2011: Earth's 11th warmest year; where is the climate headed?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 5:22 PM GMT on January 27, 2012

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The year 2011 tied with 1997 as the 11th warmest year since records began in 1880, NOAA's National Climatic Data Center said last week. NASA rated 2011 as the 9th warmest on record. Land temperatures were the 8th warmest on record, and ocean temperatures, the 11th warmest. For the Arctic, which has warmed about twice as much as the rest of the planet, 2011 was the warmest year on record (between 64°N and 90°N latitude.) The year 2011 was also the 2nd wettest year over land on record, as evidenced by some of the unprecedented flooding Earth witnessed. The wettest year over land was the previous year, 2010.


Figure 1. Departure of global temperature from average for 2011. The Arctic was the warmest region, relative to average. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

How much of the warming in recent decades is due to natural causes?
The El Niño/La Niña cycle causes cyclical changes in global temperatures that average out to zero over the course of several decades. La Niña events bring a large amount of cold water to the surface in the equatorial Eastern Pacific, which cools global temperatures by up to 0.2°C. El Niño events have the opposite effect. The year 2011 was the warmest year on record when a La Niña event was present. Global temperatures were 0.12°C (0.2°F) cooler than the record warmest year for the planet (2010), and would very likely have been the warmest on record had an El Niño event been present instead.


Figure 2. Departure from average of annual global temperatures between 1950 - 2011, classified by phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The year 2011 was the warmest year on record when a La Niña event was present. ENSO is a natural episodic fluctuation in sea surface temperature (El Niño/La Niña) and the air pressure of the overlying atmosphere (Southern Oscillation) across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Over a period of months to a few years, ENSO fluctuates between warmer-than-average ocean surface waters (El Niño) and cooler-than-average ocean surface waters (La Niña) in that region. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

Correcting for natural causes to find the human contribution
We know that natural episodes of global warming or cooling in the distant past have been caused by changes in sunlight and volcanic dust. So, it is good to remove these natural causes of global temperature change over the past 33 years we have satellite data, to see what the human influence might have been during that time span. The three major surface temperature data sets (NCDC, GISS, and HadCRU) all show global temperatures have warmed by 0.16 - 0.17°C (0.28 - 0.30°F) per decade since satellite measurements began in 1979. The two satellite-based data sets of the lower atmosphere (UAH and RSS) give slightly less warming, about 0.14 - 0.15°C (.25 - .27°F) per decade (keep in mind that satellite measurements of the lower atmosphere temperature are affected much more strongly by volcanic eruptions and the El Niño phenomena than are surface-based measurements taken by weather stations.) A 2011 paper published by Grant Foster and Stefan Rahmstorf, Global temperature evolution 1979 - 2010, took the five major global temperature data sets and adjusted them to remove the influences of natural variations in sunlight, volcanic dust, and the El Niño/La Niña cycle. The researchers found that adjusting for these natural effects did not change the observed trend in global temperatures, which remained between 0.14 - 0.17°C (0.25 - 0.31°F) per decade in all five data sets. The warmest years since 1979 were 2010 and 2009 in all five adjusted data sets. Since the known natural causes of global warming have little to do with the observed increase in global temperatures over the past 33 years, either human activity or some unknown natural source is responsible for the global warming during that time period.


Figure 3. Departure from average of annual global temperatures between 1979 - 2010, adjusted to remove natural variations due to fluctuations in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, dust from volcanic eruptions, and changes in sunlight. The five most frequently-cited global temperature records are presented: surface temperature estimates by NASA's GISS, HadCRU from the UK, and NOAA's NCDC, and satellite-based lower-atmosphere estimates from Remote Sensing Systems, Inc. (RSS) and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH.) Image credit Global temperature evolution 1979- 2010 by Grant Foster and Stefan Rahmstorf, Environ. Res. Lett. 6, 2011, 044022 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/6/4/044022.

Commentary: what do climate scientists think?
Some scientists have proposed that previously unknown natural causes could be responsible for global warming, such as a decrease in cloud-producing galactic cosmic rays. Others have proposed that the climate may be responding to the heat-trapping effects of carbon dioxide by producing more clouds, which reflect away sunlight and offset the added heat-trapping gases. These theories have little support among actively publishing climate scientists. Despite public belief that climate scientists are divided about the human contribution to our changing climate, polling data show high agreement among climate scientists that humans are significantly affecting the climate. A 2008 poll of actively publishing climate scientists found that 97% said yes to the question, "Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?" In my personal experience interacting with climate scientists, I have found near-universal support for this position. For example, I am confident that all 23 climate scientists and meteorologists whom I am personally acquainted with at the University of Michigan's Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Science would agree that "human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures." It is good that we have scientists skeptical of the prevailing consensus challenging it, though, because that is how scientific progress is made. It may be that one of the scientists making these challenges will turn out to be the next Einstein or Galileo, and overthrow the conventional scientific wisdom on climate change. But Einsteins and Galileos don't come along very often. The history of science is littered with tens of thousands of discredited scientific papers that challenged the accepted scientific consensus and lost. If we rely on hopes that the next Einstein or Galileo will successfully overthrow the current scientific consensus on climate change, we are making a high-stakes, low-probability-of-success gamble on the future of civilization. The richest and most powerful corporations in world history, the oil companies, have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to push us to take this gamble, and their efforts have been very successful. Advertising works, particularly when your competition has little money to spend to oppose you.

Where is the climate headed?
The 2007 United Nations-sponsored IPCC report predicted that global temperatures between 2007 and 2030 should rise by an average of 0.2°C (0.36°F) per decade. The observed warming over the past 30 years is 15 - 30% below that (but within the range of uncertainty given by the 2007 IPCC climate models.) Most of the increase in global temperatures during the past 30 years occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. The 2000s have seen relatively flat temperatures, despite increasing CO2 emissions by humans. The lower-than-expected warming may be partially due to a sharp decrease in stratospheric water vapor that began after 2000. The missing heat may also be going into the deep ocean waters below about 1,000 feet (300 meters), as part of a decades-long cycle that will bring extra heat to the surface years from now. Regardless, the laws of physics demand that the huge amount of heat-trapping gases humans are pumping into the atmosphere must be significantly altering the weather and climate, even if we are seeing a lower than predicted warming. As wunderground's climate change blogger, Dr. Ricky Rood said in a recent post,Changing the Conversation: Extreme Weather and Climate: "Given that greenhouse gases are well-known to hold energy close to the Earth, those who deny a human-caused impact on weather need to pose a viable mechanism of how the Earth can hold in more energy and the weather not be changed. Think about it."

Our recent unusual weather has made me think about this a lot. The natural weather rhythms I've grown to used to during my 30 years as a meteorologist have become significantly disrupted over the past few years. Many of Earth's major atmospheric circulation patterns have seen significant shifts and unprecedented behavior; new patterns that were unknown have emerged, and extreme weather events were incredibly intense and numerous during 2010 - 2011. It boggles my mind that in 2011, the U.S. saw 14 - 17 billion-dollar weather disasters, three of which matched or exceeded some of the most iconic and destructive weather events in U.S. history--the "Super" tornado outbreak of 1974, the Dust Bowl summer of 1936, and the great Mississippi River flood of 1927. I appeared on PBS News Hour on December 28 (video here) to argue that watching the weather over the past two years has been like watching a famous baseball hitter on steroids--an analogy used in the past by climate scientists Tony Broccoli and Jerry Meehl. We're used to seeing the slugger hit the ball out of the park, but not with the frequency he's hitting them now that he's on steroids. Moreover, some of the home runs now land way back in the seats where no one has ever been able to hit a home run before. We can't say that any particular home run would not have occurred without the steroids, but the increase in home runs and the unprecedented ultra-long balls are highly suspicious. Similarly, Earth's 0.6°C (1°F) warming and 4% increase in global water vapor since 1970 have created an atmosphere on steroids. A warmer atmosphere has more energy to power stronger storms, hotter heat waves, more intense droughts, and heavier flooding rains. Natural weather patterns could have caused some of the extreme events we witnessed during 2010 - 2011, and these years likely would have been naturally extreme years even without climate change. But it strains the bounds of credulity that all of the extreme weather events--some of them 1-in-1000-year type events--could have occurred without a significant change to the base climate state. Mother Nature is now able to hit the ball out of the park more often, and with much more power, thanks to the extra energy global warming has put into the atmosphere.

Extreme weather years like 2010 and 2011 are very likely to increase in frequency, since there is a delay of several decades between when we put heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere and when the climate fully responds. This is because Earth's oceans take so long to heat up when extra heat is added to the atmosphere (think about how long it takes it takes for a lake to heat up during summer.) Due to this lag, we are just now experiencing the full effect of CO2 emitted by the late 1980s; since CO2 has been increasing by 1 - 3% per year since then, there is a lot more climate change "in the pipeline" we cannot avoid. We've set in motion a dangerous boulder of climate change that is rolling downhill, and it is too late to avoid major damage when it hits full-force several decades from now. However, we can reduce the ultimate severity of the damage with strong and rapid action. A boulder rolling downhill can be deflected in its path more readily early in its course, before it gains too much momentum in its downward rush. For example, the International Energy Agency estimates that every dollar we invest in alternative energy before 2020 will save $4.30 later. There are many talented and dedicated people working very hard to deflect the downhill-rolling boulder of climate change--but they need a lot more help very soon.

Jeff Masters

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We've had some decent snowstorms this month.

5" Jan 3-6, intermittent snow showers throughout

7" Jan 14-15

9" Jan 22-23

We also had 1 1/2" on Jan 11

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732. Skyepony (Mod)
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Dusty and cold. Near 20 this morning. But not as bad as before got down to 5 last weekend.
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Quoting KoritheMan:


Don't tarnish our hopes and dreams. :(


I would never do that Kori. I think it would be awesome. But, not going to happen.
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Quoting KoritheMan:
It's happened before:



Yeah, that's almost exactly what the model is showing for Feb 9 and 10, except the model's storm appears to come from the Bay of Campeche or western side of the Yucatan.
Member Since: January 25, 2012 Posts: 33 Comments: 1520
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
There is not going to be a storm to track in our neck of the woods in February.


Don't tarnish our hopes and dreams. :(
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Well, its bedtime for me. Be back tomorrow morning! ttyl!
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4481
There is not going to be a storm to track in our neck of the woods in February.
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It's happened before:

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Huge white flakes falling right now, gusty winds to 35 MPH... Wow!!

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sorry *you're
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Would they fly a hurricane hunter in there if it actually forms on Feb 9/10?

That would be completely weird...
Member Since: January 25, 2012 Posts: 33 Comments: 1520
10-12 days out on a weather model might show a trend but is not very reliable. You're betting on winning the race before you even picked the horse.
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Quoting WxGeekVA:


It says rain on the map, but it is actually a snow squall, and I might pick up a dusting of snow tonight!!!!


Better you then me. Hear any thunder, send it down this way:) along with a thermometer reading 75 :D

lol
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4481


It says rain on the map, but it is actually a snow squall, and I might pick up a dusting of snow tonight!!!!
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Assuming for the moment that it does form, it will be moving 35mph, so by the time an advisory is issued it will already be wrong by half a degree of lattitude and longitude.

Give it 5 to 7 days before anyone takes this seriously.

If GFS is still hinting at it next week, then it might be worth watching.
Member Since: January 25, 2012 Posts: 33 Comments: 1520
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Are we going to get Alberto early? Extremely early?

Looks subtropical for a while.

That would be Amazing.
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127846
TAWX,
i mean otherwise the fact the low seem legit in the Gulf, it has some definate Frontal and Nor'Easter typer origon and development, so im gonna say a NO GO for both system the models pick up on, still interesting to see that the models are showing interest in our Basin already.
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127846
Look what the new Zealand National Meteorological Service has on the 2nd of Febuary(1st of Febuary here in CONUS)



Big fat 985mb low just about sitting over Noumea, New Caledonia...
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4481
Basically, from what i've added up in my head on this page...
Weather Current Events: Mid Feb-March
The pattern for the coming months-
The eastern US will be hit continuously by troughs diving down from Alaska/Canada and the Arctic... This will result in more Winter-like conditions, like Blizzards and Sub-zero temps...
On the other side of the US, Large High pressure systems will set up over the Western and South-western US, this will result in above average temps and below average rainfall... Which means the Drought will reign once more over the south at least for a month or two... Though break downs of the High will happen every once in a while, but the pattern should stay firm...

Tropics:
The tropics stand right now as they usually are around this time, but currently we are dealing with what some the hurricane models think is a possible Sub-tropical/Hybrid storm, that could potentially become Alberto, but the conditions have to stack up perfectly... I'd give the chances of this developing at 35%... Basically: 65% it will fall short of Storm status...

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711. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Fiji Meteorological Services
Tropical Disturbance Advisory #2
TROPICAL DEPRESSION 07F
12:00 PM FST January 30 2012
======================================

At 0:00 AM UTC, Tropical Depression 07F (999 hPa) located at 16.4S 166.3E has 10 minute sustained winds of 20 knots. The depression is reported as slowly moving. Position fair based on multisatellite infrared/visible imagery with animation and peripheral surface observations.

Organization has improved slightly in the past 12 hours. low level circulation center exposed with deep convection displaced to the east of the low level circulation center. System lies just east of an upper trough and under 250hpa diffluent region in a moderate to high sheared environment. Sea surface temperature is around 29-30C. System is being steered to the southeast by deep layer mean northwesterly into the region of decreasing shear.

Global models are gradually intensifying the system and move it southeast.

Potential for this system to develop into a tropical cyclone in the next 24 to 48 hours is moderate to high.

The next tropical cyclone advisory from Fiji Meteorological Services will be issued at 8:30 AM UTC..
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Not really, they usually come out of the west, dive southward into the Gulf of Mexico, and strengthen while moving up the Eastern seaboard.


i remember watching TWC when i was younger. and seein them shoin a low come down throu the SW, then Texas, then the gulf coast, the start moving NE and 1/2 become noreaster
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4481
Quoting HurricaneDean07:

Not right now SPL,
just trying to finish out the 2011 recap! Gawd it takes forever to get done...
Anyone here think i should give up on it? I mean ive already made it to Maria, it's just gonna take me about a week and a half to finish the rest of it...
Just want to watch the currents, and not the past, especially with a potential Sub-tropical/hybrid low in the Gulf... it could get very interesting if it can tap into the 26/26.5 C waters in the Channel and the eddy.

PS: if u want me to stop the 2011 Recap, then i can write a current blog on CURRENT Tropical EVENTS...


How about you continue to complete it. finish what you start:)

besides, you got 2/3 best ones to do...Ophelia, and Rina. I wouldnt stop.


WOuld love to read your posts in current tropical weather too though, so idk.
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4481
Quoting presslord:


you're scaring the children

...and you ought to know.........
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WTH?

On the 9th and 10th of February, even the 10meter surface winds and precip shows a healthy wave, maybe attaining TD or TS strength, comes off the Yucatan through the Gulf.

1007mb low over the gulf.

1003mb low as it emerges off the east coast of Florida.

Might be legit

Of course, that is 12 days out.

Models only good to maybe 5 to 7 days anyway...
Member Since: January 25, 2012 Posts: 33 Comments: 1520
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Not really, they usually come out of the south, dive southward into the Gulf of Mexico, and strengthen while moving up the Eastern seaboard.


I haven't seen anything that says thats where they usually start, too me it seems like a classic Nor'Easter set up. Though its 300 hours out so doubt itll happen haha
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Quoting hydrus:
I agree. There are a lot of changes coming. GFS has high pressure building near Greenland ( not in the usual spot tho ) And if that were not enough...


you're scaring the children
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Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


That how Nor'Easters start, they form as a low in the gulf and explode as they hit the gulf stream and ride up the coast into Canada.

Not really, they usually come out of the west, dive southward into the Gulf of Mexico, and strengthen while moving up the Eastern seaboard.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Because the system doesn't come out of the west like a regular low-pressure system this time of the year, it comes out of the tropics.


That how Nor'Easters start, they form as a low in the gulf and explode as they hit the gulf stream and ride up the coast into Canada.
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Quoting SPLbeater:
ANybody got a good tropical weather blog for me to read?

Not right now SPL,
just trying to finish out the 2011 recap! Gawd it takes forever to get done...
Anyone here think i should give up on it? I mean ive already made it to Maria, it's just gonna take me about a week and a half to finish the rest of it...
Just want to watch the currents, and not the past, especially with a potential Sub-tropical/hybrid low in the Gulf... it could get very interesting if it can tap into the 26/26.5 C waters in the Channel and the eddy.

PS: if u want me to stop the 2011 Recap, then i can write a current blog on CURRENT Tropical EVENTS...
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Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:
I don't know why people are saying Alberto, GFS shows a perfect Nor'Easter set up in its final frames.

Because the system doesn't come out of the west like a regular low-pressure system this time of the year, it comes out of the tropics.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Are we going to get Alberto early? Extremely early?

Looks subtropical for a while.

The front has been lingering for some time, and is forecast to remain for almost another week. The models pick up lows that form on the tail ends of fronts quite easily...The CMC has some interesting runs for folks in the south..
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Are we going to get Alberto early? Extremely early?

Looks subtropical for a while.



Where does the model show that wave's orgin?

I don't see anything that looks like a potential wave on infrared right now.
Member Since: January 25, 2012 Posts: 33 Comments: 1520
I don't know why people are saying Alberto, GFS shows a perfect Nor'Easter set up in its final frames.
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Quoting Xandra:

The author David Rose often distort the truth to mislead people.

Rosegate: Rose hides the incline

Sorry if it was not obvious that I take his apparent job to be to hide the truth. I just don't know what his emotional state is when he does that. Is he happy, sad, full of malice? No clue.
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Quoting trunkmonkey:
I kinda like CO2 makes my trees grow better, I love plants and trees!

I've noticed that you're not interested in reading scientific literature, but if you love plants and trees, I recommend you to at least watch this video.

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Quoting hurricane23:
Big weather pattern change in the offing. A stratospheric warming event from late December got hung up and did not propagate downward into the polar troposphere...until now. The event will lead to increased blocking at higher latitudes but in a non-classical way this time around. Upshot...no more warm weather in the eastern U.S. after Fri this week. Looks chilly, especially in New England. Much cooler in FL. Heatwave out West.
I agree. There are a lot of changes coming. GFS has high pressure building near Greenland ( not in the usual spot tho ) And if that were not enough...
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Are we going to get Alberto early?



Wait, what? Tropical storms in February? I'm confused...
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Are we going to get Alberto early? Extremely early?

Looks subtropical for a while.

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Big weather pattern change in the offing. A stratospheric warming event from late December got hung up and did not propagate downward into the polar troposphere...until now. The event will lead to increased blocking at higher latitudes but in a non-classical way this time around. Upshot...no more warm weather in the eastern U.S. after Fri this week. Looks chilly, especially in New England. Much cooler in FL. Heatwave out West.
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Quoting bappit:

I don't think you can attribute malice on the part of the author with certainty. They may just be doing their job or are zealously after the lulz. (I hear it is important to enjoy your work.) Hard to say, but I agree it was deliberate.

The author David Rose often distort the truth to mislead people.

Rosegate: Rose hides the incline
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Quoting sunlinepr:


Iggy went from 65 knots...to 50 knotz.

I never thought it had cyclone intensity in the first place.
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4481
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
don't worry she got a plan for sure we are to see it first hand
I would like your thoughts on the next pattern change if you have time.
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Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9803
Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9803
ANybody got a good tropical weather blog for me to read?
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4481
Quoting ScottLincoln:


Freeze Warning criteria changes depending on the issuing NWS WFO. Some WFOs only issue it for the first freeze of the year, which signals the end of the growing season. Some WFOs in more mild areas will issue them for each freeze because the events tend to be rare.

I would imagine that Florida counts in the latter, and thus even with near record cold temperatures covering most of the CONUS, Florida would be one of the few places to have Freeze Warnings in effect.


Forgot about that...because, if there was a freeze warning issued everytime we went below 32, 4/5 of the country would be under a freeze warning for months, lol. Thx for pointing that out and reminding me.
Member Since: August 4, 2011 Posts: 46 Comments: 4481
Space Weather Center to Add World's First 'Ensemble Forecasting' Capability

ScienceDaily (Jan. 27, 2012) — After years of relative somnolence, the sun is beginning to stir. By the time it's fully awake in about 20 months, the team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., charged with researching and tracking solar activity, will have at their dispoal a greatly enhanced forecasting capability.

Goddard's Space Weather Laboratory recently received support under NASA's Space Technology Program Game Changing Program to implement "ensemble forecasting," a computer technique already used by meteorologists to track potential paths and impacts of hurricanes and other severe weather events.

Instead of analyzing one set of solar-storm conditions, as is the case now, Goddard forecasters will be able to simultaneously produce as many as 100 computerized forecasts by calculating multiple possible conditions or, in the parlance of Heliophysicists, parameters. Just as important, they will be able to do this quickly and use the information to provide alerts of space weather storms that could potentially be harmful to astronauts and NASA spacecraft.

"Space weather alerts are available now, but we want to make them better," said Michael Hesse, chief of Goddard's Space Weather Laboratory and the recently named director of the Center's Heliophysics Science Division. "Ensemble forecasting will provide a distribution of arrival times, which will improve the reliability of forecasts. This is important. Society is relying more so than ever on space. Communications, navigation, electrical-power generation, all are all susceptible to space weather." Once it's implemented, "there will be nothing like this in the world. No one has done ensemble forecasting for space weather."

SEE FULL ARTICLE Link
Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9803
Quoting ScottLincoln:


Always fascinates me how the climate confusionists and denialists can twist the truth. This one ranks near the top... take a press release that clearly indicates that solar activity lulls are unlikely to affect long term climate, and somehow manage to do a complete 180 on it.

That's not something you can do as an honest mistake, that is something you do when you are deliberately - and with malice - attempting to distort the truth and mislead people. This should serve as a lesson for those that fell for it, as long as they still want to maintain credibility as skeptical scientists or enthusiasts.


Climate Confuscius say: The planet is not getting warmer. You're just getting colder.
Member Since: October 31, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1474

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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