Thursday, December 02, 2010

Pachauri admits that we don't know crucial facts about climate

Unknowns of Arctic methane, acid oceans etc.

From the methane-laden tundra of the far north to the depths of the oceans, world governments need to spend more on cutting-edge research to "get a handle" on how much and how quickly the world will warm in decades to come, says the head of the U.N. climate science network.

"There are huge gaps in the effort as far as scientific research is concerned," Rajendra Pachauri told The Associated Press, pointing to concerns that the Arctic's thawing permafrost is releasing powerful global warming gases, and the oceans might eventually turn from absorbing carbon dioxide to spewing it into the atmosphere.

"What is being done today is certainly far from adequate," said the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization whose twice-a-decade assessments of the latest climate research have been the authoritative guides to a warming world.

In its last detailed report, in 2007, the IPCC recommended that global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, largely byproducts of fossil-fuel burning, be reduced by 25 per cent to 40 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020, to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.

Expert analysis of current pledges to rein in emissions finds they'll go only 60 per cent of the way toward that goal. And those pledges are voluntary, with no guarantee even of that 60 per cent.

Pachauri met with the AP here Tuesday early in the two-week annual negotiating conference of parties to the 193-nation U.N. climate treaty.

Deep-seated disputes within the conference continue to block agreement on a new binding global accord requiring rich nations — and perhaps some emerging economies — to reduce emissions. At best, the delegates are expected to concur in a handful of decisions on secondary issues.

Underscoring the need for action, the World Meteorological Organization reported at the conference Tuesday that events of the past decade confirmed scientists' predictions of 20 years ago that temperatures would rise and storms would become fiercer.

The unprecedented heat waves that struck western Europe in 2003 and Russia this July will seem like average summers in the future, said Ghassam Asrar, head of the WMO's climate research centre.

In a detailed announcement later this week, the WMO will report that 2010 is likely to end as the warmest year in the historical record, Asrar said.

In the AP interview, Pachauri was asked about the extreme events of 2010 — the Russian heat wave and wildfires, unprecedented nationwide flooding in Pakistan, China's worst floods and landslides in decades. He said the IPCC is working on a special report on the link between global warming and such extreme events.

"The trend is very clear," said the Indian engineer and researcher. "We have and will continue to have increasingly more floods, more droughts, more heat waves, more extreme precipitation events."

Describing areas where more intense research is needed, Pachauri spoke of the uncertain state of the Arctic tundra. Last year, he asked his scientific network to focus on possible "abrupt, irreversible climate change" from thawing permafrost, tundra soil frozen year-round, covering almost one-fifth of Earth's land surface and running up to 600 metres (2,000 feet) deep.

Plant and animal matter accumulated through millennia is frozen in that soil. As it thaws, these ancient deposits finally decompose and are attacked by microbes, producing carbon dioxide and — if in water — methane. Both are greenhouse gases, and scientists don't know how much is being released and how quickly.

"It's basically the fact that people have not carried out enough measurement so that we can get a handle on how this is going to change in the future, what sort of increase of temperature will occur with the melting of the permafrost," Pachauri said.

Similarly, he said, "the oceans require a lot more concentrated attention."

Researchers are growing deeply worried about the growing acidification of the oceans, from their absorption of excess atmospheric carbon dioxide. More acidic waters make it more difficult for coral, oysters and other undersea life to produce their calcium carbonate shells, threatening to blow holes in the oceanic food chain.

"We need to understand how this will affect marine life," Pachauri said.

And beyond that, he said, scientists must try to gauge the oceans' ultimate capacity to continue operating as a "sink," absorbing carbon dioxide. If that stops — and researchers believe they have detected a slowing of absorption in the seas north of Antarctica — the planet will be in even deeper trouble.

"We need to understand how the oceans, if at all, might get converted from net sinks to net emitters," the IPCC chief said. "We have to understand what will happen with the increase in temperatures in the oceans. Will that make them net emitters?" All this requires more research money, he said. "As far as climate change is concerned, we need a lot more research."


Global Food Prices About To Break An All Time High

Thanks in large part to the diversion of America's corn crop into ethanol production

Inflation in emerging markets is hitting food prices hard, and now we have raw data from the UN to confirm.
The latest report from the UN Food and Agricultural Organization shows prices are back at 2008 levels, and have increased for five months in a row.

The data evaluates 55 different food commodities, so it's a pretty broad gauge of world costs.
Whether or not costs are high enough yet to lead to a world food crisis remains to be seen, but further inflationary pressures on emerging markets, where there are the most mouths to feed, will remain a threat.


Global cooling causes chaos across Europe

Heavy snowfalls forced some of Europe's busiest airports to close and wreaked havoc on roads and railways as an unseasonable cold snap swept the continent, claiming at least 15 lives. Temperatures dropped to as low as minus 18 degrees Celsius in some parts of Germany, while driving rain in Italy triggered the collapse of two Roman walls in Pompeii and flooding in Venice.

Thirteen people died of exposure in central Europe, including eight in Poland. Most were under the influence of alcohol, according to police. Two people died in England in accidents blamed on the weather, one in a motorcycle crash and the other after falling into a freezing lake.

Albania meanwhile proclaimed a state of natural disaster in the north due to heavy floods, and more than 200 people were evacuated from the region near Shkodra as hundreds of houses filled with water.

Transport chaos hit the whole of the continent as the snow spread, and Britain - shivering in the earliest widespread snowfalls of winter since 1993 - was one of the countries worst affected.

London’s Gatwick Airport, Europe's eighth busiest passenger air hub, will be shut until at least 0600 GMT on Thursday as staff worked to clear the runways.

A Qantas spokesman said none of their flights had been delayed. He said the airline operates out of London Heathrow Airport and Germany's Frankfurt Airport, both of which have not closed.

Edinburgh Airport, Scotland's busiest, was shut and delays were reported at airports in Glasgow and Aberdeen in Scotland, Newcastle in northeast England and Jersey in the Channel Islands.

British forecasters said Wednesday had been the coldest December 1 on record, with no hope of a let-up in the coming days.

British insurer RSA warned that bad weather in the run up to Christmas would have a major impact on the economy and could lead to significant losses for struggling businesses. "This cold front couldn't come at a worse time for the UK," said David Greaves, director of RSA. "If we lose just one fifth of our daily GDP through companies not being able to open and people cancelling spending plans on events and shopping, we're looking at about £1.2 billion every working day," he said.

Oil giant BP said the weather had "severely impacted" its deliveries to more than 100 petrol stations across Scotland and that it would only carry out safe and essential deliveries from its Grangemouth terminal near Edinburgh.

Police in the southern countries of Kent and Surrey advised motorists not to travel unless their journey was absolutely essential, with severe delays reported on the M25 London orbital motorway which passes through the counties.

Britain, which last year shivered through its coldest winter in 30 years, has not seen such widespread early snowfall since 1993.

Heavy snowfall also forced the closure of Geneva International Airport where 100 stranded passengers had to spend the night in the terminal. Two hundred others were sheltered by the civil protection unit as hotels were fully booked.

Switzerland's Basel Airport shut its runway in order to clear off the 10cms of snow that accumulated in just over two hours. The country's biggest airport Zurich was still operating, although 70 flights had been cancelled due to bad weather conditions in other airports.

At Germany's Frankfurt airport, Europe's third busiest, 153 flights were cancelled, all due to flights not arriving from elsewhere.

And 250 flights were cancelled at Munich airport, nearly a quarter of the daily total, mostly due to snow preventing take-offs.

In the Paris area, French aviation authorities asked airlines to cancel 25 per cent of their flights at Roissy airport and 10 per cent at Orly because of expected snowfalls. But there were no flight cancellations Wednesday

Snow and freezing temperatures however forced authorities to cancel 116 flights from Lyon Airport.

Trains were also hit, including the Eurostar, which operates high-speed passenger trains linking London with Paris and Brussels. Speed restrictions were imposed and led to delays of up to 90 minutes and some cancellations.

There were widespread problems on the roads across Europe, including in France where 17,200 trucks had to abandon their journeys nationwide. There were serious accidents reported on the main road between Prague and the eastern Czech city of Brno. In Italy snowfalls disrupted traffic in city centres and on motorways in the northern Lombardy and Piedmont regions, and in Spain school transport services were disrupted by heavy snow in northern and central regions. Snowdrifts and fallen trees also caused traffic problems in Germany.

Bild newspaper said it was the coldest December 1 in several hundred years, with temperatures as low as minus 18C in some places.

Eight people have died of exposure in Poland, three in the Czech Republic and two in Lithuania, officials said on Wednesday.

In Italy two ancient Roman walls fell down in the archaeological site of Pompeii due to persistent heavy rains that wore away the ancient mortar between the stones.


U.S. Republicans Axe Global Warming Panel

House Republicans will scrap the committee set up by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to investigate global warming, the panel’s top Republican announced Wednesday. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) made official what many had already expected – the GOP majority will axe the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which Pelosi created in 2007. “This hearing will be the last of the select committee,” Sensenbrenner announced.

Committee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called Wednesday’s hearing to give witnesses a chance to warn of the perils of climate change before the GOP launches efforts next year to roll back the Obama administration’s climate policies.

Sensenbrenner, a vocal climate change skeptic, had pushed to keep the panel alive to probe the White House’s energy policies. But it was seen as unlikely that GOP leadership would devote resources to the panel created by Democrats at the same time that they called for scaling back government spending.

The Wisconsin Republican may still play a key role in leading investigations into climate science next year. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who’s vying for the chairmanship of the Science Committee, told POLITICO Tuesday he’d like to see Sensenbrenner lead the panel’s climate science probes.

Markey, meanwhile, assured Republicans that he and others will battle from the minority to slash global warming emissions. “We are not going away because the problems that climate change presents are too dangerous too urgent for us to disappear into the abyss of cynicism and loss,” Markey said. “We are not going away because China, India, and Germany are not going away as competitors for global energy dominance. We are not going away because the national security threats from our continued dependence on foreign oil are not going away.”


Lewis to EPA: We’ll gut your funding

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) wants to get the chair of Appropriations once Republicans take control of the House, and he’s campaigning hard to demonstrate his commitment to conservative causes. In an attempt to move the conversation away from earmarking, Lewis has fixed his sights on the EPA and its “arbitrary interpretations of the Clean Air Act,” warning EPA head Lisa Jackson that he intends on stripping the agency of funding for her climate-change agenda:

Rep. Jerry Lewis is hoping to strengthen his bid to chair the House Appropriations Committee by threatening to strip funding from the Obama administration’s controversial environmental rules.

The California Republican vying for the gavel of the powerful spending panel sent a letter Monday to the Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson warning that the GOP-led House plans to strip funding for agency regulations and conduct “unprecedented levels of oversight,” with a particular focus on the administration’s climate change policies.

“In addition to scrutinizing the agency’s entire FY 2012 budget, with particular attention on the agency’s rulemaking process, the House Appropriations Committee will be exercising its prerogative to withhold funding for prospective EPA regulations and de-fund through the rescissions process many of those already on the books,” wrote Lewis, who chaired the spending panel in 2005 and 2006.

Specifically, Lewis said he wants to target EPA’s “ongoing arbitrary interpretation of the Clean Air Act” to begin regulating greenhouse gases in January. He said he will refuse to support federal funding to regulate greenhouse gases in the 112th Congress “unless Congress passes bipartisan energy legislation specifically providing the authority to do so.”

Lewis also signaled plans to target EPA agricultural regulations dealing with spilled milk on dairy farms, airborne dust, lawn fertilizer and arsenic in ground water.

Lewis might get a chance to do something about the FY2011 budget, too, if Democrats don’t stop focusing on the DREAM Act and other nonsense. They have just three weeks to pass a full budget, but instead they’re discussing the remainder of the progressive wish-list agenda. If they don’t act to create a full budget by the end of the session — one which Republicans will allow to proceed in the Senate — then the chair of Appropriations will have a lot more immediate impact on the EPA’s ambitions on climate change.

That’s not likely to change no matter whether Lewis or John Kingston gets the chair. Reining in the EPA will be a high priority for business-minded Republicans, and funding will be the manner in which they yank the leash. The Senate doesn’t have enough Democrats to force the House to fully fund the EPA, especially since so many Democrats will have to stand for re-election in 2012, especially in Midwestern and southern states that rely on agriculture for their economy. Defending Jackson now or later in 2011 will have deep ramifications for politicians like Ben Nelson, Mark Pryor, Jon Tester, and Jim Webb.


Warming Underestimated - Does It Matter?

It’s a curious phenomenon that examples of climate ‘forcing’ always seem to occur just before big environmental summits, and that the forcing only ever goes in one direction. The UN Climate Change meeting at Cancun this week is no exception. The UK’s Met Office, among others, released a series of statements and in the Met Office’s case a brochure about climate change. Their conclusion is that things are probably worse than we thought, and in their opinion, is worse than the current science is telling us. I suppose in the face of uncertainties in the science, and contradictory data, touting authoritative opinion is seen as a way to influence important meetings (the Royal Society obviously thinks the same), although it must be said that when it comes to opinion the Met Office track record for accuracy is not shining.

Just four lines of information released in the Met Office’s brochure attracted most of the attention in the media. It seems that there is a case to be made that ocean temperatures need to be adjusted. Prior to about 2002 they need to be lowered, and post 2002 they need to be raised slightly.

Those four lines were;

Changes in the way sea-surface temperatures were measured

over the last decade have introduced a small artificial cooling

of up to 0.03 °C over the last decade. This is being corrected

in a new version of the Met Office dataset.

The reference for the statement was given as; J. Kennedy, R. O. Smith and N. A. Rayner, 2011. Using AATSR data to assess the quality of in situ SST observations for climate studies, in press Remote Sensing of Environment.

It would be fair to say that the most inconvenient truth in climate science at the moment is that the world has refused to warm in the past decade. That includes the land as well as the oceans and the scientific literature is replete with research that arrives at this conclusion. It’s a topic we have discussed several times in the Observatory, most recently here. Obviously given the importance of such a finding that the ocean temperature dataset needs adjusting it is important to check, and recheck, the data on which it is based.

This is what the Met Office has done showing that recent warming may have been as much as 0.03 C per decade larger than previously thought. But does it matter, and does it justify the headlines?

Despite the unequivocal headlines no mainstream environmental journalist (in the UK at least) did anything other that repeat those four lines, and the associated comments on the Met Office’s press release. Indeed, when contacted for the scientific paper on which those four dramatic lines are based the Met Office Press Office didn’t have it and had to scramble to track it down.

Measuring Temperature

The research paper deals with different ways to measure the sea’s temperature, from ships, buoys (drifting and moored) and satellite-based observations.

They all measure different things. Temperature measurements from ships are the most variable. Some have done it by lowering a bucket (sometimes a specially designed one), which is raised, and the temperature measured and recorded with the time and ship’s position. Some ships measure the temperature of the water engine intake that comes from a different water depth and is specific to the design of the individual ship. Buoys are specially designed to take meteorological readings and sea temperatures but until recently were of a mix of designs each with their own idiosyncrasies and errors. Satellite observations (looking at the infra-red spectra of the ocean) measure something different, the temperature of a very thin slice of the ocean’s surface. When compared to the other data satellite observations have to be converted to ‘bulk temperatures’ which is a non-trivial process with scientific problems of its own.

To investigate the relationship between ships, buoys and satellites the researchers take the satellite data as the most accurate and (taking only night-time satellite observations in the first instance) then look for simultaneous ship-satellite observations as well as simultaneous buoy-satellite data between 2002 - 2007.

The satellite temperature data has an average scatter of 0.14 C. Ship data are less accurate with a scatter of 0.71 +/- 0.74 C when compared to the satellite data. Buoy data are better with a scatter of 0.29 +/- 0.26 C when compared to satellite data. None of these figures are surprising, or particularly new.

Taken together these figures suggest that, when compared to (processed) satellite data buoys tend on average to read cooler and ships warmer. According to the researchers this means that ship temperatures must be depressed and buoys raised. In addition the increasing number of measurements of sea surface temperature from ocean buoys and the decreasing proportion of measurements from ships since 1980 should be taken into consideration.

The researchers conclude that this difference spread across the globe and over the years is sufficient to add a warming of 0.03 C per decade to the HadCRUT surface temperature record. Despite the impression given in the media this is a small correction. It should also be noted that the 0.03 C is very much a statistical upper limit on the purported shortfall in warming. It assumes that the bias in global average sea surface temperature is on the large size of estimates and that the sea surface temperature contributes around 70 per cent of the average global surface temperature.

Superficially then, one can say the temperature in the past decade has been adjusted upward and therefore the oceans have warmed more than was realised. That view however does not take into account the variability in the data, which should not now be ignored, as that was the whole point of the exercise in the first place.

The correction is smaller than the inter-year variability and does not change the impression that there was no oceanic warming before 1997 and after 2002, after which there is if anything a slight cooling. Also note that this lack of warming occurred when the percentage of buoys rose from 40% to 80% of the data set and the cooling when the percentage of buoys remained constant at about 80%.

To my mind the new corrected data tells us nothing new and nothing that the satellite data when taken in isolation (it is after all claimed to be the best data) hasn’t already revealed.

When the errors in measurements and the scatter in the data are taken into consideration the adjustments, if confirmed and accepted, do not make much difference to way the global average annual temperatures have changed in the past twenty years and in fact confirm the non-warming of the oceans in the past decade.

So the media headlines could have just as accurately have read ‘New Met Office data confirms no warming of the oceans in past decade.’ But that would have meant abandoning journalistic acceptance of authority statements, as well as reading beyond four lines in a brochure.

More HERE (See the original for links, graphics etc.)


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