All Star Science Panel Drops Bombshell Climate Paper

March 22, 2016

The bombshell paper that James Hansen first released pre-publication last summer has now made it thru review to publication, in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.(free online here)

The paper is significant for readers of this blog, because a year ago, I produced a video describing observations in the North Atlantic that are consistent with one of the main premises of the paper, a slowdown of Atlantic Overturning circulation – with scientists Stefan Rahmstorf, Michael Mann, and Jason Box. I’ve posted that video at the bottom.
Dr. Mann is quoted in the Washingon Post, (below) expressing some reservations about the new study, so room for a follow up there.

Above, in my December interview, Hansen gives a quick thumbnail. Below, his new video has a more detailed, illustrated description.

PBS Nova:

The world’s oceans could rise catastrophically as soon as 50 years from now, according to a new paper published this morning in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

The researchers behind the paper—Dr. James Hansen and 18 coauthors—looked back to 120,000 years ago, the last time the Earth warmed by the about the same amount it has today. (Global temperatures are now 1˚ C, or 1.8˚ F, above preindustrial levels.) Back then, natural warming unleashed nearly all of the water locked in polar ice sheets, sending sea levels surging 20-30 feet higher.

Washington Post:

An influential group of scientists led by James Hansen, the former NASA scientist often credited with having drawn the first major attention to climate change in 1988 congressional testimony, has published a dire climate study that suggests the impact of global warming will be quicker and more catastrophic than generally envisioned.

The research invokes collapsing ice sheets, violent megastorms and even the hurling of boulders by giant waves in its quest to suggest that even 2 degrees Celsius of global warming above pre-industrial levels would be far too much. Hansen has called it the most important work he has ever done.

The sweeping paper, 52 pages in length and with 19 authors, draws on evidence from ancient climate change or “paleo-climatology,” as well as climate experiments using computer models and some modern observations. Calling it a “paper” really isn’t quite right — it’s actually a synthesis of a wide range of old, and new, evidence.

“I think almost everybody who’s really familiar with both paleo and modern is now very concerned that we are approaching, if we have not passed, the points at which we have locked in really big changes for young people and future generations,” Hansen said in an interview.

The research, appearing Tuesday in the open-access journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, has had a long and controversial path to life, having first appeared as a “discussion paper” in the same journal, subject to live, online peer review — a novel but increasingly influential form of scientific publishing. Hansen first told the press about the research last summer, before this process was completed, leading to criticism from some journalists and also fellow scientists that he might be jumping the gun.

What ensued was a high-profile debate, both because of the dramatic claims and Hansen’s formidable reputation. And his numerous co-authors, including Greenland and Antarctic ice experts and a leader of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, were nothing to be sniffed at.

After record downloads for the study and an intense public review process, a revised version of the paper has now been accepted, according to both Hansen and Barbara Ferreira, media and communications manager for the European Geophysical Union, which publishes Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Indeed, the article is now freely readable on the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics website.

The paper, according to Ferreira, was subject to “major revisions in terms of organisation, title and conclusions.” Those came in response to criticisms that can all be read publicly at the journal’s website. The paper also now has two additional authors.

Most notably, perhaps, the editorial process led to the removal of the use of the phrase “highly dangerous,” in the paper’s title, to describe warming the planet by 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The original paper’s title was “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 °C global warming is highly dangerous.” The final title is “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 °C global warming could be dangerous.”

But nonetheless, James Hansen’s climate catastrophe scenario now takes its place in the official scientific literature relatively intact. So let’s rehearse that scenario, again, for the record.

Hansen and his colleagues think that major melting of Greenland and Antarctica can not only happen quite fast — leading to as much as several meters of sea level rise in the space of a century, depending on how quickly melt rates double — but that this melting will have dramatic climate change consequences, beyond merely raising sea levels.

That’s because, they postulate, melting will cause a “stratification” of the polar oceans. What this means is that it will trap a pool of cold, fresh meltwater atop the ocean surface, with a warmer ocean layer beneath. We have actually seen a possible hint of this with the anomalously cold “blob” of ocean water off the southern coast of Greenland, which some have attributed to Greenland’s melting.

Indeed, shortly before the new paper’s publication, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released new recent data on the globe’s temperature that certainly bears a resemblance to what Hansen is talking about. For not only was the globe at a record warmth overall over the last three months, but it also showed anomalous cool patches in regions that Hansen suspects are being caused by ice melt – below Greenland, and also off the tip of the Antarctic peninsula.


Stratification, the key idea in the new paper, means that warm ocean water would potentially reach the base of ice sheets that sit below sea level, melting them from below (and causing more ice melt and thus, stratification). It also means, in Hansen’s paper, a slowdown or even eventual shutdown of the overturning circulation in the Atlantic ocean, due to too much freshening in the North Atlantic off and around Greenland, and also a weakening of another overturning circulation in the Southern Ocean.

This, in turn, causes cooling in the North Atlantic region, even as global warming creates a warmer equatorial region. This growing north-south temperature differential, in the study, drives more intense mid-latitude cyclones, or storms. The study suggests such storms may kick up gigantic oceanic waves, which may even be capable of feats such as hurling boulders in some locations, not unlike the huge rocks seen on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera, which I visited with Hansen and his co-author, geologist Paul Hearty, in November.

These rocks play a key role in the new paper, just as they did in the original study draft. Indeed, long before the current paper, Hearty had documented, in peer reviewed publications, that Eleuthera’s rocks appear to have come from the ocean and to have been lifted high up onto a coastal ridge. This appears to have happened during a past warm period, the Eemian, some 120,000 years ago, when the planet was only slightly warmer than today but seas were far higher — but the idea is that something like it could happen again.

The paper contains many ideas and departures, but the key one is its suggestion of the possibility of greater sea level rise in this century than forecast by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“The models that were run for the IPCC report did not include ice melt,” Hansen said in a press conference regarding the new paper Monday. “And we also conclude that most models, ours included, have excessive small scale mixing, and that tends to limit the effect of this freshwater lens on the ocean surface from melting of Greenland and Antarctica.”

Michael Mann, a Penn State university climate scientist familiar with the original study, commented, “Near as I can tell, the issues that caused me concern originally still remain in the revised manuscript. Namely, the projected amounts of meltwater seem unphysically large, and the ocean component of their model doesn’t resolve key wind-driven current systems (e.g. the Gulf Stream) which help transport heat poleward. That makes northern hemisphere temperatures in their study too sensitive to changes in the  Atlantic meridional overturning ocean circulation,” the scientific name for the ocean circulation in the Atlantic that, the study suggests, could shut down.

New York Times:

The paper identifies a specific mechanism that the scientists say they believe could help cause such an abrupt climate shift.

Their idea is that the initial melting of the great ice sheets will put a cap of relatively fresh water on the ocean surfaces near Antarctica and Greenland. That, they think, will slow or even shut down the system of ocean currents that redistributes heat around the planet and allows some of it to escape into space.

Warmth will then accumulate in the deeper parts of the ocean, the scientists think, speeding the melting of parts of the ice sheets that sit below sea level. In addition, a wider temperature difference between the tropics and the poles will encourage powerful storms. The paper cites evidence, much of it contested, that immense storms happened during the warm period 120,000 years ago.

The idea of a shutdown in the ocean circulation because of global warming was considered more than a decade ago, and it was rejected by most scientists as unlikely. That did not stop a distorted version of the idea from becoming the premise of the disaster movie “The Day After Tomorrow,” released in 2004.

The new paper may reopen that debate, forcing scientists to re-examine the idea with the more sophisticated computer models of the climate that are available today.

Even scientists wary of the conclusions of the new paper point out that Dr. Hansen has a long history of being ahead of the curve in climate science. As Dr. Mann put it, “I think we ignore James Hansen at our peril.”

Note: the NYTimes piece talks about shutdown of AMOC as being unlikely but does not mention Stefan Rahmstorf’s paper of a year ago, with Mann and Box.

38 Responses to “All Star Science Panel Drops Bombshell Climate Paper”

  1. The times they are a-changing.

    They were born in the midwest, on the brink of war 75 years ago (Hansen 3/29, Dylan 5/24). As they near the end of their lives, perhaps they feel a touch of recognition.

    all hell will break loose

  2. ubrew12 Says:

    I’ve got my tin-foil hat on, so here goes:
    1. Pope Francis travels to America with a message: take Climate Change seriously, America! Bang: White supremacist walks into a black church study group and shoots everybody there. (Question: when was the LAST time something like that has ever happened?) The Pope gets relegated to the back pages.
    2. COP21, most substantive meeting on Climate Change in over a decade, is set to convene in Paris in December. Bang: ISIS terrorists attack Paris in November! 130 dead! Planned Climate Change demonstrations that likely would have had hundreds of thousands of participants from all over the World are nixed ‘for security’. COP21 convenes anyway. For coverage, read the back pages.
    3. Wait! ‘COP21 convenes anyway’! President Obama travels to Paris to address and congratulate the participants! Bang: ISIS terrorists attack San Bernardino. 17 dead. How can Obama be in Paris when Americans are under attack back home? Climate Change: to the back pages, pronto.
    4. James Hansen, arguably the most significant Climate Scientist in the World, releases his most significant Science paper in decades. That 20 feet of sea level rise you thought was going to happen in 500 years? Yeah: that could be 50…


    I’ve said this before: in the entire history of spaceflight there have been FIVE rocket fairing failures, globally. TWO were Climate Science missions (40%). These occurred in the 2000s (looong after the ‘fairing failure’ scenario ceased to be likely). And WHAT percent of ALL spacecraft missions are Climate Science missions? <1%. You can fail a fairing with a liberal application of duct tape… and the right access.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      Someone has put duct tape on your tin-foil hat, causing severe malfunction.

      There is a steady stream of massacre events. They happen all the time regardless of important climate events. So much for your theory that they are a response.

      As for your satellite ‘data’ – you have an “N” of two. Meanwhile, how many successful climate science launches were there?

      There are enough blatant conspiracies out there (ALEC, anyone?) that there is no need to invent them.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        One doesn’t “invent” conspiracy theories, GB—-they appear when some folks examine the FACTS, do some arithmetic, and reach some conclusions about causality. They are sometimes more believable than the “official” explanation of an event. And remember Occam’s Razor.

        RE: “massacres”, I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely impossible that the greedy SOB’s that own the world wouldn’t cause them to happen in order to distract us from climate change events—-remember Merchants of Doubt and What Exxon Knew.

        PS Some studies say that one shooting/massacre event seems to spark others shortly after.

        I wonder if anyone has done a correlation study with major climate change “events”?, i.e., does “bad news” on the climate front cause craziness?

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          Well, let’s see some math, then, and then analyse conclusions about causality. Massacres correlate with everything – because they happen all the time, not just in response to climate news. These events take lots of time to plan and execute, so the culprits would have to be prescient about what climate-related news events would be important, be published, and catch the public eye.

          So, right there, you can see that the (conspiracy) theory that massacres are reactive to climate news is absurd. Next, you have to prove that an enormous global conspiracy – which has documented funding sources traceable to religious motivations – is somehow a sham, and that all these Muslim terrorists are actually in thrall to the Koch brothers et al. Again – it seems absurd. And would require that all the world’s investigative reporters – and not just their editors who decide which stories are to be printed – must also be part of the conspiracy, because for decades now nobody has reported that Muslim terrorism can be traced to anti-environment shadow funding.

          And conspiracy theories are indeed “invented”. Millions, no doubt, every day. The ones that have earned credence are the ones that make sense AND have evidence to back them up. These of ubrew12 appear to have neither.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            “…the culprits would have to be prescient about what climate-related news events would be important, be published, and catch the public eye”, you say?

            Not so—-all they would have to do is have a number of attacks planned and in the pipeline—-just sitting and waiting for some big climate news that people need to be distracted from. The fossil fuel interests have many billions of dollars, and some of them are oil-producing Muslim states with an interest in prolonging fossil fuel burning. It is not too far a stretch to say that the group in Belgium (whose cell leader no one could find for FOUR months), was conveniently outed just at the time of the Hansen paper release, with orders to set off the bombs if they were discovered. Do you know what cops say about coincidences? Too many of them in ubrew’s thinking to be just dismissed outright.

            PS Speaking of “conspiracies”, if you want to read a piece of fiction that is perhaps more believable than the “truth” in the Warren Commission Report, read The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter. Like all his books, it’s also an excellent and entertaining read beyond the “truth” it contains.

            PPS As for “…for decades now nobody has reported that Muslim terrorism can be traced to anti-environment shadow funding”. That denier whore Russell Crook has been saying for years that we can’t prove denier scientists have been receiving such funding, and that was somewhat true until the Exxon-Mobil disinformation campaign was exposed. Big money buys big secrets.

          • ubrew12 Says:

            I think we have abundant evidence of a conspiracy to keep CC out of the news cycle (without invoking the possibility that ISIS attacks are being timed by their Saudi donors). This topic reached maximum seriousness when Johnson addressed Congress about it half a century ago. What is with the lack of coverage? One network (Fox) mentions it only to air claims that its a scientific conspiracy!! Need I mention the millions being dropped by Big Fossils to fund denial all way into our elementary schools? And ‘climate-gate’? More than a ‘nothing-burger’ news-event, it was evidence of a vast capability for hacking into private servers, cherry-picking ‘incriminating evidence’, releasing said information selectively a month before several COP conferences, and getting every news service in the World to cover those releases as if they MEANT SOMETHING!

            So, even without my tin foil hat, we have abundant evidence that powerful interests want to make this topic radioactive to news-people. If I’ve let my imagination run away with me, consider the context: This is a world in which climate-gate is ‘news’ and actual climate change is ‘not news’. That’s not an accident, either. That’s by design.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            OK, …. now I see your point. There is no evidence, but it is not impossible that it is true, so therefore it is worth considering, because the Koch’s have a lot of money.

            They control the media anyway, and could not even report on the Hansen paper if they didn’t want to (and probably didn’t even report it!), or they could use any headline they want on virtually any topic – but instead they decided to spend millions to risk treason charges and to maintain an international network of terrorists – who happen to be Muslim and can infiltrate terrorist organizations to a degree that leaves the CIA green with envy – in order to disrupt the news cycle they control anyway.

            Got it.

            As I said – check the integrity of the tin foil on your hats, gentlemen. There is some duct tape hidden in there, and it just might have David Koch’s fingerprints on it. He’s just audacious and brilliant and stupid enough not to wear gloves.

          • ubrew12 Says:

            With respect, Gingerbaker, BP estimates the value of proven oil reserves at existential risk of remaining unexploited should CC be taken seriously at $100 trillion. Add the value of coal, nat gas, etc, to that and there’s no need for a ‘conspiracy of denial’: bad guys should be coming out of the woodwork to keep their gravy-train flowing, uncoordinated. Define NCCE as ‘Newsworthy Climate Change Event’. Given that kind of motivation, I find an NCCE a sufficient, though not necessary, condition for a terror attack. It makes me suspicious, and this comment stream seems an appropriate forum for unloading those suspicions. You are probably right, but I think people should have their eyes open anyway.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            The Koch brothers are more than capable of accomplishing all they want through the normal underhanded channels without any need to resort to what you are proposing.

          • ubrew12 Says:

            I’m suggesting some of those who back ISIS are oil-soaked believers of radical Wahhabist Islam, whose donations come with strings attached as regards the timing of attacks. If a War on Iraq can be suspected, by no less than Alan Greenspan, as having been ‘over oil’, then I don’t see this as particularly far-fetched.

  3. […] New interest in the video from last year, in light of Jim Hansen’s hotly discussed new paper. […]

  4. […] do original All Star Science Panel Drops Bombshell Climate Paper de Peter Sinclair, publicado no blogue Climate Denial Crock of the Week, a 22 de Março de […]

  5. Paul Whyte Says:

    I think the only conspiracy that is worth any attention is the denial of climate science and the determination to burn fossils.

    The rest is just more confusing than worth playing with. The politics of climate change refusal are now well established. This paper is very significant. Hansen has been moving in this direction of 5 m SLR seeming likely in 50 years for many years now.

    What is new is the detail that is falling into place. I have been reading Hansen’s work for this time period and agree with him that the ongoing understatement of future predictions has led us to a point where a key turning point is passing with out the needed response.

    The response is a gradually rising fee on fossil fuels and passed to the population to fund our move to low carbon energy.

    The determination of many fossil fuel companies to burn it all is a matter of public record. We have a situation that is becoming more important that we proceed with clarity and thoughtful action.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      “The response is a gradually rising fee on fossil fuels and passed to the population to fund our move to low carbon energy.”

      Better than making a staple of modern life (fossil fuels) more expensive would be to make renewable energy less expensive with subsidies. Making FF’s more expensive doesn’t automatically build and deploy new renewable energy infrastructure. But making renewable infrastructure and renewable energy itself less expensive does, and it is more egalitarian and humane. Imho.

  6. […] paper, from last March, has gotten some more attention in the wake of the new, hotly debated paper by James Hansen which was published this week, describing potentially serious impacts on North Atlantic weather and […]

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