Possible Insight

Climate Shifts as a Complex Systems Property

with 3 comments

Via a post at the always terrific Watts Up with That, a pre publication version of this paper examines the non-linear coupling dynamics of the climate. Its hypothesis is based on the mathematics of synchronized chaos (sorry, no good introductory link available).

The essential idea is that certain complex systems exhibit coupling dynamics where different aspects of the system gradually synchronize over time. Then when the synchronization achieves a certain level, the coupling dissipates and the system gets thrown into a new regime. Of course, the synchronization gradually reasserts itself and the pattern repeats.

The authors show that, when decomposed in a particular way, the climate exhibits these coupling dynamics and they explain the shifts we’ve observed over the last century.  Moreover, they show that these dynamics are probably intrinsic to the climate and not due to any external forcings (such as manmade CO2, though there may be a separate smaller CO2 warming signal of course).

The most intriguing bits are that their approach explains the shifts in the 1910s to warming regime (culminating in some of the warmest weather on record around 1940), the 1940s to a cooling regime (culminating in some of the coolest weather on record around 1970), and the 1970s to a warming regime (culminating in some of the warmest weather on record around 2000).  Given the length of previous regimes, we would expect this one to have ended and a shift to a cooling regime to have begun. When applied to a state of the art climate model and run forward, their  approach predicts additional shifts in ~2030 and ~2070.

It’s funny that just as things get their most extreme, the system resets. Way to mess with us humans and our cognitive biases Mother Nature.  My prediction: the temperature gets gradually colder from now until 2025, there’s a major “global cooling” movement, and things start getting warmer again in the 2030s.

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Written by Kevin

March 16, 2009 at 7:10 pm

3 Responses

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  1. […] the financial system is gripped by the same pehonomenon of synchronized chaos that I described in this post? A brife survey of Google and Google Scholar doesn’t turn up much.  Anybody know of […]

  2. ‘I have commenced a study of the theory of complex systems (I may be gone for some time) and have become concerned with climate tipping points. Tipping points are thought to have happened in the distant past – or potentially from greenhouse gases in the future. Large fluctuation followed by climate settling into states ranging from Snowball Earth to the Eocene Thermal Maximum. Both must have been disastrous. The latter was accompanied by anoxic oceans but the like hasn’t been seen since the break up of Gondwanaland. Much smaller – but significant climate tipping points – occurred 4 times in the last 100 years around 1910, the mid 1940’s, the mid 1970’s and 1998/2001. The lack of global warming since 1998 is consistent with the climate behaving as a forced nonlinear oscillator. There is no simple cause and effect in climate. Small changes in forcings (solar, gases and aerosols, albedo) are alternately amplified and damped (nonlinear) by global climate processes and climate then oscillates for a time around a different (hopefully marginally over decades) climate state.

    The direct impact of greenhouse gas increase since the start of industrialisation is about 0.5 degrees centigrade of global temperature increase theoretically. It is not insignificant as energy in the climate system. The total effect is unknown because it feeds into a dynamic climate system of sun, orbit, ocean, atmosphere, ice, clouds, gases and aerosols operating interactively. All of these change all the time. The exponential growth of ice cover is implicated as factor in ice ages – extreme nonlinear climate events. Global cloud cover has been known to change from ISCCP data collected from 1984 and the argument has been about cause and effect. There is a little more cloud cover since about 1999 – which came first the clouds or the current cooling? The question is meaningless and correlation is utterly useless as climate is dynamic and complex. Small changes in initial conditions lead to climate fluctuation which then settles into a different mean climate state that can be anything between very uncomfortable extremes for various lengths of time.

    I say 4th generation nuclear engines and accelerated space technology is the answer. But that would require steady economic development and the global economy is itself a complex and dynamic system. The only way to high rates of global economic development is to have honesty and constancy in governance, continued economic growth and good luck. Not a social democratic supernanny state wildly spending money still and plotting to take over our lives and the world through the UN. He must be stopped!

    It is a matter of risk. Continued global economic growth is critical for billions of people now and increasing greenhouse gases increases forced system instability – a balance of risk is required. It may be difficult to predict climate as states may realistically change seemingly randomly at decadal timescales. The instrumental temperature record shows increasing average atmospheric temperature rise since records began in the 1880’s at about 0.1 degrees centigrade per decade. The IPCC says the warming trend is 0.2 degrees centigrade per decade based on the temperature difference between 1976 to 1998 – a period which includes large ENSO events (climate tipping points) at either end. (The upper range of ‘recent warming’ can only be obtained by including large interannual climate signals. If someone insists warming is 0.2 degrees – ask them how they know.) One consequence of this is that existing simple deterministic models are ‘tuned’ to higher projections of temperature increase than would otherwise be the case. The lower risk boundary is very simply obtained by determining the trend of any of the intrumental global temperature datasets over a sufficiently long (>50 years) period and rounding up. It is an outer envelop for climate risk in the coming decades. A few decades would be all that is required to develop dozens of low cost options for energy and development – a real market solution.’

    Robert Ellison

    December 8, 2009 at 6:09 pm

  3. […] if the financial system is gripped by the same phenomenon of synchronized chaos that I described in this post? A brief survey of Google and Google Scholar doesn’t turn up much.  Anybody know of […]


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