Climate Science Glossary

Term Lookup

Enter a term in the search box to find its definition.

Settings

Use the controls in the far right panel to increase or decrease the number of terms automatically displayed (or to completely turn that feature off).

Term Lookup

Settings


All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

Home Arguments Software Resources Comments The Consensus Project Translations About Donate

Twitter Facebook YouTube Pinterest

RSS Posts RSS Comments Email Subscribe


Climate's changed before
It's the sun
It's not bad
There is no consensus
It's cooling
Models are unreliable
Temp record is unreliable
Animals and plants can adapt
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
View All Arguments...



Username
Password
New? Register here
Forgot your password?

Latest Posts

Archives

OK global warming, this time it's personal!

Posted on 17 January 2011 by John Cook

I've just had an article "OK global warming, this time it's personal!" published at ABC Environment. In it, I look at connection between climate change and the Queensland floods. Here's an excerpt:

I've been blogging about climate for four years. Tapping away from my blogging dungeon in Brisbane, I've examined flooding in Pakistan, snowstorms in Europe, and sea-level rise in future decades. Then last week, flooding hit my hometown. Low-lying parts of the next suburb were evacuated. I heeded the Premier's advice to not go rubber-necking (although my inner voice tempted me with "do it for the blog"). It turns out I didn't need to step out my front door: YouTube revealed the full extent of the flooding in all nearby suburbs. As I watched disaster engulf my neighbourhood, I thought, "Okay global warming, this time it's personal!"

I confess, it was rather an emotional response. Any climate blogger worth his salt will jump down your throat if you dare to blame a particular weather event on climate change. Once I sat down and thought about it, I knew that asking, "Did climate change cause this event?" was not the right question. A more appropriate question is, "Does climate change have any effect on events like heavy rainfall?" The answer is yes.

More...

It's written in a slightly different style to the usual Skeptical Science fare (eg - more broad, not quite for climate geeks). I hope to soon post a more detailed examination of the science of extreme precipitation here. That article will have the climate geek factor turned back to maximum. :-)

0 0

Printable Version  |  Link to this page

Comments

Comments 1 to 48:

  1. An interesting read, John, fairly well written. Disappointing that the first comment allowed by the moderators was a denier throwing out the "it's natural" and "man has no influence" skeptic arguments. It'll be hard to counter the expected deluge of skeptic arguments without providing a bit more of the science, and in my experience, most 'lay people' just aren't interested in learning even the basics of the science behind global warming.
    0 0
  2. Good stuff John , well done - "don't get even, get mad" is always my motto. I don't understand how (as in the comment on your post) people can fail to understand that while yes indeed we have had a procession of La Ninas in the past (who knew?!) with attendant flooding, and a procession El Ninos, with attendant droughts, the problem is when you start getting RECORD La NInas and El Ninos. The reason they are breaking records (as in the nonsense concept of a "200 year flood" in Horsham) is that the effects are being boosted by warmer oceans and warmer air. Not that difficult a concept, surely.
    0 0
  3. Bern; that's what SkepticalScience is for. Most of the 'scientific' criticisms that are levelled at global warming are clearly covered by SkS by now. Or at least, an analogue is...
    0 0
  4. Brazil and Sri Lanka are currently getting walloped. The news over the past years has felt a little like I anticipated it would be in 2050 back when I found out about AGW in the late 80s. It seems to be happening much quicker than I used to think it would.
    0 0
  5. Well done John, excellent piece. Hopefully it will generate some good discussion on the ABC website. Seven years of drought, now record floods, it really looks like Climate change is beginning to bite. Unfortunately the first hit and the hardest hit will be the people who live in the "marginal" lands of outback Queensland. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a growing stream of people "evacuating" these areas in the next decade.
    0 0
  6. I was wondering about precipitation data for Queensland. The BOM provide a handy reference. Queensland recorded it's highest ever December rainfall anomaly last month. The positive trend since 1900 is small, and probably statistically insignificant (data is easily accessed from the links above and below). The trend is higher for January. Data for the current month is, of course, not yet available. Annual rainfall for Queensland has a stronger positive trend of 6cm over the century. The year of greatest rainfall was 2010, beating out 1950 by 7mm. I heard a Sydney shock jock excoriating Bob Brown (Greens party leader) today for linking the floods in Queensland with climate change. The data the announcer referred to was for Brisbane only, and he mentioned several more extreme precipitation events going back over a century. I am leery of connecting specific weather events to climate change. I am (pleasantly) surprised at how little the flooding in Queensland has been connected with global climate change in the mainstream media - the cause, I suspect, is not caution, but rather that there are more marketable grabs (human interest, damage and costs, civil scams and flood related policies). I do not know exactly what Brown said, but he would have had to have been quite discursive to have avoided propagandizing. The connection to climate change can only be gleaned from long-term data and analysis. The pages above are a good resource for anyone interested, capable and willing to do so.
    0 0
  7. For context, the global precipitation trend since 1900 is pretty clear. http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/service/global/global-prcp-anom/201001-201012.gif
    0 0
  8. Here in Brazil we're having a lot of floods and landslides due to heavy rain too. It looks like a specially "disastrous" year, but I don't know about our local long term trends, though.
    0 0
  9. While we cannot connect a single weather event conclusively to AGW, the list is starting to get pretty long. I think your opinion piece should have been more strongly worded. Scientists have been qualifying their data while the deniers claim certainty. Something like this quote from the WMO, then empnhasing that events match the IPCC projections: "While a longer time range is required to establish whether an individual event is attributable to climate change, the sequence of current events matches IPCC projections of more frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming." The general public perceives the qualifications by scientists as meaning the data is not clear. The data is clear: AGW has increased flooding and drought world wide. That fact needs to be emphasized in the first paragraph.
    0 0
  10. Michael, I'm sincerely interested in any drought data available for the globe and for Australia. I have difficulty finding such. Similarly with flooding. Precipitation records are much easier to come by.
    0 0
  11. #10 Have you tried: Global Drought Monitor? NOAA Drought Information Center provides data for US and a lot of background information.
    0 0
  12. Nice plain simple language John. Nicely portrays: more heat = more moisture in the air column = greater energy potential. Yes the land being baked dry does make a difference when it does downpour. The water can't sink into the soil so it piles up faster. I'm sure that's probably a factor in the Australian floods.
    0 0
  13. Good one, John. Great to get exposure on a 'mainstream' media outlet, except for the inevitable rise of zombie comments. A word of warming from US Gulf Coast hurricane experience -- after the flood, first come the home repair scam artists, then the cheesy lawyer commercials. I noticed when I posted this comment on Its not bad that the new term 'atmospheric river' is gaining traction as an observable characteristic of extreme rainfall events. While initially used to explain California flooding, a quick search shows that this phenom may be applicable to the Qland flooding as well. These ARs are highly visible on radar.
    0 0
  14. John, excellent piece. I think you covered all the bases nicely. Really, what you are saying is explained well by both the Clausius-Clapeyron equation and the equation for moist static energy (MSE = CpT +gz+Lr). In fact, Crook (1996) investigated the sensitivity of Convective Available Potential Energy (measure of buoyancy and updraft strength in thunderstorms) to small changes in the near-surface temperature and moisture. Through a scaling analysis of the equation for MSE he found that an increase in mixing ratio (r) of only 1 g/kg has about 2.5 times the effect on CAPE as increasing the surface temperature by 1 C. To keep things simple by keeping the vertical wind shear constant, a relatively small increases in low-level moisture in a convectively unstable environment can translate into a significant impact of thunderstorm intensity (and in turn increase precipitation rate).
    0 0
  15. CAPE and climate paper (I only read the abstract): http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=2345222 The bottom line of their study is pretty clear from the last few sentences: Although a prediction based on the change in moist adiabat matches the GCM simulation of climate change averaged over the tropical Pacific basin, it does not match the simulation regionally because small changes in the general circulation change the local boundary layer relative humidity by 1%-2%. Thus, the prediction of regional climate change in CAPE is also dependent on subtle changes in the dynamics. IOW, while it's hard to make the argument about a local event without studying the local weather, the argument can be made on average.
    0 0
  16. Reluctant as I am to link to the appalling Gerard Henderson, here is his take http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/eco-doomsayers-blind-to-history-unreliable-tipsters-20110117-19u0i.html, For good old Gerard nothing can ever go wrong with the environment, nothing humans can do can affect the environment, nothing that is happening now is of any concern because things have happened before, nothing happening now can possibly be relevant to anything, and there is absolutely no concern for the future - just as long as conservative policies are followed and nobody takes any notice of those environmentalists of course. A column every week in the SMH to spout this kind of garbage, and help to create a political environment where nothing will ever be done to protect the actual environment. Especially nothing to help stop global warming.
    0 0
  17. i tried to post a reply to that comment, but abc threw a wobbly at a post from england lol someone else will have to do it. good night/morning john, glad yous and yr town mostly ok (this time around).
    0 0
  18. Thanks, Mile. Data is from 1986, and the anomaly maps go as far back as 36 months, as far as I can make out. I'd like to find some longer term data.
    0 0
  19. What some people out there don't understand is this-its *not* just Queensland getting flooded. The whole of Eastern Australia has been hit, & now we hear about South America getting hit too-& just months after Pakistan suffered its worst floods in living memory. Yet still I hear people say "well its not as bad as the floods in 1974 or the 1800's" or "how can you blame this on global warming when you blamed the drought on global warming". I mean, seriously, are people *really* that dumb?
    0 0
  20. Bern #1 Yes, disappointing that the first comment was a denier. But every comment since then has been positive. The denier 'John Mac' might be feeling a little punch-drunk. Excellent post John.
    0 0
  21. Marcus, Yes, although it's not that they are dumb. It's a combination of the Dunning-Kueger effect, provincialism, apathy, scientific illiteracy and occasionally willful, even prideful ignorance, fed by a well-saturated misinformation campaign. It's the reason why Monckton is even given any consideration.
    0 0
  22. David Horton #15 "Reluctant as I am to link to the appalling Gerard Henderson" I thought that personal invective was banned on this site. This thread is indicative of the tendency to attack the person and not the argument. Monckton is an easy target. Tthe 'Skeptics' version of Al Gore - he is a skilled propagandist who uses every contrary indicator to support his line. Just like Al Gore used every pro-AGW argument and image to promote his piece of propaganda. I have one simple proposition for all the AGW climateers; "if the skeptic arguments are so transparently weak, why is a whole website such as this 'so far' excellent example needed to debunk them."
    0 0
  23. The difference, KL, is that AGW is supported by *all* the physical evidence, whereas Monckton's position is pure unadulterated Propaganda. Yet funny how the contrarians ignore the *many* *glaring* errors made by Monckton, yet rant & rave about even the most minor errors made by the other side. Of course, its not just Monckton who is engaging in blatant falsehoods-just look at the dodgy claims made by Ian Plimer & William Kinninmonth. Yet guess who gets all the air-time here in the mainstream media? Yep, people such as Monckton, Plimer & Kinninmonth. That is why we need an entire website to debunk them & their Zombie Memes!
    0 0
  24. Marcus@18: Some reference to data supporting Pakistan flooding in living memory. I have read numerous reports that this is the 3rd wettest La Nina in Aussie historical records. One example here: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/us_australia_floods
    0 0
  25. I do not think we should be asking 'does climate change have any affects on rainfall' The answer should be very obviouisly 'of course'. Weather such as winds and rain happen for one reason, and one reason only - because different parts of the planet are heating up at different rates. Co2 changes the rates at which different parts of the planet heat up, and I think it is absurd to think that such changes can happen without changing our weather patterns. Note that one of the popular skeptic positions is that Co2 really is a greenhouse gas, but due to negative feedbacks the amount of warming will be much lower than the IPCC predicts. I have never seen a mechanism for a negative feedback proposed that does not involve clouds or water vaour changes, and I've never heard, and cannot begin to imagine how such changes could occur without changing our rainfall patterns. The only question that makes any sense is 'how will our rainfall patterns change as the world warms'.
    0 0
  26. Ken Lambert says ... "if the skeptic arguments are so transparently weak, why is a whole website such as this 'so far' excellent example needed to debunk them." For the same reason this site exists, even though rational people know the world's not 6,000 years old and the T Rex was not vegetarian nor played with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: http://www.talkorigins.org/
    0 0
  27. John Cook, You have my sympathy for the distress that you are suffering. However I am encouraged to know that you are still out there blogging away. I wish I could offer you some comfort but science says "a warmer world is a wetter world".
    0 0
  28. "if the skeptic arguments are so transparently weak, why is a whole website such as this 'so far' excellent example needed to debunk them." Because, unfortunately, so many people are taken in by these, and more sophisticated arguments from skeptics. Gullibility or unskeptically accepting whatever reinforces a preferred of view is hardly limited to climate science, of course.
    0 0
  29. barry at 23:39 PM on 17 January, 2011, perhaps the best of all handy references that enables rainfall Australia wide to be put into perspective at a glance, is a wall chart published by Queensland Natural Resources and Mines. Pictorially it displays annual rainfall Australia wide relative to historical records 1890 - 2004 with updates available for each succeeding year to present. Unfortunately it is no longer available as a wall chart as it would be of great assistance to those trying to interpret recent events in relation to historical records using graphs or statistics which don't convey the full picture and can easily be misinterpreted.
    0 0
  30. muoncounter at 03:22 AM on 18 January, 2011 re "after the flood, first come the home repair scam artists, then the cheesy lawyer commercials" The changes AGW have wrought! In earlier times it was astute stockmen that came after the flood, bringing large cattle herds to fatten on their way to market, grazing the prolific grasses that grew as the flood waters receded from the natural flood plains, leaving newly moistened and nutrient rich soil that early fortunes were made upon.
    0 0
  31. Very good article, John. I can relate, feeling a bit punch drunk myself after our area has been hit by drought bringing heat extreme records, more major fires than ever burning vast areas (I don't think there's a patch of forest within 300k of here that hasn't been burnt by bushfire since 2003 and we're on the edge of the heavily forested Great Divide). Now two floods in as many months with some major highways damaged and not fully open since September (nothing like Qld or north and west Vic). @ Ken Lambert, this site is brilliant and provides an excellent service in explaining the complexity of climate. It's mainly for people who want to learn about climate and related matters, how and why the climate is changing and what effect it's having more broadly. However, even someone having similar attitudes to yours would be able to learn about climate from exploring this site, if they wished.
    0 0
  32. sout #30 Indeed sout, there are many things to be learned not only from the owner of this site - but from the better informed contributors. I spent about 12 months reading many papers and engaging in heavy duty discussions on climte change and the science behind it before feeling competent enough to make comments in these threads. There are some very valuable technical discussions with many references to recent research made by others expert in their specialties. The last few months have seen these really top quality discussions degenerate somewhat into repetitive postings by the owner and more politicized and personalized themes which started with Climategate revisited and has continued with stalking horses such as Monckton. I will suggest this though - when an amateur with a HP calculator and reasonable grasp of thermodynamics such as myself, can find real inconsistenies and holes in the climate science information presented on this site - and not be effectively refuted by the resident experts and publishers - there is a serious question as to the quality of the climate science on offer.
    0 0
  33. #21 KL: The difference is that Gore got most of the science right; Monckton regularly gets all the science wrong. But don't get the climate science position from a film, from a lunatic, or from wingnut denier sites, go get it from the people who have been studying it for their whole professional careers, ie the climate scientists. They are almost universally of one mind on the basics of the subject. And no, you have not succeeded in identifying real inconsistencies in climate science, you just think you have...
    0 0
  34. If you are even half as good at this as you think you are, Ken, why don't you submit an article here rather than constantly sniping from the side-lines ?
    0 0
  35. Ken@31: I agree. There are many holes in the AGW theory. One of the main things that a lot of people tend to forget is that GCM's are not ready for prime time, but are useful as a tool to eventually show more of what we don't know about climate.
    0 0
  36. Camburn, I think a critique of climate models should go here: climate-models-intermediate.htm
    0 0
    Moderator Response: Absolutely. Thank you for helping wrangle!
  37. johnd #28 Excellent chart - is there an electronic copy available?
    0 0
  38. John, I'd sort of assumed your observation that increasing SST is acting as an engine for these extreme rainfall events was correct, the basic premise sounds good. But it's one thing to put forward a plausible physical process and another to show that it has any significant impact in the real world. The BOM data (see #6) doesn't seem to show any simple relationship between SST and rainfall. There's still a better relationship between rainfall and variations in the Pacific Ocean that amount to far more than just SST changes. But we can save this argument for when you produce your more sciencey article. Hopefully you can show then not just a plausible physical process but that that process is working it's self out in the real world. (I'll try back up my own vague comments then as well)
    0 0
  39. John, In case you like seeing your personal natural disaster from above, here's an ISS photo. Full scale available here.
    0 0
  40. I am very sorry for what you are going through and can empathize after living through several hurricanes. But, flooding worse than this has occurred before hasn't it?
    0 0
  41. Marvin @ 40 - But, flooding worse than this has occurred before hasn't it? Definitely, earlier "Hothouse" phases in Earth's past would have seen tremendous flooding, but not during the last few hundred years of European settlement. See here for further information: 2010: A Year of Record Warmth and Weird Weather In short work to mitigate flood events has been partially successful. The 2011 Brisbane Flood would have been far worse otherwise. Yours is clearly an erroneous argument in need of it's own rebuttal. One is in the works.
    0 0
  42. Rob @ 40 What type of mitigation has been done? Is there any record of the amount of rainfall over the drainage basin to compare the 1800's events to 1900's events and on into the 2000's.
    0 0
  43. @42 Here's one form of mitigation :"Wivenhoe Dam was built in response to the 1974 Brisbane flood"
    0 0
  44. Marvin. Have a good look at that graphic. There are several mitigation items. 1. One large dam was built in the 60s. The idea being that water storage was needed for the growing population and it would be handy to have the capacity to restrict an 1890's style flood associated with a cyclone. 2. Whoops! 1974 cyclone causes widespread flooding in Brisbane despite the dam. So a newer bigger dam (Wivenhoe) was added to the river system. 3. Sensible city management spends millions and millions of dollars over decades on enhanced storm/floodwater drainage systems for the city and suburbs. 4. Along comes an extremely wet 2010 - soils throughout the various catchments saturated. Then torrential downpours (without any driving force such as a cyclone) devastate large areas in the first weeks of 2011. 5. The dams were managed to avoid and restrict flooding and hold back maximum flow. Eventually there's just too much water. Despite the dams holding back about 3 Sydney Harbours worth of water, Brisbane still floods at close to an 1890s level. But it does so at least a week later than it would have otherwise. If the rain had eased in those last couple of days, there would have been very little flooding. I'm no expert, but that's my reading from the experts I have read. If you can find an alternative explanation for floods of this magnitude in the absence of a cyclone, with a modern city well-managed with drainage systems and massive dams to restrain vast quantites of water, go right ahead.
    0 0
  45. As for your rainfall questions. (Remember always there was *no* cyclone in Dec10 or leading up to the floods in Jan11.) "Brisbane experienced its wettest December since 1859" From this Wiki page. It's worth having a quick read just to get the picture of how widespread this series of events was. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010%E2%80%932011_Queensland_floods
    0 0
  46. MichaelM and Adelady, Thanks for your civil replies to an honest question. Damage from our flooding is generally compounded by the loss of wetlands, inadequate maintenance of levees, straightening of rivers, and increasing impervious ground cover which greatly reduces absorption rates. All caused directly by man's activities. Rob Painting, You clearly misunderstood my one question aligned with that graph which only goes back to 1840 when we have accurate measurements by gauges of river height. I was not referring to any further back. Is there any research to what was happening in the 1840 to 1900 time period which showed greater frequency (18 floods) and intensity of flooding (8 major)? There were 7 floods between 1900 and 1960 with one tickling the major category. And, between 1960 to current there were 8 floods with 2 being major. So, there was a lull in the middle set of years and then flooding activity picked up again, but never reached the levels of the 1800's. Flood control began in the 60's with improvements being made throughout the recent decades. Any direction on this would be appreciated. And, I am not trying to be rude or insensitive. I lived through the 18 foot storm surge of Hurricane Hugo in 1988. We still don't look the same down there.
    0 0
  47. Marvin Gardens @ 46 - You clearly misunderstood my one question aligned with that graph which only goes back to 1840 when we have accurate measurements by gauges of river height. I was not referring to any further back No misunderstanding. I was just highlighting that much worse floods are likely to have happened when the Earth was warmer. Suggest you pay a visit here: By Brisbane Waters. And post your question. Tom seems to have detailed knowledge of the Brisbane catchment area.
    0 0
  48. Rob, thanks for the pitch :) In responce to Marvin Gardens original question, the important graphic is this one, which shows the heights various historical floods would have reached if the current dams had already been built. For comparison, the 2011 flood came to a level of 4.48 meters. If you allow for the effect of Somerset dam alone, only four floods in the 1890's would have shown up as significant floods, 1841, the two largest floods of 1893, and possibly 1824. With the exception of 1893, which was exceptional in many respects, the record in the 19th century is not much different from that in the 20th. (Note, flood levels were lowered even before the construction of Somerset Dam by the dredging of the Brisbane River at around 1900.) If you allow for the effects of both Somerset and Wivenoe Dams, only one flood since settlement would have qualified as a major flood, that of 2011 (although 1974 comes with 2 cm's of qualifying). 1893 was a freak year because Brisbane was impacted by the effects of two cyclones in less than a month. Although neither of the 1893 floods would have been as bad as 2011 by itself, the combined effect probably still makes 1893 the worst year for Brisbane flooding, even once the effects of the dams are included.
    0 0

You need to be logged in to post a comment. Login via the left margin or if you're new, register here.



The Consensus Project Website

THE ESCALATOR

(free to republish)


© Copyright 2020 John Cook
Home | Links | Translations | About Us | Privacy | Contact Us