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Climate change, highlights and glances from the 2013 IPCC WG1 report. 1:How to access, and what you may find inside

It's arrived!

You too may find it at this link:

If you download it, and your Internet connection isn't blazing fast (exactly as mine) then be prepared to wait patiently "many seconds": the size is around a 120MByte!

As I explained in a previous post () the past Reports were quite massive. This makes no exception! Quite on the contrary, it tastes "grown": the 2007 Report was 997 pages of huge size (I had the idea of buying the paper version, but when the package arrived I began to reconsider my cleverness: it weighted around 2.5kg, too much for me to carry around; the 2013 edition, if I'm right, is something aroung 2200 pages (oh my goodness - it would mean 5.2kg!! I guess this time I'll not buy the paper edition.

The document you download from IPCC site comes along with a big disclaimer on the very first page ("Final Draft Underlying Scientific-Technical Assessment", "A report accepted by Working Group I of the IPCC but not approved in detail."). Their way of saying the report may change in some detail. But the very fact it has been allowed for distribution suggests the core will remain as it is, and changes will be quite minor.

In its current form, the Report still misses a comprehensive index, so you have to skim through it almost page by page to get oriented. Sure the final version will be indexed, but current edition can still be used.

Its first part, 79 pages long (127 including figures, to date not yet positioned in main text), you find an introduction - well, sort of. Its title is "Technical summary", and as its name suggests, contrary to the "summary for policymakers", it contains technical information. In my feeling this is the best place to start for interested non-climatologists: here you will find a gentle, but comprehensive, introduction to the subject and be exposed to the "lingo" of IPCC, like "radiative forcing" and "temperature anomaly", and other apparently impressive words (but really easy, once you read about them). For the ones of us interested to climate change but having little time to spare, the Technical Summary may be the very most important part.

After the Technical Summary the actual Report begins. It's divided in chapters, with the following meaning:

1.Introduction, with the basic technical facts listed in plain language; somewhat deeper in technicalities than the "summary for polcymakers", yet still relativey simple. What you will read on most newspapers or hear in the speech of politicians will mostly come from this (quite small) part.

On page 1.43 of chapter 1 you'll find the revised edition of the popular figure showing the energy balance of the Earth-Sun system on Earth surface: as far as I can see, it's much more comprehensive than 2007's counterpart. In theory it should "not be cited-quoted-distributed" as the rest of the Report, but I love it and think will steal for use in my own lectures ;-)

2. Observations: Atmosphere and Surface. Here the "real juice" begins. And this chapter, dealing with measurements, how they are taken, and what they allowed to find, will be a nice part lo look into with a critical attitude. As far as I know, in 2007 various parts of the Earth surface were not populated by meteorological stations, and so the only way to get (low accuracy) data was using "remote sensing", that is satellite based measurements, and observations made by passing ships and aircraft. Has the situation improved in the last 7 years? Does it still needs thickening?

The problem of availability of high accuracy data collected at Earth surface has been used in the past as an argument to question validity of IPCC conclusions ("If so large parts of Earth is not covered by detailed measurements, how is it possible to claim we know something of global climate?").

Besides, this chapter is large enough (115 pages plus figures). And, just giving a highlight of what the IPCC Reports really are, it contains a very long list of academic references: there is where actual observation methods employed are results obtained (i.e. the actual "numbers") may be found.

On page 2.127 you will find another interesting figure, once again dealing with Earth surface energy balance, but with figures in. Another nice tool to "steal" for lectures and lessons!

3. Observations: Oceans. Akin to chapter 2, but a bit smaller (69 pages plus figures). The same I said about chapter 2 applies.

4. Observations: Cryosphere. That is, glaciers and ice shelf, from the North Pole to Greenland to Anctarctica. Akin to 2 and 3, 75 pages plus figures.

If you are looking for bad news we laypeople can understand easily, this is the section to look into.

5. Information from paleoclimate archives. This large (106 pages plus figures) deals with what humankind knows of climate far away in the "deep time" of geology, until to date. On a first glance it may look irrelevant to our situation. But it is of great importance! Paleoclimatological observations allow to place current and near future climate changes in perspective. And, look for possible natural causes which have affected the past climates.

By reading this chapter you will discover many interesting, and sometimes frightening, things. For example that in past geological ages the climate has been much warmer (or colder, for what matters) than in this era and in the next future. We're worrying of few Celsius degrees temperature increase in next decades, but on some past ages temperature was twenty Celsius degrees warmer than to date! This is an indication that, well, climate change has already occurred, for entirely natural causes, in remote past - to a level of magnitude which is far beyond the adaptation capabilities of the human kind. Just a remind: all we modern humans are African animals, adapted to the almost-constant temperature of 22°C of Afar plateau. Without coats we couldn't survive most actual climates on Earth more than a week (or some seconds, in a few places). We are extremely delicate and vulnerable, especally without heavy technological support; we love to forget of it, but that's what we are...

6. Carbon and other biogeochemical cycles. In this large (119 pages plus figures) you find the account about data which may explain recent climate changes. Here too data are the main subject. Sections 6.4 and 6.5 deal with some less observational and more modeling and projection aspects.

This, too, is an interesting chapter. It deals with possible "whys" of what happens, pointing attention to the infamous Carbon Dioxide and other greenhouse compounds (methane, ...) of biogenic and human origin.

7. Clouds and aerosols. If anyone imagines IPCC Report to deal mainly with greenhouse gases, s/he misses the point. This large chapter deals with two other extremely important factors affecting global climate, namely clouds and dusts. These both may decrease the amount of solar shortwave radiation reaching the Earth surface, thus acting (sometimes locally) in the direction of a temperature decrease.

I'm quite curious to look this chapter into: in the past, the problem of modeling water vapor and clouds in the atmosphere was a "quite hard" one, not even for climatological, but also for meteorological models. One of the traditional reasons was that the observational basis about clouds was not as developed as for other classes of meteorological phenomena: for example, met radars operate in bands which are not able to resolve the "innards" of clouds, and limit more or less to their skin, without a real possibility to quantify the amount of suspended water, or follow the complex dynamics associted. To date, observational techniques have drastically improved however - and the trend is towards a greater even enhancement: for example, using the extremely thin-aperture but high accuracy disdrometric radars.

Uncertainties about clouds and water vapor have classically been used by skeptics to try invalidating the IPCC Reports. So, discoveries about these are of quite an interest. The chapter is promisingly large (118 pages + figures).

8. Anthropogenic and natural radiative forcing. This is an important chapter, dealing with the quantification of effects changes in the atmosphere have in terms of "radiative forcing". That of "radiative forcing" is in reality a simple concept: instead of expressing effects in terms of energy units (which would yield numbers so large on the global scale to give little intuitive help), it could be better to express effects in terms of how much solar radiation should change to obtain comparable effects. These changes to solar radiations are in reality "forcings" operating on the global climate, and being expressed in term of solar radiation they are called "radiative".

It should be noted that radiative forcings considered in the Report are both artificial ("anthropogenic") and natural. Some people claim the IPCC Report(s) to focus on artificial forcings only, and to neglect natural ones. But this is just "Soviet style disinformacjia" - most often made because of some hidden agenda.

9. Evaluation of climate models. This huge chapter (153 pages + figures) is the first one explicitly dealing with modeling. Until now, and for more than half the Report, measurements have been the real subjects, with modeling entering here and there as a tool enabling better comprehension of data. Here models are the actual Queen.

10. Detection and attribution of climate change. This chapter contains preparatory information about "putting all the preceding chapter together", in view of a synthesis. It deals with, in a sense, "causality" - and what the WG1 has made to acknowledge it in a sensible and reasonably transparent way.

11. Near-term climate change: projections and predictability. Here model results for the near future are presented and discussed. This is the first "synthesis" chapter of the Report.

12. Long-term climate change: projections, committments and irreversibility. Similar to 11, but focused on "long" term.

13. Sea level change. Similar to 11 and 12, but dealing with a highly sensitive issue (actually, most of short-term risk associated to climate change comes from this aspect: consider that most towns in the World have been built along the coast line. A level increase of sea by even a few meters could damage economies on a global scale to a level so huge that even the immense mass of money (mostly virtual) "produced" by finance in last years could do little to repair. In Italy massive damages could occur to Venezia, Genoa, Naples, the Adriatic coast, Cagliari, Messina, Bari and many others; the extent of possible damage imagining a 7m increase would exceed many times the current Italian public debt: in practice, no one could do anything to repair. A likely consequence would be the collapse of Italian economy.

Similar consequence would occur to other very exposed countries: the UK, the US, China, India, Japan...

So, this chapter is worth an accurate reading.

14. Climate phenomena and their relevance for future regional climate change. Here individual phenomena affecting the climate are named, described and related to each others. Many connections among them are known to exist, and some of them may trigger regional (that is "local") changes of significant extent.

Interest in this chapter stems from the fact that individual climate phenomena (like El Nino, or the convergence zone, or monsoons) are what shape the climate of large portions of inhabited lands. Changes to them might have very large impacts.

Annex I. Atlas of global and regional climate projections. Ditto. Of concrete interest to policymakers and engineers, in addition to inhabitants of this planet.

Annex II. Climate system scenario tables. Other useful data.

Annex III. Glossary. Of fundamental importance - at least for me!!

Comparing the index of 2013 Report with 2007's we can see many changes, with some rearrangements and many additions. What impressed me more are mostly these latter: my overall (provisional) feeling is the expansion in page number reflects much more than a change of paper size, with more evidence and data having been added.

The sheer size of the Report 2013 is misleading. The actual mass of data is much, much more than so. Any chapter contains a list of references pointing to many hundreds of academic papers per chapter. Say each paper is 10 pages long, this means something in the order of 14000 pages. To which you should add the tons of terabytes of experimental data and model runs (and, yes, the million lines of model source code). All these papers have been published on "peer reviewed" journals, that is, underwent an extensive revision process as always happens with scientific papers (and which is not normally done with "normal journalism", where individual journalist ethics should attempt to compensate). There is really very little space, if any at all, for ideology or "political hidden agendas" here. Who claims so is performing, as far as I can see, an intentional act of disinformation.

The Report is not designed to be read from beginning to end (referenced papers included) by any single person. Rather, it is conceived as a communication tool in which the scientific community says a very important something, as best as they can, to decision makers and their teams.

As I said, dismissing the Report as a form of ideology is incorrect. But quite clearly we have a (literally!) "big" problem: the Report has been diffused on the Internet, and in theory anyone could download and read it. If having a computer and an Internet connection. But then: what to do, with this all?

Sure the information inside is of extremely important relevance and extremely high value. Let's assume it is correct (it "is", to the point scientific results always are). As prospective, or actual, leaders we should be able to comprehend it, and get deep where needed.

Surely, not alone!

The Report has been the result of a collective effort. Devising sensible policies in an informed and rational way will have, too, to be a collective effort.

That is, shared leadership. On a global extent.

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