Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

More freezes will melt climate change doubts

with 18 comments

So said Lord (Julian) Hunt, Vice President of GLOBE and a former Director General of the UK’s Meteorological Office, in an article published in The Times newspaper on 2 April 2013 (behind paywall). Fortunately (for me and all those without a Times subscription), the text of what appears to be the same article has been released to the media by the British Embassy in Beijing. This is presumably because Lord Hunt refers to China.

However, without further comment from me, here is the article in full:

It was the chilliest Easter Day on record, and last month is the coldest March for at least 50 years. But we are not alone in shivering. Across much of Europe, temperatures have been unseasonably cold. In Germany, this has been called a once in a “100-year winter”.

We should not be surprised. It has long been expected that climate change would bring more weird or extreme weather — not just cold but rain, droughts and heat waves — to the UK. So longer spells of colder winter weather are consistent with this. As were drought conditions around this time last year, followed by many months of heavy rain which resulted in the UK experiencing in 2012, the second wettest year on record.

Extreme weather has become more frequent across the world. Australia started 2013 with a record breaking heat wave. Similarly, a heatwave in the US in 2012 (the warmest year on record for mainland America) contributed towards widespread drought which proved devastating for many crops. Russia also experienced its second warmest summer last year. This follows the country’s hottest summer on record in 2010 with states of emergency in seven Russian regions as a result of brush fires, while 28 other regions were put under states of emergency due to crop failures caused by drought.

And then there is the steady increase in peak rainfall rates. These have doubled in South East Asia,for instance over 30 years. It is such a problem that the Malaysians have built a huge SMART tunnel (or Stormwater Management And Road Tunnel) in Kuala Lumpur which doubles up as both a motorway and a six-mile long pipe to cope with flash floods. A similar less pronounced trend is occurring in the UK, which help explains the rise in localised, incredibly heavy showers which have brought flooding from Cumbria to Cornwall. This is caused by a change in the atmosphere called “vertical mixing” in which cumulus clouds become stronger and bigger.

In the UK, the trend is likely to be towards colder winters as a large part of Arctic ice melts permanently (as now happens every summer). The winds over the ice-free ocean could then push colder currents up to Iceland and the Arctic ocean. And as a result of colder waters from the North, the northern UK, in particular, may no longer enjoy the same level of warming from the Gulf Stream as it did when the sea ice boundary was further south.

It is these colder oceans which help to rebut one of the more common arguments used by sceptics to argue that “global warming has stopped”. They often point to graphs which purport to show that Earth’s temperature has not risen in 16 years. But that graph combines land and ocean temperature. Separate the two, and you see that on land temperature is still rising — 0.3℃ over the past decade. More dramatically, in China it has risen by 2℃ over the past 50 years, and 3℃ in the Antarctic over 30 years.

The drop in sea temperature is not just taking place in the Arctic, where the ice is melting, but equally strongly in the eastern Pacific, where winds off the South American coast bring deep, colder waters to the surface. Normally this La Niña phenomenon lasts for three to five years. However, it has been active for more than a decade, caused by easterly trade winds along the equator that have been strengthened by general warming of the atmosphere. When La Niña finally falls away, some time in the next few years, the surface cooling will end. This will increase temperatures over large areas of the globe, disrupting agriculture and fisheries in many countries, and pushing up food prices.

Fortunately, even some sceptics are won round when they experience the problems themselves. The scepticism of some Russian officials has disappeared as they have seen the permafrost melt in the north of the country, and watched the effects of prolonged heatwaves and droughts.

Responsible nations are preparing for the effects of climate change. However, all governments need constant encouragement, in the face of financial austerity and the claims of sceptics, to expand programmes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It is critical they do so, otherwise future generations will have more to worry about than a freezing cold Easter Sunday.

For all those people who have not been duped into believing in the fallacy of the marketplace of ideas, Lord Hunt is someone whose opinions should carry weight. Experts are real and so is anthropogenic climate disruption. So, then, I really do hope that climate change denial will founder on the rocks of reality (and the sooner the better it will be for everybody).

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18 Responses

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  1. The IPCC SREX said, in its roundabout way:

    Low-probability, high-impact changes associated with the crossing of poorly understood climate thresholds cannot be excluded.

    Though Lord Hunt uses more words, the message comes across much more clearly. Thanks for posting this, Martin.

    Of course, deniers will discount Lord Hunt’s opinion as an argumentum ad verecundiam, and dismiss the IPCC out of hand (for numerous reasons, probably including “what do ‘the police’ know about this anyway?”).

    If the racket the frogs in the pond were making the night before last is anything to go by, spring has finally sprung in the UK. Thank goodness.


    12 April 2013 at 06:51

    • That is a nice quote from the IPCC SREX report, Pendantry. It is one I could have made good use of when Oakwood recently cited it in defence of his “scepticism”.

      In correcting your HTML, I hope I have interpreted your intentions correctly (including the same link twice seemed unnecessary to me).

      Martin Lack

      12 April 2013 at 09:30

      • No worries; though my ‘second link to the ‘IPCC’ was actually intended to be a link to the IPCC, not the IPCC (an attempt to demonstrate how abbreviations on the one hand, and the current societal infrastructure on the other together conspire to confuse, obfuscate and interfere with attempts to live a life[tm]).


        13 April 2013 at 13:45

        • Ahh yes. To maximise the confusion, however, you would need me to use the wrong abbreviation and refer readers to the EU Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) which we may need to use in order to clean up climate change denial. ;-)

          Martin Lack

          13 April 2013 at 14:33

  2. I cannot make sense of paragraph 5. Surely “winds over an ice-free ocean…”? The prevailing winds over GB being westerly, how will these winds “push colder currents up to Iceland and the Arctic”? Pushing up, the convention being South at the bottom of the chart, the only current which comes to my mind is the Gulf Stream. This being so how can this be a “colder current”? And how can dropping sea temperatures cause sea ice to melt? Is he arguing that the further South the sea ice grows the warmer the west coast of Scotland becomes? And, for the record, I experienced another ’100 year winter’ in Southern Germany in 1984. Whether this was nation-wide I know not but it was certainly described as such in the weather reports for Bavaria.

    Thomas Foster

    12 April 2013 at 07:38

    • I see what you mean! Is it not the case that winds are caused by pressure gradients in the atmosphere, whereas ocean currents are caused by temperature differences in the oceans? If so, there need not be any connection between the two… Lord Hunt is clearly referring to cold waters around Scotland no longer being warmed by the Gulf Stream. However, I agree that the rest of the paragraph is very ambiguous. I think you can contact Lord Hunt via the GLOBE website (and have now tried to do so).

      Martin Lack

      12 April 2013 at 09:48

    • I contacted Lord Hunt, who has been gracious enough to reply (with permission to publish) as follows:

      The blog expressed reasonably succinctly the possible change in the North Atlantic and Arctic ocean patterns resulting from the melting of summer ice. It is based on calculations and interpretations based on the simple model of Stommel (described for example in the authoritative text book of Adrian Gill) that the Gulf Stream is driven (to about 50-60% of its strength) by the westerly winds over the North Atlantic, dragging the surface layers of the ocean to the east. (I recently discussed this with the originator of the conveyor belt picture of ocean currents, who conceded that the thermo-haline component is not more than 50% and [therefore] that a shut down of the Gulf Stream did not happen and will not happen).
      So, if the area of [open] ocean is increasing to the north, as a result of melting, the warm waters will spread to the north and there will not be the direct transport of the warm Gulf Stream waters towards Scotland. How the waters will then circulate in the arctic waters is not clear. But the recent paper in Nature [Geoscience] by Giles [et al] (2012) and her talk at the Globe ACOPS meeting in Parliament in December showed from Cryosat satellite that the wind driven currents are changing. Various measurements of ocean temperatures and currents in these oceans as reported informally to me by Prof Mee, director of Scottish Association of Marine Science, are not inconsistent with the hypothesis of these significant changes.
      The coupled global climate computer models are weak in predicting the ice edge and the ocean currents near the ice edge. The models do not have sufficient spatial resolution. Where small scale features, such as the ice edge, change and where this can produce large scale effects – upscale – one has to be cautious about the regional interpretations of the models. This is an active area of research.

      Martin Lack

      23 April 2013 at 11:27

    • Very interesting but — given the reality of a massive radiative energy imbalance at a planetary level (induced by a 40% increase in atmospheric CO2) and the thermal heat capacity of seawater — highly improbable.

      Martin Lack

      12 April 2013 at 13:27

  3. That temps would collapse in Europe from fast overall warming was fully expected by me (among others) several decades ago: Younger Dryas redux! But my bet is that the warming will hold in summer (hahaha)

    Patrice Ayme

    12 April 2013 at 23:51

    • Thanks Patrice. However, if you are so clever, can you explain what Hunt is trying to say in paragraph 5…?

      Martin Lack

      13 April 2013 at 10:09

  4. Yeap, cleverness on line here. Hunt’s explanation is not the best, but it’s standard. Maybe I should rewrite it… Busy publishing an article on how the New York Times control minds for empire and plutocracy, though, so it have to wait…

    Patrice Ayme

    13 April 2013 at 17:51

  5. [...] 2013/04/12: LoE: More freezes will melt climate change doubts [...]

  6. >>MET office now admits Arctic sea ice didn’t cause unusually cold weather

    There have been some suggestions that the rapid decline of Arctic sea ice, especially during summer, is responsible for this year’s cold spring. It is argued [8] that amplification of global warming over the Arctic is reducing the equator to pole temperature gradient, thereby weakening the strength of the mid-latitude jet streams. In turn this may lead to slower progression of upper-level waves and would cause associated weather patterns in midlatitudes to be more persistent, potentially leading to an increased probability of extreme weather events that result from prolonged conditions, such as drought, flooding, cold spells, and heat waves.

    This hypothesis remains contentious [9], however, and there is little evidence from the comparison between the cold spring of 1962 and this year that the Arctic has been a contributory factor in terms of the hypothesis proposed above. Figure 13 shows the midtroposphere temperature anomalies for 1962 and 2013; over the Arctic they are almost identical and reflect the negative NAO pattern. It is hard to argue that Arctic amplification had changed the equator to pole temperature in a systematic way to affect the circulation this spring. <<


    23 April 2013 at 17:57

    • Can we now look forward to the GWPF admitting that it may have over-stated its case too?

      The Met Office may be wiling to be intellectually honest (and admit complexity, etc) but, contrary to what you may have been told, they are still adamant that the last decade is the warmest in the instrumental record, the radiative energy imbalance that is driving the disruption to the Earth’s climate is real, most of the energy is being absorbed by the oceans, and, therefore, Global Warming has not stopped (nor will it stop until we stop causing most of the warming).

      Martin Lack

      23 April 2013 at 19:22

    • From the same MET office article;

      (summary – the causation of the southern movement of the jetstream being due to arctic ice melt is simply a “possible explanation which happens to fit AGW theories” and NOT “further proof of AGW” as is often stated.)

      “….The jet stream has been displaced southwards compared to its climatological summertime position.
      The jet stream, like our weather, is subject to natural variability – that is the random nature of our weather which means it is different from one week, month or year to the next. We expect it to move around and it has moved to the south of the UK in summertime many times before in the past. It has, however, been particularly persistent in holding that position this year – hence the prolonged unsettled weather.

      This could be due to natural variability – a bad run of coincidence, if you will – but scientific research is ongoing research to investigate whether other factors at play.

      Factors which might contribute include:

      • North Atlantic Sea Surface temperatures are warmer than normal. These can drive low pressure during summer over NW Europe, and have been a consistent feature of the last five summers (June, July August), all of which have been wetter than the climatological average for 1971-2000;

      • It has been suggested that the decline of Arctic Sea Ice may drive low pressure over the UK, although this remains very uncertain at present. Record loss of summer Arctic sea ice cover has also been a consistent feature of the last five summers…..”


      24 April 2013 at 09:22

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