Archive for the ‘Blog Article’ Category

The Curious Case of Record August Ocean Temperatures

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Several people have noted the apparent mis-match between the NCDC report of all-time record warmth of global average sea surface temperatures in August, and the satellite tropospheric temperatures which are nowhere near a record.

But, as I have cautioned, there tends to be a time lag between SST warming and atmospheric warming…typically 1 month during non-ENSO conditions, and 2-3 months during ENSO. Furthermore, tropospheric temperature variations are somewhat larger than the SST variations that drive them, making direct comparison of the numbers more difficult.

You can get around both of these problems by plotting one versus the other on a graph to see if the latest behavior departs from the normal relationship previously displayed by the two variables (ocean surface temperature and oceanic lower tropospheric temperature).

If you also “connect the dots”, you get what’s called a phase space diagram. If we make such a plot for the 1997-98 super-El Nino, the 2009-10 El Nino, and the current (still weak) El Nino, it looks like this:

Phase space plot of monthly sea surface temperature versus tropospheric temperature anomalies for three El Nino events.

Phase space plot of monthly sea surface temperature versus tropospheric temperature anomalies for three El Nino events (all begin in January, anomalies are relative to 1981-2010 averages).

The time lag of tropospheric temperature behind ocean surface temperature causes a curved trajectory in the data, as I’ve indicated with the light gray line.

What is interesting is that the “record warm” SST month of August, 2014 seems to be an outlier, with the SSTs being too warm (or the tropospheric temperatures too cool) compared to the usual behavior.

Barring some mistake in data processing, the only explanation I have for this is the possibility I blogged about yesterday, that near-record low ocean winds are allowing excessive surface warming while transferring less energy through convection to warm the troposphere. As I also mentioned yesterday, such an excursion would be due to natural variability…not due to “extra” carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which basically remains unchanged from one month to the next.

Are Record Ocean Surface Temperatures Due to Record Low Wind Speeds?

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

The fortuitous revelation of record warm sea surface temperatures in August, only days before Climate Summit 2014, begs the question — why?

Why were SSTs so warm? (Not “Why announce it just before Leonardo DiCaprio’s coronation?”)

As readers here know, I follow the “ocean products” produced by RSS from the SSM/I and SSMIS satellite sensors, and a curious thing has been shaping up in the last few years.

Global average ocean surface wind speeds have been decreasing. In fact, August 2014 had the lowest surface wind speed in about 25 years.

Even after I correct for the typically lower wind speeds that occur with El Nino approaching (-0.5 m/s wind decrease per unit Multivariate ENSO Index value), it’s still at near a record-low since the satellite record began:

SSM/I and SSMIS monthly global ocean average surface wind speed anomalies.

SSM/I and SSMIS monthly global ocean average surface wind speed anomalies.

For those wondering what these wind fields look like, here are the average gridpoint wind speeds for August (1 m/sec is about 2 knots), both as absolute values and as anomalies (departures from the mean):

Grid point ocean surface wind speeds from SSMIS in August 2014, shown as absolute values and anomalies.

Gridpoint ocean surface wind speeds from SSMIS in August 2014, shown as absolute values and anomalies.

Why is Wind Speed Important to SST?

Wind-driven evaporation is the largest source of heat loss from water bodies, including the global oceans. Assuming a global average rate of ocean surface heat loss of 90 W/m2 (which is mostly evaporative), the August value of about 4-5% below the long-term average would mean about 4 W/m2 less cooling of the ocean surface.

Importantly, this 4 W/m2 reduction in heat loss is LARGER than the supposed anthropogenic radiative forcing of about 2.3 W/m2, the IPCC’s RCP6 current radiative forcing value. (The true radiative imbalance is actually less than that because warming has offset some of it with increase IR emission to space). The net result that the wind speed effect is probably at least 4 times the anthropogenic effect.

So, what’s my point? Natural variations in all kinds of things are going on, including a reduction in wind-driven evaporation, which likely contributed to “record warm” SSTs in August.

I have no strong opinions of why the reduction in wind speeds is occurring. Usually the best guess in climate is that it’s part of some cycle that will reverse itself at some point. Only time will tell.

10 Ways To Tell Tuesday’s UN Climate Summit Isn’t About Climate

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Next Tuesday’s UN climate conference in NYC (called Climate Summit 2014) is for politicians, celebrities, and rent seekers. It’s not about climate science, nor Saving the Earth from “carbon emissions” of fossil fuels.

Here are ten ways to tell the United Nations really isn’t interested in climate per se. Some of us suspected over 20 years ago this would happen, back when the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was being formed to help combat “global warming”.

1. There is no way with current technology to get beyond 15%-20% renewable energy in the next 20 years or so….and even that will be exceedingly expensive. No matter how much you care about where your energy originates, physics and economics trump emotions.

2. The UN doesn’t care that global warming stopped 17 years ago. It doesn’t matter. Full steam ahead.

3. The UN’s own climate models have grossly over-forecast warming. Doesn’t matter. Full steam ahead.

4. Scientists and politicians have had to resort to blaming severe weather events on climate change. Like, we never had severe weather before? Really? (Oh, BTW, severe weather hasn’t gotten worse.)

5. The UN Climate Summit participants’ “carbon footprints” far exceed those of normal people…and they don’t care. Flying jets all over the world, traveling and dining in style, and telling a billion poor they can’t have inexpensive electricity? That’s the moral high ground?

6. Leonardo DiCaprio, UN’s Messenger of Peace. Al Gore, Nobel Peace Prize and crony capitalist. ‘Nuff said.

7. The leaders of Australia, China, India, Canada, and Germany are opting out of Tuesday’s meeting. They have real problems to attend to, not manufactured ones.

8. A UN official admitted the climate goal was wealth redistribution. Naomi Klein has admitted what Obama, Kerry, and Clinton won’t admit: it’s about stopping Capitalism. Unless you are a crony capitalist friend getting green energy subsidies.

9. What they can’t admit is that global greening and increasing global crop productivity is the result of us putting some of that CO2 back where it was in the first place – in the atmosphere. I’m still predicting some day we will realize more CO2 is a good thing.

10. The UN’s climate reports exaggerate and misrepresent the science. For example, the warming of the deep oceans over the last 50 years is described in terms of gazillions of joules (which sounds impressive) rather than what was actually measured…hundredths of a degree (not so impressive). The resulting average planetary energy imbalance, if it really exists, is only 1 part in 1,000.

As I’ve said before, I really don’t care where our energy comes from, as long as it is abundant and inexpensive. But telling the poor they can only have concierge energy – if they can pony up enough money — will end up killing people. Lots of people.

And that’s what the U.N. should be concerned about…not having meetings in Bali and Cancun.

What if the Global Warming “Pause” was “Fast Forward” Instead?

Monday, September 15th, 2014

I’d like to take you through a little thought experiment.

We all know that global warming has been on hiatus – set on pause – however you like to characterize the lack of significant warming, for over 15 years. Depending on how you do the statistics, the vast majority of the climate models used to guide our energy policy have over-predicted the surface warming trend since the satellite record began way back in 1979.

Oh, and those aren’t just failed forecasts…they are failed hindcasts. Even knowing the answer, the climate modelers can’t explain why the Earth hasn’t warmed as fast as it was supposed to.

The most cited potential reason for this unexpected inconvenience is that the oceans have been taking up the extra heat and replacing it with cooler water from the ocean depths. In that scenario, the natural ocean surface-cooling mechanism now in progress (if it exists) will eventually go back to normal, and surface warming will return with a vengeance. Just you wait and see.

But what if this supposed natural ocean fluctuation, which is supposedly cooling the surface, was reversed?

What if warming was set on fast forward, rather than pause? What if surface warming was progressing faster than 95% of the climate models had predicted, rather than slower than 95% of the models? How would the global warming establishment be playing it?

After watching the IPCC crowd for the last 25+ years, I feel pretty confident they would be falling all over themselves declaring “it’s worse than we thought!” They would be adjusting the sensitivity of their models to produce even more warming.

Yet, they would never substantially reduce the climate sensitivity of their models to produce less warming, as seen in nature. In other words, if warming hasn’t materialized, then we must have faith that it will eventually appear – because the climate system must be really sensitive…

So that the climate researchers’ lives have meaning.

But…if there happens to be *faster* warming than expected, well, the experts would be all too willing to adjust their models to have even greater climate sensitivity.

This is a reflection of the fact that the global warming establishment is biased toward high climate sensitivity. It is a specific example of the tendency of natural scientists to view nature as fragile, full of tipping points and hobgoblins.

That they fancy themselves as objective is embarrassing to me. No, I don’t consider myself completely objective either. But at least I can entertain alternative possibilities regarding the sensitivity of the climate system. If a scientist entertains anything that smacks of “skepticism”, however, they are not allowed to play in the IPCC sandbox.

Both of these scenarios: (1) the lack of significant warming, or (2) rapid warming, could happen with a climate system that warms exactly the same amount in the next 100 years (that is, has the same climate sensitivity). The difference is the timing of natural warming and cooling events, which can last two or three decades.

But it is unsettling how our feelings about climate change (and the political rhetoric and policy changes) can waver based upon what happens over only a year or two. Yet, the rate of both surface and deep ocean warming since the 1950s, after accounting for natural El Nino and La Nina fluctuations, suggests no cause for alarm.

If faster warming does resume in the coming months and years, it’s important to stay focused on the amount of warming…over the long term. Thinking and talking in qualitative terms, like record warm years, can be used to fool and manipulate people’s emotions on the subject.

Even a new “record warmest year”, year after year, is not that significant if the total warming ends up being only 1 deg. C more over the next 100 years.

And until the models can explain what happened in the past they should not be trusted for guiding policy into the future.

Spectacular Aurora Across Scandinavia

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

The best photos from last night’s K=7 auroral displays are coming in from Scandinavia. Check these out, from Finland, Sweden, Norway…and North America…see more at Space Weather Gallery:

By Peter Rosen, near Stockholm, Sweden:

Katja Moisio, Finland:

Peter Rosen, northern Sweden:

Erling Sverre Nordoy, Tromso, Norway:

Bernt Olsen, Tromso, Norway:

Paul Cyr, Fort Fairfield, Maine:

David McCashion, New Brunswick, Canada:

The Aurora Reached Arizona Last Night!

Friday, September 12th, 2014

As predicted, the first of two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the sun produced some good aurora displays last night, as far south as Arizona:

Aurora in Arizona, taken by Chris Schur, Sept. 11, 2014.

Aurora in Arizona, taken by Chris Schur, Sept. 11, 2014.

This was taken about the time the NOAA-15 satellite observed a peak activity level of “10″ over the Northern Hemisphere.

Here’s a nice photo from Minnesota:

Aurora seen in Minnesota, by Matthew Moses, Sept. 12, 2014.

Aurora seen in Minnesota, by Matthew Moses, Sept. 12, 2014.

And, where the aurora always seems to be burning up the sky…Fairbanks, Alaska:

Aurora over Fairbanks, Alaska, by J.N. Hall, Sept. 12, 2014.

Aurora over Fairbanks, Alaska, by J.N. Hall, Sept. 12, 2014.

From Finland:

Sept. 12, 2014 aurora in Muonio, Finland, taken by Mika Wist.

Sept. 12, 2014 aurora in Muonio, Finland, taken by Mika Wist.

And another one from Minnesota (uff da!):

Almelund, MN aurora display, Sept. 12, 2014, by Michael Aguirre.

Almelund, MN aurora display, Sept. 12, 2014, by Michael Aguirre.

Finally, here’s the source of the CME, sunspot 2158, as photographed by Sergio Castillo a day after it unleashed the “storm”:

Sunspot 2158, photo by Sergio Castillo, Sept. 11, 2014.

Sunspot 2158, photo by Sergio Castillo, Sept. 11, 2014.

Photos courtesy of Realtime Image Gallery.

Hopefully, with the second CME event storm arriving today, there could be another good display tonight.

Tonight’s Aurora Could Reach Southern States

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Aurora on 28 Aug. 2014 as seen over Lake Superior, from Marquette, MI (courtesy Lake Superior Photography).

Aurora on 28 Aug. 2014 as seen over Lake Superior, from Marquette, MI (courtesy Lake Superior Photography).

The first of a pair of solar coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from sunspot AR2158 is supposed to reach Earth tonight, providing auroral displays (northern lights) unusually far south.

According to the most recent advisory from NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center,

“…conditions such as these could lead to auroras observed from the middle or southern states.”

Of course, any auroral displays visible in the southern U.S. are exceedingly rare. The last event that far south was October 24, 2011, with aurora visible as far south as Oklahoma and Alabama.

The second of the CMEs is traveling faster than the first, and is supposed to reach Earth about a day later. The probability of more events remains relatively high. According to,

“More radio bursts may be in the offing. Sunspots AR2157 and AR2158 have unstable magnetic fields that harbor energy for strong explosions. NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of X-class flares and a whopping 85% chance of M-flares on Sept. 11th.”

Here’s the latest solar wind model forecast for midnight tonight, showing the passage of the first plasma event from the first CME, and then second one following it:

Solar wind plasma density forecast for midnight tonight, showing two solar eruption events arriving at Earth.

Solar wind plasma density forecast for midnight tonight, showing two solar eruption events arriving at Earth.

The model animation is pretty cool, and provides a good conceptual view of how these plasma events exit the Sun and travel toward the Earth.

For those interested in viewing tonight, try NOAA’s Ovation aurora monitoring tool, which is based upon the latest polar orbiting satellite measurements. If that page is not up to date with the latest satellite data, this one usually is.

Water Vapor Feedback and the Global Warming Pause

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Global warming is the predicted result of increasing atmospheric CO2 causing a very small (~1-2%) decrease in the rate at which the Earth cools to outer space though infrared radiation. And the since temperature change of anything is always the result of net gains and losses of energy, a decrease in energy lost leads to warming.

The direct effect of that warming is only about 1 deg. C in the next 100 years, though (theoretically calculated, in response to an eventual doubling of CO2 late in this century). Climate models instead project 2 to 3 times as much warming as that, due to “positive feedbacks” in the climate system.

But the Earth hasn’t warmed as much as expected by the global warming pundits and their positive feedbacks, especially in the tropics where deep moist convection dominates the atmosphere’s response to forcing.


We know that water vapor is the main atmospheric gas which reduces the Earth’s ability to radiatively cool in the infrared (IR). And, unlike CO2, water vapor varies tremendously due to a variety of processes.

Increasing surface temperatures cause more evaporation which by itself increases the water vapor content of the atmosphere. Water vapor at low altitudes has indeed increased with warming, as I have shown here (over the oceans):
Fig. 2. As in Fig. 1, but for SSM/I integrated water vapor.

So, the simple-minded assumption has been that warming caused by increasing CO2 would cause more water vapor, which will enhance the radiative warming. That’s called positive water vapor feedback, which roughly doubles the amount of warming from the CO2 increase alone in climate models.

[Yes, I know that more water vapor evaporated from the surface cools the surface...that's taken into account by the climate models, too.]

But for many years I have advocated the view that water vapor feedback on the long time scales of climate change might not be positive. Clearly, something is causing the current “pause” in global warming. The three most likely causes of the pause (in my view, not prioritized) are: (1) increasing cloud reflection reducing the solar input, or (2) decreasing water vapor (and maybe cirrus clouds) in the upper troposphere increasing the infrared output, or (3) an increase in ocean mixing sequestering extra heat in the deep ocean. Or, some combination of the three. (I’m not a big fan of other theories, like more aerosol reflection of sunlight from dirty Chinese coal, or problems with the CO2 theory itself. Not that they are necessarily wrong.)

Our 1997 BAMS paper (Spencer & Braswell, 1997) discussed the importance of middle and upper tropospheric vapor to the IR cooling rate of the Earth. I also blogged about water vapor feedback four years ago. Basically, the bottom line is that it’s the processes controlling upper tropospheric water vapor which have the biggest impact on the IR cooling rate of the Earth.

As Spencer & Braswell (1997) showed, at low relative humidities often seen in the upper troposphere (below, say, 30%) a tiny change in water vapor content has a huge effect of the infrared cooling rate of the Earth. So you can have large increases in lower tropospheric vapor, but a small decrease in upper tropospheric vapor can completely negate the resulting water vapor feedback.

A recent paper which claims to have new satellite evidence of positive water vapor feedback uses highly uncertain infrared water vapor channel data (6.7 microns) which has unknown long-term instrument stability, and unknown diurnal drift effects (issues which we have spent 20 years on with the microwave temperature sounders), and unknown cloud contamination effects.

The important thing to understand is this: the largest control of water vapor feedback is the efficiency of precipitation systems, which controls how much water vapor is detrained into the upper troposphere. This process is what controls the humidity of the atmosphere on a clear day…that clear air is being forced to sink by rising air in precipitation systems, and its humidity (and thus its influence on the IR cooling rate of the clear air to space) can also be traced back to microphysical processes in precipitation systems. Clear air might seem boring, but it has a huge influence on the Earth’s temperature, through its humidity controlling the rate at which the Earth cools to space.

While climate models can be tuned to produce the average amount of water vapor in the upper troposphere reasonably realistically, we do not understand how precipitation efficiency changes with warming, and so the physics cannot currently be included in climate models for the purpose of predicting climate change.

On the subject of this uncertainty, a 20-year old paper by Renno, Emanuel, and Stone (1994) concluded:

The cumulus convection schemes currently in use in GCMs (general circulation models) bypass the microphysical processes by making arbitrary moistening assumptions. We suggest that they are inadequate for climate change studies.

That paper described from a theoretical point of view how high precipitation efficiency causes a cool and dry climate, while low precipitation efficiency causes a warm and moist climate.

While I’m sure that convective parameterizations are better today than they were 20 years ago, they really can’t address something this complex. Even much more sophisticated cloud resolving models (CRMs) still make rather arbitrary assumptions regarding the conversion of cloud to precipitation. And that which isn’t converted to precipitation re-evaporates and then changes the humidity of clear air.

It might well be that the limited radiosonde evidence we have of lower tropospheric moistening and upper tropospheric drying (e.g. Paltridge et al., 2009) is telling us that water vapor feedback is not positive, as is currently assumed in climate models. This is basically the reason why Miskolczi (2010) found a constant greenhouse effect…that the observed decrease in upper tropospheric humidity (which is controversial from an observational standpoint) just offset the warming caused by increasing CO2.

None of the above regarding water vapor feedback is new, and even our 1997 paper examined issues Dick Lindzen was advocating at least a decade before us. I’m presenting it again to remind ourselves of how little we really know about climate change.

And don’t even get me started on cloud feedback.

Sept. 21, NYC: The People’s Frozen Climate March?

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

It seems more than appropriate that the Gore Effect might be in full swing in NYC on Sept. 21 when climate hand-wringers from around the country gather to protest the world being maybe a full degree warmer than it was 100 years ago.

The latest Climate Forecast System forecast for the 10-day period around that blessed event (12 days from now) shows the eastern U.S. pretty dang chilly, with temperatures averaging 8-10 deg. below normal (Plot courtesy of


Of course, now that cold weather is also the fault of global warming the participants can complain about that, too.

September Snow in Seven States over Seven Days

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

Sunday update: make that eight states.

Looks like September snows — not even mountain snows — over the northern tier of states spreading eastward from Montana and North Dakota starting Tuesday night.

The latest GFS model total snow accumulation by next Saturday shows snow for Montana, Wyoming (mountains only), the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan (plot courtesy of

I suspect any “lake effect” in Michigan will be ice pellets embedded in rain showers coming off the lakes, which are probably still too warm for snow. Michigan lake effect snow usually holds off till October, at the earliest.

Regarding how unusual this is, here’s a plot of the average times of first snow…as you can see, the predicted snow is about a month early: