Thursday, December 31, 2009

But - but - but - it's snowing!

Which, of course, proves that there's no such thing as global warming.

When they attempt a more serious argument than that, the nanny-nanny naysayers often resort to sneering at climate models - at the very idea of climate models. It's all nonsense, they insist, just wild speculation, the success of models in producing results in close approximation with the historical records notwithstanding.

The odd thing is, they may be correct: The models may be wrong. Unfortunately for them (and everyone else), two recent studies indicate in different ways that the models might be underestimating global warming.

One of those studies was reported a couple of days ago, when researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said new findings
suggest that climate change may be affecting aquatic environments faster and sooner than the atmosphere. ...

Lake Tahoe, Clear Lake and four other big lakes in Northern California and Nevada are heating up faster than the surrounding atmosphere....

[R]esearchers tapped satellite sensor temperature data compiled over 18 years in what is believed to be the first time that long-range lake surface temperatures have been dissected. What the data reportedly showed is that the lakes' water temperature rose two times faster, on average, than the regional air temperatures.
Philipp Schneider, the study's lead author, called the results "a big surprise" and that if the results are confirmed, "lake ecosystems are going to be very much affected, especially because the trend we observed seems to be quite rapid."

Earlier, the November 25 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters carried a paper by Jeffrey Park, a professor of geology and geophysics at Yale. It described an increased time lag in the response of CO2 levels in the atmosphere to short-term changes in temperature: A lag time that used to be about five months is now at least 15 months.

Why the change? "Think of the oceans like soda," he said in an email to Kevin Drum. "Warm cola holds less fizz. The same thing happens as the oceans warm up." Drum noted:
By itself, that's unsurprising, but the magnitude of the change was much bigger than he expected.
And that was the real point: The study indicated, in Park's words, "that human activities have lately outpaced the ocean's capacity for absorbing carbon." The oceans act as a massive heat sink, offsetting the impact of the anthropogenic release of carbon into the atmosphere by soaking up a good amount of that carbon. But if Park is right, that role could be coming to an end as the oceans reach the limit of their capacity to take up carbon. That means no buffer against further CO2-driven warming and more rapid changes.

Which, by the way, is how that first study, the lake study, figures in: Not only the oceans, but even lakes are acting at heat sinks, indicating - again - that more heating is being generated than atmospheric models account for. And when a saturation point is reached, atmospheric warming could skyrocket.

That's unlikely to happen for a few decades, anyway, but still....

Happy New Year.

The Footnote: To add to the joy there is the recent news that global warming is already speeding up insect breeding and that some pest species that bred once a year are now breeding twice.

T'other Footnote: I came across the Park paper in a post by Kevin Drum - credit where it's due - but which I now can't for the life of me locate, so I don't have a link.

T'other Other Footnote: A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the plan for a "Global Day of Action" on climate change on December 12-13. Over 3,000 events took place across the world; some photos can be found here.

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