Saturday, August 07, 2010

MT asks a scary question

From in it for the gold, MT asks:

Are the current events in Russia "because of" "global warming"? To put the question in slightly more formal terms, are we now looking at something that is no longer a "loading the dice" situation but is a "this would, practically certainly, not have happened without human interference" situation?
UPDATE: Eli thought of a pithier way of saying this:
As Dirty Harry would say, at some point the bunnies have to ask not if the dice are loaded, but if the 44 Magnum is.


carrot eater said...

eh. I think we all know that's a very difficult claim to make. Ultimately you'd have to resort to using models to peck at it, which he mentions. But you'd be using climate models for things which aren't their strongest features - regional precipitation.

And while the temperatures and moisture levels may be unusual so far as the instrumental record goes, I'd be careful about saying anything about the fires themselves. Not to go all Pielke on you, but there's always going to be human factors there, in terms of how competent was the institutional response, how were the forests managed ahead of time.

David B. Benson said...

carrot eater --- Under Vald the Putkin, the rubber stamp Duma approved legislation firing all 70,000 Russian forest managers (who also served as guards to fend off illegal logging and also the wildfire fighters). So what is left are the city firefighters, who have no training at all in putting out, or even controlling, wildfires.

Robert said...

That's very unfortunate. Urban fire and wild land fire are two completely different animals. There's an old joke that illustrates the distinction: How does a wild land firefighter deal with a grease fire in the kitchen?

A: Backburn* the dining room.

*A backburn is a (hopefully) controlled burn that stops the primary fire from spreading by creating a barrier in which there is no fuel.

Anonymous said...

Lets see; temperature record broken comprehensively for a number of days. Moscow has never been anywhere near this hot in recorded history, record not broken, record smashed and smashed again. No couldn't possibly be global warming.

Little Mouse, Rabid Doomsaying Little Mouse

Jim said...

These are the kinds of data we need to answer this question intelligently:

Graph of the Day: Record Hot and Cold Days in Australia, 1960-2009

I'd expect that the trends appear similar for Central Asia.

Jim Bouldin said...

Robert you made my day with that one :)

Carrot eater: excellent. Evidencing cause in ecological events is almost always more complex and difficult than one wishes; the additional difficulty that climate change adds to this challenge is one of the strong (and generally unmentioned) reasons for avoiding it.

Anonymous said...


It's been REALLY freaky weather here in Perth, Western Australia. Our Winter has lasted about 4 weeks (in two 2-week blocks). It's been cold in the mornings but the days have been sunny and clear - we normally get all our rain (>80%) in the Winter.

Walking around our local park a couple of weeks ago and all the Liquid Amber's were budding... At the end of July!! imagine deciduous trees getting new leaves at the end of January! The weather patterns have basically stayed the same since Summer, with the Hadley cell remaining on the south coast, or south of Australia. Very strange days.


EliRabett said...

Carrot Eater: Regional models incorporating global boundary conditions may get you a fair way to that

Jim Bouldin said...

Maybe, but you still have to be able to separate out the non-climatic effects, which generally ranges from challenging to impossible.

Anonymous said...

This is what I have noticed this year: Flooding, in certain areas unprecedented flooding, and in others (sometimes event the same areas, e.g., Pakistan) record-breaking heat.

There have been atypical floods this year in Europe, S. America, N. America, south Asia and east Asia
There have been a record number of nations around the globe setting record highs in 2010-- not surprisingly, global SATs the last 12-months are the highest on record.

Now some of the flooding and warmth may be linked to the recent El Nino. That said, it was not an especially strong event, certainly not even close to 1997-1998. The sun has only recently started emerging from its funk.

So what gives? Can all these global events simply be coincidence? That is a hard nut to crack. I suggest not though.

The following example what an eye opener for me. The recent flooding events in Oklahoma and Arkansas recently saw precipitable water (PW) values over >50 mm-- now those are values which one would expect in the tropics! Also, the major precip events on the east coast of the USA this past winter were associated with exceptionally moist air-masses, that is unusually high PW values for winter.

Europe and environs have now had two exceptional heat waves in less than 10 years-- that is exceptional.

My take on this is that the dice are now definitely loaded in favour of more extreme events. What scares me is that this is still early days yet.

Anyhow, we will only be able to properly address Michael's question with more time and data-- that is the problem with answering questions concerning extreme events, it requires time, and I do not think we have time to wait for the answer.

Has someone looked at the TRMM data to quantify any changes in precipitation intensity??



Not to pour cold vodka on the forest fire. but what's happened so far is small beer compared to the conflagrations that swept the Siberian taiga in 1915.

If you can access the Nature archive, you'll find the note I published there-

Nature 323, 116 - 117 (11 September 1986; doi:10.1038/323116a0 bin


Anonymous said...

A case can be made for diagnosing the Russian heat as resulting from climate change.
If one examines e.g. monthly average temperatures for a hundred years, one arrives at a distribution. Based on this, one can employ some statistic calculation as to the chance of any monthly anomaly exceeding one, two, three, ... standard deviations from the mean. If one encounters a month that would be virtually 'impossible' according to this calculation - e.g. a come back time of say 50.000 years, then climate change must be the factor. One only has to check for somewhat comparable air pressure distributions in previous months te rule out the possibility that that was the only factor.

RR Kampen, NL.


The heat wave may millennial, but the forest fires are so far not the worst in a century.
Scary as the present ones are, as I noted in Nature in 1986,

that Russia suffered truly millennial fires in 1915 , when Siberia was swept by a series of conflagrations that burned a million square kilometers, Steve Pyne reports the details in his 200 book, Vestal Fire:

and the events of 1915 have become the textbook paradigm of the worst fire in the historical record

Anonymous said...

@Russel: "The heat wave may millennial, but the forest fires are so far not the worst in a century. Scary as the present ones are. . . Russia suffered truly millennial fires in 1915 , when Siberia was swept by a series of conflagrations that burned a million square kilometers. . . [T]he events of 1915 have become the textbook paradigm of the worst fire in the historical record"

I think you're missing a pretty important factor distinguishing the events of 1915 from current happenings. The United States experienced some pretty memorable fires during that era as well, if my memory serves me. On our side of the pond, the catastrophic fires during that era spurred serious efforts on our part to combat them - for better and for worse. We certainly have better tools and tricks to show for it a century later though: aerial firefighting wasn't even a science fiction concept back in those days. We take it almost for granted today. Smokejumpers have proven remarkably effective in catching small and remote fires before they have the chance to blow up and cause problems - the Russian smokejumpers have quite the reputation for being good at it too. Fire engines, bulldozers, portable pumps and collapsible hose - the technological difference the past century made is huge. A lot of institutional know-how has been developed over the past century as well - that's made a huge difference.

Trying to compare the fires from a century ago to those we're living with today is a pretty futile effort. The difference in the human intervention is simply too much to gain any useful insights by counting the number of acres or board-feet that burned up that year.


Jim said...

The Age Of Megafires

"You know, there are a lot of people who don't believe in climate change," Pelley remarks.

"You won't find them on the fire line in the American West anymore," Tom Boatner says. "'Cause we've had climate change beat into us over the last ten or fifteen years. We know what we’re seeing, and we're dealing with a period of climate, in terms of temperature and humidity and drought that's different than anything people have seen in our lifetimes."

Horatio Algeranon said...

When we see Russian women wearing bikinis around outside in the dead of winter, we'll be pretty sure the climate has changed.

It's the 3 standard deviations clothing rule..

Aaron said...

A good a case for climate change can also be made with data on Mississippi River flood crests at St. Louis where we have a long history, but the 5 highest flood crests have occurred in the last decade. What are the odds of that? (Consider flood crests as a proxy for too wet agricultural fields.)

I live in area of California that has been a commercial fruit growing area since the days of John Muir. Three times in that period, the pears have tried to bloom in the fall. That confuses the bees. Those 3 fall blooms were all in the last 6 years. What are the odds of that?

MT is a man that likes his food. I would think that he would be a little worried about impact that confused bees and wet fields could have on his dinner plate. (Not only, fruits such as citrus and Rosaceae that are directly pollinated by bees, but all of the flowering plants that pigs, steers and sheep eat to produce the ribs that land on the BBQ.)

Even when the bees/wind do pollinate a plant that blooms in the wrong season, the plant is not likely to mature viable seed, which goes back to the problem of feeding the pigs, steers and sheep next season.

Gareth Rees said...

The height of a flood crest is affected by faster runoff due to urbanization and loss of flood plains due to construction of levees. So it's a proxy for more than just rainfall.