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Scientists post extreme weather warning

December 6, 2015, by Tim Radford

Trying to cool off during a heatwave in London. Image: Chris JL via Flickr


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COP21: Climate change means that temperate Europe faces the twin threat of life-threatening heatwaves and periods of bitter cold over the next 20 years.

PARIS, 6 December, 2015 – New research warns that longer, hotter and more frequent heatwaves than those that killed 55,000 Russians in 2010, or 72,000 in France, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK in 2003, will hit Europe in the next two decades.

But, over the same period, Europe could also begin to get colder as a consequence of a drop in solar activity, and a century-long chill could be on the way, according to a study of long-period climate cycles.

And if global warming accelerates, and average global ocean temperatures rise by 6°C or more, most of the living, breathing world could in any case begin to suffocate, according to ominous calculations by a mathematician. At some point, the providers of oxygen could begin to perish.

All three uncomfortable projections were published as 30,000 delegates, politicians, observers, pressure groups, and journalists gathered in Paris for COP21, the UN summit on climate change, which is meeting to try to forge an agreement that could, ultimately, limit global warming to a planetary average of 2°C or less.

Magnitude index

Simone Russo, a geophysicist, and colleagues from the European Union Joint Research Centre at Ispra in Italy report in Environmental Research Letters that they developed a heatwave magnitude index to cope with a problem once considered improbable for temperate Europe − extremes of heat.

The index is a tool for statistical analysis, and provides a way of matching bygone events with possible future extremes. Deaths in Europe accounted for 90% of global mortality from heat extremes in the last 20 years. And there could be more on the way.

“Even if global mean temperatures don’t increase too much, we’ll see more extreme events,” Dr Russo says. “These will be hotter, longer and more frequent.”

Scientists from universities in Northumbria, Hull and Bradford in the UK, and from Lomonosov State University in Moscow, are not so sure. Their study in Scientific Reports journal examines the rhythms of the sun, and foresees a possible minimum in solar magnetic activity, which has in the past been linked to extended cold periods in the Earth’s climate history.

The latest research tries to reconstruct climate from 1200 AD and make a forecast until the year 3200, based ultimately on the count of sunspots. And the scientists think a new low is about to begin.

The depletion of atmospheric oxygen on a global scale is another possible catastrophic consequence of global warming”

“Studies have shown that, over the last 400,000 years, there were five global warming and four ice ages,” says Elena Popova, a physicist at Lomonosov Moscow State University. “What caused them? How much can solar activity affect the weather and climate change? This question is still not solved and is an extremely relevant and interesting challenge for the various researchers around the world.”

Not everyone sees a clear link between sunspot numbers and periodic swings in global temperature. But there isn’t much argument about the importance of plants in the generation of the oxygen for the rest of creation − and an estimated two-thirds of this comes from phytoplankton in the oceans, which cover 70% of the globe.

Ocean productivity

“The rate of oxygen production depends on water temperature and hence can be affected by the global warming,”, say Sergei Petrovskii, professor of applied mathematics, and colleagues at the University of Leicester, UK, in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology.

The scientists made a mathematical model of the processes that control ocean productivity, and then added higher levels of warming. Were ocean temperatures to rise by an average of 6°C by 2100, the increase would start to disrupt the process of photosynthesis.

Right now, this is a less than likely outcome: 184 of the 190 nations now engaged in the COP21 summit have submitted pledges to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that generate greenhouse gases and drive global warming, and the latest forecast is that, were all these pledges honoured, global warming could perhaps be contained to within 3°C.

If these were improved upon – and that, too, is the ambition behind the climate summit – then the warming could be limited to 2°C. But the predictions of the Leicester team are a reminder of the high price of failure.

They warn: “Our results indicate that the depletion of atmospheric oxygen on a global scale (which, if it happens, obviously can kill most of the life on Earth) is another possible catastrophic consequence of global warming, a global ecological disaster that has been overlooked.” – Climate News Network

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  • Hello Tim,

    I have an interest in cycles – so I looked up the Popova paper. It is a simple enough statistical approach and confirms what many other solar scientists have been saying for some time – that the Sun may be about to ‘hibernate’.

    I researched this issue for my book Chill (2009) when hardly anyone was talking about ‘cooling’ and solar cycles. NASA had just predicted that cycle 24 would peak higher than the previous. It didn’t – it has come in at about 30% less and much later than predicted by NASA, who spent billions of dollars on useless predictive computer modelling of ‘space weather’.

    By 2012, at least two modelling groups tried to incorporate the effects of this ‘cycle’ – one in the US (under Gerry Meehl) and the other at the Hadley Centre near Exeter. Both showed that the next five decades could be cooler or remain without warming – but that the CO2 effect would kick in with greater effect when the cycle shifted upward again (about 2070).

    There is a substantial body of peer-reviewed papers that now point to a cyclic standstill or possible cooling. All of them are still making an error, though – they do not correct the CO2-effect model which was built upon a cycle-less Earth, where the effectiveness of CO2 (known as climate sensitivity) was apparently confirmed by the observed warming (1980-2000). The problem is that from surface insolation data it is obvious to anyone who looks (and many are afflicted with wilful blindness) that the late-20th century warming was at least 50% natural – and the early 20th century warming completely natural – all part of the cycle. Thus, the sensitivity factor needs to be revised at least by half, probably down to one-third. When this is done, if combined with a Maunder-type minimum, there will be significant cooling by 2030 (and continued standstill or ‘pause’ over this next five years).

    On extreme weather – there is no evidence that recent ‘extreme’ events are at all unusual in the cycle s of temperature – and most models predicted less extreme events due to the lessening of polar-equatorial contrast. The only data showing change is in large short-term precipitation events – in line with the rise of temperature and enhancement of the water cycle. The IPCC reports state very clearly that droughts, wildfires, hurricanes and cyclones have not increased.

    On the 6 degrees ocean warming….the current rate of warming in the last half century is 0.13 degrees per decade….with no sign of acceleration – thus, if that rate continues, it will be 1 degree warmer than now by 2100, or roughly 2 degrees above the pre-industrial level. There are estimates that such temperatures were reached in the Holocene climate maximum – so natural ecosystems would not be ‘threatened’. However, human support systems in particular would likely be stressed – but, they are now – as is the natural world from massive habitat fragmentation!

    However, as noted above, not all of that 0.13 /decade is man-made – if it is about 50% (as IPCC reports allow in the small print – I think it nearer 25%), and the sensitivity is low, then we can expect only half-degree of warming and the 2 degrees will not be reached.

    Six degrees is a pointless academic exercise with no evidence it is likely – all recent papers on modelling have ruled out such accelerations (ie it would have to rise at 0.7 degrees per decade or five times faster than observed). The idea that we could run out of oxygen is at best fanciful.

    One needs to look at the curve of CO2 concentration against wattage and surface temperature – it is asymptotic, ie levelling out about about 200ppmv. From 280-560 (doubling from pre-industrial levels) the rise is 2.5 watts, and then one has to apply a relatively uncertain factor to get the surface temperature. That factor ranges from 0.88 (early IPCC and still used by many projections) to 0.44 (recommended by top scientists within the IPCC but not necessarily adopted) and down to 0.3. Hence for doubling, a range of 2.2 to 0.75 degrees. The second doubling – 560-1120, if it occurred, would add the same or less wattage (the curve equations are not that certain) and degrees.

    This is the real world of scientific uncertainty surrounding the model projections.

    I am not suggesting that climate change is not a problem – just a problem that will not respond to mitigation. Global human support systems are already over-stressed, and 1 billion extra mouths will arrive within the next 13 years. Unfortunately, adaptation to inevitable climate change does not grab headlines, nor much more than 5% of science funding. That is why some of us – as professional ecologists, have taken an interest in cycles and predictive modelling.

  • There is no direct evndeice that man is causing anything. CO2 can theoretically trap and store heat but its effect is slight. Water vapor, for example is a far more powerful and pervasive greenhouse gas. the upshot is that CO2 cannot cause planetary warming in the absence of very powerful feedbacks from the environment. There are some theories about how these feedbacks might work but so far there is little direct evndeice. There is also the problem that CO2 is very heavy and tends to stay close to the surface. Science has yet to explain adequately just how enough CO2 can get into the upper reaches of the atmosphere to warm the planet. There are a few theories, but that is all they are. Again, there is no direct evndeice yet.The primary support comes from a simplistic process of elimination. In short, some climatologists believe that all other probable explanations for the alleged warming have been eliminated and that man himself is the only explanation left. The logical fallacy in this should be apparent. In a monstrously complex non-linear system like a planetary climate, it is just about impossible to know just what all the possible causes might be. Climate science is still in its infancy and it is the ultimate in hubris to imagine that we know everything. Truth is that these guys can’t tell us what the climate is going to be doing locally in a month’s time, much less on a planetary scale in a century. The question regarding whether the planet really is warming is even debatable because the amount of claimed warming in the last century is still within the statistical margin of error. When one combines that with the deliberate cooking of the data (this is undeniable and reprehensible) it leaves the whole question open to debate, although I will admit that some glaciers in Greenland at least were in fact receding for a while. The notion that natural climatic changes cannot happen suddenly is poppycock. Many climatologists deny the existence of the medieval warm period while receding glaciers in Greenland are exposing ancient Viking farms. Yes, 1000 years ago Greenland was warm enough to support agriculture. Remember that painting of Washington crossing the frozen Delaware River? That kind of freezing hasn’t happened since the end of the little ice age beginning in about 1850. Prior to that, that sort of thing happened every winter for several hundred years. In some of the original presentations AGW scientists “adjusted” the medieval temperature down and the temperature during the little ice age up in order to produce graphs that looked like hockey sticks.Some AGW scientists claim that even talking about the medieval warm period and little ice age is fallacious because it presumes that the causes are the same as those that are causing the alleged warming today. However, they are the ones making claims about AGW, so it is up to them to show that the causes are not comparable. They have not done so yet and the truth is that climate science is not yet advanced enough that they can. What the AGW alarmists really have is a flawed statistical correlation between a rise in CO2 and global temperatures. They also have some crude (when compared to the real complexity of the climate system) computer models which incorporate a number of unproven assumptions about CO2 and which therefore make specific predictions about temperature. These predictions are not matching the observed temperature data, that much is certain.So, in a nutshell, they have a theory that they think should work and that is all. There is zero direct evndeice that man has yet developed the capacity to alter the climate.If you look carefully at what some of the other posters here are telling you, you should notice that all they are doing is proving up an increase in atmospheric CO2 over the last couple hundred years or so. This much I do not deny. However, man’s contribution to it is being vastly exaggerated. Man contributes no more than .3% of yearly CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, so there is a rather obvious flaw in this argument. To say, as one poster does, that man contributes more CO2 than many other natural sources is a bit on the disingenuous side. The oceans are in fact the greatest contributor by far.There has been ice core and ocean core data that tends to show a correlation between elevated CO2 and temperature but close examination reveals that CO2 elevations lag behind temperature increases by some 800 years on average. This would seem to indicate that rising temperatures cause CO2 concentration to increase rather than the other way around. Anyway, I’m not really saying that the theory cannot be correct. What I am saying is that science is going to have to come up with evndeice beyond mere statistical correlations and theoretical presumptions before their theory can be regarded as proven. It would also be nice if the boys at East Anglia hadn’t corrupted the data.Finally, even in the extremely doubtful eventuality that AGW scientists should prove correct, what we must not do is shoot the mule. Our technological advancement and standard of living is thanks solely, and I do mean solely, to our discovery and use of fossil fuels. I have no trouble with Tree Huggers who want to bang their heads on wind turbines. Who knows? Somebody may come up with something, but so far that “something” isn’t even on the radar.

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