AGW Observer

Observations of anthropogenic global warming

New research from last week 39/2011

Posted by Ari Jokimäki on October 3, 2011

Here is the new research published last week. I’m not including everything that was published but just some papers that got my attention. Those who follow my Facebook page (and/or Twitter) have already seen most of these, as I post these there as soon as they are published. Here, I’ll just put them out in one batch. Sometimes I might also point out to some other news as well, but the new research will be the focus here. Here’s the archive for the news of previous weeks. By the way, if this sort of thing interests you, be sure to check out A Few Things Illconsidered, they have a weekly posting containing lots of links to new research and other climate related news.

Rapid warming at higher altitudes and latitudes in China

Spatial and temporal characteristics of minimum temperature in winter in China during 1961–2010 from NCEP/NCAR reanalysis – Wu et al. (2011) “Based on the surface 2 m monthly minimum temperature from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction/National Center for Atmospheric Research reanalysis dataset, the spatial and temporal characteristics of winter minimum temperature during 1961–2010 have been analyzed in China. Results showed that the minimum temperature in China has a significant increasing rate of 0.25° per decade calculated by the Mann–Kendall statistical test, which is consistent with the global warming trend. Empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis reveals that there are three main patterns that can explain more than 57.6% of the total variance of the winter minimum temperature. The EOF1, EOF2, and EOF3 account for 34.8%, 13.5%, and 13.5% of the total inter-annual variance, respectively. The EOF1, EOF2, and EOF3 patterns are synchronous in northern China, central China, and on the Tibetan Plateau. There exist a decrease trend in the corresponding time coefficients of EOF1 and EOF2 and an increase trend in that of EOF3 since the 1960s. Both the corresponding time coefficients of EOF1 and EOF2 have significant positive correlations with the 500 hPa geopotential heights of the Arctic region and negative correlations in the regions lower than 40°N, while a significant positive correlation is found between the corresponding time coefficients of EOF3 and 500 hPa geopotential heights in the low latitudes. This suggests that rapid warming occurs in northern China and on the Tibetan Plateau, while the weakest trend locates in southeast China. Thus, warming in winter is more pronounced at higher altitudes and latitudes. These patterns are tightly connected with the atmospheric circulation.” Shuhong Wu, Aigang Lu and Longqing Li, Theoretical and Applied Climatology, DOI: 10.1007/s00704-011-0525-6.

Ice is staying in Berlin-Brandenburg lakes shorter time

Lake ice phenology in Berlin-Brandenburg from 1947–2007: observations and model hindcasts – Bernhardt et al. (2011) “Rising northern hemispheric mean air temperatures reduce the amount of winter lake ice. These changes in lake ice cover must be understood in terms of resulting effects on lake ecosystems. Accurate predictions of lake ice phenology are essential to assess resulting impact. We applied the one-dimensional physical lake model FLake to analyse past variability in ice cover timing, intensity and duration of Berlin-Brandenburg lakes. The observed ice phenology in two lakes in the period 1961–2007 was reconstructed by FLake reasonably well and with higher accuracy than by state-of-the-art linear regression models. Additional modelling results of FLake for 38 Berlin-Brandenburg lakes, observed in the winter of 2008/09, were quite satisfactory and adequately reproduced the effects of varying lake morphology and trophic state. Observations and model results showed that deeper and clearer lakes had more ice-free winters, later ice cover freezing and earlier ice cover thawing dates, resulting in shorter ice-covered periods and fewer ice-covered days than shallow and less clear lakes. The 1947–2007 model hindcasts were implemented using FLake for eight Berlin-Brandenburg lakes without ice phenology observations. Results demonstrated past trends of later ice start and earlier ice end, shorter ice cover duration and an increase in ice-free winters.” Juliane Bernhardt, Christof Engelhardt, Georgiy Kirillin and Jörg Matschullat, Climatic Change, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-011-0248-9.

Upwelling events in California are becoming less frequent but longer and stronger

Climate-driven trends and ecological implications of event-scale upwelling in the California Current System – Iles et al. (2011) “Eastern boundary current systems are among the most productive and lucrative ecosystems on Earth because they benefit from upwelling currents. Upwelling currents subsidize the base of the coastal food web by bringing deep, cold and nutrient-rich water to the surface. As upwelling is driven by large-scale atmospheric patterns, global climate change has the potential to affect a wide range of significant ecological processes through changes in water chemistry, water temperature, and the transport processes that influence species dispersal and recruitment. We examined long-term trends in the frequency, duration, and strength of continuous upwelling events for the Oregon and California regions of the California Current System in the eastern Pacific Ocean. We then associated event-scale upwelling with up to 21 years of barnacle and mussel recruitment, and water temperature data measured at rocky intertidal field sites along the Oregon coast. Our analyses suggest that upwelling events are changing in ways that are consistent with climate change predictions: upwelling events are becoming less frequent, stronger, and longer in duration. Additionally, upwelling events have a quasi-instantaneous and cumulative effect on rocky intertidal water temperatures, with longer events leading to colder temperatures. Longer, more persistent upwelling events were negatively associated with barnacle recruitment but positively associated with mussel recruitment. However, since barnacles facilitate mussel recruitment by providing attachment sites, increased upwelling persistence could have indirect negative impacts on mussel populations. Overall, our results indicate that changes in coastal upwelling that are consistent with climate change predictions are altering the tempo and the mode of environmental forcing in nearshore ecosystems, with potentially severe and discontinuous ramifications for ecosystem structure and functioning.” Alison C. Iles, Tarik C. Gouhier, Bruce A. Menge, Julia S. Stewart, Alison J. Haupt, Margaret C. Lynch, Global Change Biology, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02567.x.

Lake ice bubbles might not be good methane flux indicators

Bubbles trapped in arctic lake ice: Potential implications for methane emissions – Wik et al. (2011) “The amount of methane (CH4) emitted from northern lakes to the atmosphere is uncertain but is expected to increase as a result of arctic warming. A majority of CH4 is thought to be released through ebullition (bubbling), a pathway with extreme spatial variability that limits the accuracy of measurements. We assessed ebullition during early and late winter by quantifying bubbles trapped in the ice cover of two lakes in a landscape with degrading permafrost in arctic Sweden using random transect sampling and a digital image processing technique. Bubbles covered up to ∼8% of the lake area and were largely dominated by point source emissions with spatial variabilities of up to 1056%. Bubble occurrence differed significantly between early and late season ice, between the two lakes and among different zones within each lake (p < 0.001). Using a common method, we calculated winter fluxes of up to 129 ± 486 mg CH4 m−2 d−1. These calculations are, on average, two times higher than estimates from North Siberian and Alaskan lakes and four times higher than emissions measured from the same lakes during summer. Therefore, the calculations are likely overestimates and point to the likelihood that estimating CH4 fluxes from ice bubble distributions may be more difficult than believed. This study also shows that bubbles quantified using few transects will most likely be unsuitable in making large-scale flux estimates. At least 19 transects covering ∼1% of the lake area were required to examine ebullition with high precision in our studied lakes.” Wik, M., P. M. Crill, D. Bastviken, Å. Danielsson, and E. Norbäck (2011), J. Geophys. Res., 116, G03044, doi:10.1029/2011JG001761.

Arctic sea ice extent decreases faster than IPCC models predict

IPCC climate models do not capture Arctic sea ice drift acceleration: Consequences in terms of projected sea ice thinning and decline – Rampal et al. (2011) “IPCC climate models underestimate the decrease of the Arctic sea ice extent. The recent Arctic sea ice decline is also characterized by a rapid thinning and by an increase of sea ice kinematics (velocities and deformation rates), with both processes being coupled through positive feedbacks. In this study we show that IPCC climate models underestimate the observed thinning trend by a factor of almost 4 on average and fail to capture the associated accelerated motion. The coupling between the ice state (thickness and concentration) and ice velocity is unexpectedly weak in most models. In particular, sea ice drifts faster during the months when it is thick and packed than when it is thin, contrary to what is observed; also models with larger long-term thinning trends do not show higher drift acceleration. This weak coupling behavior (1) suggests that the positive feedbacks mentioned above are underestimated and (2) can partly explain the models’ underestimation of the recent sea ice area, thickness, and velocity trends. Due partly to this weak coupling, ice export does not play an important role in the simulated negative balance of Arctic sea ice mass between 1950 and 2050. If we assume a positive trend on ice speeds at straits equivalent to the one observed since 1979 within the Arctic basin, first-order estimations give shrinking and thinning trends that become significantly closer to the observations.” Rampal, P., J. Weiss, C. Dubois, and J.-M. Campin (2011), J. Geophys. Res., 116, C00D07, doi:10.1029/2011JC007110.

Growth rates of Antarctic mosses correlate with climate

Radiocarbon bomb spike reveals biological effects of Antarctic climate change – Clarke et al. (2011) “The Antarctic has experienced major changes in temperature, wind speed and stratospheric ozone levels during the last 50 years. However until recently continental Antarctica appeared to be little impacted by climate warming, thus biological changes were predicted to be relatively slow. Detecting the biological effects of Antarctic climate change has been hindered by the paucity of long-term data sets, particularly for organisms that have been exposed to these changes throughout their lives. We show that radiocarbon signals are preserved along shoots of the dominant Antarctic moss flora and use these to determine accurate growth rates over a period of several decades, allowing us to explore the influence of environmental variables on growth and providing a dramatic demonstration of the effects of climate change. We have generated detailed 50-year growth records for Ceratodon purpureus and three other Antarctic moss species using the 1960s radiocarbon bomb spike. Our growth rate and stable carbon isotope (δ13C) data show that C. purpureus’ growth rates are correlated with key climatic variables, and furthermore that the observed effects of climate variation on growth are mediated through changes in water availability. Our results indicate the timing and balance between warming, high wind speeds and elevated UV fluxes may determine the fate of these mosses and the associated communities that form oases of Antarctic biodiversity.” Laurence J. Clarke, Sharon A. Robinson, Quan Hua, David J. Ayre, David Fink, Global Change Biology, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02560.x.

Spotted owls in arid environments may be highly vulnerable to climate change

Climate Change and Spotted Owls: Potentially Contrasting Responses in the Southwestern United States – Peery et al. (2011) “Developing strategies that reduce the impacts of climate change on biodiversity will require projections of the future status of species under alternative climate change scenarios. Demographic models based on empirical data that link temporal variation in climate with vital rates can improve the accuracy of such predictions and help guide conservation efforts. Here we characterized how population dynamics and extinction risk might be affected by climate change for three spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) populations in the Southwestern United States over the next century. Specifically, we used stochastic, stage-based matrix models parameterized with vital rates linked to annual variation in temperature and precipitation to project owl populations forward in time under three IPCC emissions scenarios relative to contemporary climate. Owl populations in Arizona and New Mexico were predicted to decline rapidly over the next century and had a much greater probability of extinction under all three emissions scenarios than under current climate conditions. In contrast, owl population dynamics in Southern California were relatively insensitive to predicted changes in climate, and extinction risk was low for this population under all scenarios. The difference in predicted climate change impacts between these areas was due to negative associations between warm, dry conditions and owl vital rates in Arizona and New Mexico, whereas cold, wet spring reduced reproduction in Southern California. Predicted changes in population growth rates were mediated more by weather-induced changes in fecundity than survival, and were generally more sensitive to increases in temperature than declines in precipitation. Our results indicated that spotted owls in arid environments may be highly vulnerable to climate change, even in core parts of the owl’s range. More broadly, contrasting responses to climate change among populations highlight the need to tailor conservation strategies regionally, and modeling efforts such as ours can help prioritize the allocation of resources in this regard.” M. Zachariah Peery, R. J. Gutiérrez, Rebecca Kirby, Olivia E. LeDee, William LaHaye, Global Change Biology, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02564.x.

Aerosols decrease and GHGs increase global precipitation

Global precipitation response to changing forcings since 1870 – Bichet et al. (2011) “Predicting and adapting to changes in the hydrological cycle is one of the major challenges for the 21st century. To better estimate how it will respond to future changes in climate forcings, it is crucial to understand how the hydrological cycle has evolved in the past and why. In our study, we use an atmospheric global climate model with prescribed sea surface temperatures (SSTs) to investigate how, in the period 1870–2005, changing climate forcings have affected the global land temperature and precipitation. We show that between 1870 and 2005, prescribed SSTs (encapsulating other forcings and internal variability) determine the decadal and interannual variabilities of the global land temperature and precipitation, mostly via their influence in the tropics (25° S–25° N). In addition, using simulations with prescribed SSTs and considering the atmospheric response alone, we find that between 1930 and 2005 increasing aerosol emissions have reduced the global land temperature and precipitation by up to 0.4 °C and 30 mm yr−1, respectively, and that between about 1950 and 2005 increasing greenhouse gas concentrations have increased them by up to 0.25 °C and 10 mm yr−1, respectively. Finally, we suggest that between about 1950 and 1970, increasing aerosol emissions had a larger impact on the hydrological cycle than increasing greenhouse gas concentrations.” Bichet, A., Wild, M., Folini, D., and Schär, C., Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 9961-9970, doi:10.5194/acp-11-9961-2011, 2011. [Full text]

2010 Arctic sea ice volume minimum is statistically significant new record

Uncertainty in modeled Arctic sea ice volume – Schweiger et al. (2011) “Uncertainty in the Pan-Arctic Ice-Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) Arctic sea ice volume record is characterized. A range of observations and approaches, including in situ ice thickness measurements, ICESat retrieved ice thickness, and model sensitivity studies, yields a conservative estimate for October Arctic ice volume uncertainty of 1.35 × 103 km3 and an uncertainty of the ice volume trend over the 1979–2010 period of 1.0 × 103 km3 decade–1. A conservative estimate of the trend over this period is −2.8 × 103 km3 decade–1. PIOMAS ice thickness estimates agree well with ICESat ice thickness retrievals (<0.1 m mean difference) for the area for which submarine data are available, while difference outside this area are larger. PIOMAS spatial thickness patterns agree well with ICESat thickness estimates with pattern correlations of above 0.8. PIOMAS appears to overestimate thin ice thickness and underestimate thick ice, yielding a smaller downward trend than apparent in reconstructions from observations. PIOMAS ice volume uncertainties and trends are examined in the context of climate change attribution and the declaration of record minima. The distribution of 32 year trends in a preindustrial coupled model simulation shows no trends comparable to those seen in the PIOMAS retrospective, even when the trend uncertainty is accounted for. Attempts to label September minima as new record lows are sensitive to modeling error. However, the September 2010 ice volume anomaly did in fact exceed the previous 2007 minimum by a large enough margin to establish a statistically significant new record.” Schweiger, A., R. Lindsay, J. Zhang, M. Steele, H. Stern, and R. Kwok (2011), J. Geophys. Res., 116, C00D06, doi:10.1029/2011JC007084.

Urban people consume more and emit more carbon

Dense downtown living more carbon intense due to higher consumption: a case study of Helsinki – Heinonen et al. (2011) “Hindering urban sprawl is one of the main goals for contemporary urban planning. Urban density is considered crucial in climate change mitigation since it reduces automobile dependence and decreases unit sizes, for example. This letter analyzes the effect of density in a city context. In the study the Finnish capital Helsinki is divided into two areas of different urban densities: the high density downtown area and the more scarcely populated suburbs. The study is a continuation of a recently published study on the implications of urban structure on carbon emissions, and analyzes further the main finding of the first study—that higher urban density might have negligible or even reverse effect on the per capita carbon emissions. Similarly to the previous study, a consumption based tiered hybrid life cycle assessment (LCA) approach is employed in order to produce a comprehensive assessment, free of territorial boundaries and system cutoffs typical of traditional LCAs. Based on the findings of the previous study, it is hypothesized that when assessing city level carbon dioxide emissions from a wider, consumer oriented LCA perspective, increased urban density may not necessarily reduce carbon emissions. Surprisingly, the study finds that carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions are substantially higher in the dense downtown area than in the surrounding suburbs, which is suggested to imply that the increased consumption due to the higher standard of living increases emissions more than the higher density is able to reduce them. The results demonstrate that, while increasing urban density can be justified from a number of ecological, social and economic viewpoints, density is not necessarily a key parameter in the particular case of climate change. In cities like Helsinki, where wealth is concentrated in the downtown area, climate policies should give higher priority to the energy consumption of buildings, to alternative energy production and distribution modes, as well as to low carbon consumption within the city.” Jukka Heinonen et al 2011 Environ. Res. Lett. 6 034034 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/6/3/034034. [Full text]

Future risk of restructuring of global land biosphere

Risk of severe climate change impact on the terrestrial biosphere – Heyder et al. (2011) “The functioning of many ecosystems and their associated resilience could become severely compromised by climate change over the 21st century. We present a global risk analysis of terrestrial ecosystem changes based on an aggregate metric of joint changes in macroscopic ecosystem features including vegetation structure as well as carbon and water fluxes and stores. We apply this metric to global ecosystem simulations with a dynamic global vegetation model (LPJmL) under 58 WCRP CMIP3 climate change projections. Given the current knowledge of ecosystem processes and projected climate change patterns, we find that severe ecosystem changes cannot be excluded on any continent. They are likely to occur (in > 90% of the climate projections) in the boreal–temperate ecotone where heat and drought stress might lead to large-scale forest die-back, along boreal and mountainous tree lines where the temperature limitation will be alleviated, and in water-limited ecosystems where elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration will lead to increased water use efficiency of photosynthesis. Considerable ecosystem changes can be expected above 3 K local temperature change in cold and tropical climates and above 4 K in the temperate zone. Sensitivity to temperature change increases with decreasing precipitation in tropical and temperate ecosystems. In summary, there is a risk of substantial restructuring of the global land biosphere on current trajectories of climate change.” Ursula Heyder et al 2011 Environ. Res. Lett. 6 034036 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/6/3/034036. [Full text]

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