By Jeff Berardelli
For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.
International Effort to Evaluate Climate Models<p>For the past 25 years the international community has been evaluating and comparing the world's most sophisticated climate models produced by various teams at universities, research centers, and government agencies. The effort is organized by the World Climate Research Programme under the United Nations World Meteorological Organization.</p><p>Climate models are complicated computer programs composed of millions of lines of code that calculate the physical properties and interactions between the main climate forces like the atmosphere, oceans, and solar input. But models also go a lot further, incorporating other systems like ice sheets, forests, and the biosphere, to name a few. The models are then used to simulate the real-world climate system and project how certain changes, like added pollution or land-use changes, will alter the climate.</p><p>Every few years there is a new comprehensive international evaluation called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). In the sixth such effort, known as CMIP6 and now under way, experts are reviewing about 100 models.</p><p>Information gleaned from this effort will act as a scientific foundation for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) next major assessment report, scheduled for release in 2021. The goal of the report – the sixth in 30 years – is to inform the international community about how much the climate has changed, and, importantly, how much change can be expected in coming decades.</p>
A Conundrum Emerges<p>Over the past year, the CMIP6 collection of models being reviewed threw researchers an unexpected curveball: a significant number of the climate model runs showed substantially more global warming than previous model versions had projected. If accurate, the international climate goals would be nearly impossible to achieve, and there would be significantly more extreme impacts worldwide.</p><p>A foundational experiment in every report addresses "sensitivity": If you double levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) that were in the air before the Industrial Revolution, how much warming do the models show? This doubling is not expected for a few more decades, but it is a quick way to communicate the critical role of greenhouse gases in changing the climate.</p><p>The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 35% since the 1800s because of the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, global temperatures have already increased by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit.</p><p>In the first IPCC assessment report, published in 1990, the answer to that question about the impact of doubling carbon dioxide gave a fairly wide range of results – between 2.7-8 degrees F of global warming. Since then, four more assessments issued six to seven years apart reached nearly the exact same conclusion on sensitivity.</p><p>But that sensitivity may, for the first time, change significantly in next year's assessment. Why? Because starting last year, numerous models in the CMIP6 collection displayed even bigger spikes in temperature upon doubling of CO2 concentrations. We're in serious trouble if the climate sensitivity falls in the mid or upper range of the previous assessments. But if the new, higher estimates are correct, the impacts on civilization would be catastrophic.</p>
In the above CarbonBrief interactive visualization, the bars offer a comparison in the range of sensitivity in the CMIP5 models (gray) and CMIP6 models (blue).
New and Encouraging Evidence Is Emerging<p>At first, scientists were uncertain whether the new model runs were on to something, so the international modeling community dug in to produce multiple studies. The results are not yet conclusive, but a gradual collective sigh of relief seems to be materializing.</p><p>"Evidence is emerging from multiple directions that the models which show the greatest warming in the CMIP6 ensemble are likely too warm," explains Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.</p><p>For example, <a href="https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2020-23/" target="_blank">a study</a> released April 28 evaluated the past performance of the models making up the CMIP6 ensemble. The team assigned weights to each model based upon historical performance of their warming projections, weighing the poorer performing models less. By doing so, both the mean warming and the range of warming scenarios in the CMIP6 ensemble decreased, meaning the warmest models were the ones with weaker historical performance. This result supports a finding that a subset of the models are too warm.</p><p>That conclusion is supported by another new study evaluating one particular model – the Community Earth System Model (CESM2) – that showed greater warming. Using that model, the researchers simulated the climate in the early Eocene era, about 50 million years ago, when rainforests thrived in the Arctic and Antarctic. The CESM2 simulated a historical climate that seems way too warm compared with what is known about that era from geological data, indicating that the model is likely also too warm in its future projections.</p><p>Two other recent studies of the CMIP6 models being evaluated use clever analysis methods to <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2019-86/&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNHYwFB-1KqndGfJ4sXdrrm9DpbLaQ" target="_blank">narrow the range</a> of future warming projections and also <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/12/eaaz9549&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNEhKY1YZ19qgjSZ_hJM14JmzqXOXw" target="_blank">reduce the projected warming</a> of the CMIP6 models by 10 to 15%.</p><p>Through the intensive research spurred by the CMIP6 climate-sensitivity curveball, scientists have been able to turn a confounding challenge into a confidence builder, providing even greater certainty than they had before in both the abilities of the climate science community and in the computer models used. Moreover, the experience has helped unearth uncertainties remaining in the modeling process.</p><p>Experts conclude much of this uncertainty probably lies in the complexity of clouds. "We have been looking as a community at why the models with greater warming are doing what they are doing – and it's tied to cloud feedbacks in the southern mid-latitudes mostly," explains Schmidt.</p><p>In fact, <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/26/eaba1981" target="_blank">a new study</a> addressing the increased sensitivity was published in Science Advances stating, "Cloud feedbacks and cloud-aerosol interactions are the most likely contributors to the high values and increased range of ECS [sensitivity] in CMIP6."</p>
Understanding the Complexity of Clouds<p>It's long been known in climate modeling circles that cloud processes and interactions are a potential weak link for climate modeling. That reality has been brought front and center by the urgent challenges posed during this CMIP6 evaluation period, but the current evaluation of models also provides an opportunity for discovery and improvement.</p><p>Cloud complexity comes from the reality that clouds have a multitude of sizes, altitudes, and textures. Some clouds cool Earth by providing shade, reflecting sunlight back into space. Others act like a blanket, trapping heat and warming the world.</p><p>Given that about <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/icesat_light.html" target="_blank">70% of the globe</a> is covered by clouds at any given time, it's no surprise that they play an integral role in regulating the climate. The challenge is to figure out which types of clouds will increase, which will decrease, and what the net effect will be on cooling or warming as the climate changes.</p><p><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0310-1" target="_blank">One study</a> last year reached an alarming conclusion: Left unchecked, the release of CO2 into the atmosphere may lead to a tipping point where shallow low clouds disappear – leading to runaway, catastrophic warming of nearly 15 degrees F. While scientists see that outcome as only a remote possibility, it drives home the urgent need to better understand clouds.</p><p>"We have a saying at NOAA: It isn't rocket science – it's much, much harder than that," quips Dr. Chris Fairall, ATOMIC's lead investigator. "One of the major problems for modeling is there is not clean separation of scales." The photo below is one that Fairall took from the NOAA P-3 aircraft.</p>
Investigating the Secrets of Clouds<p>To address the urgent question about the dynamics and role of clouds in a warming world, NOAA and European partners launched their ongoing research effort unprecedented in scale. The U.S. contribution, ATOMIC – short for Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign – is an international science mission that was featured recently on "<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/video/study-aims-to-examine-links-between-climate-change-and-clouds/" target="_blank">CBS This Morning: Saturday</a>."</p>
- New Climate Study: Most Severe Warming Projections Are Now the ... ›
- 7 of the Best New Documentaries About Global Warming - EcoWatch ›
- What's in a Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Change in the Eyes ... ›
Storing large amounts of energy is key to using more renewable energy because the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
On hot summer days, trees help cool city neighborhoods. And during extreme storms, they help absorb stormwater and reduce flooding.
Technology can serve any purpose, including the greater good. That inspired entrepreneur David Clark to start an annual competition, the Call for Code Global Challenge.
By Samantha Harrington
If the forests of northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan keep secrets, it's only because people fail to listen. For about 500 years, since they moved to the region from the Northeastern U.S. and Canada, Anishinaabe tribes have built relationships and history with all beings in the region – from tall trees and moose to grains of sand and manidoonsag, which means "little spirits" in Ojibwe. Elders and tribal members who have taken the time to observe the landscape have witnessed their community members, both human and otherwise, adapt to harsh winters, wildfires, storms, pest outbreaks, and the arrival of Europeans.
Leading on Climate Change<p>In 2007, Wayne Dupuis, the environmental program manager of the <a href="http://www.fdlrez.com/" target="_blank">Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa</a>, approached the tribal council about adding the goals of the <a href="https://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol" target="_blank">Kyoto Protocol</a> into the tribe's resource management planning. They agreed. A year later, the <a href="https://www7.nau.edu/itep/main/tcc/Tribes/gl_gpchippewa" target="_blank">Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa</a>, in far northeastern Minnesota, was the second tribe in the U.S. to begin an adaptation plan. The majority of tribes in the region have since created or begun climate change monitoring and adaptation work.</p><p>Those timelines outpace many non-tribal communities in the Upper Midwest. The politically progressive county that houses Wisconsin's state capital did not create its <a href="https://daneclimateaction.org/" target="_blank">Office of Energy and Climate Change</a> until 2017.</p><p>Fifteen years ago in Grand Portage, the tribe began to notice and study the decline of brook trout in Trout Lake, a 61-acre lake on the reservation. Eventually the lake warmed so much that temperature-sensitive trout could no longer survive. The tribe restocked the lake with walleye and yellow perch, which thrive in warmer water. But Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources has not taken similar measures in other lakes in the northern part of the state.</p><p>"I think we're going to see a massive loss of trout species in northeastern Minnesota, and I think that the Minnesota DNR is going to have to really consider: Is it acceptable to have a whole bunch of lakes with no fish, or do we start trying to change to fish communities that are a bit more resilient?" asked Seth Moore, the director of biology and environment at the Grand Portage Band. "That's a no-brainer in my opinion. It almost feels like they're a decade late."</p>
A Close Relationship With the Land<p>The guiding force behind much of this early work is the Anishinaabe emphasis on the connectedness of all beings and actions.</p><p>"We are here because of our relationship with the land," Dupuis said. "In many of our stories, it's our relationship with the Earth and the animals, the swimmers, the flyers that needs to be in harmony, and if we skew that balance, bad things happen. So our relationship with the Earth is primary – to be aware of what we're doing and considerate in what we do."</p><p>Katy Bresette, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe and an Ojibwe educator, said that it's important not to romanticize this practice as something mystical and far removed from a process that everyone is capable of. Looking at adaptation from the perspective of all members of the ecosystem and the connections between them helps create solutions that look beyond an individual human life.</p><p>"You have to understand that it's not necessarily about understanding whether changes are coming sooner," Bresette said. "It's just understanding that the changes exist and what they look like."</p><p>Ojibwe lands are particularly vulnerable to warming temperatures. The Northwoods lie in a transition zone between southern forests and the <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/what-s-a-boreal-forest-and-the-three-other-types-of-forests-around-the-world" target="_blank">boreal forests</a> of the north. Many of the region's cold-loving species, like paper birch and moose, are living in the southernmost reaches of their range. Warmer winters have already prompted the decline of some cold-weather species and the northerly migration of new species that were once killed off by the cold.</p><p>In addition to their inherent value as beings, many vulnerable species are culturally significant for their direct roles in tribal ceremonies and subsistence. Ash trees, threatened as warmer temperatures allow <a href="http://www.emeraldashborer.info/" target="_blank">emerald ash borer</a> to gain a stronger foothold in the forests, have long been used to make <a href="https://www.potawatomi.org/gun-lake-potawatomi-elder-and-his-family-of-black-ash-basket-weavers/" target="_blank">baskets</a>, fishing tools, pipe stems, and lacrosse sticks.</p><p>Alex Mehne, forest manager of the Fond du Lac Band, said that black ash trees – which are the dominant tree species in the area – are critical in maintaining water levels in wetlands. Black ash trees grow in large groups in forested wetlands, where they absorb water from the ground.</p><p>That process helps protect critical manoomin beds downstream, particularly as rainstorms get more intense. Manoomin is sensitive to water changes, especially in June and July. "If the water level goes too high the plant will drown, and if it goes too low it'll be destroyed," said Eric Andrews, climate change coordinator of the <a href="http://www.badriver-nsn.gov/" target="_blank">Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa</a>.</p><p>After an intense storm in 2012, the Fond du Lac manoomin crop failed.</p><p>As they noticed these vulnerabilities, Anishinaabe people began work to ease the coming changes. The Fond du Lac Band is experimenting with planting alternative wetland tree species to see if they could play a similar role in the ecosystem to the ash trees. So far, swamp white oak and silver maple seem to be succeeding.</p>
Documenting Tribal Adaptation Strategies<p>Tribal adaptation in the Northwoods depends upon collaborative relationships between tribes and other regional resource managers. Those relationships were essential in the creation of the 2019 Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu (TAM), a document that includes 14 different adaptation strategies that can be used to help guide climate planning. It was born from an inclusive, community-centered process that contrasts with Western-style approaches in the region.</p><p>The menu came into being after some tribal members were involved in a watershed adaptation workshop put on by the <a href="https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/niacs/" target="_blank">Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science</a>. The institute, which is a partnership of federal agencies, universities and conservation organizations, has developed a variety of "menus" that present climate change adaptation strategy options for forest managers. At the watershed menu workshop, tribal members realized that while the process was useful, it was missing important context for tribal planning, such as shared values and community engagement.</p><p>"Eventually it came out that we needed a whole separate menu," said Nisogaabo Ikwe Melonee Montano, a member of the <a href="http://redcliff-nsn.gov/" target="_blank">Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior</a> Ojibwe and the traditional ecological knowledge outreach specialist at the <a href="https://www.glifwc.org/" target="_blank">Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission</a>.</p><p>An essential part of creating this menu was establishing deep relationships and trust among the 19 creators of the document, who included both tribal and non-tribal members.</p><p>"Early on we kind of started joking with each other that it was actually the TAM fam," Bresette said. "There has been reciprocity here, and there has been love for each other."</p>
Caught Between Conflicting Cultural Values<p>The TAM process centered native voices, but that is not always the case, even in tribal projects. Additionally, choices made by neighboring landowners can complicate work that tribes are doing.</p><p>Climate program leaders and resource managers at Red Cliff, Bad River, and Fond du Lac noted how much time they spend trying to prevent resource extraction companies from damaging their environment.</p><p>Andrews at Bad River is particularly <a href="https://www.wpr.org/bad-river-tribe-files-federal-lawsuit-against-enbridge" target="_blank">concerned</a> about the Line 5 natural gas and oil pipeline, operated by Enbridge, a Canadian energy company. The Bad River is eroding where it crosses the pipeline, particularly as heavy rainstorms become more frequent. The erosion is expected to expose the pipeline and put it at increased risk of breaking – worrisome as downstream of the intersection of the river and pipeline are the Kakagon Sloughs, a protected wetland and wild rice bed. It is a critical resource for the tribe.</p>
- Indigenous Solutions to Climate Crisis Could Lie in Archaeology ... ›
- 'Historic Moment' for Indigenous People at Climate Talks, New ... ›
- Why Defending Indigenous Rights Is Integral to Fighting Climate ... ›
Along many tropical shorelines, swampy mangrove forests create habitat for fish and buffer the impact of heavy waves.
A healthy coral reef is a noisy place.
- This Robot Is Delivering Coral Babies to the Great Barrier Reef ... ›
- The Great Barrier Reef is on a Knife Edge ›
- 2020 Great Barrier Reef Bleaching Event Is Most Widespread to Date ›
Before you pour a glass of wine, feel the weight of the bottle in your hand. Would you notice if it were a few ounces lighter? Jackson Family Wines is betting that you won't.
During summer in central New York, residents often enjoy a refreshing dip in the region's peaceful lakes.
But sometimes swimming is off-limits because of algae blooms that can make people sick.
- Algal Blooms Can be Deadly to Your Dogs - EcoWatch ›
- Every Mississippi Beach Is Closed Due to Toxic Algae - EcoWatch ›
- Toxic Algal Blooms Connected to Climate Change and Industrial ... ›
fotograzia / Getty Images
By Sara Peach
When your body gets too hot, you may experience a heat-related illness such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Such illnesses can be dangerous. In fact, on average, there are more heat-related deaths in the U.S. each year than hurricane- or flood-related fatalities combined.
But heat exhaustion and heat stroke are preventable. Read on for some do's and don'ts.
- Dangerous Heat Wave to Grip the U.S.: 10 Ways to Survive Extreme ... ›
- India Heat Wave Kills 800+ and Literally Melts the Roads - EcoWatch ›
- Top 10 Heat-Related Terms You Need to Pay Attention to While ... ›
As the climate warms, growing seasons are becoming more erratic. That uncertainty makes it harder for farmers to decide when to plant and harvest crops.