Dilemma: Past and Future of Science in Society

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 1:04 AM GMT on March 12, 2017

Dilemma: Past and Future of Science in Society

Dilemma: I like those old Greek words. They suggest hope, or perhaps, hopelessness. It is pretty clear from, say, Aristotle’s Treatise on Rhetoric, that the types of political arguments and of political behavior we see today have been around a long time. That includes attacks on reason, logic, and science. Hope, perhaps, is represented in that this is something that we have seen before. Hopelessness, because there is seemingly nothing that can be settled by knowledge as long as knowledge is in conflict with want, belief, and emotion.

Since my transition to the chaos of Trump, I have been trying to find a foundation for analysis. We often search for such a foundation in past behavior and past experience. This leads to what I will call the past-future dilemma, which is, should we try what we have done with success in the past, or does the future require something different?

Since I have been a grown up scientist, I have been an advocate for open data and open access to knowledge. For example, if one is involved with a research instrument on a satellite, then I advocated that data from that satellite should be made available to the public as soon as there is high confidence in the quality control and verification that the data are indeed measuring what they were intended to measure.

My point of view stands in tension with a number of other points of view. There is the desire for payoff opportunity for those who collected the data; namely, that the person or team who spent, perhaps, many years in the design and building of the instrument had earned the right to have some proprietary right of use in order to write the papers that bring them credit and recognition. There is the error worry – a new data set is likely to have errors and surprises that lead to misinterpretation and wasted time. There is the ignorance worry – untrained users will naively misuse the data. These points of view suggest a data availability protocol that is to some extent closed.

The reconciliation of these points of view is more often than not, some sort of compromise or balance. The same is often true with the past-future dilemma; you use some elements of past experience, rearrange them, and add some new elements that are different.

In 2010, I was in a meeting with, for me, some pretty high rollers. The subject of the meeting was climate and climate change and, ultimately, trying to accelerate the exposure and use of climate knowledge in society. I was invited specifically to argue for open, community-based approaches. As the day went on, I was struck at the profound past looking, conservative, predisposition of scientists. There was the predominate concern that the data, knowledge, analyses, and syntheses from the science-based investigation of climate needed to be curated, reviewed, and provided by scientists and scientific organizations. This was how to provide credibility that the knowledge was good. This would contribute to trust.

Another attendee at the meeting, who came from the world of getting things done in political systems, whispered to me, “You have to keep talking or scientists are going to make themselves irrelevant to policy solutions to climate change.”

To be clear, that statement was not about the availability of data; there are many open data sets. It was a statement about the culture of scientists, and the tensions that come from use of science in society.

I understand the conservative nature of scientists and the scientific method. I respect the scientific method as our most robust way of reasoning and generating of knowledge and the uncertainty that describes that knowledge. I believe it is a duty of scientific organizations to provide curated, reviewed, and credible scientific data, knowledge, analyses, and syntheses. However, science and scientific knowledge need to be a pervasive part of society, which requires reduction of barriers, opening the doors, and removing the mystic. This would contribute to trust.

Many people advocate the practice of informed, science-based, knowledge-based decision making in policy, government, and management. Such practice seems self-evident. However, such practice does not rule the day. Proponents and opponents use scientific uncertainty to support their positions; the call for more research is a tactic that appears on both sides of the aisle, left and right, liberal and conservative. When making decisions, individuals, institutions, corporations, and governments, rarely, wait for the measured, objective reconciliation of all the tradeoffs that contribute to science-based conclusions.

I have been teaching climate change problem solving for more than a decade. We use real-world cases, and it is almost universal, that “climate science” plays an indirect role in the end. Sometimes, the end decision is “climate informed,” which: might include incorporation of some resilience; might be a yellow flag to keep an eye out for how the climate is actually changing; or might just be documenting that climate change could be important but was not substantively considered.

The reality of our world is that we have to be able to access, scan, and evaluate available information at the speed that is relevant to the problem at hand. My approach to this has been to train students who are anchored in science-based knowledge and able with the scientific method. My goal is that science-informed people will be able to access, scan, and evaluate information in a way that contributes to science-informed outcomes. This requires open and available data, information, and knowledge.

We live at a moment that is anti-science and many, more able than I, have been analyzing the emergence of anti-science points of view. What is presently occurring at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the dissolution of one of our bravest and most successful efforts of science-based, knowledge-based decision making in policy, government, and management.

I can look at the attack on science and the dissolution of the EPA in some historical context as a cycle of competing philosophies of government and governance - regulation and unregulated. This is, perhaps, an extreme cycle. There can be comfort knowing that at some time in the future the cycle will swing back.

However, this does not feel like a cycle; it feels like a critical point, where there is a separation between future and past. The election of President Trump is not the cause of this critical point; it is part of the transition. Access to information, opinions, ideologies, conspiracies, sociopathic rants, allies, and hostiles is changing individuals, communities, and institutions. This democratization of information supports the easy use of science to support wants, beliefs, and emotions. It weakens the foundation for evidenced-based, science-based decision making. There is little evidence that we will return to the past.

If we carry forward with the conservative, past-looking point of view of restoring trust in science and scientific institutions by trying to recapture what we have done in the past, we will, indeed, make science irrelevant to decisions anytime that science is in conflict with the wants, beliefs, and emotions of those in power.

In my first piece on environmental issues in the Trump administration, I maintained that new coalitions of organizations are possible, which can align to solve problems rather than to wage political warfare. That it was essential for science to shed itself of its partisan relationships.

When I wrote about new coalitions and alignments, I was envisioning incremental shifts in positions, perhaps relinquishing exaggerated feelings of rightness and wrongness, us and them. Having watched the evolution of the past few weeks, I think that we have to think about the credibility and trust of science and scientists in fundamentally different ways. Scientists and science must become nimble and more relevant – a permeating, participatory part of the citizenry.

The same information web that allows movements that erode a science-based society also supports connections that support a science-based society. We must go far beyond the politically active scientist or the scientist advocate. Science and the advancement of science need to include the voices and hands of those who are not scientists. Those who will organize, synthesize, present, and use this knowledge in ways that scientists will consider imprecise. Otherwise, groups of scientists and science advocates look like trade groups, lobbyists, advocating in their own self-interest.

Science as a value must be prepared to compete with other values and movements that scientists, on an instinctual level, are inclined to dismiss. Their dismissal, however, will only contribute to the growth of the anti-science.

The security of our future requires that a science-informed citizenry emerges and participates in the political and cultural battles. In controversial problems, for my entire career, I have heard at their resolution that it always comes down to “the science,” and the science always wins. That will not be true if it remains only a benign expectation.

r

I continue to collect resources at my OpenClimate Tumblr Site.

Here are those on the Environmental Protection Agency.

Here are those on the emerging Response of the Science Community

Here is a compilation of my blogs and editorials during the Trump Transition


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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123. FLwolverine
1:16 AM GMT on April 03, 2017
Quoting 103. Daisyworld:

In case we don't meet up in the new WU Blogs, I just wanted to drop in and thank everyone for an enjoyable blogging experience here in Dr. Rood's climate blog these past few years. Take care, be well, and I wish you all success in your future endeavors.
I'll echo that. I've learned very much from reading the comments and following up on the links and references. Thank you to everyone. I guess we'll see what happens tomorrow and next week.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
122. FLwolverine
1:13 AM GMT on April 03, 2017
Quoting 115. Misanthroptimist:


DW, I'm glad I saw you're post. You've been one of my favorites over the years. If you still post in the place, I'll still get to read you. I just won't be saying anything. You may assume a permanent "+" from me.
I'm sorry to hear that, M. I enjoy your comments.

Best wishes.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
119. 999Ai2016
1:59 AM GMT on April 01, 2017
The frequency and extent of sub-ice phytoplankton blooms in the Arctic Ocean
Science Advances/AAAS - March 29.

Abstract: (...) We find that as little as 20 years ago, the conditions required for sub-ice blooms may have been uncommon, but their frequency has increased to the point that nearly 30% of the ice-covered Arctic Ocean in July permits sub-ice blooms. Recent climate change may have markedly altered the ecology of the Arctic Ocean.
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117. Xandra
1:47 PM GMT on March 31, 2017
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
116. Xandra
1:47 PM GMT on March 31, 2017
From South China Morning Post:

Like Trump, Vladimir Putin says climate change not man-made and warming began in the 1930s

Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Thursday said climate change was not caused by human activity, as the White House announced that President Donald Trump would decide by May on continued US participation in the landmark Paris Agreement limiting global carbon emissions.

One day after visiting the Franz Josef Land archipelago in the Arctic, Putin claimed that icebergs had been melting for decades and suggested that global warming was not mankind’s fault.

“The warming, it had already started by the 1930s,” Putin said in comments broadcast from an Arctic forum held in the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk. “That’s when there were no such anthropological factors, such emissions, and the warming had already started.”

The Kremlin strongman added: “The issue is not stopping it... because that’s impossible, since it could be tied to some global cycles on Earth or even of planetary significance. The issue is to somehow adapt to it.”

[...]

The declaration came as the White House said Trump would make his pronouncement on the Paris Agreement before a meeting of G7 leaders in Sicily that is scheduled to begin May 26.

[...]

Putin had previously hailed global warming for exposing natural resources and transport routes which had long been too expensive to exploit.

He had also once speculated that warming by “two or three degrees” could be a good thing for Russians who would no longer need fur coats.

The latest declarations were a far cry from Putin’s speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in November 2015.

“The quality of life of all people on the planet depends on solving the climate problem,” he had said, adding that Moscow had “exceeded” its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.

“Russia’s efforts have slowed global warming by almost a year. We were at the same time able to nearly double our country’s GDP over the same period,” he said.

“We consider it crucial that the new climate agreement be based on the UN Framework of Climate Change and that it be legally binding.”

Russia is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, according to government data, and both scientists and emergencies officials have indicated that disasters such as deadly floods and wildfires are influenced by climate change.

Click here to read full article.
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115. Misanthroptimist
1:33 PM GMT on March 31, 2017
Quoting 103. Daisyworld:

In case we don't meet up in the new WU Blogs, I just wanted to drop in and thank everyone for an enjoyable blogging experience here in Dr. Rood's climate blog these past few years. Take care, be well, and I wish you all success in your future endeavors.

DW, I'm glad I saw you're post. You've been one of my favorites over the years. If you still post in the place, I'll still get to read you. I just won't be saying anything. You may assume a permanent "+" from me.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
114. Xandra
12:03 PM GMT on March 31, 2017
From Energydesk:

Why does the melting Arctic sea ice matter?

[...]

Signifying nothing

All this talk of a possible ice-free Arctic brings us to a column in The Times last year, written by well-known climate sceptic and coal mine owner Matt Ridley.

Ridley wrote:

“Some time in the next few decades, we may well see the Arctic Ocean without ice in August or September for at least a few weeks, just as it was in the time of our ancestors.

“The effect on human welfare, and on animal and plant life, will be small.

“For all the attention it gets, the reduction in Arctic ice is the most visible, but least harmful, effect of global warming.”

The scientists on the panel were irked by that ‘least harmful’ comment.

“These changes do not happen in isolation to the rest of the planet,” said Dr James Screen, senior lecturer at Exeter University.

“They certainly can, and very likely are affecting weather and climate thousands of miles to the south, including the UK and North America.”

[...]

The Trump factor

The Ridley line – that Arctic ice melt doesn’t really matter – highlights what’s become a particular challenge of our age: the politicisation of fact and science.

As the planet heats up, and the Arctic ice melts, newly elected US President Donald Trump is waging a war on the climate science community and its research.

This week Victoria Hermmann, managing director of the Arctic Institute, said that the Trump administration has embarked on a “slow and incessant march of deleting datasets, webpages and policies about the Arctic.”

How do you deal with this?

“What’s so frustrating – as scientists – is you think just by showing [people] the graph it’s pretty clear what’s happening,” said Stroeve, “but that’s not how the human brain seems to work.”

“People are going to just ignore any evidence that goes against what their belief system already is, and take evidence that supports it.”

The melting Arctic shouldn’t be up for debate, however, Screen said: “The changes are indisputable, they’re so enormous.

“There’s not a signal to noise issue here, there’s a very obvious trend. And it’s basically well understood.”

Shuckburgh, meanwhile, recalled a placard from a recent pro-science protest. It said:

“Ice doesn’t do politics, it just melts.”

Click here to read full article.

See also: Video: Two scientists, two questions, too little ice: Arctic melt explained (in less than two minutes)
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112. Xandra
7:23 PM GMT on March 30, 2017
From Little Green Footballs:

Climate Scientist Faces Off With the Virulently Anti-Science House Science Committee

Appalling contempt for science


At a congressional hearing on climate science Wednesday, Michael Mann lamented that he was the only witness representing the overwhelming scientific consensus that manmade global warming poses a major threat.

“We find ourselves at this hearing today, with three individuals who represent that tiny minority that reject this consensus or downplay its significance, and only one—myself—who is in the mainstream,” he said in his opening testimony.

Sitting on either side of Mann were the other three witnesses: Judith Curry, John Christy, and Roger Pielke, Jr.—scientists who have clashed with Mann in the past and are frequently sought after by Republican politicians who reject mainstream climate science. [...]

The whole charade reminded me of Bill Nye debating Ken Ham, a fruitless exercise. But this is a hearing at the United States House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology with much wider and devastating implications. The shamelessness of these Republican pols* in denying the science behind climate change and dooming future generations of humans to catastrophic disasters boggles the mind. Dr. Michael E. Mann (@MichaelEMann) from Penn State has to be commended for undergoing two hours of hostile questioning, sitting between the GOP’s go-to climate science deniers, and a mind-numbing denial of science from members of the top science committee in Congress.

Video - Watch the whole horrifying hearing.

Click here to read full article.

See also this article from Mother Jones: A Scientist Just Spent 2 Hours Debating the Biggest Global Warming Deniers in Congress

Michael Mann vs. the House "science" committee.


A hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology jgroup/Getty
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110. 999Ai2016
10:58 PM GMT on March 29, 2017
Do you believe Antarctic ice cap is here to stay? Well, think again:

Scientists highlight Antarctic ice upheaval in response to prehistoric climate change
Phys.org - March 29, 2017.

A team of scientists led by the University of Southampton has found that the Antarctic ice cap underwent dramatic cycles of expansion and melt-back millions of years ago when carbon dioxide levels were similar to those experienced today. (...) Dr Liebrand said: "Our research shows that even slow, naturally forced climate change is capable of driving rapid large-scale changes in ice volume in Antarctica -- and therefore global sea levels.

"This is of particular interest to scientists because humans are now the main agents of climate change, and the rates of change today are much faster than those that occurred millions of years ago during the interval that we studied.

"Increasingly we are understanding that the Antarctic ice cap is not some enduring monolithic block but a much more slippery ephemeral beast -- and the implications of that realisation for the future of Antarctic ice sheets in a very rapidly warming world have not escaped us." (...)

Professor Paul Wilson, a University of Southampton colleague also involved in the study, added: "All of this happened during an interval when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels ranged between today's human-influenced value and those that, at current rates of fossil fuel-burning, we will experience in 50 to 100 years from now.

"The Antarctic ice cap was incredibly dynamic -- it underwent repeated large-scale expansion and melt-back
in the twinkling of a geological eye."
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
109. Xandra
9:08 PM GMT on March 29, 2017
From the New Republic:


Lamar Smith (left) with House Speaker Paul Ryan in January. Zach Gibson/ASSOCIATED PRESS

House Republicans held an insane hearing just to attack climate science.The Trump administration has been nothing if not a master class in gaslighting —the art of manipulating people, often through lies, into questioning their own sanity—and its pupils on Capitol Hill have clearly been taking notes. On Wednesday, the Republicans on the House Science Committee held a three-hour hearing on the merits of climate change science, a cavalcade of falsehoods so relentless and seemingly rational that one might well need psychiatric counseling after having watched it.

Click here to read more.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
108. 999Ai2016
6:45 PM GMT on March 29, 2017
Soil microbes hold key to climate puzzle
Climate News Network - March 28.

Communities Retreat as Oceans Swell, Coasts Erode
Climate Central - March 27.

Erosion, rising seas, ferocious storms and other coastal perils have prompted the resettlement of more than 1 million people worldwide, with an exhaustive new analysis highlighting an emerging migration crisis that's worsening as global warming overwhelms shorelines.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
107. 999Ai2016
3:46 PM GMT on March 29, 2017
Climate Change and the Collision between Human and Geologic Time
Peter Gleick/ScienceBlogs - March 27, 2017.

Communicating the deadly consequences of global warming for human heat stress
PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - February 2017.

Edit - here's an article about that study:
Expect more deadly heat from climate change, study says
Phys.org - March 27.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
106. Xandra
3:27 PM GMT on March 29, 2017
Quoting 105. georgevandenberghe:



I noticed that. This is the second paper I've seen that treated the summer of 1980 as "normal". It definitely was not!

I almost looked at this issue as a Masters investigation but things didn't fall into place and I wound up looking at monsoon/midlatitude interactions instead.

More information here
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
105. georgevandenberghe
2:58 PM GMT on March 29, 2017
Quoting 102. BaltimoreBrian:

I questioned that when I linked the article in comment #94.


I noticed that. This is the second paper I've seen that treated the summer of 1980 as "normal". It definitely was not!

I almost looked at this issue as a Masters investigation but things didn't fall into place and I wound up looking at monsoon/midlatitude interactions instead.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
104. Xandra
11:46 AM GMT on March 29, 2017
Quoting 102. BaltimoreBrian:

I questioned that when I linked the article in comment #94.

More information here

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
103. Daisyworld
6:33 AM GMT on March 29, 2017
In case we don't meet up in the new WU Blogs, I just wanted to drop in and thank everyone for an enjoyable blogging experience here in Dr. Rood's climate blog these past few years. Take care, be well, and I wish you all success in your future endeavors.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
102. BaltimoreBrian
1:27 AM GMT on March 29, 2017
Quoting 96. georgevandenberghe:

1980 was far from "normal" at least in the southern half of the U.S. An uncharacteristically strong subtropical ridge formed over the southern half in late June and did not break until late September producing one of the hottest summers of record for this region. An increase in the frequency of such events and esp, a shift North to the Midwest (important for those of us who eat). is one of my many AGW concerns. Northward occurrence has happened before, in 1934 and 1936 so it isn't without precedence.

Dynamically a five wave hemispheric summer jet stream has been known for decades to be associated with blocking, abnormal weather persistance and long duration heat waves and I remember hearing this well described.. in the summer of 1980 with colleagues and mentors.
I questioned that when I linked the article in comment #94.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
100. Xandra
7:39 PM GMT on March 28, 2017
From Grist:

BAM!



Trump just took a sledgehammer to Obama’s climate legacy. “Together we are going to start a new energy revolution,” the president said just before signing an executive order to boost old, dirty energy industries.

Here’s what he’s ordering his administration to do:

Toss out and rewrite the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut CO2 pollution from coal-fired power plants, as well as another rule intended to make new power plants cleaner.

End a moratorium on the leasing of federal land to coal-mining companies.

Roll back a rule that would curb methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public lands.

Rewrite a rule that would more closely regulate fracking on federal lands.

Step back from accounting for the full economic cost of climate change (aka the social cost of carbon) when making decisions.

Reverse an order that called for federal agencies to consider climate change when writing environmental impact statements for projects.

Review all federal rules to find any that stymie energy production.

(Vox has a great detailed rundown.)

This follows on the heels of Trump putting Obama’s ambitious auto fuel-economy rules on ice and attacking other environmental protections.

Some of the moves will go into effect quickly, but rolling back the Clean Power Plan and methane rule could take years and get tied up in court. Environmentalists are already plotting to take legal action and trip up Trump’s agenda in any way they can
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99. Xandra
4:08 PM GMT on March 28, 2017
From Grist:

AS THE WORLD BURNS


REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst | Shutterstock

Trump’s environmental executive order is everything we feared. A senior White House official confirmed that President Trump will start rolling back key Obama-era climate policies on Tuesday. The executive order is aimed at sweeping away the Clean Power Plan, methane regulations, mining restrictions on federal land, and, well, you name it.

The White House will direct government agencies to root out “all rules, all policies, and guidance documents that serve as obstacles or impediments to domestic energy production,” according to the official who spoke on background during a conference call with reporters Monday evening.

“Energy independence,” said the official. “That’s the goal.” (For the record, the United States is already pretty independent, importing about 11 percent of its energy.)

The official also told reporters that the administration was still debating whether to remain party to the Paris climate agreement.

As details started to leak out after the conference call, environmental organizations were up in arms. The World Resources Institute called the impending order a “sledgehammer to U.S. climate action.”

When a reporter asked about green groups threatening to sue, the administration seemed unfazed. “I’m sure they’ll disagree, but what’s your point?” the official said. “When it comes to dealing with climate change, we want to take our own course and do it in our own form and fashion.”

If there’s a silver lining here (and hey, it’s thin), it’s that the administration admits there’s such a thing as “dealing with climate change.”
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98. Xandra
3:57 PM GMT on March 28, 2017
Amazing! Once operational, the pipeline would employ 35 people.

From Grist:

AMAZING


REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Keystone XL is approved. Apply now for 35 permanent pipeline jobs. As expected, President Donald Trump signed a permit for the pipeline’s construction on Friday, though a few roadblocks remain in its path.

The State Department estimates the Keystone XL would provide 42,000 direct and indirect jobs — a number that might be inflated — and only 3,900 of those would be full-time construction positions. The thing is, they’re nearly all temporary, lasting long enough to get Keystone XL built. Once operational, the pipeline would employ just 35 people, according to the estimate.

Those numbers fall a bit short of what a certain reality TV star predicted in 2013:



Keystone XL would carry dirty tar sands oil from Canada to the United States, running over the Ogallala Aquifer and close to more than a dozen tribal lands. That puts a lot of drinking water at risk. As pipelines age, they typically aren’t properly maintained (after all, only 35 permanent employees are doing the work). Sooner or later, they’re sure to leak.

“It’s going to be an incredible pipeline,” Trump said on Friday morning. “Greatest technology known to man or woman. And frankly, we’re very proud of it.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
97. Patrap
2:24 PM GMT on March 28, 2017
This is the story of how one species changed a Planet.



Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
96. georgevandenberghe
2:18 PM GMT on March 28, 2017
Quoting 88. Patrap:



Extreme weather events linked to climate change impact on the jet stream
A'ndrea Elyse Messer
March 27, 2017


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. Unprecedented summer warmth and flooding, forest fires, drought and torrential rain extreme weather events are occurring more and more often, but now an international team of climate scientists has found a connection between many extreme weather events and the impact climate change is having on the jet stream.

"We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events," said Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State. "Short of actually identifying the events in the climate models."

The unusual weather events that piqued the researchers' interest are things such as the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Pakistan flood and Russian heatwave, the 2011 Texas and Oklahoma heat wave and drought and the 2015 California wildfires.

The researchers looked at a combination of roughly 50 climate models from around the world that are part of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5), which is part of the World Climate Research Programme. These models are run using specific scenarios and producing simulated data that can be evaluated across the different models. However, while the models are useful for examining large-scale climate patterns and how they are likely to evolve over time, they cannot be relied on for an accurate depiction of extreme weather events. That is where actual observations prove critical.

The researchers looked at the historical atmospheric observations to document the conditions under which extreme weather patterns form and persist. These conditions occur when the jet stream, a global atmospheric wave of air that encompasses the Earth, becomes stationary and the peaks and troughs remain locked in place.

"Most stationary jet stream disturbances, however, will dissipate over time," said Mann. "Under certain circumstances the wave disturbance is effectively constrained by an atmospheric wave guide, something similar to the way a coaxial cable guides a television signal. Disturbances then cannot easily dissipate, and very large amplitude swings in the jet stream north and south can remain in place as it rounds the globe."

This constrained configuration of the jet stream is like a rollercoaster with high peaks and valleys, but only forms when there are six, seven or eight pairs of peaks and valleys surrounding the globe. The jet stream can then behave as if there is a waveguide %u2014 uncrossable barriers in the north and south and a wave with large peaks and valleys can occur.

"If the same weather persists for weeks on end in one region, then sunny days can turn into a serious heat wave and drought, and lasting rains can lead to flooding," said Stefan Rahmstorf, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Germany.

The structure of the jet stream relates to its latitude and the temperature gradient from north to south. Temperatures typically have the steepest gradients in mid-latitudes and a strong circumpolar jet stream arises. However, when these temperature gradients decrease in just the right way, a weakened "double peak" jet stream arises with the strongest jet stream winds located to the north and south of the mid-latitudes.

"The warming of the Arctic, the polar amplification of warming, plays a key role here," said Mann. "The surface and lower atmosphere are warming more in the Arctic than anywhere else on the globe. That pattern projects onto the very temperature gradient profile that we identify as supporting atmospheric waveguide conditions."

Theoretically, standing jet stream waves with large amplitude north/south undulations should cause unusual weather events.

"We don't trust climate models yet to predict specific episodes of extreme weather because the models are too coarse," said study co-author Dim Coumou of PIK. "However, the models do faithfully reproduce large scale patterns of temperature change," added co-author Kai Kornhuber of PIK.

The researchers looked at real-world observations and confirmed that this temperature pattern does correspond with the double-peaked jet stream and waveguide patter associated with persistent extreme weather events in the late spring and summer such as droughts, floods and heat waves. They found the pattern has become more prominent in both observations and climate model simulations.

"Using the simulations, we demonstrate that rising greenhouse gases are responsible for the increase," said Mann.

The researchers noted in today's (Mar. 27) issue of Scientific Report that "Both the models and observations suggest this signal has only recently emerged from the background noise of natural variability."

"We are now able to connect the dots when it comes to human-caused global warming and an array of extreme recent weather events," said Mann.

While the models do not reliably track individual extreme weather events, they do reproduce the jet stream patterns and temperature scenarios that in the real world lead to torrential rain for days, weeks of broiling sun and absence of precipitation.

"Currently we have only looked at historical simulations," said Mann. "What's up next is to examine the model projections of the future and see what they imply about what might be in store as far as further increases in extreme weather are concerned."

Also working on this project was Sonya K. Miller, programmer analyst, Penn State; and Byron A. Steinman, assistant professor Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Large Lakes Observatory, University of Minnesota: Duluth.

SHARE THIS STORY



1980 was far from "normal" at least in the southern half of the U.S. An uncharacteristically strong subtropical ridge formed over the southern half in late June and did not break until late September producing one of the hottest summers of record for this region. An increase in the frequency of such events and esp, a shift North to the Midwest (important for those of us who eat). is one of my many AGW concerns. Northward occurrence has happened before, in 1934 and 1936 so it isn't without precedence.

Dynamically a five wave hemispheric summer jet stream has been known for decades to be associated with blocking, abnormal weather persistance and long duration heat waves and I remember hearing this well described.. in the summer of 1980 with colleagues and mentors.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
93. BaltimoreBrian
10:32 PM GMT on March 27, 2017
Re Patrap's comment # 91 & 92:

Old English word of the day: hrycg - a back of a man or animal. Pronounced "hrudge".
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
92. Patrap
10:22 PM GMT on March 27, 2017
4:10 PM CDT on March 27, 2017 Cat6
6
Quoting 38. DocNDswamp:

Nice weather update Bob Henson.
But...
Seriously, why should anyone feel free to discuss anything in the comments section knowing a week from now the entire comment history of this site will be trashed? Near 12 years of this grand community participation that was so encouraged within the blogs will disappear as if it never happened. Right now, the WU archives hold a wealth of knowledge, observations and experiences shared that anyone can reference, essentially weather-related diaries of our lives that won't be there after April 2.

You betcha, I'm feeling a stinging bitter end to what was an incredibly memorable 12 years of our lives - and time invested - in contributing to WU.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
91. Patrap
10:20 PM GMT on March 27, 2017


Thanks
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
90. 999Ai2016
6:31 PM GMT on March 27, 2017
Media coverage of climate change
Yale Climate Connections - March 27.

Key books and reports on climate change and the media, 2003-2011 (Part 1).

(...) To provide perspective on the strange news world in which journalists and citizens now find themselves, Yale Climate Connections offers this historical review of the key books and reports on media coverage of climate change -- in two parts. Part 1 covers the years 2003 to 2011. Part 2 will cover 2012 to the present. (...)


Many downloadable for free (see included links).
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
89. Pipejazz
3:39 PM GMT on March 27, 2017
L. Krauss on defunding science, as in "killing science and culture" will not make us stronger.
Link
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
88. Patrap
2:00 PM GMT on March 27, 2017


Extreme weather events linked to climate change impact on the jet stream
A'ndrea Elyse Messer
March 27, 2017


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. Unprecedented summer warmth and flooding, forest fires, drought and torrential rain extreme weather events are occurring more and more often, but now an international team of climate scientists has found a connection between many extreme weather events and the impact climate change is having on the jet stream.

"We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events," said Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State. "Short of actually identifying the events in the climate models."

The unusual weather events that piqued the researchers' interest are things such as the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Pakistan flood and Russian heatwave, the 2011 Texas and Oklahoma heat wave and drought and the 2015 California wildfires.

The researchers looked at a combination of roughly 50 climate models from around the world that are part of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5), which is part of the World Climate Research Programme. These models are run using specific scenarios and producing simulated data that can be evaluated across the different models. However, while the models are useful for examining large-scale climate patterns and how they are likely to evolve over time, they cannot be relied on for an accurate depiction of extreme weather events. That is where actual observations prove critical.

The researchers looked at the historical atmospheric observations to document the conditions under which extreme weather patterns form and persist. These conditions occur when the jet stream, a global atmospheric wave of air that encompasses the Earth, becomes stationary and the peaks and troughs remain locked in place.

"Most stationary jet stream disturbances, however, will dissipate over time," said Mann. "Under certain circumstances the wave disturbance is effectively constrained by an atmospheric wave guide, something similar to the way a coaxial cable guides a television signal. Disturbances then cannot easily dissipate, and very large amplitude swings in the jet stream north and south can remain in place as it rounds the globe."

This constrained configuration of the jet stream is like a rollercoaster with high peaks and valleys, but only forms when there are six, seven or eight pairs of peaks and valleys surrounding the globe. The jet stream can then behave as if there is a waveguide %u2014 uncrossable barriers in the north and south and a wave with large peaks and valleys can occur.

"If the same weather persists for weeks on end in one region, then sunny days can turn into a serious heat wave and drought, and lasting rains can lead to flooding," said Stefan Rahmstorf, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Germany.

The structure of the jet stream relates to its latitude and the temperature gradient from north to south. Temperatures typically have the steepest gradients in mid-latitudes and a strong circumpolar jet stream arises. However, when these temperature gradients decrease in just the right way, a weakened "double peak" jet stream arises with the strongest jet stream winds located to the north and south of the mid-latitudes.

"The warming of the Arctic, the polar amplification of warming, plays a key role here," said Mann. "The surface and lower atmosphere are warming more in the Arctic than anywhere else on the globe. That pattern projects onto the very temperature gradient profile that we identify as supporting atmospheric waveguide conditions."

Theoretically, standing jet stream waves with large amplitude north/south undulations should cause unusual weather events.

"We don't trust climate models yet to predict specific episodes of extreme weather because the models are too coarse," said study co-author Dim Coumou of PIK. "However, the models do faithfully reproduce large scale patterns of temperature change," added co-author Kai Kornhuber of PIK.

The researchers looked at real-world observations and confirmed that this temperature pattern does correspond with the double-peaked jet stream and waveguide patter associated with persistent extreme weather events in the late spring and summer such as droughts, floods and heat waves. They found the pattern has become more prominent in both observations and climate model simulations.

"Using the simulations, we demonstrate that rising greenhouse gases are responsible for the increase," said Mann.

The researchers noted in today's (Mar. 27) issue of Scientific Report that "Both the models and observations suggest this signal has only recently emerged from the background noise of natural variability."

"We are now able to connect the dots when it comes to human-caused global warming and an array of extreme recent weather events," said Mann.

While the models do not reliably track individual extreme weather events, they do reproduce the jet stream patterns and temperature scenarios that in the real world lead to torrential rain for days, weeks of broiling sun and absence of precipitation.

"Currently we have only looked at historical simulations," said Mann. "What's up next is to examine the model projections of the future and see what they imply about what might be in store as far as further increases in extreme weather are concerned."

Also working on this project was Sonya K. Miller, programmer analyst, Penn State; and Byron A. Steinman, assistant professor Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Large Lakes Observatory, University of Minnesota: Duluth.

SHARE THIS STORY
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85. jbow
11:43 PM GMT on March 25, 2017
Bias.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
84. Xandra
8:44 PM GMT on March 25, 2017
From Science News:

Most Americans like science — and are willing to pay for it


U.S. taxpayer dollars go to fund science projects from weather tracking to duck monitoring. But most people have no idea how much — or rather, how little — government money goes to scientific research.

Americans don’t hate science. Quite the contrary. In fact, 79 percent of Americans think science has made their lives easier, a 2014 Pew Research Center survey found. More than 60 percent of people also believe that government funding for science is essential to its success.

But should the United States spend more money on scientific research than it already does? A layperson’s answer to that question depends on how much that person thinks the government already spends on science, a new study shows. When people find out just how much — or rather, how little — of the federal budget goes to science, support for more funding suddenly jumps.

[...]

The survey was simple. First, participants were asked to estimate what percentage of the federal budget was spent on scientific research. Once they’d guessed, half of the participants were told the actual amount that the federal government allocates for nondefense spending on research and development. In 2014, that figure was 1.6 percent of the budget, or about $67 billion. Finally, all the participants were asked if federal spending on science should be increased, decreased or kept the same.

The majority of participants had no idea how much money the government spends on science, and wildly overestimated the actual amount. About half of the respondents estimated federal spending for research at somewhere between 5 and 20 percent of the budget. A quarter of participants estimated that figure was 20 percent of the budget — one very hefty chunk of change. The last 25 percent of respondents estimated that 1 to 2 percent of federal spending went to science.

When participants received no information about how much the United States spent on research, only about 40 percent of them supported more funding. But when they were confronted with the real numbers, support for more funding leapt from 40 to 60 percent.

[...]

“I think it contributes to our understanding of the aspects of federal spending that people don’t understand very well,” says Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth University in Hanover, N.H. It’s not surprising that most people don’t know how much the government is spending on research. Nyhan points out that most people probably don’t know how much the government spends on education or foreign aid either.

[...] Goldfarb and Kriner’s data show that Americans really do like and support science. They want to pay for it. And they may even want to shell out some more money, when they know just how little they already spend.

Click here to read full article.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
82. Xandra
1:41 PM GMT on March 24, 2017
BREAKING: TransCanada says Keystone XL pipeline has been approved by Trump.

From Bloomberg:

TransCanada Granted U.S. Permit for Keystone XL Pipeline

After more than 8 years of political haggling over both its future and its benefits, the Keystone XL oil pipeline running from Canada to America’s heartland has been approved by President Donald Trump.

The move overturns a 2015 decision by former President Barack Obama. During his campaign, Trump vowed to support energy companies and advocate for new infrastructure. After taking office, one of his first acts was to invite TransCanada Corp., the pipeline’s builder, to reapply for approval. The $8 billion project will span 1,179 miles (1,897 kilometers), crossing Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it will connect with the existing Keystone system, which runs to the Gulf Coast.

“This is a significant milestone for the Keystone XL project,” said TransCanada Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling in a statement announcing the approval. “We greatly appreciate President Trump’s Administration for reviewing and approving this important initiative and we look forward to working with them.”

Trump is scheduled to speak about his decision at 10:15 a.m. in Washington, according to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Click here to read more.

See also: Study: Koch Brothers Could Make $100 Billion if Keystone XL Pipeline Approved

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
81. Xandra
11:22 AM GMT on March 24, 2017
From the Guardian:

Breitbart's James Delingpole says reef bleaching is 'fake news', hits peak denial

Coral bleaching 'has changed the Great Barrier Reef forever' – video

It takes a very special person to label the photographed, documented, filmed and studied phenomenon of mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef “fake news”.

You need lashings of chutzpah, blinkers the size of Donald Trump’s hairspray bill and more hubris than you can shake a branch of dead coral at.

It also helps if you can hide inside the bubble of the hyper-partisan Breitbart media outlet, whose former boss is the US president’s chief strategist.

So our special person is the British journalist James Delingpole who, when he’s not denying the impacts of coral bleaching, is denying the science of human-caused climate change, which he says is “the biggest scam in the history of the world”.

Delingpole was offended this week by an editorial in the Washington Post that read: “Humans are killing the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, and there’s nothing Australians on their own can do about it. We are all responsible.”

Delingpole wrote:

Like the thriving polar bear, like the recovering ice caps, like the doing-just-fine Pacific islands, the Great Barrier Reef has become a totem for the liberal-left not because it’s in any kind of danger but because it’s big and famous and photogenic and lots and lots of people would be really sad if it disappeared. But it’s not going to disappear. That’s just a #fakenews lie designed to promote the climate alarmist agenda.

[...]

“Have they been out there personally – as I have – to check. No of course not,” says Delingpole.

Yes. James Delingpole has been out there “personally” to check, but all those other people haven’t. He doesn’t say when he went but he has written about one trip before. It was back in late April 2012. Everything was fine, he said, based on that one visit. I can’t find any times when he has mentioned another trip since.

[...]

Why should there not be equivalence between Delingpole’s single trip to the reef (apparently taken 10 years after a previous severe case of bleaching and four years before the one that followed) at one spot on a reef system that spans the size of Italy [takes breath] and the observations of scientists from multiple institutions diving at 150 different locations to verify observations taken by even more scientists in low-flying aircraft traversing the entire length of the reef?

I mean, come on? Why can those two things – Delingpole making a boat trip with mates and a coordinated and exhaustive scientific monitoring and data-gathering exercise – not be the same?

So it seems we are now at a stage where absolutely nothing is real unless you have seen it for yourself, so you can dismiss all of the photographs and video footage of bleached and dead coral, the testimony of countless marine biologists (who, we apparently also have to point out, have been to the reef ) and the observations made by the government agency that manages the reef.

Senator Pauline Hanson and her One Nation climate science-denying colleagues tried to pull a similar stunt last year by taking a dive on a part of the reef that had escaped bleaching and then claiming this as proof that everything was OK everywhere else.

This is like trying to disprove to a doctor that you have two broken legs by showing him an MRI scan of your head (which may or not reveal the presence of a brain), and then being annoyed when he doesn’t accept your evidence.

It’s as though we’ve reached peak denial.

[...]

This month a study published in Nature, and co-authored by 46 scientists, found these three episodes had impacted reefs “across almost the entire Great Barrier Reef marine park”. Only southern offshore reefs had escaped.

[...]

Essentially, the study found the only measure that would give corals on the reef a fighting chance was to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The lead author of the study, Prof Terry Hughes of James Cook University (who is this week carrying out aerial surveys of the current bleaching episode), told my Positive Feedback podcast:

We can’t climate-proof reefs. Sure, there’s stuff we need to do be doing locally around water quality and fisheries management, but doing these two things alone is not going to protect the reefs in the long term. The elephant in the room here is climate change.

[...]

Dr Mark Eakin, head of Coral Reef Watch at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the cause of the modern-day mass bleaching episodes on reefs across the world was the rise in ocean temperatures.

This, says Eakin, is “being driven largely by humans and our burning of fossil fuels”.

Government ministers at federal and state levels, of both political stripes, claim they want to protect the reef.

They are running this protection racket, somehow, by continuing to support plans for a coalmine that will be the biggest in the country’s history.

That’s some more hubris right there.

Click here to read full article.
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80. Xandra
10:12 AM GMT on March 24, 2017
From Reuters:

California board adopts strictest U.S. methane rules

California's decision came as U.S. Senate prepared to vote on repealing rule limiting methane venting and leaking on federal lands

March 23 (Reuters) - California's air quality board voted unanimously on Thursday to approve methane regulations touted as the strictest adopted yet in the United States for controlling emissions of the second-most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

The rules, approved by the California Air Resources Board, tighten efficiency requirements for production and transportation of natural gas and for some oil-handling equipment, including installation of emissions-recapture technology.

They also mandate more stringent monitoring and reporting of potential gas leaks as a means of pinpointing and repairing them quickly.

Methane, the main component of commercially distributed natural gas, is also a byproduct of oil extraction. Pound for pound, it traps significantly more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, though its effects are shorter-lived.

[...]

The action comes more than a year after a massive methane leak at the Aliso Canyon gas storage field, owned by the Southern California Gas Co, forced thousands of residents from their homes in the nearby Porter Ranch community of Los Angeles.

The well rupture that caused the leak, the largest known accidental methane release in U.S. history, took nearly four months to plug and was estimated to have had a larger climate impact than the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Environmental Defense Fund director Tim O'Connor, whose group helped devise the state regulations, said California's action was all the more important in light of the Trump administration's vow to curb EPA regulations.

"If the federal government won't protect the people and the environment from oil and gas pollution, it has to be up to the states," he said.

[...]

Click here to read full article.
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78. Xandra
10:15 PM GMT on March 23, 2017
From the Bad Astronomy blog:

Our planet is melting at both ends: Arctic and Antarctica hit record low ice extents



[...]

It’s rare in science you can say something with anything near 100% certainty. And yet, here we are: Climate change due to global warming is real, and it’s because of us. We add 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the air every year. This upsets the Earth’s natural heat balance, allowing a small amount of warming sunlight to stick around rather than get radiated out into space.

Our planet is heating up, humans are the reason, and we know this to be a fact. Yet our politicians in charge deny this very simple and critical truth [the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology just announced a hearing on climate science for next week, and invited four scientists to testify; one is realist Michael Mann (invited by the minority Committee members, of course) and the other three are well-known figures who downplay the effects of global warming on climate], even going so far as to deny the incredibly basic science about greenhouse effects we’ve known for over a century.

We’ll be seeing more statements and legislation coming from this science-denying Congressional majority as time goes by. When it happens, I urge you to contact your Senators and Representatives. Let them know that climate change is real, it’s now, and not only is it a threat national security, but denial of it is a national security as well, and we have to do what we can to stop it.

Click here to read full article.
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77. Patrap
9:30 PM GMT on March 23, 2017
Arctic Sea Ice Reaches Another Record Low
NASA Goddard




The March 7, 2017, Arctic sea ice maximum extent was a record low, due to warmer-than-average temperatures, winds unfavorable to ice expansion, and a series of storms. Antarctic sea ice also broke a record with its annual minimum extent on March 3.

Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Download this video in HD formats and view full credit information from NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
76. Xandra
8:59 PM GMT on March 23, 2017
From the Guardian:

Global warming is increasing rainfall rates

A new study looks at the complex relationship between global warming and increased precipitation

[...]

It’s a well-known scientific principle that warmer air holds more water vapor. In fact, the amount of moisture that can be held in air grows very rapidly as temperatures increase. So, it’s expected that in general, air will get moister as the Earth warms – provided there is a moisture source. This may cause more intense rainfalls and snow events, which lead to increased risk of flooding.

But warmer air can also more quickly evaporate water from surfaces. This means that areas where it’s not precipitating dry out more quickly. In fact, it’s likely that some regions will experience both more drought and more flooding in the future (just not at the same time!). [...]

Okay so what have we observed? It turns out our expectations were correct. Observations reveal more intense rainfalls and flooding in some areas. But in other regions there’s more evaporation and drying with increased drought. Some areas experience both.

Some questions remain. When temperatures get too high, there’s no continued increase in intense rain events. In fact, heavy precipitation events decrease at the highest temperatures. There are some clear reasons for this but for brevity, regardless of where measurements are made on Earth, there appears to be an increase of precipitation with temperature up until a peak and thereafter, more warming coincides with decreased precipitation.

A new clever study by Dr. Guiling Wang from the University of Connecticut and her colleagues has looked into this and they’ve made a surprising discovery. Their work was just published in Nature Climate Change. They report that the peak temperature (the temperature where maximum precipitation occurs) is not fixed in space or time. It is increasing in a warming world.

The idea is shown in the sketch below. Details vary with location but, as the world warms, there is a shift from one curve to the next, from left to right. The result is a shift such that more intense precipitation occurs at higher temperatures in future, while the drop-off moves to even higher temperatures.


An idealized example of increasing precipitation curves as the world warms for the Midwest. Illustration: John Abraham

The authors also looked at how we characterize the temperature/precipitation relationship. Traditionally, we have related precipitation events to the local average temperature. However, it’s clear that there’s a strong relationship between the peak temperature and the precipitation rates. In fact, relations reveal that precipitation rates are increasing between 5 and 10% for every degree C increase. The expected rate of increase, just based on thermodynamics is 7%.

The authors find that in some parts of the globe, the relationship is even stronger. For instance, in the tropics, there’s more than a 10% increase in precipitation for a degree Celsius increase in temperature. This is not unexpected because precipitation releases latent heat, which can in turn invigorate storms.

From a practical standpoint, this helps us plan for climate change (it is already occurring) including planning resiliency. In the United States, there has been a marked increase in the most intense rainfall events across the country. This has resulted in more severe flooding throughout the country.

[...]

Click here to read full article.
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75. 999Ai2016
11:19 AM GMT on March 23, 2017
Climate breaks multiple records in 2016, with global impacts (Press Release)
WMO, March 21.

The year 2016 made history, with a record global temperature, exceptionally low sea ice, and unabated sea level rise and ocean heat, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Extreme weather and climate conditions have continued into 2017.

(...) WMO has issued annual climate reports for more than 20 years and submits them to the Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The annual statements complement the assessments reports that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produces every six to seven years.

It will be presented to UN member states and climate experts at a high-level action event on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Agenda in New York on 23 March (World Meteorological Day) hosted by the President of the UN General Assembly Peter Thomson. (...)



WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016 (.pdf document, 28 pages)

- Foreword
- Preface
- Executive Summary

Key findings

- Temperature
- The oceans
- Greenhouse gases
- The cryosphere in 2016
- Major climate drivers
- Precipitation
- Extreme events
- Tropical cyclones
- Destructive wildfires in several parts of the world
- Extreme heat and cold
- Severe storms, snowfalls and tornadoes
- Stratospheric ozone

Towards globally consistent National Climate Monitoring Products
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
73. Patrap
8:32 PM GMT on March 22, 2017



Capital Weather Gang
Gulf of Mexico waters are freakishly warm, which could mean explosive springtime storms



Water temperatures at the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and near South Florida are on fire. They spurred a historically warm winter from Houston to Miami and could fuel intense thunderstorms in the spring from the South to the Plains.

In the Gulf, the average sea surface temperature never fell below 73 degrees over the winter for the first time on record, reported Eric Berger of Ars Technica.

Galveston, Tex., has tied or broken an astonishing 33 record highs since Nov. 1, while neighboring Houston had its warmest winter on record. Both cities have witnessed precious few days with below-normal temperatures since late fall.


Average temperature rankings along the coast of the western Gulf of Mexico this winter. (Southeast Regional Climate Center)
More often than not, temperatures have averaged at least 10 degrees warmer than normal. “The consistency and persistence of the warmth was the defining element of this winter,” said Matt Lanza, a Houston-based meteorologist, who has closely tracked the region’s temperatures.

Warmer-than-normal weather is predicted to continue in Galveston and Houston, with afternoon temperatures of 80 to 85 degrees through the weekend (normal highs are in the mid-70s).

“A steamy Gulf has meant that any time winds blow out of the south, we’re not going to cool down that much overnight, and daytime temperatures can warm pretty quickly,” wrote Berger, who also pens the Houston weather blog Space City Weather.

To the south of Galveston and Houston, Brownsville, McAllen and Harlingen all posted their warmest winters on record, by large margins. “Call it the ‘Usain Bolt’ of records: Leaving the others in the dust!” tweeted the National Weather Service forecast office in Brownsville.

The abnormally warm temperatures curled around the Gulf, helping Baton Rouge and New Orleans reach their warmest Februaries on record.

Meanwhile, a ribbon of toasty sea surface temperatures streamed north through the Straits of Florida supporting record-setting warmth over parts of the Florida peninsula.

Miami and Fort Lauderdale both posted their warmest winters on record. Climate Central, a nonprofit science communications firm in Princeton, N.J., found 80 percent of the winter days in Miami, Orlando and Tampa were above normal.


(Brian McNoldy)
“Out of 90 days this winter, Miami saw a record setting 69 of them reach 80°F or warmer!” wrote Miami broadcast meteorologist John Morales for the website WxShift, a project of Climate Central. “In addition, 11 daily record high temperatures were set as were 8 daily record warm low temperatures and 2 monthly record warm low temperatures.”

[Forty years ago Miami saw its only snow. These days, it’s simmering in record heat.]

Brian McNoldy, a tropical weather researcher at the University of Miami, said that in addition to the warm water temperatures, a lack of cold fronts penetrating into Florida played a big role in the warmth. “We’ve not had strong, long-lasting cold fronts make it this far south,” he said.

Effects of warm Gulf waters on thunderstorms and hurricanes

The warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, in particular, could mean that thunderstorms that erupt over the southern and central United States are more severe this spring. Berger explained in his Ars Technica piece: “While the relationship is far from absolute, scientists have found that when the Gulf of Mexico tends to be warmer than normal, there is more energy for severe storms and tornadoes to form than when the Gulf is cooler.”


(NOAA)
A study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in December found: “The warmer (cooler) the Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperatures, the more (less) hail and tornadoes occur during March–May over the southern U.S.”

Victor Gensini, a professor of meteorology at the College of DuPage, agreed that the warm Gulf could intensify storms this spring but cautioned that additional ingredients will need to come together. “The water is only one piece,” he said.

An additional key component for severe thunderstorms is a phenomenon known as the elevated mixed layer, a zone of hot and dry air at high altitudes that develops over Mexico’s high plateau and can flow into the southern and central United States. When it interacts with the warm, moist air from the Gulf, the resulting instability can give rise to explosive thunderstorms.

“This year we have both ingredients,” Gensini said. “With them coming together, we’re already seeing tornado levels as high as they’ve been since 2008.”

Another favorable ingredient for severe weather this spring is the configuration of water temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean. When there is a warm pool of water off the coast of Peru (which has contributed in extreme flooding there) and a cold pool off the U.S. West coast, such a pattern strongly correlates with high tornado activity, according to research conducted at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Gensini, who leads a team that produces severe weather outlooks up to three weeks into the future, is calling for above-average thunderstorm activity for the week beginning March 26, with high confidence.

A vigorous jet stream disturbance, originating from the Pacific Ocean, will crash into the southwestern United States around March 28. Once it enters the Plains around March 29 and March 30, it is likely to tap into the warm Gulf water and encounter the elevated mixed layer. Then severe storms may erupt.

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Such conducive environments for severe weather may increase due to climate change, Gensini said, although he expects high year-to-year to variability — something already being observed.

[Studies: Tornado seasons peaking earlier, becoming more volatile]

The implications of the warm water for hurricane season, June 1 to Nov. 30, are less clear. Warmer-than-normal water temperatures can make tropical storms and hurricanes more intense, but wind shear and atmospheric moisture levels often play more important roles in hurricane formation, Berger reported.
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Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.