Continuous observations in the North Atlantic challenges current view about ocean circulation variability

Reblogged from Watts Up With That:

Kevin Kilty

May 10, 2019

[HiFast Note:  Figures A and B added:

osnap_array_schematic_v2_13Nov14

Figure A. OSNAP Array Schematic, source:  https://www.o-snap.org/]

20160329_OSNAP_planeview-1Figure B. OSNAP Array, source:  https://www.o-snap.org/observations/configuration/]

clip_image002Figure 1: Transect of the North Atlantic basins showing color coded salinity, and gray vertical lines showing mooring locations of OSNAP sensor arrays. (Figure from OSNAP Configuration page)

Figure 1: Transect of the North Atlantic basins showing color coded salinity, and gray vertical lines showing mooring locations of OSNAP sensor arrays. (Figure from OSNAP Configuration page)

From Physics Today (April 2019 Issue, p. 19)1:

The overturning of water in the North Atlantic depends on meridional overturning circulation (MOC) wherein warm surface waters in the tropical Atlantic move to higher latitudes losing heat and moisture to the atmosphere along the way. In the North Atlantic and Arctic this water, now saline and cold, sinks to produce north Atlantic Deep water (NADW). It completes its circulation by flowing back toward the tropics or into other ocean basins at depth, and then subsequently upwelling through a variety of mechanisms. The time scale of this overturning is 600 years or so2.

The MOC transports large amounts of heat from the tropics toward the poles, and is thought to be responsible for the relatively mild climate of northern Europe. The heat being transferred from the ocean surface back into the atmosphere at high latitudes is as large as 50W/m2, which is roughly equivalent to solar radiation reaching the surface at high latitudes during winter months2.

In order to evaluate models of ocean overturning oceanographers have relied upon hydrographic research cruises. But the time increment between successive cruises is often long, and infrequent sampling cannot measure long term trends reliably nor gauge current ocean dynamics.

To get a better handle on MOC behavior an array of sensors to continuously monitor temperature, salinity, and velocity measurements known as the Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program (OSNAP) was recently deployed across the region at multiple depths. Figure 1 shows sensor moorings in relation to the various ocean basins of the North Atlantic. Figure 2 shows data from the first 21 months of operation, and displays a rather large variability of overturning in the eastern North Atlantic between Greenland and Scotland that reaches +/-10 Sverdrup (Sv=one million cubic meters per second) monthly, and amounts to one-half the MOC’s total annual transport. Researchers had thought that such variability was only possible on time scales of decades or longer.

Figure 2: Twenty-one months of observational data showing large month to month variation in MOC flows.

Figure 2: Twenty-one months of observational data showing large month to month variation in MOC flows.

The original experimental design for sensor placement in OSNAP was predicated on much smaller variability of a few Sv per month3. The report does not address what impact this surprising level of transport variability has on validity of the experiment design; but the surprisingly large variations in flow challenge expectations derived from climate models regarding the relative amount of overturning between the Labrador Sea and the gateway to the Arctic between Greenland and Scotland.

As one oceanographer put it, the process of deep water formation and sinking of the MOC is more complex than people believed, and these results should prepare people to modify their ideas about how the oceans work. This improved data should not only help test and improve climate models, but also produce more realistic estimates of CO2 uptake and storage.

References:

1. Alex Lopatka, Altantic water carried northward sinks farther east of previous estimates, Physics Today, 72, 4, 19(2019).

2. J. Robert Toggweiler, The Ocean’s Overturning Circulation, Physics Today, 47, 11, 45(1994).

3. Susan Lozier, Bill Johns, Fiamma Straneo, and Amy Bower, Workshop for the Design of a Subpolar North Atlantic Observing System, URL= https://www.whoi.edu/fileserver.do?id=163724&pt=2&p=175489, accessed 05/10/2019.

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Curious Correlations

Reblogged from Watts Up With That:

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

I got to thinking about the relationship between the Equatorial Pacific, where we find the El Nino/La Nina phenomenon, and the rest of the world. I’ve seen various claims about what happens to the temperature in various places at various lag-times after the Nino/Nina changes. So I decided to take a look.

To do that, I’ve gotten the temperature of the NINO34 region of the Equatorial Pacific. The NINO34 region stretches from 90°W, near South America, out to 170° West in the mid-Pacific, and from 5° North to 5° South of the Equator. I’ve calculated how well correlated that temperature is with the temperatures in the whole world, at various time lags.

To start with, here’s the correlation of what the temperature of the NINO34 region is doing with what the rest of the world is doing, with no time lag. Figure 1 shows which areas of the planet move in step with or in opposition to the NINO34 region with no lag.

Figure 1. Correlation of the temperature of the NINO34 region (90°-170°W, 5°N/S) with gridcell temperatures of the rest of the globe. Correlation values greater than 0.6 are all shown in red.

Now, perfect correlation is where two variables move in total lockstep. It has a value of 1.0. And if there is perfect anti-correlation, meaning whenever one variable moves up the other moves down, that has a value of minus 1.0.

There are a couple of interesting points about that first look, showing correlations with no lag. The Indian Ocean moves very strongly in harmony with the NINO34 region (red). Hmmm. However, the Atlantic doesn’t do that. Again hmmm. Also, on average northern hemisphere land is positively correlated with the NINO34 region (orange), and southern hemisphere land is the opposite, negatively correlated (blue).

Next, with a one-month lag to give the Nino/Nina effects time to start spreading around the planet, we see the following:

Figure 2. As in Figure 1, but with a one month lag between the NINO34 temperature and the rest of the world. In other words, we’re comparing each month’s temperature with the previous month’s NINO34 temperature.

Here, after a month, the North Pacific and the North Atlantic both start to feel the effects. Their correlation switches from negative (blues and greens) to positive (red-orange). Next, here’s the situation after a two-month lag.

Figure 3. As in previous figures, but with a two month lag.

I found this result most surprising. Two months after a Nino/Nina change, the entire Northern Hemisphere strongly tends to move in the same direction as the NINO34 region moved two months earlier … and at the same time, the entire Southern Hemisphere moves in opposition to what the NINO34 region did two months earlier.

Hmmm …

And here’s the three-month lag:

Figure 4. As in previous figures, but with a three month lag.

An interesting feature of the above figure is that the good correlation of the north-eastern Pacific Ocean off the west coast of North America does not extend over the continent itself.

Finally, after four months, the hemispherical pattern begins to fall apart.

Figure 5. As in previous figures, but with a four & five month lag.

Even at five months, curious patterns remain. In the northern hemisphere, the land is all negatively correlated with NINO34, and the ocean is positively correlated. But in the southern hemisphere, the land is all positively correlated and the ocean negative.

Note that this hemispheric land-ocean difference with a five-month lag is the exact opposite of the land-ocean difference with no lag shown in Figure 1.

Now … what do I make of all this?

The first thing that it brings up for me is the astounding complexity of the climate system. I mean, who would have guessed that the two hemispheres would have totally opposite strong responses to the Nino/Nina phenomenon? And who would have predicted that the land and the ocean would react in opposite directions to the Nino/Nina changes right up to the very coastlines?

Second, it would seem to offer some ability to improve long-range forecasting for certain specific areas. Positive correlation with Hawaii, North Australia, Southern Africa, and Brazil is good up to four-five months out.

Finally, it strikes me that I can run this in reverse. By that, I mean I can find all areas of the planet that are able to predict the future temperature at some pre-selected location. Like, say, what areas of the globe correlate well with whatever the UK will be doing two months from now?

Hmmm indeed …

Warmest regards to all, the mysteries of this wondrous world are endless.

w.

The Cooling Rains

Reblogged from Watts Up With That:

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

I took another ramble through the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) satellite-measured rainfall data. Figure 1 shows a Pacific-centered and an Atlantic-centered view of the average rainfall from the end of 1997 to the start of 2015 as measured by the TRMM satellite.

Figure 1. Average rainfall, meters per year, on a 1° latitude by 1° longitude basis. The area covered by the satellite data, forty degrees north and south of the Equator, is just under 2/3 of the globe. The blue areas by the Equator mark the InterTropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). The two black horizontal dashed lines mark the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, the lines showing how far north and south the sun travels each year (23.45°, for those interested).

There’s lots of interesting stuff in those two graphs. I was surprised by how much of the planet in general, and the ocean in particular, are bright red, meaning they get less than half a meter (20″) of rain per year.

I was also intrigued by how narrowly the rainfall is concentrated at the average Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). The ITCZ is where the two great global hemispheres of the atmospheric circulation meet near the Equator. In the Pacific and Atlantic on average the ITCZ is just above the Equator, and in the Indian Ocean, it’s just below the Equator. However, that’s just on average. Sometimes in the Pacific, the ITCZ is below the Equator. You can see kind of a mirror image as a light orange horizontal area just below the Equator.

Here’s an idealized view of the global circulation. On the left-hand edge of the globe, I’ve drawn a cross section through the atmosphere, showing the circulation of the great atmospheric cells.

Figure 2. Generalized overview of planetary atmospheric circulation. At the ITCZ along the Equator, tall thunderstorms take warm surface air, strip out the moisture as rain, and drive the warm dry air vertically. This warm dry air eventually subsides somewhere around 25-30°N and 25-30S of the Equator, creating the global desert belts at around those latitudes.

The ITCZ is shown in cross-section at the left edge of the globe in Figure 2. You can see the general tropical circulation. Surface air in both hemispheres moves towards the Equator. It is warmed there and rises. This thermal circulation is greatly sped up by air driven vertically at high rates of speed through the tall thunderstorm towers. These thunderstorms form all along the ITCZ. These thunderstorms provide much of the mechanical energy that drives the atmospheric circulation of the Hadley cells.

With all of that as prologue, here’s what I looked at. I got to thinking, was there a trend in the rainfall? Is it getting wetter or drier? So I looked at that using the TRMM data. Figure 3 shows the annual change in rainfall, in millimeters per year, on a 1° latitude by 1° longitude basis.

Figure 3. Annual change in the rainfall, 1° latitude x 1° longitude gridcells.

I note that the increase in rain is greater on the ocean vs land, is greatest at the ITCZ, and is generally greater in the tropics.

Why is this overall trend in rainfall of interest? It gives us a way to calculate how much this cools the surface. Remember the old saying, what comes down must go up … or perhaps it’s the other way around, same thing. If it rains an extra millimeter of water, somewhere it must have evaporated an extra millimeter of water.

And in the same way that our bodies are cooled by evaporation, the surface of the planet is also cooled by evaporation.

Now, we note above that on average, the increase is 1.33 millimeters of water per year. Metric is nice because volume and size are related. Here’s a great example.

One millimeter of rain falling on one square meter of the surface is one liter of water which is one kilo of water. Nice, huh?

So the extra 1.33 millimeters of rain per year is equal to 1.33 extra liters of water evaporated per square meter of surface area.

Next, how much energy does it take to evaporate that extra 1.33 liters of water per square meter so it can come down as rain? The calculations are in the endnotes. It turns out that this 1.33 extra liters per year represents an additional cooling of a tenth of a watt per square meter (0.10 W/m2).

And how does this compare to the warming from increased longwave radiation due to the additional CO2? Well, again, the calculations are in the endnotes. The answer is, per the IPCC calculations, CO2 alone over the period gave a yearly increase in downwelling radiation of ~ 0.03 W/m2. Generally, they double that number to allow for other greenhouse gases (GHGs), so for purposes of discussion, we’ll call it 0.06 W/m2 per year.

So over the period of this record, we have increased evaporative cooling of 0.10 W/m2 per year, and we have increased radiative warming from GHGs of 0.06 W/m2 per year.

Which means that over that period and that area at least, the calculated increase in warming radiation from GHGs was more than counterbalanced by the observed increase in surface cooling from increased evaporation.

Regards to all,

w.

As usual: please quote the exact words you are discussing so we can all understand exactly what and who you are replying to.

Additional Cooling

Finally, note that this calculation is only evaporative cooling. There are other cooling mechanisms at work that are related to rainstorms. These include:

• Increased cloud albedo reflecting hundreds of watts/square meter of sunshine back to space

• Moving surface air to the upper troposphere where it is above most GHGs and freer to cool to space.

• Increased ocean surface albedo from whitecaps, foam, and spume.

• Cold rain falling from a layer of the troposphere that is much cooler than the surface.

• Rain re-evaporating as it falls to cool the atmosphere

• Cold wind entrained by the rain blowing outwards at surface level to cool surrounding areas

• Dry descending air between rain cells and thunderstorms allowing increased longwave radiation to space.

Between all of these, they form a very strong temperature regulating mechanism that prevents overheating of the planet.

Calculation of energy required to evaporate 1.33 liters of water.

#latent heat evaporation joules/kg @ salinity 35 psu, temperature 24°C

> latevap = gsw_latentheat_evap_t( 35, 24 ) ; latevap

[1] 2441369

# joules/yr/m2 required to evaporate 1.33 liters/yr/m2

> evapj = latevap * 1.33 ; evapj

[1] 3247021

# convert joules/yr/m2 to W/m2

> evapwm2 = evapj / secsperyear ; evapwm2

[1] 0.1028941

Note: the exact answer varies dependent on seawater temperature, salinity, and density. These only make a difference of a couple percent (say 0.1043 vs 0.1028941). I’ve used average values.

Calculation of downwelling radiation change from CO2 increase.

#starting CO2 ppmv Dec 1997

> thestart = as.double( coshort[1] ) ; thestart

[1] 364.38

#ending CO2 ppmv Mar 2015

> theend = as.double( last( coshort )) ; theend

[1] 401.54

# longwave increase, W/m2 per year over 17 years 4 months

> 3.7 * log( theend / thestart, 2)/17.33

[1] 0.0299117

A Simple Model of the Atmospheric CO2 Budget

Reblogged from Dr. Roy Spencer:

April 11th, 2019 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

SUMMARY: A simple model of the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere is presented which fairly accurately reproduces the Mauna Loa observations 1959 through 2018. The model assumes the surface removes CO2 at a rate proportional to the excess of atmospheric CO2 above some equilibrium value. It is forced with estimates of yearly CO2 emissions since 1750, as well as El Nino and La Nina effects. The residual effects of major volcanic eruptions (not included in the model) are clearly seen. Two interesting finding are that (1) the natural equilibrium level of CO2 in the atmosphere inplied by the model is about 295 ppm, rather than 265 or 270 ppm as is often assumed, and (2) if CO2 emissions were stabilized and kept constant at 2018 levels, the atmospheric CO2 concentration would eventually stabilize at close to 500 ppm, even with continued emissions.

A recent e-mail discussion regarding sources of CO2 other than anthropogenic led me to revisit a simple model to explain the history of CO2 observations at Mauna Loa since 1959. My intent here isn’t to try to prove there is some natural source of CO2 causing the recent rise, as I think it is mostly anthropogenic. Instead, I’m trying to see how well a simple model can explain the rise in CO2, and what useful insight can be deduced from such a model.

The model uses the Boden et al. (2017) estimates of yearly anthropogenic CO2 production rates since 1750, updated through 2018. The model assumes that the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere is proportional to the atmospheric excess above some natural “equilibrium level” of CO2 concentration. A spreadsheet with the model is here.

Here’s the assumed yearly CO2 inputs into the model:

1
Fig. 1. Assumed yearly anthropogenic CO2 input into the model atmosphere.

I also added in the effects of El Nino and La Nina, which I calculate cause a 0.47 ppm yearly change in CO2 per unit Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI) value (May to April average). This helps to capture some of the wiggles in the Mauna Loa CO2 observations.

The resulting fit to the Mauna Loa data required an assumed “natural equilibrium” CO2 concentration of 295 ppm, which is higher than the usually assumed 265 or 270 ppm pre-industrial value:

2Fig. 2. Simple model of atmospheric CO2 concentration using Boden et al. (2017) estimates of yearly anthropogenic emissions, an El Nino/La Nina natural source/sink, after fitting of three model free parameters.

Click on the above plot and notice just how well even the little El Nino- and La Nina-induced changes are captured. I’ll address the role of volcanoes later.

The next figure shows the full model period since 1750, extended out to the year 2200:

3
Fig. 3. As in Fig. 2, but for the full model period, 1750-2200.

Interestingly, note that despite continued CO2 emissions, the atmospheric concentration stabilizes just short of 500 ppm. This is the direct result of the fact that the Mauna Loa observations support the assumption that the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere is directly proportional to the amount of “excess” CO2 in the atmosphere above a “natural equilibrium” level. As the CO2 content increases, the rate or removal increases until it matches the rate of anthropogenic input.

We can also examine the removal rate of CO2 as a fraction of the anthropogenic source. We have long known that only about half of what is emitted “shows up” in the atmosphere (which isn’t what’s really going on), and decades ago the IPCC assumed that the biosphere and ocean couldn’t keep removing excess CO2 at such a high rate. But, in fact, the fractional rate of removal has actually been increasing, not decreasing.And the simple model captures this:

4
Fig. 4. Rate of removal of atmospheric CO2 as a fraction of the anthropogenic source, in the model and observations.

The up-and-down variations in Fig. 4 are due to El Nino and La Nina events (and volcanoes, discussed next).

Finally, a plot of the difference between the model and Mauna Loa observations reveals the effects of volcanoes. After a major eruption, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is depressed, either because of a decrease in natural surface emissions or an increase in surface uptake of atmospheric CO2:

5
Fig. 5. Simple model of yearly CO2 concentrations minus Mauna Loa observations (ppm), revealing the effects of volcanoes which are not included in the model.

What is amazing to me is that a model with such simple but physically reasonable assumptions can so accurately reproduce the Mauna Loa record of CO2 concentrations. I’ll admit I am no expert in the global carbon cycle, but the Mauna Loa data seem to support the assumption that for global, yearly averages, the surface removes a net amount of CO2 from the atmosphere that is directly proportional to how high the CO2 concentration goes above 295 ppm. The biological and physical oceanographic reasons for this might be complex, but the net result seems to follow a simple relationship.

More Evidence for Rapid Coral Adaptation

Reblogged from Watts Up With That:

By Jim Steele

Good news continues to accumulate regards corals’ ability to rapidly adjust to changing climates. The view of coral resilience has been dominated by the narrative of a few scientists. In the 1990s they advocated devastating consequences for coral reefs due to global warming, arguing coral cannot adapt quickly enough. Since the Little Ice Age ended, they believed rising ocean temperatures had brought coral closer to a “bleaching threshold”, a more or less fixed upper temperature limit above which corals cannot survive. Their model predicted the speed of recent global warming “spells catastrophe for tropical marine ecosystems everywhere”. Their assertions that “as much as 95% of the world’s coral may be in danger of being lost by mid-century” was guaranteed to capture headlines and instill public fear. However, a growing body of scientific research increasingly casts doubts on such alarming predictions. Unfortunately, that good news gets much less attention.

A recent peer-reviewed paper titled A Global Analysis of Coral Bleaching Over the Past Two Decades (Sully 2019) compared 20 years of ocean temperatures at which coral bleaching was initiated. From 1998 to 2006, the average sea surface temperature that initiated bleaching was 82.6 °F. But that temperature limit proves not to be “fixed” as earlier researchers incorrectly believed. From 2007 to 2017 the average temperature limit that initiated bleaching was higher, 83.7 °F. This indicates coral have been rapidly adapting to warmer regional climates much faster than once believed.

Based on these new observations the scientists concluded, “past bleaching events may have culled the thermally susceptible individuals, resulting in a recent adjustment of the remaining coral populations to higher thresholds of bleaching temperatures.” Furthermore, they suggested, “Localities that commonly experience large daily, weekly, or seasonal SST ranges [Sea Surface Temperature] may harbor corals, and strains of coral symbionts, that are more resistant to SST extremes.”

Other studies also observed similar rapid adaptations. Studies in Indonesian waters determined that two coral species, both highly susceptible to bleaching, had experienced 94% and 87% colony deaths during the 1998 El Nino. Yet those same species were among the least susceptible to bleaching in the 2010 El Nino despite a similar increase in water temperatures with only 5% and 12% colony deaths.

In the context of coral evolution over thousands and millions of years, such rapid adaptation was suspected by many scientists. After all, none of the coral reefs we observe today, that depend on symbiotic algae, existed 18,000 years ago. The last Ice Age Maximum lowered sea level by 400 feet, killing all coral above those depths. As ice sheets melted, oceans warmed, sea levels rose, and coral rapidly adapted to those ever-changing conditions. More recently, estimates of ocean temperatures just 3000 to 5000 years ago range from 1.8°F to 9°F warmer than today. And clearly those warmer temperatures did not result in massive coral extirpations, thus casting further doubt on predictions of massive coral deaths by 2050. Evidence of bleaching thousands of years ago also reveals it is not just a recent phenomenon.

Studies of coral reefs that existed thousands and millions of years ago, find the lowest extinction rates occurred in the warmest tropics. Sully 2019 similarly found “coral bleaching was less common in the equatorial regions.” In contrast to earlier “models that predict minimal coral survival in the tropical oceans within the next 100 years, recent field work shows considerable geographic variability in both temperature stress and coral survival”. Thus, they argue there is an “urgent need to develop better models” to more accurately predict coral bleaching.

Sully 2019 hypothesized “localities that commonly experience large daily, weekly, or seasonal SST ranges may harbor corals, and strains of coral symbionts [symbiotic partners], that are more resistant to SST extremes.” Increased resilience to a variety of bleaching events, whether induced by anomalous warmth or cold, prompted the Adaptive Bleaching Hypothesis first proposed in 1993. That hypothesis suggests that although bleaching events are a response to stress, by ejecting susceptible symbionts, coral create the potential to acquire totally new and different symbiotic partners that are better suited to new stressful conditions.  A broader analysis of the Adaptive Bleaching Hypothesis is discussed in the article “The Coral Bleaching Debate: Is Bleaching the Legacy of a Marvelous Adaptation Mechanism or A Prelude to Extirpation?

Because coral live in nutrient depleted environments, many species require single-celled photosynthesizing symbionts that typically provide ~90% of the coral’s energy needs. Just 40 years ago it was believed all corals were host to just one photosynthesizing symbiont. But thanks to technological advances in genetic sequencing, we now know a coral species can harbor several potential symbionts, each capable of responding optimally to a different set of environmental conditions. As predicted by the adaptive bleaching hypothesis, genetic techniques have now revealed a wondrously diverse community of symbionts with which coral can partner.

The more alarmist researchers had argued coral can only adapt very slowly over thousands of years via genetic mutation and natural selection. They incorrectly believed coral’s upper temperature limit is “fixed” for decades and centuries. But corals are now seen as an “eco-species” that can rapidly evolve and adapt to changing climates by expelling and acquiring new symbionts. Various symbionts enable various temperature tolerances.

To summarize Sully 2019, they found:

1. Coral now require higher ocean temperatures to bleach than the temperatures that caused bleaching a decade ago. This suggests rapid coral adaptation.

2. Coral bleaching was significantly lower in localities with a high variance in temperature anomalies. Localities with high variability likely maintain a wide variety of symbionts and coral genotypes.

3. There has been no universal response to global warming. Despite similar changes in temperature, bleaching was much less likely in equatorial region where coral diversity was highest.

4. Rapid changes in temperature can result in more bleaching, but the causes of rapid temperature change, such as an El Nino, were not analyzed.

Unfortunately, the last sentence in Sully 2019, reveals how some editors and journals are politicizing the science, and downplaying any optimism. Sully 2019’s last sentence read “immediate action globally to reduce carbon emissions is necessary to avoid further declines of coral reefs.” But Sully 2019’s research never tested or analyzed the effects of CO2 on temperature and bleaching. Their research only revealed resilience and rapid adaptation to warming, whether that warming was natural or CO2 induced. Furthermore, their research reported susceptibility to bleaching varied over time and location and did not detect a CO2 fingerprint. Their research did not determine whether rapid changes in regional ocean temperature were caused by changes in El Nino, shifting ocean currents, changes in upwelling, cloud cover or CO2 concentrations. In the past, honest and objective scientific journals restricted comments to conclusions based on the author’s actual research.

Over the years I have had several researchers thank me for posting information in my blogs that their editors had not allowed. They tell me editors have insisted on more catastrophic CO2-biased conclusions in order for them to publish. We also know from published emails that alarmist scientists like Michael Mann and Kevin Trenberth have actively “persuaded” journal editors, via bullying or other means, to obstruct publication of any skeptical scientific research that undermines Mann’s and Trenberth’s dire predictions. Sully’s CO2-alarmist, non-sequitur closing sentence is most certainly the fingerprint of another such enforced distortion that is now being superimposed on otherwise objective science.

Jim Steele is retired director of the Sierra Nevada Field Campus, San Francisco State University

 

Natural climate processes overshadow recent human-induced Walker circulation trends

Reblogged from Watts Up With That:

Institute for Basic Science

Normal conditions (top), strengthening due to natural variability (middle) and weakening due to greenhouse warming (bottom). Black arrows represent horizontal and vertical winds with the shading on the background map illustrating ocean temperatures. Over the past few decades, natural variability has strengthened the Pacific Walker circulation leading to enhanced cooling in the equatorial central-to-eastern Pacific (middle). Climate models forced by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations simulate weakening of the Walker circulation (bottom). (Right) Temporal evolution of model-simulated Walker circulation trends, with the dark blue line and orange shading denoting anthropogenically-induced changes and the impact of natural processes, respectively. Credit IBS

Normal conditions (top), strengthening due to natural variability (middle) and weakening due to greenhouse warming (bottom). Black arrows represent horizontal and vertical winds with the shading on the background map illustrating ocean temperatures. Over the past few decades, natural variability has strengthened the Pacific Walker circulation leading to enhanced cooling in the equatorial central-to-eastern Pacific (middle). Climate models forced by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations simulate weakening of the Walker circulation (bottom). (Right) Temporal evolution of model-simulated Walker circulation trends, with the dark blue line and orange shading denoting anthropogenically-induced changes and the impact of natural processes, respectively. Credit IBS

A new study, published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that the recent intensification of the equatorial Pacific wind system, known as Walker Circulation, is unrelated to human influences and can be explained by natural processes. This result ends a long-standing debate on the drivers of an unprecedented atmospheric trend, which contributed to a three-fold acceleration of sea-level rise in the western tropical Pacific, as well as to the global warming hiatus.

Driven by the east-west sea surface temperature difference across the equatorial Pacific, the Walker circulation is one of the key features of the global atmospheric circulation. It is characterized by ascending motion over the Western Pacific and descending motion in the eastern equatorial Pacific. At the surface trade winds blow from east to west, causing upwelling of cold water along the equator. From the early 1990s to about 2013, this circulation has intensified dramatically, cooling the eastern equatorial Pacific and triggering shifts in global winds and rainfall (see Figure 1). These conditions further contributed to drying in California, exacerbating mega-drought conditions and impacting agriculture, water resources and wild fires. Given these widespread impacts on ecosystems and society, the recent Walker circulation trends have become subject of intense research.

In contrast to the observed strengthening, the majority of climate computer models simulates a gradual weakening of the Walker Circulation when forced by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations (see Figure 1). “The discrepancy between climate model projections and observed trends has led to speculations about the fidelity of the current generation of climate models and their representation of tropical climate processes”, said Eui-Seok Chung, researcher from the Center for Climate Physics, Institute for Basic Science, South Korea, and lead-author of the study.

To determine whether the observed changes in the tropical atmospheric circulation are due to natural climate processes or caused by human-induced climate change, scientists from South Korea, the United States and Germany came together to conduct one of the most comprehensive big-data analyses of recent atmospheric trends to date. “Using satellite data, improved surface observations and a large ensemble of climate model simulations, our results demonstrate that natural variability, rather than anthropogenic effects, were responsible for the recent strengthening of the Walker circulation”, said Prof. Axel Timmermann, Director of the IBS Center for Climate Physics at Pusan National University and co-author of this study.

In their integrated analysis, the researchers found that the satellite-inferred strengthening of the Walker circulation is substantially weaker than implied by other surface observations used in previous studies. “Putting surface observations in context with latest satellite products was a key element of our study”, said co-author Dr. Lei Shi from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in the United States.

Analyzing 61 different computer model simulations forced with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, the authors showed that, although the average response is a Walker circulation weakening, there are substantial discrepancies amongst the individual model experiments, in particular when considering shorter-term trends. “We found that some models are even consistent with the observed changes in the tropical Pacific, in stark contrast to other computer experiments that exhibit more persistent weakening of the Walker circulation during the observational period”, said co-author Dr. Viju John from EUMETSAT in Germany. The authors were then able to tease apart what caused the spread in the computer model simulations.

Co-author Prof. Kyung-Ja Ha from the IBS Center for Climate Physics and Pusan National University explains “Natural climate variability, associated for instance with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation or the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation can account for a large part of diversity in simulated tropical climate trends”.

“The observed trends are not that unusual. In climate model simulations we can always find shorter-term periods of several decades that show similar trends to those inferred from the satellite data. However, in most cases, and when considering the century-scale response to global warming, these trends reverse their sign eventually”, said co-author Prof. Brian Soden from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, at the University of Miami, United States.

The study concludes that the observed strengthening of the Walker circulation from about 1990-2013 and its impact on western Pacific sea level, eastern Pacific cooling, drought in the Southwestern United States, was a naturally occurring phenomenon, which does not stand in contrast to the notion of projected anthropogenic climate change. Given the high levels of natural decadal variability in the tropical Pacific, it would take at least two more decades to detect unequivocally the human imprint on the Pacific Walker Circulation (see Figure 1, right panel).

Solar variability weakens the Walker cell

Tallbloke's Talkshop

Credit: PAR @ Wikipedia
This looks significant, pointing directly at solar influences on climate patterns. The researchers found evidence that atmosphere-ocean coupling can amplify the solar signal, having detected that wind anomalies could not be explained by radiative considerations alone.

An international team of researchers from United Kingdom, Denmark, and Germany has found robust evidence for signatures of the 11-year sunspot cycle in the tropical Pacific, reports Phys.org.

They analyzed historical time series of pressure, surface winds and precipitation with specific focus on the Walker Circulation—a vast system of atmospheric flow in the tropical Pacific region that affects patterns of tropical rainfall.

They have revealed that during periods of increased solar irradiance, the trade winds weaken and the Walker circulation shifts eastward.

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De Nada Ocean SSTs in February

Science Matters

The best context for understanding decadal temperature changes comes from the world’s sea surface temperatures (SST), for several reasons:

  • The ocean covers 71% of the globe and drives average temperatures;
  • SSTs have a constant water content, (unlike air temperatures), so give a better reading of heat content variations;
  • A major El Nino was the dominant climate feature in recent years.

HadSST is generally regarded as the best of the global SST data sets, and so the temperature story here comes from that source, the latest version being HadSST3.  More on what distinguishes HadSST3 from other SST products at the end.

The Current Context

The chart below shows SST monthly anomalies as reported in HadSST3 starting in 2015 through February 2019. For some reason, it took almost a whole month to publish the updated dataset.

A global cooling pattern is seen clearly in the Tropics since its peak in 2016, joined…

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Satellite Evidence Affirms Solar Activity Drove ‘A Significant Percentage’ Of Recent Warming

Reblogged from the NoTricksZone:

In a new paper, two astrophysicists shred the IPCC-preferred and model-based PMOD solar data set and affirm the ACRIM, which is rooted in observation and shows an increase in total solar irradiance (TSI) during the 1980-2000 period. They suggest a “significant percentage” of recent climate change has been solar-driven.

Scafetta and Willson, 2019

I. The PMOD is based on proxy modeled predictions, “questionable” modifications, and degraded, “misinterpreted” and “erroneously corrected” results 

• “The PMOD rationale for using models to alter the Nimbus7/ERB data was to compensate for the sparsity of the ERBS/ERBE data and conform their gap results more closely to the proxy predictions of solar emission line models of TSI behavior.”
• “PMOD’s modifications of the published ACRIM and ERB TSI records are questionable because they are based on conforming satellite observational data to proxy model predictions.”
• “The PMOD trend during 1986 to 1996 is biased downward by scaling ERB results to the rapidly degrading ERBE results during the ACRIM-Gap using the questionable justification of agreement with some TSI proxy predictions first proposed by Lee III et al.(1995).”
• PMOD misinterpreted and erroneously corrected ERB results for an instrument power down event.”
• “PMOD used overlapping comparisons of ACRIM1 and ACRIM2 with ERBE observations and proxy models to construct their first composite. Other PMOD composites [17, 18] used different models of the ERBE-ACRIM-Gap degradation. The result of these various modifications during the ACRIM-Gap was that PMOD introduced a downward trend in the Nimbus7/ERB TSI data that decreased results by 0.8 to 0.9 W/m2 (cf. [18, 20]).”

II. The PMOD TSI composite “flawed” results were an “unwarranted manipulation” of data intended to support AGW, but are  “contraindicated”

• “The dangers of utilizing ex-post-facto corrections by those who did not participate in the original science teams of satellite experiments are that erroneous interpretations of the data can occur because of a lack of detailed knowledge of the experiment and unwarranted manipulation of the data can be made based on a desire to support a particular solar model or some other nonempirical bias. We contend that the PMOD TSI composite construction is compromised in both these ways.”
 “[O]ur scientific knowledge could be improved by excluding the more flawed record from the composite. This was the logic applied by the ACRIM team. In point of fact PMOD failed to do this, instead selecting the ERBE results that were known to be degraded and sparse, because that made the solar cycle 21–22 trend agrees with TSI proxy models and the CAGW explanation of CO2 as the driver of the global warming trend of the late 20th century.”
• “The use of unverified modified data has fundamentally flawed the PMOD TSI satellite composite construction.”
• “The consistent downward trending of the PMOD TSI composite is negatively correlated with the global mean temperature anomaly during 1980–2000. This has been viewed with favor by those supporting the COanthropogenic global warming (CAGW) hypothesis since it would minimize TSI variation as a competitive climate change driver to CO2, the featured driver of the hypothesis during the period (cf.: [IPCC, 2013, Lockwood and Fröhlich, 2008]).”
• “Our summary conclusion is that the objective evidence produced by all of the independent TSI composites [3,5, 6, 9] agrees better with the cycle-by-cycle trending of the original ACRIM science team’s composite TSI that shows an increasing trend from 1980 to 2000 and a decreasing trend thereafter. The continuously downward trending of the PMOD composite and TSI proxy models is contraindicated.”

III. The ACRIM TSI supports the conclusion that “a significant percentage” of climate change in recent decades was driven by TSI variation

Graph Source: Soon et al., 2015
• ACRIM shows a 0.46 W/m2 increase between 1986 and 1996 followed by a decrease of 0.30 W/m2 between 1996 and 2009. PMOD shows a continuous, increasing downward trend with a 1986 to 1996 decrease of 0.05 W/m2 followed by a decrease of 0.14 W/m2 between 1996 and 2009. The RMIB composite agrees qualitatively with the ACRIM trend by increasing between the 1986 and 1996 minima and decreasing slightly between 1996 and 2009.”
• “ACRIM composite trending is well correlated with the record of global mean temperature anomaly over the entire range of satellite observations (1980–2018) [Scafetta. 2009]. The climate warming hiatus observed since 2000 is inconsistent with CO2 anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) climate models [Scafetta, 2013, Scafetta, 2017]. This points to a significant percentage of the observed 1980–2000 warming being driven by TSI variation [Scafetta, 2009, Willson, 2014, Scafetta. 2009]. A number of other studies have pointed out that climate change and TSI variability are strongly correlated throughout the Holocene including the recent decades (e.g., Scafetta, 2009,  Scafetta and Willson, 2014, Scafetta, 2013Kerr, 2001, Bond et al., 2001, Kirkby, 2007, Shaviv, 2008, Shapiro et al., 2011, Soon and Legates, 2013, Steinhilber et al., 2012, Soon et al., 2014).”
• “The global surface temperature of the Earth increased from 1970 to 2000 and remained nearly stable from 2000 and 2018. This pattern is not reproduced by CO2 AGW climate models but correlates with a TSI evolution with the trending characteristics of the ACRIM TSI composite as explained in Scafetta [6,12, 27] and Willson [7].”

IV. The Correlation:

Graph Source: Soon et al., 2015
Image Source: Smith, 2017

V. The Mechanism: Higher solar activity on decadal-scales limits the seeding of clouds, which means more solar radiation is absorbed by the surface, warming the Earth 

Image Source: Fleming, 2018

Image Source: Sciencedaily.com

VI. The radiative forcing from the increase in surface solar radiation: +4.25 Wm-2/decade between 1984-2000

Image Source: Goode and Palle, 2007

Image Source(s): Hofer et al., 2017 and Kay et al., 2008

Not Threatened By Climate Change: Galápagos Islands

Reblogged from Watts Up With That:

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen

featured_image_galapagosRightfully famous for its strangely different flora and fauna, the products of ages of isolation from the mainland of South America and the  maybe the seed of inspiration to Charles Darwin’s ideas regarding the evolution of Earth’s plants and animals, the Galápagos Islands are almost exactly on the equator some 600 miles west of Ecuador.

The Galápagos Islands  are home to many species, some unique to the Galápagos:

vol_frig

seal_tortoise

blue_frig

And, not the least if last, the uniquely cute, Equator-spanning, Galápagos Penguins:

galapagos_penguins

The fabled living treasures of this group of islands are threatened, besieged and at risk of disappearing forever long before we have had time to discover all of their secrets.

A beautifully illustrated article in the New York Times,  featuring the strikingly evocative photography of  Josh Haner, warns us how  the Galápagos Islands’ ecological niches  and their living legends are endangered.

“As climate change warms the world’s oceans, these islands are a crucible. And scientists are worried. Not only do the Galápagos sit at the intersection of three ocean currents, they are in the cross hairs of one of the world’s most destructive weather patterns, El Niño, which causes rapid, extreme ocean heating across the Eastern Pacific tropics.”

“To see the future of the Galápagos, look to their recent past, when one such event bore down on these islands. Warm El Niño waters blocked the rise of nutrients to the surface of the ocean, which caused widespread starvation.

Large marine iguanas died, while others shrank their skeletons to survive. Seabirds stopped laying eggs. Forests of a giant daisy tree were flattened by storms and thorny invasive bushes took over their territory. Eight of every 10 penguins died and nearly all sea lion pups perished. A fish the length of a pencil, the Galápagos damsel, was never seen again.”

Somehow, this destruction and death may have taken place without it coming to your attention.   Certainly, with the Galápagos Islands being rated #5 in the 8 Best Ecotourism Destinations In The World,  one wonders how the Galápagos maintain their popularity with all those awful things going on.

This is a very typical example what passes for science journalism today, as the Times continues with:

“That was in 1982. The world’s oceans have warmed at least half a degree Celsius since then.”

Let me try to untangle the web of this mixture of fact and fallacy.

Claim 1:  “The world’s oceans have warmed at least half a degree Celsius since then. [1982].”   The link is to the Times’ very own really scary story (based on the IPCC’s SR1.5 ) which stated “But as global average temperatures have risen half a degree in that span, these bleaching events [referring to coral bleaching] have become a regular phenomenon.”  Let me correct this:  ocean temperatures worldwide have not warmed by 0.5°C. 

Ocean_temperature

Not 0.5°C but 0.175-0.20°C (errorless degrees of course, NODC/NOAA produce tiny numbers like these with no uncertainty whatever.)

Maybe the author,  Nicholas Casey, meant to write sea surface temperature (SST) has risen half a degree?  Let’s see what SST looks like at the Galápagos:

Daily_SST_3_2019

On this particular day, 9 March 2019, we see right along the equator  off the shore of Ecuador, dark blue (in the little green circle) which represents sea surface temperature between 2 and 3°C (about 5°F) below the 1971-2000 base period.

Caveat:  These sea surface temperatures change daily.  By sea surface is meant:  “Sea Surface Temperature (SST) is defined as the skin temperature (top 2 mm) of the ocean. …. Instruments on satellites now remotely measure SST for the whole world every day.”

Here’s the last year, with images picked out near the beginning of each month.

sst

The SST of the sea surrounding the Galápagos swings over a range of 4 degrees or so during the year.  And how about the long term changes?

SST_1955-2010Annual temperature climatology at the surface ( 1.00 degree grid)

Again, the small circle off the coast of Ecuador shows the location of the Galápagos Islands, sitting just inside the 24°C contour.  Comparing the decadal averages we find that there has been no change at the Galápagos since 1955.

The fact of the matter is that sea surface temperatures along the equator between South America and Southeast Asia are driven by the phenomena called ENSO — El Niño–Southern Oscillation.  Those readers not familiar with the ENSO can watch this short 2 minute video (opens in a new tab or window).

The event referred to in the Times is the 1982 major El Niño event which temporarily shut down the upwelling of cooler nutrient rich waters that feed the diverse aquatic life in the Galápagos which resulted in population drops of marine iguanas, seals, and penguins.     A similar situation recurred in the 1997-1998 major El Niño event and can reasonably be assumed that this was also repeated every time there was a Major (or Super) El Niño in the past.

The Galápagos Islands lie some 600 miles west of the shore of Ecuador and sit straddling the Equator.

Maps_Galapagos

galapagos_currents

Five important Pacific Ocean currents meet there:  The Panama Current, the nutrient rich Humboldt flows north up the coast of South America and then turns west heading to the Galápagos, where it joins in the westward flowing South Equatorial Current.  Slipping along the equator, flowing west to east, is the North Equatorial Countercurrent.  “Lastly, and possibly most importantly, is the Cromwell Current, aka the Pacific Equatorial Undercurrent. Until now, we’ve been talking about surface ocean currents, but the Cromwell flows about 300 feet down, from west to east along the equator. When it hits the Galápagos from the west, it’s deflected toward the surface, bringing yet more cool, nutrient-rich water. “ [ source ]  Nutrient rich waters increase the plankton growth and that attracts the sardines and other fishes which eat the plankton.

El Niño conditions do not “cause rapid, extreme ocean heating across the Eastern Pacific tropics.” (as stated in the NYT)  Rather, according to NOAA, an El Niño event is when “huge masses of warm water …  slosh east across the Pacific Ocean towards South America.”  (well, sort of…) The El Niño is not something that causes heating of the ocean surface, it is an effect of warmer waters moving from the western Pacific to the eastern Pacific, in part by a weakening of the easterly trade winds, which blow east to west.  El Niño can be identified by a certain pattern of changed wind and ocean currents — and in fact, there are many sub-classes of El Niños, which each have differing effects on the world’s weather.

But for the Galápagos, this is the important effect in regards to the ocean:

El Niño’s mass of warm water puts a lid on the normal currents of cold, deep water that typically rise to the surface along the equator and off the coast of Chile and Peru, said Stephanie Uz, ocean scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. In a process called upwelling, those cold waters normally bring up the nutrients that feed the tiny organisms, which form the base of the food chain.

“An El Niño basically stops the normal upwelling,” Uz said. “There’s a lot of starvation that happens to the marine food web.” These tiny plants, called phytoplankton, are fish food – without them, fish populations drop, and the fishing industries that many coastal regions depend on can collapse.  [ source ]

el_Nino_windsAs for the small pelagic fish that depend on those upwellings and the plankton that feed off their nutrient rich waters, they move with the food supply — similar in patterns occur off the west coast of North America.

Further complicating the situation for Galápagos seals, flightless cormorants and penguins  is that the world’s fisheries experts know that sardine and anchovy populations experience multi-decadal-scale cycles of boom and bust population numbers — which may be somewhat related to ocean temperatures, with sardines preferring warmer waters than anchovies — maybe. Some of the fluctuation may be due to or contributed to by overfishing.  The scientific jury is still out on the issue.  Anchovies boom while sardines bust, and vice-versa.   The patterns seen are similar on the western coasts of North America, South America and Africa, and on the east coast of Japan.

anchovy_sardine_rollercoastIt is UNESCO that makes the claim most commonly repeated:

“Already under pressure from tourism development, population growth and the impacts of introduced species, the native wildlife and ecosystems of the Galápagos will be significantly affected by changes in the climate. The key factor looks likely to be how changes in El Niño and other cyclical events are manifest under global warming and how ocean currents and productivity respond.

 CLAIMED THREATS:  El Niño is blamed for shrinking marine iguanas (oddly true), damage to Daisy Tree Forests (happened twice in the last 100 years), starving penquins, cormorants and seals,  invasive blackberrys, invasive fire ants, damage from rising sea levels.

Taking the last of the claims first:  Sea Level.

Sea level hasn’t been  changing much in the Galápagos:

Baltra_SLR_monthly

Baltra_SLR_annual

Monthly and annual tide gauge records at the PSMSL station located on Isla Baltra show relative sea levels rising and falling and mostly staying within a 100mm/4inch band since 1985.  El Niños are known to have a positive effect (raising) on sea levels in the eastern Pacific and we see these noted on the annual graph above.

Just to be thorough we have to look at Vertical Land Movement in order to know if it is the sea surface or the land that is moving — up or down.  The good news is that there are CGPS (continuously operating GPS stations — CGPS@TG) in the Galápagos:

GLPS_VLM_800

Nothing in particular going on with Vertical Land Movement, other than something that seems to be a seasonal cycle, but constrained mostly in a range of about 1 inch (0.025 meters).  Even with this short ten year record, we  can see that there is no upward VLM disguising rising sea level.

 

Combining Tide Gauge and CGPS data it does not appear that there has been any SLR at the Galápagos over the last 30 years.

Bottom Line –  Sea Level Rise :   Not a current threat to the Galápagos Islands or their flora and fauna.

This leaves us with the concerns that El Niño episodes or events will seriously damage the delicate ecological balance of the Galápagos.

NOAA says:  “El Niño is a natural, ocean-atmospheric phenomenon marked by warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean near the equator. Typical El Niño patterns during winter and early spring include below-average precipitation and warmer-than-average temperatures along the northern tier of the U.S., and above-normal precipitation and cooler conditions across the South. While impacts vary during each El Niño event, NOAA regularly provides temperature and precipitation outlooks for the seasons ahead.”

El Niño events are thought to have been occurring for thousands of years.[ ref. ] For example, it is thought that El Niño affected the ancient Moche people, in what is in modern-day Peru, who may have sacrificed humans in order to try to prevent heavy El Nino rains.

There have been at least 30 El Niño events since 1900, with the 1982–83, 1997–98 and 2014–16 events among the strongest on record. Since 2000, El Niño events have been observed in 2002–03, 2004–05, 2006–07, 2009–10 and 2014–16.

Major ENSO events were recorded in the years 1790–93, 1828, 1876–78, 1891, 1925–26, 1972–73, 1982–83, 1997–98, and 2014–16.

Typically, this anomaly happens at irregular intervals of two to seven years, and lasts nine months to two years.  The average period length is five years. When this warming occurs for seven to nine months, it is classified as El Niño “conditions”; when its duration is longer, it is classified as an El Niño “episode”.

There is no consensus on whether climate change will have any influence on the occurrence, strength or duration of El Niño events, as research supports El Niño events becoming stronger, longer, shorter and weaker.” [ some data from  Wiki ]

Analysis of past weather records shows that El Niños occurred about 30 times since 1900:

El_Nino_Occurences

As with all analysis of the past, earlier records are likely to have missed weak or short El Niños.  For instance, there was a strong El Niño 1931-1932 (which is not shown in the illustration above).   Today El Niños are mostly determined by satellite images and measurements.  It is impossible, of course, to counter any claim that concerns the future, so we must depend on the past for an idea of how frequent Major, or Super El Niños do occur.

Almost all of the Climate Change concern for the Galápagos rests on model predictions of double the number of El Niños and stronger El Niños through the 21st century.

“In short, if you are someone who wants more or stronger ENSO events in the future, I have great news for you – research supports that. If you are someone who wants fewer or weaker ENSO events in the future, don’t worry – research supports that too.” [ Climate.gov ]

“Year-to-year ENSO variability is controlled by a delicate balance of amplifying and damping feedbacks, and one or more of the physical processes that are responsible for determining the characteristics of ENSO will probably be modified by climate change. Therefore, despite considerable progress in our understanding of the impact of climate change on many of the processes that contribute to El Niño variability, it is not yet possible to say whether ENSO activity will be enhanced or damped, or if the frequency of events will change.”     [ CCSD ]

Here is how these worries related to reality:

There is no substantive evidence that strong or super- El Niño’s will occur more often or that they will be stronger or of longer duration.  Climate Science presently does not know what causes El Niños, though we can recognize the physical signs of ENSO changes.  Models cannot reliably predict/project El Niños in the future.  Thus:

1)  When there are future major El Niños, which is almost certain,  then there will be starving wildlife (seals, cormorants, penguins and marine iguanas) if and when upwelling slows, waters warm and  sardines move to better feeding spots.  This is the natural order of things.

2)  El Niños in the future will bring more rain to the dry Galápagos, as they have always done, which is good for most of the flora but has some downsides for the some of the fauna like giant tortoises (which prefer dry soil for egg laying).  Long rainy seasons can lead to waterlogging of the thin soils which can cause shallow-rooted plants, like the Giant Daisy Tree, to be blown down in storm conditions.

3)  El Niños will mean warmer sea surface temperatures by definition, which if high enough, can cause coral bleaching of the reefs around the islands.

These real threats from El Niños are no different today than they have been during the known past and we can confidently assume that these threats existed in the more distant past.  The ecological niche that is the Galápagos may actually have been created by and depend upon, in part,  the cyclical nature of the ENSO, with its El Niños and La Ninas.

Bottom Line – El Niños:  El Niño is not currently an increased risk for the Galápagos.  No evidence exists, other than unreliable model projections, that there will be more or stronger El Niño episodes or events in the future.

# # # # #

I did say, at the beginning:  “The fabled living treasures of this group of islands are threatened, besieged and at risk of disappearing forever long before we have had time to discover all of their secrets.”  If the risks are not Sea Level Rise, and not future El Niños, what is threatening the Galápagos? In one word:

SUCCESS

 UNESCO World Heritage gave us a hint: “Already under pressure from tourism development, population growth and the impacts of introduced species…”

The Galápagos Islands were at one time a sleepy little place, visited sometimes by curious scientists and photographers. Today:

“….the sheer growth in tourism, which has been fueled, in part, by the growing popularity of both shorter cruises and land-based tourism, has had an undeniable impact on the islands in recent decades. From 1990 to 2013, tourism arrivals increased from around 40,000 to just over 200,000. During that time, the population of the Galápagos increased from around 10,000 to just over 30,000 [currently believed to be 35-40,000], as Ecuadorians from the mainland migrated here in search of jobs and opportunities created, directly and indirectly, by the tourism industry.

Population growth in inhabited areas has created demand for new infrastructure, housing, automobiles, fresh water, sewage treatment and waste disposal. It has also lead to an increase in the number of new, small businesses in operation, which has further fueled immigration from the mainland.  [ source ]

Too many people — a quarter of a million people per year visit the Galápagos, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, are taken by excursion boats to visit uninhabited islands, swim with the seals and sea turtles and drop their trash and cigarette butts everywhere.  All the natives (nearly 100 percent immigrants — both from mainland Ecuador and the world at large) and the tourists live on 3% of the land in the Galápagos — by decree from the government.  That’s a lot of people crammed into a little space.

All those tourists means lots of built infrastructure — water treatment plants, electrical generation (diesel fueled), fresh water wells, trash disposal, roads, marinas, hotels — all those tourists need local people to see to their needs and desires.  But luckily, this also means lots of tourist dollars, at least some of which remain in Ecuadorian hands.

And some of that money goes to fund conservation efforts.  Add to the local money grants from the UN and other NGOs, and there is a lot conservation work being done.

The islands need it — tagging along with the people came goats, dogs, cats, pigs, donkeys, cattle, chickens and rats — plus a veritable Noah’s Ark  of insects and some troublesome plants.

The worst of the invasive plants might be a blackberry — which establishes itself in distressed soil, such as storm damaged areas of Giant Daisy Trees forests.  The blackberries grow so quickly and so dense that the Giant Daisys cannot reestablish themselves.

Of course, feral pigs, goats, donkeys and cattle can nearly denude a whole small island in just a few short years.  Tourist dollars have financed elimination schemes (hunting, both from the ground and from helicopters) which have finally been successful on several islands.

“A goat eradication program, however, cleared the goats from Pinta and Santiago and most of the goat population from Isabela. In fact, by 2006 all feral pigs, donkeys and non-sterile goats had been eliminated from Santiago and Isabela, the largest islands with the worst problems due to non-native mammals.”

“…in 1996 a US$5 million, five-year eradication plan commenced in an attempt to rid the islands of introduced species such as goats, rats, deer, and donkeys. Except for the rats, the project was essentially completed in 2006.  Rats have only been eliminated from the smaller Galápagos Islands of Rábida and Pinzón.” [ Wiki ]

The government of Ecuador is making bold efforts to get the situation under control:    “In 1959, the centenary year of Charles Darwin‘s publication of The Origin of Species, the Ecuadorian government declared 97.5% of the archipelago’s land area a national park, excepting areas already colonised.”  Emigration to the Galápagos has been restricted and tourist visits to many sites are being monitored to keep fragile areas from being overrun.

Take Home Messages:

1)  The Galápagos Islands have weathered the storms of the Pacific for centuries, probably millennia,  and its plants and animals have survived and been shaped by their experiences.  They are not threatened in any unusual way in the present or the near future by Climate Change, Sea Level Rise or future El Niños.

2)  The real present threats to the treasures of the Galápagos Islands are too many people (both residents and tourists) and the arrival of invasive species over the last 500 years.

3)  The Galápagos Islands are home to some magnificent sights and interesting flora and fauna — if you are a Nature enthusiast, it is a great place to get to know.   It is better that you visit by proxy and let nature videos and photography inform you. — the Galápagos Islands already have too many visitors.

4)  If you must go, find a way to volunteer with one of the conservation groups so that your visit can be part of the solution.  (also here, here, and here. Some of these are commercial enterprises, buyer beware.)

5)   Various NGOs have programs to which you can donate:   The Galápagos Conservancy, The Charles Darwin Foundation, and the  The Galápagos Conservation Trust.

# # # # #

 Author’s Comment Policy:

So many of the world’s wonderful places suffer from too much fame and the resulting rush of tourists.  Much of the tourism is powered by the desire of the local people to gain financially.  Usually the next  cycle  brings in international travel and hotel conglomerates which insist in building giant hotels and providing all sorts of intrusive services such as guided walking tours, kayaking trips, scuba and snorkeling outings, motor-cat rides — all of which result in degraded environments.

Although the government of Ecuador changes every few years, it has made important strides in improving the situation in the Galápagos.   The Ecuadorian National Budget includes support for ongoing work in the Galápagos. UNESCO’s declaration of the Galápagos as a World Heritage site in 2007 has brought aid money from the UN and other international environmental organizations.

If you have been there recently, let us know in comments what you found.

If addressing me, begin your comment with “Kip…” so I’ll be sure to see it.