TEN-YEAR CLIMATE MODEL UNVEILED

Scientists say they have developed a model to predict how ocean currents, as well as human activities, will affect temperatures over the next decade.

By including short-term natural events, such as El Nino, a UK team says it is able to offer 10-year projections.  Models have previously focused on how the globe will warm over a century.   Writing in Science, Met Office researchers project that at least half of the years between 2009 and 2014 are likely to exceed existing records.  However, the Hadley Centre researchers said that the influence of natural climatic variations were likely to dampen the effects of emissions from human activities between now and 2009.

But over the decade as a whole, they project the global average temperature in 2014 to be 0.3C warmer than 2004.   Currently, 1998 is the warmest year on record, when the global mean surface temperature was 14.54C (58.17F).  Doug Smith, a climate scientist at the Hadley Centre, explained how the new model differed from existing ones.

"On a 10-year timescale, both natural internal variability and the global warming signal (human induced climate change) are important; whereas looking out to 2100, only the global warming signal will dominate."   The latest assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said that human activity was "very likely" causing the world to warm, and predicted the global average temperature were probably going to increase by 1.8-4.0C (3.2-7.2F) by the end of the century.

"It is the same model as used in the latest IPCC report's predictions for the coming century, but the difference is that it starts from the real observed status of the ocean and the atmosphere," Dr Smith, the paper's lead author, explained.   "Greenhouse gases and aerosols are also included, but it is really trying to predict any [natural] variability on top of that.   "We start with the present state of the ocean, and we try to predict how it is going to evolve," he told BBC News.

BETTER UNDERSTANDING

The model, called the Decadal Climate Prediction System (DePreSys), is based on a well established climate model already used by Hadley Centre scientists.  “The climate has already changed, and it is continuing to change; people need the best information available to help them adapt to these changes”, Dr Doug Smith, Hadley Centre climate scientist  But in order to offer a projection for the coming decade rather than a century ahead, it also assesses the current state of the oceans and atmosphere. This allows the researchers to predict how natural shifts, such as the El Nino phenomenon in the eastern Pacific and the North Atlantic Oscillation, will affect the global climate system.

They hope this data, when combined with projections of greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions from fossil fuels and volcanic eruptions, will present one of the most detailed outlooks to date.   "One reason why the 10-year projection has not been done before is because the ocean has traditionally had very poor observational coverage," Dr Smith said.  "They been very sparse and a little bit "noisy" so they have been difficult to interpret what the real temperatures were over large parts of the ocean."

However, recent improvements in data collection from satellites and in-situ instruments have allowed climatologists to improve their understanding of how ocean dynamics influence the climate system.  He added that decadal outlooks would provide businesses and politicians with meaningful information.  "Nearly all businesses have to make decisions on that sort of timescale; they plan for the next five to ten years.  "The climate has already changed, and it is continuing to change; people need the best information available to help them adapt to these changes."

GREENHOUSE EFFECT

The greenhouse effect is the natural process by which the atmosphere traps some of the Sun's energy, warming the Earth enough to support life.

Most mainstream scientists believe a human-driven increase in "greenhouse gases" is increasing the effect artificially.

These gases include carbon dioxide, emitted by fossil fuel burning and deforestation, and methane, released from rice paddies and landfill sites.     http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/shared/img/o.gif

1 Energy from the Sun beats down on the Earth.

2 Some energy is reflected into space, the rest enters the atmosphere.

3 The Earth absorbs the energy and emits heat.

4 Unlike other gases, greenhouse gases absorb and re-emit the heat energy - some is emitted into space and some back to Earth.

5 The heat is effectively trapped and warms the Earth.


OZONE HAS 'STRONG CLIMATE EFFECT'

By Paul Rincon—Science reporter, BBC News

Ozone is an important component of smog

Ozone could be a much more important driver of climate change than scientists had previously predicted, according to a study in Nature journal.

The authors say the effects of this greenhouse gas - known by the formula O3 - have been largely overlooked.   Ozone near the ground damages plants, reducing their ability to mop up carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.  As a consequence, more CO2 will build up in the atmosphere instead of being taken up by plants.

“Arguably, we have been looking in the wrong place for the key impacts of ozone.”

Peter Cox, University of Exeter.  This in turn will speed up climate change, say the Nature authors.

"Ozone could be twice as important as we previously thought as a driver of climate change," co-author Peter Cox, from the University of Exeter, UK, told the BBC News website.  Scientists already knew that ozone higher up in the atmosphere acted as a "direct" greenhouse gas, trapping infrared heat energy that would otherwise escape into space.   Ozone closer to the ground is formed in a reaction between sunlight and other greenhouse gases such as nitrogen oxides, methane and carbon monoxide.  Greenhouse emissions stemming from human activities have led to elevated ozone levels across large tracts of the Earth's surface.

CARBON TAKE-UP

This study is described as significant because it shows that O3 also has a large, indirect effect in the lower part of the atmosphere.  Research into ground-level ozone has tended to concentrate on its harmful effects on human lungs.  But the gas also damages plants, reducing their effectiveness as a "carbon sink" to soak up excess CO2 from the atmosphere.

Furthermore, Peter Cox said: "The indirect effect is of a similar magnitude, or even larger, than the direct effect."   There are uncertainties, Dr Cox admits; but he added: "Arguably, we have been looking in the wrong place for the key impacts of ozone."  A large amount of work has been carried out on the health effects of ozone.  Ozone enters plants through pores, called stomata, in the leaves. It then produces by-products that reduce the efficiency of photosynthesis, leaving the plants weakened and undersized.

COMPLEX INTERACTIONS

However, efforts to determine how rising levels of ozone will affect global plant growth are complicated by other factors. High levels of both CO2 and O3 cause stomata to close. This means they take up less of the carbon dioxide they need for photosynthesis, but also absorb less of the harmful ozone.  The researchers built a computer model to estimate the impact of predicted changes in ozone levels on the land carbon sink over a period running from 1900 to 2100.

This model was designed to take into account the effect of ozone on plant photosynthesis and the interactions between O3 and CO2 through the closure of pores. They used two scenarios, depending on whether plants were deemed to have high or low sensitivity to ozone.  Under the high scenario, ozone reduced plant productivity by 23%; under the low scenario, productivity was reduced by 14%.

GARLIC EASES COWS GASSY OUTPUT

Pungent garlic could be a breath of fresh air for the environment with new research showing cows fed with garlic produce half as much greenhouse gas through methane emissions.  A three-year study into the effectiveness of plant compounds in reducing methane gas emissions in livestock, has begun at the Institute of Rural Sciences at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth, The Press newspaper reported. Team leader Jamie Newbold said initial results showed garlic extracts could cut the methane produced by animals by up to half.

The manager of New Zealand's Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, Mark Aspin, said the news was getting attention.  "If it reduces methane by 50 per cent, then that is quite an astounding result," he told The Press.  Livestock accounts for 55 per cent of New Zealand's total greenhouse gas emissions.

The Welsh research team was also testing whether garlic tainted the milk or the meat from dairy cows and cattle.  "It's an interesting effect, and I don't think it has been introduced into a coupled [computer] model before so that the overall effect can be seen," said Dr Nathan Gillett, from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, UK, who was not involved in the study.

"Their finding that the effect on CO2 is larger than the radiation forcing from ozone itself makes it a significant contribution to climate change."

Methane from belching sheep and cattle are the No. 4 contributor (behind heavy industry, motor vehicles, and ships) to damage to the ozone layer.

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