Back to the future in El Niño forecasting

From the Georgia Institute of Technology:

Looking at El Niño’s past to predict its future

The El Niño Southern Oscillation is Earth’s main source of year-to-year climate variability, but its response to global warming remains highly uncertain.

Scientists see a large amount of variability in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) when looking back at climate records from thousands of years ago. Without a clear understanding of what caused past changes in ENSO variability, predicting the climate phenomenon’s future is a difficult task. A new study shows how this climate system responds to various pressures, such as changes in carbon dioxide and ice cover, in one of the best models used to project future climate change.

“All of the natural climate fluctuations are in this model, and what we see is that the El Niño responds to every single one of these, significantly,” said Kim Cobb, an associate professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation phenomenon controls how the climate changes in the tropics (and also influences weather patterns elsewhere, including the United States).

The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE). The study was published November 27 in the journal Nature.

In the study, researchers analyzed a series of transient Coupled General Circulation Model simulations forced by changes in greenhouse gases, orbital forcing, meltwater discharge and the ice-sheet history throughout the past 21,000 years. This is farthest in the past that this model has been run continuously, which required supercomputers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Center for Atmospheric Research to be dedicated to the simulation for months.

Some key findings of the new simulations of El Niño over the past 21,000 years:

  • Strengthening ENSO over the current interglacial period, caused by increasing positive ocean-atmosphere feedbacks
  • ENSO characteristics change drastically in response to meltwater discharges during early deglaciation
  • Increasing deglacial atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations tend to weaken ENSO
  • Retreating glacial ice sheets intensify ENSO

“The model gives some very clear predictions that are very much in line with some of the best understandings of the physics controlling the El Niño system,” Cobb said. “It shows that this climate system in the model is sensitive to a variety of different natural climate changes that occurred over the last 21,000 years.”

In order to understand how El Niño responds to various climate forces, researchers test model predictions of past El Niño changes against actual records of past ENSO activity. Kim Cobb published several such records, including a large fossil coral dataset published in Science last year.

“The more we can close the loop between what this model says happened in the past and what the data say happened in the past, then we can project forward our improved understanding to understand future El Niño,” Cobb said.

This research is supported by the National Science Foundation, under award number NSFC41130105, and the Department of Energy, under award number MOST2012CB955200. Any conclusions or opinions are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the sponsoring agencies.

###

CITATION: Zhengyu Liu, et al., “Evolution and forcing mechanisms of El Niño over the past 21,000 years.” (Nature, November 2014). http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v515/n7528/full/nature13963.html

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113 thoughts on “Back to the future in El Niño forecasting

  1. Not sure how the model could possibly differentiate between “Increasing deglacial atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations tend to weaken ENSO” and “retreating glacial ice sheets intensify ENSO.”
    Conclusion: GIGO is becoming more sophisticated.

    • Yeah – it’s a model.
      But – the article, or press release – above does at least say : –
      QUOTE
      In order to understand how El Niño responds to various climate forces, researchers test model predictions of past El Niño changes against actual records of past ENSO activity. Kim Cobb published several such records, including a large fossil coral dataset published in Science last year.
      “The more we can close the loop between what this model says happened in the past and what the data say happened in the past, then we can project forward our improved understanding to understand future El Niño,” Cobb said.
      END QUOTE.
      Testing against actual data –
      [I don’t know if this was homogenised data, or not; the last quote could be taken either way – change the data [that is – homogenise it] to make the models look better –
      or –
      change the models to more closely approach, if you like, ‘to better model’, what actually happened].
      They are working with models certainly, but – it seems – with one version (or more) of real data – so one cheer – at least – for that!
      And might it have been clearer – yes.
      And I’m sure many of you think that about this post of mine, fair do’s!
      Auto

      • I would bet that their results would be closer to reality if they removed the greenhouse forcing.
        Meanwhile fossils fuel energy used for months to run the “best” models.
        If they truely know which are the best models, why waste time on the others?

    • There is no way that the model can work as designed. It needs a super-duper-mega-computer to do all its zillions of calculations, all based on tiny little time-space slices. It is well known that such models diverge exponentially from reality. The only factor keeping these models within the bounds of reality are the controlling factors which force the model to stay within reach of what is already known to have happened. In other words, the models can hindcast just fine, because it is known what the climate did over the period being calculated and they have enough controlling parameters to keep it in line. [No, they don’t know in detail what the climate did over that period, but that doesn’t matter because all they have to do is make the model reult match what they thought happened].
      As has been pointed out by Steve McIntyre and others repeatedly, the model isn’t tested until it runs beyond the “sample” period. Only then can it be seen whether the model works. But it is well known that the model can’t work, and this has been demonstrated extremely convincingly by the weather models, which can only predict weather successsfully a few days ahead. After that, the exponential divergence simply becomes too great. The “climate models” are exactly the same – they necessarily diverge disastrously after a few days.
      From a PR perspective, the only way the model can be used successfully is to do a hindcast over a sample period that runs to today, then immediately publish the results (which will look really really good) and the predictions. That is exactly what has been done in this case. After publication, you do NOT wait to see if the predictions were accurate – you know that they can’t be except by fluke – instead you start another run of the model, so that in a while you can make another breathtaking announcement.
      And that is how climate modelling has always operated.
      PS, I put “climate models” in quotes above, because they aren’t really climate models. They are only weather models. A real climate model (they don’t yet exist) would operate very differently.

    • “in one of the best models used to project future climate change.” And “All of the natural climate fluctuations are in this model, and what we see is that the El Niño responds to every single one of these, significantly,”. In other words “The best useless model that still can not project the future climate change” and “natural climate change fluctuations we have knowledge about aprox 5%, are in the model”. This is just crazy?

  2. Again, “The model tells us” and this is the latest and greatest model with 10^15th simulation runs on the latest and greatest computer.
    This is the trumpet blare of the climateers.
    These clowns do not understand what is going on until their oracle instructs them.
    Your tax dollars at work.

    • Naysayer. This is the most bestest model eveeeeeeeer.
      On a separate but related note, my little niece is now on her “pull my finger” phase. In just a few short years, I will teach her how to turn those mad skillz into grant applications.

  3. First sentence: “The El Niño Southern Oscillation is Earth’s main source of year-to-year climate variability, …”
    Third bullet: “Increasing deglacial atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations tend to weaken ENSO”
    So, according to this study, ENSO is the MAIN SOURCE of CLIMATE CHANGE,
    and
    INCREASING CO2 tends to WEAKEN ENSO.
    CONCLUSION: If climate change is bad, then more atmospheric CO2 is good.
    Ira Glickstein

    • CONCLUSION: If climate change is BAD, then more atmospheric CO2 is GOOD
      Conversely, if more atmospheric CO2 is BAD, then climate change is GOOD
      This is a great study! Heads we Skeptics win, tails they Alarmists lose.
      Ira

      • The AGW advocates should learn to like or love the CO2 gas, and if it was responsible for a part of the rising temperatures since the end of 19th century, even more so. In my view global warming (along with the advances in technology and medicine) is the best thing that happened to the humanity during the last 100+ years. vukcevic at RC blog
        only one lukewarm protestation from the hottest of the warmists
        But hey, if we’re going to imagine that global warming is the best thing for humanity since, well, ever, then why strain at a couple of logical ‘gnats’?

      • Ira – you’re right – the implication is that CO2 causes cooling.
        ENSO pumps equatorial heat polewards.
        If CO2 slows ENSO then CO2 cools. And AGW sucks.
        BTW ENSO is slowing now.

    • no it is climate variability, it is quite clear…. when climate changes naturally, it is climate variablility and when climate changes, it is climate change. and well when climate variability changes, for instance when climate doesn’t change anymore, it is climate change.

      • (Spoken with a British accent) “…and changes in these other changes changes climate changes…and so on and so forth…”
        Perfectly clear in the gnostic AR5 chapter 9 verse 2 text which only climate change gorus are allowed to properly translate with regard to changes.
        End Monty Python vignette.

  4. More models! Again based on false assumptions of physics. Again with poor ability to simulate the past, despite being able to retrofit the data to the model and once again, completely useless at predicting the future.
    Someone please turn off the money tap!

  5. The climate system in the model may indeed be sensitive, but only because of assumptions, particularly about CO2, or other greenhouse gases. I highly doubt these new models can forecast much of anything.

    • “All of the natural climate fluctuations are in this model…” said Kim Cobb, an associate professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
      Really? How do they know that? How can anyone take them seriously when they make a statement like that?

      • It’s like “All of the natural climate fluctuations are in” the climate we are experiencing today, we just don’t know what all of them are or how they interact to create the present situation. But they’re in there. I need a grant so I can study how to get grants.

      • As they are playing video games, perhaps they meant “All your base are belong to us”
        As good as anything else.

      • That’s racially offensive.
        Nothing personal here. I just note that “Gypo” refers to an ethic group and associates them with inauthenticity.
        When you think about it, do you think these connotations you are promoting should be promoted?
        I’m PC for thought through reasons.

      • What you do is who you are. If the truth – however negative – hurts, stop doing it. Some are becoming so PC and label-sensitive, that eventually we won’t be able to call criminals by their correct label.

  6. Here are some interesting El Nino studies from the past. I see the same? Kim Cobb above, below too.

    Nature Article – March 2003
    Kim M. Cobb et al
    El Niño/Southern Oscillation and tropical Pacific climate during the last millennium
    …..The most intense ENSO activity within the reconstruction occurred during the mid-seventeenth century. Taken together, the coral data imply that the majority of ENSO variability over the last millennium may have arisen from dynamics internal to the ENSO system itself.
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v424/n6946/abs/nature01779.html
    ———————
    Paper – June 2004
    Helen V. McGregor
    Western Pacific coral δ18O records of anomalous Holocene variability in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation
    …..Our results show that the ENSO system has the potential for more extreme variability than that observed in the modern instrumental record. The reduced El Niño frequency and amplitude during the mid-Holocene, and a shift to strong El Niño events at 2.5-1.7 ka, is similar to the pattern observed in modeling and paleo-lake studies. However, the coral records for 2.5–1.7 ka show evidence for El Niño events more severe than the 1997-1998 event, and longer than the multi-year 1991–1994 event……
    Geophysical Research Letters Vol 31, L11204,
    doi:10.1029/2004GL019972
    http://business.uow.edu.au/sydney-bschool/content/groups/public/@web/@sci/@eesc/documents/doc/uow057057.pdf
    ———————
    Abstract – August 2000
    Thierry Corrège et al
    Evidence for stronger El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Events in a Mid-Holocene massive coral
    We present a 47-year-long record of sea surface temperature (SST) derived from Sr/Ca and U/Ca analysis of a massive Porites coral which grew at ~ 4150 calendar years before present (B.P.) in Vanuatu (southwest tropical Pacific Ocean). Mean SST is similar in both the modern instrumental record and paleorecord, and both exhibit El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) frequency SST oscillations. However, several strong decadal-frequency cooling events and a marked modulation of the seasonal SST cycle, with power at both ENSO and decadal frequencies, are observed in the paleorecord, which are unprecedented in the modern record.
    Paleoceanography – Volume 15, Issue 4, pages 465–470, August 2000
    http://tinyurl.com/ob443sz
    ———————
    Abstract – 11 Sep 2004
    Bert Rein et al
    A major Holocene ENSO anomaly during the Medieval period
    Here, we present a high resolution marine El Niño flood record from Peru. A period of extreme drought without strong flooding occurred from A.D. 800–1250. Anomalous precipitation patterns characterized the entire Indo-Pacific ENSO domain, with dry events in the northern Arabian Sea and the mid-latitudes of both Americas, coinciding with wet periods in the Atlantic Cariaco Basin…..
    Geophysical Research Letters – Volume 31, Issue 17, September 2004
    DOI: 10.1029/2004GL020161

  7. Most climate models cannot simulate the basic coupled ocean-atmosphere processes that cause El Nino and La Nina events, or that couple the ocean and atmosphere in the tropical Pacific. Unless those basic flaws have been corrected, they would undermine the entire study, making it simply a study of a planet that has no relationship to Earth.

  8. Coupled GCM’s is all I had to see to hit the BS button.
    Who gets to review the code on these models anyhow?

  9. Much like investing, “past performance is no guarantee of future performance”. I once read a really good article on-line about how using past records to “tune” a simulation is no guarantee that it will perform in the future, because it is inherently unpredictable. There are too many variables for a model to deal with effectively and accurately, it’s just as good as reading tea leaves.

  10. “The more we can close the loop between what this model says happened in the past and what the data say happened in the past, then we can project forward our improved understanding to understand future El Niño,” Cobb said.

    One wonders sometimes if Climate Modellers actually understand much about computer modelling. Even if the model does replicate what they think the past has been it proves nothing. It cannot be proved that such replication is using the correct initial conditions as input to the correct computational methods to produce the correct output. Such replication may be accomplished but it will be by tweaking and fine-tuning to get a specific result which will prove nothing about the future. In fact, given all the unknown parameters that determine climate we can quite confidently assert that the models do NOT reflect reality and probably cannot be made to do so anytime soon.

  11. “The model gives some very clear predictions that are very much in line with some of the best understandings of the physics controlling the El Niño system,” Cobb said.

    Really? Their computer model results are in line with the understanding that they programmed into the model? That’s really amazing! And so meaningful! Their predictions agree with their predictions! It proves so much! Here, take all of my money and tell me how to live my life!

    “It shows that this climate system in the model is sensitive to a variety of different natural climate changes that occurred over the last 21,000 years.”

    I suppose that if we lived in that model, I’d give a rats ass about the climate system in that model.
    People that say stuff like this should not be permitted to make or use models.

  12. Yet these same GCMs struggle at predicting beyond two days in the future for present day weather events and rely on both model consensus and reiterative runs to establish a guess at what the immediate future might look like. Nice try, but just more ex[ensive BS!

  13. Kim Cobb’s earlier work has to invalidate Kim’s current work or the current work invalidates Kim’s earlier work. The summary of Kim’s work invalidates Kim. That is self-documented here where she exposes her Gruber moment:

      • Dangerous social climber. Slept her way into a very warm spot under the Sun, and won’t give it up even if she needs to rip the throats of all who threaten her funding. Good thing I’d never end up in the same boat with her somewhere in the Pacific. Imagine, how shrill is her laughter when she is drunk, doing her “science” on some atoll beach?

      • There’s nothing wrong with changing your opinion if you have new knowledge.
        Now I’m not sure that computer models add any knowledge other than validation of an opinion but changing ones opinion on the basis of a model output is not necessarily feeble-minded.
        If the opinion is modelled and found to be unrealistic then model another opinion.
        No shame in that call.

    • I learned three things from this:
      1. there were el Ninos in paleo-history before CO2 was invented. who knew?
      2. you can see the remote control antenna sticking out of the back of her head. I think this may be a not-very-sophisticated android programmed to regurgigate alarmist propaganda.
      3. they get to do a lot of travelling to lovely and warm places. nice work if you can get it!

  14. One of my closest Ohio boyhood friends went to GIT while I went to CITand he once told me about the Georgia Cracker who sent his son to GIT and then on Thanksgiving vacation asked his son, “Boy, what they learnin you at that expensive school?” The boy said, “Well Pa, I’m learnin algebra and geometry and calculus. ” His Pa said, “Son, say somethin to me in Geometry”. The boy said, ” Well Pa, Pi R squared. ” His Pa looked at him real close and said, “Boy, pie are round, cornbread are square”. Obviously figuring he was wasting his money at that school.

  15. Meanwhile the best minds at NOAA/CPC remain perplexed as to why El NiNO hasn’t occurred during the last 10 months of El Nino Watch. Oh well maybe by winter they say.

    • They brought more to the discussion than you did. Most of us are skeptics because of studies like these. Instead of causing scientific advance, they always imply better results if researchers are given more money for further study. Useable results never happen. Yet such studies become the tools of socialists and fascists who want to shape national and international policies based on them. The result is dangerous concentrations of political power and the waste of billions of dollars that could be used to address real environmental and human problems. In short, these models are a source of political and economic power for people who don’t care about the problems of humanity living in a real world. They are only about concentrating power in the hands of people who see themselves as the elites of the world. This will only end badly. It’s a disastrous misuse of computing power.

  16. I had predicted that we were going to have another polar vortex this Winter like we did last Winter based on the rebound in arctic ice the last two years. NOAA predicted against it, instead predicting a strong El Nino event. It appears quite likely now we will have another strong polar vortex based on the extreme snow events and cold temperatures we’ve had in the U.S. and Europe, while a strong El Nino seems very unlikely if we have an El Nino at all.
    If climate scientists had taken note of the strong rebound in polar ice instead of trying to disregard it concentrating only on the ice decline in the prior years their forecasts would have been more accurate. It is notable in this Georgia research they are taking into account the amount of polar ice in their predictions of El Nino events. But I think another key factor they should specifically take into account is the presence of polar vortex events.
    Their interrelation should actually be apparent. They both occur in Winter. And while the polar vortex leads to lower northern hemisphere temperatures, El Nino leads to higher ones. In fact it maybe if we have a strong polar vortex we CAN NOT have a strong El Nino event.
    Bob Clark

    • It makes no difference what they do and don’t take into account. Their results will always be wrong (except by fluke) until they understand the underlying mechanisms.

    • Bob – interesting possibility about el Nino and polar vortices being exclusive.
      Antarctica and its vicinity are also now persistently cool and I suspect that this dampens the chances of sn el Nino also.

    • If climate scientists had taken note of the strong rebound in polar ice instead of trying to disregard it concentrating only on the ice decline in the prior years their forecasts would have been more accurate.

      This would presume that they are actually capable of incorporating these data in their models. I do not have the expectation that they have the understanding that would enable them to do so.

  17. The sad thing is we have only been able to detect el Ninos since about the mid 1990’s when sensing buoys were first dropped into the pacific ocean. This was pre-argo. Before then there were only guesses based on the wrong type of crabs appearing on beaches and such. How we can extrapolate derailed 100000 year models based on less than 20 years of data is just wild.
    I remember reading an article in 1997 about that famous El Nino starting. It was in the San Jose Mercury News , which was already into Eco alarmism. It mentioned, this was the earliest an el nino was ever detected (shock!) Without explaining, that it was, at the time, the first and only el nino ever detected due to new technologies (the buoys and satellites that could measure sea level)

  18. Even the short term dynamical ENSO models suck at it. Dynamical climate models don’t have a chance in hell. The best we have are the statistical models that use analogue ENSO events from the recent past, but even those are no good 3 months out.

    • What this paper really says is if you give us more big grant money we can continue to live in the manner we are now accustomed to and continue to pretend we are going to produce valuable results by enhancing our garbage producing models. GIGO will continue to rule.

      • … and keep the supercomputer centers running in those states/congressional districts.
        In my time in the USAF, I saw acquisitions of systems the military didn’t want or need, but we got them anyway due to Congressional pork politics. Paying for and operating a system that is it’s own justification without external utility was called, “A self-licking ice cream cone.

    • Uh…gigolos are guys. I don’t think many of the readers here would want to see one in a bikini. (Something fundamentally wrong there. Just like CAGW climate “science”.)
      But I like the acronym.
      😎

  19. I remain perplexed by the enormous gap between knowledge and wisdom demonstrated by so many supposed intelligent people. The subject of this column was all a gaga about the then pending super el nino last March. I wonder what her perspective is now ?

  20. These guys are geniuses. Hey, I want to predict the winner of next years Formula One season. Based on their method, here’s how:
    When I was a kid I loved Formula One and collected lots of magazine pictures of F1 cars. With that data and the immense processing power of my new iPad Air 2, I have written a simulation of past F1 racing seasons, including everything I know about the physics of racing, including info from magazine picture about tire sizes and compounds, suspension layouts, engine sizes and power, aerodynamics, track layouts and the personality profiles of prominent drivers from magazine articles.
    And my model works great! Back then, Mercedes and Auto Union won a bunch of races, later Lotus and BRM, then Ferrari, Honda, Renault and so on. All I need to do is tweak my data until the results match reality. Maybe someday, with more money, I could research how the cars were actually designed and built, whether the drivers got drunk the night before the race and the effect of rule changes on the outcomes, but hey these are things I don’t know anything about, and therefore they are irrelevant to the success of my model.
    And with this great model at my disposal, I can tell you now with 95% certainty who will win the 2015 F1 championship – it will be BZZZ…FFTSZZZ…Please insert another dollar to continue.

  21. “The more we can close the loop between what this model says happened in the past and what the data say happened in the past, then we can project forward our improved understanding to understand future El Niño,”

    Judging by the success of climate models so far, we’ll be funding this one well into the next little ice age.

  22. Kim Cobb,
    “Just give us some time and we will have so much new data fraud, so many new lies on the record no one but us will know how to undo the lies all you little people will pay taxes to we and our overlords of the world order of taxes and slaves.”

  23. Took 5 Billion or so years of chaos to get to the weather this moment in time, next hour the same, and too next month/year/50 years. Load all that data into a computer and just maybe chaos will not change things tomorrow any how. The wild wind goes where the wild wind goes.

  24. Line 1 above:
    “The El Niño Southern Oscillation is Earth’s main source of year-to-year climate variability, but its response to global warming remains highly uncertain.”
    Question:
    While you are at it, how will ENSO respond to relatively flat global temperatures such as Earth has experienced for the past 18 years?
    How will ENSO respond to global cooling, which is more probable than global warming in the next decades?
    My point is the above implied assumption that global warming will resume after “The Pause” is improbable.
    I suggest the next climate change after The Pause will be global cooling that could be mild or severe. I suggest global cooling will bring increased storm intensity and greater hardship for humanity and the environment, proportional to the degree of global cooling that occurs. I suggest that within reasonably foreseeable ranges, global warming is beneficial and global cooling is harmful. Finally, I suggest that ALL of the statements in this paragraph are the OPPOSITE of IPCC/warmist propaganda, and all are more technically correct than warmist forecasts of future global warming catastrophe.
    It should be noted that to date, every scary prediction by global warming alarmists has failed to materialize, and these people have no predictive skill and no scientific credibility.

  25. Dr. Svalgaard with a group of solar scientists employs geomagnetic information to reconstruct the historic sunspot number. When the geomagnetic signal is added to the normalized CO2 data and correlated to the NOAA’s Global Land Temperature anomaly, it shows that:
    1880 –1985 nearly all of the GLT rise is due to natural causes.
    1985 – 2003 is totally due to the CO2 rise (or some unknown variable factor), since the geomagnetic has a moderate decline.
    2003 – 2014 the geomagnetic is nearly flat, which suggests a possibility that the CO2 effect (if responsible) has reached saturation point (hence the current global temperature plateau) implying no further temperature rise in the foreseeable future. I hope to show graphs (the data included !) soon.

    • “””1985 – 2003 is totally due to the CO2 rise (or some unknown variable factor), since the geomagnetic has a moderate decline.”””
      your unknown variable is part of the (Synonym accretive) effect.
      Hoping Dr. S., catches the Frisch presentation whilst he is at the AGU updating the sunspot count series.. “The 2015 Revision of the Sunspot Number”
      “Charting the Interstellar Magnetic Field behind the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) Ribbon (Invited)”
      Monday, December 15, 201405:30 PM – 05:45 PM
      Moscone West
      2012
      Magnetic fields are a key component of the interstellar medium. Starlight polarized by aligned charged interstellar dust grains provided the first evidence of a magnetic field in the solar galactic environment. The IBEX Ribbon of energetic neutral atoms traces the interstellar magnetic field draping over the heliosphere. Magnetic fields thread nearby interstellar clouds, which include both partially-ionized low-density gas, as well as dense gas. Rudimentary maps of the interstellar magnetic field direction in the solar vicinity, based on polarized starlight, show that multiple field directions are found locally. The dominant local magnetic structure has a direction matching that of the magnetic field traced by the IBEX Ribbon. This magnetic structure, and the kinematics of nearby interstellar gas, suggest that the Loop I superbubble extends to the solar vicinity. A separate magnetic filament with intriguing properties has been identified. The structure of the magnetic field within 40 pc is related to the distribution and kinematics of local clouds that are observed through the absorption lines they form in stellar spectra.
      (my bold)
      Also, Planck sees some coherent Galactic Magnetic Field structures and is likening them to the Parker Spiral..

  26. Just reading this summary, it seems to me all the variables are of the dependent variety. If they know what causes climate change, why not tell us?
    Back in the 1960s we punched cards with a line of program. Then we took the deck of cards, our program, to a box and placed it therein. Later someone would carry the box to another building and pass the box through an opening and into the computer room. The packets of cards would be carefully placed and a button pushed. Cards and a paper sheet (or several) would make their way back to our desks. We usually got 24 hour turn-around. If a mistake was made on the cards – you just lost a day in your endeavor.
    If you made a conceptual mistake the computer might run for many hours and produce many pages of output. It did not know you made a conceptual mistake.
    Thus, I find the following enough to make one shudder: “. . . required supercomputers … to be dedicated to the simulation for months.
    Grey hair, anyone?

  27. “The model gives some very clear predictions that are very much in line with some of the best understandings of the physics controlling the El Niño system,”
    So Georgia Institute of Technology have a creative writing department too.
    Keywords: model, some, predictions, some, understandings

  28. “Scientists see a large amount of variability in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) when looking back at climate records from thousands of years ago. Without a clear understanding of what caused past changes in ENSO variability, predicting the climate phenomenon’s future is a difficult task.”
    Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. — Niels Bohr.

  29. It disturbs me that these folks purport to model El Nino back 20 k years. The sea level was at least 300 feet lower until 14 k years ago. Circulation was a lot different. In particular, the Bering Strait was above water so no circulation there.
    It would take a lot of convincing to make me believe the model is particularly valid because the first third of the period it covers was not the same as things are now.

    • commieBob, Tovarich, good point on tthe 300ft lower. This of course means a change in ocean pressure,also as you stated “Cirulation” -both ocean and trade winds if we can call them that. Also in the area where El Ninos form, is the sea floor still the same? Could plat movements shifted them up or down. Also if they (El Ninos) from even in the same area?How do you write a program-Model wheres some or all of the variablies can change not just ever thousand ,but hundred, ten or single years? But I’m open minded! smile
      michael

  30. First question I’d have is what “actual records” they are using to tune their model? If those records are being adjusted to accommodate the model as has been repeatedly done with current climate models, “disappearing” the Medieval Warm Period is a good example, then the whole thing is just another exercise in self-delusion. In any event, I’m with the thought that if predicting weather more than a few days in advance is beyond our modeling reach, modeling climate for decades into the future seems pretty much a futile exercise.
    I don’t believe we can even paint the “envelope of possible excursions” for such a monstrous, chaotic system other than that already painted in macro strokes by the past 500,000 years of climate history. That record marks the upper and lower limits of Warm Periods and Ice Ages, demonstrates the approximate period of the cycle, indicates the cyclic slide from warm to cold is relatively slow and the rise from cold to warm is relatively rapid. In between the cyclic highs and lows, a band of possibilities is painted that implies chaotic temperature excursions within that band with lives of their own making. Neither cataclysmic meteor strikes nor horrific volcanic episodes have nudged that macro temperature envelope one detectable whit.
    Rotsa’ ruck figuring the next 100 years, boys and girls!

  31. 2 Dec: WaPo: Jason Samenow: Why profuse autumn snow in Eurasia may portend a brutal East Coast winter
    The increase in snow cover extent this October in Eurasia was fast and furious. That’s a compelling signal, says pioneering seasonal forecaster Judah Cohen, that the eastern U.S. faces a cold and snowy winter.
    Cohen, who directs seasonal forecasting efforts at the firm Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER), a unit of Verisk Climate, discovered the linkage between the behavior of Eurasian fall snow cover and eastern U.S. winters nearly 15 years ago. He has since applied the relationship in his winter outlooks and established an impressive track record. His outlooks have been on the money many years and at least in the ballpark most others…
    Q) Besides Eurasian snow cover, what other important factor(s) informed your outlook?
    Cohen: Like everyone else, we include the El Nino Southern Oscillation (El Nino). But the developing El Nino looks to be weak and was not much of a factor in our model. I am encouraged that the warming sea surface temperatures have become stronger in the central equatorial Pacific relative to the eastern equatorial Pacific, which is complementary to our forecast based on snow cover, favoring cold temperatures in the eastern U.S…
    Q) The National Weather Service has assigned “equal chances” for a cold or warm winter for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Why do you think it’s reluctant to incorporate the AO-Eurasian snow cover relationship – which would suggest cold – more prominently in its outlook?
    Cohen: It has been my opinion for my entire career that El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is too heavily emphasized in seasonal forecasting, especially for temperature, at all the national forecast centers, not just the National Weather Service…ETC
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2014/12/02/why-prosperous-autumn-snows-in-eurasia-may-portend-a-brutal-east-coast-winter/

    • Thanks for that link. The climate scientist quoted refers to an “arctic oscillation” in the article. I looked up ref’s to the connection between the “arctic oscillation” and the “polar vortex” and found this NOAA page:
      How is the polar vortex related to the Arctic Oscillation?
      January 20, 2014
      http://www.climate.gov/news-features/event-tracker/how-polar-vortex-related-arctic-oscillation
      A couple interesting facts here. First, as described on this page climate scientists think of the “polar vortex” as a stratospheric phenomenon having to do with the jet stream. They refer to the “arctic oscillation” as the surface manifestation of the polar vortex.
      Another interesting fact is the terminology is the reverse of how we commonly think of it. That is, we have been thinking of a “strong polar vortex” as the case when we have these extreme temperature drops in the northern hemisphere. But according to this page this happens when there is a “weak polar vortex”, and the arctic oscillation is said to be in a negative phase in that case.
      Another puzzling fact is the page as of its publication January 20, 2014 said we had not yet experienced in 2014 this negative phase arctic oscillation, where the extreme temperature drops occur. But I thought that that HAD already been observed by then, in regards to references (perhaps inaccurately) of a “strong polar vortex” by then by meteorologists.
      But the most surprising aspect of this page, considering it’s by NOAA, is this paragraph:
      “While the Arctic Oscillation has not yet experienced a strongly negative phase this year, scientists are noticing a trend toward more frequent negative phases since the mid-1990s. No one really understands why but a lot of ideas currently being researched, including whether natural decadal variability, sea ice loss, and the influence of snow cover on the ground are playing a role.”
      This seems to be acknowledging that we have been having more extremely cold Winters at least in the northern hemispheres the last few years. You wouldn’t know that from the way NOAA has been discussing only record high temperatures this year, confirming, they have asserted, global warming.
      Also, it is misleading for NOAA and other government climate agencies to say an extreme cold Winter is just “weather” and not “climate”, when in fact there has been a trend of extremely cold Winters in the northern hemisphere.
      Bob Clark

    • A stochastic system is unpredictable. It may seem to be constrained to a particular variable range for a period of time, but within that time span it varies randomly. A longer time span may show a much wider range of variability, as some of the ENSO studies referenced above conclude. But it remains unpredictable.

  32. Another infantile outrageous claim by true believer activists.
    A) A very expensive computer that is expensive to maintain and run.
    B) A very complex multilayered program that is not validated or certified.
    C) Use of coral séances to fantasize past ENSO events, call these predictions and add to the mix.
    D) Use of imaginary ENSO events, force feed CO2 wherever
    E) Claim mystical glaciation alignments
    F) Run simulation till the owners of the computer kick them out
    G) Claim nonsense is world shaking
    Yawn! Another day in the religion of CAGW.

  33. I am not a scientist, but it would seem that some of the criticism and ridicule of “models” should rather be directed at the misuse of models. Computer models are helpful, are they not, in gaining some insights into how complex natural processes interact with each other and are effected by changes in the variables? Much of our understanding of the astronomical universe is based on computer simulations, for example – with the proviso that they are continually being re-examined in the light of new data obtained from observation.

    • Ken,
      It is not that simple. When the models start with a computer model for a star and they try to kludge it down to a planet, you end up with a bastardized, largely false model. Do stars have night-time? No. These climate models do not have night-time, during which the real planet sheds huge amounts of energy and all the supposed greenhouse gases spend their time cooling the atmosphere quite effectively. Furthermore, these gases are saturate during the day, both absorbing and emitting IR radiation, pretty much having no overall effect. During the night, with no solar energy input, these gases serve as to allow large energy leakage to space.

      • Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what you are talking about or vice-versa. I was referring to model simulations for star formations, galaxies, super nova, etc. – nothing to do with climate, just examples of useful computer simulations. Climate models can be useful for studying climate, as well, as long as you don’t portray them as evidence upon which to base policy. I was just a little put off(and have been) here, with what I see as excessive devaluation of computer models, in general. I understand why, with alarmists’ over – reliance on climate simulations, people might react that way, but we should, in my opinion, be careful.

      • Yes and no, Ken L.
        Models for star formation, etc., for the most part already have rigorous mathematics laid out for theories of formation and are always under constant discussion.
        The stellar models we get to see are models utilizing certain theories and therefore imbed the opinions and assumptions for the physicists working on the models. These physicists are under no illusions that their models are definitively correct, but they hope that substantial parts of their supporting math is correct.
        Yes, models are widely used throughout industry.
        As another posted here recently, “past performance is no indication of future performance”, is definitive in true use of models. When an engineer designs a superstructure, they make sure their calculations for load, shear, use, etc are darn accurate and vetted first. Afterwards they may use a model to illustrate their design. Automotive, flight, microchip engineers, chemists, etc. have developed a number of usable models that aid their developing new ideas and designs; but again their models are based on proven calculations verified repeatedly by experiment. The real world has significant consequences for businesses and government agencies that construct something based on bad models, except for climate science. When I worked in Finance, when one of my financial models went astray, I could expect to be on the carpet facing the District Manager the next day. A meeting that required I know exactly what went wrong, why it went wrong and to have corrections ready to initiate.
        The topic line throughout this thread is supposed to be based on the title article. Unless expressly stated, all references to models are direct references to the usage described in the article and not slights against models or model users in general..

  34. As long as CO2 is considered one of the top two factors in climate, the models HAVE to be wrong. As long as CO2 is even mentioned as anything more than a very minor factor, the models HAVE to be wrong.

  35. Here’s the plot of a forthcoming disaster B movie:
    A computer simulation of climate becomes so massive that during a run it becomes self-aware.
    This god-like programme finds that it has the power to control the actual weather.
    At first it amuses itself pissing on parades and raining on weddings.
    Then it realises that its chips work better when cooler so it initiates a new ice age.
    Just like in Transcendence there is a blond psychopath femme fatale – this time called Kim Cobb – who murders a bunch of scientists and immediately as a result becomes the hero and darling of the movie.

  36. Perhaps it is time to stop calling these studies of “how X responds to global warming” and say instead “projections of how X may respond to increased CO2”.

  37. I can’t understand why they don’t allocate several months of data crunching to predicting changes in Wall Street. Seems to me the data are far more robust for matching with the past than climate, the potential profits are enormous and the potential fame is unlimited. What? They can’t? There are too many variables?
    If they can’t forecast financial markets, what hope for climate?

  38. Here’s the money shot:
    “The more we can close the loop between what this model says happened in the past and what the data say happened in the past, then we can project forward our improved understanding to understand future El Niño,” Cobb said.”
    In other words:
    “The more we can model what our proxies think happened in the past the more funding we can get to do this again.”
    So keep those grants acomin’ in, we gotta have ’em for super comp time and hey, let’s not ferget those proxy collectin’ trips to Borneo, East Africa, Palymyra. I mean dang it, that’s some beautiful country out there which we don’t got here in Georgia. All you kids and post docs, come on down y’all, we got the funds if you got the time! http://shadow.eas.gatech.edu/~kcobb/join/join.html .
    Sign up today!!

  39. Someone gave the famous career advice, “don’t quit your day job,” so they did this simulation. Next: 25,000 year simulation to predict the ENSO in 2100. It will convince China to ante up.

  40. Anyone familiar with a Lorenz Attractor from Chaos theory would have no trouble understanding how a comparatively simple system of equations/interactions could produce a result that seems to divide itself unpredictably (“chaotically”) between two incompatible, yet strangely similar regimes. Interestingly (and probably not coincidentally) Edward Lorenz developed this model while studying weather patterns.
    Lorenz used just a few parameters – the Prandtl number representing the ratio of the fluid viscosity to its thermal conductivity (related to absolute humidity), the difference in temperature between the top and bottom of the system (surface and stratosphere), and the ratio of the width to height of the box used to hold the system (boundary conditions – he used a ‘box’ rather than a spherical shell for computational reasons).
    The only real surprise is that why anybody who has ever heard a lecture on chaos theory would expect that ENSO could be predicted.

  41. Well we in Oz are getting a lot of rain and storms, and if that is El Nino we welcome it. The farmers are happy.

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