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The global warming debate It’s not about CO 2, it’s about water! Wetsus, 21 April 2011.

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Presentation on theme: "The global warming debate It’s not about CO 2, it’s about water! Wetsus, 21 April 2011."— Presentation transcript:

1 The global warming debate It’s not about CO 2, it’s about water! Wetsus, 21 April 2011

2 Who am I? Marcel Crok (1971) University degree in chemistry (Leiden, 1995) Science journalist since 1997 Worked for De Ingenieur (2000-2002) and for Natuurwetenschap & Techniek (2003-2008) Published long article about the infamous hockey stick graph in 2005 2008-2010 Worked fulltime on the book De staat van het klimaat


4 Ocean versus atmosphere The energy content of the oceans is a thousand times larger than that of the atmosphere! So tiny changes in the oceans can have a huge effect on the atmosphere

5 How do we diagnose global warming so far?

6 Is there a warm bias in the land measurements? Yes! klotzbach 2009

7 Is global warming accelerating? No! It’s decelerating!


9 Is the sea level rise accelerating? No!

10 Sea level rise IPCC wrote in 2007: “Whether the faster rate [of sea level rise] for 1993 to 2003 reflects decadal variability or an increase in the longer term trend is unclear.” The answer to this becomes clearer every year: it indeed seems to be decadal variability The rate during the most recent 10-yr period is 2.32 mm/yr; This is not much above the 20th century average rate of 1.8mm/yr

11 What about the oceans? ARGO The most relevant place to diagnose global warming

12 Some basics: Forcings in AR4

13 So there should be warming, but… The IPCC forcings are based on differences between 1750 and now. So this figure is not showing the current net forcing Based on Ocean Heat Content data between 1993-2008 the best estimate of the current net forcing is around 0,6 W/m2 However, the latest ARGO data suggest a net forcing of only 0,2 W/m2 (or even less) So ARGO data are wrong or our understanding of forcings and feedbacks are wrong

14 Why do climate models warm up?

15 Forcings and feedbacks Theoretical warming for 2x CO 2 is 1 degree Celsius With three degrees warming – the best estimate of IPCC for 2x CO 2 – most of the warming is coming from positive feedbacks like water vapor, clouds and albedo changes However is the real climate behaving as the models show? The global warming debate is about feedbacks and the reliability of models, not about CO 2

16 Water vapor feedback Most climate scientists feel ‘certain’ about a positive water vapor feedback It seems so obvious: warmer air can hold more water vapor and water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas However…

17 There are two competing processes

18 And the second process – precipitation – we don’t understand very well

19 Observational evidence? Source: Trenberth 2005

20 IPCC Summary for Policy Makers “The average atmospheric water vapour content has increased since at least the 1980s over land and ocean as well as in the upper troposphere. The increase is broadly consistent with the extra water vapour that warmer air can hold.” However the time series is short (1988-2004) and the trend seems influenced by the strong El Niño of 1998

21 How does the period 1988-2010 look like? Trenberth 2011 didn’t update his earlier graph However he stated that water vapor trends are strongly related to Sea Surface Temperatures How did Sea Surface temperatures evolve in the last decade?

22 Sea Surface Temperature trend

23 Corresponding water vapor data

24 What about the Nasa dataset? NASA Water Vapor Dataset; NVAP is unique in that it covers global land and ocean by combining a variety of input sources Tom Vonder Haar by email this week: All we can say at present is that the preliminary NVAP data, according to the Null Hypothesis, cannot disprove a trend in global water vapor either positive or negative

25 Conclusions water vapor feedback Although a positive water vapor feedback is intuitively quite plausible, there is little observational evidence that this feedback has been operational in the last decades The cloud feedback is even more uncertain, which is also admitted by IPCC So there is no observational evidence yet for a total net positive feedback. This could partly explain why global warming is happening at a slower rate than expected by the models


27 Nature: More extreme precipitation caused by CO 2 Andrew Weaver: “We should continue to expect increased flooding associated with increased extreme precipitation because of increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.” Judith Curry: “I find this kind of analysis totally unconvincing, and it does not recognize the role of natural internal variability such as the Arctic Oscillation, La Nina, etc in producing floods. None of the recent floods are extreme in historical context.”


29 First: are there global trends in rainfall on land? Mwah

30 Global Precipitation Climatology Project One of the major goals of GPCP is to develop a more complete understanding of the spatial and temporal patterns of global precipitation. Data from over 6,000 rain gauge stations, and satellite geostationary and low-orbit infrared, passive microwave, and sounding observations have been merged to estimate monthly rainfall on a 2.5-degree global grid from 1979 to the present.

31 Global trends in rainfall since 1979

32 Extreme precipitation in The Netherlands since 1950

33 Extreme precipitation in De Bilt since 1906

34 Extreme precipitation in Europa

35 So is there really a trend in extreme precipitation? No! Concluded the Greek hydrologist Demetris Koutsoyiannis recently at the EGU All 3070 stations fulfilling the criteria set are examined for trends. For the entire period, 1731 stations show positive slope and 1339 negative slope. For the most recent 40 years, 1494 exhibit positive slope and 1576 negative slope. “Strong” negative trends beyond one sample standard deviation have become more frequent compared to those the entire period, while “strong” positive trends have become slightly less frequent.

36 No clear trends in extreme precipitation!

37 Paper: “Dreary State Of Precipitation In Global Models” these models produce precipitation approximately twice as often as that observed and make rainfall far too lightly This implies little skill in precipitation calculated at individual grid points, and thus applications involving downscaling of grid point precipitation to yet even finer‐scale resolution has little foundation and relevance to the real Earth system.

38 Are models able to simulate rainfall back in time? Two papers by Koutsoyiannis addressed this question. In the second paper he looked at temperature and rainfall at 55 grid boxes On annual and climatic time scales (30 year) there was no correlation at all between the models and reality! At EGU 2011: models underestimate extreme rainfall up to a factor ten!

39 Are models ready for prime time? EDITORIAL, Are climate models “ready for prime time” in water resources management applications, or is more research needed? Zbigniew W. Kundzewicz & Eugene Z. Stakhiv, Hydrological Sciences Journal What does this all mean? The future is unknown. We cannot say much about future trends in rainfall and extreme rainfall

40 Follow me on

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