid-latitudes it sinks back to the surface and travels back towards the equator. This circulates heat and causes the trade winds. A stronger El Nino results in stronger Hadley Cells. Live Science has a nice graphic here showing how this all works.

You can probably see where this is going. More heat is being circulated through-out the world as a result of El Nino. Changes in the heat and water vapor input in a given region will result in changes to the weather in that region. How much of a change and what kind can be expected? That is a big variable. Some regions will experience greater rainfall. Others will experience droughts. Depending on the strength of the El Nino event, the effect could be anywhere from very mild to catastrophic.

Some of the most dramatic example of El Nino effects is a series of famines that have occurred in what is modern-day India, including the Great Famine of 1876-1878 (5.5 estimated dead) and the Bengal Famine of 1770 (10 million estimated dead). These famines occurred when the monsoons did not occur and the crops failed. The famines were greatly aggravated by British mismanagement.

What has been found is that severe droughts in India always occur during El Ninos, but not every El Nino leads to droughts in India. The apparent link seems to be where the Pacific is warmest. When it is warmer in the Central Pacific, India has droughts. When it is warmest in the Eastern Pacific, India is spared. Take a look at the plot of surface temperatures, similar to the plot above.

Source: Climate Reanalyzer

The figure above showed the difference from the average. This plot shows the actual average temperature. The way I interpret this data is that it is warmer in the Central Pacific region than in the Eastern Pacific region off of South America. This could be bad news for India. The good news is that Britain is not handling the management any more.

But, El Ninos are not bad news for everyone. Actually, for us in the U.S. it will be a good thing. A typical El Nino brings mild temperatures and more rainfall for the southern half of the country. This would be particularly welcome in the mid-Plains and the Southwest where drought has been raging for many years. In fact, several states out here are at risk of running out of water.  More rain would be good.

So, let’s talk about the White Elephant sitting in the middle of the room. Is global warming affecting the ENSO cycle? Quite simply, we don’t know yet. There are some that believe a connection exists, but more data is needed. What is known for sure though, is the El Nino affects the short-term accuracy of our computer models. The models are highly accurate when predictable conditions exist. But, unpredictable events like ENSO and volcanic eruptions disrupt them. The good news is that when the events occur and are included in the models, the models once again become highly accurate – in excess of 95% accurate and getting better. I have not heard what the models are forecasting with the this current El Nino included, but I will keep a look out for any news.

NASA facilities threatened by sea level rise – Guess who pays?

A recent article reported on how NASA launch pads at Cape Canaveral and Mission Control in Houston are being threatened by rising sea levels. I have lived in the vicinity of both facilities and can personally attest that they are only a few feet above sea level.  In fact, NASA stated that rising sea levels are the single biggest threat to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Other NASA facilities being threatened by rising sea levels include Wallops Flight Facility and Langley Research Center, both in Virginia, and Ames Research Center in San Francisco.

The problem with the rising sea level is not that the facilities are threatened with inundation in the near-term, but with all of the other kinds of damage that come with rising sea level. Things like beach erosion and storm surges are greatly affected by how high sea level is. Increase the sea level and you increase the damage that results from those actions.

The forecast for Hampton, VA is for a five foot rise in sea level by the year 2100, or 60 inches in the next 86 years. If we were to assume a constant rate of rise (a bad assumption, but it gives us something to work with), that comes out to .7 inches (1.8 centimeters) per year. That means something that is currently 7 inches above the storm surge will be in the storm surge 10 years from now. These are very low-lying areas, 7 inches will make a big difference. And, that is only in 10 years. Twenty years from now the sea level will be more than 14 inches higher, on average.

Let me put those time frames into perspective. Ten years ago was 2004. George W. Bush was President of the U.S. and defeated John Kerry in his bid to win reelection. The Summer Olympics were in Athens, the U.S. was bogged down in an insurgency in Iraq, and a 9.3 magnitude earthquake occurred off the coast of Indonesia, sending a devastating tsunami across the Indian Ocean.

Twenty years ago was 1994. Bill Clinton was President, 100,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda, former President Richard Nixon died, Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa, O.J. Simpson was arrested for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman and the Chunnel opened for business, connecting France and Great Britain with an underground rail line.

Consider those events and think back to where you were in those years. If you are more than 20 years old, you will probably realize that these time-spans are not great. The time it takes to prevent damage to the NASA facilities is not at some point in the future. In fact, it isn’t even now. It was at some point in the past. Fortunately, they have already been engaged with making preparations and adjustments. That is the only way they can keep ahead of the threat.

I have mentioned these NASA facilities, but this same threat extends to anything close to the coast, including all of the private homes built with a view of the sea. They are now more at risk and that risk will increase at an alarming rate in the next few years.

And, by the way, let’s be clear about this, we are the ones that will have to pay for it. One more example of how you need to take your checkbook out and send money to the deniers every time you reject the reality of global warming.

West Antarctic Ice Sheet Has Passed the Point of No Return

Researchers with NASA and the University of California – Irvine have released the results of their study of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) have found the ice sheet can no longer be prevented from melting into the sea. They studied how the speed of the ice has increased over recent decades, the slope of the land that it is traveling over and how much of the ice sheet is floating on sea water.

A key part of their research is the finding that the grounding line is retreating for all of the glaciers studied. The grounding line is the last location where the glacier is supported by land. Seaward of that line the ice is floating in sea water. This sea water is warmer than the ice and melts it. Over recent decades, the grounding line has been retreating as the glaciers get lighter and float higher. At the same time, the water has been getting warmer, melting the ice at a faster rate.

This information, combined with the finding that there is no landform under most of the glaciers to slow them down and they they reach the conclusion the melting will continue. But, much of the land the ice is located on is actually below sea level, so as the glaciers retreat, the sea water will follow and continue to melt the ice. All of these findings lead to the conclusion that it is now inevitable the ice sheet will completely melt.

How long will it take to melt all of the ice sheet? Probably centuries before it is all gone. But, there will be substantial effects to the world’s sea level starting even today and getting worse over time. By itself, the WAIS will increase the world sea level by about four feet.

So what? If it isn’t going to happen for centuries then we really don’t have to worry about it now. Let the people centuries from now worry about it. They will probably have better technology to deal with the problem that anything we have today. That is the position of the climate change deniers and, just like everything else they say, it is wrong.

It may take some centuries for the sea level to rise by the total four feet, but we will be seeing increases of inches within the coming decades and that is enough to lead to substantial coastal flooding and loss of land. What this means is that we are going to incur the cost of this sea level rise today. Not centuries from now. Today.

So, once again, take out your checkbook and made out a check to the climate change deniers. They keep telling us there is nothing to worry about and we keep believing them.

Arctic Sea Ice and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation

The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) is a naturally occurring 60-90 year cycle in sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic. This cycle consists of alternating cold and warm periods and has an influence on the climate in the region. A recent paper by Martin W. Miles, et al, examines the history of ice extent in the area and compares it to the AMO record. What they found is that ice extent in the region fluctuates in response to the changes in the AMO, resulting in periods of greater and lesser ice extent. They suggest that some of the unprecedented loss of sea ice in the recent decades can be tied to a warm cycle in the AMO.

I have no problem with this. I would expect there to be just such a naturally occurring cycle. But, I do not find this to be enough to explain what we have been witnessing, and the authors emphasize that this in only a part of the puzzle and there are other factors, including warming from manmade emissions, that are contributing to the ice loss.

Take a look at the ice anomaly for September 2012:

And the ice extent for the same month:

The Barents Sea is the area on the right, between Norway and the polar sea ice. With the North  Pole marked in both images, it is the area at about the 4-5 o’clock position. Comparing the two figures, we can see this region has experienced a great deal of sea ice since 1980. Can the AMO explain all of this loss? I would be not, but let’s say that it is still under study.

But, what about the rest of the Arctic Ocean? There is significant loss all around the North Pole and this cannot be explained by the AMO. So, before we get all excited that maybe the loss of the Arctic sea ice is just a naturally occurring event, we can already see that it may be contributing to the recent loss, but it cannot explain for all of it. After all, we never saw the level get this low in previous warm cycles. And, the current loss began during a cool cycle. Clearly, there is more to the ice loss than the AMO.

Fox News Bias Bash Bias Bash

NBC News did a special report Sunday, ‘Ann Curry Reports: Our Year of Extremes – Did Climate Change Just Hit Home?

Fox News has hated any kind of reporting supporting climate change. This well done piece by NBC News (not usually one of my favorite news sources) apparently made Fox News go into some kind of fit because they did a ‘Bias Bash’ piece with Cal Thomas that is simply laughable.

Right off the bat, Mr. Thomas begins by calling climate change a ‘cult’. Immediately, we can see that Mr. Thomas and Fox News are not interested in having any kind of ‘debate’ that climate change skeptics keep saying they want.

The next point is to quote Dr. Leslie Woodcock, a professor emeritus at the University of Manchester. He is a physicist in the School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science. Really? If I wanted to make a refute climate change I would have found me a climatologist. What was that you said? You can’t find one the says climate change isn’t real? Maybe that is because its real. At least, Dr. Woodcock is a real scientist.

Dr. Woodcock’s objection to global warming is that ‘Water is a much more powerful greenhouse gas and there is 20 times more of it in our atmosphere’. This is a really perfect example of how the climate change deniers use false arguments and half truths to deceive people. What he says is true, but incomplete. Obviously, what he is trying to say is that climate change is invalid because water vapor is the cause of global warming, not CO2. And, there is the lie.

Yes, water vapor is a better greenhouse gas than CO2. But, that isn’t the cause of the warming, its a result. What happens is that the CO2 causes the temperature to rise. The amount of water vapor in the atmosphere is directly connected to the temperature, so as the temperature increases the amount of water vapor also increases. Water vapor then causes the temperature to go up even more.So, yes, water vapor is a potent greenhouse gas, but the reason water vapor is increasing is because CO2 is causing the temperature to increase in the first place. Without something to cause the temperature to rise in the first place, the amount of water vapor would not increase.

Next, Mr. Thomas brings out the case of Dr. Richard Tol. Dr. Tol is a professor of economics and an expert on climate change. He was a member of the IPCC and gained fame when he refused to sign the IPCC report, claiming it was alarmist. He claims he has since been subject to a smear campaign from a certain individual as a result of his actions. Mr. Thomas cites this as evidence that climate change science is a ‘cult.’

If, in fact, Dr. Tol is being subjected to a smear campaign as a result of his stand on the IPCC report I agree that it is an unethical, and possibly illegal, action. But, I don’t have all the facts and I am not willing to claim his allegations are true. I certainly hope not.

But, that does not mean anything regarding the validity of climate change science. In fact, Dr. Tol himself stands by the science. He has stated that he considers the science sound, he just disagrees with the resulting scenario painted out in the IPCC report. That fact that one person involved with the report disagrees with the results predicted in the IPCC report does not, in any way, invalidate the science of climate change. But, it makes a good headline for the deniers. And, of course, Mr. Thomas reports this as if every person supporting climate change science is involved in some grand conspiracy to persecute Dr. Tol. That is an obvious false statement. Yet another one on the part of Cal Thomas.

Then, Mr. Thomas goes into ‘big government,’ something most of us don’t care for. His implication is that the only reason we have climate change science supporting the notion of global warming is because ‘big government’ wants to control more of our lives. So, by denying climate change you are a hero in the fight against ‘big government.’ This entire position of Mr. Thomas is simply silly. Climate change science is multi-national and is supported by every scientific agency of any size throughout the world. If ‘big government’ had that kind of reach it wouldn’t need to fake climate change science, it could just go out and do what it wanted to do.

Then, Mr. Thomas pulls out the tried, and proven false, claim that there hasn’t been any ‘real’ warming in more than a dozen years. Again, this is a totally false claim the deniers like to pull out. Let’s look at the facts. First, nine of the ten warmest years ever recorded have occurred since the year 2000, including the hottest three years on record. But, more importantly, the deniers such as Cal Thomas take the air temperature and claim it represents global warming. The word ‘global’ in global warming means the entire planet. Ocean temperatures have been going up dramatically over the last 50 years and this fact is typically ignored by people such as Mr. Thomas. It would not fit their program if they included it. It also wouldn’t fit their program to mention it takes about 4 times as much heat to warm a given mass of water as it takes to warm the same mass of air. When you include rising ocean temperatures, it is very clear that global warming has been continuing at an alarming rate.

Mr. Thomas’ next claim is that Newsweek ran an article in the 1970s that ‘proved’ global cooling was coming. This is a true, but misleading statement. It is true that Newsweek ran a cover story in 1975 that global cooling was on the way. But, it is a false statement that this was the consensus claim among climate scientists. What the news media decides to run is out of the hands of scientists. And, the fact that the news media reports something doesn’t make it true. It is a false argument to clam that, because Newsweek ran an article, climate change science is invalid. This is yet another way the climate change deniers try to deceive people.

One of Mr. Thomas’ final statements is one of my favorite lies, and yes, it is a lie. He states that science is never settled and is being constantly revised. No, Mr. Thomas, this is just not true. Science is constantly being refined and constantly being made more accurate. To state that science is constantly being revised means we routinely come in and throw out everything we stated before. Again, let me state that this is a lie. We learn more and that leads to an improvement of what we understand, but what we learn must support what we already know. We are not going to come in and say that Newton’s law of gravity is wrong and throw it out. We might come in and say there is some factor we didn’t know about before that needs to be included. But, science at this point has been thoroughly tested. What we know may be incomplete, but is unlikely to be completely wrong and it is a lie for Mr. Thomas to say we can ignore climate science because we might come out at some time in the future and realize the science is all wrong. That is simply not going to happen. The science is way too sound.

Mr. Thomas finishes by stating this isn’t settled science and it isn’t even ‘real science’ according to the detractors, but those deniers don’t get interviewed by the media. In fact, one of the biggest problems we have is that the deniers are interviewed in the media as if they are equally credible. People then point at the one denier as evidence and ignore the thousands of scientists that claim climate change is real.

In summary, Cal Thomas did a hatchet job on the NBC documentary. He did not produce any single piece of evidence to refute the claims made in the show, yet he claims it isn’t ‘real science.’ The fact is, the science really is settled and the only way you can deny climate change is to deny science. Mr. Thomas at least succeeded in proving that point.