Intrinsic and forced climate variability

The sun is the source of the vast majority of heat on the surface of the planet. The atmosphere is mostly transparent to incoming visible light and the surface is warmed. Warm surfaces emit infrared (IR) photons. At specific IR frequencies greenhouse gases resonate with outgoing photons resulting in vibrations, rotations, translations and electron orbit excitations. All with the quantum photon energy of the Planck constant times the frequency. The kinetic energy of molecules – heat – is transferred to other molecules in the atmosphere heating the atmosphere. Ultimately photons will be re-emitted in random directions as electron orbits jump to a lower quantum state of excitation – bouncing around the atmosphere – with more greenhouse gases micro seconds longer than they otherwise would. It is this mechanism that maintains the habitability of the planet – and more greenhouse gases result in incremental warming.

Small changes is solar activity – or orbits – are insufficient to explain much of the warming or cooling of the 20th century. But there is apparent an internal variability that has added to and countered Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) – and the proximate cause of this is variability of cold and nutrient rich upwelling in the eastern Pacific. El Niño- Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) have a common origin. PDO positive (negative) states in the north eastern Pacific have exactly the same periodicity as regimes of enhanced frequency and intensity of El Niño (La Niña) in the equatorial Pacific.


Changes in trajectories of global surface temperature occur at the same times as shifts in Pacific climate state. This study from which the figure above is taken (Swanson et al, 2009, Has the climate recently shifted?) used network math across a number of climate indices to confirm that synchronous chaos is at the core of the global climate system. Climate is a globally coupled spatio/temporal chaotic system. The rules of chaos include regimes and abrupt shifts that feature in climate data over all scales. More or less upwelling in the eastern Pacific is linked to changes in wind and gyre circulation – in both hemispheres – driven by changes in surface pressure in the polar annular modes. This in turn has been linked to solar UV/ozone chemistry translated through atmospheric pathways to polar surface pressure. Solar UV is a Lorenzian trigger for upwelling that then resonates in the dynamic Pacific response in a complex interplay of wind, cloud, currents and geopotential.

Changes in global cloud cover are dominated by changes in Pacific cloud over the eastern upwelling regions. Clement et al (2009), Observational and Model Evidence for Positive Low-Level Cloud Feedback – regressed cloud amounts against sea surface temperature.

clement figure 3

It is caused in part by Rayleigh–Bénard convection in a fluid – the atmosphere – heated from below. Closed cloud cells tend to form over cool, upwelling zones increasing global albedo. Open cloud cells form over warmer surfaces – decreasing planetary albedo.

The combination of AGW and internal variation produced an incremental rate of warming in the 20th century of 0.1K/decade. Not in itself an existential threat. And one that may diminish this century with a 7% reduction in solar UV possible. This would translate into more negative polar annular modes, more north/south blocking patterns and substantial Northrn Hemisphere (NH) cooling – this NH winter may be a taste of things to come – and enhanced upwelling in the eastern Pacific. But chaos introduces an intractable uncertainty that preclude any simple prognostication. The place to look for uncertainty is in the deepwater formation zones of the north Atlantic that are implicated in abrupt and catastrophic change over the last 800,000 years.

Emissions are being addressed pragmatically across a plurality of gases and sectors with a plethora of technologies and systems – underpinned by economic growth and development. Uncertainty creates the impetus to focus on pragmatic emission reductions regardless of short term climate variability. The bottom line is that the right questions to ask about climate change are not scientific but about appropriate responses to diverse human and environmental challenges.

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The illusion of climate cycles

“Using past variations of solar activity measured by cosmogenic isotope abundance changes, analogue forecasts for possible future solar output have been calculated. An 8% chance of a return to Maunder Minimum-like conditions within the next 40 years was estimated in 2010 (ref. 2). The decline in solar activity has continued, to the time of writing, and is faster than any other such decline in the 9,300 years covered by the cosmogenic isotope data1.” Sarah Ineson et al, 2014, Regional climate impacts of a possible future grand solar minimum

The chances of Maunder Minimum-like conditions emerging is now put at 20%.  Varying solar output has been hypothesized to be due to the eccentric path of the solar system barycenter driving the solar magneto.  But it is also emerges from fluid dynamics within the Sun.  Contrary to an opinions expressed that nature doesn’t do abrupt and extreme change – that is precisely how the physics of complex and dynamic systems work.   In simple principles at the heart of chaotic systems there are regime changes that are completely deterministic but seemingly random shifts in means and variance.

Cosmic ray intensity is inversely related to solar intensity – in which UV radiation is a prominent variable.  Some 19% of the total change in the 1980’s solar max to min.   What we can see in the cosmogenic isotope record is variability at all scales – with an interesting transition to higher solar intensity a little over 5,000 years ago – that has been linked to the mid-Holocene ENSO transition.  The last thousand years has seen a centennial decline in solar activity and a 20th century peak.  The insolation changes – like that in Milankovitch cycles – are insufficient to cause the climate changes that have been seen.  Climate change results from non-linear planetary responses.

“Since irradiance variations are apparently minimal, changes in the Earth’s climate that seem to be associated with changes in the level of solar activity—the Maunder Minimum and the Little Ice age for example—would then seem to be due to terrestrial responses to more subtle changes in the Sun’s spectrum of radiative output. This leads naturally to a linkage with terrestrial reflectance, the second component of the net sunlight, as the carrier of the terrestrial amplification of the Sun’s varying output.”  Shortwave forcing of the Earth’s climate: modern and historical variations in the Sun’s irradiance and the Earth’s reflectance, P.R. Goode, E. Palle, J. Atm. and Sol.-Terr. Phys., 69,1556, 2007. 

Over the long term ice sheets are the major part of solar amplification – and over the short term we are looking at cloud cover changes in response to changes in ocean and atmosphere circulation.  “Closed cells tend to be associated with the eastern part of the subtropical oceans, forming over cold water (upwelling areas) and within a low, stable atmospheric marine boundary layer (MBL), while open cells tend to form over warmer water with a deeper MBL.”  Ilan Koren et al, 2017, Exploring the nonlinear cloud and rain equation  The region of the planet where sea surface temperature change most dramatically is over a large part of the Pacific Ocean.  Rayleigh-Benard Convection cloud physics result in changes in planetary albedo.

What can be seen over 9,300 years is variability rather than an illusion of regularity.    As would indeed be anticipated from the fundamental physics of complexity.   “From the smallest scales to the largest, there exists an apparent conundrum: nature is both simple and complex.  From apparent disorder, order emerges. This elegance in nature lies at the heart of my research interests.”  Marcia Wyatt – who is the operator of a beautiful mind.

isotope 9400

The authors of the paper I started with suggest that solar UV/ozone chemistry affects are translated through atmospheric pathways to modulate surface pressure at the poles.  Southern and northern annular modes are thus partially under the thrall of solar variability.  There are other factors influencing polar surface pressure.  When pressures are high in low solar intensity winds and storms are pushed in lower latitudes.  Winds and storms spin up sub-polar gyres in the world’s oceans with dramatic effects on deep ocean upwelling in the eastern Pacific.  None of this can be analysed in terms of simple correlation.  It cannot be modeled because the numerical functions do not exist.  It can be approached as network math with atmospheric and oceanic indices as nodes of chaotic oscillators on a global spanning  spatio-temporal network.  Or perhaps as a signal propagating around the planet using the Multichannel Singular Spectrum Analysis of Marcia Wyatt and Judith Curry.

At a millennial scale the state of the Pacific Ocean superficially resembles the 1000 year cosmogenic isotope record – but the response is dynamic and nonlinear.


Tessa Vance et al, 20213, A Millennial Proxy Record of ENSO and Eastern Australian Rainfall from the Law Dome Ice Core, East Antarctica

“Over the last 1010 yr, the LD summer sea salt (LDSSS) record has exhibited two below-average (El Niño–like) epochs, 1000–1260 ad and 1920–2009 ad, and a longer above-average (La Niña–like) epoch from 1260 to 1860 ad. Spectral analysis shows the below-average epochs are associated with enhanced ENSO-like variability around 2–5 yr, while the above-average epoch is associated more with variability around 6–7 yr. The LDSSS record is also significantly correlated with annual rainfall in eastern mainland Australia. While the correlation displays decadal-scale variability similar to changes in the interdecadal Pacific oscillation (IPO), the LDSSS record suggests rainfall in the modern instrumental era (1910–2009 ad) is below the long-term average.” op. cit.

The change in the beat of ENSO variability around the turn of the 20th century suggests perhaps a slight step change in the solar UV control variable at that time.   The persistence of the 20 to 30 year IPO may be related to the quasi 22 year cycle of heliomagnetic reversals – with weaker 11 year cycles following stronger and with dynamic leads and lags.  An intriguing possibility is a return to a  La Niña-like epoch seen before the mid-Holocene transition.

Moy et al (2002) present the record of sedimentation in a South American lake shown below (panel b) – which is strongly influenced by Pacific Ocean variability. It is based on the presence of greater and less red sediment in a lake core. More sedimentation is associated with higher rainfall in El Niño conditions. It has continuous high resolution coverage over 11,500 years. It shows periods of high and low El Niña activity alternating with a period of about 2,000 years.  And there is the shift from La Niña dominance to El Niño dominance a little over 5,000 years ago that was identified by Tsonis 2009 as a chaotic bifurcation – and is associated with the drying of the Sahel. There is a period around 3,500 years ago of high El Niño intensity – red intensity greater than 200 –   associated with the demise of the Minoan civilisation (Tsonis et al, 2010).  For comparison – red intensity in the 98/99 El Niño was 99.

moy 2002 wavelet

The time “series and wavelet power spectrum documenting changes in ENSO
variability during the Holocene. a, Event time series created using the event model (see
Methods), illustrating the number of events in 100-yr overlapping windows. The solid line denotes the minimum number of events in a 100-yr window needed to produce ENSO and variance.  b, Most recent 11,500 yr of the time series of red colour intensity. The absolute red colour intensity and the width of the individual laminae do not correspond to the intensity of the ENSO event. c, Wavelet power spectrum calculated using the Morlet wavelet on the time series of red colour intensity (b). Variance in the wavelet power spectrum (colour scale) is plotted as a function of both time and period. Yellow and red regions indicate higher degrees of variance, and the black line surrounds regions of variance that exceed the 99.98% confidence level for a red noise process (at 4–8-yr period, the regions of significant variance are shown black rather than outlined). Variance below the dashed line has been reduced owing to the wavelet approaching the end of the finite time series. Horizontal lines indicate average timescale for the ENSO and millennial bands.”  Christopher Moy et al, 2002, Variability of El Niño/Southern Oscillation activity at millennial timescales during the Holocene epoch

If as suspected solar activity evolves in response to an incalculable solar system N-body orbital problem – and this is further modulated through internal fluid dynamics of the Sun – cyclic behavior as such is impossible.   How far it departs from the cyclical expectations of classical mechanics is unknowable – but depart it does.  Solar variability as well triggers nonlinear responses in the planetary system.   In climate data the reality is Hurst effects – regimes and abrupt shifts.   Wavelet analysis – as above – will give you broad spectral peaks – but this is just math and not proof of anything.  Real physics is required to understand the climate system and how it may change in future.  Nor do cycles say anything about how greenhouse gases may perturb flow and change quasi standing waves in Earth’s spatio-temporal chaotic flow field.  It may change them a little or a lot – it depends.


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I Love Dragons

“If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I’d
be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real, scientific data,
not mere anecdote.”  Carl Sagan (1997) – Demon Haunted World

I have been dipping into Carl Sagan’s book and came across the quote.  My question was then – surely eternity and infinity has been settled by Einstein in the space/time continuum starting more than  a century ago.

If we can and do travel through time at different rates – it implies that both futures exists – your slow planet bound existence and my rocket fueled journey to the far future.  Travel to any of these futures is feasible – all moments are seemingly eternally there in the 4 dimensional universe.  Are there implications in this for evolution – where organisms evolve in 3 dimensions but exist in 4?

I have no doubt that the universe is connected always and everywhere at the least with spooky photons – and I am not prepared as yet to entirely discount quantum receptors in the brain.   In those quiet, still moments one can behold infinity in a grain of sand and experience God’s grace on the world.

In a way I agree with Carl Sagan that any archetype – demon, dragon or troll – that becomes a haunting phantasm in a human mind is to be discouraged.   But these are important human symbols with which we create the human narrative – and a hero story for ourselves.



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UN divvying up illusory loot in Bonn

The UN is meeting to divvy up windfall climate payments of $100 billion.  Although that number is under pressure with the withdrawal of the US.  To be fair – the amount is small in the context of a $100 trillion world economy.   And like aid – I would presume that the cash would be country directed by donors and not stumped up to the UN.  Stumping up to the UN for their sustainable development goals would be a massive waste of scarce resources.  But as you are giving aid anyway – you may as well achieve the biggest bang for the buck.

Copenhagen Consensus – smart development goals

Each of the 19 smart goals has a benefit/cost ratio of more than 15 – and each has implications for population and emissions.  The endorsement of the Doha round of trade talks and a 40% increase in agricultural productivity being key elements.  Adding many trillions of dollars to the world economy.  Along with energy research and development that is needed not to avoid the great moral panic of global warming – but to transition production to new sources of energy that will be the cornerstone of development in the 21st century.  Aid may field test ideas and methods – but ultimately it is economic growth that will deliver progress in development and environment.  To put it in context – aid and philanthropy is some 0.025% of the world economy.

Below is a ‘sceptic’ take of the UN’s mooted revenue streams.

In my view, it suffers from the worst of the sceptic mindset – it is all oppositional.  It’s against things – and fails to deliver an optimistic narrative for this century.  The latter would involve – I would presume – a core commitment to democracy and markets.   We must make freedom again an intellectual adventure for our brightest minds – to paraphrase Hayek.


“This is money to pay for any project the supposedly reduces or avoids the emission of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. So-called renewable energy tops the list but there are many, many other candidate activities, including forestry and agriculture.”

The economic principle is that there is some rationale for supporting sunrise industries – but the sun always sets and this is the problem for solar.  Intermittency creates a significant barrier to large scale deployment – and subsidy time for operational deployment of wind and solar is well and over.

Renewing agricultural soils and restoring ecosystems is a very different matter – and one in which great progress is being made.  Carbon sequestration in soils has major benefits in addition to offsetting anthropogenic emissions from fossil fuel combustion, land use conversion, soil cultivation, continuous grazing and cement manufacturing.    Restoring soil carbon stores increases agronomic productivity and enhances global food security.  Increasing the soil organic content enhances water holding capacity and creates a more drought tolerant agriculture – with less downstream flooding.  There is a critical level of soil carbon that is essential to maximising the effectiveness of water and nutrient inputs.  Global food security, especially for countries with fragile soils and harsh climate such as in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, cannot be achieved without improving soil quality through an increase in soil organic content.   Wildlife flourishes on restored grazing land helping to halt biodiversity loss.  Reversing soil carbon loss is a new green revolution where conventional agriculture is hitting a productivity barrier with exhausted soils and increasingly expensive inputs.

Increased agricultural productivity, increased downstream processing and access to markets build local economies and global wealth.  Economic growth provides resources for solving problems – conserving and restoring ecosystems, better sanitation and safer water, better health and education, updating the diesel fleet and other productive assets to emit less black carbon, developing better and cheaper ways of producing electricity, replacing cooking with wood and dung with better ways of preparing food thus avoiding respiratory disease and again reducing black carbon emissions.  The warming potential of black carbon is equal to that of carbon dioxide emission from electricity production – but is given little attention in the public sphere.  A global program of agricultural soils restoration is the foundation for balancing the human ecology.  The In this international year of soils – France has committed to increasing soil carbon by 0.4% per year.  As a global objective and given the highest priority it is a solution to critical problems of biodiversity loss, development, food security and resilience to drought and flood.


“These projects supposedly prepare the country for some sort of climate change, especially floods, droughts and in some cases sea level rise. Of course these all occur naturally so this is a open ended concept.”

The reality is that temperature rise was 0.4 degrees C between 1944 and 1998.  The end points are high points in warm regimes seen in the 20th century.  The subsequent cooler regime seen since may or may not transition within a decade to a warmer regime again.  Very long term climate data shows the spatio-temporal chaos of the Earth system – and that climate is chaotic is an idea as certain as evolution or relativity.  It follows then that climate may change abruptly and extremely in response to being poked with greenhouse gases.  Hmmmm?

Along with this is evidence that natural climate extremes exceed by a wide margin those seen in the 20th century.  It makes sense to build then for resilience.

Loss and damage

“This is compensation for the adverse effects (of supposed climate change) that cannot be prevented by mitigation and adaptation. Any weather related damage is a potential candidate.”

It is a matter of common humanity to assist in disaster areas – and there will always be disaster areas.

Capacity building

“This vague term includes indirect costs like training, employment and infrastructure development.”

There are many areas where the west has evolved systems – building codes, disaster planning and management and infrastructure engineering – that are ripe for dispersal.  New land management and farming techniques are shared legitimately in the global community.

Technology transfer

“The core concept here is that patent rights will be waived for those technologies needed for the above activities. There may also be actual technology transfer, such as building new manufacturing and operating capacity (for free).”

I frankly doubt if patent waiving is a core concept.  It would be counter productive.  Inventers and firms are driven by the desire to make zillions.  They can with the right mousetrap.  The thing about production technology is that experience and a track record count – not just the design.  Technology such as high efficiency-low emission coal fired power plants are likely the technology or choice for nations – who don’t have cheap gas – over the next decade or so.  Japan has the track record in these things – although China is catching up and is not adverse to buying contracts with government money.

If you look back at the Copenhagen Consensus smart development goals – using aid to build coal powered generating plants is a possibility.

But if you are really going to make an impact on emissions – taxing electricity and transport is a marginal prospect at best.  A fraction of the fraction of emissions from electricity and transportation.  It should be remembered that in Paris nations agreed to increase emissions of greenhouse gases by 3.7 billion tonnes a year by 2030.

To make an impact on the broader areas requires a focus on development – which in turn provides resources for tackling the real issues of the world.

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Sea level rise in my ‘hood

Sea level rise at my place predicted by ‘coastadapt‘ with a low emissions scenario.    There are a number of components – ocean expansion with warmth, balances between ice and water and groundwater and surface water.  The balances – in the myth that these can be determined realistically – add up to some 0.4m.  My place is set into a granite hill some 15m above mean sea level – which I can see over the mangroves.  It is secure against flooding, fire, storm surge and anything but the largest tsunamis.   For which – as a good planning engineer and environmental scientist over decades – I have escape plans.  Sea level rise seems not a major concern – unless it shifts rapidly for reasons that we are beginning to understand.

As an aside – how realistic is a low emissions scenario?   The technology costings show that renewables are competitive in many places and applications – and getting cheaper.  Small modular reactors (SMR) may well be cost competitive after the first subsidized – and no apology – units roll off assembly lines.


The first SMRs are expected to be within the range of natural gas plants costs assuming appropriate private-public partnerships to help reduce technology risks and keep first-of-a-kind costs low. The partnerships incentivize the initial SMR customers by addressing typical first-of-a-kind challenges that create unique regulatory, technology and financial risks that translate into higher costs that most companies are unable or unwilling to accept. The partnerships reduce the barriers to technology adoption and allow the learning curve to bring down the cost of future SMRs.

By 2030, after the first few plants begin operation, SMRs would be cost-competitive without further private-public partnerships. For most scenarios, the costs of SMRs are within the range of natural gas plants, such that a utility could choose an SMR based on factors such as long-term price stability and fuel diversity. *  smart nuclear engines.

And much more can be done to reverse C02 losses from soils and ecosystems.

Sea level rise – even with low emissions – is fundamentally unpredictable using temporally chaotic climate models.  The spatio/temporal dynamics of the Earth flow field ensures – as well – that real climate is naturally a moving target.

“Sensitive dependence and structural instability are humbling twin properties for chaotic dynamical systems, indicating limits about which kinds of questions are theoretically answerable. They echo other famous limitations on scientist’s expectations, namely the undecidability of some propositions within axiomatic mathematical systems (Gödel’s theorem) and the uncomputability of some algorithms due to excessive size of the calculation.”  James McWilliams.

The graph below shows the components of sea level rise and how they ‘added up’ over recent decades.  The so called ‘acceleration’ is largely due to Greenland melt.  Cheng et al 2017

I haven’t checked the paper in detail – but it seems to find that the oceans are warming.  This I plotted using the Global Marine Argo Atlas.  Argo has nearly 4000 floats in areas of oceans ice free and deeper than 2000m.  There is a  large annual variation due to differences in hemispheric land areas.  Oceans warm in the southern hemisphere summer – and warms less – with less ocean exposed to the sun – in the northern hemisphere summer.  Over such a short time of record – natural annual and inter-annual variability is pronounced.   The idea that oceans steadily heat – and thus that with thermal inertia this leads to an energy imbalance – is wrong.              lin7

Over long enough all climate series look like Nile River flows for immutable physical reasons. This shows baseflow – dry season flow – in the Nile River. It is a measure of moisture retained in the landscape. I’m not even positive that the units are cubits – about half a metre.

nile river flow!ds=22yh&display=line

Joseph told Pharaoh that his dreams came from God telling him to prepare for seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. The task of Pharaoh was to find a wise and honest man to put some of the abundance of the years of plenty away to provide for the years of need and avert a terrible tragedy.

Because of the importance of Nile River flows to the Egyptian civilisation water levels have been measured for 5,000 years and recorded for more than 1,300. The ‘Nilometer’ – known as al-Miqyas in Arabic – in Cairo dates back to the Arab conquest of Egypt. The Cairo Nilometer has an inner stilling well connected to the river and a central stone pillar on which levels were observed.

Rainfall in the Mediterranean Basin is influenced by ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific and the north Atlantic. The variability in ocean surface temperature year to year, decade to decade, century to century result in persistent regimes of droughts and floods at many scales and with irregular beats.

D. Kondrashov and colleagues collated a record of Nile River flood water levels over the same period as te baseflow record.  They calculated the mean of high water levels at 18 cubits. Water levels varied from ‘hunger’ at 12 cubits through abundance at 16 cubits and to disaster at 18 cubits.  This suggests that life in ancient Egypt might best be described as lived on the edge. Perhaps not surprising given Joseph’s source of information – is that they found a strong 7 year signal in the data. The record shows increasing water levels over the past millennia and a prominent spike towards the end. There were signals of 56-year regimes, “a quasi-quadriennial (4.2-year) and a quasi-biennial (2.2-year) mode, as well as additional periodicities of 64, 19, 12, and, most strikingly, 7 years. of variability”.

The richness of climate data behaviour, ‘decade by decade and century by century, testifies to the fundamentally chaotic nature of the system that we are attempting to predict.  It challenges the way in which we evaluate models and emphasizes the importance of continuing to focus on observing and understanding processes and phenomena in the climate system. It is also a classic demonstration of the need for ensemble prediction systems on all time scales in order to sample the range of possible outcomes that even the real world could produce. Nothing is certain.”  Slingo and Palmer 2011   Here they refer to perturbed physics ensembles with a focus on seasonal to decadal simulation.










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What shall we do with Wally Broecker’s wild beast now that we have caught it by the tail?

Wally did an admirable job over 20 years ago now.  But Wally has gone to the dark side more recently – bemoaning the failure of democracy and lauding China.  At least he was still forecasting economic growth – I think the phrase was we couldn’t avoid it.  Buck up Wally – any liberal, democratic capitalist will tell you that growth is most efficient and sustainable in stable, classic liberal, civil democracies with capitalist markets.

It is ironic then that the tracks of the climate beast he named global warming all those years ago – that impose significant constraints on anthropogenic warming in the 20th century – can be seen so readily in the surface temperature record.  Try it – there are four regimes shifts – around 1912, the mid 1940’s, the late 1970’s, and 1998/2001.  Warming, cooling, warming and at least not warming much.  Now you’re an environmental – if not climate – scientist.  I am inspired – btw – to continue to labor the beast metaphor – at least I have not capitalised it – by no less than Science O’ Doom himself.

The phrase was science poetry.  I was looking for a scattergram of calculated and observed OLR in an old post.  Acceptably close.  There has always been a science that is poetic at an erudite core.   Very recent thinking on science it that it should be rich and fruitful – or perhaps more a forensic investigation than a poem?  So I will continue to wax on and wax off – much as climate itself does.  We can sample the two regimes we know most about – mid 20th century cooling and late century warming – and may or may not attribute the difference to greenhouse gases in the period that they started to grow strongly.  Because it “evens out”.  It’s about 0.4 degrees Kelvin – and relatively insignificant in the scheme of things – IMO, LMFAO.

Climate data show the chaotic heart of the beast pounding through woodland and savannah.  It moves with immense power and speed across landscapes and oceans.  It shifts suddenly and fiercely. We ain’t seen fierce in the 20th century – we ain’t nothin’ yet.   But what shall we do now with this wild and angry beast?  There are approaches mooted – including shibboleths of neo-green-leftists – which are not worth worrying about.  But there are a plurality of solutions to other problems each with intrinsic mitigation or sequestration potential.  I can point to a couple of dozen off the top of the heads of Nobel laureate economists.  I like to see it as part of a global mission to secure prosperous communities in vibrant and resilient landscapes this century.

“The top-of-atmosphere (TOA) Earth radiation budget (ERB) is determined from the difference between how much energy is absorbed and emitted by the planet. Climate forcing results in an imbalance in the TOA radiation budget that has direct implications for global climate, but the large natural variability in the Earth’s radiation budget due to fluctuations in atmospheric and ocean dynamics complicates this picture.”

Fluctuations in ocean and atmospheric circulation happen on many scales – and include 20-30 year regimes in global surface temperature trends – and in sea surface temps in the eastern Pacific. The associated energy changes at TOA are associated with water vapour due to changing atmospheric temps and cloud changes anti-correlated with SST in the tropical and sub-tropical Pacific.


Cloud changes dominate energy dynamics – prominently in the shortwave band. But as I said above – you can’t get any idea of what is happening without data on radiant flux at TOA. Reliable and long term data preferably. Data inconvenient for the cause is systematically denied – either cause is much of a muchness in my view.

The 20 to 30 year regimes are chaotic shifts of quasi standing waves in the spatio/temporal chaos of the climate system. They may change a little or a lot with greenhouse gases giving form to Wally’s wild beast.

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Anticipating the whims of the Dragon Kings

“Major changes in northeast Pacific marine ecosystems have been correlated with phase changes in the PDO; warm eras have seen enhanced coastal ocean biological productivity in Alaska and inhibited productivity off the west coast of the contiguous United States, while cold PDO eras have seen the opposite north-south pattern of marine ecosystem productivity.”

I had to check a claim made in the video – but they are right. There are different biological markers in Alaska and the US west coast. The difference is the relative change in cold, nutrient rich deep ocean upwelling. In the cool phase there is a vast blue “V” swathe across the Pacific.


Coupled winds and current push surface water west to pile up against Australia and Indonesia in a vast pool of potential and thermal energy. When conditions are ripe – and in the flick of a Madden-Julian Oscillation – the energy surges back east to crash against the eastern Pacific margin. Although the flows are vastly more complex than I make out – the vast area of warmer surface water warms the atmosphere. Ocean heat dissipates north and south at it hits the coastline. In the evolution of ENSO – the energy once stored in the western Pacific has dissipated and the next phase is inevitably recharge – in La Nina – of energy in the Pacific warm pool.

The cool phase starts with upwelling which starts with flows in the Peruvian and Californian Currents spinning up with the Pacific gyres. Cooler higher latitude water is pushed toward the equator diluting residual warm surfaces. Turbulent deep ocean flows surface and set up wind and current responses that again extend the cold tongue and piles warm surface water up against Australia and Indonesia. The vast area of cool surface absorbs heat from the atmosphere. The ocean warms and the atmosphere cools. There are as well cloud effects.

More cloud with the cooler ocean – and vice versa. In temperature/cloud coupling -clouds are lower and denser in cooler temps. There are large satellite observed changes in the energy dynamic of the planet from changing patterns in ocean and atmospheric flows – and the aperiodic changes in the Pacific are a big part of it. But more than that – all of the global flows are coupled in Earth’s spatio/temporal chaotic flow field. It is has implications for how and why aperiodic regimes form. The idea seems like random words to many – but is a relatively precise description of a reality you can actually see in near real time – given the wonders of modern technology and big data. Here I have the Earth Null School site showing total precipitable water in the atmosphere. It is an interesting field to view because it shows where the heat is in both oceans and atmosphere and where the atmospheric moisture is.

I play on the Earth Null School site for hours – it is fascinating what you can see in near real time in a super-computer visualization.  From the stratosphere to the oceans. What this view is showing is cooler, drier air pushing up from Antarctica – and down from the Arctic – deep into the Australian continent. I have been feeling this for months on the Tropic of Capricorn – cooler temps with subtle changes in winds and dramatic biological responses. Not quite the biggest Trichodesmium bloom I can remember but up there. We are entering drought territory with risks of summer fires in store.  Remnants of the 2014-16 El Niño ocean heat and atmospheric moisture are still spilling over into hurricane alley in the south-west Atlantic.

tcp 13-11-1`7

Winds and great ocean gyres spin up in negative phases of the polar annual modes. This graphic shows the familiar blocking pattern in the Northern Hemisphere where the troughs are cold and stormy air pushing into lower latitudes.

As gryes spin up and dilute the thermocline with cooler water – more turbulent deep ocean flow push to the surface. This sets up wind and current responses – in a resonant ocean – that influence global temps, hydrology and biology.ocean gyre

Both ENSO and the PDO have 20 to 30 years regimes. Moreover the cool PDO is associated with more frequent and intense La Niña – and a warm phase with frequent El Niño. The puzzle of a shared 20 to 30 year pulse in both hemispheres is traced mechanistically back to changing polar surface pressure fields – influencing storm tracks in high latitudes. At the same time – research is showing a solar UV/ozone chemistry influence in modulating atmospheric flows and polar pressure fields.

There is a recent study that wonders at the potential for the ~22 year Hale cycle of solar magnetic reversal to be the trigger for the 20 to 30 year regimes. As I did some months ago now. It supplies a plausible mechanistic link for solar variability amplification in the terrestrial system. With intriguing possibilities for the evolution of climate.

There are opinions that the Pacific state has shifted over the past few years to a warmer phase again. I am intrigued. The wishy washy neutral looking regime we have seen since the last shift at the turn on the century has been punctuated by long and intense surface warmth following relatively intense cooling. My bet is that the transition is happening now and that this a dragon-king.

“We emphasize the importance of understanding dragon-kings as being often associated with a neighborhood of what can be called equivalently a phase transition, a bifurcation, a catastrophe (in the sense of Rene Thom), or a tipping point. The presence of a phase transition is crucial to learn how to diagnose in advance the symptoms associated with a coming dragon-king.”

Dragon Kings live in coral castles guarded by crab generals and shrimp soldiers. They bring us flood and drought at their whim. A solar connection suggests the potential for a shift to a yet cooler state in the Pacific on a centennial scale.

Salt content in a Law Dome, Antarctica, ice core has implications for coupling modes globally and northeast Australian rainfall especially.  More salt is La Niña as wind and currents spin up gyres and upwelling increases…

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