Climate science

A Carbon Brief guide to the Our Common Future conference in Paris

  • 07 Jul 2015, 12:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

In the biggest gathering of scientists ahead of COP21 in December, thousands of climatologists, social scientists, economists and policy experts have descended on the UNESCO headquarters in Paris today to kick off the Our Common Future under Climate Change conference.

There's an almost unfathomably large amount of research being presented here in the next four days. So here's Carbon Brief's selection of talks, posters and events that have caught our eye.

We'll start with today's programme, but look out for updates coming soon with highlights from the rest of the week.

Tuesday 7 July

11:40am Sandrine Bony - The Future of climate science

After the formalities of the opening plenary and Thomas Stocker's super quick summary of the latest IPCC report, Prof Sandrine Bony kicks off a big theme for the week with a session on the future of climate science at 11:40am. (UNESCO Main plenary hall)

2:30-4pm Oceans and climate change

Our pick of a diverse session looking at the fate of our oceans is a talk by Hans Otto Portner at 2:40pm on how the impacts of rising temperatures, ocean acidification and oxygen depletion could affect our livelihoods, food and health. Straight afterwards, Jean-Pierre Gattuso explains how climate negotiations have barely touched on ocean impacts. (UNESCO - Fontenoy Room II).

4:30-6pm Attribution of extreme events

A whole parallel session looking at how high impact extreme events are changing and why, with the Met Office's Peter Stott and Dim Coumou from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research (UNESCO Fontenoy - Room VI). In a separate session about climate services, Heidi Cullen is giving a talk at 5:50pm on doing real-time attribution. That means being able to say how climate change has affected the likelihood of a specific event occurring, like the recent heatwave sweeping Europe, while it's still going on. (UPMC Jussieu - Room 307)

4:40pm Anda Ionescu - Long term damage on the stone and glass of Paris

An interesting-sounding talk by Anda Ionescu from the Universite of Paris Est on how climate change could affect the cultural heritage of the great city of Paris. Changing weather patterns and air pollution could affect the 'urban fabric' of the city throughout the 21st century by damaging glass, stained glass and stone (UNESCO Fontenoy - Room IV). For more Paris-specific research, go and see Irene Xueref-Remy's poster on how scientists monitor emissions in the French capital from the top of the Eiffel Tower. (UPMC Jussieu - Posters Block 24)

4:50pm Andy Shepherd - Measuring Earth's polar ice sheets from space

Andy Shepherd from the University of Leeds presents the latest results from satellite measurements of ice loss and outlines plans for the second satellite intercomparison study, which aims to reconcile different ways of measuring ice loss and predict future losses. The whole session on ice sheets and sea level rise (4:30-6pm) is shaping up to be a good one, with other speakers including Jonathan Gregory and Anny Casanave. (UNESO Fontenoy - Room IX)


Chance of a very cold UK winter falls to less than 1% by 2100, new study suggests

  • 06 Jul 2015, 16:00
  • Robert McSweeney

The odds of the UK having a winter as cold as the one in 2009-10 will drop to less than 1% by the end of the century as global temperature rise, researchers from the UK Met Office say.

The new research combines long-term projections of climate change with the yearly ups and downs of the UK's notoriously changeable weather. 

The results suggest that very cold winters and wet summers will become less and less likely, but the research says we should still expect them from time to time.

Cold snap

Climate projections tend to focus on how the typical weather of each season will change in the future. Yet British weather is often anything but typical.

Projections of climate change tell us that UK winters are likely to  get milder. Yet the winter of 2009-10 was the coldest in England and Wales for over 30 years, with average temperatures around  2C below the 1971-2000 average

This "apparent contradiction" led  some parts of the media to create confusion by claiming that our climate isn't warming at all, say the authors of a new study in Nature Climate Change.

But there isn't a contradiction at all, they say. And so they set out to show how a cold winter or a wet summer could still happen in a much warmer world - even if they are much less likely. 

Weather and climate

The researchers used the 'UK Climate Projections 2009' (UKCP09 ) - a set of projections of our future climate averaged into 30-year chunks, from 2010-2039, all the way to 2070-2099. They then combined them with model projections that are averaged over just a single year, and thus include more of the year-to-year variability in our weather. 

The resulting graphs, shown below, illustrate how different aspects of our weather are expected to change under a moderate emissions scenario. The black lines show observed changes and the red, blue and yellow lines show three (of many) different runs of their climate model. 

Annual Global Vs England Wales Temp

Observed (black lines) and projected (coloured lines) changes temperature/rainfall for individual seasons under the  A1B emissions scenario for England and Wales. Data show difference from the 1961-90 average. Source: Sexton and Harris (2015)

The results show how even with a clear climate change trend, we are still likely to be on the receiving end of some highs and lows of British weather, the researchers say.


The most influential climate change papers of all time

  • 06 Jul 2015, 12:00
  • Roz Pidcock

Which of the many thousands of papers on climate change published each year in scientific journals are the most successful? Which ones have done the most to advance scientists' understanding, alter the course of climate change research, or inspire future generations?

On Wednesday, Carbon Brief will reveal the results of our analysis into which scientific papers on the topic of climate change are the most "cited". That means, how many times other scientists have mentioned them in their own published research. It's a pretty good measure of how much impact a paper has had in the science world.

But there are other ways to measure influence. Before we reveal the figures on the most-cited research, Carbon Brief has asked climate experts what they think are the most influential papers.

We asked all the coordinating lead authors, lead authors and review editors on the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report to nominate three papers from any time in history. This is the exact question we posed:

"What do you consider to be the three most influential papers in the field of climate change?"

As you might expect from a broad mix of physical scientists, economists, social scientists and policy experts, the nominations spanned a range of topics and historical periods, capturing some of the great climate pioneers and the very latest climate economics research.

Here's a link to our  summary of who said what. But one paper clearly takes the top spot.

Winner: Manabe & Wetherald (  1967)

With eight nominations, a seminal paper by Syukuro Manabe and Richard. T. Wetherald published in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences in 1967 tops the Carbon Brief poll as the IPCC scientists' top choice for the most influential climate change paper of all time.

Entitled, "Thermal Equilibrium of the Atmosphere with a Given Distribution of Relative Humidity", the work was the first to represent the fundamental elements of the Earth's climate in a computer model, and to explore what doubling carbon dioxide (CO2) would do to global temperature.

Fig1  Manabe & Wetherald (1967), Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences

The Manabe & Wetherald paper is considered by many as a pioneering effort in the field of climate modelling, one that effectively opened the door to projecting future climate change. And the value of climate sensitivity is something climate scientists are  still grappling with today.