Thursday, June 9, 2016

Pat'n Chip float by WUWT on a cloud of aerosols

Sou | 12:37 AM Go to the first of 19 comments. Add a comment
Patrick J Michaels and Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger have discovered a new blog article about aerosols. The article is by Dr Nicolas Bellouin from the University of Reading, who specialises in studying aerosols. He wrote about a preliminary estimate of aerosol-cloud forcing of -0.6 W m-2, which is lower than the estimate in the latest IPCC report, of -0.9 W m-2, but well within the range in the IPCC report, which is quite wide - from -1.9 to -0.1 W m-2.

Pat'n Chip grabbed hold of the blog article as though it were precious gold, and published at WUWT (archived here).  Deniers haven't got much to grab hold of right now, so a blog article about a blog article will have to do. The first blog article is not yet a paper. That's promised for August this year. In fact, at the bottom of his article, Dr Bellouin wrote:
I thank Graham Feingold, Johannes Quaas, Annica Ekman, Leo Donner, and Ilan Koren for interesting discussions on current understanding of aerosol-cloud interactions. Note that they do not all agree that aerosol-cloud radiative forcing is weak: some argue that a value of up to −1.2 W m-2 remains consistent with scientific understanding.
That value of −1.2 W m-2 is higher than the lower end referred to in the IPCC report (−1.9 W m-2), so it could be that the range has been better defined in the three years since the AR5 IPCC report.

Another point worth making is that there has been a lot of work on aerosol-cloud interactions over the past year or three. The published science is coming thick and fast. I've listed just a few of the many recent papers below, some of which are easier to follow than others. (That might be why Nicolas Bellouin decided to pre-publish in a blog.)

In a perspective article in Science a couple of years ago, Daniel Rosenfeld, Steven Sherwood, Robert Wood and Leo Donner described some ways in which aerosol-cloud interactions can affect climate, including cooling effects and warming effects:
...radiative forcing due to aerosol-cloud interactions may be limited by buffering mechanisms that result in compensation between different cloud responses to aerosols (3). Other situations may be hypersensitive to aerosols because aerosols have become extremely depleted by precipitation (4). In these ultraclean regimes, addition of aerosols can dramatically increase cloud cover, causing a large cooling (5). Another newly appreciated process is aerosol-induced invigoration of deep convective clouds that may transport larger quantities of smaller ice particles to the anvils of such clouds. The higher, colder, and more expansive anvils can lead to warming by emitting less thermal radiation to space (6).
Pat'n Chip as you'd expect favour studies that show that the cooling impact of anthropogenic aerosols on clouds is at the low end of the range. The way they put it was in the conspiratorial framing favoured by deniers. Pat'n Chip wrote:
In the absence of this presumed aerosol cooling effect, climate models predict that the earth should warm at a much faster rate than has been observed.  A large cooling effect from aerosols was thus introduced in the early 1990s as a way to “fix” the climate models and bring them closer in line with the modest pace of observed warming. 
I don't know for sure if Pat'n Chip think NASA faked the moon landing, or that Lizard Men rule the Earth, but as that passage shows, they definitely lean towards the "climate science is a hoax" end of the spectrum.

They are correct in that if aerosols exert less of a cooling effect than previously thought, then the "bring back smog" people at WUWT and CFACT don't have to be so scared of clean skies.

They are wrong when they talk about a "modest pace of observed warming". The observed warming is anything but modest. And if we don't take enough action, it will be much less modest very soon. As Stanford scientists worked out some time back, we are on pace for warming more than ten times faster than any seen in the past 65 million years.

What aerosol scientists are trying to work out is whether aerosols from human activity have been cooling the earth by 0.6 W m-2 or 0.9 W m-2. That's a difference of 0.3 W m-2.  To put that into perspective, the radiative forcing from all the well-mixed greenhouse gases in 2011 was estimated at 2.83 W m-2, so we're talking about a difference of around 11%. (The well-mixed greenhouse gases include CO2, CH4, N2O, CFCs etc.) There's also forcing from land use changes, as well as from natural causes like volcanoes and changes in solar radiation.

The difference between aerosol and other human forcings will widen further over time, as the amount of atmospheric CO2 increases. Anthropogenic aerosols will be expected to decline more over time as more countries make more efforts to reduce them, so their impact will decrease while that of greenhouse gases will continue to increase. According to the AR5 IPCC report, over the next 15 years or so, the radiative forcing is expected to be from 2.9 to 3.3 W m-2. By 2050 it could 3.0–4.8 W m-2, and by the end of the century could be from 2.7 to 8.4 W m-2, depending on how much more CO2 we pour into the air.

In other words, if we continue to pour CO2 into the air at a great rate, then whether aerosols have a radiative forcing of -0.6 or whether it's -0.9 W m-2 won't make much difference. The world will be very much hotter than humans have ever experienced, regardless.

I'm not wanting to play down the importance of understanding more about aerosol-cloud interactions. It remains one of the main uncertainties, and is important to know. What I am saying is that it's necessary to keep things in perspective. Deniers like Pat'n Chip try to argue that "climate change will not be catastrophic—that is, will not proceed at a rate that exceeds our ability to keep up." What they mean by "keep up" is anyone's guess.  It's a weird thing to say, particularly after the massive floods occurring simultaneously all around the world this past week or two.

Maybe they mean that "we" can afford to lose our beach fronts and a thousands of lives to heat waves, floods and storms. That it won't be catastrophic when drought causes famines, leading to starvation and civil unrest. That making vast tracts of land uninhabitable will be an acceptable price to pay to preserve the illusion of comfort of a few deniers in the USA.

From the WUWT comments

Latitude doesn't get out much. It's well known that some clouds warm and some clouds cool. He also seems to think that not knowing everything is the same as not knowing anything. Deniers aren't clear thinkers.
June 7, 2016 at 4:12 pm
I fully expect to see something…someday….that says clouds actually make it warmer…and it was the increase in clouds that upped the temp
I mean why not?….
I still can’t believe “scientists” created all these computer games…and just left out all the crap they know nothing about

I wonder does Claude Harvey know that the Earth has been through snowball phases as well as hothouse phases in the past?
June 7, 2016 at 5:34 pm
At some point, it seems to me that folks will have to accept that planet earth resists ANY temperature forcing function with “negative feedback” – period. If that were not true, the planet would long ago have either frozen or smoked life as we know it to oblivion.
Asp is more than a little bit nuts. (May I say that?)
June 7, 2016 at 8:39 pm
The introduction of the notion of aerosols as the agent for neutralizing the effect of GHG’s is just another twist in the rear guard action of climate alarmists, now increasingly evident. Of course it has to be anthopogenic? How else to continue the argument for world control, which is the basis of this massive fraud.
This comment from TonyN is my favourite for the day :)
June 8, 2016 at 1:49 am
Can we see photographs of their models, complete with aerosols?

References and further reading

The interaction between aerosols and clouds - blog article by Nicolas Bellouin at Weather and Climate @ Reading

Seinfeld, John H., Christopher Bretherton, Kenneth S. Carslaw, Hugh Coe, Paul J. DeMott, Edward J. Dunlea, Graham Feingold et al. "Improving our fundamental understanding of the role of aerosol− cloud interactions in the climate system." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, no. 21 (2016): 5781-5790. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1514043113 (pdf here)

Lee, Lindsay A., Carly L. Reddington, and Kenneth S. Carslaw. "On the relationship between aerosol model uncertainty and radiative forcing uncertainty." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, no. 21 (2016): 5820-5827. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1507050113 (open access)

Stevens, Bjorn. "Rethinking the lower bound on aerosol radiative forcing." Journal of Climate 28, no. 12 (2015): 4794-4819. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00656.1 (open access)

Rosenfeld, Daniel, Steven Sherwood, Robert Wood, and Leo Donner. "Climate effects of aerosol-cloud interactions." Science 343, no. 6169 (2014): 379-380. DOI: 10.1126/science.1247490 (pdf here)

Stocker, T. F., D. Qin, G. K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, B. Bex, and B. M. Midgley. "IPCC, 2013: climate change 2013: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change." (2013). Link


  1. mmm @ sou - disagree re favourite

    mine is Claude Harvey, it has a touch of young earth creationism about it - that heady mix of total ignorance and total belief

  2. Initialized decadal prediction for transition to positive phase of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation

    For the prediction initialized in 2013, the linear trend from 2013 to 2022 is +0.22±0.13 °C per decade, nearly 60% larger than the uninitialized projection for that time period of +0.14±0.12 °C per decade (Fig. 5) and nearly three times larger than the observed trend25 of +0.08 °C per decade over the period 2001 to 2014 during the early twenty-first century slowdown26. ...

    1. Thanks JCH. I don't normally hold much faith in projections initialised with near term observations. However that paper looks interesting, doesn't it, because it is not simply initialised, it's using model runs that are better synchronised with observations for the phase of the IPO. Worth watching.

    2. Well, it fits with my thinking. The only thing that will save skeptics is the return of Matt England's divine wind. This is pretty much predicting the exact opposite.

    3. JCH

      It's interesting - and I advance no personal view here - that there are two perspectives on C20th temperature change. One is IPO wot dunnit, the other is (sulphate) aersols. A notable researcher in the latter field is Martin Wild, who's work is summarised in this ppt from AGU 2015 (with specific papers referenced if you are interested in following it up).

      I'm in favour of a synthetic, multifactoral explanation which - by definition - reduces the effect of individual drivers below the level at which any one could be used as an argument that 'teh modulz are wrong'.

    4. JCH

      Interesting new developments: Smith et al. as discussed at Carbon Brief.

  3. The AR5 "best estimate" of -0.9 relates to direct+indirect forcing (or ERFari+aci in AR5 terminology), whereas this -0.6 appears to be solely indirect forcing (aci, aerosol-cloud interactions). As an ERFaci estimate it is actually more negative than suggested by the AR5 "best estimate", which can be taken to be -0.45W/m2.

    Direct comparisons are difficult due to differences in scope. Their CAM result may solely relate to the first indirect effect (not clear from the text) in which case it is quite a bit more negative than AR5's indicated -0.35W/m2. Or maybe it's a full cloud-interactions estimate which necessarily includes some of the ari adjustment effects on clouds due to the nature of the observations, in which case it maybe about the same as indicated by AR5.

    1. I did wonder about that Paul. It's not clear from the blog article what is being compared. It says that models show it as -1 Watt/m2, which is comparable to the -0.9 Watt/m2.

      If anyone else wants to investigate, the relevant part in the technical summary of AR5 is TS.3.3 Radiative Forcing from Anthropogenic Aerosols.

    2. The AR5 "best estimate" of -0.9 relates to direct+indirect forcing (or ERFari+aci in AR5 terminology), whereas this -0.6 appears to be solely indirect forcing (aci, aerosol-cloud interactions).

      After a second reading, that is my impression too. I think the contrarians are over-playing this but I also think it would be helpful if Dr Bellouin - if now aware of the potential for misrepresentation - would clarify with an update to his post.

      Otherwise, the misinformers are going to have a field day with this.

  4. If aerosol clouds have been cooling the climate more than we thought, then doesn't that mean warming due to greenhouse gasses is greater than we thought?

    After all, we know how much the climate has been warming (from GISTemp and other sources). If the forcings from cooling factors such as aerosol clouds are greater than we'd suspected, then to get the measured warming, doesn't that mean the forcings from warming factors are greater than what we'd thought they were?

    I may be misunderstanding.... aerosol clouds aren't my thing....

    1. Yes, DC, but the blog article is suggesting that the cooling from the aerosol-cloud interaction might be less than thought.

    2. So does this mean the Geo Engineers will need more/bigger trucks for all the more sulphur to produce far more aerosols of concentrated sulphuric acid to counteract the effect of CO2.

      Why not just use the nuclear arsenal to trigger off the dormant volcanoes.

      What could possibl;y go wrong? Bert

  5. A photograph of models with aerosols, like this one:


  6. The capitalist, conservative U.S. think tank "The Cato Institute" published an article yesterday titled "The Climate Alarm Death Knell Sounds Again" and tweeted about it. It is based on their interpretation of the Bellouin pre-publication blog article.


    From my quick reading of the article, it appears that they claim the coming paper "implies" that AGW is at the low end of the IPCC range. However, I didn't see any real support for their conclusion.

    "...this new finding implies that the earth’s climate sensitivity—how much the earth’s surface will warm from a doubling of the pre-industrial atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration—is much below that of the average climate model (3.2°C) and near the low end of the IPCC’s 1.5°C to 4.5°C assessed range. This result comports with the concept of “lukewarming,” which we describe in an upcoming (August) hardcover book as “the new science that changes everything”

    David van Harn
    a.k.a. Xulonn

  7. "... modest pace of observed warming..."

    Weasel words? Dr Lindzen uses similar words.

    If they think we can "keep up", are they implying their fossil-fuel patrons are going to foot the bill - new sea walls and lifting docks is expensive.

  8. As I understand it, the debates about the error bars of clouds and aerosols is interesting, but ultimately irrelevant. Direct CO2 warming and water vapour warming, which the scientists are more certain about, will overwhelm other factors sooner or later. The projections might be off by a decade or two, but that is not a lot compared to the average human lifespan.

    And as Dr Michael Mann has pointed out, reducing fossil fuel usage sharply might increase global warming in the short term.

    In my opinion the only thing that can save the climate change dissenter position is the discovery of a large negative fast feedback response to increasing greenhouse gases. The paleo-record suggests a large negative feedback does not exist, otherwise they would see it in the record.

  9. As Sou notes above, it was Bellouin that compared his results (-0.6W/m2) with the models (-1.0W/m2). Specifically, he wrote: "The estimate of climate models for the same radiative forcing is stronger, typically larger than –1 W m−2." So he seems to think he is comparing apples to apples. I'll also note that Sou's -0.9 is the IPCC assessment of the total aerosol forcing...I am not 100% sure this is apples to apples with Bellouin's analysis. I guess we'll know more when more results are published (in August according to Bellouin).


    1. One study doesn't provide the basis for a major revision of anything, Chip. Claiming otherwise is both unscientific and misleading.

      It is, in fact, political, isn't it, Chip?

    2. I must admit that I'm a little confused by this too. For two reasons. If you look at the AR5 radiative forcing diagram, then the cloud adjustment due to aerosols is -0.55 W/m^2 (best estimate) which seems to be the same as the value quoted by Bellouin. The -0.9W/m^2 seems to include various other aerosol effects. As far as models are concerned, the model estimates used to constrain the aerosol forcing are a subset of GCMs, not all GCMs, so it's not clear that the aerosol forcing in all GCMs is as high as suggested by the Bellouin post. (see Fig 7.19 in the AR5 report).


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