Okay. this looks real. The predictions have firmed up for a large El Niño and quite likely a huge one this winter. Hang on to your hat!
Here It Comes!
The following three images and the captions are brazenly stolen from a DialyKos diary by “pollwatcher”:
There’s a bunch of models that try to predict El Niño events. Lets look at a series of predictions for the last three weeks, with the earliest first.
The above is the model predictions for March 17.
This one is for March 27.
And this last one is from April 6.
Notice how the models were kinda scattered all over the place in the first run, and how they keep kinda bunching up over the next couple of runs? Also notice that last week the predicted sea temperature for the October November December time frame took a pretty big jump over the previous week. I want to emphasize that the further away the models predict, especially in the spring, the bigger chance they could be wrong. But the fact that the models seem to be converging, seems to indicate they might be on to something.
(end of quote)
“pollwatcher” also points us to this interesting report from last January by Brian Kahn on research by Cai et al entitled “Increasing frequency of extreme El Niño events due to greenhouse warming” finds just such a trend (fewer but much larger El Niño) in CMIP models. Kevin Trenberth objects to this sort of model study – after all, why should we find this prediction reliable when most of the models, while they do have an equatorial oscillation, don’t get the details, including the time spectrum, right.
This reticence is a sign of just how sophisticated the system understanding of people like Kevin is, and how the community leaders actually treat models and model studies. This one is far from the worst application of the CMIP dataset around, but it does raise some questions, especially in the light of an absence of a dynamic explanation.
It doesn’t surprise me at all, though. For reasons I’m not sure I can articulate in any way that will get anyone on earth to understand and believe me, this outcome (fewer, bigger El Niño events) agrees with my expectations on general systems dynamics principles. For the moment, let’s just say find the CMIP model consensus plausible in a speculative sort of way.
Hiatus or Drama? Will the El Niño of 2014-15 tell the tale?
So far as we know, there have been two prior Super-El-Niños, in 1983 and 1998.
Now look at the temperature record (via Joe Romm at ThinkProgress):
(Ignore the cute volcanoes.)
It is not hard to see this picture as consisting of three regimes in the global temperature; from the beginning of the record until 1982, from 1982 to 1998, and from 1998 to the present (a few years ago on this image). Are large El Niño events actually a sign of a rearrangement of the whole system? When the East Pacific warm pool dissipates, where does it go? My understanding is a pair of warm coastal waves symmetrically spreading from equatorial South America poleward and then around the Pacific. These coastal Kelvin Waves are a proposed mechanism for the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.
The way this is likely to play out from here physically, then is an unprecdented global mean temperature in 2015 much as appeared in 1998, accompanied by even weirder weather. (Was the Montreal and Vermont Ice Storm of 1998 part of the first incident of global weirding?) Then perhaps a reassuring cooling back to the 2000-2013 baseline and then a gradual waring back to the new anomalous peak as the wamr water spreads around the Pacific.
(As an aside, the complicating factor of the not as yet understood bump in temperatures in the 1940s is truncated off this image. The picture is not quite as pretty as it looks here if you include the early 1940s. I’m still wondering if the 1940s is a data artifact of some kind. So the picture I painted, even if it holds water, is admittedly not complete.)
The question at hand every day for the rest of our lives and generations to come when we look at the skies will be “How weird is this?” While the slower emergence of an increase in global mean temperature may allow someone to make a claim that “global warming has stopped”, they are out of line if they claim “climate change has stopped”. For God’s sake, that is the same period that saw the end of perennial ice in most of the Arctic.
When you talk to actual practicing meteorologists, they are shaking their heads in astonished horror. This is not your Daddy’s atmosphere, they say. I defer to the people who pore over these maps every day, people like Stu Ostro, Steve Skolnick, and especially Jeff Masters, whose online weather predictions I have been following since the early days of the internet. These guys say things are bizarre. Roger Pielke Jr. notwithstanding, the actuarial statistics for the past few years (via the Jeff Masters article linked above) do too:
So the point is this – it sure as hell looks more like the bend in a new hockey stick. It’s too early to be sure; these are noisy statistics by nature. But that pattern is both too important and too striking to just shrug off with arguments from statistical significance as if this were a clinical trial of some sort.
This kind of change is NOT what climate science expected. It expected higher transient climate sensitivity, but less weirding.
So we may be jumping up to a new level of oddity in the climate. This is sooner than expected, but at this point it looks pretty damned inevitable if it hasn’t happened yet.
There’s some interesting things to say about the epistemic status of the short-run El Niño models vs that of the CMIP ensembles. The former are simple and inexpensive and are predicting a specific trajectory. They are weather-like in that sense, even though traditionally they would be called “climate predictions”, unfortunately.
The latter can help answer harder questions, but some care needs to be taken in interpreting their results. A climate model is a climate science tool, not a prognostic tool; that’s Kevin’s point in questioning Cai et al. And only time and further research will eventually conspire to validate or invalidate Cai once and for all.
But an ENSO model is a prognostic tool, one whose skill becomes higher as the year advances. It now appears that we will not avoid at the very least a large El Niño and very likely a new global mean temperature record.
So Climate Change Hasn’t Stopped Yet?
Some people have staked out a position that “global warming has not stopped” by redefining “global warming” to mean ocean warming. I am really sick of this sloppy “global warming” terminology and try to avoid it altogether, but I think adding yet another meaning to this pile of overlapping ideas is a very bad idea. In the only sense that I think it should ever be used “global warming”, meaning the upward trend in mean surface temperature, has indeed been dramatically slower than expected.
But it’s also true that the harder we kick the system, the less use the models will be to us, as we take the Earth outside the range that the models are tuned to reproduce. We have essentially no observations of a far-from-equilibrium planet other than, to a very limited extent, the termination of the last glaciation. The less attention we pay to the warnings, the less effective the current and easily foreseeable generations of climate models will be.
In fact, it’s not a contradiction to say that global warming is in a hiatus while climate change has accelerated.
The next few years will tell us more about the persistence of the global temperature hiatus. I’ll lay you odds that 2015 is the hottest year yet, but whether it brings us back up to the model trend line is another question. Either way, saying this means climate change has stopped is bullshit. Unfortunately. Climate can’t stop changing until we stop kicking it harder with every passing year, and we kick it harder in every year that our net greenhouse emissions exceed zero.