Scientist’s Stunning Prediction Playing Out?

January 21, 2016

Below, I’m reposting an entry from Sept. 14 of 2015.  I’ll assert this is more evidence that if you want to know what’s happening on climate, listening to Kevin Trenberth, and (ahem) watching this blog, are not bad ideas.

Here, in an interview recorded and posted here in May of 2014, Dr. Trenberth suggests, strongly, that with a new El Nino event, we may see, instead of years warming in hundredths of a degree increments – “we will go up 2 or 3 tenths of a degree Celsius, and maybe we won’t come back down again”..


Climate Progress’s description of yesterday’s announcement of 2015 temperature rise:

While global temperature records are normally measured in hundredths of degrees Fahrenheit, NOAA reports 2015 crushed the previous record just set in 2014 by nearly three tenths of a degree, or 0.29°F (0.16°C) above the previous record, which was set in 2014.

Here, my September 2015 post:

Above, my interview with Kevin Trenberth in 2014. We agreed that if certain predictions came true, that I’d make sure the video got recirculated – and with today’s new announcement by the UK Met Office, a burgeoning El Nino in the Pacific, and 2015 looking like the warmest year ever – blowing the doors off 2014 – now is that time.

Dr. Trenberth spoke about large cycles in the Pacific that are part of natural variability, and how the ocean has tended in recent years to take more heat into greater depths, where it can not show up on surface temperature measurements.

Dr. Trenberth further predicted, starting at about 9:00 above, that a new El Nino event, if strong enough, like the one we are seeing now, would jumpstart the kind of warming trend that we saw between the mid-70s and 1998.

El Nino years tend to be hotter.

Recent measurements show that the current El Nino is looking a lot like the 1998 mega-event.

In a recent piece in Science magazine, Trenberth expanded on the idea, with a helpful graph showing the “stepwise” motion of global mean surface temperatures, (GMST) with the swings of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. (PDO)

He wrote:

The main pacemaker of variability in rates of GMST increase appears to be the PDO, with aerosols likely playing a role in the earlier big hiatus. There is speculation whether the latest El Niño event and a strong switch in the sign of the PDO since early 2014 (see the figure) mean that the GMST is stepping up again. The combination of decadal variability and a trend from increasing greenhouse gases makes the GMST record more like a rising staircase
than a monotonic rise. As greenhouse gas concentrations rise further, a negative decadal trend in GMST becomes less likely ( 13). But there will be fluctuations in rates of warming and big regional variations associated with natural variability. It is important to expect these and plan for them.

Dr. Trenberth further predicted, in 2013, that an anticipated large El Nino might trigger a phase change in the Pacific Decadal oscillation, and a new step up in global temperatures. This seems to be playing out now.

In a 2014 interview, Trenberth’s colleague at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Gerald Meehl, spoke about the contributions of natural variability to the perception of “pause” in surface temperature. The interviews taken together give an a strong impression of how well the senior climate scientists have understood and anticipated the dynamics of global temperature, even with the unpredictability of internal cycles like El Nino and PDO.

In this case, Meehl is talking about “decadal climate prediction” – a new way of climate modeling. In a traditional climate model, the model is “initialized”, or begun, with the conditions known starting in 1850 and allowed to run with the random variations playing out in the artificial system. In the new methodology, the models are “initialized” in the 1990s – updated with actual conditions at that time – and they do tend to show with some skill the slower rise in surface temperatures of the past decade or so.

Meehl points out that after the huge, and hot, El Nino of 1998, the pacific went into a large La Nina, or cooling, phase, that in effect, we had not come out of, until recently. Now the UK Met Office paper out this week is confirming that Trenberth and Meehl’s insights have been prescient.


29 Responses to “Scientist’s Stunning Prediction Playing Out?”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    ““we will go up 2 or 3 tenths of a degree Celsius, and maybe we won’t come back down again”..”


    But I doubt it – this is a gigantic El Nino, and temp’s will go down after it’s done, just like other El Nino years. And will likely fall below a smoothed average for a while. Just like before.

    The only way they won’t go down is if we have passed a significant tipping point with one of the positive feedbacks, and we are in the dawn of TSHTF (The S**t Hitting The Fan).

    • greenman3610 Says:

      I’m sure there is a betting pool somewhere.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      “Maybe, But I doubt it” says GB? Hey GB, loan me your crystal ball so I can get a good bet into that pool Peter mentions.

      I DO agree with “They won’t go down if we have passed a significant tipping point with one of the positive feedbacks and we are in the dawn of TSHTF (The S**t Hitting The Fan)”, except that the feedbacks are likely to be multiple, reinforcing, and multiplicative—we may be tipping more than “one”.

      PS McPherson is right when he says Nature Bats Last, and I’ll repeat that we don’t even know the rules of the game—-it is crazy to think we can win when all we have are “trick plays” to use.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        I’ll take that bet.

        Essentially, you are saying that every single year from now on will be a record hot year (since 2015 was a record year) , and by “two or three tenths of a degree Celsius”, are you not?

        And, for double or nothing, you will lose in 2017.

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          Oho! I’m counting my winnings already! I am going to take them and invest in coal futures.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          I am ALMOST “essentially saying” that. We shall see. Good luck with the coal futures. If I win, I’m putting it all into Solar Roadway and any company selling tourist trips to the Moon and Mars.

    • It’s not like ENSO is isolated from the rest of the climate system, especially the oceans, and does things on its own. That’s why I sometimes find it amusing when people attribute local warming and atmospheric effects to various “oscillations”: It’s like they are pretending they are getting their energies from some other reservoir than what’s already in the climate system.

      In the case of oceans, considering the huge heat capacity of water, it is striking how much of the excess energy from greenhouse gas forcing is being retained by the oceans, something like 90% at last count. It would not be remarkable at all if mechanisms developed to release some of that energy back into the atmosphere, at least into its moisture. El Nino is such a mechanism.

  2. Enh, Gingerbaker, look at 1997/1998.

    1998 set a record by a huge margin, and 1997 fell quite a bit from there. But.. even with that fall, it was pretty close to the previous record highs. And it never really came down after that.

    So, it came down from the record highs of ’98, but temperatures stayed elevated compared to everything before ’98.

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    In-between some jazz:

  4. Sir Charles Says:

    There is growing evidence that also the natural variability of the climate is increasing with global warming. Below an article in the science magazine Nature:

    => 2015 declared the hottest year on record

    Warming in the Pacific helps shatter past marks, and could bring even faster temperature rises.

    “Over the next ten years, we see higher rates of warming,” Meehl says. Meehl says that this does not change the overall assessment that global warming has proceeded apace over the last century. Rather, he says that global temperatures vary and often increase in stepwise fashion over decades.

    This “stepwise fashion” happened in the past. And there is not any reason to believe it couldn’t happen again when concerning (in geological terms) rapidly rising temperatures on our planet.

  5. Sir Charles Says:

    The last three years in review:

  6. redskylite Says:

    Dr Trenberth has a short piece in today’s “The Conversation” and summarizes “What we have seen this past year will likely be routine in about 15 years, although regionally the details will vary considerably. Indeed, we have had a glimpse of the future under global warming.”.

    We are seeing more deviations, more uncharacteristic events, we have to get used to it and learn to live with it. As Trenberth’s projections prove reliable, the persistent group of deniers and extreme contrarians are looking an odder and odder bunch, and seem more akin to those eccentric members of the Flat Earth society, today. Funny maybe, but frightening as some of those people are standing for high office, especially in the U.S.

    It is still not 100% sure that the PDO has flipped to a warm phase, but seems very likely and this favours a steeper upwards climb, as the oceans unload some of that heat, which we could see over the next few decades. The higher we go the more negative feedbacks are aroused, the less linear the climbs become, and it seems there is no impending glacial event to put things back into harmony (Gaia style).

    We are all on a strange new journey of discovery. I’m sure Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marqués de Dalí de Pubol would approve.

    • redskylite Says:

      Drat brainfart – I meant Positive feedback – ruined the whole meaning, my excuse is its 28 degrees Celsius outside and I don’t have a/c inside.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Not to worry—-we all knew that. It was very obviously a brain fart, glaringly so because it was in the middle of a an excellent comment.

        Brain farts have been temporarily frozen solid here in northern VA, as we have 18+ inches of snow on the ground in 18 hours from The Blizzard of 2016 and another 12 hours to go until it moves on. Wind blowing hard and drifts forming—be thankful for 28C—we’re at -7C and have been there or lower for days with wind chills to -20C.

  7. toddinnorway Says:

    There is a tipping point we can all observe, and probably in the next few years. Global GHG emissions will likely start falling soon, but the atmospheric content of CO2 will continue to rise. Feedback mechanisms for melting permafrost and methane clathrates can quickly overtake the human GHG input.

    Then what?

    Not only will we need to totally decarbonize society, but we will then need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere by engineered means.

    CCS is one of our potential tools, and from a risk management perspective, should be not only kept in the toolbox but aggressively tested and rolled out so that works when we really need it.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      “Global GHG emissions will likely start falling soon”? Says who?
      “Feedback mechanisms for melting permafrost and methane clathrates can quickly overtake the human GHG input”? So true!.
      “CCS should be aggressively tested and rolled out so that works when we really need it.” Omnologos couldn’t have said it better.

      And “we need to totally decarbonize society”. Again , so true! Do you see any place for nuclear power in that effort? Unlike CCS, it works and is already in the toolbox.

      • toddinnorway Says:

        If we have a way to power a CCS process that removes CO2 from the atmosphere, fantastic, go for it, just do it! That is what we will need when the permafrost and clathrate feedbacks take over. It simply will not be enough to have completely decarbonized our society. Even if it is done with nuclear.

        Now, can you point me to the projects that are currently testing and developing atmospheric CCS run by nuclear power ?

        • dumboldguy Says:

          If and when we get to SHTF time, ALL CCS “projects” will need to be run by nuclear or renewable energy sources.

          And that’s all there is right now—a couple of dozen CCS “projects” that are expensive, inefficient, and removing little CO2 from the atmosphere. There is, IMO, a lot of “shysterism” surrounding the technology—it is being pushed by those who want to use it as an excuse to burn “clean coal” and other fossil fuels rather than by those who simply want to remove past CO2 emissions from the atmosphere. I’m not aware of any that are being powered by nuclear right now—why would we have any?—-since we can’t seem to stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, why waste good clean nuclear power on CCS? (And don’t waste our time on “CO2 emissions going down” articles until it happens for a number of years in a row)

          PS If and when the “permafrost and clathrate feedbacks take over”, it will likely be way too late to do anything but kiss our butts goodbye.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Did you even read the article? With all its “should”, “could”, “perhaps”, and “suggests” caveats scattered throughout?

          And how about this from the article? “…this year is more likely to be an anomaly than a departure from the trend of emissions growth that began with the Industrial Revolution….The break has to do with China’s economic instability….It’s unlikely to be a peak of emissions. A lot of emerging economies are based on coal, and in just a few years emissions are going to go up really rapidly”

          Wishful thinking should not be substituted for the real meaning of words.

          • toddinnorway Says:

            If you can recommend a more reputable and reliable publication than Nature on this particular topic of global trajectories of CO2 emissions, I would humbly accept it. Otherwise, I will weight the analysis of the Nature contribution higher than yours.

            China has binged on coal-fired steel and cement production the last 15 years. This has produced tens of millions of empty buildings in China, which can be seen in various pictures and commentary by simply googling “China ghost cities” or similar. Their political leaders will likely stop this activity in order to spare their population of the epic pollution and its health consequences. China exports its excess steel and aluminum, and this will likely stop as the rest of the world slaps import tariffs on these products in order to save the last residual working smelters and mills they have. The Chinese coal consumption will fall even more. It will likely not return as the demographic collapse resulting from the 1-child family policy will eventually dominate.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            With his opening comment, Todd is obviously angling for an award of The Order Of The Perfumed Sleeve Hanky. He’s not good enough yet for the full award, but we will give him a whiff.

            Todd proves my point by committing the same error yet again. Note that he uses the exact words “will LIKELY stop-will LIKELY stop-will LIKELY not return” in his screed, and bases his argument on conjecture, wishful thinking, and crystal ball-gazing.

            Are you really “in Norway”, Todd? Your English is quite good, so I will recommend the one piece of reading material that you seem to need the most right now. “Bright-Sided: How the Power of Positive Thinking is Destroying America”, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Of course, since you appear to be a seriously motivated reasoner, it may go over your head.

      • Lionel Smith Says:

        Do you see any place for nuclear power in that effort? Unlike CCS, it works and is already in the toolbox.

        Glad you mentioned that. With all the multi-faceted controversy over Nuclear Power I decided to become moire informed than opinion pieces in the media allow and requested a reservation for a copy of this book from the county (a rather different entity in the UK) library :

        Nuclear Renaissance: Technologies and Policies for the Future of Nuclear Power by William J. Nuttall,

        which is an excellent primer. I was only allowed it for 4 weeks which for a busy guy was not really long enough it being content heavy. When on returning I asked for another reservation I was refused on that copy but could reserve another through inter library transfer.

        When in due course I returned this copy, which happened to have come from The British Library I was again refused on grounds of it costing about £80 and county were not willing to repeat. I was stunned about the charges. So I bought my own copy for considerably less, the county refused to do that too.

        I offer this tale as an indication of how difficult it can be to get quality books out of provincial libraries in UK and also that you may have some difficulty finding a copy yourself, but if you can give it a try.

        Amongst many issues Nuttall explains how the Privatisation mania of the 1990s in Britain which split up the Electrical utilities (and massacred the rail system) into smaller entities (at first) ruined the economic viability for new commercial nuclear power installations. Nuttall also explains why, with the correct choice of technology – arms proliferation is a non issue and indeed nuclear waste from that direction could be put to use generating power. If people only realised how much exposure to radiation hazards they have from such as the coal power industry and the proposed fracking installations they would appreciate that Nuclear Power is not necessarily the bad boy in town.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Back in the 1970’s when I was anti nuclear power, I had maybe 18″ of bookshelf taken up with books on nuclear power. Gave them all away ultimately, and many were out-of-date anyway, but have bought one new one recently.

          Climate Gamble: Is Nuclear Activism Endangering Our Future, by Rauli Partanen and Janne M. Korhonen, 2015. One of the authors touted it in a comment on a Crock thread and I bought a copy. It’s only 100 pages, but it’s a great read on why nuclear power is NOT the bad boy in town PERIOD (at least not compared to burning fossil fuels). You can have one printed just for you for about $10 U.S. plus shipping by CreateSpace, Amazon’s print from digital subsidiary.

          • I agree on nuclear power’s potential, at least new nuclear. There remains the question of nuclear waste, which might be finessed if the technology is sufficiently improved.

            Still, in an environment where we cannot get relatively inexpensive land-based wind turbines built, or even near offshore wind turbines, even when study after study has shown no deleterious effects from the turbines, and opposition is goaded by exogenous interests, I really wonder about the political realism of advocating nuclear energy.

            I understand this is an emergency. Now, if only the rest of the public and the COP21 crew understood it was. They seem to be have decided rapid paring of emissions is too hard and drank the geoengineering Kool Aid.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Once the SHTF, and I define that as a combination of most or all of the following, with the additive and multiplicative GW feedbacks they imply, we will launch into a massive program to build nuclear plants, wind turbines, and solar PV.

            1) Methane bombs from permafrost and subsea clathrates
            2) Rapid disintegration of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets
            3) Disappearance of Arctic sea ice in the summer
            4) Accelerating SLR and damage to coastal areas
            5) Ocean warming and acidification leading to extinction of much sea life
            6) Extreme weather events occurring in repeated waves all over the globe
            7) Accelerating extinction rates for land plants and animals
            8) Crop failures and widespread hunger

            IMO, most climate scientists know that we are nearly out of time, and have tried to say so, but they are reluctant to go “chicken little” and get the troops all stirred up. So, we will wait too long and go the geoengineering Kool Aid route, with the emphasis on spraying crap into the atmosphere—the so called SRM or Solar Radiation Management plans that a lot of credible scientists (like Caldeira) are saying need to be looked at BITL.

            That will be the final grand experiment—after burning millions of years worth of sequestered carbon in just two centuries, we think we can “solve” the resulting GHG problem with “technology”. Don’t hold your breath (or maybe DO hold your breath—the yellow air won’t be good for you).

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