Abstract Round Up: 10/31-11/06

Image courtesy of Flickr user "bionicteaching", used under Creative Commons.

Correlation between climate sensitivity and aerosol forcing and its implication for the “climate trap”

ABSTRACT:  Climate sensitivity and aerosol forcing are dominant uncertain properties of the global climate system. Their estimates based on the inverse approach are interdependent as historical temperature records constrain possible combinations. Nevertheless, many literature projections of future climate are based on the probability density of climate sensitivity and an independent aerosol forcing without considering the interdependency of such estimates. Here we investigate how large such parameter interdependency affects the range of future warming in two distinct settings: one following the A1B emission scenario till the year 2100 and the other assuming a shutdown of all greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions in the year 2020. We demonstrate that the range of projected warming decreases in the former case, but considerably broadens in the latter case, if the correlation between climate sensitivity and aerosol forcing is taken into account. Our conceptual study suggests that, unless the interdependency between the climate sensitivity and aerosol forcing estimates is properly considered, one could underestimate a risk involving the “climate trap”, an unpalatable situation with a high climate sensitivity in which a very drastic mitigation may counter-intuitively accelerate the warming by unmasking the hidden warming due to aerosols.


California coastal management with a changing climate

ABSTRACT:  With over 2,000 miles (3,218 km) of ocean and estuarine coastline, California faces significant coastal management challenges as a result of climate change-induced sea level rise. Under high emission scenarios, recent models predict 1.4 m or more of sea level rise by 2100, accompanied by increasing storm surges. This article investigates the most important issues facing coastal managers, explores the policy tools available for adapting to the impacts of climate change, assesses institutional constraints to adaptation, and identifies priorities for future research and policy action. We find that adaptation tools exist for dealing with anticipated increases in coastal erosion and flooding, but they involve significant costs and tradeoffs. In particular, coastal armoring, such as seawalls, can protect developed coastal lands, but destroys beaches and habitat. Although California already has policies and institutions that aim to balance the competing objectives for coastal development, management agencies are at the early stages of understanding how to facilitate adaptation. Research priorities to inform coastal adaptation planning include: (i) inventorying coastal resources to provide a firmer basis for balancing decisions on property and habitat protection, (ii) identifying opportunities for coastal habitat migration, (iii) assessing the vulnerabilities of existing and planned coastal infrastructure, and (iv) experimenting with alternatives to armoring as a way of managing the changing coastline.


Recent summer precipitation trends in the Greater Horn of Africa and the emerging role of Indian Ocean sea surface temperature

ABSTRACT:  We utilize a variety of climate datasets to examine impacts of two mechanisms on precipitation in the Greater Horn of Africa (GHA) during northern-hemisphere summer. First, surface-pressure gradients draw moist air toward the GHA from the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Congo Basin. Variability of the strength of these gradients strongly influences GHA precipitation totals and accounts for important phenomena such as the 1960s–1980s rainfall decline and devastating 1984 drought. Following the 1980s, precipitation variability became increasingly influenced by the southern tropical Indian Ocean (STIO) region. Within this region, increases in sea-surface temperature, evaporation, and precipitation are linked with increased exports of dry mid-tropospheric air from the STIO region toward the GHA. Convergence of dry air above the GHA reduces local convection and precipitation. It also produces a clockwise circulation response near the ground that reduces moisture transports from the Congo Basin. Because precipitation originating in the Congo Basin has a unique isotopic signature, records of moisture transports from the Congo Basin may be preserved in the isotopic composition of annual tree rings in the Ethiopian Highlands. A negative trend in tree-ring oxygen-18 during the past half century suggests a decline in the proportion of precipitation originating from the Congo Basin. This trend may not be part of a natural cycle that will soon rebound because climate models characterize Indian Ocean warming as a principal signature of greenhouse-gas induced climate change. We therefore expect surface warming in the STIO region to continue to negatively impact GHA precipitation during northern-hemisphere summer.


The relative contributions of radiative forcing and internal climate variability to the late 20th Century winter drying of the Mediterranean region

ABSTRACT:  The roles of anthropogenic climate change and internal climate variability in causing the Mediterranean region’s late 20th Century extended winter drying trend are examined using 19 coupled models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. The observed drying was influenced by the robust positive trend in the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) from the 1960s to the 1990s. Model simulations and observations are used to assess the probable relative roles of radiative forcing, and internal variability in explaining the circulation trend that drove much of the precipitation change. Using the multi-model ensemble we assess how well the models can produce multidecadal trends of realistic magnitude, and apply signal-to-noise maximizing EOF analysis to obtain a best estimate of the models’ (mean) sea-level pressure (SLP) and precipitation responses to changes in radiative forcing. The observed SLP and Mediterranean precipitation fields are regressed onto the timeseries associated with the models’ externally forced pattern and the implied linear trends in both fields between 1960 and 1999 are calculated. It is concluded that the radiatively forced trends are a small fraction of the total observed trends. Instead it is argued that the robust trends in the observed NAO and Mediterranean rainfall during this period were largely due to multidecadal internal variability with a small contribution from the external forcing. Differences between the observed and NAO-associated precipitation trends are consistent with those expected as a response to radiative forcing. The radiatively forced trends in circulation and precipitation are expected to strengthen in the current century and this study highlights the importance of their contribution to future precipitation changes in the region.


Impact of abrupt climate change in the tropical southeast Atlantic during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3

ABSTRACT:  High resolution planktonic foraminifera Mg/Ca paleotemperatures and oxygen isotopes of seawater of Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Site 1078 (off Angola) have been reconstructed and reveal insights into the seasonal thermal evolution of the Angola Current (AC), the Angola-Benguela Front (ABF), and the Benguela Current (BC) during the last glacial (50–23.5 ka BP). Special emphasis is put on time intervals possibly associated with the North Atlantic Heinrich Stadials (HS), which are thought to lead to an accumulation of heat in the South Atlantic due to a reduction of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Within dating uncertainties, Globigerinoides ruber (pink) Mg/Ca-based sea surface temperature (SST) estimates that represent southern hemisphere summer surface conditions show several warming episodes that coincide with North Atlantic HS, thus supporting the concept of the bipolar thermal seesaw. In contrast, the Mg/Ca-based temperatures of Globigerina bulloides, representing the SST of the ABF/BC system during southern hemisphere winter, show no obvious response to the North Atlantic HS in the study area. We suggest that surface water cooling during the winter season is due to enhanced upwelling or upwelling of colder water masses which has most likely mitigated a warming of the ABF/BC system during HS. We further speculate that the seasonal asymmetry in our SST record results from seasonal differences in the dominance of atmospheric and oceanic teleconnections during periods of northern high latitude cooling.


Impact of ocean acidification on benthic and water column ammonia oxidation

ABSTRACT: Ammonia oxidation is a key microbial process within the marine N-cycle. Sediment and water column samples from two contrasting sites in the English Channel (mud and sand) were incubated (up to 14 weeks) in CO2-acidified seawater ranging from pH 8.0 to pH 6.1. Additional observations were made off the island of Ischia (Mediterranean Sea), a natural analogue site, where long-term thermogenic CO2 ebullition occurs (from pH 8.2 to pH 7.6). Water column ammonia oxidation rates in English Channel samples decreased under low pH with near-complete inhibition at pH 6.5. Water column Ischia samples showed a similar though not statistically significant trend. However, sediment ammonia oxidation rates at all three locations were not affected by reduced pH. These observations may be explained by buffering within sediments or low-pH adaptation of the microbial ammonia oxidizing communities. Our observations have implications for modeling the future impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems.


Historical and potential future contributions of power technologies to global warming

ABSTRACT:  Using the mathematical formalism of the Brazilian Proposal to the IPCC, we analyse eight power technologies with regard to their past and potential future contributions to global warming. Taking into account detailed bottom-up technology characteristics we define the mitigation potential of each technology in terms of avoided temperature increase by comparing a “coal-only” reference scenario and an alternative low-carbon scenario. Future mitigation potentials are mainly determined by the magnitude of installed capacity and the temporal deployment profile. A general conclusion is that early technology deployment matters, at least within a period of 50–100 years. Our results conclusively show that avoided temperature increase is a better proxy for comparing technologies with regard to their impact on climate change, and that numerous short-term comparisons based on annual or even cumulative emissions may be misleading. Thus, our results support and extend the policy relevance of the Brazilian Proposal in the sense that not only comparisons between countries, but also comparisons between technologies could be undertaken on the basis of avoided temperature increase rather than on the basis of annual emissions as is practiced today.


Solution to the paradox of climate sensitivity

ABSTRACT:  Most countries endorse a limit of either 2°C or 1.5°C global warming above pre-industrial levels. However, for several reasons, there is still a significant uncertainty in the climate sensitivity parameter, which relates greenhouse gas concentration (or other forcings) to steady-state temperature. One key source of uncertainty is the disagreement about the appropriate prior for Bayesian estimation. A common choice is the uniform distribution, often thought to contain no information. However, when used to estimate sensitivity it leads to paradoxical results, which have been interpreted as revealing an inherent indeterminacy in the prior of choice. If this were the case, part of the uncertainty would be irreducible. Here I develop an objective Bayesian approach to this problem. I show that both Jaynes’ invariant groups criterion and a new criterion based on information theory lead to the conclusion that there is a uniquely defined non-informative prior of climate sensitivity, which is distinct from the uniform and solves the paradox. This prior distribution is the log-uniform. Furthermore, this result is supported empirically by the observation that other comparable non-equilibrium parameters display a scale-invariant, log-uniform-like frequency distribution. Rather than advocating a direct use of this prior, I recommend to refine it with a limited use of expert elicitation or other methods. A sound prior is a key ingredient in the process to reach a consensus low-uncertainty estimate of climate sensitivity to inform climate policy.


Climate warming and natural disaster management: An exploration of the issues

ABSTRACT: This paper explores two issues that have been receiving increasing attention in recent decades, climate change adaptation and natural disaster risk reduction. An examination of the similarities and differences between them reveals important linkages but also significant differences, including the spectrum of threats, time and spatial scales, the importance of local versus global processes, how risks are perceived, and degree of uncertainty. Using a risk perspective to analyze these issues, preferential strategies emerge related to choices of being proactive, reactive, or emphasizing risk management as opposed to the precautionary principle. The policy implications of this analysis are then explored, using Canada as a case study.


Communicating global climate change using simple indices: an update

ABSTRACT:  Previous studies have shown that there are several indices of global-scale temperature variations, in addition to global-mean surface air temperature, that are useful for distinguishing natural internal climate variations from anthropogenic climate change. Appropriately defined, such indices have the ability to capture spatio-temporal information in a similar manner to optimal fingerprints of climate change. These indices include the contrast between the average temperatures over land and over oceans, the Northern Hemisphere meridional temperature gradient, the temperature contrast between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere and the magnitude of the annual cycle of average temperatures over land. They contain information independent of the global-mean temperature for internal climate variations at decadal time scales and represent different aspects of the climate system, yet they show common responses to anthropogenic climate change. In addition, the ratio of average temperature changes over land to those over the oceans should be nearly constant for transient climate change. Hence, supplementing analysis of global-mean surface temperature with analyses of these indices can strengthen results of attribution studies of causes of observed climate variations. In this study, we extend the previous work by including the last 10 years of observational data and the CMIP3 climate model simulations analysed for the IPCC AR4. We show that observed changes in these indices over the last 10 years provide increased evidence of an anthropogenic influence on climate. We also show the usefulness of these indices for evaluating the performance of climate models in simulating large-scale variability of surface temperature.


Arctic methane sources: Isotopic evidence for atmospheric inputs

ABSTRACT:  By comparison of the methane mixing ratio and the carbon isotope ratio (δ13CCH4) in Arctic air with regional background, the incremental input of CH4 in an air parcel and the source δ13CCH4 signature can be determined. Using this technique the bulk Arctic CH4 source signature of air arriving at Spitsbergen in late summer 2008 and 2009 was found to be −68‰, indicative of the dominance of a biogenic CH4 source. This is close to the source signature of CH4 emissions from boreal wetlands. In spring, when wetland was frozen, the CH4 source signature was more enriched in 13C at −53 ± 6‰ with air mass back trajectories indicating a large influence from gas field emissions in the Ob River region. Emissions of CH4 to the water column from the seabed on the Spitsbergen continental slope are occurring but none has yet been detected reaching the atmosphere. The measurements illustrate the significance of wetland emissions. Potentially, these may respond quickly and powerfully to meteorological variations and to sustained climate warming.


Climate change effects on stream and river temperatures across the northwest U.S. from 1980–2009 and implications for salmonid fishes

ABSTRACT:  Thermal regimes in rivers and streams are fundamentally important to aquatic ecosystems and are expected to change in response to climate forcing as the Earth’s temperature warms. Description and attribution of stream temperature changes are key to understanding how these ecosystems may be affected by climate change, but difficult given the rarity of long-term monitoring data. We assembled 18 temperature time-series from sites on regulated and unregulated streams in the northwest U.S. to describe historical trends from 1980–2009 and assess thermal consistency between these stream categories. Statistically significant temperature trends were detected across seven sites on unregulated streams during all seasons of the year, with a cooling trend apparent during the spring and warming trends during the summer, fall, and winter. The amount of warming more than compensated for spring cooling to cause a net temperature increase, and rates of warming were highest during the summer (raw trend = 0.17°C/decade; reconstructed trend = 0.22°C/decade). Air temperature was the dominant factor explaining long-term stream temperature trends (82–94% of trends) and inter-annual variability (48–86% of variability), except during the summer when discharge accounted for approximately half (52%) of the inter-annual variation in stream temperatures. Seasonal temperature trends at eleven sites on regulated streams were qualitatively similar to those at unregulated sites if two sites managed to reduce summer and fall temperatures were excluded from the analysis. However, these trends were never statistically significant due to greater variation among sites that resulted from local water management policies and effects of upstream reservoirs. Despite serious deficiencies in the stream temperature monitoring record, our results suggest many streams in the northwest U.S. are exhibiting a regionally coherent response to climate forcing. More extensive monitoring efforts are needed as are techniques for short-term sensitivity analysis and reconstructing historical temperature trends so that spatial and temporal patterns of warming can be better understood. Continuation of warming trends this century will increasingly stress important regional salmon and trout resources and hamper efforts to recover these species, so comprehensive vulnerability assessments are needed to provide strategic frameworks for prioritizing conservation efforts.


On the long-term context of the 1997–2009 ‘Big Dry’ in South-Eastern Australia: insights from a 206-year multi-proxy rainfall reconstruction

ABSTRACT:  This study presents the first multi-proxy reconstruction of rainfall variability from the mid-latitude region of south-eastern Australia (SEA). A skilful rainfall reconstruction for the 1783–1988 period was possible using twelve annually-resolved palaeoclimate records from the Australasian region. An innovative Monte Carlo calibration and verification technique is introduced to provide the robust uncertainty estimates needed for reliable climate reconstructions. Our ensemble median reconstruction captures 33% of inter-annual and 72% of decadal variations in instrumental SEA rainfall observations. We investigate the stability of regional SEA rainfall with large-scale circulation associated with El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Inter-decadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) over the past 206 years. We find evidence for a robust relationship with high SEA rainfall, ENSO and the IPO over the 1840–1988 period. These relationships break down in the late 18th–early 19th century, coinciding with a known period of equatorial Pacific Sea Surface Temperature (SST) cooling during one of the most severe periods of the Little Ice Age. In comparison to a markedly wetter late 18th/early 19th century containing 75% of sustained wet years, 70% of all reconstructed sustained dry years in SEA occur during the 20th century. In the context of the rainfall estimates introduced here, there is a 97.1% probability that the decadal rainfall anomaly recorded during the 1998–2008 ‘Big Dry’ is the worst experienced since the first European settlement of Australia.


Sources of uncertainty in future changes in local precipitation

ABSTRACT:  This study considers the large uncertainty in projected changes in local precipitation. It aims to map, and begin to understand, the relative roles of uncertain modelling and natural variability, using 20-year mean data from four perturbed physics or multi-model ensembles. The largest—280-member—ensemble illustrates a rich pattern in the varying contribution of modelling uncertainty, with similar features found using a CMIP3 ensemble (despite its limited sample size, which restricts it value in this context). The contribution of modelling uncertainty to the total uncertainty in local precipitation change is found to be highest in the deep tropics, particularly over South America, Africa, the east and central Pacific, and the Atlantic. In the moist maritime tropics, the highly uncertain modelling of sea-surface temperature changes is transmitted to a large uncertain modelling of local rainfall changes. Over tropical land and summer mid-latitude continents (and to a lesser extent, the tropical oceans), uncertain modelling of atmospheric processes, land surface processes and the terrestrial carbon cycle all appear to play an additional substantial role in driving the uncertainty of local rainfall changes. In polar regions, inter-model variability of anomalous sea ice drives an uncertain precipitation response, particularly in winter. In all these regions, there is therefore the potential to reduce the uncertainty of local precipitation changes through targeted model improvements and observational constraints. In contrast, over much of the arid subtropical and mid-latitude oceans, over Australia, and over the Sahara in winter, internal atmospheric variability dominates the uncertainty in projected precipitation changes. Here, model improvements and observational constraints will have little impact on the uncertainty of time means shorter than at least 20 years. Last, a supplementary application of the metric developed here is that it can be interpreted as a measure of the agreement amongst models of their projected local precipitation change. Results differ from, but are complementary to, those of the more usual approach.

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