Understanding Climate Risk

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Archive for the ‘Temperature’ Category

Discussion paper for open review

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After promising to have our flagship paper on reconciling the signal and noise of global warming on decadal timescales subject to open review, it is finally on. The paper has been submitted and accepted for open review at Earth System Dynamics.

Reconciling the signal and noise of atmospheric warming on decadal timescales

Roger N. Jones and James H. Ricketts
Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies, Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria 8001, Australia

Received: 13 Aug 2016 – Accepted: 22 Aug 2016 – Published: 23 Aug 2016


Interactions between externally-forced and internally-generated climate variations on decadal timescales is a major determinant of changing climate risk. Severe testing is applied to observed global and regional surface and satellite temperatures and modelled surface temperatures to determine whether these interactions are independent, as in the traditional signal-to-noise model, or whether they interact, resulting in steplike warming. The multi-step bivariate test is used to detect step changes in temperature data. The resulting data are then subject to six tests designed to show strong differences between the two statistical hypotheses, hstep and htrend: (1) Since the mid-20th century, most of the observed warming has taken place in four events: in 1979/80 and 1997/98 at the global scale, 1988/89 in the northern hemisphere and 1968/70 in the southern hemisphere. Temperature is more steplike than trend-like on a regional basis. Satellite temperature is more steplike than surface temperature. Warming from internal trends is less than 40 % of the total for four of five global records tested (1880–2013/14). (2) Correlations between step-change frequency in models and observations (1880–2005), are 0.32 (CMIP3) and 0.34 (CMIP5). For the period 1950–2005, grouping selected events (1963/64, 1968–70, 1976/77, 1979/80, 1987/88 and 1996–98), correlation increases to 0.78. (3) Steps and shifts (steps minus internal trends) from a 107-member climate model ensemble 2006–2095 explain total warming and equilibrium climate sensitivity better than internal trends. (4) In three regions tested, the change between stationary and non-stationary temperatures is steplike and attributable to external forcing. (5) Steplike changes are also present in tide gauge observations, rainfall, ocean heat content, forest fire danger index and related variables. (6) Across a selection of tests, a simple stepladder model better represents the internal structures of warming than a simple trend – strong evidence that the climate system is exhibiting complex system behaviour on decadal timescales. This model indicates that in situ warming of the atmosphere does not occur; instead, a store-and-release mechanism from the ocean to the atmosphere is proposed. It is physically plausible and theoretically sound. The presence of steplike – rather than gradual – warming is important information for characterising and managing future climate risk.

Comments welcome: here or there. Deadline October 4.

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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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?


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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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Provoking comment and framing risk

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A couple of my recent forays into the media have provoked comment below the articles themselves and in emails sent querying particular points. They are worth unpacking because they reflect on the different between the straight communication of science and framing risk.

One was in reference to a recent op-ed in The Age. In it, I said:

If people accept the 0.0038 and 0.02 degree benefits as valid then they also accept the science behind a 5.3 degrees warming for business as usual (As in the emission scenario created by Treasury for the 2008 Garnaut Review). Who wants to live in a world warming by 5 degrees or more? Major food crops could not be grown in many parts of the world, projected sea level rise would be tens of metres, most of the shelled species in the ocean would not survive, ecosystems would be disrupted as the pace of change outstripped their ability to adapt and millions to billions of people would lose environmental security leading to mass migrations never before seen.

That prompted an email from an earth scientist wanting to know what peer-reviewed reference I was using for the projected tens of metres of sea level rise. I sent back this now famous diagram and a note saying that I wasn’t putting it on a timetable. He then replied suggesting that people could be misled into thinking that the date was 2100 (because that was tied to the two temperature measures) and that I was being alarmist. Because it would take thousands of years to be realised. Read the rest of this entry »