Category Archives: variability

Extremes of 2014 in review

Was last year really the warmest on record? As soon as NOAA published its official announcement in January, this question invaded the web feeding blogs, online newspapers and forums with passionate discussions. Relevant or pointless? The question is not so much knowing whether or not a new record was broken. Should 2014 rank second or third, this wouldn’t change the big picture: last year, temperatures on our planet continued the existing long-term positive trend. On top of that, the story is a bit thicker than the one single number obtained when averaging near-surface air temperatures in time and space. So, 2014: year of extremes or warm year in a changing climate?

Guest post by François Massonnet, Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium / Catalan Institute of Climate Sciences, Spain Continue reading Extremes of 2014 in review

A spectrum of global temperature trends

Trends in global mean temperature are not static through time. Changes due to radiative forcings are influenced by internal climate variability. A recent paper by Karl et al. concluded that:

the central estimate for the rate of warming during the first 15 years of the 21st century is at least as great as the last half of the 20th century. These results do not support the notion of a “slowdown” in the increase of global surface temperature.

Are these conclusions, based on comparing a few periods, correct? Continue reading A spectrum of global temperature trends

How not to use daily CMIP5 data for impact studies

A new paper out this week in PLOS Biology uses some CMIP5 simulations of daily mean surface air temperature as part of a larger analysis on the change to future plant growing days. The description of the analysis suggests they have not used the simulations appropriately to arrive at their conclusions. Here I highlight a couple of possible pitfalls in using such data in impact studies. Continue reading How not to use daily CMIP5 data for impact studies

Arctic sea-ice decline erratic as expected

Imagine a ball bouncing down a bumpy hill. Gravity will ensure that the ball will head downwards. But, if the ball hits a bump at a certain angle it might move horizontally or even upwards for a time, before resuming its inevitable downward trajectory. This bouncing ball is an analogy for the behaviour of Arctic sea-ice.

Post based on Swart et al., Nature Climate Change, or see a less technical summary. Continue reading Arctic sea-ice decline erratic as expected

Is there a pause in the temperature of the lower troposphere?

In my recent post whether there is a ‘hiatus’ in global warming I left out the satellite observations of the lower troposphere. The reason for that was that the analysis of these is different from that of the near-surface series, and I considered the latter were more relevant. First, most of us live at ground level most of the time, and secondly this has traditionally been the main measure by which to gauge global warming. My conclusions were that there has been a positive trend since 1998, but no trend over the last 10 years. However, the natural variability of 10-year trends is so large that this is compatible with the positive long-term trend. The indicator of global warming with the best signal-to-noise ratio, ocean heat content, shows no sign of stopping over the last 10 years.

Guest post by Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, KNMI Continue reading Is there a pause in the temperature of the lower troposphere?

Hiatuses in the rise of temperature

“In the last few years the warming trend of the earth has stopped” is a common type of remark these days. Is that indeed the case, and can we conclude that the projections for the rest of the century are being overestimated? And if so, how come that large parts of Europe are expected to have the warmest year recorded in 2014? There is a chance that the global mean temperature will also be the highest in the series.

Guest post by Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, KNMI Continue reading Hiatuses in the rise of temperature

Projected changes of precipitation and temperature extremes

Model projections of heavy precipitation and temperature extremes include large uncertainties. However, disagreement between individual simulations primarily arises from internal variability, whereas models agree remarkably well on the forced signal.

Post based on Fischer et al., 2014, Geophys. Res. Lett.
Continue reading Projected changes of precipitation and temperature extremes

The slowdown zoo

Investigations into the recent observed slower rate of global warming have largely been focussed on variability in the Pacific basin. Climate models also show similar slowdowns focussed in the Pacific (e.g. Meehl et al. 2011).

But, is this the only type of simulated slowdown? How different can regional patterns of temperature change be for the same global change? Continue reading The slowdown zoo

Top-of-atmosphere contribution to unforced variability in global temperature

As the attention received by the ‘global warming hiatus’ demonstrates, global mean surface temperature (T) variability on decadal timescales is of great interest to both the general public and to scientists. Here, I will discuss a recently published paper (Brown et al., 2014) that attempts to contribute to this scientific discussion by investigating the impact of unforced (internal) changes in the earth’s top-of-atmosphere (TOA) energy budget on decadal T variability.

Guest post by Patrick Brown (Duke University) Continue reading Top-of-atmosphere contribution to unforced variability in global temperature

On Mora et al.’s Reply

Yesterday saw the publication of our Comment on Mora et al., along with Mora et al.’s Reply and an associated ‘News & Views’ piece. Although the Editors deserve credit for commissioning a News & Views piece on this exchange – a first for a Comment in Nature – there are still errors in Mora et al.’s Reply. A previous post summarised the issues with the original paper, and Doug McNeall also discusses the main issues. Continue reading On Mora et al.’s Reply

Uncertainties in the timing of unprecedented climates

Back in October 2013, Nature published an analysis by Camilo Mora et al. which discussed when ‘unprecedented climates’ would emerge, with a focus on regions of high biodiversity.

The paper was highlighted by Nature with an associated News & Views article and received widespread media attention (e.g. Climate Central, National Geographic, Guardian, Grist, amongst many). The paper was also in the top 100 most discussed papers from 2013 according to Altmetric.

Unfortunately, it has since emerged that the analysis has some serious flaws. A ‘Brief Communication Arising’ (or Comment) has now been published by Hawkins et al. in Nature (freely available for one month), written by a large group which includes several IPCC Lead Authors, from both WG1 and WG2. There is also a ‘Reply’ from Mora et al., and a new News & Views (N&V) piece by Scott Power discussing the continuing disagreement between the author teams. This is the first ever N&V on a Comment in Nature.

This post provides a slightly less technical description of the issues with Mora et al.’s analysis. The errors in Mora et al.’s Reply are summarised in a separate post. The Carbon Brief blog has also produced some videos on the topic. Continue reading Uncertainties in the timing of unprecedented climates

The signal, the noise & the time of emergence

Temperatures have increased over most parts of the planet, but this signal is somewhat obscured by the random noisy fluctuations of natural climate variability. The year in which we can we detect the ‘signal’ of temperature change in the presence of the ‘noise’ is often called the ‘time of emergence’. This is the first of a series of posts on this topic this week. Continue reading The signal, the noise & the time of emergence

Predictable September Arctic sea-ice minimum?

Arctic sea-ice extent varies considerably from year-to-year, especially in the summer. Skillful forecasts of the expected extent could be valuable to a wide range of Arctic stakeholders. But, how predictable is the Arctic sea-ice extent in summer? And, can more complex sea-ice models with improved representations of key physical processes improve forecasts? Continue reading Predictable September Arctic sea-ice minimum?

When will we reach 2°C?

A change in global surface temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial climate is often used as a threshold for ‘dangerous climate change’. Although impacts will tend to get worse as temperatures increase, there is no clear evidence yet of such a sharp threshold in the climate. However, the 2°C threshold seems to be useful to policymakers. So, when might we expect to reach this threshold and have any regions experienced such a change already? Continue reading When will we reach 2°C?

The cascade of uncertainty in climate projections

Climate projections have demonstrated the need to adapt to a changing climate, but have been less helpful (so far) in guiding how to effectively adapt. Part of the reason is the ‘cascade of uncertainty’ going from assumptions about future global emissions of greenhouse gases to what that means for the climate to real decisions on a local scale. Each of the steps in the process contains uncertainty, but which step is the most important? And, how might this be visualised? Continue reading The cascade of uncertainty in climate projections

Atlantic overturning in decline?

Recent direct observations of the strength of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) show a decline of 10-15% since 2004. Is this a temporary fluctuation or part of a longer-term decline? A new analysis suggests that we might expect a further decline in the AMOC over the coming decade, which could impact on the climate of Europe and beyond. Continue reading Atlantic overturning in decline?

Sources of uncertainty in CMIP5 projections

The recent IPCC AR5 includes a discussion on the sources of uncertainty in climate projections (Fig. 11.8, section 11.3.1.1), which updates previous analyses using CMIP3 (temperature, precipitation) to the latest CMIP5 simulations. The dominant source of uncertainty depends on lead time, variable and spatial scale. Continue reading Sources of uncertainty in CMIP5 projections

Near-term global surface temperature projections in IPCC AR5

The final version of the IPCC AR5 WG1 assessment on the physical basis for climate change has now been published. The AR5 includes, for the first time, a specific chapter and assessment on ‘near-term’ climate change, which covers the period up to 2050, but with a specific focus on the 2016-2035 period.

Continue reading Near-term global surface temperature projections in IPCC AR5

Near-term regional climate: the range of possibilities

What are the possible regional temperature trends over the coming few decades? Globally, on average, there is expected to be a long-term warming, but this is not necessarily true for any particular location or period. What are the probabilities of a local warming or cooling? Continue reading Near-term regional climate: the range of possibilities

Recent slowdown in global surface temperature rise

The Science Media Centre recently held a briefing for journalists on the recent slowdown in global surface temperature rise, and published an accompanying briefing note. The Met Office also released three reports on the topic.

The key points were: (1) recent changes need to be put in longer term context & other climate indicators such as sea level, Arctic sea ice, snow cover, glacier melt etc are also important; (2) the explanation for recent slowdown is partly additional ocean heat uptake & partly negative trends in natural radiative forcing (due to solar changes and small volcanic eruptions) which slightly counteract the positive forcing from GHGs; (3) the quantification of the relative magnitude of these causes is still work in progress; (4) climate models simulate similar pauses. Continue reading Recent slowdown in global surface temperature rise