Posts tagged ‘warming’

Some Responsible Press Coverage of Record Temperatures

The Phoenix New Times blog had a fairly remarkable story on a record-hot Phoenix summer.  The core of the article is a chart from the NOAA.  There are three things to notice in it:

  • The article actually acknowledges that higher temperatures were due to higher night-time lows rather than higher daytime highs  Any mention of this is exceedingly rare in media stories on temperatures, perhaps because the idea of a higher low is confusing to communicate
  • It actually attributes urban warming to the urban heat island effect
  • It makes no mention of global warming

Here is the graphic:

hottest-summer

 

This puts me in the odd role of switching sides, so to speak, and observing that greenhouse warming could very likely manifest itself as rising nighttime lows (rather than rising daytime highs).  I can only assume the surrounding area of Arizona did not see the same sort of records, which would support the theory that this is a UHI effect.

Phoenix has a huge urban heat island effect, which my son actually measured.  At 9-10 in the evening, we measured a temperature differential of 8-12F from city center to rural areas outside the city.  By the way, this is a fabulous science fair project if you know a junior high or high school student trying to do something different than growing bean plants under different color lights.

Update On My Climate Model (Spoiler: It's Doing a Lot Better than the Pros)

In this post, I want to discuss my just-for-fun model of global temperatures I developed 6 years ago.  But more importantly, I am going to come back to some lessons about natural climate drivers and historic temperature trends that should have great relevance to the upcoming IPCC report.

In 2007, for my first climate video, I created an admittedly simplistic model of global temperatures.  I did not try to model any details within the climate system.  Instead, I attempted to tease out a very few (it ended up being three) trends from the historic temperature data and simply projected them forward.  Each of these trends has a logic grounded in physical processes, but the values I used were pure regression rather than any bottom up calculation from physics.  Here they are:

  • A long term trend of 0.4C warming per century.  This can be thought of as a sort of base natural rate for the post-little ice age era.
  • An additional linear trend beginning in 1945 of an additional 0.35C per century.  This represents combined effects of CO2 (whose effects should largely appear after mid-century) and higher solar activity in the second half of the 20th century  (Note that this is way, way below the mainstream estimates in the IPCC of the historic contribution of CO2, as it implies the maximum historic contribution is less than 0.2C)
  • A cyclic trend that looks like a sine wave centered on zero (such that over time it adds nothing to the long term trend) with a period of about 63 years.  Think of this as representing the net effect of cyclical climate processes such as the PDO and AMO.

Put in graphical form, here are these three drivers (the left axis in both is degrees C, re-centered to match the centering of Hadley CRUT4 temperature anomalies).  The two linear trends (click on any image in this post to enlarge it)

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And the cyclic trend:

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These two charts are simply added and then can be compared to actual temperatures.  This is the way the comparison looked in 2007 when I first created this "model"

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The historic match is no great feat.  The model was admittedly tuned to match history (yes, unlike the pros who all tune their models, I admit it).  The linear trends as well as the sine wave period and amplitude were adjusted to make the fit work.

However, it is instructive to note that a simple model of a linear trend plus sine wave matches history so well, particularly since it assumes such a small contribution from CO2 (yet matches history well) and since in prior IPCC reports, the IPCC and most modelers simply refused to include cyclic functions like AMO and PDO in their models.  You will note that the Coyote Climate Model was projecting a flattening, even a decrease in temperatures when everyone else in the climate community was projecting that blue temperature line heading up and to the right.

So, how are we doing?  I never really meant the model to have predictive power.  I built it just to make some points about the potential role of cyclic functions in the historic temperature trend.  But based on updated Hadley CRUT4 data through July, 2013, this is how we are doing:

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Not too shabby.  Anyway, I do not insist on the model, but I do want to come back to a few points about temperature modeling and cyclic climate processes in light of the new IPCC report coming soon.

The decisions of climate modelers do not always make sense or seem consistent.  The best framework I can find for explaining their choices is to hypothesize that every choice is driven by trying to make the forecast future temperature increase as large as possible.  In past IPCC reports, modelers refused to acknowledge any natural or cyclic effects on global temperatures, and actually made statements that a) variations in the sun's output were too small to change temperatures in any measurable way and b) it was not necessary to include cyclic processes like the PDO and AMO in their climate models.

I do not know why these decisions were made, but they had the effect of maximizing the amount of past warming that could be attributed to CO2, thus maximizing potential climate sensitivity numbers and future warming forecasts.  The reason for this was that the IPCC based nearly the totality of their conclusions about past warming rates and CO2 from the period 1978-1998.  They may talk about "since 1950", but you can see from the chart above that all of the warming since 1950 actually happened in that narrow 20 year window.  During that 20-year window, though, solar activity, the PDO and the AMO were also all peaking or in their warm phases.  So if the IPCC were to acknowledge that any of those natural effects had any influence on temperatures, they would have to reduce the amount of warming scored to CO2 between 1978 and 1998 and thus their large future warming forecasts would have become even harder to justify.

Now, fast forward to today.  Global temperatures have been flat since about 1998, or for about 15 years or so.  This is difficult to explain for the IPCC, since about none of the 60+ models in their ensembles predicted this kind of pause in warming.  In fact, temperature trends over the last 15 years have fallen below the 95% confidence level of nearly every climate model used by the IPCC.  So scientists must either change their models (eek!) or else they must explain why they still are correct but missed the last 15 years of flat temperatures.

The IPCC is likely to take the latter course.  Rumor has it that they will attribute the warming pause to... ocean cycles and the sun (those things the IPCC said last time were irrelevant).  As you can see from my model above, this is entirely plausible.  My model has an underlying 0.75C per century trend after 1945, but even with this trend actual temperatures hit a 30-year flat spot after the year 2000.   So it is entirely possible for an underlying trend to be temporarily masked by cyclical factors.

BUT.  And this is a big but.  You can also see from my model that you can't assume that these factors caused the current "pause" in warming without also acknowledging that they contributed to the warming from 1978-1998, something the IPCC seems loath to do.  I do not know how the ICC is going to deal with this.  I hate to think the worst of people, but I do not think it is beyond them to say that these factors offset greenhouse warming for the last 15 years but did not increase warming the 20 years before that.

We shall see.  To be continued....

Update:  Seriously, on a relative basis, I am kicking ass

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Trend That is Not A Trend: Rolling Stone Wildfire Article

Rolling Stone brings us an absolutely great example of an article that claims a trend without actually showing the trend data, and where the actual data point to a trend in the opposite direction as the one claimed.

I won't go into the conclusions of the article.  Suffice it to say it is as polemical as anything I have read of late and could be subtitled "the Tea Party and Republicans suck."  Apparently Republicans are wrong to criticize government wildfire management and do so only because they suck, and the government should not spend any effort to fight wildfires that threaten private property but does so only because Republicans, who suck, make them.  Or something.

What I want to delve into is the claim by the author that wildfires are increasing due to global warming, and only evil Republicans (who suck) could possibly deny this obvious trend (numbers in parenthesis added so I can reference passages below):

 But the United States is facing an even more basic question: How should we manage fire, given the fact that, thanks to climate change, the destruction potential for wildfires across the nation has never been greater? In the past decade alone, at least 10 states – from Alaska to Florida – have been hit by the largest or most destructive wildfires in their respective histories (1). Nationally, the cost of fighting fires has increased from $1.1 billion in 1994 to $2.7 billion in 2011.(2)

The line separating "fire season" from the rest of the year is becoming blurry. A wildfire that began in Colorado in early October continued smoldering into May of this year. Arizona's first wildfire of 2013 began in February, months ahead of the traditional firefighting season(3). A year-round fire season may be the new normal. The danger is particularly acute in the Intermountain West, but with drought and record-high temperatures in the Northwest, Midwest, South and Southeast over the past several years, the threat is spreading to the point that few regions can be considered safe....

For wildland firefighters, the debate about global warming was over years ago. "On the fire lines, it is clear," fire geographer Michael Medler told a House committee in 2007. "Global warming is changing fire behavior, creating longer fire seasons and causing more frequent, large-scale, high-severity wildfires."...(4)

Scientists have cited climate change as a major contributor in some of the biggest wildfires in recent years, including the massive Siberian fires during a record heat wave in 2010 and the bushfires that killed 173 people in Australia in 2009.(5)...

The problem is especially acute in Arizona, where average annual temperatures have risen nearly three-quarters of a degree Fahrenheit each decade since 1970, making it the fastest­-warming state in the nation. Over the same period, the average annual number of Arizona wildfires on more than 1,000 acres has nearly quadrupled, a record unsurpassed by any other state and matched only by Idaho. One-quarter of Arizona's signature ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests have burned in just the past decade. (6)...

At a Senate hearing in June, United States Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell testified that the average wildfire today burns twice as many acres as it did 40 years ago(7). "In 2012, over 9.3 million acres burned in the United States," he said – an area larger than New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware combined. Tidwell warned that the outlook for this year's fire season was particularly grave, with nearly 400 million acres – more than double the size of Texas – at a moderate-to-high risk of burning.(8)

These are the 8 statements I can find to support an upward trend in fires.  And you will note, I hope, that none of them include the most obvious data - what has the actual trend been in number of US wildfires and acres burned.  Each of these is either a statement of opinion or a data point related to fire severity in a particular year, but none actually address the point at hand:  are we getting more and larger fires?

Maybe the data does not exist.  But in fact it does, and I will say there is absolutely no way, no way, the author has not seen the data.  The reason it is not in this article is because it does not fit the "reporters" point of view so it is left out.  Here is where the US government tracks fires by year, at the National Interagency Fire Center.   To save you clicking through, here is the data as of this moment:

click to enlarge fires 2013 to date

 

Well what do you know?  The number of fires and the acres burned in 2013 are not some sort of record high -- in fact they actually are the, respectively, lowest and second lowest numbers of the last 10 years.  In fact, both the number of fires and the total acres burned are running a third below average.

The one thing this does not address is the size of fires.  The author implies that there are more fires burning more acres, which we see is clearly wrong, but perhaps the fires are getting larger?  Well, 2012 was indeed an outlier year in that fires were larger than average, but 2013 has returned to the trend which has actually been flat to down, again exactly opposite of the author's contention (data below is just math from chart above)

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In the rest of the post, I will briefly walk through his 8 statements highlighted above and show why they exhibit many of the classic fallacies in trying to assert a trend where none exists.  In the postscript, I will address one other inconsistency from the article as to the cause of these fires which is a pretty hilarious of how to turn any data to supporting you hypothesis, even if it is unrelated.  Now to his 8 statements:

(1) Again, no trend here, this is simply a single data point.  He says that  10 states have set in one year or another in the last decade a record for one of two variables related to fires.  With 50 states and 2 variables, we have 100 measurements that can potentially hit a record in any one year.  So if we have measured fires and fire damage for about 100 years (about the age of the US Forest Service), then we would expect on average 10 new records every decade, exactly what the author found.  Further, at least one of these -- costliness of the fires -- should be increasing over time due to higher property valuations and inflation, factors I am betting the author did not adjust for.

(2)  This cost increase over 17 years represents a 5.4% per year inflation.  It is very possible this is entirely due to changes in firefighting unit costs and methods rather than any change in underlying fire counts.

(3) This is idiotic, a desperate reach by an author with an axe to grind.  Wildfires in Arizona often occur out of fire season.   Having a single fire in the winter means nothing.

(4) Again, we know the data does not support the point.  If the data does not support your point, find some "authority" that will say it is true.  There is always someone somewhere who will say anything is true.

(5) It is true that there are scientists who have blamed global warming for these fires.  Left unmentioned is that there are also scientists who think that it is impossible to parse the effect of a 0.5C increase in global temperatures from all the other potential causes of individual weather events and disasters.  If there is no data to support a trend in the mean, it is absolutely irresponsible to claim causality in isolated data points in the tails of the distribution

(6) The idea that temperatures in Arizona have risen 3/4 a degree F for four decades is madness.  Not even close.  This would be 3F, and there is simply no basis in any reputable data base I have seen to support this.  It is potentially possible to take a few AZ urban thermometers to see temperature increases of this magnitude, but they would be measuring mostly urban heat island effects, and not rural temperatures that drive wildfires (more discussion here).  The statement that "the average annual number of Arizona wildfires on more than 1,000 acres has nearly quadrupled" is so awkwardly worded we have to suspect the author is reaching here.  In fact, since wildfires average about 100 acres, the 1000 acre fire is going to be rare.  My bet is that this is a volatility in small numbers (e.g. 1 to 4) rather than a real trend.  His final statement that "One-quarter of Arizona's signature ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests have burned in just the past decade" is extremely disingenuous.  The reader will be forgiven for thinking that a quarter of the trees in Arizona have burned.  But in fact this only means there have been fires in a quarter of the forests -- a single tree in one forest burning would likely count for this metric as a forest which burned.

(7) This may well be true, but means nothing really.  It is more likely, particularly given the evidence of the rest of the article, to be due to forest management processes than global warming.

(8)  This is a data point, not a trend.  Is this a lot or a little?  And remember, no matter how much he says is at risk (and remember this man is testifying to get more budget money out of Congress, so he is going to exaggerate) the actual acreage burning is flat to down.

Postscript:  The article contains one of the most blatant data bait and switches I have ever seen.  The following quote is taken as-is in the article and has no breaks or editing and nothing left out.   Here is what you are going to see.  All the way up to the last paragraph, the author tells a compelling story that the fires are due to a series of USFS firefighting and fuel-management policies.  Fair enough.   His last paragraph says that Republicans are the big problem for opposing... opposing what?  Changes to the USFS fire management practices?  No, for opposing the Obama climate change plan. What??  He just spent paragraphs building a case that this is a fire and fuel management issue, but suddenly Republicans suck for opposing the climate change bill?

Like most land in the West, Yarnell is part of an ecosystem that evolved with fire. "The area has become unhealthy and unnatural," Hawes says, "because fires have been suppressed." Yarnell is in chaparral, a mix of small juniper, oak and manzanita trees, brush and grasses. For centuries, fires swept across the chaparral periodically, clearing out and resetting the "fuel load." But beginning in the early 1900s, U.S. wildfire policy was dominated by fire suppression, formalized in 1936 as "the 10 a.m. rule" – fires were to be extinguished by the morning after they were spotted; no exceptions. Back in the day, the logic behind the rule appeared sound: If you stop a fire when it's small, it won't become big. But wildland ecosystems need fire as much as they need rain, and it had been some 45 years since a large fire burned around Yarnell. Hawes estimates that there could have been up to five times more fuel to feed the Yarnell Hill fire than was natural.

The speed and intensity of a fire in overgrown chaparral is a wildland firefighter's nightmare, according to Rick Heron, part of another Arizona crew that worked on the Yarnell Hill fire. Volatile resins and waxy leaves make manzanita "gasoline in plant form," says Heron. He's worked chaparral fires where five-foot-tall manzanitas produced 25-foot-high flames. Then there are the decades of dried-up grasses, easily ignitable, and the quick-burning material known as "fine" or "flash" fuels. "That's the stuff that gets you," says Heron. "The fine, flashy fuels are just insane. It doesn't look like it's going to be a problem. But when the fire turns on you, man, you can't outdrive it. Let alone outrun it."

Beginning with the Forest Service in 1978, the 10 a.m. rule was gradually replaced by a plan that gave federal agencies the discretion to allow fires to burn where appropriate. But putting fire back in the landscape has proved harder to do in practice, where political pressures often trump science and best-management practices. That was the case last year when the Forest Service once again made fire suppression its default position. Fire managers were ordered to wage an "aggressive initial attack" on fires, and had to seek permission to deviate from this practice. The change was made for financial reasons. Faced with skyrocketing costs of battling major blazes and simultaneous cuts to the Forest Service firefighting budget, earlier suppression would, it was hoped, keep wildfires small and thus reduce the cost of battling big fires.

Some critics think election-year politics may have played a role in the decision. "The political liability of a house burning down is greater than the political liability of having a firefighter die," says Kierán Suckling, head of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. "If they die, you just hope that the public narrative is that they were American heroes."

The problem will only get worse as extremist Republicans and conservative Democrats foster a climate of malign neglect. Even before President Obama unveiled a new climate-change initiative days before the fire, House Speaker John Boehner dismissed the reported proposal as "absolutely crazy." Before he was elected to the Senate last November, Jeff Flake, then an Arizona congressman, fought to prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding research on developing a new model for international climate-change analysis, part of a program he called "meritless." The biggest contributor to Flake's Senate campaign was the Club for Growth, whose founder, Stephen Moore, called global warming "the biggest myth of the last one hundred years."

By the way, the Yarnell firefighters did not die due to global warming or even the 10am rule.  They died due to stupidity.  Whether their own or their leaders may never be clear, but I have yet to meet a single firefighter that thought they had any business being where they were and as out of communication as they were.

 

The Magic Theory

Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change is the magic theory -- every bit of evidence proves it.   More rain, less rain, harder rain, drought, floods, more tornadoes, fewer tornadoes, hotter weather, colder weather, more hurricanes, fewer hurricane -- they all prove the theory.  It is the theory that it is impossible not to confirm.  Example

It will take climate scientists many months to complete studies into whether manmade global warming made the Boulder flood more likely to occur, but the amount by which this event has exceeded past events suggests that manmade warming may have played some role by making the event worse than it otherwise would have been...

An increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events is expected to take place even though annual precipitation amounts are projected to decrease in the Southwest. Colorado sits right along the dividing line between the areas where average annual precipitation is expected to increase, and the region that is expected to become drier as a result of climate change.

That may translate into more frequent, sharp swings between drought and flood, as has recently been the case. Last year, after all, was Colorado's second-driest on record, with the warmest spring and warmest summer on record, leading to an intense drought that is only just easing.

Generally one wants to point to a data trend to prove a theory, but look at that last paragraph.  Global warming is truly unique because it can be verified by there being no trend.

I hate to make this point for the five millionth time, but here goes:  It is virtually impossible (and takes far more data, by orders of magnitude, than we posses) to prove a shift in the mean of any phenomenon simply by highlighting occasional tail-of-the-distribution events.  The best way to prove a mean shift is to actually, you know, track the mean.  The problem is that the trend data lines for all these phenomenon -- droughts, wet weather, tornadoes, hurricanes -- show no trend, so the only tool supporters of the theory have at their disposal is to scream "global warming" as loud as they can every time there is a tail-of-the-distribution event.

Let's do some math:  They claim this flood was a one in one thousand year event.  That strikes me as false precision, because we have only been observing this phenomenon with any reliability for 100 years, but I will accept their figure for now.  Let's say this was indeed a one in 1000 year flood that it occurred over, say, half the area of Colorado (again a generous assumption, it was actually less that that).

Colorado is about 270,000 KM^2 so half would be 135,000 KM^2.  The land area of the world (we really should include oceans for this but we will give these folks every break) is about 150,000,000 km^2.  That means that half of Colorado is a bit less than 1/1000 of the world land area.

Our intuition tells us that a 1 in 1000 year storm is so rare that to have one means something weird or unusual or even unnatural must be going on.  But by the math above, since this storm covered 1/1000 of the land surface of the Earth, we should see one such storm on average every year somewhere in the world.  This is not some "biblical" unprecedented event - it is freaking expected, somewhere, every year.  Over the same area we should also see a 1 in 1000 year drought, a 1 in 1000 year temperature high, and a one in one thousand year temperature low -- every single damn year.  Good news if you are a newspaper and feed off of this stuff, but bad news for anyone trying to draw conclusions about the shifts in means and averages from such events.

Climate Theory vs. Climate Data

This is a pretty amazing statement Justin Gillis in the New York Times.

This month, the world will get a new report from a United Nations panel about the science of climate change. Scientists will soon meet in Stockholm to put the finishing touches on the document, and behind the scenes, two big fights are brewing....

In the second case, we have mainstream science that says if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles, which is well on its way to happening, the long-term rise in the temperature of the earth will be at least 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, but more likely above 5 degrees. We have outlier science that says the rise could come in well below 3 degrees.

In this case, the drafters of the report lowered the bottom end in a range of temperatures for how much the earth could warm, treating the outlier science as credible.

The interesting part is that "mainstream science" is based mainly on theory and climate models that over the last 20 years have not made accurate predictions (overestimating warming significantly).  "Outlier science" is in a lot of cases based on actual observations of temperatures along with other variables like infrared radiation returning to space.  The author, through his nomenclature, is essentially disparaging observational data that is petulantly refusing to match up to model predictions.  But of course skeptics are anti-science.

We Are 95% Confident in a Meaningless Statement

Apparently the IPCC is set to write:

Drafts seen by Reuters of the study by the U.N. panel of experts, due to be published next month, say it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities - chiefly the burning of fossil fuels - are the main cause of warming since the 1950s.

That is up from at least 90 percent in the last report in 2007, 66 percent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995, steadily squeezing out the arguments by a small minority of scientists that natural variations in the climate might be to blame.

I have three quick reactions to this

  • The IPCC has always adopted words like "main cause" or "substantial cause."  They have not even had enough certainly to use the word "majority cause" -- they want to keep it looser than that.  If man causes 30% and every other cause is at 10% or less, is man the main cause?  No one knows.  So that is how we get to the absurd situation where folks are trumpeting being 95% confident in a statement that is purposely vaguely worded -- so vague that the vast majority of people who sign it would likely disagree with one another on exactly what they have agreed to.
  • The entirety of the post-1950 temperature rise occurred between 1978 and 1998 (see below a chart based on the Hadley CRUT4 database, the same one used by the IPCC

2013 Version 3 Climate talk

Note that temperatures fell from 1945 to about 1975, and have been flat from about 1998 to 2013.  This is not some hidden fact - it was the very fact that the warming slope was so steep in the short period from 1978-1998 that contributed to the alarm.  The current 15 years with no warming was not predicted and remains unexplained (at least in the context of the assumption of high temperature sensitivities to CO2).  The IPCC is in a quandary here, because they can't just say that natural variation counter-acted warming for 15 years, because this would imply a magnitude to natural variability that might have explained the 20 year rise from 1978-1998 as easily as it might explain the warming hiatus over the last 15 years (or in the 30 years preceding 1978).

  • This lead statement by the IPCC continues to be one of the great bait and switches of all time.  Most leading skeptics (excluding those of the talk show host or politician variety) accept that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and is contributing to some warming of the Earth.  This statement by the IPCC says nothing about the real issue, which is what is the future sensitivity of the Earth's temperatures to rising CO2 - is it high, driven by large positive feedbacks, or more modest, driven by zero to negative feedbacks.  Skeptics don't disagree that man has cause some warming, but believe that future warming forecasts are exaggerated and that the negative effects of warming (e.g. tornadoes, fires, hurricanes) are grossly exaggerated.

Its OK not to know something -- in fact, that is an important part of scientific detachment, to admit what one does not know.   But what the hell does being 95% confident in a vague statement mean?  Choose which of these is science:

  • Masses are attracted to each other in proportion to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of their distance of separation.
  • We are 95% certain that gravity is the main cause of my papers remaining on my desk

Earth to California

From our paper this morning:

California regulators have launched an investigation into offshore hydraulic fracturing after revelations that the practice had quietly occurred off the coast for the past two decades.

The California Coastal Commission promised to look into the extent of so-called fracking in federal and state waters and any potential risks.

Hydraulic fracturing has been a standard tool for reinvigorating oil and gas wells for over 60 years.  While it gets headlines as something new, it decidedly is not.  What is new is its use in combination with horizontal drilling as a part of the initial well design, rather than as as a rework tool for an aging field.

What California regulators are really saying is that they have known about and been comfortable with this process for decades**, but what has changed is not the technology but public opinion.  A small group of environmentalists have tried to, without much scientific basis, demonize this procedure not because they oppose it per se but because they are opposed to an expansion of hydrocarbon availability, which they variously blame for either CO2 and global warming or more generally the over-industrialization of the world.

So given this new body of public opinion, rather than saying that "sure, fracking has existed for decades and we have always been comfortable with it", the regulators instead act astonished and surprised -- "we are shocked, shocked that fracking is going on in this establishment" -- and run around in circles demonstrating their care and concern.  Next step is their inevitable trip to the capital to tell legislators that they desperately need more money and people to deal with their new responsibility to carefully scrutinize this decades-old process.

 

**Postscript:  If regulators are not familiar with basic oil-field processes, then one has to wonder what the hell they are going with their time.  It's not like anyone in the oil business had any reason to hide fracking activity -- only a handful of people in the country would have known what it was or cared until about 5 years ago.

This Is How We Get In Pointless Climate Flame Wars

The other day I posted a graph from Roy Spencer comparing climate model predictions to actual measurements in the tropical mid-troposphere (the zone on Earth where climate models predict the most warming due to large assumed water vapor positive feedbacks).  The graph is a powerful indictment of the accuracy of climate models.

Spencer has an article (or perhaps a blog post) in the Financial Post with the same results, and includes a graph that does a pretty good job of simplifying the messy spaghetti graph in the original version.  Except for one problem.  Nowhere is it correctly labelled.  One would assume looking at it that it is a graph of global surface temperatures, which is what most folks are used to seeing in global warming articles. But in fact it is a graph of temperatures in the mid-troposphere, between 20 degrees North and 20 degrees South latitude.  He mentions that it is for tropical troposphere in the text of the article, but it is not labelled as such on the graph.  There is a very good reason for that narrow focus, but now the graph will end up on Google image search, and people will start crying "bullsh*t" because they will compare the numbers to global surface temperature data and it won't match.

I respect Spencer's work but he did not do a good job with this.

Climate Model Fail

Dr. Roy Spencer has compared the output of 73 climate models to actual recent temperature measurements.  He has focused on temperatures in the mid-troposphere in the tropics -- this is not the same as global surface temperatures but is of course related.  The reason for this focus is 1) we have some good space-based data sources for temperatures in this region that don't suffer the same biases and limitations as surface thermometers and 2) This is the zone that catastrophic anthropogenic global warming theory says should be seeing the most warming, due to positive feedback effects of water vapor.  The lines are the model results for temperatures, the dots are the actuals.

click to enlarge

As Spencer writes in an earlier post:

I continue to suspect that the main source of disagreement is that the models’ positive feedbacks are too strong…and possibly of even the wrong sign.

The lack of a tropical upper tropospheric hotspot in the observations is the main reason for the disconnect in the above plots, and as I have been pointing out this is probably rooted in differences in water vapor feedback. The models exhibit strongly positive water vapor feedback, which ends up causing a strong upper tropospheric warming response (the “hot spot”), while the observation’s lack of a hot spot would be consistent with little water vapor feedback.

The warming from manmade CO2 without positive feedbacks would be about 1.3C per doubling of CO2 concentrations, a fraction of the 3-10C predicted by these climate models.  If the climate, like most other long-term stable natural systems, is dominated by negative feedbacks, the sensitivity would be likely less than 1C.  Either way, the resulting predicted warming from manmade CO2 over the rest of this century would likely be less than 1 degree C.

More on declining estimates of climate sensitivity based on actual temperature observations rather than computer models here.

Update on Climate Temperature Sensitivity (Good News, the Numbers are Falling)

I have not had the time to write much about climate of late, but after several years of arguing over emails (an activity with which I quickly grew bored), the field is heating up again, as it were.

As I have said many times, the key missing science in the whole climate debate centers around climate sensitivity, or the expected temperature increase from a doubling of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere  (as reference, CO2 in the industrial age has increased from about 270 ppm to close to 400 ppm, or about half a doubling).

In my many speeches and this video (soon to be updated, if I can just find the time to finish it), I have argued that climate computer models have exaggerated climate sensitivity.  This Wikipedia page is a pretty good rehash of the alarmist position on climate sensitivity.  According to this standard alarmist position, here is the distribution of studies which represent the potential values for sensitivity - note that virtually none are below 2°C.

Frequency_distribution_of_climate_sensitivity,_based_on_model_simulations_(NASA)

The problem is that these are all made with computer models.  They are not based on observational data.  Yes, all these models nominally backcast history reasonably correctly (look at that chart above and think about that statement for a minute, see if you can spot the problem).  But many an investor has been bankrupted by models that correctly backcast history.  The guys putting together tranches of mortgages for securities all had models.   What has been missing is any validation of these numbers with actual, you know, observations of nature.

Way back 6 or 7 years ago I began taking these numbers and projecting them backwards.  In other words, if climate sensitivity is really, say, at 4°C, then what should that imply about historical temperature increases since the pre-industrial age?  Let's do a back of the envelope with the 4°C example.  We are at just about half of a doubling of CO2 concentrations, but since sensitivity is a logarithmic curve, this implies we should have seen about 57% of the temperature increase that we would expect from a full doubling of CO2.  Applied to the 4°C sensitivity figure, this means that if sensitivity really is 4°C, we should have seen a 2.3°C global temperature increase over the last 150 years or so.  Which we certainly have not -- instead we have seen 0.8°C from all causes, only one of which is CO2.

So these high sensitivity models are over-predicting history.  Even a 2°C sensitivity over-predicts the amount of warming we have seen historically.  So how do they make the numbers fit?  The models are tuned and tweaked with a number of assumptions.  Time delays are one -- the oceans act as a huge flywheel on world temperatures and tend to add large lags to getting to the ultimate sensitivity figure.  But even this was not enough for high sensitivity models to back-cast accurately.  To make their models accurately predict history, their authors have had to ignore every other source of warming (which is why they have been so vociferous in downplaying the sun and ocean cycles, at least until they needed these to explain the lack of warming over the last decade).  Further, they have added man-made cooling factors, particularly from sulfate aerosols, that offset some of the man-made warming with man-made cooling.

Which brings us back to the problem I hinted at with the chart above and its distribution of sensitivities.  Did you spot the problem?  All these models claim to accurately back-cast history, but how can a model with a 2°C sensitivity and an 11°C sensitivity both accurately model the last 100 years?  One way they do it is by using a plug variable, and many models use aerosol cooling as the plug.  Why?   Well, unlike natural cooling factors, it is anthropogenic, so they can still claim catastrophe once we clean up the aerosols.  Also, for years the values of aerosol cooling were really uncertain, so ironically the lack of good science on them allowed scientists to assume a wide range of values.  Below is from a selection of climate models, and shows that the higher the climate sensitivity in the model, the higher the negative forcing (cooling) effect assumed from aerosols.  This has to be, or the models would not back-cast.aerosols2

The reasons that these models had such high sensitivities is that they assumed the climate was dominated by net positive feedback, meaning there were processes in the climate system that would take small amounts of initial warming from CO2 and multiply them many times.  The generally accepted value for sensitivity without these feedbacks is 1.2°C or 1.3°C (via work by Michael Mann over a decade ago).  So all the rest of the warming, in fact the entire catastrophe that is predicted, comes not from CO2 but from this positive feedback that multiplies this modest 1.2°C many times.

I have argued, as have many other skeptics, that this assumption of net positive feedback is not based on good science, and in fact most long-term stable natural systems are dominated by negative feedback (note that you can certainly identify individual processes, like ice albedo, that are certainly a positive feedback, but we are talking about the net effect of all such processes combined).  Based on a skepticism about strong positive feedback, and the magnitude of past warming in relation to CO2 increases, I have always argued that the climate sensitivity is perhaps 1.2°C and maybe less, but that we should not expect more than a degree of warming from CO2 in the next century, hardly catastrophic.

One of the interesting things you might notice from the Wikipedia page is that they do not reference any sensitivity study more recent than 2007 (except for a literature review in 2008).  One reason might be that over the last 5 years there have been a series of studies that have begun to lower the expected value of the sensitivity number.   What many of these studies have in common is that they are based on actual observational data over the last 100 years, rather than computer models  (by the way, for those of you who like to fool with Wikipedia, don't bother on climate pages -- the editors of these pages will reverse any change attempting to bring balance to their articles in a matter of minutes).  These studies include a wide range of natural effects, such as ocean cycles, left out of the earlier models.  And, as real numbers have been put on aerosol concentrations and their effects, much lower values have been assigned to aerosol cooling, thus reducing the amount of warming that could be coming from CO2.

Recent studies based on observational approaches are coming up with much lower numbers.   ECS, or equilibrium climate sensitivity numbers (what we would expect in temperature increases if we waited hundreds or thousands of years for all time delays to be overcome) has been coming in between 1.6°C and 2.0°C.  Values for TCS, or transient climate sensitivity, or what we might expect to see in our lifetimes, has been coming in around 1.3°C per doubling of CO2 concentrations.

Matt Ridley has the layman's explanation

Yesterday saw the publication of a paper in a prestigious journal,Nature Geoscience, from a high-profile international team led by Oxford scientists. The contributors include 14 lead authors of the forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientific report; two are lead authors of the crucial chapter 10: professors Myles Allen and Gabriele Hegerl.

So this study is about as authoritative as you can get. It uses the most robust method, of analysing the Earth’s heat budget over the past hundred years or so, to estimate a “transient climate response” — the amount of warming that, with rising emissions, the world is likely to experience by the time carbon dioxide levels have doubled since pre-industrial times.

The most likely estimate is 1.3C. Even if we reach doubled carbon dioxide in just 50 years, we can expect the world to be about two-thirds of a degree warmer than it is now, maybe a bit more if other greenhouse gases increase too….

Judith Currey discusses these new findings

Discussion of Otto, one of the recent studies

Nic Lewis discusses several of these results

This is still tough work, likely with a lot of necessary improvement, because it is really hard to dis-aggregate multiple drivers in such a complex system.  There may, for example, be causative variables we don't even know about so by definition were not included in the study.  However, it is nice to see that folks are out there trying to solve the problem with real observations of Nature, and not via computer auto-eroticism.

Postscript:  Alarmists have certainly not quit the field.  The current emerging hypothesis to defend high sensitivities is to say that the heat is going directly into the deep oceans.  At some level this is sensible -- the vast majority of the heat carrying capacity (80-90%) of the Earth's surface is in the oceans, not in the atmosphere, and so they are the best place to measure warming.  Skeptics have said this for years.  But in the top 700 meters or so of the ocean, as measured by ARGO floats, ocean heating over the last 10 years (since these more advanced measuring devices were launched) has been only about 15% of what we might predict with high sensitivity models.  So when alarmists say today that the heat is going into the oceans, they say the deep oceans -- ie that the heat from global warming is not going into the air or the first 700 meters of ocean but directly into ocean layers beneath that.  Again, this is marginally possible by some funky dynamics, but just like the aerosol defense that has fallen apart of late, this defense of high sensitivity forecasts is completely unproven.  But the science is settled, of course.

Environmentalist vs. Environmentalist

The confrontation may be coming soon in the environmental community over wind power -- it certainly would have occurred already had the President promoting wind been Republican rather than Democrat.  I might have categorized this as "all energy production has environmental tradeoffs", but wind power is so stupid a source to be promoting that this is less of a tradeoff and more of another nail in the coffin.  As a minimum, the equal protection issues vis a vis how the law is enforced for wind companies vs. oil companies are pretty staggering.

“It happens about once a month here, on the barren foothills of one of America’s green-energy boomtowns: A soaring golden eagle slams into a wind farm’s spinning turbine and falls, mangled and lifeless, to the ground.

Killing these iconic birds is not just an irreplaceable loss for a vulnerable species. It’s also a federal crime, a charge that the Obama administration has used to prosecute oil companies when birds drown in their waste pits, and power companies when birds are electrocuted by their power lines.”

“[The Obama] administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind-energy company, even those that flout the law repeatedly. Instead, the government is shielding the industry from liability and helping keep the scope of the deaths secret.”

“Wind power, a pollution-free energy intended to ease global warming, is a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s energy plan. His administration has championed a $1 billion-a-year tax break to the industry that has nearly doubled the amount of wind power in his first term. But like the oil industry under President George W. Bush, lobbyists and executives have used their favored status to help steer U.S. energy policy.”

“The result [of Obama energy policy] is a green industry that’s allowed to do not-so-green things. It kills protected species with impunity and conceals the environmental consequences of sprawling wind farms.”

“More than 573,000 birds are killed by the country’s wind farms each year, including 83,000 hunting birds such as hawks, falcons and eagles, according to an estimate published in March in the peer-reviewed Wildlife Society Bulletin.

This Shouldn't Be Necessary, But Here Is Some Information on CO2 and Tornadoes

Well, I have zero desire to score political points off the tragedy in Oklahoma, but unfortunately others are more than eager to do so.  As a result, it is necessary to put a few facts on the table to refute the absurd claim that this tornado is somehow attributable to CO2.

  1. I really should not have to say this, but there is no mechanism by which CO2 has ever been accused of causing tornadoes except via the intervening step of warming.  Without warming, CO2 can't be the cause (even with warming, the evidence is weak, since tornadoes are cause more by temperature differentials, than by temperature per se).  So it is worth noting that there have been no unusually warm temperatures in the area of late, and in fact the US has had one of its coolest springs in several decades.
  2. I should also not have to say this, but major tornadoes occurred in Oklahoma at much lower CO2 levels.

    torgraph-big

  3. In fact, if anything the trend in major tornadoes in the US over the last several decades is down
  4. And, this is actually a really, really low tornado year so far.  So its hard to figure an argument that says that global warming reduced tornadoes in general but caused this one in particular

EF3-EF5

 

Much more at this link

Update:  In 1975, tornado outbreaks blamed in Newsweek on global cooling

Matt Ridley's 10 Questions For Climate Alarmists

As I have read Mr. Ridley over the years, I have found him to have staked out a position on anthropogenic climate change very similar to mine  (we are both called "lukewarmers" because we accept that man's addition of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere warms the world incrementally but do not accept catastrophic positive-feedback driven catastrophic warming forecasts).

I generally find room to nitpick even those whom I largely agree with, but from my perspective, this piece by Ridley is dead on.   (thanks to a reader for the link)

Mission Drift in Charitable Trusts

Much has been written about 2nd and 3rd generation trustees leading charitable trusts in completely different directions from the intentions of their original founder / donor.  These charitable trusts seem to, over time, become reflective of the goals and philosophy of a fairly closed caste of, lacking a better word, non-profit-runners.  Their typically leftish, Eastern, urban outlook is sometimes bizarrely at odds with the trust's founding intentions and mission.

Here is one that caught my eye:  Bill McKibben is known as a global warming crusader, via his 350.org (the 350 refers to the fact that they feel the world was safe at 349 ppm CO2 but was headed for ruin at 351 ppm).  But if you hear him speak, as my son did at Amherst, he sounds more alike a crusader against fossil fuels rather than against just global warming per se.  I am left with the distinct impression that he would be a passionate opponent of fossil fuel consumption even if there were no such thing as greenhouse gas warming.

Anyway, the thing I found interesting is that most of his anti-fossil fuel work is funded by a series of Rockefeller family trusts.  I am not privy to the original founding mission of these trusts, but my suspicion is that funding a campaign to paint producers of fossil fuels as outright evil, as McKibben often does, is a pretty bizarre use of money for the Rockefeller family.

In contrast to McKibben, I have argued that John D. Rockefeller, beyond saving the whales, did as much for human well-being as any person in the last two centuries by driving down the cost and increasing the quality, safety, and availability of fuels.   Right up there with folks like Norman Borlaug and Louis Pasteur.

Best and the Brightest May Finally Be Open To Considering Lower Climate Sensitivity Numbers

For years, readers of this site know that I have argued that:

  • CO2 is indeed a greenhouse gas, and since man is increasing its atmospheric concentration, there is likely some anthropogenic contribution to warming
  • Most forecasts, including those of the IPCC, grossly exaggerate temperature sensitivity to CO2 by assuming absurd levels of net positive feedback in the climate system
  • Past temperature changes are not consistent with high climate sensitivities

Recently, there have been a whole spate of studies based on actual observations rather than computer models that have been arriving at climate sensitivity numbers far below the IPCC number.   While the IPCC settled on 3C per doubling of CO2, it strongly implied that all the risk was to the upside, and many other prominent folks who typically get fawning attention in the media have proposed much higher numbers.

In fact, recent studies are coming in closer to 1.5C - 2C.  I actually still think these numbers will turn out to be high.  For several years now my money has been on a number from 0.8 to 1 C, sensitivity numbers that imply a small amount of negative feedback rather than positive feedback, a safer choice in my mind since most long-term stable natural systems are dominated by negative feedback.

Anyway, in an article that was as surprising as it is welcome, NY Times climate writer Andy Revkin has quite an article recently, finally acknowledging in the paper of record that maybe those skeptics who have argued for alower sensitivity number kind of sort of have a point.

Worse than we thought” has been one of the most durable phrases lately among those pushing for urgent action to stem the buildup of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

But on one critically important metric — how hot the planet will get from a doubling of the pre-industrial concentration of greenhouse gases, a k a “climate sensitivity” — someclimate researchers with substantial publication records are shifting toward the lower end of the warming spectrum.

By the way, this is the only metric that matters.  All the other BS about "climate change" and "dirty weather" are meaningless without warming.  CO2 cannot change the climate  or raise sea levels or any of that other stuff by any mechanism we understand or that has even been postulated, except via warming.  Anyway, to continue:

There’s still plenty of global warming and centuries of coastal retreats in the pipeline, so this is hardly a “benign” situation, as some have cast it.

But while plenty of other climate scientists hold firm to the idea that the full range of possible outcomes, including a disruptively dangerous warming of more than 4.5 degrees C. (8 degrees F.), remain in play, it’s getting harder to see why the high-end projections are given much weight.

This is also not a “single-study syndrome” situation, where one outlier research paper is used to cast doubt on a bigger body of work — as Skeptical Science asserted over the weekend. That post focused on the as-yet-unpublished paper finding lower sensitivity that was inadvisedly promoted recently by the Research Council of Norway.

In fact, there is an accumulating body of reviewed, published researchshaving away the high end of the range of possible warming estimates from doubled carbon dioxide levels. Chief among climate scientists critical of the high-sensitivity holdouts is James Annan, an experienced climate modeler based in Japan who contributed to the 2007 science report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. By 2006, he was already diverging from his colleagues a bit.

The whole thing is good.  Of course, for Revkin, this is no excuse to slow down all the actions supposedly demanded by global warming, such as substantially raising the price and scarcity of hydrocarbons.  Which to me simply demonstrates that people who have been against hydrocarbons have always been against them as an almost aesthetic choice, and climate change and global warming were mere excuses to push the agenda.  After all, as there certainly are tradeoffs to limiting economic growth and energy use and raising the price of energy, how can a reduction in postulated harms from fossil fuels NOT change the balance point one chooses in managing their use?

PS-  I thought this was a great post mortem on Hurricane Sandy and the whole notion that this one data point proves the global warming trend:

In this case several factors not directly related to climate change converged to generate the event. On Sandy’s way north, it ran into a vast high-pressure system over Canada, which prevented it from continuing in that direction, as hurricanes normally do, and forced it to turn west. Then, because it traveled about 300 miles over open water before making landfall, it piled up an unusually large storm surge. An infrequent jet-stream reversal helped maintain and fuel the storm. As if all that weren’t bad enough, a full moon was occurring, so the moon, the earth, and the sun were in a straight line, increasing the moon’s and sun’s gravitational effects on the tides, thus lifting the high tide even higher. Add to this that the wind and water, though not quite at hurricane levels, struck an area rarely hit by storms of this magnitude so the structures were more vulnerable and a disaster occurred.

The last one is a key for me -- you have cities on the Atlantic Ocean that seemed to build and act as if they were immune from ocean storms.  From my perspective growing up on the gulf coast, where one practically expects any structure one builds on the coast to be swept away every thirty years or so, this is a big contributing factor no one really talks about.

She goes on to say that rising sea levels may have made the storm worse, but I demonstrated that it couldn't have added more than a few percentage points to the surge.

Wow

This is one of the more amazing things I have read of late.  Environmentalist recants his opposition to GMOs.  Good, I hope Greenpeace is listening and will reconsider its absurd and destructive opposition to golden rice.

As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

So I guess you’ll be wondering – what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist....

So I did some reading. And I discovered that one by one my cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths.

I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

I’d assumed that Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.

I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.

Bravo Mr Lynas.  It is hard to admit one was wrong.  It is even harder, though, for a man like Lynas to declare himself on the "wrong" side of a "progressive" issue like this.  He has now likely put himself into a category along with black Republicans who will incur special wrath and disdain from progressives.

Speaking of the need for a little science in the environmental movement, I was channel surfing over Bill Moyer's show yesterday on PBS (actually I was navigating to our local PBS station to  make sure Downton Abbey was set to record later in the day) when I heard Moyer whip out a stat that even with a carbon tax, the world will warm over 6 degrees this century.  Now, I don't know if he was talking in degrees F or C, but in either case, a 6 degree number far outstrips the climate sensitivity numbers used even by the IPCC, which many of us skeptics believe has exaggerated warming estimates.  It is constantly frustrating to be treated as an enemy of science by those who display such a casual contempt for it, while at the same time fetishizing it.

Trusting Experts and Their Models

Russ Roberts over at Cafe Hayek quotes from a Cathy O’Neill review of Nate Silvers recent book:

Silver chooses to focus on individuals working in a tight competition and their motives and individual biases, which he understands and explains well. For him, modeling is a man versus wild type thing, working with your wits in a finite universe to win the chess game.

He spends very little time on the question of how people act inside larger systems, where a given modeler might be more interested in keeping their job or getting a big bonus than in making their model as accurate as possible.

In other words, Silver crafts an argument which ignores politics. This is Silver’s blind spot: in the real world politics often trump accuracy, and accurate mathematical models don’t matter as much as he hopes they would....

My conclusion: Nate Silver is a man who deeply believes in experts, even when the evidence is not good that they have aligned incentives with the public.

Distrust the experts

Call me “asinine,” but I have less faith in the experts than Nate Silver: I don’t want to trust the very people who got us into this mess, while benefitting from it, to also be in charge of cleaning it up. And, being part of the Occupy movement, I obviously think that this is the time for mass movements.

Like Ms. O'Neill, I distrust "authorities" as well, and have a real problem with debates that quickly fall into dueling appeals to authority.  She is focusing here on overt politics, but subtler pressure and signalling are important as well.  For example, since "believing" in climate alarmism in many circles is equated with a sort of positive morality (and being skeptical of such findings equated with being a bad person) there is an underlying peer pressure that is different from overt politics but just as damaging to scientific rigor.  Here is an example from the comments at Judith Curry's blog discussing research on climate sensitivity (which is the temperature response predicted if atmospheric levels of CO2 double).

While many estimates have been made, the consensus value often used is ~3°C. Like the porridge in “The Three Bears”, this value is just right – not so great as to lack credibility, and not so small as to seem benign.

Huybers (2010) showed that the treatment of clouds was the “principal source of uncertainty in models”. Indeed, his Table I shows that whereas the response of the climate system to clouds by various models varied from 0.04 to 0.37 (a wide spread), the variation of net feedback from clouds varied only from 0.49 to 0.73 (a much narrower relative range). He then examined several possible sources of compensation between climate sensitivity and radiative forcing. He concluded:

“Model conditioning need not be restricted to calibration of parameters against observations, but could also include more nebulous adjustment of parameters, for example, to fit expectations, maintain accepted conventions, or increase accord with other model results. These more nebulous adjustments are referred to as ‘tuning’.”  He suggested that one example of possible tuning is that “reported values of climate sensitivity are anchored near the 3±1.5°C range initially suggested by the ad hoc study group on carbon dioxide and climate (1979) and that these were not changed because of a lack of compelling reason to do so”.

Huybers (2010) went on to say:

“More recently reported values of climate sensitivity have not deviated substantially. The implication is that the reported values of climate sensitivity are, in a sense, tuned to maintain accepted convention.”

Translated into simple terms, the implication is that climate modelers have been heavily influenced by the early (1979) estimate that doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial levels would raise global temperatures 3±1.5°C. Modelers have chosen to compensate their widely varying estimates of climate sensitivity by adopting cloud feedback values countering the effect of climate sensitivity, thus keeping the final estimate of temperature rise due to doubling within limits preset in their minds.

There is a LOT of bad behavior out there by models.  I know that to be true because I used to be a modeler myself.  What laymen do not understand is that it is way too easy to tune and tweak and plug models to get a preconceived answer -- and the more complex the model, the easier this is to do in a non-transparent way.  Here is one example, related again to climate sensitivity

When I looked at historic temperature and CO2 levels, it was impossible for me to see how they could be in any way consistent with the high climate sensitivities that were coming out of the IPCC models.  Even if all past warming were attributed to CO2  (a heroic assertion in and of itself) the temperature increases we have seen in the past imply a climate sensitivity closer to 1 rather than 3 or 5 or even 10  (I show this analysis in more depth in this video).

My skepticism was increased when several skeptics pointed out a problem that should have been obvious.  The ten or twelve IPCC climate models all had very different climate sensitivities — how, if they have different climate sensitivities, do they all nearly exactly model past temperatures?  If each embodies a correct model of the climate, and each has a different climate sensitivity, only one (at most) should replicate observed data.  But they all do.  It is like someone saying she has ten clocks all showing a different time but asserting that all are correct (or worse, as the IPCC does, claiming that the average must be the right time).

The answer to this paradox came in a 2007 study by climate modeler Jeffrey Kiehl.  To understand his findings, we need to understand a bit of background on aerosols.  Aerosols are man-made pollutants, mainly combustion products, that are thought to have the effect of cooling the Earth’s climate.

What Kiehl demonstrated was that these aerosols are likely the answer to my old question about how models with high sensitivities are able to accurately model historic temperatures.  When simulating history, scientists add aerosols to their high-sensitivity models in sufficient quantities to cool them to match historic temperatures.  Then, since such aerosols are much easier to eliminate as combustion products than is CO2, they assume these aerosols go away in the future, allowing their models to produce enormous amounts of future warming.

Specifically, when he looked at the climate models used by the IPCC, Kiehl found they all used very different assumptions for aerosol cooling and, most significantly, he found that each of these varying assumptions were exactly what was required to combine with that model’s unique sensitivity assumptions to reproduce historical temperatures.  In my terminology, aerosol cooling was the plug variable.

By the way, this aerosol issue is central to recent work that is pointing to a much lower climate sensitivity to CO2 than has been reported in past IPCC reports.

Climate De-Bait and Switch

Dealing with facile arguments that are supposedly perfect refutations of the climate skeptics' position is a full-time job akin to cleaning the Augean Stables.  A few weeks ago Kevin Drum argued that global warming added 3 inches to Sandy's 14-foot storm surge, which he said was an argument that totally refuted skeptics and justified massive government restrictions on energy consumption (or whatever).

This week Slate (and Desmog blog) think they have the ultimate killer chart, on they call a "slam dunk" on skeptics.  Click through to my column this week at Forbes to see if they really do.

Sandy and Global Warming

The other day I linked my Forbes column that showed that there was no upward trend in global hurricane number and strength, the number of US hurricane strikes, or the number of October hurricanes.  Given these trends, anyone who wants to claim Sandy is proof of global warming is forced to extrapolate from a single data point.

Since I wrote that, Bob Tisdale had an interesting article on Sandy.  The theoretical link between global warming and more and stronger Atlantic hurricanes has not been fully proven, but the theory says that warmer waters will provide energy for more and larger storms (like Sandy).  Thus the theory is that global warming has heated up the waters through which hurricanes pass and that feed these hurricanes' strength.

Bob Tisdale took a look at the historical trends in sea surface temperatures in the area bounded by Sandy's storm track.  These are the temperature trends for the waters that fueled Sandy.  This is what he got:

If he has done the analysis right, this means there is no warming trend over the last 60+ years in the ocean waters that fed Sandy.  This means that the unusually warm seas that fed Sandy's growth were simply a random event, an outlier which appears from this chart to be unrelated to any long-term temperature trend.

Update:  I challenge you to find any article arguing that Sandy was caused by anthropogenic global warming that actually includes a long term trend chart (other than global temperatures) in the article.  The only one I have seen is a hurricane strike chart that is cut off in the 1950's (despite data that goes back over 100 years) because this is the only cherry-picked cut off point that delivers an upward trend.  If you find one, email me the link, I would like to see it.

Extrapolating From A Single Data Point: Climate and Sandy

I have a new article up at Forbes on how crazy it is to extrapolate conclusions about the speed and direction of climate change from a single data point.

Positing a trend from a single database without any supporting historical information has become a common media practice in discussing climate.  As I wrote several months ago, the media did the same thing with the hot summer, arguing frequently that this recent hot dry summer proved a trend for extreme temperatures, drought, and forest fires.  In fact, none of these are the case — this summer was not unprecedented on any of these dimensions and no upward trend is detectable in long-term drought or fire data.   Despite a pretty clear history of warming over the last century, it is even hard to establish any trend in high temperature extremes  (in large part because much of the warming has been in warmer night-time lows rather than in daytime highs).  See here for the data.

As I said in that earlier article, when the media posits a trend, demand a trendline, not just a single data point.

To this end, I try to bring so actual trend data to the trend discussion.

OMG -- More Smoke!

Kudos to a reader who pointed this one out to me from the Mail online.  It is a favorite topic of mine, the use by the more-scientific-than-thou media of steam to illustrate articles on smoke and pollution.

Check out the captions - smoke is billowing out.  Of course, what they are likely referring to -- the white plumes from the 8 funnel-shaped towers -- is almost certainly pure water.  These are cooling towers, which cool water through evaporative cooling.  These towers are often associated with nuclear plants (you can see that in the comments) but are used for fossil fuel plants as well.  There does appear to be a bit of smoke in the picture, but you have to look all the way in the upper left from the two tall thin towers, and one can see a hint of emissions.  Even in this case, the plume from the nearer and smaller of the two stacks appears to contain a lot of water vapor as well.  My guess is the nasty stuff, to the extent it exists, is coming from the tallest stack, and it is barely in the picture and surely not the focus of the caption.

The article itself is worth a read, arguing that figures from the UK Met office show there has not been any global warming for 16 years.  This is not an insight for most folks who follow the field, so I did not make a big deal about it, but it is interesting that a government body would admit it.

A Truly Bad Study

Imagine this study:  An academic who is a strong Democrat wants to do a study to discover if Republicans suffer from a psychological tendency to bizarre conspiracy theories.  OK, the reasonable mind would already be worried about this.  The academic says his methodology will be an online survey of the first 1000 people who reply to him from the comment sections of certain blogs.   This is obviously terrible -- a 12-year-old today understands the problems with such online surveys.  But the best part is that he advertises the survey only on left-wing sites like the Daily Kos, telling anyone from those heavily Democratic sites that if they self-identify as Republicans, they can take this survey and their survey responses will be published as typical of Republicans.  Anyone predict what he would get?

It is hard to believe that even in this post-modern academic world, that such a piece of garbage could get published.  But it did.  The only difference is that the academic was a strong believer in global warming, he was writing about skeptics, and sought out survey respondents only on strong-believer sites.   What makes this story particularly delicious is the juxtaposition of the author's self-appointed role as defender of science with his atrocious scientific methodology.   The whole story is simply amazing, and you can read about it at JoNova's site.

In one way, it is appropriate to have this published in a psychology journal, as it is such a great example of the psychological need for confirmation.  You can just see those climate alarmists breathing a little easier - "we don't have to listen to those guys, do we?"  No need for debate, no need for analysis, no need for thought.  Just immediate dismissal of their arguments because they come from, well, bad people.   Argumentum ad hominem, indeed.

 

I Was Reading Matt Ridley's Lecture at the Royal Society for the Arts....

... and it was fun to see my charts in it!  The lecture is reprinted here (pdf) or here (html).  The charts I did are around pages 6-7 of the pdf, the ones showing the projected curve of global warming for various climate sensitivities, and backing into what that should imply for current warming.  In short, even if you don't think warming in the surface temperature record is exaggerated, there still has not been anywhere near the amount of warming one would expect for the types of higher sensitivities in the IPCC and other climate models.  Warming to date, even if not exaggerated and all attributed to man-made and not natural causes, is consistent with far less catastrophic, and more incremental, future warming numbers.

These charts come right out of the IPCC formula for the relationship between CO2 concentrations and warming, a formula first proposed by Michael Mann.  I explained these charts in depth around the 10 minute mark of this video, and returned to them to make the point about past warming around the 62 minute mark.   This is a shorter video, just three minutes, that covers the same ground.  Watching it again, I am struck by how relevant it is as a critique five years later, and by how depressing it is that this critique still has not penetrated mainstream discussion of climate.  In fact, I am going to embed it below:

The older slides Ridley uses, which are cleaner (I went back and forth on the best way to portray this stuff) can be found here.

By the way, Ridley wrote an awesome piece for Wired more generally about catastrophism which is very much worth a read.

"Abnormal" Events -- Droughts and Perfect Games

Most folks, and I would include myself in this, have terrible intuitions about probabilities and in particular the frequency and patterns of occurance in the tail ends of the normal distribution, what we might call "abnormal" events.  This strikes me as a particularly relevant topic as the severity of the current drought and high temperatures in the US is being used as absolute evidence of catastrophic global warming.

I am not going to get into the global warming bits in this post (though a longer post is coming).  Suffice it to say that if it is hard to accurately directly measure shifts in the mean of climate patterns given all the natural variability and noise in the weather system, it is virtually impossible to infer shifts in the mean from individual occurances of unusual events.  Events in the tails of the normal distribution are infrequent, but not impossible or even unexpected over enough samples.

What got me to thinking about this was the third perfect game pitched this year in the MLB.  Until this year, only 20 perfect games had been pitched in over 130 years of history, meaning that one is expected every 7 years or so  (we would actually expect them more frequently today given that there are more teams and more games, but even correcting for this we might have an expected value of one every 3-4 years).  Yet three perfect games happened, without any evidence or even any theoretical basis for arguing that the mean is somehow shifting.  In rigorous statistical parlance, sometimes shit happens.  Were baseball more of a political issue, I have no doubt that writers from Paul Krugman on down would be writing about how three perfect games this year is such an unlikely statistical fluke that it can't be natural, and must have been caused by [fill in behavior of which author disapproves].  If only the Republican Congress had passed the second stimulus, we wouldn't be faced with all these perfect games....

Postscript:  We like to think that perfect games are the ultimate measure of a great pitcher.  This is half right.  In fact, we should expect entirely average pitchers to get perfect games every so often.  A perfect game is when the pitcher faces 27 hitters and none of them get on base.  So let's take the average hitter facing the average pitcher.  The league average on base percentage this year is about .320 or 32%.  This means that for each average batter, there is a 68% chance for the average pitcher in any given at bat to keep the batter off the base.  All the average pitcher has to do is roll these dice correctly 27 times in a row.

The odds against that are .68^27 or about one in 33,000.  But this means that once in every 33,000 pitcher starts  (there are two pitcher starts per game played in the MLB), the average pitcher should get a perfect game.  Since there are about 4,860 regular season starts per year (30 teams x 162 games) then average pitcher should get a perfect game every 7 years or so.  Through history, there have been about 364,000 starts in the MLB, so this would point to about 11 perfect games by average pitchers.  About half the actual total.

Now, there is a powerful statistical argument for demonstrating that great pitchers should be over-weighted in perfect games stats:  the probabilities are VERY sensitive to small changes in on-base percentage.  Let's assume a really good pitcher has an on-base percentage against him that is 30 points less than the league average, and a bad pitcher has one 30 points worse.   The better pitcher would then expect a perfect game every 10,000 starts, while the worse pitcher would expect a perfect game every 113,000 starts.  I can't find the stats on individual pitchers, but my guess is the spread between best and worst pitchers on on-base percentage against has more than a 60 point spread, since the team batting average against stats (not individual but team averages, which should be less variable) have a 60 point spread from best to worst. [update:  a reader points to this, which says there is actually a 125-point spread from best to worst.  That is a different in expected perfect games from one in 2,000 for Jared Weaver to one in 300,000 for Derek Lowe.  Thanks Jonathan]

Update:  There have been 278 no-hitters in MLB history, or 12 times the number of perfect games.  The odds of getting through 27 batters based on a .320 on-base percentage is one in 33,000.  The odds of getting through the same batters based on a .255 batting average (which is hits but not other ways on base, exactly parallel with the definition of no-hitter) the odds are just one in 2,830.  The difference between these odds is a ratio of 11.7 to one, nearly perfectly explaining the ratio of no-hitters to perfect games on pure stochastics.

The Real Issue in Climate

I know I hammer this home constantly, but it is often worth a reminder.  The issue in the scientific debate over catastrophic man-made global warming theory is not whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas, or even the approximate magnitude of warming from CO2 directly, but around feedbacks.   Patrick Moore, Greenpeace founder, said it very well:

What most people don't realize, partly because the media never explains it, is that there is no dispute over whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and all else being equal would result in a warming of the climate. The fundamental dispute is about water in the atmosphere, either in the form of water vapour (a gas) or clouds (water in liquid form). It is generally accepted that a warmer climate will result in more water evaporating from the land and sea and therefore resulting in a higher level of water in the atmosphere, partly because the warmer the air is the more water it can hold. All of the models used by the IPCC assume that this increase in water vapour will result in a positive feedback in the order of 3-4 times the increase in temperature that would be caused by the increase in CO2 alone.

Many scientists do not agree with this, or do not agree that we know enough about the impact of increased water to predict the outcome. Some scientists believe increased water will have a negative feedback instead, due to increased cloud cover. It all depends on how much, and a t what altitudes, latitudes and times of day that water is in the form of a gas (vapour) or a liquid (clouds). So if  a certain increase in CO2 would theoretically cause a 1.0C increase in temperature, then if water caused a 3-4 times positive feedback the temperature would actually increase by 3-4C. This is why the warming predicted by the models is so large. Whereas if there was a negative feedback of 0.5 times then the temperature would only rise 0.5C.

My slightly lengthier discussions of this same issue are here and here.