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Climate Change: What We Know and What We need To Learn. Science on Saturday March 26, 2006 Dave Bader, LLNL Barry Marson, Tokay High School UCRL-PRES –220136

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Climate change what we know and what we need to learn

Climate Change: What We Know and What We need To Learn

Science on Saturday

March 26, 2006

Dave Bader, LLNL

Barry Marson, Tokay High School

UCRL-PRES –220136

Work supported by the Office of Science, US Department of Energy ay the University of California Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Under Contract W-7405-Eng-48










United States

United Kingdom

Climate Change: What Do We Know?Joint science academies’ statement:Global response to climate changeJune 2005( by the Presidents of the National Science Academies of:

Climate change is real
“Climate change is real”

  • The evidence comes from direct measurements of rising surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures and from phenomena such as increases in average global sea levels, retreating glaciers, and changes to many physical and biological systems.

  • It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities.

  • This warming has already led to changes in the Earth's climate


What is climate
What is Climate?

  • Simplest definition: The average weather

  • More complicated answer: The statistics of weather at a location or over a defined area

  • Weather

    • Is it raining now?

    • The temperature outside.

    • There is a snowstorm in Reno.

  • Climate

    • The average temperature for Pleasanton in July

    • The average yearly snowfall in Yosemite

    • The probability that there will be another flood in Napa next winter

Weather and climate are driven by the earth s energy and water cycles
Weather and Climate are Driven by the Earth’s Energy and Water Cycles

  • The sun transfers energy to the earth (warming)

  • The earth transfers energy to outer space (cooling)

  • The heating and cooling is unevenly distributed over the Earth’s surface

  • Atmospheric motions (weather) and ocean circulations result from this uneven heating and cooling

Demonstration 1

Demonstration 1 Water Cycles

IR Thermometer

Greenhouse gases affect the infrared radiation part of the energy balance
Greenhouse Gases Affect the Infrared Radiation Part of the Energy Balance

  • Greenhouse Gases absorb some of the energy radiated from the surface and release heat to the air

  • Primary Greenhouse Gases are CO2 , O3 and water vapor

    • CO2 evenly distributed throughout the troposphere and slowly increasing

    • Water vapor highly variable in space in time, but total is nearly constant

    • O3 nearly constant in stratosphere, highly variable in troposphere

Heat transport
Heat Transport Energy Balance

  • Atmosphere

    • Warm air rises, cold air sinks (warm air is less dense)

    • Water absorbs heat when it evaporates and melts, releases heat when it condenses and freezes

    • Motions are influenced by the Earth’s rotation

    • All weather results from these processes

    • Minutes to weeks

  • Ocean

    • Ocean circulations result from differences in salinity and temperature

    • Ice is less dense than water

    • 4° C water is most dense

    • Warm fresher water rises, cold salty water sinks

    • Motions are influenced by the Earth’s rotation

    • Days to centuries

Demonstrations Energy Balance

  • Air convection

  • Water convection

  • Evaporative cooling

Source: IPCC 2001 Energy Balance

Quicktime ocean clip available at http sos noaa gov movies index html under sea current simulation
Quicktime Ocean clip available at: Energy Balance “Sea Current Simulation”

Average circulation
Average Circulation Energy Balance

Water cycle
Water Cycle Energy Balance

Thunderstorm convection
Thunderstorm Convection Energy Balance

Animation available at : Energy Balance

Climate change research what we need to learn
Climate Change Research Energy BalanceWhat We Need to Learn

  • System is unobservable over the time scales required for experiments – decades to millenia

  • Models are substitutes – numerical “laboratories”

  • Effects of a small change have big impacts from a human perspective

  • Very complex problem because of feedbacks

    • Positive Feedback Examples

      • Snow-Ice Cooling

      • Water Vapor Warming

    • Negative Feedback Examples

      • High Cloud Cooling

Natural climate change
Natural Climate Change Energy Balance

  • Large volcanic eruptions eject tiny dust particles into the stratosphere that stay suspended for several years and reflect sunlight

  • Changes in the amount of sunlight received by Earth

    • Orbital changes occur slowly over hundreds of centuries

    • Solar output cycles produce small changes over a few years, e.g.sunspots

Ice ages
Ice Ages Energy Balance

At the peak of the last ice age (18,000 years ago), the temperature was only 4-5 °C colder than it is today, and glaciers covered much of North America!

Greenland ice sheet
Greenland Ice Sheet Energy Balance

Anthropogenic climate change
“Anthropogenic” Climate Change Energy Balance

  • Earth’s energy budget changed rapidly since the mid-1800s because of human activities

    • Emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion

      • Increased from 270 ppm in the 1800s to over 370 ppm today

      • Estimates are that 90% of warming since 1850 results from the radiative effects of CO2 concentration increases

    • Air pollution of other gases and small aerosol particles

    • Changes in land use

      • Farms replace forests

      • Urbanization

      • Many others

Snow line elevation increases and alpine glaciers melt Energy Balance

Much of the world depends on snowpack for water storage. Winter snows support summertime irrigation

Impacts of climate change
Impacts of Climate Change Energy Balance

Snowpack Temperature

Observed Change 1950-1997

(- +)


Future climate change
Future Climate Change? Energy Balance

  • CO2 Greenhouse Gas Warming Theory is over 100 years old (1896). Postulated that doubling of concentrations would result in 5-6° C global surface temperature rise.

  • Changes observed are consistent with theory

    • Nighttime temperatures increase more than daytime

    • Polar regions warm faster than tropical regions

Model formulation Energy Balance

Y= f(x,y,z,t)

Real system










Computer code




Numerical model

DY=F(Dx,Dy,Dz ,Dt )




Experiment design


Modeled System

What happens next
What Happens Next? Energy Balance

  • CO2 concentrations will continue to increase

    • Rate and amount depend on energy sources and consumption and natural processes

    • Model simulations suggest that increasing CO2 concentrations to 540 ppm will raise global temperatures 1.7-4.1°C

  • Climate will continue to change

    • Feedbacks unknown and potentially large

    • Ice-free summertime Arctic Ocean?

    • Melting of Ice Sheets

      • Melting of Greenland Ice Sheet will raise sea-level 7 meters (23 feet)

Sea ice from climate model
Sea-ice from Climate Model Energy Balance

Animation available at: