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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Thoughts on “U.S. GLOBAL CHANGE RESEARCH PROGRAM CLIMATE SCIENCE SPECIAL REPORT (CSSR) ” – “simple rules underlying climate’s complexity.”

There is a bit of madness going on at Judith Curry’s Climate Etc. blogspot.  The arguments are being bandied about again – at a high intensity. Curry called for ‘denizen’ involvement in critiquing the draft US National Climate Assessment.   At Climate Etc.  – it is all daft theories about it not being greenhouse gases, radiation or water vapor – and endless quibbling from both sides of the blogosphere climate trenches about the talking points – Arctic ice, seal level rise, surface temperature trends, the LIA and MWP – in the very latest reconstruction.  Judith keeps an eclectic ‘eSalon’.  Well it is greenhouse gases. radiation and water vapor – but climate science is about far more than this.  Ultimately there is not enough evidence to resolve the important question – what will happen in future? Alternatively – there are theories of turbulent flows that provide a theoretical context for climate’s complexities  – from which simple rules may be derived.  To state the obvious – the planet is a globally coupled, nonlinear fluid flow problem.  Models try to emulate it.

It you hit a climate data series with a Fourier analysis hammer you will get sine waves. If data such as long term Nile River flows are analysed from a Hurst perspective there is a different result – one resembling step functions.  There is a very new paper – by  John Abbott  and Jennifer Marohasy –  that I like a lot for the new method of 20th century surface temperature attribution – mostly natural.  But thinking of climate as cyclic is far too limiting.

“Examination of many of these proxy temperature records shows they typically consist of complex oscillations or cycles about a mean value, with the amplitude and structure of the temperature signal depending on the geographical location considered. In the pre-industrial era, these oscillations represent the compound effect of natural phenomena both internal (e.g. North Atlantic Oscillation, El Nino Southern Oscillation) and external (e.g. solar, volcanic activity).”  (Abbott and Marohasy 2017)

The US ‘special report’ focuses on climate science talking points – surface temperature (instruments at 2m from the ground and ocean surface temperature), hydrology, climate sensitivity, sea level rise, acidification, etc.  These are points that are endlessly discussed – but are ultimately indeterminate given the limitations of data and models.   Both sides on these points – moreover – lack a theoretical context that places transient phenomenon in the context of globally coupled fluid flows in the spatio/temporal chaotic Earth system.

“The story of British hydrologist and civil servant H.E. Hurst who earned the nickname “Abu Nil”, Father of the Nile, for his 62 year career of measuring and studying the river is now fairly well known. Pondering an 847 year record of Nile overflow data, Hurst noticed that the series was persistent in the sense that heavy flood years tended to be followed by heavier than average flood years while below average flood years were typically followed by light flood years. Working from an ancient formula on optimal dam design he devised the equation: log(R/S) = K*log(N/2) where R is the range of the time series, S is the standard deviation of year-to-year flood measurements and N is the number of years in the series.”  Revelutions webspot

Mandelbrot rediscovered and popularized Hurst’s work in the 1960’s – and renamed K to H. Persistence is a period of flows that hover about a mean with a specific variance – and then the system shifts to another flow regime with a different mean and variance.

Persistence can be easily seen in modern data on the globally coupled ENSO quasi standing wave in Earth’s spatio/temporal chaotic system. There is a sharp delineation between a La Nina (blue) dominated regime and an El Nino (red) dominated regime in 1976/77. The Pacific Ocean shifted again to a somewhat cooler state after 1998.


Figure 1:  Modulation of ENSO in 20 to 30 year regimes seen in the MEI of Claus Wolter

Climate changes are typically abrupt. There are external triggers at thresholds and an immense and complex response in planetary ocean and atmospheric flow fields. There is no comfort for skeptics here – shifts are unpredictable and may be extreme. The next Pacific Ocean climate shift – if it runs true to the form shown over a millennia – is due in a 2018-2028 window. Predicting this more precisely – with it’s global implications for rainfall, biology and atmosphere and ocean heat content – is impossible.  And anthropogenic greenhouse gases may in future perturb the climate system flow sufficiently to cause some or major change in the global pattern of coupled quasi standing waves.

The past few years have seen warmer sea surface temps in the eastern Pacific.  Ocean and atmosphere couplings produce cloud.  It is low and dense at cold temp – loose and fluffy at higher temps and rising to the stratosphere in immense thunderheads in high energy climates.  Height and density of cloud modulates it’s radiative properties.  Cloud net radiant flux changes with cloud cover.  Clouds reduce losses from upward heat flux and reflects more sunlight back into space – with SW reflection losses the more significant.   So less, higher level cloud in a warmer planet and more warming from more solar insolation offset by higher LW emissions.

Dragon-king theory suggests that outliers in data series are “dragon-kings” and “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 Pacific Ocean may be primed by reduced solar activity to more eastern ocean upwelling of cold and nutrient rich water burping carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere – and what energy there was in the western Pacific has dissipated off the eastern margin.  Could there be a swing back to La Niña big enough for the variation to be big enough to be a dragon-king – and signalling the next transition of the Pacific state?   

“What defines a climate change as abrupt? Technically, an abrupt climate change occurs when the climate system is forced to cross some threshold, triggering a transition to a new state at a rate determined by the climate system itself and faster than the cause. Chaotic processes in the climate system may allow the cause of such an abrupt climate change to be undetectably small.”  NAS 2002

It seems clear to me that spatio-temporal chaos is the not so new climate paradigm.  One that provides a far more powerful theoretical context for consideration of climate processes.  This graphic in the ‘special report’ summary gives a clue to follow.

enso us winters

Figure 2: ENSO and jet stream coupling

Turbulent flows in Earth’s oceans and atmosphere are driven by  planetary spin and solar energy creating quasi standing waves everywhere.  Several are involved in the ENSO-Jet Stream coupling.  The proximate cause is the Northern Annular Mode (NAM). Higher surface pressure at the pole pushes winds and polar storms into lower latitudes. There is considerable interest in a sun and NAM (and SAM) connections via UV/ozone chemistry and modulating Earth system flows – especially equator to pole stratospheric and tropospheric pathways.

Unlike many things in climate science – spatio/temporal chaos climate science can be seen in the wild.    Within the turbulent flow of the mountain river vortices form and the location and size are relatively stable across both time and space.  Order emerging out of disorder.  The first rule of chaos theory.


Figure 3:  Turbulent flow in a mountain river

The governing regime of the river flow persists until the flow is perturbed and then shifts to another state – with different size and location of standing waves in the flow.    Persistence and shifts are seem in climate wide regimes of quasi standing waves in the Earth system.   Perturb the flow somehow and the river standing waves will shift in size and location.  At the climate scale solar, orbital and greenhouse gas changes may perturb the fluid flow through the system and the energy dynamic of the entire planet.

On the different scale of society and energy – there are obvious solutions to this and broader problems that bring short term benefits to global communities and environments.  This does entail fostering democracy and classic liberal economics.  Uncertainties in climate from many sources suggest the need to refocus on effective and pragmatic, resilience and no-regrets policy options – e.g climate pragmatism and technical innovation – rather than endlessly quibbling about climate talking points.

Science (e.g. Lal 2016) suggests that large amounts of carbon can be stored in soils and vegetation by restoring soil organics in agricultural land and environments.  The US has been a pioneer in land management since the 1930’s.  Globally – both science and governments are mobilizing to support local and regional responses in an Elinor Ostrom polycentric approach to managing global commons.

International Life Sciences Institute 4 per 1000 soils presentation

Ultimately – energy technologies must be cost competitive with best available sources.  Gas and high efficiency/low emission (HELE) coal may be that in most places in the the world.  HELE coal plants emit negligible health damaging particulates.  The low carbon alternative front runner is – at this time – small, modular, nuclear engines.  Eight of these designs have recently been costed at 40% less than large, light water reactors.

This General Atomics version has been independantly costed at 40% less.  It comes with total safety, is arms proliferation resistant, has high thermal efficiency and super fuel efficiency.  High fuel burn minimizes a low risk waste stream.

em2 reactor

Figure 4:  General Atomics’ Energy Multiplier Module

But to return to intellectually interesting questions of climate science – ENSO has fascinating dynamics that are globally coupled to rainfall regimes over many spatial and temporal scales.

Moys 2002 (2)

Figure 5: Laguna Pallcacocha ENSO proxy – greater red intensity shows higher El Niño intensity (Source: Tsonis, 2009)

Moy et al (2002) present this Holocene record of sedimentation shown above which is strongly influenced by ENSO variability.  The record has continuous high resolution coverage over 12,000 years.  It is based on the presence of greater and less red sediment in a lake core.  More sedimentation is associated with El Niño. It shows periods of high and low El Niño intensity alternating with a period of about 2,000 years.  There was a shift from La Niña dominance to El Niño dominance 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 associated with the demise of the Minoan civilization (Tsonis et al, 2010).  For comparison – red intensity in the Minoan period was regularly over 200 –  red intensity was 99 in the 1997/98 El Niño.  The record shows ENSO variability considerably in excess of that seen in the modern period.  Great variability  over millennia casts doubt on the statistical reliability of divining rainfall changes from modern records.

Earth’s climate is a coupled, nonlinear, isolated mechanism tending to maximum entropy over a long enough period.  There are resonant frequencies, a driving force in solar energy and external beats in solar activity and orbits that modulate climate.  Climate persists in a regime for minutes, days, years, centuries – it’s like Russian dolls or fractals better yet – and then shifts state as they say.  Moreover there are broad but well studied temporal patterns.

Modern satellite instruments provide the most precise and comprehensive data ever on global atmospheric temeperature, incoming solar energy and changes in outgoing energy.  Some 3,900 Argo floats measure temperature and salinity to 2000m in the oceans.   There are a few simple terms in the 1st differential global energy storage equation.

Δ(h&w)/dt = energy in – energy out + heat of combustion + plus heat from the mantle

The change in heat and work in the system over a period is equal to the difference in the energy terms.

Now comes the fun of science as investigation in the world.  Why is it so?

The change in heat and work in the planetary system is made complicated by large changes in radiant flux at TOA due to changes in atmospheric and ocean circulation (Loeb et al 2012).  Energy in is measured as an absolute value – although the number has changed in the recent past.  Energy out is given in anomalies – it gives a sense of change in the energy budget – i.e. warming or cooling.  The planet warms if energy in is greater over a period – the energy imbalance idea.  As Earth’s energy content is mostly in the oceans – some 90% – energy imbalances are calculated from ocean heat records.

The Argo graph is a recent plot from the Argo Marine Global Atlas – warming is prominently after 2011.

lin2 Figure 6:  Unfiltered Argo data to June 2017 – source Argo Marine Global Atlas

The heat from Earth’s interior is a minor term – as is the heat of combustion – but may have implications for ideas of energy loss from the surface of the oceans, thermal inertia and thus radiant imbalances at top of atmosphere (TOA).  The oceans are heated from the bottom up at a rate far greater than the instantaneous rate of increase in greenhouse gas forcing.

Earth radiant energy budget satellite records  show warming of the ocean to 1998 over the 90’s.  ” With this final correction, the ERBS Nonscanner-observed decadal changes in tropical mean LW, SW, and net radiation between the 1980s and the 1990s now stand at -0.7, +2.1, and +1.4 W/m2, respectively.” Wong et al 2006


Figure 7:  Net radiant flux at top of atmosphere (TOA) v. ocean heat content rate of change

Wong et al used Earth Radiation Budget Experiment data and compared that to more dense XPT data compiled by Joel Norris as annual ocean heat content.  The older XPT data had 10% coverage and was averaged over 5 years.  It shows ocean warming in the shortwave – SW – (and longwave – LW – cooling) in the 1990’s and a transient peak in ocean heat content.  There were initial stumbles in all of the early satellite products – corrected as best as they could.  The newer data is much more precise and stable.

These were downloaded from a NASA site and it’s a mess.  The graphs at the  <a href=””&gt;CERES data product page</a> are updated to January 2017.   What’s happening with NASA?  Don’t tell me Donald Trump is shutting down this critical Earth system monitoring program – in which the US is the world’s leader?

The solar energy peak of the 11 year cycle solar was at the start of the century – we have passed the last peak and are heading for a trough in this cycle.  Solar activity varies in a tight band – incident energy at the surface is reduced by a factor of four.  The sun may influence climate – not on an incident radiation basis – but on indirect effects through stratospheric/atmospheric pathways.

CERES_EBAF-TOA_Ed2.8_anom_Incoming_Solar_Flux_March-2004toJanuary-2015 (1)

Figure 8:  CERES data product – incoming solar irradiance

Reflected SW shows some stark trends. Declining appreciably to 2003, ambling along to 2013 and declining again since.  Warming tendency then neutral and then warming again in the short but relatively precise record of anomalies.  This is mostly cloud cover variation coupled with the state of the Pacific Ocean.

CERES_EBAF-TOA_Ed4.0_anom_TOA_Shortwave_Flux-All-Sky_March-2000toJanuary-2017 (1)

Figure 9:  CERES data product – reflected SW power flux up

The LW record shows broad changes linked to cloud cover and water vapour.   Infrared (LW) emissions rose in the early part of the record (cooling in LW), dipped in the middle section and rose again more recently.


Figure 10:  CERES data product – emitted LW

This Loeb et al 2012 plot splices CERES to earlier data and highlights La Nina and El Nino years.   The problem is splicing and whether you believe graph (a) or (b)?  There was a step change in cloud around the turn of the century from satellite cloud products  – or alternatively IR out ambled along without much apparent trend change over decades.


Figure 11:  Spliced ERBE and CERES data

There is intriguing evidence from a brilliant little bit of astronomical engineering that shows a step change in cloud cover around the turn of the 21st century.   The satellite and Project Earthshine results are at least consilient.


Figure 12:    “Earthshine changes in albedo shown in blue, ISCCP-FD shown in black and CERES in red.  A climatologically significant change before CERES followed by a long period of insignificant change“.

Net radiant flux is  planetary warming upward by convention.  Net flux = -SW- LW.  So ambling along to 2008, some ENSO bumps to 2013 and a modest warming since.


Figure 13:  CERES product – net radiant flux at TOA

Little can be determined from these short term records other than that there are large natural variations doe to variability in ocean and atmospheric flows – and thus the energy budget of the planet.  It can give a fascinating insight into the mechanisms in play.  Over a longer term – evidence of Earth’s underlying dynamic comes at many scales with coupled changes to the energy budget.

“Evidence is presented supporting the hypothesis of polar synchronization, which states that during the last ice age, and likely in earlier times, millennial-scale temperature changes of the north and south Polar Regions were coupled and synchronized. The term synchronization as used here describes how two or more coupled nonlinear oscillators adjust their (initially different) natural rhythms to a common frequency and constant relative phase. In the case of the Polar Regions heat and mass transfer through the intervening ocean and atmosphere provided the coupling. As a working hypothesis, polar synchronization brings new insights into the dynamic processes that link Greenland’s Dansgaard-Oeschger (DO) abrupt temperature fluctuations to Antarctic temperature variability. It is shown that, consistent with the presence of polar synchronization, the time series of the most representative abrupt climate events of the last glaciation recorded in Greenland and Antarctica can be transformed into one another by a π/2 phase shift, with Antarctica temperature variations leading Greenland’s. This, plus the fact that remarkable close simulations of the time series are obtained with a model consisting of a few nonlinear differential equations suggest the intriguing possibility that there are simple rules governing the complex behavior of global paleoclimate.”  (J. A. Rial 2012)

Shorter periods of climate regimes – and it is suggested that this is a better terminology than old fashioned cycles or oscillations – are revealed by spectral analysis.

“The driving forces of climate change were investigated and the results showed two independent degrees of freedom —a 3.36-year cycle and a 22.6-year cycle, which seem to be connected to the El Niño–Southern Oscillation cycle and the Hale sunspot cycle, respectively. Moreover, these driving forces were modulated in amplitude by signals with millennial timescales.”  (Wang et al 2017)

So we have an ENSO cycle,  a Hale solar magnetic (not sunspot) cycle and a 1000 year cycle that might be speculated to be greenhouse gases. Or perhaps volcanoes. Or something else.

But these powerful natural flow fields are bubbling along under the surface.  The 20 to 30 year Pacific regimes seem very likely to continue for a bit.  The next one is due in a 2018 to 2028 window. And the Pacific state seems modulated by something.

The proxy below shows levels of salt a Law Dome ice core. More or less salt in the ice core.  More salt is a cool Pacific state (less eastern margin upwelling) .  It shows ENSO periodicity – and an intriguing change in tempo at the turn of the 20th century – as well as the familiar 20 to 30 year patterns of rainfall.  Rain in this graph is eastern and northern Australian rainfall – but it has global implications.

Figure 14:  Millennial ENSO proxy – Vance et al 2013

The Pacific state is modulated over a millennia. The details of the ocean and atmospheric links are fascinating – it is postulated that it starts with solar uv/ozone chemistry modulating ocean and atmospheric circulation throughout the system.  The change in solar UV modulate surface pressure at the poles – changing the polar annular modes and influencing sub-polar gryes in all oceans thereby triggering triggering more or less upwelling on the eastern margin.


Figure 15:  Impact of polar wind fields on oceans gyres –  NAS workshop report 2012

The Hale beat may be a switch of sorts – signalling changes in the Pacific State at the 20 to 30 year scale. And then literally shifts again to another state and these shifts add up over time to long term climate. At all scales. The second rule of spatio/temporal chaos is that it is scale independent. Again the modulator seems quite evidently solar. High sunspot numbers equate to higher solar activity and less upwelling in the eastern Pacific. Solar activity remained high throughout the 20th century.

Figure 16:  Sunspot counts

“The sunspot cycle happens because of this pole flip — north becomes south and south becomes north—approximately every 11 years. Some 11 years later, the poles reverse again back to where they started, making the full solar cycle actually a 22-year phenomenon. The sun behaves similarly over the course of each 11-year cycle no matter which pole is on top, however, so this shorter cycle tends to receive more attention.” NASA

The Hale beat itself may be spatio/temporal chaos modulated though n-body gravity interactions in the solar system.   The interior of the sun is turbulent flow modulating the small changes in solar output.  The waxing and waning of the 11 year butterfly may set the tone of Earth climate’s resonant frequencies – with the 22 year regime seemingly having a synchronous resonance with the state of the Pacific Ocean.

Figure 17 – The solar butterfly – sourced from Wikipedia

On two hands we have butterflies – on the other we have the temperature anomalies as measured by microwave sounders at the O2 radiant frequency band.


Fugure 18:  CMIP-5 models comparison with RSS tropospheric temperature anomalies

Surface records capture perhaps 1% of the global energy content.  And there are appreciable artifacts in the record as a result of changing soil moisture and thus changing ratios of sensible and latent heat at 2m from the ground – plausibly causing an increasing land/ocean temperature divergence during periods of widespread drought. Note the lack of a 2016 record in tropospheric heat.

The yellow is the results of a CMIP-5 opportunistic ensemble.   Frankly – if you imagined that they wouldn’t diverge from reality – then you are on the wrong track entirely.  There is not even one single solution to any of the general circulation models.   Models have temporal chaos.

“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 McWiliams 2007)

Models have what is called irreducible imprecision – reducing imprecision comes at a trade off.  Reducing the grid size to reduce model uncertainty exponentially increases the computing power required due to the increasing size of the calculation.  Improving initial values takes time and data.  Each model has many divergent solutions within the limits of feasible initial values and structural instability induced by the changes in depth of model process coupling.

slingo and palmer

Figure 19:  Schematic of a perturbed physics model ensemble – Slingo and Palmer 2012

“Lorenz was able to show that even for a simple set of nonlinear equations (1.1), the evolution of the solution could be changed by minute perturbations to the initial conditions, in other words, beyond a certain forecast lead time, there is no longer a single, deterministic solution and hence all forecasts must be treated as probabilistic. The fractionally dimensioned space occupied by the trajectories of the solutions of these nonlinear equations became known as the Lorenz attractor (figure 1), which suggests that nonlinear systems, such as the atmosphere, may exhibit regime-like structures that are, although fully deterministic, subject to abrupt and seemingly random change.”  Slingo and Palmer 2011

Select one of the blue lines in the plots arbitrarily and put it into an opportunistic ensemble.  Of course it’s warm.  With the boys’ club of climate modelling – I’m surprised it’s not warmer.


Note:  I have left the notes on the graphics to give authors interpretations.  .

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