April 8, 2009

Has the climate recently shifted?

“Has the climate recently shifted?” is the title of a just-published paper in Geophysical Research Letters by researchers Kyle Swanson and Anastasios Tsonis from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Their examination of this topic was undoubtedly prompted by the recent behavior of global temperature which shows that the rate of warming has dramatically slowed during the past 7-12 years.

Updating a methodology that they had previously developed and used to identify several changes in the climate state that occurred during the 20th century, Swanson and Tsonis examined the temperature data from recent years to see if another state change had taken place:

Here, a new and improved means to quantify the coupling between climate modes confirms that another synchronization of these modes, followed by an increase in coupling occurred in 2001/02. This suggests that a break in the global mean temperature trend from the consistent warming over the 1976/77–2001/02 period may have occurred.

In other words, the authors think that they have identified another in a string of break points that signal a change in the general state of the earth’s climate.

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January 7, 2009

U.S. Temperatures 2008: Back to the Future?

Filed under: Surface, Temperature History

The data are just in from the National Climatic Data Center and they show that for the year 2008, the average temperature across the United States (lower 48 States) was 1.34ºF lower than last year, and a mere one-quarter of a degree above the long-term 1901-2000 average. The temperature in 2008 dropped back down to the range that characterized most of the 20th century.

Figure 1 shows the U.S. temperature history from 1895 to 2008. Notice the unusual grouping of warm years that have occurred since the 1998 El Niño. Once the 1998 El Niño elevated the temperatures across the country, they never seemed to return to where they were before. Proponents of catastrophic global warming liked to claim that is was our own doing through the burning of fossil fuels, but others were more inclined to scratch their heads at the odd nature of the record and wait to see what happened next.


Figure 1. U.S. average annual temperature history 1895-2008 (source: National Climatic Data Center, http://climvis.ncdc.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/cag3/hr-display3.pl)

You see, prior to 1998, there was little of note in the long-term U.S. temperature record. Temperatures fluctuated a bit from year to year, but the long-term trend was slight and driven by the cold string of years in the late 19th and early 20th century rather than by any warmth at the end of the record. In fact, from the period 1930 through 1997, the annual average temperature actually declined a hair—despite the on-going build-up of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. The only suggestion that “global warming” had involved the U.S. was to be found in the post-1997 period—a period unusual in that the temperatures went up and stayed up at near-record levels year after year. It was not so much that temperatures continued to climb after 1998, but just that they never fell. This grouping of warm years nearly doubled the apparent overall warming trend in U.S. temperatures (starting in 1895) from 0.07ºF/dedade (ending in 1997) to 0.13ºF/decade (ending in 2007). And with this doubling of the warming trend came the big push for emissions restrictions.

But now, 2008 comes along and has broken this warm stranglehold. Perhaps this is an indication that the conditions responsible for the unusual string of warm years have broken down—and maybe they weren’t a sudden apparition of anthropogenic global warming after all.

Only time will tell for sure. But, at least for now, things seem like they have returned to a more “normal” state of being.




December 17, 2008

Recent Temperature Trends in Context

Filed under: Surface, Temperature History

As 2008 nears an end, there are a lot of folks waiting to see where the final number is going to come in for this year’s global average temperature. It’s likely that the average temperature for 2008 will fall below the value for 2007 and quite possibly be the coldest year of the (official) 21st century. 2008 will add another to the growing recent string of years during which time global average temperatures have not risen. Does this mean that pressure of “global warming” fuelled by increasing greenhouse gas emissions from human activity has abated?

The answer is a qualified “no”—it seems that natural variations have been flexing their muscles and offsetting anthropogenic warming.

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December 3, 2008

Rethinking Observed Warming

The United Nations Climate Change Conference is underway this week in Poznan, Poland, and literally thousands of folks have convened and reinforced the notion that the buildup of greenhouse gases has caused substantial warming in recent decades and that left unchecked, the continued buildup will undoubtedly cause significant warming in the decades to come. Believe it or not, it is possible that aspects of the traditional greenhouse gas explanation could be largely wrong, and if you think we are crazy, let’s visit an article just published in the prestigious journal Climate Dynamics.

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December 2, 2008

Will the U.N. Chill Out on Climate Change?

10,000 people from 86 countries have descended upon Poznan, Poland for yet-another United Nations meeting on climate change. This time, it’s the annual confab of the nations that signed the original U.N. climate treaty in Rio in 1992. That instrument gave rise to the infamous 1996 Kyoto Protocol on global warming, easily the greatest failure in the history of environmental diplomacy.

Kyoto was supposed to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide below 1990 levels during the period 2008-2012. But since it was signed, the atmospheric concentration of this putative pollutant continued to rise, pretty much at the same rate it did before Kyoto. (Even if the world had lived up to the letter of the Kyoto law, it would have exerted an influence on global temperature that would have been too small to measure.)

The purpose of the Poznan meeting is to work out some type of framework that goes “Beyond Kyoto.” After completely failing in its first attempt to internationally limit carbon dioxide emissions, the U.N. will propose reductions far greater than those called for by Kyoto. Kyoto failed because it was too expensive, so anything “beyond” will cost much more.

The fact is that the world cannot afford any expensive climate policies now. Economic conditions are so bad that carbon dioxide emissions—the byproduct of our commerce—are likely going down because of the financial cold spell, not the climatic one. Indeed, a permanent economic ice-age would likely result from any mandated large cuts in emissions. If you’re liking your 401(k) today, you’ll love “Beyond Kyoto.”

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December 1, 2008

European Update

The United Nations Climate Change Conference kicks of this week in Poznan, Poland, and in anticipation of this great event, we have examined three research papers published recently in top journals that give us insight into the climate history of Europe. Given the results of these papers, we doubt they will receive any press attention from the massive media delegation covering the climate conference.

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October 23, 2008

The Divergence Problem and the Failure of Tree Rings for Reconstructing Past Climate

Guest Commentary

Craig Loehle, PhD
National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Inc. (NCASI)

Tree rings are widely used for reconstructing climate and past climates are critical for putting the current climate (including global temperatures) into the proper perspective. Is current warming unusual? Only a comparison to the past can tell.

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September 9, 2008

Another Message from Kyoto

Do a web search for “Kyoto and Global Warming” and you will be pointed to a stunning 4.5 million sites. For many people in the world today, Kyoto could never be located on a map, few would know that it was once the imperial capital of Japan, and for that matter, few would even know that Kyoto is in Japan. It really wouldn’t matter, for most importantly, almost everyone knows Kyoto has something to do with global warming, “Kyoto” is something President Bust did or didn’t do, and it led to more global warming, right?

A meeting in Kyoto, Japan resulted in an agreement by the United Nations aimed at slowing down the buildup of greenhouse gases. The resulting “Kyoto Protocol” was part of the International Framework Convention on Climate Change; the Protocol was adopted on December 11, 1997 by the Third Conference of the Parties which was meeting in Kyoto (all of this can be traced back to the famous 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro). If you had been on the “Conference of the Parties” circuit ever since, you would have enjoyed wonderful visits to Berlin, Geneva, Kyoto, Buenos Aires (twice), Bonn (twice), The Hague, Marrakech, New Delhi, Milan, Montreal, Nairobi, and Bali! Nothing says “fight global warming” any more than a never-ending world tour!

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June 20, 2008

Finnish Finish “Global” Warming

An international conference was recently held in Zakopane, Poland hosted by the Department of Quaternary Paleogeography and Paleoecology at the University of Silesia and the Institute of Geography and Regional Development at the University of Wroclaw. The meeting also served as the Annual Conference of the Association for Tree-Ring Research. Over 100 scientists gave presentations at the meeting, most were from Europe, although one presenter was from Penn State University and two others from the University of Missouri made the trip to present their research in Poland. The Association for Tree-Ring Research is a credible organization with no agenda that we know of regarding the global warming issue.

One presentation there was entitled “Climate variation (cycles and trends) and climate predicting from tree-rings”, and normally, we would be reluctant to feature conference presentations at World Climate Report. However, the work is an update of what the lead author recently published in The Holocene, the work is currently under review at an undisclosed scientific journal, and the authors have a history of publications in outstanding journals.

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June 4, 2008

The Sanctity of Climate Models

Filed under: Surface, Temperature History

Reading between the lines of the new Thompson et al. Nature paper suggests that once they get the details worked out, the “updated” observed global temperature history is going to fit climate model hindcasts even better than it does now, and embolden confidence in their future projections.

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