Right Opinion

Elation and Frustration

Joe Bastardi · Apr. 3, 2017

The CEO of Weatherbell.com is someone who has been intensely interested in weather all his life and reads over my Patriot Post articles before they are published. Given that Michael Barak is much younger than I, he views things from the angles people see things today. One ill effect about being focused is that you may focus too hard on one thing, and I am guilty of that at times.

Michael frequently mentions that I say things over and over again in my writings. The reason I do that is because I assume the reader may not have read my previous work. In any case, this article came out and suggests the ideas about a step function in temperature movement is something that is real. And I have been arguing for several years that this is what we are seeing.

I had elation and frustration when I read this. Elation because it backed up some ideas about a step function for temperatures I have had. Frustration for the same reason because, until now, there was no backing up that idea with research. I don’t know why the step function would be “unexpected,” but my thoughts are based on a simple concept known as Le Chatelier’s principle:

When any system at equilibrium is subjected to change in concentration, temperature, volume, or pressure, then the system readjusts itself to (partially) counteract the effect of the applied change and a new equilibrium is established

This definition was taken from Wikipedia, but is a pretty standard definition. I am again going to review my hypothesis on the current warmed state of the planet. The oceans are the great thermostat of the planet. They change over very long periods of time. The current warmed state is likely because of macro cyclical events hundreds of years in the making. I suspect the sun, with 200 years of strong sunspot activity, has a lot to do with it. But the warming comes in steps, not just a straight-up linear process.

Now, is it possible CO2 is causing this? Yes, it’s possible. It’s likely it has some effect, but how much? Given that it has been exclusively natural, and even with CO2‘s increase from .03% to .04% of the atmosphere’s composition over the last 100 years, how can we say for sure it’s responsible given the planet’s factual history of CO2 vs. temperatures? Since there have been colder and warmer times — and I will show this chart again — that have had no relation to CO2, one should of course question the correlation. The Left hypothesizes that CO2 is causing the warming; prove it isn’t. Instead, it should be the opposite: Prove it is and how much. 100% is very doubtful, but is it 50%? 25? 5%? .01%? That is the message behind this chart, which you have seen many times here — that the assumption based on the past is it’s natural again, not that all of a sudden it’s not.

We do know this: Le Chatelier’s principle argues that whether it’s warming or cooling, the natural reaction will be to try to find a new equilibrium. That is what happened after the last super El Niño, and I think it’s happening again. The El Niño coming this summer and fall — which will not be as strong as its predecessor — will mean the cooling that has taken place is likely to not continue. Other factors may lead it to continue leveling off before any fall can take place. Since this is not what I thought a couple of years ago — I did not expect another El Niño this fast — I cannot deny the reality. I must search for the answer. But notice after the last two El Niños in 2006/07 and 2009/19, there is a bigger drop-off in a step function.

This drop-off and leveling would normally have another drop, but a new El Niño is coming on. This forces me to confront the fact this is not like the other El Niños, nor even like '97-98, which was followed by a two-year, equally strong La Niña. Now it may all be perfectly fine later, but when the atmosphere does something you thought different, it is demanding the answer from you. But the question is why the oceans are warming, My hypothesis is that the heat stored in the oceans is from two centuries of strong sunspot activity.

The idea that the current quiet cycle will suddenly send us into the little ice age is wrong in my opinion, since the setup for the little ice age before was the Maunder Minimum. If the oceans indeed cooled because of that, the spike in the max may have had the effect of cooling the planet. How can that be? Well, when we get increased radiation from the sun, the effect in the subtropics is to have increased high pressure, and stronger low-level easterly winds over the tropical Pacific. This in turn brings cooler subsurface water to the surface. If the oceans had cooled during the Maunder Minimum (when we say cooled, we mean lost energy), then the spike may have been the perfect storm for the LIA during the Dalton Minimum. Minimums have the opposite effect. In minimums, the surface pressure patterns, because of less radiation over the tropics and subtropics, may force a weakening of the easterlies, and so warmer water would come to the surface — if the warmer water was there. But what are we dealing with now? A warmer ocean, and lower sunspots. The effect initially would be to encourage El Niños with warmer water waiting.

And here is where the argument on CO2 comes full circle. There are some very bright minds that think the stored heat in the ocean is because of the increase in CO2. Most of the people on my side would argue it’s very small, and in fact the oceans warming would release more CO2 anyway. No one has ever quantified the total CO2 in the entire system — air, land, ocean, subterranean — and no one has ever stated what the perfect level of CO2 is. Nor has anyone determined the average and perfect temperatures of the planet since records began. So all this could be an adjustment, in a step-like fashion, to the balance the planet is trying to attain, but cannot, due to the very nature of the system.

Here is the other thing we know: The warmer it gets, the harder it is to get warmer. That is because of the nature of heat. It takes a lot to get a temperature to a point the atmosphere was not at, so it adjusts, But it takes constantly more heat coming into the system to get it to adjust up again. I suspect the super ninos are the extra input for this, and the overall cyclical state of the warm oceans is helping out. But here is the danger, so to speak. The atmosphere is constantly going to fight back. It’s going to again establish an equilibrium in the coming years. If the oceans stop warming, or suddenly cool because they are adjusting too (and that is why we have the oscillations), things can turn around. It’s similar to two forces pushing against each other. If one suddenly gives way, or even weakens a bit, the opposite occurs. For example, consider the state of the ocean today versus last year.

The Indian Ocean, which is a huge contributor to the planetary system, is much colder. The north Atlantic cool pool, which I thought was a red herring because it does not mean as much as cooling in the tropics, is gone, but the cooling off Africa is evident also. Both of these are signs we may be getting ready to see a flip to the colder versions of these ocean oscillations, and certainly that would mitigate the rise from the coming El Niño. We have had 30 years of the warmer cycles of these oceans after the cold cycles in the '60s and '70s, and for the Atlantic and Indian Oceans into the '80s. While the Pacific reaction in the tropical areas to the sun falling asleep may argue for warmer, the danger is that after this next plateau we see it start going the other way.

The paper states the obvious: that the earth’s vast complex system is in a constant battle to adjust to the forces around it. The argument about CO2 is far from settled science, but, then again, few things in the future are ever settled. Cause and effect are still being argued about over situations in the past — weather, history, politics, etc. But given the infinite nature and complexity of the atmosphere, those questions are just as vast as the system itself, and it seems foolish and arrogant to think one knows the answer and should shut down views that may challenge it.

Joe Bastardi is chief forecaster at WeatherBELL Analytics, a meteorological consulting firm, and contributor to The Patriot Post on environmental issues.

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