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  • richardmitnick 12:59 pm on November 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R), , Weather   

    From NASA: “GOES-R” 

    NASA image

    No writer credit

    Artist’s rendering of GOES-R. Credits: NASA

    The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R) is the next generation of geostationary weather satellites, planned for launch in 2016. The advanced spacecraft and instrument technology used on the GOES-R series will result in more timely and accurate forecasts and warnings. It will improve support for the detection and observations of meteorological phenomena that directly affect public safety, protection of property, and ultimately, economic health and development.

    The GOES-R series is a collaborative development and acquisition effort between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. The GOES-R satellite, the first of the series, will provide continuous imagery and atmospheric measurements of Earth’s Western Hemisphere and space weather monitoring.

    The GOES-R spacecraft is designed for 10 years of on-orbit operation preceded by up to five years of on-orbit storage. The satellite will be able to operate through periodic station-keeping and momentum adjust maneuvers, which will allow for near-continuous instrument observations.

    GOES-R with Earth in the background. Credits: NASA

    The GOES-R instrument suite consists of Earth sensing, solar imaging, and space environment measurement payloads. There are six primary instruments: the Advanced Baseline Imager; the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors, which includes an Extreme Ultraviolet Sensor, X-Ray Sensor, EUVS/XRS Electrical Box, and Sun Positioning Sensor; the Geostationary Lightning Mapper; the Magnetometer; the Space Environment In-Situ Suite, which includes an Energetic Heavy Ion Sensor, Magnetospheric Particle Sensor – Low Energy Range, Magnetospheric Particle Sensor – High Energy Range, Solar and Galactic Proton Sensor, and Data Processing Unit; and the Solar Ultraviolet Imager.

    The Launch Vehicle that will place GOES-R into geosynchronous orbit will be an Atlas V 541 expendable launch vehicle out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

    GOES-R will help meteorologists observe and predict local weather events, including thunderstorms, tornadoes, fog, flash floods, and other severe weather. In addition, GOES-R will monitor hazards such as aerosols, dust storms, volcanic eruptions, and forest fires and will also be used for space weather, oceanography, climate monitoring, in-situ data collection, and for search and rescue.

    The GOES system currently consists of GOES-13 operating as GOES-East in the eastern part of the constellation and GOES-15, operating as GOES-West. The GOES-R series will maintain the 2-satellite system implemented by the current GOES series. The GOES-R Series operational lifetime extends through December 2036.

    Learn more at http://www.goes-r.gov
    Related Links for GOES-R

    See the full article here .

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    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

  • richardmitnick 7:52 am on October 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Weather   

    From ESA: “SMOS meets ocean monsters” 

    European Space Agency

    30 September 2015


    ESA’s SMOS and two other satellites are together providing insight into how surface winds evolve under tropical storm clouds in the Pacific Ocean. This new information could to help predict extreme weather at sea.

    This year, a particularly strong El Niño is resulting in much higher surface ocean temperatures than normal. The surplus heat that is being drawn into the atmosphere is helping to breed tropical cyclones – Pacific Ocean monsters. With eight major hurricanes already, this year’s hurricane season is the fifth most active in the Eastern Tropical Pacific since 1971.

    At the end of August, three category-4 hurricanes developed in parallel near Hawaii.

    Hurricane triplets

    A collage from NASA’s Terra satellite captured the Kilo, Ignacio and Jimena hurricanes beautifully.

    NASA Terra satellite

    However, a special set of eyes is needed to see through the clouds that are so characteristic of these mighty storms so that the speed of the wind at the ocean surface can be measured.

    This information is essential to forecast marine weather and waves, and to predict the path that the storm may take so that mariners receive adequate warning of danger.

    The microwave detector on SMOS yields information on soil moisture and ocean salinity. Going beyond its original scientific objectives, ESA pioneered the application of SMOS measurements to study wind speeds over the ocean.

    Hurricanes change temperature of sea surface

    Taking this even further, measurements from two other satellites, NASA’s SMAP and Japan’s GCOM-W, which carry differing low-frequency microwave instruments, are being used with readings from SMOS to glean new information about surface winds under hurricanes.



    Combining data from multiple satellites in this way provides a unique view of how the surface wind speed evolves under tropical storms in unprecedented detail. This will greatly improve the information on the initial conditions of tropical cyclones fed into weather forecasting, and hence their prediction.

    Scientists from Ifremer in France and the Met Office in the UK are assessing these new data and how they could be integrated into hurricane forecasting.

    Measurements of sea-surface temperatures reveal cold-water wakes trailing the three recent hurricanes, highlighting the power these winds have in stirring the upper ocean and bringing cooler deep waters to the surface.

    See the full article here .

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 12:51 pm on August 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Weather   

    From CSIRO: “Explainer: El Niño and La Niña” 

    CSIRO bloc

    Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

    June 20, 2014
    Author: Carol Saab
    By Jaci Brown, CSIRO

    Australia’s weather is influenced by warm water movements in the Pacific. Image: Flickr / Shayan USA, CC BY

    We wait in anticipation of droughts and floods when El Niño and La Niña are forecast but what are these climatic events?

    The simplest way to understand El Niño and La Niña is through the sloshing around of warm water in the ocean.

    The top layer of the tropical Pacific Ocean (about the first 200 metres) is warm, with water temperatures between 20C and 30C. Underneath, the ocean is colder and far more static. Between these two water masses there is a sharp temperature change known as the thermocline.

    Winds over the tropical Pacific, known as the trade winds, blow from east to west piling the warm top layer water against the east coast of Australia and Indonesia. Indeed, the sea level near Australia can be one metre higher than at South America.

    Warm water and converging winds near Australia contribute to convection, and hence rainfall for eastern Australia.

    La Niña. Image: US National Weather Service

    In a La Niña event, the trade winds strengthen bringing more warm water to Australia and increasing our rainfall totals.

    El Niño. Image: US National Weather Service

    In an El Niño the trade winds weaken, so some of the warm water flows back toward the east towards the Americas. The relocating warm water takes some of the rainfall with it which is why on average Australia will have a dry year.

    In the Americas El Niño means increased rainfall, but it reduces the abundance of marine life. Typically the water in the eastern Pacific is cool but high in nutrients that flow up from the deep ocean. The warm waters that return with El Niño smother this upwelling.

    Have El Niño and La Niña always been around?

    El Niño and La Niña are a natural climate cycle. Records of El Niño and La Niña go back millions of years with evidence found in ice cores, deep sea cores, coral and tree rings.

    El Niño events were first recognised by Peruvian fisherman in the 19th century who noticed that warm water would sometimes arrive off the coast of South America around Christmas time.

    Because of the Christmas timing they called this phenomenon El Niño, meaning “boy child”, after Jesus. La Niña, being the opposite, is the “girl child”.

    Predicting El Niño and La Niña

    Being able to predict an El Niño event is a multi-million, possibly billion dollar question.

    The drought hit Wagga Wagga, NSW, in 2006. Image: Flickr / John Schilling, CC BY-NC-ND

    Reliably predicting an impending drought would allow for primary industries to take drought protective action and Australia to prepare for increased risk of dry, hot conditions and associated bushfires.

    Unfortunately each autumn we hit a “predictability barrier” which hinders our ability to predict if an El Niño might occur.

    In autumn the Pacific Ocean can sit in a state ready for an El Niño to occur, but there is no guarantee it will kick it off that year, or even the next.

    Nearly all El Niños are followed by a La Niña though, so we can have much more confidence in understanding the occurrence of these wet events.

    A variety of events

    Predictability would be even easier if all El Niños and La Niñas were the same, but of course they are not.

    Not only are the events different in the way they manifest in the ocean, but they also differ in the way they affect rainfall over Australia – and it’s not straightforward.

    The exceptionally strong El Niños of 1997 and 1982 have now been termed Super El Niños. In these events the trade winds weaken dramatically with the warm surface water heading right back over to South America.

    Recently a new type of El Niño has been recognised and is becoming more frequent.

    This new type of El Niño is often called an El Niño Modoki – Modoki being Japanese for “similar, but different”.

    In these events the warm water that is usually piled up near Australia heads eastward but only makes it as far as the central Pacific. El Niño Modoki occurred in 2002, 2004 and 2009.

    (a) Australian rainfall in 1998 La Niña (May 1998 to March 1999), (b) the 1997 Super El Niño (April 1997 to March 1998), © the 1982 Super El Niño (April 1982 to February 1983) and (d) the 2002 El Niño Modoki (March 2002 to January 2003). Image: (c) Bureau of Meteorology

    Australian rainfall is affected by all its surrounding oceans. El Niño in the Pacific is only one factor.

    As a general rule though, the average rainfall in eastern and southern Australia will be lower in an El Niño year and higher in a La Niña. The regions that will experience these changes and the strength are harder to pinpoint.

    El Niño and climate change

    It is not yet clear how climate change will affect El Niño and La Niña. The events may get stronger, they may get weaker or they may change their behaviour in different ways.

    Some research is suggesting that Super El Niños might become more frequent with climate change, while others are hypothesising that the recent increase in El Niño Modoki is due to climate change effects already having an impact.

    Because climate change in general may decrease rainfall over southern Australia and increase potential evaporation (due to higher temperatures) then it would be reasonable to expect that the drought induced by El Niño events will be exacerbated by climate change.

    Given that we are locked into at least a few degrees of warming over the coming century, it’s hard not to fear more drought and bushfires for Australia.

    See the full article here.

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    CSIRO campus

    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

  • richardmitnick 8:11 pm on July 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Weather   

    From R&D: “How clouds get their brightness” 


    Mary Beckman, PNNL

    The Southern Ocean’s clouds can cool the Earth by reflecting sunlight that would otherwise be absorbed by the darker ocean below. Phytoplankton help with that. Image: NASA

    How clouds form and how they help set the temperature of the earth are two of the big remaining questions in climate research. Now, a study of clouds over the world’s remotest ocean shows that ocean life is responsible for up to half the cloud droplets that pop in and out of existence during summer.

    The study, which appears online in Science Advances, combines computer modeling with satellite data over the Southern Ocean, the vast sea surrounding Antarctica. It reveals how tiny natural particles given off by marine organisms—airborne droplets and solid particles called aerosols—nearly double cloud droplet numbers in the summer, which boosts the amount of sunlight reflected back to space. And for the first time, this study estimates how much solar energy that equates to over the whole Southern Ocean.

    “It is a strong effect,” said climate scientist Susannah Burrows at the Dept. of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “But it makes sense because most of the area down there is ocean, with strong winds that kick up a lot of spray and lots of marine microorganisms producing these particles. And continental aerosol sources are mostly so far away that they only have a limited impact. Really the marine aerosols are running the show there.”

    Burrows and co-author Daniel McCoy at the Univ. of Washington worked with other colleagues from the Univ. of Leeds, Los Alamos National Laboratory, UW and PNNL to explore the atmospheric show-runners.

    Ocean born

    Although the Southern Ocean’s borders have yet to be settled on by the International Hydrographic Organization, it comprises the southernmost parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and is one of the cloudiest places on Earth. Important to the Southern Hemisphere’s atmospheric and oceanic circulation, Southern Ocean clouds might also help determine how sensitive Earth is to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in its atmosphere.

    But to understand that climate sensitivity, scientists need to improve their understanding of how tiny aerosol particles brighten clouds by serving as seeds for cloud droplets. Over land, aerosols arise from vegetative matter, pollution, and dust. Sea spray shoots sea salt—a large source of ocean aerosols—into the atmosphere, but marine organisms also produce aerosols, most of which evaporate into the air.

    But studying marine aerosols has been hard because they get overpowered by man-made pollutants in measurements near coastlines. Even so, studying marine aerosols in the Southern Ocean has been difficult as well. Satellites can’t tell different kinds of aerosols apart, and past satellite measurements of cloud droplets in regions near the poles had seasonal issues.

    Aerosols have their own issues. Sea salt is one aerosol, and the ocean harbors marine organisms called phytoplankton that ultimately yield two more kinds of aerosols important to cloud formation—sulfates and organic matter aerosols. Previous studies, however, only examined how cloud droplet numbers correlated with chlorophyll—an easy-to-measure molecule involved in photosynthesis that gives plants their green color—as a proxy for marine life and were unable to nail down the individual roles of actual aerosols.

    To flesh out the role of different aerosols, Burrows and colleagues used computer models to simulate both organic matter and sulfates, as well as sea salt. In addition, Burrows, McCoy and colleagues turned to a new set of satellite [? what satellite] measurements of cloud droplets. The data set fixes the seasonal issues with the Southern Ocean and covers the latitudes between 35 degrees south and 55 degrees south.

    “Satellite data allows us to observe events that occur over the course of months and on a scale of thousands of kilometers in the remotest regions on the planet,” said UW’s McCoy. “It really gives us an unparalleled glimpse of the Earth System’s complexity.”

    Summer fun

    The team gathered simulated data of the three aerosols separately, taking sulfates and sea salt concentrations from a suite of computer models called AeroCom. The organic matter aerosols were trickier, and they used a computer model that simulated the presence of organic matter within sea spray, rather than the aerosols themselves.

    Comparing the concentrations of all three ocean-derived components with satellite measurements of cloud droplets allowed the researchers to write a new mathematical equation of how the sulfates and organic matter related to cloud droplet concentrations. Plugging simulated aerosol data into their new model, the researchers found it recreated the actual cloud droplet data well.

    An analysis of this model suggested that sea salt was the biggest source of aerosols in the ocean, contributing the most aerosols around which cloud droplets formed. And it was also the most uniform, contributing about the same number all year round.

    The organic matter and sulfate aerosols, however, yielded more cloud droplets over summer than winter, as expected since the ocean receives more sunlight for organisms to grow in the summer. The sulfates, in addition, had a bigger effect than organic matter.

    “The return of light in the summer ignites an amazing flurry of activity in phytoplankton communities across the Southern Ocean. This seasonality leads to an enhancement in cloud brightness when it will be able to reflect the most sunlight,” said UW’s McCoy.

    Lastly, the scientists also found that sulfates and organic matter work to some extent independently of each other to increase the concentration of cloud droplets.

    Overall, the aerosols given off by marine organisms almost doubled the cloud droplet concentration during the summer. This in turn increased the amount of sunlight reflected back into space by about 4 watts per square meter over the course of the year. Understanding the amount of energy that clouds over the Southern Ocean reflect might help researchers assess how well climate models are able to capture the effects of these marine particles on clouds.

    “Phytoplankton in the oceans are a really important source for cloud-droplet-forming aerosols in remote marine air, and we can see the effect they have on clouds is big,” said Burrows. “Southern Ocean clouds play a large role in the global climate, and hopefully this will help us get a better sense of how sensitive the Earth is to greenhouse gases.”

    Because it’s harder to see the effects of marine aerosols in other parts of the world, the researchers will be able to use what they’ve learned about the mechanism and strength of the aerosol interactions with clouds to apply to studies in other regions.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 12:53 pm on March 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Weather   

    From NASA Earth: “Cyclone Pam Devastates Port Vila” 

    NASA Earth Observatory

    NASA Earth Observatory

    acquired March 13, 2015
    acquired March 13, 2015

    Cyclone Pam was heading in a southwesterly direction when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this image at 1:30 p.m. local time (2:20 Universal Time) on March 13, 2015.


    NASA Aqua satellite

    Not long after the image was acquired, the storm struck the island of Efate, which is home to Vanuatu’s capital city, Port Vila.

    The eastern side of Efate likely took the strongest hit from the cyclone’s eyewall, but Port Vila, which is on the southwestern side of the island, faced extremely destructive conditions. As the storm approached the city, it had sustained winds up to 265 kilometers (165 miles) per hour, making it the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane. Dozens of people are feared dead and forecasters expect flooding and catastrophic damage in the city.

    On the same day, another major tropical cyclone—Category 3 Olwyn—made landfall in Western Australia near the city of Carnarvon. The lower image was acquired at 10:55 am local time (2:55 UTC) by the MODIS on NASA’s Terra satellite. Thousands of people in Carnarvon lost power as a result of the storm, which weakened as it pushed inland.

    It has been an unusually busy week for tropical cyclones in the vicinity of Australia. The mosaic below shows three storms—Pam, Nathan, and Olwyn—swirling near the continent on March 11, 2015. The mosaic is based on data collected during three orbital passes of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on Suomi NPP. Other satellite instruments that can observe more of Earth’s surface at once captured views with a fourth tropical cyclone. The fourth storm, Bavi, is in the Pacific Ocean well north of Pam.

    acquired March 11, 2015

    NASA images courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. NASA VIIRS image by Jesse Allen, using data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership.


    Suomi NPP is the result of a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Defense.

    See the full article here.

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    The Earth Observatory’s mission is to share with the public the images, stories, and discoveries about climate and the environment that emerge from NASA research, including its satellite missions, in-the-field research, and climate models. The Earth Observatory staff is supported by the Climate and Radiation Laboratory, and the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory located at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

    • Matthew Wright 2:12 pm on March 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      That cyclone is horrendous – it’s devastated Vanuatu and Port Vila, with people missing and dead according to this morning’s reports. And it’s on its way south to New Zealand, where we have cyclone warnings already in place for the northern and eastern parts of the country. These NASA pictures, to me, bring home the raw scale of the whole thing – really showing just what a huge scale disaster this weather pattern is.


    • richardmitnick 2:26 pm on March 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it very much. Of course, as in all natural disasters, we hope for the best and for speedy recovery, and we mourn those lost.


  • richardmitnick 5:45 am on March 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Weather   

    From NASA Earth: “In a Warming World, Storms May Be Fewer but Stronger” 

    NASA Earth Observatory

    NASA Earth Observatory

    March 5, 2013
    By Adam Voiland
    Design by Robert Simmon

    Scientists Investigate How Climate Change Affects Extreme Weather

    Few images are as beautiful and as terrifying as a satellite view of a hurricane about to make landfall. On October 29, 2012, the Suomi NPP satellite captured an ominous nighttime view of Sandy—an enormous hybrid storm that was part hurricane, part Nor‘easter—churning off the coast of New Jersey.

    Hurricane Sandy approaches the Atlantic coast of the U.S. in the early morning hours of October 29, 2012. (NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using VIIRS Day-Night Band data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership.)

    NASA Suomi NPP satellite
    NASA Suomi NPP satellite

    The string of city lights that stretches from Washington to Boston was mostly gone, blanketed by thick, ghostly storm clouds. One of the most brightly lit cities in the world, New York, was little more than a faint smudge through Sandy’s clouds.

    In a matter of hours, that smudge of light would go dark. Large swaths of Manhattan were under water. The Rockaways were on fire. Rooftops along the New Jersey shore became temporary islands for people escaping a wall of seawater that surged inland.

    Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to much of lower Manhattan, New York. (Photograph ©2012 Several seconds.)

    “If you look at the unique set of circumstances in which Sandy emerged and you know something about meteorology and climate,” says Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia, “it’s hard not to ask yourself these kinds of questions.”

    Research meteorologist Marshall Shepherd compares climate change and weather extremes to steroids and baseball. “Some influence was surely there, but we have more work to do before we can say precisely what percentage.” (Photograph courtesy Marshall Shepherd, University of Georgia Atmospheric Sciences Program.)

    Sandy is not the only recent storm to make people ask questions about climate change and weather. In 2010, an epic winter storm dubbed “Snowmageddon” dumped more than half a meter (2 feet) of snow across many parts of the U.S. East Coast. And in April 2011, tornadoes killed more than 364 Americans—the most ever in a month. The rash of twisters etched scars of destruction on the landscape so long and wide that they could be seen from space. The United States set records in 2011 and 2012 for the number of weather disasters that exceeded $1 billion in losses; most were storms.

    Hackleburg High School in Alabama was destroyed by a tornado in April 2011. (Photograph courtesy Federal Emergency Management Agency.)

    All of these weather events have happened as the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been rising higher than it has been for at least 100,000 years. Scientists are nearly certain that the buildup of carbon dioxide has already sparked changes in Earth’s atmosphere and ecosystems. The lowest layer of the atmosphere (the troposphere) has warmed markedly, especially at high latitudes. So have the world’s oceans. Heat waves and droughts have grown more likely and more extreme. Arctic ice is melting at a record pace, and the snowy landscapes of the far north have started melting earlier each year.

    Given all the change that has already take place, it’s reasonable to wonder if climate change has affected storms as well. “After the tornadoes in 2011, I was flooded with calls from reporters,” says Anthony Del Genio, a climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). “People wanted quick, definitive answers. The trouble is that’s not where the science is.”

    Historically, research on tornadoes, hurricanes, and other types of storms has focused on short-term forecasting, not on understanding how storms are changing over time. Reliable, long-term records of storms are scarce, and the different reporting and observing methods have left many scientists and meteorologists feeling skeptical. But the study of storminess and climate has begun to mature, says Del Genio, and a consensus is emerging: for several types of storms, global warming may prime the atmosphere to produce fewer but stronger storms.
    Storms are Getting Stronger

    What exactly does it mean for storms to get “stronger”? Does it mean faster winds? A larger wind field? Lower pressure at the center? More rain and snowfall? Higher storm surges?

    “You have to remember that storms aren’t one-dimensional,” says Del Genio. “There are many types of storms, and sorting out how aspects of each type respond to warming is where the science really gets interesting.”

    As Sandy was moving up the U.S. East Coast, unusually warm ocean temperatures allowed the storm to stay strong after it left tropical waters. (Map by Robert Simmon, using data from the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory.)

    Rising sea levels exacerbated Sandy’s storm surge, for example, a direct link between global warming and storm damage. And abnormally high sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic probably intensified the storm. But pinning all of Sandy’s fury—its hybrid nature, the scale of its winds, its unusual track—on global warming is premature, says Shepherd, the current president of the American Meteorological Society.

    Weather forecasters use terms like snowstorms, derechos, hailstorms, rainstorms, blizzards, low-pressure systems, lightning storms, hurricanes, typhoons, nor‘easters, and twisters. Research meteorologists and climatologists have a simpler way of dividing up the world’s storms: thunderstorms, tropical cyclones, and extra-tropical cyclones. All are atmospheric disturbances that redistribute heat and produce some combination of clouds, precipitation, and wind.

    Tropical cyclones, extra-tropical cyclones, and thunderstorms are the three fundamental types of storms studied by the climate change community. (Image ©2013 EUMETSAT.)

    EUMETSAT MeTop satellite
    EUMETSAT MeTop satellite

    Thunderstorms are the smallest type, and they are often part of the larger storm systems (tropical and extra-tropical cyclones). All storms require moisture, energy, and certain wind conditions to develop, but the combination of ingredients varies depending on the type of storm and local meteorological conditions.

    For example, thunderstorms form when a trigger—a cold front, converging near-surface winds, or rugged topography—destabilizes a mass of warm, humid air and causes it to rise. The air expands and cools as it ascends, increasing the humidity until the water vapor condenses into liquid droplets or ice crystals in precipitation-making clouds. The process of converting water vapor into liquid water or ice releases latent heat into the atmosphere. (If this doesn’t make sense, remember that the reverse—turning liquid water into water vapor by boiling it—requires heat).

    Storms feed off of latent heat, which is why scientists think global warming is strengthening storms. Extra heat in the atmosphere or ocean nourishes storms; the more heat energy that goes in, the more vigorously a weather system can churn.

    Thunderstorms derive their energy from the heat released by the condensation of water vapor. This “latent heat” energy drives thunderstorm clouds high into the atmosphere. Thunderstorms dissipate when the cold downdraft created by falling rain drops stifles rising warm air. (Image adapted from NOAA National Weather Service Life Cycle of a Thunderstorm.)

    Already, there is evidence that the winds of some storms may be changing. A study based on more than two decades of satellite altimeter data (measuring sea surface height) showed that hurricanes intensify significantly faster now than they did 25 years ago. Specifically, researchers found that storms attain Category 3 wind speeds nearly nine hours faster than they did in the 1980s. Another satellite-based study found that global wind speeds had increased by an average of 5 percent over the past two decades.

    There is also evidence that extra water vapor in the atmosphere is making storms wetter. During the past 25 years, satellites have measured a 4 percent rise in water vapor in the air column. In ground-based records, about 76 percent of weather stations in the United States have seen increases in extreme precipitation since 1948. One analysis found that extreme downpours are happening 30 percent more often. Another study found that the largest storms now produce 10 percent more precipitation.

    Increases in global temperature have raised atmospheric humidity. (Graph by Robert Simmon, based on data from the NOAA National Climatic Data Center.)

    William Lau, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, concluded in a 2012 paper that rainfall totals from tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic have risen at a rate of 24 percent per decade since 1988. The increase in precipitation doesn’t just apply to rain. NOAA scientists have examined 120 years of data and found that there were twice as many extreme regional snowstorms between 1961 and 2010 as there were from 1900 to 1960.

    But measuring a storm’s maximum size, heaviest rains, or top winds does not capture the full scope of its power. Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developed a method to measure the total energy expended by tropical cyclones over their lifetimes. In 2005, he showed that Atlantic hurricanes are about 60 percent more powerful than they were in the 1970s. Storms lasted longer and their top wind speeds had increased by 25 percent. (Subsequent research has shown that the intensification may be related to differences between the temperature of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.)
    Effects of the Temperature See-Saw

    If understanding the impact of global warming on storms were simply a matter of tallying up extra moisture, the answer would be pretty straightforward. However, reality is more complicated. Putting extra water vapor into the atmosphere is just one of the ways global warming is changing the planet. Another important factor is how the heat in the atmosphere is distributed.

    Since the mid Twentieth Century, average global temperatures have warmed about 0.6°C (1.1°F), but the warming has not occurred equally everywhere. Temperatures have increased about twice as fast in the Arctic as in the mid-latitudes. The loss of sea ice is a key reason why. Bright and reflective ice is giving way to darker, open ocean—amplifying the warming trend by absorbing more heat from the Sun. On the other hand, the abundance of convection and thunderstorms in the tropics contributes to a slower rate of warming by transporting heat away from the surface.

    Global temperatures from 2000–2009 were on average about 0.6°C higher than they were from 1951–1980. The Arctic, however, was about 2°C warmer. (NASA image by Robert Simmon, with GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP). data.)

    Climatologists think the differing rates of warming from the equator to the poles could have a significant impact on some types of storms. Extra-tropical cyclones, for example, harvest energy from the atmosphere when masses of warm and cold air interact along the polar front—the boundary between cooler polar air and warmer subtropical air. As the difference between the temperature at the poles and the tropics decreases, there could be less energy for these storms to absorb, a change that could weaken them or make them less frequent.

    Temperatures are warming more near the poles than near the equator. This plot shows the change in temperature versus latitude from 1880 to 2012. The reduced temperature contrast between high latitudes and the tropics likely weakens extra tropical cyclones. (NASA image by Robert Simmon, with GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP) data.)

    “Sorting out opposing factors is what makes this such a challenging problem,” Del Genio says. “And keep in mind that this is a simplification. These aren’t the only two factors involved.”

    Wind shear—a measure of how the speed and direction of winds differ at different levels of the atmosphere—complicates the picture because it can affect storms in a variety of ways. Tropical cyclones require weak wind shear; in other words, they need minimal differences in wind speeds at adjacent levels of the atmosphere. Strong wind shear tears tropical cyclones apart, preventing heat and moisture from organizing into a storm core.

    Research suggests that Atlantic wind shear could increase by 1 to 2 miles (1.6 to 3.2 kilometers) per hour for each degree that global temperatures increase. It’s this potential increase that explains why many climate simulators conclude that the number of tropical cyclones will stay the same or decrease even as the strongest storms get stronger. An article published in 2010 by a group of the world’s leading storm experts concluded that the average intensity of tropical cyclones will likely increase by 2 to 11 percent by 2100, but the overall frequency of storms will decrease between 6 and 34 percent.

    Hurricane Felix hovers over the Caribbean Sea, as viewed from the International Space Station on September 3, 2007. (Astronaut photograph ISS015-E-25054.)

    Another complicating factor is that the same changes in equator-to-pole temperatures that could influence storm formation could also affect the winds that steer them. For instance, jet streams—meandering streams of fast-moving air that play a key role in steering storms—could speed up or slow down. A sluggish jet stream would mean slower-moving storms that could dump heavier loads of rain and snow, especially in coastal areas.

    Preliminary research by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University suggests that the jet stream’s west-to-east winds have slowed and grown wavier since 1979 because of the loss of Arctic sea ice. Francis has argued that the changes may have contributed to extreme weather events in recent years by creating large dips or kinks in the jet stream—what meteorologists call “blocking” patterns.

    Blocking patterns are areas of persistently high pressure that often accompany extreme weather. It was a blocking high, for example, that led to long-lived downpours and devastating flooding in Pakistan in 2010. And it was a similar persistent blocking pattern that caused record melting in Greenland in the summer of 2012 and helped push Superstorm Sandy inland rather than out to sea.
    Competing Forces Muddle the Picture

    Although more rain and snow are falling from storms, it’s more difficult to say how global warming will affect the formation of those storms in the first place. “This would be a much easier nut to crack if the effects of warming all pointed to more frequent, stronger storms,” says Harold Brooks, a meteorologist at NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory. “Unfortunately, they don’t.”

    Though thunderstorms are familiar and seemingly non-threatening, severe thunderstorms—with sustained winds above 93 kilometers (58 miles) per hour or with unusually large hail—can lead to supercells, derechos, and tornadoes. Several key ingredients are required for severe thunderstorms, starting with the presence of warm, moist air near the surface and a store of potential energy once that air begins to rise. Meteorologists call this combination “convective available potential energy,” or CAPE. The higher the CAPE, the more potential an air mass has to create the towering cumulus clouds that create storms.

    Lightning only occurs in areas with strong convection. This map of lightning strike frequency from May 1995 through 2011 shows where severe weather occurs around the world. Scientists are using computer models to predict if global warming will cause an increase in the number and strength of thunderstorms. (NASA image by Robert Simmon, using data from the MSFC Global Hydrology Resource Center.)

    “CAPE can provide storms with the raw fuel to produce rain and hail,” says Brooks, “and vertical wind shear can pull and twist weak storms into strong, windy ones.”

    Climate change should, theoretically, increase potential storm energy by warming the surface and putting more moisture in the air through evaporation, Brooks explained. But on the other hand, disproportionate warming in the Arctic should lead to less wind shear in the mid-latitude areas prone to severe thunderstorms, making the storms less likely.

    In recent years, Del Genio conducted simulations to assess global warming’s impact on thunderstorms in the United States. Working with a climate model maintained by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, he found that the number of severe storms would not change much, but the strongest storms would have even stronger and more destructive winds.

    Another study, led by Robert Trapp of Purdue University, found that a doubling of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would significantly increase the number of days that severe thunderstorms could occur in the southern and eastern United States. Cities such as Atlanta and New York could see a doubling of the number of days that severe thunderstorms could occur, the models suggested. “The increase in CAPE more than compensated for the decrease in wind shear,” Trapp says.

    Detailed climate models of the United States are helping scientists determine the effect of future climate change on storms. These maps show the results of one model comparing the summer climate in 2072–2099 with the climate in 1962–1989. Convective available potential energy is predicted to rise enough to overwhelm a slight decrease in vertical wind shear, leading to an increase in severe thunderstorms, especially in Missouri and coastal North and South Carolina. (Images adapted from Trapp et al., 2007.)

    However, both scientists caution that there’s uncertainty in their findings because of the meager scientific attention thunderstorms have received. Unlike tropical cyclones, which climate researchers have studied intensely since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, only a handful of researchers have focused on the impact of global warming on severe thunderstorms.

    Then there are problems unique to tornadoes. Beyond knowing that they require a certain type of wind shear, meteorologists just don’t know much about why some thunderstorms generate tornadoes and others don’t. (Only about 1 percent of thunderstorms generate tornadoes.) “You can’t just take the results of the modeling for severe thunderstorms and assume they apply to tornadoes,” says Del Genio.

    Similar problems confound research about extra-tropical and tropical cyclones. Conventional wisdom holds that extra-tropical cyclones will be somewhat less likely in a warmer world because the differences in temperatures between the tropics and the Arctic—one of the key elements fueling extra-tropical storms—should decline.

    But again, there are competing forces. At higher altitudes in the upper troposphere—above 5 kilometers (3 miles)—the air is warming more quickly at the equator than at the poles. Since upper troposphere temperatures and winds are key to the formation of extra-tropical cyclones, changes at that level could counteract changes lower in the atmosphere.

    Can Models Provide an Answer?

    Due to gaps and limitations in historical records of storms, some scientists have turned to general circulation models (GCMs) for answers. GCMs are computer models that divide the globe up into three-dimensional grids, with the side of each box typically representing about 150 to 200 kilometers (90 to 125 miles) of the Earth. The conditions within each box are defined by equations that depict features of the oceans and atmosphere, such as temperature, humidity, pressure, and wind. The models also include factors that can affect those features, such as the concentration of greenhouse gases, the reflectivity of Earth’s surface, or the distribution of clouds or aerosols.

    New, high-resolution computer models are increasingly capable of resolving small features in the atmosphere. The GEOS-5 model, running at a resolution of 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) per grid cell, simulated the state of the atmosphere on January 2, 2009. (NASA image by Greg Shirah, GSFC Scientific Visualization Studio.)

    Models are useful because they make it possible to parse out how each different factor might influence climate in a given location. By adding, removing, and adjusting the variables, scientists can develop a deeper understanding of how the many pieces of the climate puzzle fit together.

    “Models allow us to test hypotheses and improve our understanding in ways that no other type of experiment can,” says Del Genio. “They are criticized for predicting things ‘wrong’ and for the lack of agreement between them. But a model simulation that predicts something incorrectly can be just as useful for revealing underlying processes as a model run that gets the ‘right’ answer.”

    Climate models are quite good at working out features of the atmosphere on a broad scale, and they do a reasonably good job of simulating large extra-tropical cyclones, which can stretch hundreds of kilometers. But they struggle to simulate hurricanes or thunderstorms, and they cannot produce key details (such as the heaviest bands of wind and rain) in extra-tropical storms. Hurricanes are generally about 150 kilometers (90 miles) across; an individual thunderstorm is usually less than 10 kilometers (6 miles). Both are smaller than the typical grid boxes in a climate model.

    Thunderstorms are smaller than the resolution of a typical global climate model. However, a new generation of regional models that include high-resolution, real-world data now provide scientists with a detailed look at thunderstorms and other small-scale features of the atmosphere. (Astronaut photograph ISS022-E-006510.)

    To address this problem, climate modelers have started to develop a new generation of models that reduce the size of the boxes in key regions by “downscaling.” One way they do this is by adding very detailed information about something that’s well known, like topography, into a low-resolution climate model. They also add ever-more detailed information from real-world satellites.

    “Downscaling to simulate storms is a bit like knowing that you have a low-resolution image of a face that’s so blurry you can hardly tell what it is,” explained Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “You take clues from a low-resolution image and then map them with other information about things like eye color, skin colors, and nose shapes to construct a more reasonable image of what the face really looks like.”

    Trapp’s research group at Purdue, for example, used downscaling to incorporate data from a coarse climate model into a finer-resolution weather forecasting model. This made it possible to resolve some individual thunderstorms in the central United States and even some of the smaller elements of storms. Overall, the model captured daily rainfall patterns with surprising accuracy over a ten-year period.

    “No model can predict the future perfectly,” says Del Genio. “But there’s no question that models are helping us with the underlying science.”

    In some cases, the work has just begun. While climatologists have extensively studied tropical storms, they’ve hardly studied some of the more exotic types of storms. Sandy, for example, began in the Caribbean as a typical tropical storm but then morphed into a “hybrid” with extra-tropical characteristics. While tropical cyclones draw their energy from warm ocean waters, extra-tropical cyclones are fueled by sharp temperature differences between fronts in the atmosphere. Sandy was able to tap energy from both sources, which is part of the reason it was so destructive.

    “No model can predict the future perfectly,” says Del Genio. “But there’s no question that models are helping us with the underlying science.” NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.)

    Shepherd does think warming had an influence on Sandy, but he advises against rushing to judgment. “We do not know whether superstorms like Sandy are harbingers of a ‘new normal’, he says. “It’s a bit like steroids usage and home run statistics for baseball. Some influence was surely there, but we have more work to do before we can say precisely what percentage of home runs were helped by steroids.”

    And then, of course, the inherent variability of the oceans and atmosphere means storm trends don’t follow straightforward patterns. After the record-shattering tornado outbreaks of 2011, for instance, the year 2012 was unusually quiet.

    “There was a strong impulse to over-interpret and attribute tornadoes to climate change in 2011,” says Del Genio. “2012 was a good reminder that we can’t do that. We have to be patient if we really want to understand the relationship between storms and climate. The attribution is about trends and understanding underlying processes. It is not about flagging individual events with some sort of scarlet letter.”

    Brooks, H. (2013, April 1) Severe thunderstorms and climate change. Atmospheric Research, 123, 129-138.
    Climate Central (2013, January 11) U.S. Sets Record for Days Without a Deadly Tornado. Accessed March 1, 2013.
    Cooney, C. (2012, January 1) Downscaling Climate Models: Sharpening the Focus on Local-Level Changes. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120 (1), 22-29.
    Del Genio, A. et al (2007, August 17) Will moist convection be stronger in a warmer climate? Geophysical Research Letters, 34 (16), 16703.
    Del Genio, A. (2011, April 16) Will a Warmer World Be Stormier? Earthzine. Accessed March 1, 2013.
    Diffenbaugh, N. et al (2012, December 19) Does Global Warming Influence Tornado Activity? Eos, 89 (53), 553-554.
    Emanuel, K. (2005, August 4) Increasing destructiveness of tropical cyclones over the past 30 years. Nature, 436, 686-688.
    Francis, J. and Vavrus, J. (2012, March 17) Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes. Geophysical Research Letters, 39 (6), 801.
    Kishtawal, C. et al (2012, May 26) Tropical cyclone intensification trends during satellite era (1986-2010). Geophysical Research Letters, 39 (10), 810.
    Knutson, T. et al (2010, February 21) Tropical cyclones and climate change. Nature Geoscience, 3, 157-163.
    Knutson, T. et al (2008, May 18) Simulated reduction in Atlantic hurricane frequency under twenty-first-century conditions. Nature Geoscience, 1, 359-364.
    Kunkel, K. et al (2012) Monitoring and Understanding Trends in Extreme Storms: State of the Knowledge. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
    Kunkel, K. et al (2010, December 23) Recent increase in U.S. heavy precipitation associated with tropical cyclones. Geophysical Research Letters, 37 (24), 706.
    Lau, W. and Zhou, Y. (2012, February 1) Observed recent trends in tropical cyclone rainfall over the North Atlantic and North Pacific. Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres. 117 (D3), 104.
    Masters, J. (2008, May 21) The future of wind shear. Weather Underground. Accessed March 1, 2013.
    Pryor, S. et al (2008, March 28). How spatially coherent and statistically robust are temporal changes in extreme precipitation in the contiguous USA? International Journal of Climatology, 29 (1), 31-45.
    Shepherd, M. and Knox, J. (2012, October 31) Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change. Project Syndicate. Accessed March 1, 2013.
    Slate (2012, October 29) Hybrid Hell. Accessed March 1, 2013.
    Trapp, R. et al (2007, December 4) Changes in severe thunderstorm environment frequency during the 21st century caused by anthropogenically enhanced global radiative forcing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104 (50), 19719-19723.
    Trapp, R. et al (2010, May 10) Regional climate of hazardous convective weather through high-resolution downscaling. Climate Dynamics, 37 (3-4), 677-688.
    Vecchi, G. and Soden, B. (2007, April 18) Increased tropical Atlantic wind shear in model projections of global warming. Geophysical Research Letters, 34 (8), 702.

    Further Reading
    Bengtsson, L. et al (2009, May) Will Extratropical Storms Intensify in a Warmer Climate? Journal of Climate, 22(9), 2276-2301.
    Champion, A. et al (2011, August 17) Impact of increasing resolution and a warmer climate on extreme weather from Northern Hemisphere extratropical cyclones. Tellus, 63 (5).
    Live Science (2012, September 7) Hurricanes Whip up Faster in a Warming World. Accessed March 1, 2013.
    Masters, J. (2010, March 3) The future of intense winter storms. Weather Underground. Accessed March 1, 2013.
    NOAA Severe Weather 101:Tornado Basics. Accessed March 1, 2013.
    NOAA Large-scale Climate Projections and Hurricanes. Accessed March 1, 2013.
    Ulbrich, U. et al (2009, January 17) Extra-tropical cyclones in the present and future climate: A review. Theoretical Applied Climatology, 98 (1-2), 117-131.
    University of Rhode Island Hurricane Science. Accessed March 1, 2013.

    See the full article here.

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    The Earth Observatory’s mission is to share with the public the images, stories, and discoveries about climate and the environment that emerge from NASA research, including its satellite missions, in-the-field research, and climate models. The Earth Observatory staff is supported by the Climate and Radiation Laboratory, and the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory located at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

  • richardmitnick 5:11 pm on February 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From The Siberian Times: “Concerns over future of joint Russian-American weather station” 

    Siberian Times

    The Siberian Times

    27 February 2015
    Olga Gertcyk

    Built just five years ago, western sanctions over Ukraine stop international cooperation at climate change research facility in Arctic.

    Opened less than five years ago in Tiksi, in the Russian Far East, observatory was the first major polar weather station to be built through such multi-national cooperation. Picture: Maxim Avdeev/Forbes

    The future of a climate change monitoring facility in the Arctic run jointly by Russia and the United States is under threat following tensions between the nations.

    The Hydrometeorological Observatory was developed through a partnership between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in America, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, and the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet).

    Opened less than five years ago in Tiksi, in the Russian Far East, it was the first major polar weather station to be built through such multi-national cooperation. It was installed with state-of-the-art equipment to take long-term environmental measurements, with the data made freely available to the international community.

    But with sanctions between the West and Russia following the Ukraine crisis, the future of the facility is now in question.

    All activity between nations at the observatory has been suspended after a decree by the US State Department banning any cooperation with Russian scientists on climate research.

    ‘There are difficulties in the relationships with the partners, first of all with the United States,’ said Alexander Frolov, the head of Roshydromet. ‘Officially, the State Department has banned cooperation on climate for government agencies such as NOAA with Roshydromet.

    ‘We are experiencing certain problems in this regard, since we had very good relations. The specialists from the United States are not experiencing any less problems because Tiksi is our very successful joint project.’

    He added: ‘I was approached by the president of the World Meteorological Organization. He is Canadian. I told him, ‘remove the sanctions and you get data’.’

    It was built with a 20metre-high tower, air sampling stacks and boardwalks to maintain the pristine environment, and it aims to keep track of weather patterns, atmospheric differences, and changes to the thickness of the ice and permafrost. Pictures: NOAA

    The new observatory was opened in August 2010 to compliment the facilities already in existence in the Arctic region to monitor climate change.

    Tiksi is one of the most northern settlements in Yakutia, also known as the Sakha Republic, and was established in 1933 as one of the points on the Northern Sea Route. Since 1957, the Polar Geo-cosmic Observatory has been operational there.

    According to Interfax, the US State Department ban led to the suspension of the American scientists’ work on atmospheric observatory.

    Now Russian staff left at the facility are uncertain as to what the future might hold. While they are not working directly with the Americans, data is still being collected and passed to the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St Petersburg and then on to foreign fellow researchers, including those at the NOAA.

    Yury Dikhtyarenko, deputy head of Yakut Hydromet Service, said: ‘We haven’t yet received any decrees from Roshydromet so at the moment I can’t say how it will affect the partnership.’

    Galina Chumachenko, head of Tiksi branch of the Yakut Hydromet Service, said: ‘We will keep sharing the data with scientists until we get official information. In the event a prohibition is launched, then the information from St Petersburg won’t be passed, and that’s it.’

    According to Chumachenko, it won’t affect meteorological forecasts because the American equipment is very particular and is mainly registering information on emissions and their concentration in the atmosphere.

    She doubts the equipment will be taken away. ‘First, it would be a very pricey procedure,’ she stressed. ‘Second, I think that the fellow American researchers are smart enough and won’t do that after five years of partnership.’

    There are about 870 climatic and atmospheric measuring stations in the world, of which 113 are Russian.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 6:41 am on February 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Discovery: “Does Historic Snow Mean Global Cooling? Not So Much” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Feb 9, 2015
    Patrick J. Kiger

    Boston, three days ago

    Okay, so this is getting ridiculous. As CNN notes, for the third week in a row, we’ve started off with a snowstorm burying the U.S. Northeast. This time, the National Weather Service is calling for another frozen onslaught, and winter storm warnings in New England, the New York City region and parts of Pennsylvania. By Monday afternoon, the beleaguered Boston area already had been hit with 19 inches of show.

    If that’s not bad enough, forecasts call for still more snow near the weekend.

    For those forced to put on rubber boots and ski masks and dig out their cars and shovel sidewalks three times now in the past month, the frustration may be reaching new levels. It may be time for New Yorker magazine humorist Andy Borowitz to revive his joke from last January about how the snowstorm is causing hundreds of injuries, “as people making snide remarks about climate change are punched in the face.”

    Seriously, though, what’s up with all the snow this year? As talk radio pundits have sometimes argued in the past, is it proof that the world actually cooling down instead of warming?

    To put it simply, no. Just about every scientific organization that’s examined the issue has concluded that 2014 was the hottest year on record, and an increase in extreme weather events — from hurricanes to snowpocalypses — actually fits climate scientists’ long-term predictions.

    As the Guardian reports, one big factor in the severity of winter snowstorms has been unusually warm temperatures — about 2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal — off the Atlantic coast, Warmer temperatures mean that the air can hold more water vapor, and as a result, there has been about 10 percent more moisture in the atmosphere than usual this winter.

    “You can easily get as much as 20 percent more snow out of a storm than you would otherwise, as long as it is cold enough so that all of that moisture gets converted into snow. And that is usually the case in the wintertime,” Kenneth Trenberth, a climate scientist for the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained to the Guardian.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 6:56 pm on January 9, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From LLNL: “Small volcanic eruptions explain warming hiatus” 

    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

    Jan. 8, 2015
    Anne M Stark

    This image was taken during the August 2014 eruption of Tavurvur in Papua New Guinea. Lawrence Livermore researchers identified the climatic signals of some of the larger early 21st-century eruptions (such as the October 2006 eruption of Tavurvur).

    The “warming hiatus” that has occurred over the last 15 years has been caused in part by small volcanic eruptions.

    Scientists have long known that volcanoes cool the atmosphere because of the sulfur dioxide that is expelled during eruptions. Droplets of sulfuric acid that form when the gas combines with oxygen in the upper atmosphere can persist for many months, reflecting sunlight away from Earth and lowering temperatures at the surface and in the lower atmosphere.

    Previous research suggested that early 21st-century eruptions might explain up to a third of the recent warming hiatus.

    New research available online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters further identifies observational climate signals caused by recent volcanic activity. This new research complements an earlier GRL paper published in November, which relied on a combination of ground, air and satellite measurements, indicating that a series of small 21st-century volcanic eruptions deflected substantially more solar radiation than previously estimated.

    “This new work shows that the climate signals of late 20th- and early 21st-century volcanic activity can be detected in a variety of different observational data sets,” said Benjamin Santer, a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientist and lead author of the study.

    The warmest year on record is 1998. After that, the steep climb in global surface temperatures observed over the 20th century appeared to level off. This “hiatus” received considerable attention, despite the fact that the full observational surface temperature record shows many instances of slowing and acceleration in warming rates. Scientists had previously suggested that factors such as weak solar activity and increased heat uptake by the oceans could be responsible for the recent lull in temperature increases. After publication of a 2011 paper in the journal Science by Susan Solomon of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , it was recognized that an uptick in volcanic activity might also be implicated in the warming hiatus.

    The Tavurvur Cone in Papua New Guinea was erupting when this image was captured by the Advanced Land Imager on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite on Nov. 30, 2009.The eruption is one that may have contributed to a “warming hiatus.”

    Prior to the 2011 Science paper, the prevailing scientific thinking was that only very large eruptions — on the scale of the cataclysmic 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines, which ejected an estimated 20 million metric tons (44 billion pounds) of sulfur — were capable of impacting global climate.

    The eruption column of Mount Pinatubo on June 12, 1991, three days before the climactic eruption.

    This conventional wisdom was largely based on climate model simulations. But according to David Ridley, an atmospheric scientist at MIT and lead author of the November GRL paper, these simulations were missing an important component of volcanic activity.

    Ridley and colleagues found the missing piece of the puzzle at the intersection of two atmospheric layers, the stratosphere and the troposphere — the lowest layer of the atmosphere, where all weather takes place. Those layers meet between 10 and 15 kilometers (six to nine miles) above the Earth.

    Satellite measurements of the sulfuric acid droplets and aerosols produced by erupting volcanoes are generally restricted to above 15 km. Below 15 km, cirrus clouds can interfere with satellite aerosol measurements. This means that toward the poles, where the lower stratosphere can reach down to 10 km, the satellite measurements miss a significant chunk of the total volcanic aerosol loading.

    To get around this problem, the study by Ridley and colleagues combined observations from ground-, air- and space-based instruments to better observe aerosols in the lower portion of the stratosphere. They used these improved estimates of total volcanic aerosols in a simple climate model, and estimated that volcanoes may have caused cooling of 0.05 degrees to 0.12 degrees Celsius since 2000.

    The second Livermore-led study shows that the signals of these late 20th and early 21st eruptions can be positively identified in atmospheric temperature, moisture and the reflected solar radiation at the top of the atmosphere. A vital step in detecting these volcanic signals is the removal of the “climate noise” caused by El Niños and La Niñas.

    “The fact that these volcanic signatures are apparent in multiple independently measured climate variables really supports the idea that they are influencing climate in spite of their moderate size,” said Mark Zelinka, another Livermore author. “If we wish to accurately simulate recent climate change in models, we cannot neglect the ability of these smaller eruptions to reflect sunlight away from Earth.”

    To see the full research, go to Geophysical Research Letters (link is external) and the Wiley Online Library.

    The Livermore-led research involved a large interdisciplinary team of researchers with expertise in climate modeling, satellite data, stratospheric dynamics, volcanic effects on climate, model evaluation, statistics and computer science. Other Livermore contributors include Céline Bonfils, Jeff Painter, Francisco Beltran and Gardar Johannesson. Other collaborators include Solomon and Ridley of MIT, John Fyfe at the Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis, Carl Mears and Frank Wentz at Remote Sensing Systems and Jean-Paul Vernier at the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 3:09 pm on November 14, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NOVA: “For Every 1°C of Global Warming, Lightning Strikes Will Increase By 12%” 



    13 Nov 2014
    Allison Eck

    In the not-too-distant future, as the Earth warms, the heat energy that churns our atmosphere could spark even more lightning than the 8 million that strike today.

    A new study published today in the journal Science suggests that we’ll see 12% more strikes for every 1˚ C of warming. Earlier models used cloud depth to determine how likely they were to generate enough energy to produce a lightning bolt. But climate scientist David Romps and his colleagues instead looked at precipitation, humidity, and temperature measurements taken from weather balloons. Put together, this data indicates how energetic an impending storm could be, and in turn, how probable it is that lightning bolts will streak through the sky.

    Scientists project that lightning strikes could significantly increase in frequency by the turn of the next century.

    Here’s Andy Coghlan, writing for New Scientist:

    By knowing how much water is in the clouds and how much energy is available, Romps says his model can accurately predict how many lightning bolts will get generated. Typically, he says, about 1 per cent of the potential energy picked up by water gets converted to lightning, so by knowing how much water and energy is present, the team can work out how much lightning will form.

    They tested the model using real weather data from 2011, and compared the results with the data on every lightning strike in the US, collected by the National Lightning Detection Network. In simple terms, they found that it retrospectively correctly accounted for 77 per cent of that year’s ground strikes. “When I saw that result, I thought it was too good to be true,” says Romps.

    Romps and his team then applied their lightning model to 11 different climate models. In Romps’ model, lightning varies consistently with temperature and energy. Using that same math, he calculated the percent increase for every 1° C rise in global temperatures. At the extremes, some model runs even suggested that strikes could double by the year 2100.

    The team doesn’t know yet whether these strikes will cluster in particular areas, but one thing is for sure: increased bolts to the Earth’s surface means greater chance of wildfires and a shift in the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

    Here’s Victoria Gill, writing for BBC News:

    As well as triggering half of the wildfires in the U.S., each lightning strike—a powerful electrical discharge—sparks a chemical reaction that produces a “puff” of greenhouse gases called nitrogen oxides.

    “Lightning is the dominant source of nitrogen oxides in the middle and upper troposphere,” said Prof. Romps.

    And by controlling this gas, it indirectly regulates other greenhouse gases including ozone and methane.

    The result could be a vicious cycle: rising temperatures cause an increase in lightning strikes, thereby releasing into the atmosphere gases that perpetuate Earth’s warming even further.

    Of course, Romps’ model isn’t perfect—it doesn’t yet account for the fact that parts of the globe experience very little rainfall, nor does it factor in lightning strikes that don’t make it to the ground. The precipitation measurements could be made clearer, too. Right now, the model measures clouds’ water content and not its additional ice content. Nevertheless, it seems likely that someday soon, lightning will be even more prevalent than it is today.

    Experts aren’t sure what triggers lightning, but suspect it could be cosmic rays from outer space.

    See the full article, with video, here.

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