Met Office report spells out climate change link to UK storms and flooding

  • 10 Feb 2014, 16:00
  • Roz Pidcock

As flood waters continue to engulf parts of the UK this weekend, the Met Office released a report looking at whether climate change is playing a part in the exceptional weather.

Chief scientist Julia Slingo summarised the Met Office's position by saying "all the available evidence suggests there is a link to climate change" - though the full  report makes clear just how difficult it is to unravel the special weather we get here in the UK.

Record-breaking weather

Official Met Office  figures show this winter brought with it one of the most exceptional periods of rainfall in England and Wales in at least 248 years, when records began. When the two months are combined, it was the wettest December and January in the UK as a whole since 1910.

The rainfall has hit the south fastest. In January, parts of the southern England received more than 200 per cent of the average rainfall for the month - shown in dark blue in the maps below.

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Newsnight and the Daily Mail ponder the effect of low solar activity on the climate

  • 17 Jan 2014, 15:40
  • Roz Pidcock

Update - 20th January: The Daily Mail has  written up the story this weekend, covering some very similar ground. The main thing to remember is that scientists think the effect of lower solar activitity will be regional rather than global.

Colder winters in Europe aren't inconsistent with a world that's warming up on the whole. See  this guest blog post from Professor Mike Lockwood for a clear explanation of what scientists think is going on.


Last night, BBC's Newsnight delved into a question that seems to fascinate the media. A six-minute report entitled "What's happening to our sun?" asked how much a drop in solar activity could affect the climate here on earth. The answer from scientists is very little.

We've written about this issue  many times. We recently had a  guest blog by Professor Mike Lockwood - solar scientist at the University of Reading - about the many myths, misconceptions and misnomers about the sun's influence on climate.

It's well worth a read. But here's a summary of the key points.

A declining sun

Back in the 17th century, the sun went through a period of prolonged low activity, called the Maunder Minimum. This coincided with the beginning of what's become known colloquially as the Little Ice Age, when parts of the northern hemisphere cooled by as much as two degrees Celsius. (Incidentally, read Mike Lockwood's  blog for an explanation of why it wasn't a 'Little Ice Age" at all.)

Scientists think the next low point in solar activity could be low enough to rival the Maunder Minimum, which often leads to the question of whether we could see a return to freezing conditions. In the Newsnight report, Rebecca Morelle asks:

"Does a decline in solar activity mean plunging temperatures for decades to come?"

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Cameron "gets the balance about right" on climate change and extreme weather

  • 10 Jan 2014, 15:05
  • Roz Pidcock

With the very worst impacts of the recent storms beginning to tail off, Prime Minister David Cameron waded into the media debate this week by appearing to connect the dots between climate change and recent "abnormal" weather.

Some newspapers suggested Cameron's comments aren't backed by the facts, but a close look at what he said shows his comments to be uncontroversial, scientists say.

Stormy weather

The heavy storms hitting Britain in recent weeks attracted a lot of media coverage. Some   commented on potential links with climate change, but most left the topic well alone, and one or two flatly  dismissed the idea of a connection between the weather the UK is experiencing and any wider climate change.

During Wednesday's Prime Minister's questions, Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron suggested the recent weather in the UK was a "destructive and inevitable consequence, at least in part, of climate change". Asked whether he agreed, David Cameron replied:

"I agree with you that we are seeing more abnormal weather events. Colleagues across the House can argue about whether that is linked to climate change or not. I very much suspect that it is."

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Linking UK floods and climate change: A discussion notable by its absence?

  • 06 Jan 2014, 12:40
  • Mat Hope & Roz Pidcock

The UK is in the midst of extremely wet weather. The Met Office has issued flood warning for  almost all of the UK. But despite scientific evidence linking climate change to an increased risk of flooding, politicians and the media seem unwilling to make the connection.

Flooding is one of the biggest  natural threats in the UK and climate change is predicted to raise that risk. Why?Rising temperatures mean the atmosphere can hold more moisture, which means rain falls in heavier bursts.

That doesn't automatically mean more heavy rainfall everywhere because  complex weather patterns govern the amount, timing and distribution of rainfall. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  projects a combination of factors will mean more extreme rainfall for the UK as temperatures continue to rise.

Of course, there's  more to flooding than heavy rainfall. Building houses on flood plains and paving over natural surfaces means that when it does flood, there's  more to lose.

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Bad tidings: Carbon Brief’s best climate change reads of 2013

  • 30 Dec 2013, 10:00
  • Ros Donald

Credit: Abhi Sharma

Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, energy dilemmas ... don't they say Christmas to you? Ignore the umpteenth series of Downton Abbey and curl up with Carbon Brief's pick of the best energy and climate reads from 2013. From the big reports to the best writing, our staff recommend their standout reads of the year.

Climate: The IPCC Working Group 1 report

In case you've been living under a stone for the past few months, you'll know the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Working Group One report this autumn. The report concluded that scientists are more sure than ever- 95 per cent certain - that humans are causing extra warming. The oceans, land and atmosphere are getting warmer, snow and ice is melting and sea levels are rising.

Communicating the science

As not many people are likely to read the whole tome, communicating the report has been a key preoccupation for those of us who are interested in that sort of thing. The IPCC demonstrated laudable self-awareness in producing a 10-minute film running through the main points in the report.

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Hockey sticks to huge methane burps: Five papers that shaped climate science in 2013

  • 27 Dec 2013, 11:00
  • Roz Pidcock

There's no doubt, 2013 was a busy year in climate science. As well as a bumper new climate report from the UN's official climate assessment body - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - a few bits of research caused quite a stir on their own.

We've cast our collective Carbon Brief mind back over the year to find the five science papers that had everybody talking.

1.  What hockey stick graphs tell us about recent climate change

Using fossils, corals, ice cores and tree rings, a study in the journal Science in March became the first to take a 11,300-year peek back into earth's temperature history.

Shaun Marcott and colleagues  showed global temperature rose faster in the past century than it has since the end of the last ice age, more than 11,000 years ago.

The story piqued the interest of  The Times The Independent,  The Daily Mail and  The Evening Standard. And as an extension of Michael Mann's iconic "hockey stick" graph, the paper attracted a good deal of attention from climate skeptic corners too.

Global temperature reconstructed for the past 11,300 years by Marcott et al. (purple line) and for the past 2,000 years by Mann et al. (grey lines) Source:  Skeptical Science

Marcott, S. A. et al., (2013) A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years. Science, DOI:10.1126/science.1228026

2.World's oceans are getting warmer, faster  

study led by UK researcher Magdalena Balmaseda highlighted why its important not to overlook the oceans when thinking about climate change.

Publishing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the authors showed just how much the oceans have warmed in the past 50 years - and that the pace accelerated sharply after about 2000.

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Predicting the future: The challenge of regional climate projection

  • 24 Dec 2013, 13:40
  • Professor Mat Collins

Niels Bohr, the famous Danish Physicist, once remarked 'Prediction is very difficult, especially when it's about the future'.

This quote is sometimes used to suggest that making predictions of future climate change is an impossible task. But, of course, we can predict the future. Meteorological services around the world do it every day, with ever increasing accuracy.

To predict future changes in climate, scientists use climate models. We feed in assumptions about future levels of greenhouses gases, then run the models forward in time and diagnose the output. We usually speak of "projections" to indicate that our predictions are not definitive, they are conditional on those economic, social and technological assumptions about future greenhouse gas levels.

All of this activity takes place in modelling centres around the world. A recent revolution in the field has been to collect the output from experiments performed at different modelling centres into a central repository, making the data available to a larger community of climate researchers. This is called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP).

A changing climate

With a changing climate, there's demand for information about the changes we can expect at scales that might affect particular populations, ecosystems and economies. So how confident can we be about changes projected for a given region?

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AGU 101: A guide to the US’s biggest geoscience conference

  • 20 Dec 2013, 11:45
  • Guest post by Dr Mark Brandon

Rebecca Morelle

Two giant, week-long, geoscience meetings mark the calendar. In Europe the European Geoscience Union (EGU) General Assembly is around Easter, and in North America just before Christmas is the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting. These two conferences are huge, with 10-20,000 scientists gathering to talk about their work. But how does such a vast science meeting work for the participants? It's all about "sessions", posters and talks.

Last week was the AGU Fall meeting and I was one of probably hundreds of UK geoscientists who made the journey to San Francisco. Big meetings create media interest and the BBC sent two science journalists to write stories.

Their output captures part of the range of science at the meeting - but it's worth noting  they highlighted only about 20 stories from the many thousands presented. My favourites were from Jonathan Amos on the new "coldest place on earth" and the methane seas of Titan, and I loved Rebecca Morell's stories on "missing earthquakes" from the historical record and water spouts on Europa.

Any member of AGU can propose a session subject and title usually by April in the year of the meeting. The organisation committee selects sessions to create  a varied programme  ( PDF  here ) - but given that there are around 1500 sessions over the week you would have to be hard pushed to seriously suggest there is some sort of "gatekeeping" going on with what gets discussed.

When the session lists are published online in early summer, any member of AGU can submit an abstract describing an element of science that fits in a particular session. Then it's down to the conveners of the session to choose abstracts that they would like to see as a talk, or a poster showcased in AGU's gargantuan poster room.

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Geoengineering's limitations: technical, social, and ethical

  • 19 Dec 2013, 09:30
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Satoru Kikuchi

As politicians edge towards agreeing a new international climate deal in 2015, policymakers are increasingly considering a broad sweep of policy options to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions - including techniques to deliberately 'engineer' the climate.

In a special edition of the journal Climatic Change, researchers have turned their attention to addressing some fundamental issues surrounding the future of geoengineering.

What is 'geoengineering'?

The journal broadly defines  two types of geoengineering: carbon drawdown and removal (CDR) and solar radiation management (SRM). In theory, both techniques could help address some, but not all, of the impacts of climate change.

CDR involves drawing greenhouse gas emissions out of the atmosphere and locking them away. For example, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology - which can be fitted to power plants to reduce their emissisons - is a type of CDR. SRM techniques are a bit different. They involve reflecting sunlight away from the earth's surface in various ways in an attempt to control the amount of warming that occurs, without actually affecting emissions. This can be done by creating clouds or putting  mirrors in space to reflect sunlight, for instance.

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Could Arctic summers be sea ice-free in three years’ time?

  • 12 Dec 2013, 12:41
  • Roz Pidcock

Climate change is causing a long-term decline in Arctic sea ice, and scientists expect the Arctic Ocean to be largely ice-free in summer at some point this century.

But is that broad prediction too complacent? This week, the Guardian claimed scientists working for the US Navy believe summer sea ice could disappear as soon as 2016, based on the results of a sophisticated new computer model.

But having looked at the research, it turns out the 2016 prediction is from an older, simpler model, and isn't the US Navy prediction of what's going to happen in the Arctic. It's also much sooner than most polar scientists would suggest.

An ice-free prospect

Arctic sea ice is declining by nearly four per cent per decade, according to the  latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The loss is particularly noticeable at the end of summer, when the ice reaches a seasonal low.

Arctic _sea _ice _summer

Average extent of Arctic sea ice in summer (colours represent different datasets). Source: IPCC 5th Assessment Report,  Summary for Policymakers (p8)

The change has  wide-reaching consequences, so when it might happen is an important question.

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