The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 9 – Kevin Trenberth is Looking Forward to Another “Big Jump”

Trenberth Interview ScreencapIn a recent interview, Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist, from NCAR said the upcoming 2014/15 El Niño might shift global surface temperatures upwards by 0.2 to 0.3 deg C to further the series of upward steps.  Curiously, Trenberth is continuing to suggest that the warming we’ve experienced since the mid-1970s resulted from naturally occurring, sunlight-fueled El Niño events and that we might get to experience yet another of those El Niño-caused warming steps as a result of the 2014/15 El Niño.  So let’s take a look at what he’s suggesting and what the future MAY POSSIBLY hold in store…if Trenberth’s dreams come true.

Peter Sinclair of ClimateCrocks recently produced two YouTube interviews with NCAR’s Kevin Trenberth about the upcoming 2014/15 El Niño.   See Part 1 here.  At about the 9-minute mark in Part 2 (here), Trenberth speculates, sounding gleeful, that the upcoming El Niño may lead to another in the series of upward steps in global surface temperature:

One of the real prospects to look out for is whether we go back into a different phase of this Pacific Decadal Oscillation.  And one of the potential prospects we can watch out for is whether the next whole decade will be distinctly warmer…uh, uh…and so, in terms of the global mean temperature, instead of having a gradual trend going up, maybe the way to think of it is we have a series of steps, like a staircase.  And, and, it’s possible, that we’re approaching one of those steps.  And we will go up, you know, two- or three-tenths of a degree Celsius to a next level, and maybe we won’t come down again.   I think that’s one of the things we could possibly look out for.

Some of you may believe that Kevin Trenberth is actually looking forward to another upward step…not just looking out for one.  So let’s take another look at the upward steps in global surface temperatures he was happily discussing.

Kevin Trenberth introduced his “big jumps” in global surface temperatures in an article last year, without stating their cause.  We discussed those big jumps and identified their causes in the post Open Letter to the Royal Meteorological Society Regarding Dr. Trenberth’s Article “Has Global Warming Stalled?”.  Please refer to that post for the detailed discussion. Figure 1 is an update of Figure 10 from that post with data through 2013. NCDC global land+ocean surface temperature anomaly data were used for consistency with Trenberth’s original article (Data source here.)

Figure 1

Figure 1

SUPPOSE TRENBERTH’S DREAMS COME TRUE

Trenberth is now suggesting that global surface temperatures might shift upwards 0.2 to 0.3 deg C again in response to the 2014/15 El Niño. So for illustration purposes only, let’s take the data from the 16-year period of 1998 to 2013 and shift them up those 0.2 and 0.3 deg C and insert them in the time period of 2015 to 2030.  See Figure 2.  The period-average temperature anomaly of 0.57 deg C for the period of 1998-2013 would shift up to 0.77 deg C or 0.87 deg C for 2015-2030.

Figure 2

Figure 2

WOULD AN UPWARD STEP HELP THE CLIMATE MODELS?

An upward shift in global surface temperatures would definitely help the models for a few years, but, because the global surface temperatures warmed in a step, the hiatus period that followed would again cause a continued divergence between the models and the real world.  See Figure 3 for a model-“data” comparison starting in 1979 and running through 2030.

Figure 3

Figure 3

The graph includes the multi-model ensemble-member mean for the climate models stored in the CMIP5 archive, with two scenarios:  RCP6.0 and RCP8.5.  And the two sets of future “data” are created once again by taking the NCDC global surface temperature anomalies for the 16-year period of 1998 to 2013, shifting them up 0.2 to 0.3 deg C and inserting them in the time period of 2015 to 2030.  Figure 4 includes the same model-data comparison but with the commonly used start year of 1998.

Figure 4

Figure 4

TRENBERTH’S CONFLICT

Kevin Trenberth appears to have conflicting causes for the global warming we’ve experienced since the mid-1970s.  On one hand, for decades, Trenberth has been a true-blue proponent of the hypothesis of human-induced global warming, with the warming caused by the emissions of manmade greenhouse gases.  On the other, for about a year, he has been promoting the “big jumps” in global surface temperatures, with the steps in the staircase of global surface temperatures being caused by El Niño events.

There would be no conflict if Trenberth was able to show that manmade greenhouse gases somehow contributed to the warm water that fuels El Niño events. But Trenberth has always noted that it is sunlight that provides the warm water for El Niños.  In a recent post (see here), we presented two examples of this from his peer-reviewed papers, and for those of you new to this discussion, they’re worth repeating.  The first is Trenberth et al. (2002).  They write (my boldface):

The negative feedback between SST and surface fluxes can be interpreted as showing the importance of the discharge of heat during El Niño events and of the recharge of heat during La Niña events. Relatively clear skies in the central and eastern tropical Pacific allow solar radiation to enter the ocean, apparently offsetting the below normal SSTs, but the heat is carried away by Ekman drift, ocean currents, and adjustments through ocean Rossby and Kelvin waves, and the heat is stored in the western Pacific tropics. This is not simply a rearrangement of the ocean heat, but also a restoration of heat in the ocean.

The second paper is Trenberth and Fasullo (2011).  They write (my boldface):

Typically prior to an El Niño, in La Niña conditions, the cold sea waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific create high atmospheric pressure and clear skies, with plentiful sunshine heating the ocean waters. The ocean currents redistribute the ocean heat which builds up in the tropical western Pacific Warm Pool until an El Niño provides relief (Trenberth et al. 2002).

And we confirmed in the post Open Letter to the Royal Meteorological Society Regarding Dr. Trenberth’s Article “Has Global Warming Stalled?” that it is sunlight that provides the warm water that serves as fuel for El Niños.

“….MAYBE WE WON’T COME DOWN AGAIN…”

Trenberth’s statement in the YouTube interview, “And we will go up two- or three-tenths of a degree Celsius to a next level, and maybe we won’t come down again,” is similar to one made in his August 2013 interview on NPR .  There he is reported to have said:

…what happens at the end of these hiatus periods, is suddenly there’s a big jump [in temperature] up to a whole new level and you never go back to that previous level again

Those are curious statements.  Trenberth has never taken the time to explain that we would NOT expect the surface temperatures to go back down again. So his “never go back to that previous level again” seems to be a clear case of misdirection.

An El Niño…

  1. releases a tremendous amount of heat from the tropical Pacific to the atmosphere, and…
  2. it redistributes a tremendous amount of warm water within the oceans from the tropical Pacific to adjacent ocean basins, and…
  3. according to Trenberth and Fasullo (2011), an El Niño causes changes in atmospheric circulation that reduces the evaporation from the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and allows more sunlight to penetrate and warm those ocean basins to depth, both of which contribute to the warming of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans in response to an El Niño without the direct exchange of heat from the tropical Pacific.

Regarding 3, Trenberth and Fasulo (2011) includes:

Meanwhile, maximum warming of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans occurs about 5 months after the El Niño owing to sunny skies and lighter winds (less evaporative cooling), while the convective action is in the Pacific.

The upward steps are precisely what we would expect of ENSO if it is viewed, not as noise in the surface temperature record, but as a chaotic, sunlight-fueled, recharge-discharge oscillator.

It appears that El Niño events, combined with the heat uptake in the tropical Pacific during La Niña events, are major contributors to any radiative imbalance that may (or may not) exist.

CLOSING

The climate science community hasn’t bothered to properly account for the contribution of ENSO.  And there’s no reason that we would expect them to do so.  Any attempt by the climate science community to account for ENSO’s contribution to the warming of surface temperatures and the oceans to depth would detract from the hypothetical influence of manmade greenhouse gases.

EARLIER POSTS IN THIS SERIES

And for additional introductory discussions of El Niño processes see:

FURTHER READING

My ebook Who Turned on the Heat? goes into a tremendous amount of detail to explain El Niño and La Niña processes and the long-term aftereffects of strong El Niño events.  Who Turned on the Heat? weighs in at a whopping 550+ pages, about 110,000+ words. It contains somewhere in the neighborhood of 380 color illustrations. In pdf form, it’s about 23MB. It includes links to more than a dozen animations, which allow the reader to view ENSO processes and the interactions between variables.

I’ve lowered the price of Who Turned on the Heat? from U.S.$8.00 to U.S.$5.00.  A free preview in pdf format is here.  The preview includes the Table of Contents, the Introduction, the first half of section 1 (which was provided complete in the post here), a discussion of the cover, and the Closing. Take a run through the Table of Contents.  It is a very-detailed and well-illustrated book—using data from the real world, not models of a virtual world. Who Turned on the Heat? is only available in pdf format…and will only be available in that format.  Click here to purchase a copy.  Thanks. Book sales and tips will hopefully allow me to return to blogging full-time once again.

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About Bob Tisdale

Research interest: the long-term aftereffects of El Niño and La Nina events on global sea surface temperature and ocean heat content. Author of the ebook Who Turned on the Heat? and regular contributor at WattsUpWithThat.
This entry was posted in 2014-15 El Nino Series, El Nino-La Nina Processes. Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to The 2014/15 El Niño – Part 9 – Kevin Trenberth is Looking Forward to Another “Big Jump”

  1. greenman3610 says:

    Having actually conducted the interview you quote here, I find your rendition of Dr. Trenberth’s views deliberately distorted and all but unrecognizable. Fail.

  2. Bob Tisdale says:

    greenman3610, thanks for the laugh. I quoted Trenberth chapter and verse. There’s no distortion on my part. You’re viewing what Trenberth told you through infrared-colored glasses, which is not the real world. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s what bubbles are for.

  3. Bernd Palmer says:

    greenman3610, it seems to me that Bob just filled in what Trenberth left out in order to put things into perspective. Bob doesn’t contradict nor distort Trenberth; he uses the same data Trenberth uses.

  4. Thanks, Bob, excellent post!
    I’ll get to work and update your graphic (Figure 1) in my climate pages today.

  5. Steve Keohane says:

    Trenberth’s view seems very limited. If heat is stored in water, which can store a lot of heat, and that heat is transferred to the atmosphere, it must ultimately be a heat loss for the planet in the long term, since the heat leaves the planet in the short term.

  6. Neil McLachlan says:

    Note. Only half the ENSO models are currently predicting an el Nino.

  7. Bob Tisdale says:

    Neil, this will be an interesting year to watch.

  8. Hi Bob, Are there any data bases on cloud cover over the tropical Pacific?
    It seems the global warming is caused by ENSO and the extra heat is provided by the sun.
    So we should perhaps see a reduced cloud cover, on average, and hence more sunlight from the early seventies up to 2000 and perhaps more cloud cover and less sunlight since then.
    I would appreciate getting your view on this.

  9. Bob Tisdale says:

    Hi Laurie: I have used the ISCCP Total Cloud Amount data in the past. It’s available through the KNMI Climate Explorer:
    http://climexp.knmi.nl/selectfield_obs.cgi?someone@somewhere

    There are two things to concern yourself about with the ISCCP data. They may be biased by the volcanic aerosols from El Chichon and Mount Pinatubo, so I typically only look at the data after the mid-1990s, and there’s a dead spot before about 1999 over the Indian Ocean.

  10. Andy says:

    Bob, there are a few simple issues with your analysis.

    1) You seem to assume no additional El Nino inspired jumps until 2030. I find it hard to believe there would not be another El Nino to mix additional heat into the atmosphere similar to the upcoming 2014 event (if it occurs)

    2) You assume a “hiatus” like behavior similar to that of 1998-2013, but unless the 2014 Nino is as super as 1998, that’s unlikely given the additional forcing in the next decade.

    3) You the IPCC models with some of the quickest CO2/CH4- which is not consistent with observations.

  11. Bob Tisdale says:

    Andy says: “Bob, there are a few simple issues with your analysis….”

    Andy, and there is a very simple issue with your comment. I made no analysis. I made no prediction. I simply presented a “what if” situation to illustrate what a “Trenberth jump” MIGHT look like. You’ve read way too much into my simple presentation.

    Regarding your item 3, I believe you need to study the RCP6.0 and RCP8.5 scenarios. Are you aware they include “historical” forcings until 2005 and that they are projections beyond that point? That indicates your “is not consistent with observations” is wrong. Are you aware that RCP6.0 is very similar to scenario A1B, which was the primary scenario used for projections in the IPCC’s AR4? Are you aware that RCP8.5 could be considered the “business as usual” scenario?

  12. Windchaser says:

    Bernd Palmer says: Bob doesn’t contradict nor distort Trenberth; he uses the same data Trenberth uses.

    That’s hard to believe, if you actually follow what Trenberth says.

    Trenberth plainly believes both that the global warming is caused by CO2 and that the jumps in surface temperatures can sometimes be attributed to El Nino events. These are not conflicting: it’s a noisy phenomenon (ENSO) superimposed on a upward trend (CO2).

    That ENSO also has its own periods of increased/decreased warming is no surprise. I’ve never heard Trenberth say that these periods (of more/less clouds) were responsible for the upward trend in surface temperatures, so acting like Trenberth believes this is indeed a “distortion”.

    I think Bob is interpreting Trenberth’s words in the way that is most favorable to Bob’s hypothesis, and in doing so, creating a contradiction in Trenberth’s views that doesn’t actually exist. What would make more sense is to interpret Trenberth in the way that’s most consistent with other stuff Trenberth says. That gives you a view of Trenberth that’s pretty much standard AGW.

    BobTisdale says: There would be no conflict if Trenberth was able to show that manmade greenhouse gases somehow contributed to the warm water that fuels El Niño events.

    Yes, if only someone had bothered to figure out how greenhouse gases could help the atmosphere retain heat, and in doing so, warm the ocean surface. =p. You suppose there’s anything like that in the literature?

  13. Bob Tisdale says:

    Windchaser says: “Trenberth plainly believes both that the global warming is caused by CO2 and that the jumps in surface temperatures can sometimes be attributed to El Nino events. These are not conflicting: it’s a noisy phenomenon (ENSO) superimposed on a upward trend (CO2).”

    I believe you better go back and read the quote from Trenberth at the top of this post again, Windchaser. He dismissed your “noisy phenomenon (ENSO) superimposed on a upward trend (CO2)”, when he stated:
    “…and so, in terms of the global mean temperature, instead of having a gradual trend going up, maybe the way to think of it is we have a series of steps, like a staircase. And, and, it’s possible, that we’re approaching one of those steps. And we will go up, you know, two- or three-tenths of a degree Celsius to a next level, and maybe we won’t come down again.”

    And, Windchaser, thanks also for quoting me out of context toward the end of your comment. Did you read the portions of the two Trenberth papers I quoted, regarding sunlight? Did you understand them? Do you understand the satellite era sea surface temperature record? Do you understand the ocean heat content data for the tropical Pacific?

    Your beliefs in the impacts of hypothetical human-induced global warming are not supported by ocean heat content data or satellite-era sea surface temperature data. Please take them to RealClimate or SkepticalScience where they’ll be appreciated.

    Adios

  14. crosspatch says:

    There could be a weak nino but I am still not seeing the conditions (yet) for a strong one. Some slight reversal of the trades in the far western Pacific but still nominal, more or less, everywhere else. In fact, it is quite possible that the equatorial pacific warming has already peaked. We’ll have to see how it plays out.

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