Understanding Climate Risk

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Archive for the ‘Abrupt change’ Category

Step change hypothesis and working paper

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Imagine you didn’t know anything about climate change and the greenhouse effect but were interested and you know a bit about general science. Would you accept the following story?

“Earth’s climate is a large, complex system, affected by forces that produce both linear and nonlinear responses. Shortwave radiation – basically UV – from the sun comes in and heats up the planet, producing infrared radiation. Some UV gets reflected straight back out by clouds, snow and ice and stuff. The land can heat up quite a lot, but it cools back down again and doesn’t store much. If a forest is cleared and replaced by buildings, it will warm up a bit but the effect is only local.”

“But the ocean – that’s another story. It absorbs a lot of radiation, so is taking up heat all the time. Huge streams of energy are entering and leaving the ocean store each year. Some is ‘dry’ or sensible heat, which is ordinary warmth. Some is ‘wet heat’ or evaporated moisture. Energy gets taken up when the moisture is evaporated and it will be released again when the moisture cools, condenses and then gets rained out. In this way, the oceans provide a lot of heat to the land every year, largely as rainfall and a bit of snow.”

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But is it just red noise?

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I gave a seminar yesterday at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales. Thanks Alvin Stone and Andrea Taschetto for organising it. It’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to go through the entire ‘step change’ hypothesis of how the climate changes, the theoretical background, structural models developed from that and how the testing was set up, prior to showing a whole raft of test results.

One of the questions I got at the end, which also comes up quite often in the literature, was about the potential cause of the step changes in temperature data. It came from a question as to whether we had tested the step change model with artificial data that had been ‘reddened’ – that is, made dependent on the previous data. Such time series can have long-term persistence and contain a number of different quasi-periodic timescales, so do not conform to a single statistical model. This line of questioning alludes to whether a step or nonlinear response in a time series needs to be have an underlying cause that can be linked to an external source or whether it’s the result of random variations (see paper by Rodionov for a more more technical description). I gave a somewhat flip answer – because there is real energy in the system we are assessing (the climate system), whether a rapid shift is due to red noise or not matters less than understanding what that means for risk.

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Written by Roger Jones

May 29, 2016 at 8:35 pm

End of the hiatus

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Understanding Climate Risk has been in something of a hiatus, or a pause for the last couple of years due your host being almost fully submerged, but maybe it’s time to rise to the surface and get things going again.

This is for a few reasons. One is that research, especially public good research and especially in CSIRO, is under serious threat in Australia. We have a government who tout innovation, but who wilfully ignore the role of the generation of underpinning knowledge in fuelling such innovation. They are interested only in commercial innovation – public-good innovation is not only being ignored, it is being excluded from processes such as the Cooperative Research Centre bids currently under way. Having sustainable cities, catchments and ecosystems is impossible without public good research and social innovation, with funding that extends across the sciences, the humanities and the arts. With an election going on, these harms need to be publicised. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Roger Jones

May 22, 2016 at 1:19 pm

Fire and climate change: don’t expect a smooth ride

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By Roger Jones, Victoria University (reproduced from The Conversation)

With fires still burning across New South Wales, it’s time to have a look at the role climate change might have played. Are the conditions we’re seeing natural variation, or part of a long term trend?

In fact, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Has bushfire risk increased due to climate change?

In research I did with colleagues earlier this year we looked at the Fire Danger Index calculated by the Bureau of Meteorology, and compared how it changed compared to temperature over time in Victoria.

South-east Australia saw a temperature change of about 0.8C when we compared temperatures before 1996 and after 1997. We know that it got drier after 1997 too.

We then compared this data to the Forest Fire Danger Index, to see if it showed the same pattern. We analysed fire data from nine stations in Victoria and did a non-linear analysis.

We found that fire danger in Victoria increased by over a third after 1996, compared to 1972-1996. The current level of fire danger is equivalent to the worst case projected for 2050, from an earlier analysis for the Climate Institute.

While it’s impossible to say categorically that the situation is the same in NSW, we know that these changes are generally applicable across south-east Australia. So it’s likely to be a similar case: fire and climate change are linked. Read the rest of this entry »

The scientific origins of the gradualist adaptation narrative and how to move beyond it

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The following statements are typical of the gradualist adaptation narrative:

  1. Within limits, the impacts of gradual climate change should be manageable.
  2. Therefore, climate change adaptation can be understood as: (a) adapting to gradual changes in average temperature, sea level and precipitation.
  3. Gradual climate change allows for a gradual shift in the mix of crops and to alternative farming systems.

So why are Gauss and Newton in the bath and Ed Lorenz in the hot tub?

Bath&Jacuzzi

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Global warming breaks link between SAM and ENSO

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Global warming has caused SAM and ENSO to divorce according to Guojian Wang and Wenju Cai, published in Nature Science Reports on June 20. This is having major impacts on Australia and has contributed to the warm and dry conditions over the southern part of the continent since the late 1960s.

SAM is the Southern Annular Mode surrounding Antarctica, a band of wind and water that distributes hot, high pressure and cold, low pressure lobes around the Southern Ocean. This transfers atmospheric mass (pressure) between the mid and high latitudes. The positive phase is highly correlated with a positive phase of ENSO (the El Niño-Southern Oscillation), La Niña. A positive phase of SAM forces westerlies further south in autumn-winter, but in summer allows the easterly trades greater access, bringing in more moisture from the tropics and enhancing La Niña summer rainfall.

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Time to stop hiding behind warming trends

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Time to stop hiding behind warming trends

By Roger Jones, Victoria University

Dr Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, has reportedly acknowledged to Graham Lloyd of The Australian, that there is a “17-year pause in global temperature rises”, a fact that apparently has been suppressed in Australia. Dr Pauchauri endorses debate, saying that people had a right to question the science, whatever their motivations.

But according to Lloyd, Pachauri’s views contrast with arguments in Australia that views outside the orthodox position of approved climate scientists should be left unreported.

Am I an “approved” climate scientist? because I don’t hold that view, nor do I know any who does. What we would like, though, is for science to be reported as science and for opinion to be reported as opinion. And for all reporting to be accurate.

Lloyd makes this claim: unlike in Britain, there has been little publicity in Australia given to recent acknowledgement by peak climate-science bodies in Britain and the US of what has been a 17-year pause in global warming. Britain’s Met Office has revised down its forecast for a global temperature rise, predicting no further increase to 2017, which would extend the pause to 21 years.

This is the Met Office’s latest five-year forecast shown below. Skeptical Science reports the Met Office saying: the latest decadal prediction suggests that global temperatures over the next five years are likely to be a little lower than predicted from the previous prediction issued in December 2011. We’re in the midst of a period of La Niñas, which have a slight cooling effect, as do rising sulphate emissions in Asia. But look at the blue line – do my eyes deceive me? Is it level with the previous black line? It’s warmer? Perhaps Lloyd’s computer has a tilt to the right that makes increases look level.

Observed (black, from Hadley Centre, GISS and NCDC) and predicted global average annual surface temperature difference relative to 1971-2000. Retrospective predictions starting from June 1960, 1965, …, 2005 are shown as white curves, with red shading representing their probable range, such that the observations are expected to lie within the shading 90% of the time. The most recent forecast (thick blue curve with thin blue curves showing range) starts from November 2012. All data are rolling annual mean values. The gap between the black and blue curves arises because the last observed value represents the period November 2011 to October 2012 whereas the first forecast period is November 2012 to October 2013. UK Met Office

The Met Office predicts record global mean temperature over the next five years – now that’s news.

News Corporation sells roughly 70% of the newspapers in metropolitan Australia, and its readers are subject to this kind of fudging on a regular basis. It’s no wonder some “approved” scientists are frustrated.

But that’s not the only thing that frustrates me. It is also time to challenge what Lloyd calls the orthodox position of climate science.

Climatology needs to stop hiding behind long-term trends and explain what is in plain sight, and why variations in the rate of warming might be important. I’m working with colleagues at the moment on a National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility project called Valuing Adaptation to Rapid Change and we’re looking at the economics of rapid change. Non-linear behaviour in climate driving extreme events has the potential to really hurt us.

The first thing to bear in mind is that a trend line is a model. A warming trend is not a theory of how climate changes. If a complex, non-linear system fails to follow a trend, look at the model to see whether it represents the theory sufficiently well.

In a nutshell, the theory says greenhouse gases act like a blanket, trapping heat near the surface. This creates a radiation imbalance at the top of the atmosphere. The earth system warms to return this balance by increasing the heat escaping from the top of the atmosphere so that energy out equals energy in. This is a slow process, taking centuries, because the ocean has to warm sufficiently to support a hotter atmosphere. The scientific confidence in this aspect of climatology is extremely high. A simple trend line is sufficient to measure this process.

But on decadal time scales, the trend-line model fails. Most of the heat trapped in the earth system goes into the oceans. The top 700m of ocean increased in heat content from 3 x 1022 Joules in 1997 to 10 x 1022 Joules in 2010, in a highly non-linear manner, due to mixing rates between the surface and deep ocean. The atmosphere holds as much heat as the top 3m of ocean, about 0.4% of the heat content above. Why on earth then, with highly non-linear processes in the ocean, would we expect a gradual warming trend in the atmosphere?

A paper I published last year shows that most of Australia’s warming occurred in two episodes, one in the late 1960s to early 1970s, when south west WA rainfall also decreased, and the other in 1997-98. The other finding was that most of this warming was anthropogenic. On decadal timescales, step and trend is a much better model for explaining warming than simple trends.

To me, the graph above makes perfect sense: mild trends separated by an instantaneous rise of about 0.3°C. By ignoring non-linearity and projecting future climate change as simple trends, orthodox science is doing us a great disservice. We have not yet woken up to the recent non-linear increases in heatwaves and fire danger in Australia let alone planning for more such changes in the future. The same goes for floods.

Observed and projected percentage area experiencing an exceptionally hot year: Queensland as an example. Note the recent rapid increase (source: K. Braganza, Bureau of Meteorology)

Days above high fire danger, average of 9 Victorian sites, showing statistically significant rapid increase (site data from Bureau of Meteorology)

It’s time to stop defending orthodox science by hiding behind simple trends and come to grips with the fundamental non-linearity of climate change. That’s the risk we need to mitigate, adapting to changes that can’t be avoided.

Roger Jones receives funding from the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. He is affiliated with Climate Scientists Australia and the IPCC.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
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