Lack of Environment

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

Climate Science – Room 101

with 18 comments

A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture and – as atmospheric physicists have been warning us for over 50 years now – this will result in more frequent and more extreme weather events of all kinds.

A recent opinion poll in the USA suggested that people who were skeptical of scientists are being convinced by the evidence of their own eyes. About time too, people; welcome to reality!


A big (possibly historic) winter storm just hit the Northeast of the United States — and climate change played a role in making it stronger.

Unusually warm ocean surface temperatures put more energy and more moisture in the storm, making a mess of roads and power grids.

This graph shows how climate change is making big storms more likely.

Still not convinced?  How about this from James Hansen (et al) last July [PDF]:

The greatest barrier to public recognition of human-made climate change is probably the natural
variability of local climate. How can a person discern long-term climate change, given the
notorious variability of local weather and climate from day to day and year to year?…

Hansen et al (2012) Figure 2

Hansen et al (2012) Figure 2

We illustrate variability of seasonal temperature in units of standard deviation (σ), including
comparison with the normal distribution (“bell curve”) that the lay public may appreciate. The
probability distribution (frequency of occurrence) of local summer-mean temperature anomalies
was close to the normal distribution in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s in both hemispheres (Fig. 2).
However, in each subsequent decade the distribution shifted toward more positive anomalies,
with the positive tail (hot outliers) of the distribution shifting the most.

Figure 2. Temperature anomaly distribution: The frequency of occurrence (vertical axis) of local
temperature anomalies (relative to 1951-1980 mean) in units of local standard deviation
(horizontal axis). Area under each curve is unity. Image credit: NASA/GISS…

Yet the distribution of seasonal temperature anomalies (Fig. 2) also reveals that a significant
portion (about 15 percent) of the anomalies are still negative, corresponding to summer-mean
temperatures cooler than the average 1951-1980 climate. Thus people should not be surprised by
the occasional season that is unusually cool. Cool anomalies as extreme as -2σ still occur,
because the anomaly distribution has broadened as well as moved to the right. In other words,
our climate now encompasses greater extremes.

What then should we learn from all this analysis of historical weather data?

We should not be surprised by the storm that has just hit the NE of the USA.

Written by Martin Lack

10 February 2013 at 00:02

18 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on Science on the Land and commented:
    argylesock says… there’s none so blind as them that won’t see.


    10 February 2013 at 11:12

    • Many thanks. There are many that, although blind, still manage to read the Wall Street Journal and submit insane comments to the website… (see link at end of post above)

      Martin Lack

      10 February 2013 at 16:42

  2. I have taken the liberty to “steal” that first graph of yours for my blog. I hope you’ll forgive me:)
    I just wrote a similar post about Winter Storm Nemo and the extreme fluctuations in temperature that we are experiencing over here in “the colonies” and I believe the graph is an important addition to that post.
    Thanks, and great post!


    10 February 2013 at 12:26

    • All thanks to Like them on Facebook and you get lots of updates and graphics like that one. I will take a look at your post later.

      Martin Lack

      10 February 2013 at 12:33

      • Thanks for the idea!


        10 February 2013 at 12:34

        • Check out the high levels of Dunning-Krugger Effect on the WSJ (in response to my comment on the article about the storm [as per the link at the end of my post, above])…

          Martin Lack

          10 February 2013 at 12:38

        • I went to take a look…
          Same lame arguments “Weather isn’t climate… blah blah blah”
          You are more patient than I my friend.


          10 February 2013 at 14:11

      • WSJ and the Dunning-Kruger Effect? I am not sure if some of the remarks can be based upon that or more to do with the level of ignorance maintained by those who plug into little better than FOX for their information. [Which tells its viewers that Germany receives more sunshine than the USA! – ML]

        I totally agree with you about the glacier melt and I consider that APGW began much befpre the start of the Industrial Revolution. My lifetime of reading had led me to consider that humans have had an effect for that much longer by the change in life support techniques heralded by the start of agriculture and then city states. I thought that as far back as the hunter-gatherer stage we humans could have an indirect effect on climate by starting fires to drive herds of large herbivores over a cliff, thereby inducing a change in vegetation cover.

        For years I had nothing to back up this thinking and then William Ruddiman produced the findings of his research which is broadly laid out in Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate. Herein Ruddiman demonstrates how not only rising CO2 levels were initiated but also the more potent CH4.

        Ruddiman has authored a more comprehensive look at climate change in his, for those with deeper pockets, Earth’s Climate: Past and Future.

        available which will give you some idea.

        Alternatively find Wiki’s entry on William F. Ruddiman for an overview.

        Lionel A

        10 February 2013 at 16:47

        • Thanks Lionel. I would agree that humans began to affect the climate from the moment they began to alter their environment. As you correctly point out, this was several thousand years ago; when we stopped being nomadic hunter-gatherers and started cultivating the land. Furthermore, in so doing, as I am fond of saying, we also invented deforestation.

          Despite all this, I think it is generally accepted that the Holocene/Anthropocene boundary is most likely to be coincident with the Industrial Revolution or the detonation of atomic bombs. From the perspective of any future archaeologist investigating human impact, the onset of industrial pollution or the atomic age will be much easier to find than earlier technological advances (that spread across the globe much slower).
          See also:

          Martin Lack

          10 February 2013 at 17:23

        • I’ve heard that the Industrial Revolution is recognised as v important for climate change. That makes sense. But why the Atomic Bomb? Those were huge, certainly, and their genetic legacy continues. But what’s their climatic legacy?


          10 February 2013 at 17:40

        • Atomic bombs detonated above ground have produced at least two globally-distributed ‘signature’ effects:
          (1) a layer of iridium [sic] in soils that is now in the process of being buried (where not continually disturbed by agricultural activity); and
          (2) a change in the carbon-14 isotope ratio in plant matter (identifiable in tree rings, etc.).

          Martin Lack

          10 February 2013 at 17:49

        • How interesting. Is there a popsci summary of this that you’d recommend?


          10 February 2013 at 17:57

        • Wikipedia always provides a good summary (with links to primary sources); although Google Scholar is better for academic readers. However, with apologes, I think I may have confused the iridium signature of an ancient meteorite impact with the plutonium signature of recent A-bomb testing…

          Martin Lack

          10 February 2013 at 18:16

        • Oh I see. Thank you for explaining.


          10 February 2013 at 21:38

  3. Great post and useful comments. Will repost, if I may do so, on Learning from Dogs.

    Paul Handover

    10 February 2013 at 14:34

    • I would be delighted. However, please make sure you copy it from my blog and not your email (as it has been edited since it was published).

      Martin Lack

      10 February 2013 at 16:35

  4. […] 2013/02/10: LoE: Climate Science – Room 101 […]

  5. […] 2013/02/10: LoE: Climate Science – Room 101 […]

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