November 19, 2017

The Real Signs of Human-Caused Global Warming

Human being are causing a rapid increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, with carbon dioxide and methane gases being the most well known.

But how have increasing greenhouse gas influenced the weather and climate we experience todayWhat current effects are unequivocal, right now?
The media is full of claims regarding the current impacts of increasing greenhouse gases, but many of these claims are without a good basis in science.    Some recent examples include:

  • That Hurricane Harvey's heavy rains were a sign of global warming.
  • That the recent California wildfires were the result of human-caused warming.
  • That winter storms in the Northwest are becoming more intense due to global warming
  • That global warming is causing more droughts in the West.
  • That increasing greenhouse gases are causing more cold waves over the eastern U.S.

And there are many, more.  A weakness of many of media and activist claims is that one extreme event can not provide "proof" of human-caused global warming.   Only statistically significant trends have meaning when one is talking about climate change.  And many of the claims are inconsistent with climate models and basic statistics.

But let me be clear: increasing greenhouse gases associated with human activities are changing our climate  in profound ways, and there are "fingerprints" of human effects today that provide compelling evidence of human influence.

When one wants to identify a thief, finding their fingerprints often provide incontrovertible proof of their guilt.   What are some "fingerprints" of increasing greenhouse gases on the weather/climate system?

1.  Fingerprint 1:  Greater warmer in the Arctic than the midlatitudes.

When climate models are run with increased greenhouse gases, virtually all of them not only show warming, but they show a similar distribution of warming.  Below is an an example, showing an average for several global climate models of the change in surface temperature during this century assuming that greenhouse gases keep up increasing at the current pace.

 Blue is cooling, red is warming.  All warming.  Note that the Arctic warms more than anywhere else, and the continents warm up more than the oceans.

Change in average surface temperature (a) and change in average precipitation (b) based on multi-model mean projections for 2081–2100 relative to 1986-2005 under the RCP2.6 (left) and RCP8.5 (right) scenarios. The number of models used to calculate the multi-model mean is indicated in the upper right corner of each panel. Stippling (i.e., dots) shows regions where the projected change is large compared to natural internal variability, and where at least 90% of models agree on the sign of change. Hatching (i.e., diagonal lines) shows regions where the projected change is less than one standard deviation of the natural internal variability

The greater Arctic warming is a major fingerprint of increasing greenhouse gases, one that is reflected in the observed changes in temperature during the last 70 years (see map below).  There are a number of reasons that the Arctic warms faster, including the loss of reflective sea ice and some subtle radiative effects, I won't get into.

A plot of the temperature change over the same period, but averaged by latitude clearly shows the Arctic warming.

2.  Stratospheric Cooling While the Lower Atmosphere Warms

Perhaps the most compelling support for the influence for increasing greenhouse gases might come as a surprise to many:  the cooling of the stratosphere.   Increasing CO2 warms the lower atmosphere through a process that is analogous to how a blanket warms you when slowing the loss of heat away from your body.  But having an efficient emitter of infrared radiation aloft actually results in cooling of the upper atmosphere.   So warming below and cooling aloft is a potent fingerprint of the influence of CO2.

Observations in the stratosphere and in the layers above (e.g., mesosphere, thermosphere), shown below and in the literature, demonstrate the cooling trend.  In the first figure, the blue and purple colors show cooling between 1979 and 2012 in the lower stratosphere, while the second figure shows cooling in the layers above the stratosphere (which ends about 50 km above the surface).

The cooling above the middle stratosphere is very important, because another issue (the weakening of the ozone layer from human emitted freon and other chlorfluoromethanes) could have produced some cooling.  But not in the layers above.

3.  Warming of the Earth's Atmosphere and Oceans and Model Experiments

As described in many places, the general temperature change of the past century determined by all the major centers are very similar, with cool temperatures during the late 19th century, warming during the first half of the 29th century, a leveling off from roughly 1950 to 1975, warming during the late 20th century, and a leveling off during the past 15 years.  The warming has been about 1C during the the entire period.  Analyses of the impacts of human emitted greenhouse gases suggest that our influence on warming would be mainly significant after 1970.

At first glance, this warming is not a compelling argument for human influence, since there was warming during the early part of the 20th century, which was probably natural.  There is some research that suggests that the pause during the middle of the 20th century might be associated with human-produced particles that scattered solar radiation back to space.

As I noted before, atmospheric scientists run climate models to simulate the evolution of the earth's atmosphere. If we run the model with only natural forcing (e.g., volcanoes, keeping greenhouse gases constant at pre-industrial values), the simulations do ok until about 1970,  but are way too cool during the past 40 years (see top figure below, the black line is the observed global temperature, the red and green lines are the average of collections of climate models).    But add changing greenhouse gases and the models are much closer to the truth (although they are a bit too warm during the last decade).

This is strong evidence of the important of human-produced greenhouse gases during the last half century.    Not as compelling perhaps as my first two fingerprints, but together with them, a pretty strong argument that humans are changing the climate.

The media and many politicians have not given enough emphasis to the above fingerprints, which are really the best evidence we have for human-caused global warming.  Instead they have pushed much weaker "proofs", such as a few big tropical storm events (e. g., Katrina, Sandy, Harvey) and the Washington/California wildfires.  As described in a excellent analysis by NOAA's GFDL, the connection of current contemporary hurricanes  with global warming is a weak one.  And the increase in western wildfires reflects in part the

mismanagement of our forests, suppression of natural fires for 70 years, the spread of invasive cheatgrass, and huge increase of people living and recreating in the forest environment.

In short, there is plenty of strong evidence of human impacts on climate change, it just takes a little study to appreciate why they are compelling and important.


  1. Thank you for this great article Cliff!

    I think the basic problem in our society is that few people have an understanding of science and how it works, and are mostly operating on belief systems. The Global Warming Activists are as guilty of this as the Climate Deniers. What constitutes "fact" has always been a squishy concept and even the lawyers in courts go back and forth on this. Most leave facts and verifying them to others due to lack of time and resources. This has not been helped by the rise of Television and other media since the 1950s combined tragically with the decline of our education standards since the Apollo Program. Once we sent a Man to the Moon, we sort of gave up and pursued tax cuts while the debt for the Vietnam War came knocking on our doors.

    We were lucky then as we were in a bear market as far as the Bond Market was concerned. Interest rates headed down. Now we are trying tax cuts for the Rich again while the Bond Market is about to explode into Bull Market Territory. Unfortunately this will mean that there will be very little money around in the future for restoring our infrastructure - including our Atmospheric infrastructure. Global Warming will be very expensive and we won't be able to afford it, even if we don't give all of our money to the super rich! Unfortunately we should have begun the hard work back during the Reagan Administration or before!

    Your message is extremely important - people need to know the difference so that we can hopefully have a productive dialog based on facts instead of debating one belief vs. another. We are out of time!

  2. Kenna - yours is a good post. Add in the fact that we have raised an entire generation who have grown up staring down into their hands rather than taking in the world around them, and the future does not look particularly bright.

    1. Says the person most likely looking down at her hands reading this...

  3. Cliff,
    Thanks as always for your insight into the whole debate. I’m always amazed at those who claim climate deniers are anti-science, but then are anti-science in they’re own beliefs. I really like how you show what we should be looking for in global warming’s effects and then show us that those effects are in fact occurring.

  4. My father, a learned man, often said that the general public lives solely in a world of competing beliefs. Science is only useful to them in as much as it validates their beliefs, or refutes someone else's. Belief is what the world runs on.

    I thought that was a very depressing view of how the majority of people thought, which helped drive me into a STEM career as an engineer, but I've come to realize he was probably right.

    Science, by its nature and its discipline, rejects all beliefs, replacing them instead with the well-known elements of the scientific method, to put it simplistically.

    It should be no surprise that the mass media and most activists (who after all, are working off a belief system) would choose the wrong "facts" to validate something as complex as climate change.

    Despite the vast access we all have to real science in this Internet age, this idea of competing beliefs has not diminished, and might, in fact, be growing. After all, one of the primary goals of believers is to diminish the role of science. That's been going on since religion was invented, and simply has changed form over the years.

    This blog by Cliff illustrates the gap that exists between science and belief. If you can say one thing about the way our "gut feelings" work, and the way we approach anecdotal "evidence", is that it's almost always wrong.

    1. I'm an EE grad. If I've learned anything it's that social and incentive structures can tell you more about behavior than engineering. Humans are emotional animals and are incapable of making decisions without emotional attachment. There have been studies that suggest as much, when you sever emotion from every day decisions they become impossibly difficult to make. The emotional part of the brain is enforced by your belief systems, and they're extremely important for making sense of the world. It's not a flaw but a feature. It doesn't always result in irrational behavior, quite the opposite.

      When people are trying to make sense of the world, they're susceptible to the unhealthy narratives being dominated by those who control the flows of information.

      In my opinion, our society has naturally turned towards exploitation and propaganda, and it only works in that way because that's what the incentive structures that exist result in. In order for things to change the entire system has to change.

      Global warming denial seems to be just one unhealthy side effect, but the ills that created it can't be cured with logic and reasoning but are symptomatic of a much bigger societal problem that is resistant to change. It is not global warming deniers that will destroy the planet but the corporate and governmental structures that do not see reason because they are designed to extract wealth. No amount of science will transform Shell oil into a moral institution.

  5. Great stuff Cliff,

    Kudos in your ability to make this easy to understand for the general public.

    As far as some of these comments:
    I would like to point out that those who claim AGW isn't occurring and those who understand that climate change is real are not the same, not even close. Some in the media like to hype AGW, and some in the media do a very good job of explaining the science. Once you start to listen to actual climate scientists and know where to go for the data and information you will also understand just how AGW deniers and climate scientists that claim this is indeed occurring are not at all the same. One group is completely wrong, and the other has the work they do "hyped" by certain media outlets. There is a big difference there.

  6. If you are at all familiar with cognitive psychology you know that humans will enlist heuristics - simple sub conscious mental short cuts - to explain that which is abstract, complex and uncertain. No matter who you are, a denier or a warmer, a weather event such as wednesday's coming big warm flood will elicit an instant and automatic "meaning" in regard to whatever you believe about climate change. The rationalizations that follow is called motivated reasoning. The warmers will reason that this storm is warmer or wetter, the deniers will reason that its just another standard storm. Both are pointlessly irrelevant - climate is only seen as a trend but trends vaguely spinning off into the future are abstractions of complexity. Today's storm is immediately visceral.

    Everybody does it, no one is immune although if aware of the biases and heuristics phenomena and actually possessing of an ethic that favours fact over feeling, there is some slim possibility that the power of feeling can be displaced by the power of fact, but that will not be automatic. It will require conscious will and discipline, as any ethic will.

    Unfortunately, it is a rarity that anyone knows or cares about the facts of human cognition or for that matter ethics, instead we assume without evidence that a centuries old mythology - common horse sense - is reliable in making sense of anything. Perhaps that is why we are so terrified of psychology. Our horse sense warns us it will make mince meat of the only sense we have! Best just ignore it and continue explaining climate with the only thing we can comprehend - weather.

  7. good work, Cliff.
    Hang in there against all the naysayers.
    As Leon Russel said " the left ones think I'm right and the right ones think I'm wrong.

  8. Bruce Kay-

    As Cliff stated, the earth is warming, Humans are the cause and those are facts. Some will hype or exaggerate its effect, but many do not, and every climate scientist that is worth his/her weight in salt knows that Wednesday weather does not equal "climate".
    But it is perfectly prudent to make predictions/prepare on what we can expect in the future because of the warming that we as Humans are causing.

    Anyone denying that this is occurring is just wrong. However, what to do about it is and should be a completely open discussion.

  9. "What to do about it," is exactly the point of many of the contrary opinions on the matter, Michael. Many of the proposals offered thus far have consisted mostly of more trillion - dollar boondoggles that reek of crony capitalism of the worst kind (of which we've seen hundreds of millions of dollars of wasted taxpayer monies already).

    I have yet to see anyone credible offering an actual plan that will budge global temps down more than a fraction of a percentile, nor have I viewed proposed alternative sources of energy that don't involve massive taxpayer support in order to survive as stand alone industries. No mentions of potential energy sources that could conceivably come on line in a matter of a few years - things such as Thorium reactors (the enviro lobbyist are against it, for no obejctive reason). This is the primary reason why so many of the contrary voices are growing louder every day - because the people screaming about how we must do something right now have nothing to offer that will truly alleviate the real underlying issue. That issue is the growing economies of the Third World (i.e. India and China) needing inexpensive energy sources that are also plentiful - until that issue is solved, anything else is just shouting into the wind.

  10. Not disputing it Mike, just saying how people think no matter how right they might be.

    However, this is a chance to repeat my point about ethics. If anyone pretends that "truth" as in our best understanding of it should inform decisions, not just incompetent feelings, then that ethic will lead one unerringly to the fact that human caused GHG is the primary cause of global warming.

    Now for the fun part. Considering that most of us are incapable technically of validating that statement, we need to decide on something we can validate - who to trust to inform us.

    Hmmmm.... such a hard choice. Our own incompetence, horse sense and a bunch of way outlier scientists?

    Or the quite solid and strengthening consensus opinion of the greatest institution of knowledge ever known to humanity?

    Gosh, better just spin a bottle eh!

  11. Eric Blair,

    No, most of the discussion is not about what to do about it. There is a major political party that does not accept that humans are the cause, you know which one it is and this is a major problem.

  12. Cliff tell us about the new satalite (s) for weather they are launching, is this a significant impact to fore casting ??


  13. Cliff, Thanks for yet another great writeup. If you can, I'd like you to explain what the y axis is in the first chart under #2. The values range from 100 to 700 and I assume correlate somehow with height. Also, any explanation as to why the cooling is greater in the south vs the north would be appreciated. Keep up the good work.

  14. And Eric provides a perfect example, as if on cue, as to the unreliability of horse sense.

    "I have yet to see anyone credible offering an actual plan that will budge global temps down more than a fraction of a percentile..."

    First, the essential problem of the Dunning Kruger effect is that a person first needs skill in order to recognize when it is lacking. That is his "yet to see anyone credible" part. if the wrong person is looking, what they see is invariably a deception. Now to be fair Eric is not alone in lacking the skill of validation. I do also and so does the majority of red blooded Americans whatever they might say but that is precisely why we need trusted institutions who can validate. In case you doubt this, and you feel that anyone possessing "common sense" ought to be able to rationally think through any problem, well just elbow the pilot aside and give it a try next time you fly any where.

    Eric then without breaking stride invokes a classic logical fallacy . This is to "move the goal posts" to better frame his logic as unassailable. He has a point if his assumption was right. If we expect global temperatures to decrease, there is no credible plan and we know this not because Eric or anyone else reading this can see that, it is because the skilled people say it and don't suggest otherwise. His assumption is a big one and more important, a wrong one.

    Lucky for us but not for Eric, that is not the objective. The objective is to slow global warming because the current rate is what the immediate problem is. We need time to develop the future transition strategies and technology but we do have both available right now to achieve a slowing of warming. There are credible plans after all. In other words, things we currently have empirical experience with such as taxation, a proven means of effecting changes in consumption behaviour, and both proven and emergent energy technologies are already demonstrating a substantial ability to lower GHG production rates. This is measurable and can be modelled by showing where we would be right now without all the direct efforts at transition worldwide in nearly any nation. If we had maintained the status quo, we know where we would now be and it is worse off than we now are, not better.

    Another widespread psychological dysfunction worth mentioning is cynicism. Especially the kind that masquerades behind the mask of its more respectable cousin - skepticism. In order to practice skepticism, you need skill. Cynics cannot say the same.

  15. Hi Cliff,

    Thanks for taking down the many junk science arguments for global warming, from the ill-informed: activists and journalists. It seems to take a scientist to think like a scientist! Funny how that works.

    Now that you have reduced the topic to essential arguments, we can have a real conversation. But first let me note that your scientific arguments are somewhat different from the arguments that came out of the Obama administration, namely their "Three Lines of Evidence:"

    1) Unusual warming since 1950.
    2) Clearly from greenhouse gases because of the Hotspot in the tropical mid-troposphere
    3) Climate models are ultimate proof.

    I can see why you would not want to use these. They are easily shown to be false!

    But let's consider your three points:

    1) Arctic Warming: Yes indeed the Arctic has warmed more than any other place on the planet in recent decades, much as it did in the run-up to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. But the Antarctic has not. In fact, it has not warmed at all (over the satellite record). That is inconsistent with your climate models. And they are in turn inconsistent with both the NASA satellite temperatures AND radiosonde data. The inconsistency is most dramatic in the all-important tropical mid-troposphere where the model trend runs hot by a factor of about 3.5. That's fatal. Your models don't work!

    2) Stratospheric cooling (mesosphere and thermosphere too): This phenomenon has been so spectacular that the thermosphere almost went away at solar minimum (and satellites that find the thermosphere a drag stayed in orbit longer). That should be a big hint that something else is going on. While insolation (incoming solar radiation) varies little over a solar cycle, the wavelengths of light that most affect the upper atmosphere (x-ray and ultraviolet) vary substantially. When they wane, the far upper atmosphere cools dramatically. Because the atmosphere is largely opaque to such short wavelengths, they are largely absorbed at very high altitude. Hence, stratospheric cooling can be easily explained by changes in the character of insolation.

    3) Warming of the Earth's atmosphere and model "experiments:" It should strike you that the warming during the first half of the 20th century was not correlated with rising CO2. Why then would you expect the similar warming after 1950 was caused by the clearly rising CO2 at that time? You cannot have it natural in the first half of the 20th century and supernatural in the second half, without clear logic. The models are substantial failures to begin with. And when you use them to extract a fingerprint of CO2 you are engaging in circular reasoning. That is a mortal sin. They have an exaggerated carbon dioxide effect built in. Furthermore, you ignore the NASA satellite temperature data, which are the most pertinent temperature data and do not show the warming of the surface compilations.

    Let me suggest that you consider the semi-periodic PDO cycles when trying to explain both the Dust Bowl warmth and the recent warmth. There is no reason to invoke the super-natural. We live on a planet with vast oceans and atmosphere that are never in complete equilibrium. You should understand that better than I do.

    Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
    Corbett, Oregon USA

  16. Which of those three show that it man's 5% of the annual CO2 emissions, instead of nature's 95% that is causing the warming?

    How does this relate to the fact that Minoan, Roman & Medieval times were warmer than now? Where is the evidence that they did not show different patterns to 1-3 above. (If they showed similar patterns, then man's CO2 would not be the cause because there was no significant fossil fuel use in those times.) In fact where is the evidence that items 1-3 have not occurred before at any time?

    The need to show these patterns are unique is that many of today's weather events are consistent with a coming little ice age.

  17. There are too many confounding natural factors to assert a warming Arctic is a fingerprint of CO2 driven climate change. However I do think that how the Arctic behaves over the next 15 years will provide a natural experiment to allow us to separate natural factors rom hypothesized CO2 contributions.

    Data publish by Kahl 1994, reported Arctic air temperatures were cooling during the 80s and early 90s. Global warming did not melt Arctic sea ice. Warming happened after a shift in the winds, related to the Arctic Oscillation, that pushed thick ice out through the Fram strait to melt (Rigor 2002, 2004). The loss of insulating ice allowed the massive amounts of heat stored in the relatively warm Atlantic waters that lurk 100 to 900 feet below the surface to ventilate. Counter-intuitively warming air temperatures were caused largely by a cooling ocean. The exposure of warmer waters, altered pressure gradients that increased southerly winds flowing into the Arctic

    Fishery data and Greenland instrumental data (Chylek 2006) indicate oscillations that brought warm Atlantic water and its inhabitants intruded into the Arctic Ocean in the 30s and 40s and again in recent decades. Greenland warmed at a faster rate in the 1930s. Fishery data (Albeit 2014) shows intrusions of more southerly fish happened periodically and is associated with warmer air temperatures.

    The greatest amount of melting sea ice happens around the Barents Sea where those intruding warm water enters, while elsewhere more southerly waters remain frozen. The cooling of the warm Gulf Stream along the US east coast transfers great amounts of tropical heat from the ocean to the air in more northerly latitudes, and the Barents Sea is also major area of such heat transfer.

    The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillaiton is associated with changing intruding currents, and it should soon switch phases so that the Arctic receives less warm Atlantic water. Based on such evidence and those natural cycles I expect Arctic Sea Ice to begin recovery by 2030. If not then I'll give more credence to the CO2 hypothesis that the Arctic is a fingerprint of human warming

  18. Gordon.... I will have to push back a bit. I think you are mistaken regarding models....they produce much more warming in the arctic than the antarctic,in contradiction to your claim. You can not be correct regarding the upper atmosphere and cooling aloft, because the cooling extends across several solar cycles, with both ups and downs of solar activity. Furthermore, radiative models are able to duplicate the observed signal when forced with increasing CO2. Regarding warming in the early 20th century, there are plausible explanations for that, including a lack of volcanic eruption after a period of high amplitude volcanic activity. I would accept that this evidence is weaker than the first two points...clff

  19. Jim Karlock,
    You are making a fundamental error. It is not that human emission is larger than natural fluxes, it is not. But human emissions are net positive fluxes of carbon, while natural flows have both positive and negative fluxes. Think of a bathtub with modest flow water into it...water level rises......cliff

  20. Jim Steele - your predictions are an interesting academic problem, but they are an abysmally horrible risk problem.

    Risk management inherently requires action without full certainty. It is impossible to say risk without also saying uncertain. Nothing hew here, if you know anything about risk which we should as it accounts for the entirity of what separates humans from other life forms - the ability to predict scenario of risk into the future and select the right one for action.

    For Global warming risk, the hazard is high probability, extreme consequence, total exposure and extreme vulnerability, if you are modern civilization and not a jelly fish.

    That is the risk now for the action. The mitigation window outside of highly risky and desperate geo engineering is rapidly closing, convinced of the hazard or not. If we fail there, that leaves adaptation. This is where Trump may be right after all if America wants to stay on top of the dog pile and a lot more than border walls will be required to keep out the less fortunate.

    That as Al Gore famously put it is a moral problem, not so much a technical or economic one.

  21. Bruce,

    If we are to mitigate risks from extreme weather events, we must correctly understand natural variability. To minimize future risk. people must hedge their bets agains higher and lower results than what we currently anticipate. Climate has always changed. In the rush to demonize CO2, people are not being educated about natural climate risks. People build on flood plains, often subsidized by ill-informed governments, only to be flooded out. Flood plains exist for a reason and if people understood natural climate change they would understand many natural disasters loom in our near future, whether or not CO2 continues to rise

    The natural Pacific Decadal Oscillation was not named until 1997 and has not been adequately incorporated into our climate models. Nor do modeling experiments indicate it is affected by CO2. About a decade ago, a leading proponent of CO2 climate change Kevin Trenberth denied the PDO was a decadal oscillation. In contrast more recently Johnstone 2014 has shown that 20th century weather and decadal climate change can be explained by the PDO alone.

    Regards the Arctic, climate models absolutely failed to simulate the well documented warming of the 30s and 40s. The graph linked to below is from Gillett 2008. They modeled natural climate change (blue line) as unchanging throughout the 20th century, while observations (black line) showed rapid warming in the 30s. Then when CO2 was added to their natural models the warm period of the 1030s was lowered even more. However they trusted their faulty model simply because more CO2 correlated with the rise in temperature since the 70s. But that correlation only matches half the natural climate oscillation

    Similar failed modeling of natural Arctic temperatures can be seen in Johannessen 2004

    Simply put our current climate models have failed miserably to model natural climate change. And the only way we can accurately determine the contribution of CO2 to climate change, requires that we accurately evaluate natural climate change. That would be good science.

    Your suggestion that instead we must guard against the boogie man in the future only leads to fear mongering and undue fears, misdirected resources, and the avalanche of bogus reports that every harmful weather event has been worsened by CO2.

    While warming temperatures since the Little Ice Age have improved the growing season for forest and agriculture, fear mongering reports argue warming is hurt our food supply. Yet despite Ehrlich's 70s prediction of impending starvation, good weather and improved technology have enabled us to feed a much larger global population.

    I have long advocated that to be a resilient society we need to restore our local hydrology and thus minimize the bad effects of droughts and floods that are inevitable whether or not the change is natural or exacerbated by CO2. We should restore coastal sand dunes and marshes to protect against the inevitable storms that will hit out shores, whether or not the change is natural or exacerbated by CO2. Limiting CO2 will never protect us from such inevitable disasters, thus I see the obsessed focus on CO2 is resulting in a horrible misdirection of scarce resources that would be better spent building the critical components of a resilient society.

  22. Jim... I certainly agree than natural variability has substantially modulated the arctic ice may even have been dominant. But the Arctic warming is forced by far more than the ice distribution, including radiative and lapse-rate feedbacks. The warming of the arctic has been quite consistent for the past decades and has increased during the past decade, which is consistent with an anthropogenic origin...cliff

  23. So much analysis and truth I can't even stand it! Great blog Cliff Mass. I'm not from the Northwest, but I like keep up on the weather and on global temps and climate. I use to have aspirations to be a meteorologist as a kid, but I was never any good at math or science in school. Just a deep fascination with the weather. :)

  24. "Your suggestion that instead we must guard against the boogie man in the future only leads to fear mongering and undue fears, misdirected resources, and the avalanche of bogus reports that every harmful weather event has been worsened by CO2."

    A thousand times this - talk about being the carpenter that sees everything as a nail, instead of a wholly different dynamic. The Boy Who Cries Wolf has been employed so many times by hucksters making a buck off of the taxpayers that it's finally been discredited. This does not come from reasonable people employing a modicum of skepticism, hence this is why we find ourselves in the current debate.

    This just came out last week, as one example of hundreds of fraudulent schemes that citizens of Oregon will be paying for for years, and for nothing.

  25. Cliff, Although Arctic warming is consistent with rising CO2, it can still be attributed to natural factors which is why I argue we can not gain clarity for another 15 years.

    When below freezing winds pushed insulating sea ice out into the Atlantic, it allowed the winds and the ocean to reconnect. As Shimada 2006 described even when intruding warm waters declined in the Canadian Basin, surface temperatures continued to rise because the winds continued to bring ample stored heat to the surface, heat that had likely been transported there decades ago.

    Pulses of intruding warm water are observed to circulate through the Arctic Ocean for about 15 years slowly releasing heat before exiting back to the Atlantic. And any warming of the surface ocean due to such heat releases to the surface helps induce a flow of southerly winds. This dynamic has been describe by Bengstonn 2004 to describe the 1930s warming spike.

    Thinner sea ice has been observed to melt completely in the Beaufort Sea despite lower air temperatures. Thus latent heat continues to be released as new ice forms each year and ventilating heat continues to warm the air. Typically sea ice can only survive summer melt if it survives and thickens for 5 years. Based on natural oscillations, as shifting winds reduce the export of sea ice, I would expect that once a sufficient area of 5 year old ice forms, we will witness.a step change drop in Arctic temperatures.

    There is no clear cut way to attribute Arctic warming to anthropogenic causes, until a slow down of intruding warm Atlantic waters has ceased for at lest a decade.

  26. The problem is how to shake the complacency of the "deniers". I just read an article in National Geographic about why people lie, including how they engage in self deception. When presented with evidence that does not fit their world-view, they are hard to convince. An experiment was run where people reluctantly accepted evidence for some fact that did not fit their world-view (I think it was to debunk "vaccines cause autism"). But when they were polled a week later, they had mostly returned to their uneducated position.

    I do believe that scientists as a group are less susceptible to this kind of self-deception. Which leads me to the very controversial suggestion that only educated people should be allowed to vote.

  27. Jim, some 99% of the Scientists do not agree with you. Also, according to new models demonstrated at the recent Geological Society of America meeting in Seattle last month, we are in the process of losing some 95% of our biodiversity by the end of this century and are currently losing something like 250 species Per Day.

    You propose that we study it for another 15 years. Well they were saying that 15 years ago and even 30 years ago. At a certain point one has to poop or get off the pot.

    We. Don't. Have. The. Time. should the 99% of the scientists be right, as they probably are. We aren't suggesting that people should respond to fear mongering. The Climate Deniers have been duped by the same PR firms that the tried to dupe us about Cigarettes, saying that they weren't sure it causes Cancers. This time the firms were hired by the Oil Companies and people bought their lies. Here - but nowhere else on the planet.

    We'll leave the fear mongering to FOX news and their gullible followers. Attacking this problem IS the most prudent thing we can do and even if Global Warming is "natural" as you suggest or "not happening" as the Climate Deniers claim, we will still benefit by moving away from non-renewable energy sources such as oil and others that have the potential to harm us like coal and nuclear, and replace these with passive solar and wind and other softer energy paths. The Wolf is at our door and we need to act now and with vigor, similar in scope to how we mobilized to defeat the Nazis in WW2. Everyone has to be involved.

    We need to think about our populations and what that alone is doing to the biosphere. Arguing against birth control is a bad thing! Climate change is only a small part of the global ecosystem collapse - witness the Great Barrier Reef. But even here things are way out of whack. Did you know that currently 70% of the biomass by weight in Puget Sound currently consists of the primitive shark-like Ratfish? This is not normal.

    Simply put, we don't have any more time for studies while people sit on their hands. Its now or never folks!

  28. Dear Cliff,

    I will have to push back on your comment that the models show much more warming in the Arctic than the Antarctic. Just look at the predictions that you show here. They may have a little deeper red in the Arctic than Antarctic, but the fact is that they show considerable warming in the Antarctic where there has been NONE observed over the satellite record.

    But more generally, you know that the models predict a hotspot in the tropical mid-troposphere that is an important part of their proposed water vapor feedback. The problem is that the hotspot is not there. That's fatal for the models.

    Regarding the upper atmosphere, I mistakenly referenced the Thermosphere above when I meant the Exosphere, in regard to variable satellite drag. But as to x-ray and ultraviolet insolation being important at these extreme altitudes, that is not in question. It is. We have only begun to monitor the substantial variation in this insolation. Remember that the Grand Maximum in solar cycles peaked about 1960 and has been declining since. The decline accelerated after the turn of the millennium. But we have very little satellite data to show what happened to the x-ray and UV insolation, beyond considerable variation.

    As to the substantially similar warming in the early and late 20th century (and to much the same peak both times in the Arctic), the simplest explanation is natural causes (eg., ocean cycles). Yes, you can always find a more complex explanation that will fit the meager data we have, but such explanations are less credible.

    I would think that you of all people would understand that we live on a fluid planet that guarantees large excursions from average. Our oceans contain the vast majority of mobile heat on this planet, making it highly likely that we will experience a quasi-cyclical climate on many time scales. There is no need to invoke supernatural forcing, when natural variations will do just fine.

    Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
    Corbett, Oregon USA

  29. well like I said Jim, a truly interesting academic problem you have there, but for those who are more interested in risk, better minds than ours have concluded otherwise and this informs what we can figure out ourselves - that the clock is ticking to organize our affairs.

    The most important element of this risk problem is not nailing down probability to a satisfying degree, it is understanding consequence and our vulnerability to it. By the time you have achieve satisfaction in your determinations of probability some 15 years from now, consequence will not be just an abstract prediction, it will be a feedback at which point any realization that perhaps we should act after all will be way, way too late. This is the primary reason an entirely new term of complexity was created to describe the climate change problem - the super wicked problem.

    Humans, despite our spectacular imagination, are little better than any dog in managing risk in the absence of feedbacks. Without direct feedbacks risk is a vague abstraction, not a visceral reality. The vague and rather boring idea of only a foot of sea level rise offers our imagination little to play with. Same with the "only" 2 degrees of warming. The feedbacks we need to confirm our more consequential climate change scenarios will be absent long into the future. Yet we do know that if our best guesses are right, mitigation needs to be enacted now due to the emissions time lag of effect.

    It is a super wicked problem largely due to the limits of human cognitive ability to competently comprehend risk in the absence of direct feedbacks. We certainly have the technology and we can handle complexity just fine when we are motivated, but without an ability to comprehend, we will never be motivated. This is why the climate scientists and ecologists and geo political strategists are so alarmed. They have the sophistication of insight that can comprehend the probabilities and consequences just fine but what they can't comprehend is why no one else does!

  30. "I do believe that scientists as a group are less susceptible to this kind of self-deception. Which leads me to the very controversial suggestion that only educated people should be allowed to vote."

    How perfectly Orwellian - scratch the surface of a cultist and you always see the fascist lurking within. You should talk to some of the people living in Eastern Europe when they were part of the USSR - they'd recognize this kind of State control over everyone's thoughts and lives 24/7. The Stasi would absolutely love your kind - and you wonder why many folks don't trust their proposed Overlords?

  31. Kenna,

    You suggest 250 species are going extinct. Where's the bodes? Even if that was not an inflated number, none of those extinctions would be due to climate change. None, despite the claims. Loss of habitat, overhunting and invasive species explains virtually every loss. Stop hunting and I am watching the whales rebound rapidly.

    Species extinctions on islands due to introduced predators and disease account for the great percentage of definitive extinctions. Removing non-natives has been the best use of our resources in order to save island species. Amphibian extinction has been due largely to the loss of habitat and the introduced chytrid. I have spent my career trying to restore improve habitat watersheds. As an ecologists I find it bizarre that people can think a single variable like CO2 is causing extinctions. There is absolutely no proof. I throughly examined the claim that global warming killed the Golden Toad. The journal Nature pushed that view while initially giving no space to alternative and correct explanation- the chytrid. Read the details here

    I have detailed how Parmesan falsely pushed butterfly extinctions as a climate change problem when it was landscape changes. Read


    If you believe time is running out then it is even more important that we identify the real causes of lost species. The climate change hysteria is misdirecting resources for research and restoration efforts into the real problems

    The 99% consensus is bogus political theater that has been shown many times to be inaccurate. Consensus is not evidence. Consensus is the refuge of steeple who do not want to do the heavy lifting of critical thinking themselves. The consensus argument was used against Einstein in "A hundred Authors Against Einstein". Perhaps that is enough evidence for you to disagree with Einstein?

    Those who rely on the consensus argument, clearly show that they can not argue the scientific details.

  32. Eric Blair - it is indeed "Orwellian" but how does that change the risk equation? Now matter how your sensibilities of self determination are offended, the world continues to warm by the laws of physics, not the laws of human ideology. I've spent the majority of my life motivated by the ideology of "rugged individualism" but after a while, even I had to notice that everything actually physical from my dental floss to designing my house is entirely dependant on everyone else, not me.

    Of course it is a tragedy that the single most important leg on the table of democracy has been kicked out - an electorate that is informed and skilled enough to make the judgements required. This is the single most important hazard to democracy that is best illustrated by the general state of dysfunctional, unmoving intransigence in the United States, supposedly the leading beacon of democratic success, on a matter of urgent action. At the same time a totalitarian government such as China can first rapidly industrialize then just as rapidly shift gears with new knowledge, all without the direct permission or even consultation of the population. If you value democracy and individual liberty as I do, this fact is disturbingly "orwellian" but in the end you need to admit that the orwellian part is not "the State" so much as the moral failure of the electorate, which has failed to uphold its end of the bargain.. to be well informed.

    The USA (and Canada) has been fortunate that in its entire short history the status quo has never required any substantial change. Essentially, the voters have never been required to decide on anything but minor adjustments and those have been nearly always on moral impulses of justice, not technical understandings of the physical reality that puts food on the table. That is because our ecology has always been reliably stable and taken for granted. Even the noble "Prepper" gets all his stock from Walmart that is reliably open 24/7. This ignoring of our true reality free's up the average voter to engage in fantasies of "rugged individualism" where at its most primal, all a guy needs is common sense to explain anything.

    That is of course the American mythology I just described. It's existence is predicated on one major element:

    The ability to ignore all scientific evidence that that mythology is an illusion, sustained only by the absence of recognizable feedbacks. So long as no feedbacks exist, we are free to believe whatever strikes our fancy, including "rugged individualism".

  33. Nice to see a sober, responsible summary of the evidence, Cliff.

    The folks who tout every single extreme weather event as a tangible manifestation of the consequences of rising C02 concentrations do little more than provide unending examples of demonstrably false assertions that denialists can point to when they need a pretext for dismissing the long-term, global effects of elevated C02 concentrations.

    Ditto for the alternative-energy utopians. Civilization depends on reliable, scalable, energy sources with high power-density. Full stop. Nuclear is the one and only carbon-free power source capable of delivering such power at the scale necessary to drive meaningful reductions in C02 emissions on a timeline that can produce meaningful reductions in emissions before it's too late.

    I'll know the folks wringing their hands over global warming are serious when they embrace nuclear power. Anything else is little more than an indulgence in self-righteous grandstanding with no purpose beyond publicly validating an pathologically over-inflated and and wholly underserved sense of personal virtue.

  34. Cliff -- Could not the discrepancy in temperature records (many more records for heat are now being set than ones for cold, even when accounting for non-global effects like urban heat islands) also be a good fingerprint for global warming?

  35. I have learned a great deal from your blogs and watching the weather over the years Cliff and now I wonder about the effect of 'mixing' on the overall climate. Both atmospheric mixing and oceanographic mixing seem to be very powerful components to a complex atmosphere. Do climate.models understand the potential of feedback and mixing as a type of governor to overall warming?

  36. "I'll know the folks wringing their hands over global warming are serious when they embrace nuclear power."

    Yep. I finally broke with groups like The Nature Conservancy, The Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society in the late 80's, after they all got on the "No Nuke" bandwagon, and would not relent until a complete moratorium was in effect on any new nuke plants. I asked their reps what their solutions were for the replacement of all of that needed energy, and they offered up the usual nostrums of solar, wind and unicorn emissions. Living in Chicago at the time, the effect was dramatic, in that many new coal plants had to come online, thereby vastly increasing the pollution in both my city and IL overall. They're still at it, having learned nothing from the past.

  37. While I would agree that it's true that individual events don't provide good evidence for global warming, it seems like to me like you're conflating two different arguments here. The first is the one I just mentioned, and there are certainly media outlets who get this very wrong. But the other way around is relevant. That is, while a single event may not provide good evidence for global warming, it can be reasonably argued that global warming can affect the likelihood of a single event occurring, so one can quantify the change in likelihood (or, alternatively, the expected change in intensity) of individual events based on the known effects of global warming. So, for example, it would be wrong to suggest that an increase in droughts in the northwest is strong evidence for global warming, but it's very reasonable to say that given the warming seen so far and our understanding of its impacts, we would expect droughts to have become more frequent by X%, or more intense by Y%, and therefore that a given recent drought could be argued to have had some Z% contribution from global warming. This is what's meant by attribution, and it's the subject of study of many climate scientists. It's also what's sometimes cited in the media, albeit often in a way that's poorly described.

  38. So Eric.... your tragic break up with The Sierra Club logically then led to a rejection of the consensus expert opinion on anthropogenic global warming and the risk it presents?

    Did you ever consider therapy?

  39. Cliff:
    You missed one other big one- warming of the oceans. Most of the earth is ocean and even more so because the ocean has so much more heat capacity than the land or atmosphere. The measurements are quite simple- thousands of very accurate thermometers profiling the upper 2 km and over covering most of the ocean since about 2000. These, and calibrations from these extending further back in time, clearly show warming.

  40. Why haven't you offed yourself yet, Bruce? According to many of the environmentalists today, humans are the worst thing to happen to the earth, and should be eradicated ASAP. Do it for Mother Gaia and show us the courage of your convictions. Additionally, your projection about therapy is duly noted, as is your non - response to my comments.

  41. Defeats the purpose don't you think Eric? You and I are needed here to contribute to the tricky risk decisions and actions required to secure the future for our following generations. We all know that earth will do just fine without us. I, like most, prefer to care about us.

    Now if I was to "off myself" I would abdicate my moral duty, by relenting meekly to the same forces that subscribe to the fantasy of rugged individualism while studiously ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

    Not much different than you abdicating your own moral duty by doubling down ever deeper into your own navel gazing illusion of rugged individualism while ignoring all evidence to the contrary...... then attempting to shift the blame for your weakness onto of all things the Sierra club! Oh don't get me wrong, they like most are only human so are not immune to mistakes but at least they get the science right and they are willing to challenge the status quo, rather than Bootlick it. What do you get right?

    I mean besides the fanciful mythology of rugged individualism?

  42. Time to cut the cheese, Bruce - nuclear; for or against? You've dodged this question repeatedly over the past year. If you're against it, then please outline in specific detail how you would replace the incredible amounts of kilowatts generated by the nuclear plants still operating today. Since you claim that AGW is a moral imperative that must be dealt with immediately, then explain how that energy could be replaced in short order. Concurrently, please outline in specific detail how the burgeoning economies of third world countries such as China and India could replace their coal plants with carbon neutral energy sources. Let's see your work, all of it.

  43. I haven't dodged it ever. The fact you never saw me commented on it is no dodge, it is you being paranoid. I personally am in favour of existing nuclear tech, warts and all, plus aggressively pursuing next generation and costs be damned. I've already said as much about hydro if that is any hint, even suggesting that BC is a potential Saudi Arabia of hydro and i bet you can imagine how that goes over with my flakier enviro nut friends.

    I don't know where you get your notions Eric but it isn't from me. Now then, yes there is no doubt action on AGW is a moral imperative based on any factual evidence unless you are a double high authoritarian personality like Donald Trump and sizeable proportions of any population, a personality type which is measured to account for a sizeable chunk of climate change denialism. There is a reason. They think of the world as a giant competition and he who dies with the most toys wins. Trump knows there is global warming he just doesn't care so long as his team is winning. Why do you think he wants to build a wall? Keep out the low wage workers? Hardly. He loves low wage workers! He and his entire team know that the choice is to team up with the rest of the world or what they want - compete to the death for whats left over. As mitigating is clearly a collaborative effort, they reject it favouring instead adaptation, the only idea that suits the competitive paradigm. Classic Darwinian survival of the fittest - thats them.

    Even if his voter base won't admit this even to themselves, their sentiment is the same. That is the ethos of the authoritarian personality, especially the ones high in social dominance orientation, like Trump. No namby pamby cooperation or helping hands for them. Winner takes all. Of course you'll never catch them telling that bedtime story to their kids but the proof is in the pudding.... that is the future they are carving out for them.

    You too Eric? You got kids do you? Do you sing them soothing songs of rugged individualism as they drift off to sleep?

  44. Hydro electric is such an obvious source. It hurts to have no clear way to change the system.

    Government run and paid for dams reservoirs and plants. Could make nice parks around them for fish to get around. Camp, walk..

    Oil/ coal corps are so powerful this can't even begin to happen until every drop of cheap oil is sold.

    Will be interesting to see if our lynchpin is pulled before or after the last barrels are sold.

    Global scale is a different problem.

  45. I take it then Eric that my reply is satisfactory for you? You seemed to be throwing down the gauntlet there..... but have since disappeared.

    OK, I will take your silence as no contest. Particularly in my observations on the authoritarian personality, the single best predictor for both support of Trump and the selective rejection of science.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

The Snow has Arrived and Much More is on the Way

This afternoon I biked home in light snow and it was magical.   And the Northwest will enjoy a lot of snowflake magic during the next week. ...