Simulations of direct interference in the large-scale water and energy balances of the atmosphere by humans

A recent NCC and a recent GRL article both use simulations to look at how large scale irrigation and energy consumption might alter large scale circulation patterns of the atmosphere.

If I were a grad student with some statistical skills, I would go out into the world and try to detect these effects with data.

Energy consumption and the unexplained winter warming over northern Asia and North America
Guang J. Zhang, Ming Cai & Aixue Hu
Abstract: The worldwide energy consumption in 2006 was close to 498 exajoules. This is equivalent to an energy convergence of 15.8 TW into the populated regions, where energy is consumed and dissipated into the atmosphere as heat. Although energy consumption is sparsely distributed over the vast Earth surface and is only about 0.3% of the total energy transport to the extratropics by atmospheric and oceanic circulations, this anthropogenic heating could disrupt the normal atmospheric circulation pattern and produce a far-reaching effect on surface air temperature. We identify the plausible climate impacts of energy consumption using a global climate model. The results show that the inclusion of energy use at 86 model grid points where it exceeds 0.4 W m−2 can lead to remote surface temperature changes by as much as 1 K in mid- and high latitudes in winter and autumn over North America and Eurasia. These regions correspond well to areas with large differences in surface temperature trends between observations and global warming simulations forced by all natural and anthropogenic forcings1. We conclude that energy consumption is probably a missing forcing for the additional winter warming trends in observations.

Irrigation in California's Central Valley strengthens the southwestern U.S. water cycle
Min-Hui Lo, James S. Famiglietti
Abstract: Characterizing climatological and hydrological responses to agricultural irrigation continues to be an important challenge to understanding the full impact of water management on the Earth's environment and hydrological cycle. In this study, we use a global climate model, combined with realistic estimates of regional agricultural water use, to simulate the local and remote impacts of irrigation in California's Central Valley. We demonstrate a clear mechanism that the resulting increase in evapotranspiration and water vapor export significantly impacts the atmospheric circulation in the southwestern United States, including strengthening the regional hydrological cycle. We also identify that irrigation in the Central Valley initiates a previously unknown, anthropogenic loop in the regional hydrological cycle, in which summer precipitation is increased by 15%, causing a corresponding increase in Colorado River streamflow of ~30%. Ultimately, some of this additional streamflow is returned to California via managed diversions through the Colorado River aqueduct and the All-American Canal.

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