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Hot Spots

Figure 1: Atmospheric temperature change from 1890 to 1990 from (a) solar forcing, (b) volcanoes, (c) greenhouse gases, (d) ozone, (e) sulfate aerosols and (f) sum of all forcing (IPCC AR4).

The source of the confusion is box c, showing the modelled temperature change from greenhouse gases. Note the strong hot spot. Does this mean the greenhouse effect causes the hot spot? Not directly. Greenhouse gases cause surface warming which changes the lapse rate leading to the hot spot. The reason the hot spot in box c is so strong is because greenhouse warming is so strong compared to the other forcings.

The hot spot is not a unique greenhouse signature and finding the hot spot doesn't prove that humans are causing global warming. Observing the hot spot would tell us we have a good understanding of how the lapse rate changes. As the hot spot is well observed over short timescales (Trenberth 2006Santer 2005), this increases our confidence that we're on track. That leaves the question of the long-term trend.

What does the full body of evidence tell us? We have satellite data plus weather balloon measurements of temperature and wind strength. The three satellite records from UAH, RSS and UWA give varied results. UAH show tropospheric trends less than surface warming, RSS are roughly the same and UWA show a hot spot. The difference between the three is how they adjust for effects like decaying satellite orbits. The conclusion from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (co-authored by UAH's John Christy) is the most likely explanation for the discrepancy between model and satellite observations is measurement uncertainty.

Weather balloon measurements are influenced by effects like the daytime heating of the balloons. When these effects are adjusted for, the weather balloon data is broadly consistent with models  (Titchner 2009Sherwood 2008Haimberger 2008). Lastly, there is measurements of wind strength from weather balloons. The direct relationship between temperature and wind shear allows us to empirically obtain a temperature profile of the atmosphere. This method finds a hot spot (Allen 2008).

Looking at all this evidence, the conclusion is, well, a little unsatisfying – there is still much uncertainty in the long-term trend. It's hard when the short-term variability is nearly an order of magnitude greater than the long-term trend. Weather balloons and satellites do a good job of measuring short-term changes and indeed find a hot spot over monthly timescales. There is some evidence of a hot spot over timeframes of decades but there's still much work to be done in this department. Conversely, the data isn't conclusive enough to unequivocally say there is no hot spot.http://www.skepticalscience.com/What-causes-the-tropospheric-hot-spot.html

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June 30, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

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