December 21, 2008
(Right Side News has just been notified that had 248,000 page views in a single week, and that is awesome for a meteorologist who drives an electric car! You go man!)

Jim Hansen’s AGU presentation: “He’s ‘nailed’ climate forcing for 2x CO2″

I received this presentation of the “Bjerknes Lecture” that Dr. James Hansen gave at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union on December 17th. There are the usual things one might expect in the presentation, such as this slide which shows 2008 on the left with the anomalously warm Siberia and the Antarctic peninsula:

James Hansen, GISS

Source: James Hansen, GISS

Off topic but relevant, NASA has recently “disappeared” updated this oft cited map showing warming on the Antarctic peninsula and cooling of the interior:

Click for larger image

Here is the link where it used to exist:
(h/t) to Richard Sharpe and Steve Goddard

See the updated image here:
(h/t to Edward T)

There is also some new information in Hansen’s presentation, including a claim about CO2 sensitivity and coal causing a “runaway greenhouse effect”.

Hansen makes a bold statement that he has empirically derived CO2 sensitivity of our global climate system. I had to  chuckle though, about the claim “Paleo yields precise result”.  Apparently Jim hasn’t quite got the message yet that Michael Mann’s paleo results are, well, dubious, or that trees are better indicators of precipitation than temperature.


In fact in the later slide text he claims he’s “nailed” it:


He adds some caveats for the 2xCO2 claim:

It is unwise to attempt to treat glacial-interglacial aerosol changes as a specified boundary condition (as per Hansen et al. 1984), because aerosols are inhomogeneously distributed, and their forcing depends strongly on aerosol altitude and aerosol absorbtivity, all poorly known. But why even attempt that? Human-made aerosol changes are a forcing, but aerosol changes in response to climate change are a fast feedback.
The accuracy of our knowledge of climate sensitivity is set by our best source of information, not by bad sources. Estimates of climate sensitivity based on the last 100 years of climate change are practically worthless, because we do not know the net climate forcing. Also, transient change is much less sensitive than the equilibrium response and the transient response is affected by uncertainty in ocean mixing.
Although, in general, climate sensitivity is a function of the climate state, the fast feedback sensitivity is just as great going toward warmer climate as it is going toward colder climate. Slow feedbacks (ice sheet changes, greenhouse gas changes) are more sensitive to the climate state.

Hansen is also talking about the “runaway” greenhouse effect, citing that old standby Venus in part of his presentation. He claims that coal and tar sands will be our undoing:


Hansen writes:

In my opinion, if we burn all the coal, there is a good chance that we will initiate the runaway greenhouse effect. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale (a.k.a. oil shale), I think it is a dead certainty.
That would be the ultimate Faustian bargain. Mephistopheles would carry off shrieking not only the robber barons, but, unfortunately and permanently, all life on the planet.


I have to wonder though, if he really believes what he is saying. Perhaps he’s never seen this graph for CO2 from Bill Illis and the response it gives to IR radiation (and thus temperature) as it increases:

Click for larger image

Click for larger image

It’s commonly known that CO2’s radiative return response is logarithmic with increasing concentration, so I don’t understand how Hansen thinks that it will be the cause of a runaway effect. The physics dictate that the temperature response curve of the atmosphere will be getting flatter as CO2 increases. Earth has also had much higher concentrations of CO2 in past history, and we didn’t go into runaway then:

Late Carboniferous to Early Permian time (315 mya – 270 mya) is the only time period in the last 600 million years when both atmospheric CO2 and temperatures were as low as they are today (Quaternary Period ).

Temperature after C.R. Scotese
CO2 after R.A. Berner, 2001 (GEOCARB III)

There’s lots more in this paper to behold in wonderment, and I haven’t the time today to comment on all of it, so I’ll just leave it up to the readers of this forum to bring out the relevant issues for discussion.

Here is the link to the presentation (PDF, 2.5 MB):  hansen_agu2008bjerknes_lecture1

I’m sure Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit will have some comments on it, even though his name is not mentioned in the presentation. My name was mentioned several times though. 😉