The climate change simulations that best capture current planetary conditions are also the ones that predict the most dire levels of human-driven warming, according to a statistical study released in the journal Nature on Wednesday.
The study, by Patrick Brown and Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, examined the high-powered climate change simulations, or models, that researchers use to project the future of the planet based on the physical equations that govern the behavior of the atmosphere and oceans….
….Lead study author Brown argued, though, that the results have a major real-world implication: They could mean the world can emit even less carbon dioxide than we thought if it wants to hold warming below the widely accepted target of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). This would mean shrinking the “carbon budget.”
The study “would imply that to stabilize temperature at 2 degrees Celsius, you’d have to have 15 percent less cumulative CO2 emissions,” he said.
The first main chapter deals with changes to the climate and focuses much attention on global temperatures. When most people think of climate change, they think of the global temperature – specifically the temperature of the air a few meters above the Earth surface. There are other (better) ways to measure climate change such as heat absorbed by the oceans, melting ice, sea level rise, or others. But the iconic measurement most people think of are these air temperatures, shown in the top frame of the figure below….
Persistent western ridge and eastern trough next 2+ weeks–warm in the west, cool in the east– linked to western tropical Pacific ocean warming
Tropical warmth (in the West Pacific) and coolness (in the East Pacific) are both linked to different patterns of North Pacific winter ridging, and may offer an early warning of seasons with an elevated risk of dry conditions in California.
“Warm West/Cool East” extremes have become more common in recent years
this increase in contrasting dipole extremes appears to be caused primarily by the increased rate of warming in the western U.S. relative to the eastern U.S
Origins of the [Ridiculously Resilient Ridge or] “Triple R” and California’s severe drought
In 2013, a curious feature began to emerge on the weather maps: a region of unusually high atmospheric pressure (known as a “ridge” in meteorological circles) was consistently pushing the Pacific jet stream to the north of California, resulting in very dry conditions. At the time, I (somewhat jokingly) termed this anomalous high pressure zone the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” due to its implausible longevity, assuming that it would most likely recede by the subsequent blog post. Instead, the “Triple R” held strong straight through the entire winter—and then recurred, in slightly modified form, throughout the winters of 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.
Warm West/Cool East” extremes have become more common in recent years
Our recent work (led by Deepti Singh) answers this question affirmatively: there has indeed been an increase in the number of days each winter characterized by simultaneously very warm temperatures across the American West and very cold temperatures across the East….
…this increase in contrasting dipole extremes appears to be caused primarily by the increased rate of warming in the western U.S. relative to the eastern U.S…
Tropical Pacific may offer early warning of “Triple R”-like patterns
We found that there do indeed appear to be strong relationships between Pacific Ocean temperatures and persistent West Coast ridges conducive to dry conditions in California. Especially prominent are the links to western tropical Pacific Ocean warmth. These connections appear several months in advance, which not only suggests a causal linkage but also hints that it may be possible to predict the occurrence of “Triple R”-like ridges several months in advance….
What about “The Blob?” Well, we did find a strong statistical linkage between warm ocean conditions in the North Pacific and West Coast ridging—similar to that which occurred during the recent drought. In this case, though, the “chicken or egg” issue rears its head once again: while a time-lagged relationship between autumn ocean temperature and winter ridging did exist in observations, only an contemporaneous relationship existed in climate model simulations….
Some conclusions, and thoughts about the present winter
Ocean temperatures have been cool in the eastern tropical Pacific and warm in the western tropical Pacific since early autumn. (NOAA via tropicaltidbits.com)
Ultimately, we confirm that unusual ocean temperatures are linked to seasonally-persistent West Coast winter ridging similar to the Triple R. Tropical warmth (in the West Pacific) and coolness (in the East Pacific) are both linked to different patterns of North Pacific winter ridging, and may offer an early warning of seasons with an elevated risk of dry conditions in California.
Interestingly, tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures during autumn 2017 were warm in the west and cool in the east amidst a modest (and ongoing) La Niña event—a combination that suggests a substantially elevated likelihood of West Coast ridging this winter. To date, Southern California has experienced one of its driest starts to the Water Year on record, and strikingly persistent West Coast ridging is now expected to last at least two weeks. It will certainly be interesting to see how this winter plays out in the context of these new research findings.
Offshore winds are whipping up wildfires in California….Rising temps combined with fire suppression, increased development in wildland areas are making the West dangerously combustible.
[see my post on the No CA fires here; 2015 study found that a warming climate will likely make these “Santa Ana” offshore winds both more frequent and stronger, fueling potentially increasing destructive offshore wind driven fires by 64% ]
and here on fire tornadoes; [““Just like water flows from higher to lower elevation, winds flow down a pressure gradient as they go from high pressure to low pressure,” said Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist with the UC Cooperative Extension. “When they get concentrated, like through a mountain pass, they will speed up, like a river going through a narrow channel.” ]
The deadly fires that swept through California’s wine country this fall made one of the state’s most destructive fire seasons on record even worse, and the fierce Santa Ana winds now whipping up fast-moving blazes in the hills near Los Angeles are adding the year’s damage. As global temperatures continue to rise, scientists say the risk of extreme fire seasons is rising across the West.Wildfires are hugely complex events, complicated by human activity, including rampant development and decades of fire suppression strategies that left too much dry timber and underbrush for fires to burn.
Add the effects of climate change to the mix, and California’s already fire-prone landscape grows increasingly combustible.
After nearly five years of extreme drought, California finally got a lot of rain over the fall and winter. ….An analysis showed the grasses and scrub were at all time record dry levels before the wine country fires in early October. “Fire literally exploded and raced along the landscape,” the National Weather Service said. “This summer was so hot, that even a well-above-average winter wasn’t enough to prevent the record-dry year from drying out vegetation,” Swain said. “Both sides were important.”
Why do these fires spread so fast?
….the seasonal hot, dry Diablo winds, sweeping down from higher elevations, fanned the flames in the North Bay….The National Weather Service reported that wind gusts hit nearly 79 miles per hour. Wind-driven fires can move quickly, and these leapt hundreds of feet in seconds.The southern part of the state has its own seasonal hot, dry winds, called the Santa Ana, and those helped drive the fires near Los Angeles in December. Research projects that those winds will fan more destructive and larger fires in that region—an increase of about 60 percent by mid-century—while non-wind driven fires will also increase because of hotter, drier summers—by nearly 80 percent in the same timeframe.
Development is also an issue in fire risk. Over the past half century, humans have pushed farther into wildland areas, building more homes, businesses, roads and utility lines. As firefighters protect these areas, fewer wildfires—a natural part of many ecosystems—have been allowed to burn, allowing fire fuel to grow. Roughly 46 million homes are in these wildland-urban interface areas, and more than 5 million are in California.
Will extremes get worse with climate change?
Recent research from the Pacific Northwest National Labs and Utah State University scientists projects that extreme drought and extreme flooding in California will increase 50 percent by the end of the century—potentially triggering the growth of vegetation that quickly becomes fuel as temperatures rise in the summer…..
The last great hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change may lie in a substance so commonplace that we typically ignore it or else walk all over it: the soil beneath our feet.
The earth possesses five major pools of carbon. Of those pools, the atmosphere is already overloaded with the stuff; the oceans are turning acidic as they become saturated with it; the forests are diminishing; and underground fossil fuel reserves are being emptied. That leaves soil as the most likely repository for immense quantities of carbon.
Now scientists are documenting how sequestering carbon in soil can produce a double dividend: It reduces climate change by extracting carbon from the atmosphere, and it restores the health of degraded soil and increases agricultural yields. Many scientists and farmers believe the emerging understanding of soil’s role in climate stability and agricultural productivity will prompt a paradigm shift in agriculture, triggering the abandonment of conventional practices like tillage, crop residue removal, mono-cropping, excessive grazing and blanket use of chemical fertilizer and pesticide. Even cattle, usually considered climate change culprits because they belch at least 25 gallons of methane a day, are being studied as a potential part of the climate change solution because of their role in naturally fertilizing soil and cycling nutrients.
The climate change crisis is so far advanced that even drastically cutting greenhouse gas emissions won’t prevent a convulsive future by itself — the amount of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere ensures dire trouble ahead. The most plausible way out is to combine emission cuts with “negative-emission” or “drawdown” technologies, which pull greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and into the other pools. Most of these proposed technologies are forms of geoengineering, dubious bets on huge climate manipulations with a high likelihood of disastrous unintended consequences.
On the other hand, carbon sequestration in soil and vegetation is an effective way to pull carbon from the atmosphere that in some ways is the opposite of geoengineering. Instead of overcoming nature, it reinforces it, promoting the propagation of plant life to return carbon to the soil that was there in the first place — until destructive agricultural practices prompted its release into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. That process started with the advent of agriculture about 10,000 years ago and accelerated over the last century as industrial farming and ranching rapidly expanded.
Among the advocates of so-called regenerative agriculture is the climate scientist and activist James Hansen, lead author of a paper published in July that calls for the adoption of “steps to improve soil fertility and increase its carbon content” to ward off “deleterious climate impacts.”
Rattan Lal, the director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State, estimates that soil has the potential to sequester carbon at a rate of between 0.9 and 2.6 gigatons per year. That’s a small part of the 10 gigatons a year of current carbon emissions, but it’s still significant. Somewhat reassuringly, some scientists believe the estimate is low.
….The techniques that regenerative farmers use vary with soil, climate and crop. They start from the understanding that healthy soil teems with more than a billion microorganisms per teaspoon and the behavior of those organisms facilitates hardy plant life. To fertilize their fields, regenerative farmers use nutrient-rich manure or compost, avoiding as much as possible chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which can kill huge quantities of organic matter and reduce plants’ resilience. They don’t like to till the soil, since tillage increases carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Some farmers combine livestock, cover crops and row crops sequentially on the same field, or plant perennials, shrubs and even trees along with row crops. Leaving soil bare during off-seasons is taboo, since barren soil easily erodes, depleting more carbon from the soil; regenerative farmers instead plant cover crops to capture more carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere….
…California began an initiative in 2015 to incorporate soil health into the state’s farm and ranch operations. Some of the pioneering studies showing regenerative agriculture’s benefits have been carried out at the Marin Carbon Project, on a self-proclaimed carbon-farming ranch in the pastoral reaches of Marin County 30 miles northwest of San Francisco. A four-year study there showed that a one-time application of compost caused an increase in plant productivity that has continued ever since, and that the soil’s carbon content grew year after year, at a rate equivalent to the removal from the atmosphere of 1.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide per acre annually.
Whendee Silver, an ecosystem ecologist at the University of California at Berkeley who is the project’s lead scientist, calculated along with a colleague that if as little as 5 percent of California’s rangelands was coated with one-quarter to one-half inch of compost, the resulting carbon sequestration would be the equivalent of the annual greenhouse emissions of nine million cars. The diversion of green waste from the state’s overcrowded landfills would also prevent it from generating methane, another potent greenhouse gas.
Some scientists remain skeptical of regenerative agriculture, arguing that its impact will be small or will work only with certain soils. It also faces significant obstacles, such as a scarcity of research funding and the requirements of federal crop insurance, which frequently disqualifies farmers who plant cover crops….
…. In a region [TX and OK] where rainfall is usually precious, some conventional soil has become so lifeless that it absorbs as little as half an inch of water per hour, Mr. Durham said, while regenerative fields can absorb more than eight inches an hour.
Mr. Durham’s farmers are learning a lesson that resonates throughout human interactions with the natural world: People reap more benefit from nature when they give up trying to vanquish it and instead see it clearly, as a demanding but indispensable ally. Because of carbon’s climate change connection, we’ve been conditioned to think of it as the enemy, when in fact it’s as vital to life as water. The way to make amends is to put it back in the soil, where it belongs.
A major study looking at changes in where UK birds have been found over the past 40 years has validated the latest climate change models being used to forecast impacts on birds and other animals….
“We are now a lot more confident in what models should be used, and when, to provide a more accurate picture of biodiversity loss from climate change. While this study was on UK birds, we expect these results will also hold for many other birds and animals…
Damien A. Fordham, Cleo Bertelsmeier, Barry W. Brook, Regan Early, Dora Neto, Stuart C. Brown, Sébastien Ollier, Miguel B. Araújo. How complex should models be? Comparing correlative and mechanistic range dynamics models. Global Change Biology, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13935
Scientists have evidence that El Niño boosts CO2 levels, and they are pinning down how
As a carbon booster, El Niño could hasten rising temperatures, bringing the world to dangerous thresholds sooner than thought. It could also enhance feedbacks between climate and vegetation that could reduce plants’ ability to absorb CO2 in non-Niño years as well. If bad droughts or wildfires kill many trees, for example, forests and their carbon sequestering potential may take centuries to recover, if ever.
Every two to seven years, abnormally warm water in the Pacific Ocean causes an atmospheric disturbance called El Niño. It often makes extreme weather worse in various places around the world: greater floods, tougher droughts, more wildfires. Now scientists have new evidence indicating El Niño conditions might also add extra carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as well as lessen the ability of trees to absorb the greenhouse gas…
….A recent article in Science about satellite measurements made during El Niño by NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 showed most of the extra CO2 originated in the tropics. It also suggested each tropical region contributed a similar amount of CO2 as in other strong El Niño years, each in its own way. In South America’s Amazon, for example, slower-growing plants absorbed less CO2, whereas in Africa, plants and soils released more of the gas….
Nitrite-oxidizing bacteria contribute to the capture of carbon dioxide in deep, unlit ocean waters
November 27, 2017 Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
Marine bacteria that live in the dark depths of the ocean play a newly discovered and significant role in the global carbon cycle, according to a new study.
The “dark ocean” — everything that lies below 200 meters — makes up 90 percent of the ocean. Very little is known about the microscopic life in this realm and its critical role in transforming carbon dioxide to cell material, proteins, carbohydrates and lipids. This freshly produced organic material can then be consumed by other marine organisms enhancing the productivity of the ocean…
…”We experimentally demonstrated the major role of nitrite oxidizers in capturing carbon dioxide in the dark ocean and illuminated a group of microbes which has not yet received adequate attention for their impact in the oceanic carbon cycle.”
Maria G. Pachiadaki, Eva Sintes, Kristin Bergauer, Julia M. Brown, Nicholas R. Record, Brandon K. Swan, Mary Elizabeth Mathyer, Steven J. Hallam, Purificacion Lopez-Garcia, Yoshihiro Takaki, Takuro Nunoura, Tanja Woyke, Gerhard J. Herndl, Ramunas Stepanauskas. Major role of nitrite-oxidizing bacteria in dark ocean carbon fixation. Science, 2017; 358 (6366): 1046 DOI: 10.1126/science.aan8260
Studies on mild fluctuations in weather have provided support for the idea that higher biodiversity results in more stable functioning of ecosystems, but critical appraisal of the evidence from extreme event studies is lacking.
Higher plant species richness is not always sufficient to reduce ecosystem vulnerability to climate extremes, as shown in a comprehensive literature analysis published in the Journal of Ecology.
While biodiversity is under threat around the globe, the number of extreme weather events is on the rise as a direct consequence of climate change…Available evidence from herbaceous systems indicates mixed effects of species richness on biomass stability to extremely wet and dry events.
…Biodiversity may still be important [in reducing dire impacts of climate change], as it has been shown to speed up recovery of plant productivity after an extreme event…the cause of biodiversity decline may confound biodiversity-stability effects….species richness may not be the most relevant indicator of ‘biodiversity’ when studying biodiversity-stability relationships….
De Boeck HJ, Bloor JMG, Kreyling J, et al. Patterns and drivers of biodiversity-stability relationships under climate extremes. J Ecol., 2017;00:1%u201313 DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.12897
After 4+ years of negotiations, countries (parties to the UNFCCC) agreed to work on a series of efforts around agriculture and climate change. Below are some highlights from the draft recommendations. Countries and observers have been asked to submit their views on what should be included in the work by 31 March 2018, with options including how to improve soil carbon and fertility, how to assess adaptation and resilience and the creation of better livestock management systems.
…Invites parties and observers to submit by 31 March 2018, their views on elements to be included in the work referred to in paragraph 1 above for consideration at the forty eighth session of the subsidiary bodies (April–May 2018), starting with but not limited to the following:
Parties should submit their views via the submission portal at, starting with but not limited to the following:
(a) Modalities for implementation of the outcomes of the five in-session workshops
on issues related to agriculture and other future topics that may arise from this work;
(b) Methods and approaches for assessing adaptation, adaptation co-benefits and resilience;
(c) Improved soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility under grassland and cropland as well as integrated systems, including water management;
(d) Improved nutrient use and manure management towards sustainable and
resilient agricultural systems;
(e) Improved livestock management systems;
(f) Socioeconomic and food security dimensions of climate change in the agricultural sector.