Climate, Climate Variability, and Climate Change: A. Presented by: Prof. Robert Oglesby, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

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1 Climate, Climate Variability, and Climate Change: A Basic Primer Presented by: Prof. Robert Oglesby, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

2 WHAT IS CLIMATE? Does a good definition really even exist? KEY CONCEPTS 1. Distinction between weather and climate ( climatic averaging ) 2. The components of the climate system 3. Spatial and temporal scales of climate 4. The state of the climate system: quasi-equilibration 5. Climate feedbacks 6. Climate variability vs. climate change

3 The climate system Weather and climate are different entities and the distinction is often misunderstood. The weather is the fluctuating state of the atmosphere around us. The climate is the "average weather" (more rigorously, it is a statistical description of weather, including variability and extremes as well as averages); climate involves the other components of the climate system in addition to the atmosphere.

4 The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) glossary definition of climate: Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the average weather, or more rigorously, as the statistical ti ti ldescription in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). These quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation, and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system. More colloquially, it is often said "climate is what you expect, weather is what you get The exact boundaries of what is climate and what is weather are not well defined and depend on the application. For example, in some senses an individual El Nino event could be considered climate; in others weather.

5 Components of the climate system The atmosphere: its circulation, the heat (terrestrial radiation) and light (solar radiation) which pass through it, and the processes which go on in it, such as the formation of clouds The ocean: There is a constant exchange of heat, momentum and water between ocean and the atmosphere. The ocean acts as a heat sink to delay climate change. In addition, ocean currents transport large amounts of heat and water around the world. The land surface, including its vegetation and seasonal snow cover, has an important influence on the flow of air over it, the absorption of solar energy, and the water cycle. The cryosphere: those parts of the world whose surface is affected by ice, principally seaice in the Arctic and Southern Oceans and the land-based ice-sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. The biosphere: Life on land (the terrestrial biosphere) and in the ocean (the marine biosphere) play a major role in the carbon cycle and hence in determining the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide

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9 THE STATE OF THE CLIMATE SYSTEM A composite system that t as a whole is thermodynamically closed (i.e., impermeable boundaries to mass but not energy) Individual subsystems ( components ) of the overall system are thermodynamically open (transfers of both mass and energy allowed) and cascading (output of mass and/or energy from one subsystem becomes the input into another subsystem) The state of the climate system is represented in terms of physical variables that represent either additive, or extensive properties (volume; internal energy; mass of individual components, angular momentum) or intensive properties ( fields ) that are independent of total mass and that may change in time (temperature; pressure; velocities, etc.)

10 EQUILIBRATION OF THE CLIMATIC STATE If, for specific time scales, the internal climate system behaves as if it has forgotten its past, responding mainly to external forcings (and boundary conditions); then it can be considered almost in a state of equilibrium. (N.B. the external boundary conditions can be true external variables, or internal variables whose inertial time scales are sufficiently long that they can be taken as constant over the time-scale of interest.) This is distinctly different than weather forecasting, which is fundamentally an initial-value problem. It is also what allows us to define climate in terms of ensemble means and variabilities of individual climatic states.

11 If any initial state always leads to the same near-equilibrium (i.e., same set of statistical properties) then the system is ergodic, or transitive If instead there are two or more different sets of statistical properties, with different initial conditions leading to different sets, the system is intransitive If there are different subsets of statistical properties which a transitive system assumes during its evolution from different initial states through long but finite periods of time, the system is almost intransitive This case probably best represents the true climate system, at least the atmospheric portion Some evidence suggests the ocean may be bimodal i e atmospheric portion. Some evidence suggests the ocean may be bimodal, i.e., truly intransitive

12 Climate Feedbacks Feedbacks are an ubiquitous and crucial feature of the climate system A feedback system is simply when A affects B, but then the change in B in turn affects (feeds back) onto A Feedbacks can be positive (A is enhanced) or negative (A is diminished) Two of the most important and best-known feedbacks involve water vapor, and the high albedo of snow and ice But many, many feedbacks occur throughout h the system

13 Climatic Variability versus Change Climate is typically defined in terms of 30 year means, and higher-order moments about those means. This implicitly assumes stationarity of a given climate state In practice, climate varies on time-scales both longer and shorter. On the shortest time scales, we enter the realm of weather. Variability on time scales of a few years to a few decades (i.e., shorter than a climatic averaging period) is usually referred to as climatic variability Variability on time scales longer than a few decades (longer than a standard climatic averaging period) is usually referred to as climatic change Though meaningful, the distinction is arbitrary, and ultimately depends on context (the question at hand)

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