AGW Observer

Observations of anthropogenic global warming

New research from last week 34/2012

Posted by Ari Jokimäki on August 27, 2012

Last week scientists were seeking answer to the question: “what is climate”. This question is not so universal that “42” would be correct answer. Also, the answer they got is slightly more complicated than that. Here is what they came up with: −266, 1500, 42, 50–60, 23.4, −0.46, 1000, 8175, 2, 16, 2000, 2, 230, 1, 10-20, 1294±545, 4.05, 0.1-0.2. Looking at the result, we notice that there is a 42 in there. We hypothesize that this is due to climate being a subset of universe. Even though you already know the answer, read the abstracts below anyway, as they might hold some further interesting information.


Year-round mid-tropospheric warming and spring and summer lower stratospheric cooling have occurred over Antarctica

Half-century air temperature change above Antarctica: Observed trends and spatial reconstructions – Screen & Simmonds (2012)

Abstract: “This study provides a comprehensive analysis of observed 50-year (1961–2010) seasonal air temperature trends from radiosonde ascents above Antarctica. Comparisons between multiple radiosonde data sets (homogenized in different ways) at each of eight Antarctic stations reveals substantial differences in the upper-air temperature trend magnitudes and their statistical significance between data sets. However, when considering the average of these data sets at each station, or averaging across all stations, a robust vertical profile of half-century temperature change emerges, characterized by mid-tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling. Statistically significant Multistation-mean 500 hPa warming (0.1 to 0.2°C decade−1) is found in all seasons, whereas the lower stratospheric cooling has been manifest primarily in austral spring and summer, but with larger magnitudes (−1.0 to −2.0°C decade−1). We undertake the first spatial reconstructions of pan-Antarctic upper-air temperature trends. They strongly suggest that both the year-round mid-tropospheric warming and spring and summer lower stratospheric cooling have occurred above the entire continent, although their magnitudes and significance vary regionally. The reconstructed 500 hPa warming trends in winter and spring are largest over West Antarctica, the Ross Ice shelf, Victoria Land and Oates Land, and show close resemblance to those found in previously published surface temperature trend reconstructions, suggesting coupling between the surface and trends aloft. We speculate that the winter and spring mid-tropospheric warming may, in part, be driven by tropical ocean warming, analogous to proposed mechanisms for the co-located surface warming. The spring and summer lower stratospheric cooling is entirely consistent with the temperature response to ozone depletion.”

Citation: Screen, J. A., and I. Simmonds (2012), Half-century air temperature change above Antarctica: Observed trends and spatial reconstructions, J. Geophys. Res., 117, D16108, doi:10.1029/2012JD017885.


Global patterns of tropospheric nitrogen dioxide trends observed from satellite

A global single-sensor analysis of 2002–2011 tropospheric nitrogen dioxide trends observed from space – Schneider & van der A (2012)

Abstract: “A global nine-year archive of monthly tropospheric NO2 data acquired by the SCanning Imaging Absorption spectroMeter for Atmospheric CartograpHY (SCIAMACHY) instrument was analyzed with respect to trends between August 2002 and August 2011. In the past, similar studies relied on combining data from multiple sensors; however, the length of the SCIAMACHY data set now for the first time allows utilization of a consistent time series from just a single sensor for mapping NO2 trends at comparatively high horizontal resolution (0.25°). This study provides an updated analysis of global patterns in NO2 trends and finds that previously reported decreases in tropospheric NO2 over Europe and the United States as well as strong increases over China and several megacities in Asia have continued in recent years. Positive trends of up to 4.05 (±0.41) × 1015 molecules cm−2 yr−1 and up to 19.7 (±1.9) % yr−1 were found over China, with the regional mean trend being 7.3 (±3.1) % yr−1. The megacity with the most rapid relative increase was found to be Dhaka in Bangladesh. Subsequently focusing on Europe, the study further analyzes trends by country and finds significantly decreasing trends for seven countries ranging from −3.0 (±1.6) % yr−1 to −4.5 (±2.3) % yr−1. A comparison of the satellite data with station data indicates that the trends derived from both sources show substantial differences on the station scale, i.e., when comparing a station trend directly with the equivalent satellite-derived trend at the same location, but provide quite similar large-scale spatial patterns. Finally, the SCIAMACHY-derived NO2 trends are compared with equivalent trends in NO2 concentration computed using the Co-operative Programme for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Long-range Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe (EMEP) model. The results show that the spatial patterns in trends computed from both data sources mostly agree in Central and Western Europe, whereas substantial differences are found in Eastern Europe.”

Citation: Schneider, P., and R. J. van der A (2012), A global single-sensor analysis of 2002–2011 tropospheric nitrogen dioxide trends observed from space, J. Geophys. Res., 117, D16309, doi:10.1029/2012JD017571.


European ecosystems might be unlikely to contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change

The European land and inland water CO2, CO, CH4 and N2O balance between 2001 and 2005 – Cao et al. (2012) [FULL TEXT]

Abstract: “Globally, terrestrial ecosystems have absorbed about 30% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions over the period 2000–2007 and inter-hemispheric gradients indicate that a significant fraction of terrestrial carbon sequestration must be north of the Equator. We present a compilation of the CO2, CO, CH4 and N2O balances of Europe following a dual constraint approach in which (1) a land-based balance derived mainly from ecosystem carbon inventories and (2) a land-based balance derived from flux measurements are compared to (3) the atmospheric data-based balance derived from inversions constrained by measurements of atmospheric GHG (greenhouse gas) concentrations. Good agreement between the GHG balances based on fluxes (1294 ± 545 Tg C in CO2-eq yr−1), inventories (1299 ± 200 Tg C in CO2-eq yr−1) and inversions (1210 ± 405 Tg C in CO2-eq yr−1) increases our confidence that the processes underlying the European GHG budget are well understood and reasonably sampled. However, the uncertainty remains large and largely lacks formal estimates. Given that European net land to atmosphere exchanges are determined by a few dominant fluxes, the uncertainty of these key components needs to be formally estimated before efforts could be made to reduce the overall uncertainty. The net land-to-atmosphere flux is a net source for CO2, CO, CH4and N2O, because the anthropogenic emissions by far exceed the biogenic sink strength. The dual-constraint approach confirmed that the European biogenic sink removes as much as 205 ± 72 Tg C yr−1 from fossil fuel burning from the atmosphere. However, This C is being sequestered in both terrestrial and inland aquatic ecosystems. If the C-cost for ecosystem management is taken into account, the net uptake of ecosystems is estimated to decrease by 45% but still indicates substantial C-sequestration. However, when the balance is extended from CO2 towards the main GHGs, C-uptake by terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems is offset by emissions of non-CO2 GHGs. As such, the European ecosystems are unlikely to contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change.”

Citation: Luyssaert, S., Abril, G., Andres, R., Bastviken, D., Bellassen, V., Bergamaschi, P., Bousquet, P., Chevallier, F., Ciais, P., Corazza, M., Dechow, R., Erb, K.-H., Etiope, G., Fortems-Cheiney, A., Grassi, G., Hartmann, J., Jung, M., Lathière, J., Lohila, A., Mayorga, E., Moosdorf, N., Njakou, D. S., Otto, J., Papale, D., Peters, W., Peylin, P., Raymond, P., Rödenbeck, C., Saarnio, S., Schulze, E.-D., Szopa, S., Thompson, R., Verkerk, P. J., Vuichard, N., Wang, R., Wattenbach, M., and Zaehle, S.: The European land and inland water CO2, CO, CH4 and N2O balance between 2001 and 2005, Biogeosciences, 9, 3357-3380, doi:10.5194/bg-9-3357-2012, 2012.


Lumberjacks to blame for the collapse of Mayan civilization?

Pre-Columbian deforestation as an amplifier of drought in Mesoamerica – Cook et al. (2012)

Abstract: “Droughts in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica caused significant societal disruptions during the Late Classic and Post-Classic Periods. While the primary causes of these droughts are still debated, it has been speculated that they may be linked to extensive deforestation associated with high population densities during these intervals. Here we show that pre-Columbian deforestation would have biased the climate in Mesoamerica towards a drier mean state, amplifying drought in the region. In climate model simulations using a pre-Columbian land cover reconstruction, annual precipitation decreases by 5%–15% throughout southern Mexico and the Yucatán compared to simulations using either natural forest cover or forest regrowth associated with population declines after 1500 C.E. These changes are driven primarily by large reductions (10%–20%) in precipitation during the late summer wet season (August–September). When compared to precipitation changes estimated to have occurred during the Maya collapse, our results suggest that deforestation could account for up to sixty percent of the mean drying during this interval. Many regions previously deforested in the pre-Columbian era are now under dense forest cover, indicating potential future climate impacts should tropical deforestation of these areas accelerate.”

Citation: Cook, B. I., K. J. Anchukaitis, J. O. Kaplan, M. J. Puma, M. Kelley, and D. Gueyffier (2012), Pre-Columbian deforestation as an amplifier of drought in Mesoamerica, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L16706, doi:10.1029/2012GL052565.


Best skill in decadal climate prediction in Indian Ocean due to low internal to external forcing ratio

The Indian Ocean: the region of highest skill worldwide in decadal climate prediction – Guemas et al. (2012)

Abstract: “The Indian Ocean stands out as the region where the state-of-the-art decadal climate predictions of sea surface temperature (SST) perform the best worldwide for forecast times ranging from the second to the ninth year, according to correlation and RMSE (Root Mean Square Error) scores. This paper investigates the reasons for this high skill, by assessing the contributions from the initial conditions, greenhouse gases, solar activity and volcanic aerosols. The comparison between the SST correlation skill in uninitialized historical simulations and hindcasts initialized from estimates of the observed climate state shows that the high Indian Ocean skill is largely explained by the varying radiative forcings, the latter finding being supported by a set of additional sensitivity experiments. The long-term warming trend is the primary contributor to the high skill, though not the only one. Volcanic aerosols bring additional skill in this region as shown by the comparison between initialized hindcasts taking into account or not the effect of volcanic stratospheric aerosols and by the drop in skill when filtering out their effect in hindcasts which take them into account. Indeed, the Indian Ocean is shown to be the region where the ratio of the internally-generated over the externally-forced variability is the lowest, where the amplitude of the internal variability has been estimated by removing the effect of long-term warming trend and volcanic aerosols by a multiple least-square linear regression on observed SSTs.”

Citation: Virginie Guemas, Susanna Corti, J. García-Serrano, F. J. Doblas-Reyes, Magdalena Balmaseda and Linus Magnusson, Journal of Climate 2012, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00049.1.


Sunspot minima contribute to cold winters in central Europe

Solar influence on winter severity in central Europe – Sirocko et al. (2012)

Abstract: “The last two winters in central Europe were unusually cold in comparison to the years before. Meteorological data, mainly from the last 50 years, and modelling studies have suggested that both solar activity and El Niño strength may influence such central European winter coldness. To investigate the mechanisms behind this in a statistically robust way and to test which of the two factors was more important during the last 230 years back into the Little Ice Age, we use historical reports of freezing of the river Rhine. The historical data show that 10 of the 14 freeze years occurred close to sunspot minima and only one during a year of moderate El Niño. This solar influence is underpinned by corresponding atmospheric circulation anomalies in reanalysis data covering the period 1871 to 2008. Accordingly, weak solar activity is empirically related to extremely cold winter conditions in Europe also on such long time scales. This relationship still holds today, however the average winter temperatures have been rising during the last decades.”

Citation: Sirocko, F., H. Brunck, and S. Pfahl (2012), Solar influence on winter severity in central Europe, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L16704, doi:10.1029/2012GL052412.


Significant climate effects occur within days of a stepwise increase in atmospheric CO2 or solar irradiance

Climate response to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and solar irradiance on the time scale of days to weeks – Cao et al. (2012) [FULL TEXT]

Abstract: “Recent studies show that fast climate response on time scales of less than a month can have important implications for long-term climate change. In this study, we investigate climate response on the time scale of days to weeks to a step-function quadrupling of atmospheric CO2 and contrast this with the response to a 4% increase in solar irradiance. Our simulations show that significant climate effects occur within days of a stepwise increase in both atmospheric CO2 content and solar irradiance. Over ocean, increased atmospheric CO2 warms the lower troposphere more than the surface, increasing atmospheric stability, moistening the boundary layer, and suppressing evaporation and precipitation. In contrast, over ocean, increased solar irradiance warms the lower troposphere to a much lesser extent, causing a much smaller change in evaporation and precipitation. Over land, both increased CO2 and increased solar irradiance cause rapid surface warming that tends to increase both evaporation and precipitation. However, the physiological effect of increased atmospheric CO2 on plant stomata reduces plant transpiration, drying the boundary layer and decreasing precipitation. This effect does not occur with increased solar irradiance. Therefore, differences in climatic effects from CO2 versus solar forcing are manifested within days after the forcing is imposed.”

Citation: Long Cao et al 2012 Environ. Res. Lett. 7 034015 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/7/3/034015.


Strong mass loss at low elevations has had dynamic impact on the entire Greenland ice sheet

Dynamic inland propagation of thinning due to ice loss at the margins of the Greenland ice sheet – Wang et al. (2012) [FULL TEXT]

Abstract: “Mass-balance analysis of the Greenland ice sheet based on surface elevation changes observed by the European Remote-sensing Satellite (ERS) (1992-2002) and Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) (2003-07) indicates that the strongly increased mass loss at lower elevations (<2000 m) of the ice sheet, as observed during 2003-07, appears to induce interior ice thinning at higher elevations. In this paper, we perform a perturbation experiment with a three-dimensional anisotropic ice-flow model (AIF model) to investigate this upstream propagation. Observed thinning rates in the regions below 2000 m elevation are used as perturbation inputs. The model runs with perturbation for 10 years show that the extensive mass loss at the ice-sheet margins does in fact cause interior thinning on short timescales (i.e. decadal). The modeled pattern of thinning over the ice sheet agrees with the observations, which implies that the strong mass loss since the early 2000s at low elevations has had a dynamic impact on the entire ice sheet. The modeling results also suggest that even if the large mass loss at the margins stopped, the interior ice sheet would continue thinning for 300 years and would take thousands of years for full dynamic recovery.”

Citation: Wang, Weili; Li, Jun; Zwally, H. Jay, Journal of Glaciology, Volume 58, Number 210, August 2012 , pp. 734-740(7), DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3189/2012JoG11J187.


Ice regimes in thermokarst lakes of northern Alaska shifting from bedfast ice to floating ice

Shifting balance of thermokarst lake ice regimes across the Arctic Coastal Plain of northern Alaska – Arp et al. (2012)

Abstract: “The balance of thermokarst lakes with bedfast- and floating-ice regimes across Arctic lowlands regulates heat storage, permafrost thaw, winter-water supply, and over-wintering aquatic habitat. Using a time-series of late-winter synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery to distinguish lake ice regimes in two regions of the Arctic Coastal Plain of northern Alaska from 2003–2011, we found that 18% of the lakes had intermittent ice regimes, varying between bedfast-ice and floating-ice conditions. Comparing this dataset with a radar-based lake classification from 1980 showed that 16% of the bedfast-ice lakes had shifted to floating-ice regimes. A simulated lake ice thinning trend of 1.5 cm/yr since 1978 is believed to be the primary factor driving this form of lake change. The most profound impacts of this regime shift in Arctic lakes may be an increase in the landscape-scale thermal offset created by additional lake heat storage and its role in talik development in otherwise continuous permafrost as well as increases in over-winter aquatic habitat and winter-water supply.”

Citation: Arp, C. D., B. M. Jones, Z. Lu, and M. S. Whitman (2012), Shifting balance of thermokarst lake ice regimes across the Arctic Coastal Plain of northern Alaska, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L16503, doi:10.1029/2012GL052518.


There might be a threshold in atmospheric carbon dioxide beyond which the Hadley circulation shrinks drastically

Drastic shrinking of the Hadley circulation during the mid-Cretaceous Supergreenhouse – Hasegawa et al. (2012) [FULL TEXT]

Abstract: “Understanding the behavior of the global climate system during extremely warm periods is one of the major themes of paleoclimatology. Proxy data demonstrate that the equator-to-pole temperature gradient was much lower during the mid-Cretaceous “supergreenhouse” period than at present, implying larger meridional heat transport by atmospheric and/or oceanic circulation. However, reconstructions of atmospheric circulation during the Cretaceous have been hampered by a lack of appropriate datasets based on reliable proxies. Desert distribution directly reflects the position of the subtropical high-pressure belt, and the prevailing surface-wind pattern preserved in desert deposits reveals the exact position of its divergence axis, which marks the poleward margin of the Hadley circulation. We reconstructed temporal changes in the latitude of the subtropical high-pressure belt and its divergence axis during the Cretaceous based on spatio-temporal changes in the latitudinal distribution of deserts and prevailing surface-wind patterns in the Asian interior. We found a poleward shift in the subtropical high-pressure belt during the early and late Cretaceous, suggesting a poleward expansion of the Hadley circulation. In contrast, an equatorward shift of the belt was found during the mid-Cretaceous “supergreenhouse” period, suggesting drastic shrinking of the Hadley circulation. These results, in conjunction with recent observations, suggest the existence of a threshold in atmospheric CO2 level and/or global temperature, beyond which the Hadley circulation shrinks drastically.”

Citation: Hasegawa, H., Tada, R., Jiang, X., Suganuma, Y., Imsamut, S., Charusiri, P., Ichinnorov, N., and Khand, Y.: Drastic shrinking of the Hadley circulation during the mid-Cretaceous Supergreenhouse, Clim. Past, 8, 1323-1337, doi:10.5194/cp-8-1323-2012, 2012.


Finally evidence for 8.2 ka event related glacier advance from Alps

The 8.2 ka event—Calendar-dated glacier response in the Alps – Nicolussi & Schlüchter (2012)

Abstract: “Evidence for an 8.2 ka event–related advance for an Alpine glacier was missing for a long time. In the light of dendrochronological analyses for tree remains found in front of the Mont Miné Glacier, Swiss Alps, we present evidence for such an advance related to the 8.2 ka event. Calendar dates established for dozens of tree remains place this glacier advance ∼8175 yr before A.D. 2000. Therefore, this 8.2 ka advance response of the Mont Miné Glacier terminated a nearly millennial-long retreat period with a glacier always shorter than today.”

Citation: Kurt Nicolussi and Christian Schlüchter, Geology, v. 40 no. 9 p. 819-822, doi: 10.1130/G32406.1.


Incidence of extreme floods in New Zealand and the UK has been largely asynchronous during the Holocene

New Zealand and UK Holocene flooding demonstrates interhemispheric climate asynchrony – Macklin et al. (2012)

Abstract: “The timing and controls of interhemispheric Holocene climate change have remained poorly understood, primarily because of the absence of well-dated and continuous climatic records in terrestrial environments. Here we report a new probability-based meta-analysis of 1185 14C dates from fluvial sedimentary sequences in New Zealand and the UK, which provides a robust means of identifying centennial- and multicentennial-length episodes of Holocene river flooding. Statistical analysis shows that prior to large-scale human impact, which began at ca. 1000 cal. yr B.P., the incidence of extreme floods in New Zealand and the UK has been largely asynchronous during the Holocene. Major periods of flooding are controlled by large-scale shifts in atmospheric circulation, which alter the frequency of extreme precipitation events. Our novel synthesis demonstrates that short-term climate change, of sufficient magnitude to modify flooding regimes, was out of phase in the temperate maritime regions of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres during much of the Holocene. This supports recent evidence from both glacial and marine records that Holocene climate changes may have been antiphased between the polar regions and that this could have been related to variation in the strength of deep water formation.”

Citation: Mark G. Macklin, Ian C. Fuller, Anna F. Jones and Mark Bebbington, Geology, v. 40 no. 9 p. 775-778, doi: 10.1130/G33364.1.


Observed trends in climate indices cannot be explained by natural forcings alone

Evaluating global climate responses to different forcings using simple indices – Drost & Karoly (2012)

Abstract: “Previous studies have shown that various climate indices based on surface temperature can be used in detection and attribution studies of climate change. Besides global mean surface temperature, these indices are the contrast between surface temperature over land and over oceans, the temperature contrast between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, the meridional temperature gradient in the Northern Hemisphere and the magnitude of the annual cycle of temperatures over land. The indices vary independently from the global mean at decadal timescales, yet show common responses to anthropogenic climate change. Collectively they are more useful in detecting and attributing climate change than global mean surface temperature alone. We use CMIP5 model data and investigate to what extent observed trends in surface temperature can be attributed to natural and anthropogenic forcings. The multi-model ensemble mean trend for all indices, except for NS, are either at or exceed the 5%–95% confidence interval for no trend. These trends cannot be explained by natural forcings only and additional forcings are required to replicate observed trends. Historical simulations with greenhouse gas forcings only resulted generally in trends in the indices that were larger than those in simulations with all historical forcings and observed. The difference in the trends in the indices between the simulations with all historical forcings and with greenhouse gas forcing only are ascribed to the effect of aerosols.”

Citation: Drost, F. and D. Karoly (2012), Evaluating global climate responses to different forcings using simple indices, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L16701, doi:10.1029/2012GL052667.


Brightening of the global cloud field by nitric acid might be important factor in aerosol cooling

Brightening of the global cloud field by nitric acid and the associated radiative forcing – Makkonen et al. (2012) [FULL TEXT]

Abstract: “Clouds cool Earth’s climate by reflecting 20% of the incoming solar energy, while also trapping part of the outgoing radiation. The effect of human activities on clouds is poorly understood, but the present-day anthropogenic cooling via changes of cloud albedo and lifetime could be of the same order as warming from anthropogenic addition in CO2. Soluble trace gases can increase water condensation to particles, possibly leading to activation of smaller aerosols and more numerous cloud droplets. We have studied the effect of nitric acid on the aerosol indirect effect with the global aerosol-climate model ECHAM5.5-HAM2. Including the nitric acid effect in the model increases cloud droplet number concentrations globally by 7%. The nitric acid contribution to the present-day cloud albedo effect was found to be −0.32 W m−2 and to the total indirect effect −0.46 W m−2. The contribution to the cloud albedo effect is shown to increase to −0.37 W m−2 by the year 2100, if considering only the reductions in available cloud condensation nuclei. Overall, the effect of nitric acid can play a large part in aerosol cooling during the following decades with decreasing SO2 emissions and increasing NOx and greenhouse gases.”

Citation: Makkonen, R., Romakkaniemi, S., Kokkola, H., Stier, P., Räisänen, P., Rast, S., Feichter, J., Kulmala, M., and Laaksonen, A.: Brightening of the global cloud field by nitric acid and the associated radiative forcing, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 12, 7625-7633, doi:10.5194/acp-12-7625-2012, 2012.


Glaciers are shrinking in Big Naryn basin in Central Asia

Glacier changes in the Big Naryn basin, Central Tian Shan – Hagg et al. (2012)

Abstract: “A glacier inventory referring to the year 2007 was created for the Big Naryn basin based on satellite imagery. The 507 glaciers had a total area of 471 km². Compared to the Soviet glacier inventory based on data from the mid 20th century, the total glacier area decreased by 23.4%. The shrinkage varies from 14% to 42% between individual mountain ranges. We discuss the possible causes for this considerable variation by analyzing and interpreting topographic parameters and differences between seven sub-regions. On three glaciers, ice thickness was derived by ground penetrating radar (GPR) measurements on the glacier tongues and by surface slope using a simplified ice mechanical approach on the upper parts. We estimate the total ice volume of the basin for both inventories using volume-area scaling. Our results show a current glacier volume of 26.0-33.3 km³. A total of 6.6-8.4 km³ (20%) have been lost since the mid 20th century. The water equivalent of 5.9-7.6 km³ was transformed into excess discharge and contributed to at least 7.3-9.2% of total runoff in the considered period.”

Citation: W. Hagg, C. Mayer, A. Lambrecht, D. Kriegel, E. Azizov, Global and Planetary Change, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2012.07.010.


Elevated carbon dioxide may affect hydrological cycle by decreasing plant respiration

Deep-time evidence of a link between elevated CO2 concentrations and perturbations in the hydrological cycle via drop in plant transpiration – Steinthorsdottir et al. (2012)

Abstract: “The physiological effects of high CO2 concentrations, i.e., [CO2], on plant stomatal responses may be of major importance in understanding the consequences of climate change, by causing increases in runoff through suppression of plant transpiration. Radiative forcing by high [CO2] has been the main consideration in models of global change to the exclusion of plant physiological forcing, but this potentially underestimates the effects on the hydrological cycle, and the consequences for ecosystems. We tested the physiological responses of fossil plants from the Triassic–Jurassic boundary transition (Tr–J) succession of East Greenland. This interval marks a major high CO2-driven environmental upheaval, with faunal mass extinctions and significant floral turnover. Our results show that both stomatal size (expressed in fossil material as SL, the length of the stomatal complex opening) and stomatal density (SD, the number of stomata per mm2) decreased significantly during the Tr–J. We estimate, using a leaf gas-exchange model, that the decreases in SD and SL resulted in a 50%–60% drop in stomatal and canopy transpiration at the Tr–J. We also present new field evidence indicating simultaneous increases in runoff and erosion rates. We propose that the consequences of stomatal responses to elevated [CO2] may lead to locally increased runoff and erosion, and may link terrestrial and marine biodiversity loss via the hydrological cycle.”

Citation: Margret Steinthorsdottir, F. Ian Woodward, Finn Surlyk and Jennifer C. McElwain, Geology, v. 40 no. 9 p. 815-818, doi: 10.1130/G33334.1.


Record low temperature minimums decreasing and record high maximums increasing in United States

Trends in record-breaking temperatures for the conterminous United States – Rowe & Derry (2012)

Abstract: “In an unchanging climate, record-breaking temperatures are expected to decrease in frequency over time, as established records become increasingly more difficult to surpass. This inherent trend in the number of record-breaking events confounds the interpretation of actual trends in the presence of any underlying climate change. Here, a simple technique to remove the inherent trend is introduced so that any remaining trend can be examined separately for evidence of a climate change. As this technique does not use the standard definition of a broken record, our records* are differentiated by an asterisk. Results for the period 1961–2010 indicate that the number of record* low daily minimum temperatures has been significantly and steadily decreasing nearly everywhere across the United States while the number of record* high daily minimum temperatures has been predominantly increasing. Trends in record* low and record* high daily maximum temperatures are generally weaker and more spatially mixed in sign. These results are consistent with other studies examining changes expected in a warming climate.”

Citation: Rowe, C. M. and L. E. Derry (2012), Trends in record-breaking temperatures for the conterminous United States, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L16703, doi:10.1029/2012GL052775.


Early 20th century abruptly ended a 1500-year period favoring Castle Creek Glacier expansion

Late Holocene glacier expansion in the Cariboo and northern Rocky Mountains, British Columbia, Canada – Maurer et al. (2012)

Abstract: “Castle Creek Glacier in the Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia remained close to its Little Ice Age limit for most of the past 1500 years, without significant recession until the 20th century. This conclusion is based on radiocarbon-dated detrital and in-situ plant material overrun by the glacier, and the sedimentary record from informally named On–off Lake, which received clastic sediments only when Castle Creek Glacier crossed a hydrologic divide 330 m upvalley of the Little Ice Age limit. Plant macrofossils recovered from the transition between basal inorganic silt and overlying organic silty clay in a sediment core from the lake indicate that the glacier first retreated behind the divide ca. 10.92–9.70 ka. Ages of 8.97–8.61 and 5.58–5.53 ka on detrital wood from the glacier’s forefield may record earlier advances, but the first unequivocal evidence of glacier expansion is from an overridden stump with an age of 4.96–4.45 ka. Continuous accumulation of gyttja within On–off Lake, however, indicates that Castle Creek Glacier did not cross the hydrologic divide at any time during the first half of the Holocene. Glacigenic sediments began to accumulate in the lake between 2.73 and 2.49 ka, indicating that Castle Creek Glacier expanded beyond the hydrologic divide at that time. A coincident advance is also recorded in the northern Rocky Mountains of British Columbia at Kwadacha Glacier, which overran a vegetated surface at 2.69–2.36 ka. Clastic sedimentation in On–off Lake ceased soon after the Bridge River volcanic eruption (2.70–2.35 ka), indicating that Castle Creek glacier retreat to a position upvalley of the divide at that time. Sedimentation resumed before 1.87–1.72 ka when the glacier advanced again past the hydrologic divide. Following a second retreat, Castle Creek Glacier advanced across the divide a final time at ca. 1.54–1.42 ka. The snout of the glacier remained less than 330 m upvalley of the Little Ice Age moraine until the early twentieth century when annual moraines indicate rapid frontal recession to a position upvalley of the hydrologic divide. These data collectively indicate that glaciers in the Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia nearly achieved their all-time Holocene limits as early as 2.73–2.49 ka and climatic conditions in the early 20th century abruptly ended a 1500-year period favoring glacier expansion.”

Citation: Malyssa K. Maurer, Brian Menounos, Brian H. Luckman, Gerald Osborn, John J. Clague, Matthew J. Beedle, Rod Smith, Nigel Atkinson, Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 51, 19 September 2012, Pages 71–80, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2012.07.023.


Satellite observations of Antarctic sea ice thickness and volume

Satellite observations of Antarctic sea ice thickness and volume – Kurtz & Markus (2012)

Abstract: “We utilize satellite laser altimetry data from NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) combined with passive microwave measurements to analyze basin-wide changes in Antarctic sea ice thickness and volume over a 5 year period from 2003–2008. Sea ice thickness exhibits a small negative trend while area increases in the summer and fall balanced losses in thickness leading to small overall volume changes. Using a 5 year time series, we show that only small ice thickness changes of less than −0.03 m/yr and volume changes of −266 km3/yr and 160 km3/yr occurred for the spring and summer periods, respectively. These results are in stark contrast to the much greater observed losses in Arctic sea ice volume and illustrate the different hemispheric changes of the polar sea ice covers in recent years. The uncertainties in the calculated thickness and volume trends are large compared to the observed basin-scale trends. This masks the determination of a long-term trend or cyclical variability in the sea ice cover. It is found that lengthening of the observation time series along with better determination of the interannual variability of sea ice and snow densities will allow for a more statistically significant determination of long-term sea ice thickness and volume trends in the Southern Ocean.”

Citation: Kurtz, N. T., and T. Markus (2012), Satellite observations of Antarctic sea ice thickness and volume, J. Geophys. Res., 117, C08025, doi:10.1029/2012JC008141.


CLASSIC OF THE WEEK: Elton (1924)

Periodic Fluctuations in the Numbers of Animals: Their Causes and Effects – Elton (1924) [FULL TEXT]

Abstract: “I. Four main points are dealt with :– (a) The widespread existence of fluctuations in the numbers of animals. (b) The existence, in many birds and mammals, of periodic fluctuations (p.f.). (c) The cause of the latter, which must be some periodic climatic change acting over wide areas. (d) The effects of fluctuations in general, and in particular of the p.f., on the method of evolution and other biological phenomena. 2. A short sketch is given of what is known about short- period climatic cycles (2 to 20 years), and their causes. 3. P.f. of lemmings have an average period of about 3½ years. The maxima in numbers occur synchronously in North America and Europe, and probably all round the arctic regions. The varying hare in Canada has a period of 10 to 11 years. 5. The only regular periods shown by the animals dealt with are the short one of 3½ years and the longer one of 10 to 11 years. The former is probably more marked in the arctic and the other further south. 6. The sandgrouse p.f. point to the existence of an 11-year climatic cycle in the deserts of Central Asia. 7. The effects of these p.f. on evolution must be very great, although at present problematical; but the following suggestions are made :– (a) Natural selection of some characters must be periodic. (b) There will be different types of natural selection at the maxima and minima of numbers. (c) The struggle for existence, and therefore natural selection, tend to cease temporarily during the rapid expansion in numbers from a minimum, and new mutations have then a chance to get established and spread, i.e. without the aid of natural selection. This might happen only rarely. (d) This would explain the origin and survival of non adaptive characters in a species. (e) On the other hand periodic reduction in numbers will act as an important factor causing uniformity in the species. (f) The opposing factors (c) and (e) will vary much in different species, and the problem will require the combined attentions of mathematicians, and of ecologists working on the methods of regulation of the numbers of animals. (g) This mechanical uniformity factor, since it acts independently of natural selection, explains how a particular structure or habit may evolve, when it only has a general adaptive significance.”

Citation: C. S. Elton, The Journal of Experimental Biology, 2, 119-163, October 1924.


When each paper is published, it is notified in AGW Observer Facebook page and Twitter page. Here’s the archive for the research papers of previous weeks. If this sort of thing interests you, be sure to check out A Few Things Illconsidered. They also have a weekly posting containing lots of links to new research and other climate related news.

One Response to “New research from last week 34/2012”

  1. […] 2012/08/27: AGWObserver: New research from last week 34/2012 […]

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