RealClimate

Comments

RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Good summary David. It is clear that the denialists are running scared on the fires, determined not to let people see that here is another of the kind of direct impacts on people and society that climate change will bring. A small point – you say that the strong winds are not obviously linked to climate change, but are they not indirectly linked through the high temperatures on land creating a bigger temperature differential between land and sea?

    Comment by David Horton — 16 Feb 2009 @ 3:22 PM

  2. A very considered response.

    Comment by taust — 16 Feb 2009 @ 3:28 PM

  3. This seems to lay to rest media comments that it was a one in a hundred year event. I’m somewhat troubled by the level of mawkish introspection it has generated such as this weekend’s National Day of Mourning. That emotional intensity should perhaps be redirected at restoring Australia’s Emissions Trading Scheme to a cut of 25% by 2020, not the feeble 5% cut. Hopefully adaptation measures will lessen the severity of the next round of firestorm conditions. On top of water supply woes surely the government will now take bigger climate mitigation steps as well. If not then we have learned nothing.

    Comment by Johnno — 16 Feb 2009 @ 3:33 PM

  4. Very convincing! Strong point is that the analysis is based on a 40-year old danger scale. I’m tempted to say “hard to deny” but that sounds a bit like “bring ‘m on”.

    Comment by Ark — 16 Feb 2009 @ 3:40 PM

  5. Thank you for this summary. I’ve been calling the Victoria fires the first climate-change disaster of the 21st century. Now I have a quick, thorough summary to link to.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 16 Feb 2009 @ 3:51 PM

  6. IMO a good summary of the causes underlying a terrible event. I have my doubts, however, about applying UHI to explain maximum temperatures as it is generally a nocturnal phenomenon affecting minimum temperatures instead.

    Comment by Former Skeptic — 16 Feb 2009 @ 3:54 PM

  7. One important contributary factor to the tragedy you have not mentioned is: ‘building homes in eucalyptus forests’. As is well known, the trees emit flammable oils, also contained in their leaf litter. Whatever the cause, it is inevitable that eucalyptus forests will burn from time-to-time. I don’t know about Victoria, but certainly in northern Australia, bush fires are a routine annual site. Many start naturally, and if they don’t the authorities start them deliberately (obviously in a controlled manner). The reasoning is that the longer a forest goes without fire, the worse it will be – and it will happen some time. The same is true for southern California. Building homes in such forests, and hoping nature won’t take its course is analgous to building homes on floodplains – a common practice in the UK in recent decades, and hence why with every big flood we see TV film of flooded new homes. This observation has nothing to do with whether or not climate change is a factor, but helps to explain why this was such a tragedy in human terms.

    Comment by PHE — 16 Feb 2009 @ 4:24 PM

  8. There’s a tendency to sequester the Urban Heat Island Effect as if the heat that urbanization adds to the mix somehow doesn’t count. Can someone give us a rough sense of scale here. UHI raises global temps 10%? 1%? .1%? .01%? as much as GHGs. Or even less?

    Comment by duBois — 16 Feb 2009 @ 4:48 PM

  9. I am reluctant to attribute any single event to climate change. This is consistent with the IPCC regional projections and our understanding of what AGW is going to bring to this part of the world, however I think that PHE is right – building homes in eucalypt forests is asking for trouble. Ridge lines are great for a view, but not so good when it comes to bushfires, particularly when embers were starting fires 5-10km ahead of actual fire lines. The stay and defend policy in extreme bushfire conditions has to be questioned, as is the failure to implement effective hazard reduction programs over winter/spring.

    I just think we need to be careful ascribing any single event to climate change, particularly given that we tend to jump on deniers who point to any exceptionally cold events (as have occured in Europe and the US this winter) as evidence against AGW.

    Comment by Joe Horvath — 16 Feb 2009 @ 5:05 PM

  10. PHE, let’s not forget the immense toll on wildlife: Animal death toll from Australia bushfires may be in the millions.

    Much of the formerly forested habitat will never recover and will be replaced by savannah, so many animal populations will have no path to recovery.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 16 Feb 2009 @ 5:06 PM

  11. I would so love this to be published in the Sydney Morning Herald as a riposte to Miranda Devine’s recent piece blaming the fires on “greenies”.

    Comment by Margaret Morgan — 16 Feb 2009 @ 5:08 PM

  12. The 12 year drought sequence leading up to fires is seen to be a contributing factor. A recent review by Nicholls in Climate Dynamics (Jan 2009) “Local and remote causes of the southern Australian autumn-winter rainfall decline, 1958–2007″ attributes much of the rainfall decline over southern Australia to changes in the Southern Annular Mode (which have both both greenhouse and stratospheric ozone depletion related drivers). However other recent research has also pointed to changes in the behaviour of the Indian Ocean Dipole (Ummenhofer) and Walker circulation (Smith & Power, Vecchi)

    Comment by Luke — 16 Feb 2009 @ 5:17 PM

  13. #8 duBois:

    Try reading the IPCC AR4 SPM as p.5 has your answer.

    “Urban heat island effects are real but local, and have a negligible influence (less than 0.006°C per decade over land and zero over the
    oceans)”

    By contrast, and in the same page of the SPM, the linear warming trend over the last 50 years from 2006 is 0.13°C (between 0.10°C to 0.16°C) per decade.

    Comment by Former Skeptic — 16 Feb 2009 @ 5:19 PM

  14. Folks, fuel moisture can be tinderbox dry but unless you have the appropriate fuels conditions, there is no fire danger. Just like in the western US, the issue of wildland/urban interface must be examined. If you want to attribute the catastrophe to AGW (while refusing to acknowledge any of the northern hemisphere’s corresponding cold weather) go ahead. But perhaps one should be looking at the simpler issue of fuels reduction and people living where perhaps they shouldn’t. Smaller, more frequent fires prevent catastrophes like this.

    Comment by Brian Cockrell — 16 Feb 2009 @ 5:37 PM

  15. David although this data point and the trends study you cite seem very consistent with AGW:

    … anthropogenic contribution to mean maximum temperature increases of about 0.6°C from 1950 to 1999…

    Your follow up statement confused me:

    Hence, anthropogenic climate change is likely an important contributing factor in the unprecedented maximum temperatures on 7 February 2009.

    Wouldn’t it be best categorized as a trivial or unimportant contributing factor? Without AGW wouldn’t we probably still see all these record temps and dryness in Australia – they’d just be a fraction of a degree less?

    Comment by Joe Hunkins — 16 Feb 2009 @ 5:46 PM

  16. I’m having a mental blank here, but i am pretty sure i have read a paper that suggested that the UHI is not linear with temperature, and that at temp extremes it has little influence.
    In Melbourne on that day, with 80kmh winds, I also suspect this “flushing” of the air would also have reduced any UHI effects. The fact that Laverton (~30km SW from Melbourne), also on the edge of Port Phillip and in open grassplains recorded 47.9degC suggests little influence of UHI.

    Comment by Andrew Watkins — 16 Feb 2009 @ 5:54 PM

  17. It’s interesting to contrast the heat and fires in VIctoria and South Australia with the flood events in Queensland that happened at the same time. I think CSIRO research had suggested this condition would bemore frequent (bush fires and heat waves in the south and flooding in the north) – it seems Australia can’t win with AGW.

    Comment by Nathan — 16 Feb 2009 @ 5:57 PM

  18. Joe Hunkins (15) — I suggest reading

    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2009/02/10/australia-51/

    Comment by David B. Benson — 16 Feb 2009 @ 6:05 PM

  19. If you want to attribute the catastrophe to AGW (while refusing to acknowledge any of the northern hemisphere’s corresponding cold weather) go ahead.

    Read more closely.

    1. The piece doesn’t attribute the catastrophe to AGW but rather attempts to outline the possible contribution AGW has made to the conditions that helped the fire grow so intense so quickly.

    2. The northern hemisphere’s cold weather isn’t “corresponding”, because the piece is outlining *trends* which have been attributed to AGW by the most recent IPCC report. What is being seen in Australia is not simply a weather event.

    3. Speaking of the northern hemisphere’s cold weather, I live in the northern hemisphere, and we’re not having a cold winter where I live. Get your non-facts right, at least.

    Comment by dhogaza — 16 Feb 2009 @ 6:08 PM

  20. Joeduck (Hunkins) — you’re mixed up. You seem to be confusing the change in the average with the change in the extreme. That’s illustrated here:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/02/03/is-there-a-link-between-adelaides-heatwave-and-global-warming/

    http://bravenewclimate.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/ar4tempprob.jpg?w=448&h=258

    “Schematic illustrating the disproportionate effect on extreme and record temperatures when the mean temperature increases, for a normal temperature distribution.”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 16 Feb 2009 @ 6:11 PM

  21. Wouldn’t it be best categorized as a trivial or unimportant contributing factor?

    We’re told that the FFDI was 120 to 190 in some locations. Now if someone could just calculate what it would have been at a temperature of 0.6 (or maybe 0.7) less then we would perhaps have a better idea if it was trivial or important.

    Comment by Greg Simpson — 16 Feb 2009 @ 6:23 PM

  22. OFF-TOPIC

    In order to perpetuate the myth that scientists were expecting an ice age back in the 1970s, George F. Will engaged in the sort of quote-mining today that would shame a staunch young earth creationist — and Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight called him on it…

    Will Omitted Key Context in Ice Age Quote
    Monday, February 16, 2009
    Nate Silver
    http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/02/will-omitted-key-context-in-ice-age.html

    Neat to see a blog that isn’t devoted to climatology calling people on this nonsense.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 16 Feb 2009 @ 6:52 PM

  23. Re #11 Miranda Devine’s b*****t
    The only way you will get any change is to email her and SMH and complain (as I have done) plus suggest this link.

    We need to get out more, and push as hard as is reasonable.

    Unfortunately we have a short attention span to deal with, so, as nasty as it feels we should use the current shock and grief to make our point while we may have some effect.

    Comment by Al Breingan — 16 Feb 2009 @ 8:15 PM

  24. re: #23

    There’s some real science on Real Climate:

    Unfortunately we have a short attention span to deal with, so, as nasty as it feels we should use the current shock and grief to make our point while we may have some effect.

    Comment by Dan Hughes — 16 Feb 2009 @ 8:33 PM

  25. Re #14: “any of the northern hemisphere’s corresponding cold weather”

    According to the National Climate Data Center, so far this winter, Northern Hemisphere land surfaces have been above the 1961 to 1990 average:

    December 0.69 C above
    January 1.05 C above.

    Northern Hemisphere Ocean temperatures have also been above the 61-90 average:

    December 0.37 C above
    January 0.33 C above.

    The Southern Hemisphere land has been above the 61-90 average:

    December 0.61 C above
    January 0.46 C above

    The Southern Hemisphere ocean temperature have also been above the 61-90 average:

    December 0.45 C above
    January 0.45 C above.

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/anomalies/anomalies.html

    Comment by Andrew — 16 Feb 2009 @ 8:45 PM

  26. Greg Simpson–you are confusing the global change with the local change. A change of 0.7 degrees globally could mean 3 degrees at higher latitudes. Of course if you looked into the science at all, you would have known that.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 16 Feb 2009 @ 8:55 PM

  27. This Scott Thill piece seems appropriate for this thread:

    http://www.alternet.org/environment/126910/firestorms_and_deep_freeze%3A_climate_change_may_bring_both/

    Comment by David B. Benson — 16 Feb 2009 @ 9:11 PM

  28. It seems that on 7 February, some areas of Victoria experienced conditions that were extremely intense on all the factors identified by Professor Karoly. Last night on Four Corners there was an excellent program on the fires http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/.

    In his discussion above, Professor Karoly remarks that >50 on the Bush Fire Danger Index (where 100 represents the conditions experienced on Black Friday in 1939) represents “extreme” fire danger. A commentator working with the Index remarked on the Four Corners program that the index had exceeded 200 in some areas!

    A very experienced bush fire brigade fireman remarked that conditions were far more intense than they had ever experienced previously due to a confluence of events. The program includes footage of the fires in full flight. And the pictures are truly terrifying.

    What is clear is that temperatures in and around the fire must have been very high indeed – of the order of several hundred degrees C I would guess, perhaps more. There is footage of houses simply exploding into flame when the fire came. It is easy to see that anyone caught close to such intense fire could not have survived.

    It seems evident that the leave early or stay policy was based on experience of much less intense fires where there is time to stay in the house and let the fire pass, then go out and put the spot fires out. Based on this experience it is evident that the conditions when such a fire is raging are so intense that it is folly to stay, unless one has an underground bunker, with separate air supply, to retreat to. One of the issues mentioned frequently is that the fire consumed all of the oxygen in the air, making it impossible to breath.

    On that same day I was in the country in NSW, on a day where the air temperature where we were was 38 Deg C. We tend to think of that number as a measure of how hot it is. However, on that day I was using a laser temperature device to measure the temperature of the ground. Readings ranged from 55 deg C to 65 deg C. A tyre in the direct sunlight recorded 75 deg C.

    We know that high air temperatures are associated with low humidity. It is easy to see that if the air temperature is in the mid 40s, that the temperature of the detritus on the ground in direct sunlight could be around 70 deg C, which makes it evident that any moisture present would soon evaporate. Obviously these conditions are conducive to rapid ignition, and the fuel loads were such that intense fires developed, especially on the upslopes rising to the south, where the fires had that strong wind behind them.

    Another point made was the incredible rate at which the fires advanced across the landscape. The winds were blowing burning embers from the fire ahead of the fire, and lighting spot fires a kilometer or two ahead of the main fire front. Add to that that when the fires merged, there was a fire front extending over 100km, and you can see what the fire crews were trying to deal with.

    As to answers, I think that the main issue is a town planning issue. Clearly the construction of vulnerable houses in close proximity to eucalypt (or pine) forest is highly dangerous. I think it is evident that one conclusion will be that no new house can be built within, say, 100m of the edge of the eucalypt forest. It would also help (in the long run) if householders were required to eliminate flammable species within 100m of houses, and instead plant deciduous trees that provide some barrier to fire – oaks, elms, ashes, linden, maples etc.

    Comment by herbert stencil — 16 Feb 2009 @ 9:26 PM

  29. I’ve been following the fires very closely and the factors leading up to the disaster. Victoria and South Australia had in affect more that 10 straight days..in fact almost two who whole weeks (13days) of temps in the high 30Cs to mid 40Cs. By far the longest continuous heatwave in our recorded history. Parts of Victoria on that Saturday were up to 48C. As mentioned above the Forest fire danger index had never gone above 70..Ash Wednesday. The weather conditions and danger index for the recent fires were between index 150 – 200. A couple of fires may have been lit by arsonists but with those tinder dry conditions and extreme heat anything could have set the fires off. Several fires that killed 100 people or more were started by a downed power line due to the extremely high northerly winds. Even lawns were catching alight and exploding so the argument that this was made worse through green party involvement is fallacious. The ember attack radius was many hundreds of meters in front of the fire-front. Even houses with no trees around them went up. What gave rise to the disaster was a combination of unprecedented low humidity, a record long drought, the longest heatwave in our recorded history, the highest temps ever recorded for Melbourne and Adelaide. And the speed of the dry/hot northerly winds.
    What should have been done in hindsight was the clear the vegetation on the sides of roads to at least one tree length. To allow cars to pass even if trees were downed. The speed of the fires was also unprecedented so warnings had little effect. Hope this sheds more light on the subject.

    Comment by Lawrence Coleman — 16 Feb 2009 @ 9:52 PM

  30. 60 Minutes: The Age Of Mega-Fires.

    “You know, there are a lot of people who don’t believe in climate change,” Pelley remarks.

    “You won’t find them on the fire line in the American West anymore,” Tom Boatner says. “‘Cause we’ve had climate change beat into us over the last ten or fifteen years. We know what we’re seeing, and we’re dealing with a period of climate, in terms of temperature and humidity and drought that’s different than anything people have seen in our lifetimes.”

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 16 Feb 2009 @ 9:59 PM

  31. #7, #9:

    Blaming “building homes in eucalyptus forests” is highly misleading. Downtown Marysville is not in any sense in a eucalypt forest, though there is such forest less than a kilometre away, as there is in many Australian small towns. Your recommendation, perhaps, ought to be, “Best not live anywhere in SE Australia in a century of rapid climate change”?

    Comment by GlenFergus — 16 Feb 2009 @ 10:00 PM

  32. Dr Karoly,

    If you have the data for the FFDI index values since Black Friday in Victoria, would you be able to plot it for us please.

    By the way, that ABC television debate last year in which you caned Bob Carter and the La Rouchian audience stooges was a hoot. I was watching with a bunch of friends cheering you on like we were at the football. You should do more TV. We concluded that there should be a charming geek of the year award.

    [Response: FFDI data for a number of sites is SE Australia is available since 1970 in reference 1, which you can download. I don’t have the data to calculate FFDI for 1939 but it was done by MacArthur and is available from the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia. Not sure whether I should do more TV, but you can find some recent stuff on ABC Lateline in Oz. Also, not sure whether it is Nerd of the Year or Geek of the Year. - David Karoly]

    Comment by Craig Allen — 16 Feb 2009 @ 10:17 PM

  33. I would like to see some forestry expert give quantitative input on the fuel buildup. This was alluded to but not quantified in #14, #28, and #29. Fuel buildup doesn’t seem to be covered by the FFDI. I’ve seen commentary that the fire was so bad because “environmentalists” had worked too hard to prevent fires, so this is an aspect that needs to be dealt with.

    Comment by Bruce — 16 Feb 2009 @ 10:51 PM

  34. Thanks for the great article.

    I agree with most of the statements in 28, a good addition to the debate.

    1: following such a protracted drought, major bushfires in Vic were to be expected, it was just a matter of time (all Ozzies would understand this).

    2: the intensity of the fires when they came was unprecedented (up to 200 index is just staggering) and we will have to modify the way we live now that we know it can get that bad. I live near Sydney and we are considering building a bunker as a shelter (large diameter pipe in the ground).

    3: It is almost impossible to find a house anywhere in Oz that is more than 100m from eucalypts. Mostly they exist in all cities and suburbs. In fact Canberra (where they have a lot of deciduous trees by the way) was hit a couple of years ago — mostly it was ember attack from big fires some kms away and lots of houses were lost.

    4: In my opinion, climate change has contributed to the extended drought across SE Oz over the last 12 years and so has to bear some of the blame for what happened. Personally, I am doubtful if Australia will ever return to the wetter times of the 50s and 60s.

    5: I agree that we cannot say AGW CAUSED the fires (clearly not) but it is patently clear that we will get more bushfires and more intensity of fire in the future as global temperature continues to rise.

    Comment by Ricki (Australia) — 16 Feb 2009 @ 11:04 PM

  35. In Melbourne on Saturday, the City centre was one of the “cooler” places. Where I live in a leafy SE suburb, it was 0.5C hotter, as it was in most other suburbs. There was no UHI effect. Even in town, the weather was ominous, frightening, even.
    As far as the actual weather that caused the fires, it’s rubbish to talk about 0.6C cooler or hotter. The problem is that we are having more very extreme (very hot) days, as predicted, not just that every day is 0.6C warmer. Also, our annual rainfall (over the last last 10-12 years) is 2/3 of the long term average.
    We’re living with climate change but nobody is doing anything about it! We have some of the least efficient electricity generation anywhere and nobody wants wind farms – “spoils the view”.

    Comment by Brian T — 16 Feb 2009 @ 11:16 PM

  36. Bruce:

    As an environmentalist in Victoria, I take umbrage at the scapegoating of people who care and advocate for wise environmental stewardship. In addition to the terrible human suffering, this and previous extreme fire events have been a disaster for our forest ecosystems. The lack of burning is due in great part to inadequate resourcing of the Natural Resources and Environment department, Parks Victoria etc. They have been doing as much as conditions and their resources allow. And I note that they have copped a great deal of criticism for fuel reduction burns that in the past have escaped containment lines.

    Too frequent fire regimes are ecologically damaging, as are fires that are too hot. They reduce ecological diversity, eliminate fauna populations and can push the vegetation mix toward more flammable, faster growing species.

    For the benefit of both the environment and people, we need more burn-offs and these need to be conducted with more concern for ecological impact. This will require a lot more resources (both people and equipment) than is currently put into the effort.

    Another difficulty for conducting fuel reduction burns is the construction of homes and assets in the bush, and the increased establishment of plantations. This increases the risk that prescribed burn-offs will occasionally get away, damage property and possible cause casualties. A tragedy caused by a burn-off gone wrong is far more politically damaging than a tragedy cause by a wildfire. So the balance of risks is being weighted toward wildfire (high impact but able to be blamed on weather and criminals) and away from burn-offs which will occasionally go wrong (and for which blame can be laid at the feet of individuals and organisations).

    These fires are extinction events. The vegetation clearances in order to reduce fire risk which will inevitably will come next will increase the fragmentation of our already fragmented woodlands and forests and will push further species beyond the brink. We have lost a great deal. We will lose a great deal more before this is over. If only the resources had been adequately devoted to managing our environment in preparation for this …

    Comment by Craig Allen — 16 Feb 2009 @ 11:40 PM

  37. Nice article.

    One thing I found completely bizarre was the widespread attempt at pinning the whole thing on environmentalists and “green” politicians. The Greens as a party are not in power anywhere that I know of on the mainland, and at least one story I found about Greens policies in New South Wales on some other a blog was an outright lie. Probably all of this was a preemptive strike to get in before anyone attempted to link the whole thing to global warming. The Australian, that trade journal for loggers and coal miners, was particularly strong on attributing causes to environmentalists and greenies, including a vicious slur on the Wilderness Society. I personally know of no one who attempted to make a big deal of the climate change link in part because of the uncertainties raised here, but also because it would have been spectacularly indecent to make political capital while thousands of people were coping with losing everything, and the death toll was heading towards 200.

    A few other factors… poorly managed preventive burning increases the flammability of the system. First, fire-adapted plants burn hot and fast to wipe out competition, then grow back strongly, making the next fire worse. A fire management regime that fails to take this into account is more dangerous than doing nothing. To compound the problem, African grasses brought in to improve grazing (plus some escapes from things like packing materials) are not only highly fire-adapted but have no natural predators. This means they grow out of control once they take over after a fire. In addition, much leaf litter decomposition in Australian forests is by larvae of small moths and beetles that lack the mobility to escape a fire. A very large fire and frequent fires in the same spot means these insects don’t do their job, and the leaf litter adds to the fuel load. Micro-mosaic burning is one way to mitigate these problems: you don’t burn a patch of more than 3ha (around 7.5 acres). These patches break the fire front, but aren’t big enough to sterilize the area of less fire-adapted vegetation and relatively immobile insects.

    More on fire management strategy as applied to Queensland, but of general interest I hope, at my campaign blog.

    Captcha: counter midget (I like).

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 17 Feb 2009 @ 12:12 AM

  38. Craig Allen
    “For the benefit of both the environment and people, we need more burn-offs”. No, we don’t. This simplistic view is being promoted by the Gang of Fire, whose ideology involves complete management and exploitation of all forests by humans, and “prescribed burning” is an important part of this. prescribed burning, at the rate they call for (one was demanding TEN times (!) the current rate last week) would cause massive extinctions, loss of biodiversity, extensive damage to the well-being of forests, would not prevent fires, and indeed may actually (by changing species composition) increase the risk of fires. If you want to use it because you think it will form an effective fire break around towns then go for it, but beyond that you are damaging the environment you are purporting to save. Incidentally before you tell me the popular mythology, yet again – Aborigines didn’t do anything like prescribed burning, didn’t manage the environment with fire, and consequently didn’t cause the extinction of small animal species, or change the composition of habitats. Some references are here – http://www.blognow.com.au/mrpickwick/Fire/ and http://www.blognow.com.au/mrpickwick/History_Conquerors/

    Comment by David Horton — 17 Feb 2009 @ 12:23 AM

  39. Is Victoria the same area of Australia where wheat is or was grown? I read somewhere else, but I don’t remember where right now, about the wheat farmers having trouble and rivers running dry in Australia. Maybe that was the other southern Australian province. With the rivers dry, there would be no way to irrigate that I know of. I was hoping that the article would talk about the farm production in Australia because lack of food is what will impact everybody soon. General references to desertification:
    http://environmentaldefenseblogs.org/climate411/2008/01/14/global_winds/
    http://www.marklynas.org/2007/4/23/six-steps-to-hell-summary-of-six-degrees-as-published-in-the-guardian
    Steve Chu, the new Secretary of Energy, made some remarks about the impending end of farming due to desertification in California.

    I don’t believe farmers can just move north in the northern hemisphere because the soil will be different even if [a big if] the temperature and rainfall will be right for farming. The Australians can’t move south because there is nothing but ocean to the south. In the northern hemisphere, I doubt that melted tundra would be anything like rich Iowa soil. Canada has a huge area of forest, but is it really going to be cut down to make farms? How long will that last before that area also becomes desert?

    RealClimate, could you do an article on what is happening to the food supply?

    Comment by Edward Greisch — 17 Feb 2009 @ 12:24 AM

  40. I’m glad you wrote this piece. Ever since the fires my opinion has been that they COULD have been a result of increased global warming but also MAY be simply a once in 200 year event.

    One horrible and major fire is not enough to prove anything. An increase in bushfires over a relatively short period of time (in this case, 10-20 years) would be far more indicative of claimte change affecting the Australian environment.

    Comment by One Salient Oversight — 17 Feb 2009 @ 12:44 AM

  41. To compound the problem, African grasses brought in to improve grazing (plus some escapes from things like packing materials) are not only highly fire-adapted but have no natural predators. This means they grow out of control once they take over after a fire.

    Cheatgrass (from the eastern European steppes). US. Sigh.

    Though it wasn’t brought in to improve grazing (rather, to “cheat” seed and grain shipments). But it has altered the fire ecology of much of the Western US immensely. More frequent, earlier, hotter burns than anything on the prairie co-evolved with.

    Comment by dhogaza — 17 Feb 2009 @ 12:56 AM

  42. Off topic…any thoughts on the recent comments by Chris Field? How likely are the various feedbacks mentioned on this articles? Is progress being made in understanding if and when these feedbacks will occur and the magnitude of them?

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090214/sc_afp/usclimatewarming_20090214150716

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/14/AR2009021401757.html?nav=emailpage

    Comment by MarkB — 17 Feb 2009 @ 1:02 AM

  43. 37: I don’t find efforts to blame it on environmentalists at all surprising. That is just what we see here in the USA whenever there is a bad fire. Often logging interests who were denied timber rights are the culprit.

    If climate change is making dryness and heatwaves more common, wouldn’t we expect that given time to equilibrate, that the mix of vegetation would become less flamable. If so, perhaps longterm the fire danger may not change by much. If forests are being replaced by grasslands, that could be thought of as part of that process.

    I do think we have an attribution problem. Because we know it is impossible to attribute any single event to CC, we always end up answering no! This resembles the problem of blaming a patients cancer on environmental toxins. At best we can only probablistically answer the question. Unfortunately, this tends to let the guilty of the hook. In the case of AGW, it gives the deniers an out. Is it possible we shouldn’t say no, we can’t prove it, but the probablity that this event was caused by AGW is X%? Or is that considered to be a PR no-no?

    Comment by Thomas — 17 Feb 2009 @ 1:15 AM

  44. Thx for links Hank and dhogza – the BraveNewClimate article helps explain the rationale for an AGW link here in addition to the obvious most important likely “cause” of arson.

    Comment by Joe Hunkins — 17 Feb 2009 @ 4:47 AM

  45. Go over to WUWT and read the sad story of a home owner, who removed 247 trees out of thousands on his property to create a fire break around his house, ended costing him $100,000 fighting city hall for violating local bylaws against cutting down trees. His house was the only one left standing within a several miles or so radius. He puts the blame squarely on the enviros who were successful in convicing local gov officials not to conduct controlled burns to remove fuel litter and to enact bylaws prohibiting removal of any trees on a home owners property.

    Comment by Harold Pierce Jr — 17 Feb 2009 @ 5:58 AM

  46. It is hard to believe that there are still those who adamantly refuse to believe that man is the primary cause of these drastic climate changes.

    Comment by John A. Davison — 17 Feb 2009 @ 6:26 AM

  47. it is difficult to convey just how disturbing it is to have a persistent smoke haze hanging over the city that you live in. it is made all the worse by the brown grass and exposed dirt on the nature strips and in the parks, the falling brown leaves on the trees, almost two months before autumn starts, the blackened and shriveled leaves on other plants. i should note that i live a few kilometres out from the melbourne CBD, nowhere near the fires and the devastation they’ve caused, but it is still so viscerally apparent that something is wrong.

    i’ve known about global warming/climate change since i was eight years old (1988). i was frankly quite worried by it but had faith that ‘the adults’ would make sure nothing bad happened. what has become increasingly apparent over the years is that ‘the adults’ are in the majority short-sighted ditherers who are willing to take the biggest risk possible with the one and only habitable planet we have.

    i find it hard to listen to kevin rudd talk about the bushfires in light of his radically irresponsible 5% emission reduction target, or to listen to john brumby (premier of victoria) talk about prevention after his government allowed the most carbon intensive power plant in the developed world to continue operating until 2031, when it was supposed to be decommissioned in 2009. i very much doubt the sincerity of their emotion and commitment.

    david, i know you are the chief climate adviser to the victorian government, but it seems that they’re not listening to you.

    vale to the dead, 200 as of today.

    Comment by anna — 17 Feb 2009 @ 7:48 AM

  48. A point i would make is that many ‘amateur’ denialists in the UK and other places in the ‘Northern Hemisphere’ have used the cold weather (snow) as an excuse to come out and say we have a cooling phase.

    This is just as crazy as blaming fires in Australia on global warming.

    They basically exploit peoples obsession with local weather and self interest. However the heatwaves in Australia (not the fires) have helped to highlight the seasons in the different parts of the world and that global warming is literally a global climate issue.

    Comment by Paul — 17 Feb 2009 @ 8:07 AM

  49. Is the UHI moniker the proper description of the Urban Island effects on temperature. Should they not be named UTI instead? The effect works both ways depending on the surrounding land features I’d think.

    Comment by Sekerob — 17 Feb 2009 @ 8:09 AM

  50. Edward, your point that “In the northern hemisphere, I doubt that melted tundra would be anything like rich Iowa soil,” is correct. WRT “Canada has a huge area of forest, but is it really going to be cut down to make farms?” the short answer is no–Canadian shield terrain is extremely rocky, with little arable soil. Trying to farm there is so patently a plan to go broke fast that no-one will try. What’s growing there now is what is adapted to do so, and is slowly producing good soil–in a few tens of millenia it may be time to think about farming there.

    OneSalient, read the papers given as references–they *are* such attribution studies. I was interested in the Canadian study, so will cite it:

    “Here we show first that human emissions of greenhouse
    gases and sulfate aerosol have had a detectable
    warming effect during the fire season in the fire-prone
    regions of Canada, and second, applying a statistical model
    to simulated temperature changes, we demonstrate that
    human-induced climate change has had a significant effect
    on the area burned by forest fires in Canada.”

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 17 Feb 2009 @ 8:35 AM

  51. I live in SE Queensland with is further north than Vic and SA so should be hotter but lickily our late summers are very humid and is that moisture that moderates our temperature. What has happened in Australia this summer is straight out of the climate change text-books. We are all aware of the extreme heat and dryness in the south giving rise to the bushfires but what you may not be aware of is that many parts of australia are experiencing 1/100 year droughts, that north queensland has been deluged for the past month or more by continous rain resulting in 2/3 of queensland being flood delared and $250mil worth of damage and counting. We have all the extremes running concurrently…drought,fires,record temps,major flooding and hurricane force winds. Australia’s temps have been getting progressively hotter and hotter over the last 40 years, but what I have noticed more and anything is that the climate is becomming increasing unstable..the regular El-nino/La nina cycles of the past that farmers planned sowing their crops by is virtually gone..now it’s a lucky dip what they get..usually a depressing continuation of this 10 year drought. Now the eastern seabaord of australia and california usually gets the same weather..weird.

    Comment by Lawrence Coleman — 17 Feb 2009 @ 9:00 AM

  52. Lawrence #51, few weeks ago read the Indian IOD cycle was identified as a major rain source, for NA, contrary to just ENSO regulated.

    Comment by Sekerob — 17 Feb 2009 @ 9:11 AM

  53. David Karoly:
    I’m wondering why you fail to mention the announcements in recent days in Australia, that researchers from the CSIRO, UNSW Climate Change Centre and the University of Tasmania conclude from their research, that the extended droughts of South-Eastern Australia, and previous ‘iconic droughts’ in that area, [ eg the World War 2 drought of 1937-1945, and the Federation drought of 1895-1902 ]are caused , not by El Nino [ not primarily anyway], nor by AGW, but by the ‘variable and irregular cycles’ of the Indian Ocean Dipole.
    Does your neglect to mention this mean that you dispute their findings?
    As we in Australia know, droughts and bushfires have always been a constant in the Australian climate picture—since long before industrialisation and anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
    This was a really terrible fire, but it’s not Australia’s worst in intensity—–that was in 1851 according to historians, but back then of course the bush was largely uninhabited.
    As with hurricane Katrina in the US , the loss of lives now is huge, because so many people have increasingly chosen to live in the danger areas.
    It’s not only Victoria, South Australia and Canberra that have population areas interfacing with the bush.
    Many Sydney suburbs have streets adjoining National Parks bushland, and residents are required by local governments to leave in their backyards, the massive eucalypts that they know are what fuels the fire and would spread it ‘like wildfire’ through the suburbs if it were not for our wonderful people of the voluntary fire services.
    Some control burning is done, and fuel reduction carried out, but it always falls short of what’s necessary , due to the power of the environmental lobby—in Victoria, letters to authorities from residents begging for the mitigation are on record, and it’s the environmental red tape and over-legislation that causes the required measures to be postponed or canned.
    Incidentally, is it your contention that rural weather stations in Australia, where surrounding conditions and land use have remained unchanged—-show a strong warming trend?
    To what do you attribute the strong warming of the 1930s, when atmospheric CO2 levels were much lower than now?

    [edit - if you want serious responses, dial down the rhetorical flourishes]

    Comment by truth — 17 Feb 2009 @ 9:17 AM

  54. #29 Lawrence Coleman:

    “By far the longest continuous heatwave in our recorded history.”

    I assume you mean the recorded history of Victoria and South Australia.

    The longest continuous heatwave in Australia’s and in fact the recorded history of the World was the heatwave in Marble Bar Western Australia.

    Duration: 183 days
    Dates: October 1923 to April 1924

    Comment by Richard Steckis — 17 Feb 2009 @ 9:19 AM

  55. Harold Pierce Jr., As usual, you don’t have a clue. Trees are not the major danger when it comes to fire. Dry litter and undergrowth are where the fires start.
    As to attribution of the fires to climate change, of course one cannot attribute any one event to a “trend” like climate, just as one cannot attribute cancer in any one smoker to cigarettes. When you see unprecedented fires burning in Oz AND in SoCal, etc. AND when the IPCC predicts just these trends in advance the evidence becomes a lot stronger.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 17 Feb 2009 @ 9:36 AM

  56. “Protracted drought”, “rainfall decline over Southern Australia”? Where’s that then?

    http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/silo/reg/cli_chg/timeseries.cgi?variable=rain&region=saus&season=0112

    http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/silo/reg/cli_chg/timeseries.cgi?variable=rain&region=seaus&season=0112

    Popular delusions and the madness of crowds…

    [Response: In those diagnostics, the relevant one is SouthEastern Australia (which includes the region in question here). For instance here. - gavin]

    Comment by Greg — 17 Feb 2009 @ 9:44 AM

  57. For a brief historical perspective of Australian bushfires:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A127423

    Comment by wmanny — 17 Feb 2009 @ 9:51 AM

  58. the BraveNewClimate article helps explain the rationale for an AGW link here in addition to the obvious most important likely “cause” of arson. – 17 February 2009 at 4:47 AM

    I would think the most trivial item in the list of causes for this fire would be the alleged source of ignition. Fires are commonly started by arsonists, and by accidental ignitions, and by natural ignitions.

    Regardless of the source of ignition, usually fires don’t flare into uncontrollable infernos over a wide area that kill 200 people.

    Comment by JCH — 17 Feb 2009 @ 9:54 AM

  59. Further to Kevin’s post #50, Scotland USED to have a fairly abundant soil. Then humans cleared the land for farming and the soil wasn’t thick enough to stand without the trees. And so the modern view of Scotland is miles and miles of scrub grass and heather with a lot of bare rock. But that happened so long ago people now think that that is the unspoilt natural beauty of Scotland.

    But it used to be a lot of trees. Trees that protected the soil from the weather, held it against the elements and time and enriched it with their products.

    Now it produces shortbread tins.

    Comment by Mark — 17 Feb 2009 @ 9:59 AM

  60. Re #59, the whole of the UK was covered in the caledonian forest. Hardly any of it left now across the entire UK. Shame but there you are.

    Comment by pete best — 17 Feb 2009 @ 10:34 AM

  61. Temperatures in the SH are currently running cooler than in 1988 the start of the alarmism. (Trends don’t contribute to fires actual heat does!). Australia as a whole was not exceedingly hot in January.

    If fires start more frequently then, perversely, there will be less damage over all as it is the unburnt accumulation of bracken, shrub etc that really transforms local fires to huge conflagrations.

    [edit - not an appropriate phrasing]

    Alan

    Comment by Alan Millar — 17 Feb 2009 @ 10:45 AM

  62. Maybe Al Gore & Kevin Rudd need to talk.

    Comment by Bird Thompson — 17 Feb 2009 @ 10:57 AM

  63. Regardless of the source of ignition, usually fires don’t flare into uncontrollable infernos over a wide area that kill 200 people.

    Exactly. Mrs. O’Leary’s cow may have started a fire, but Chicago burned because it had lots of wood buildings jam-packed together. The current fire’s occasion may have been arson, but that’s simply the difference between necessary and sufficient causes. S.E. Australia had become a tinder box due to drought. Something was going to cause a fire.

    Comment by duBois — 17 Feb 2009 @ 11:02 AM

  64. Re#53, Yes, that is the fossil fuel lobby response to global warming – blame it on “natural cycles” – for example, try the San Diego Union Tribune on drought in California: La Nina blamed for more drought:

    Yes, meteorologists are still talking about continued drought in their long-range predictions. La Niña is the culprit.

    Very definitive statement, isn’t it? This is typical of the coverage by the press – and even mild-mannered climate scientists are calling for change on that:

    “Business managers of media organizations, you are screwing up your responsibility by firing science and environment reporters who are frankly the only ones competent to do this,” said climate researcher and policy analyst Stephen Schneider, in assessing the current state of media coverage of global warming and related issues.”

    Odd, though – I don’t see any reporters picking up on that press release, do you? “Yes, we have distorted the issue for the benefit of the fossil fuel lobby” – no, I don’t expect that headline.

    Let’s consider the real science instead: we know that basin-scale ocean-atmosphere oscillations influence precipitation and temperature pattens on a global scale. I prefer the term wobble, as in the Southern Wobble, the Pacific Decadal Wobble, etc., as that better fits the actual behavior. However, keep a few things in mind:

    1) These oscillations are nothing new – they were going on at the beginning of the 20th century, when global temperatures were cooler.

    2) If a mass on a spring is oscillating, and you heat up the spring, does the oscillating behavior change? Yes, it does – and we can expect that similar effects will occur with ENSO, etc.

    3) We know that global warming is shifting atmospheric circulation patterns on a global basis, with associated changes in water vapor distribution. Ocean circulation pattern changes may be happening, but are hard to detect.

    Put another way, could any of these natural cycles be responsible for the warming oceans, the melting poles, and the expanding subtropical dry zones? Perhaps in one specific location, the argument could be made – but this isn’t just Australia. It’s California and the U.S. Southwest, Argentina’s Pampas regions, China and Africa – it’s a global phenomenon, and what it appears to correlate with is the global warming induced expansion of the subtropical dry zones, as predicted by models and observed in the real world.

    Comment by Ike Solem — 17 Feb 2009 @ 11:18 AM

  65. I understand the difference between weather and climate, but I’m unsure about when weather becomes climate.

    At what point does weather (pattern) become climate? Do we have to wait for the end of the climate trend (about 30 yrs) to proclaim that the climate has changed, or can we do so during the trend, and if so, at what point? Also, do we need to wait for experts to tell us what is happening, just like in this thread or can we assume it, based on our own local experiences?

    Our last couple of summers here in the UK have been a wash-out, which is in line with climate change predictions for our part of the world, yet we’re not really allowed to say it’s climate change. How many years of such consecutive summers do we need to say our climate has changed? Also, can we say “our climate is changing”, after a few years of noticeable and predicted changes?

    It would be nice if we could have proper guidance on the issue of transition, particularly as it is bound to become more prominent in the near future with changing weather around the world. Also, without it, deniers will continue to exploit any uncertainty.

    Finally, is there a list/catalogue of climate change events around the world, e.g. the droughts, fires etc?

    Many thanks for your help.

    Comment by Abi — 17 Feb 2009 @ 12:09 PM

  66. I’m not sure (yet) if I agree with Karoly’s conclusions or not, but I am very impressed with what clearly is a learned, objective, and scientific treatise, seemingly free of prejudices and orthodoxies.

    Comment by Rod B — 17 Feb 2009 @ 1:00 PM

  67. So, who caused the fires and killed the people in Australia? The arsonists and us.

    Of course, we could always “blame the victims,” which is what they did to the Love Canal mothers for failing to prevent their children from playing on the grass.

    But for me the “musical chairs blame game” stops here. I’ll continue to reduce my greenhouse gas emissions, while the scientists trudge on in their becoming evermore confident of my role in the harms, while the policy-makers dilly-dally, while denialists deny; and I’ll let the Australian criminal justice system take care of the arsonists, and let people in fire-prone areas figure out safer places to build or rent homes.

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 17 Feb 2009 @ 1:02 PM

  68. Alan, I’d be curious as to your source, as your statement doesn’t accord well with the SR ’05 data for January ’09, just posted by the NCDC:

    Southern Hemisphere anomalies & rankings

    Land: +0.53°C (+0.95°F)–10th warmest January in instrumental record.
    [Record year: 2006 (+0.78°C/1.40°F)]

    Ocean: +0.45°C (+0.81°F)–8th warmest.
    [Record year: 1998 (+0.55°C/0.99°F)]

    Land and Ocean: +0.46°C (+0.83°F)–7th warmest.
    [Record year: 1998 (+0.58°C/1.04°F)]

    Hopefully January meets your idea of “currently” well enough. :)

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 17 Feb 2009 @ 1:16 PM

  69. Or there’s the timeseries from the same source:

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/img/climate/research/2009/jan/glob-jan-pg.gif

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 17 Feb 2009 @ 1:22 PM

  70. Re: #64 (Ike Solem)

    I prefer the term wobble, as in the Southern Wobble, the Pacific Decadal Wobble, etc., as that better fits the actual behavior.

    You are *so* right! I’m often frustrated by naming them “oscillations,” which implies some periodicity to the behavior when there’s really no reliable evidence of periodicity in these phenomena. Some of them show characteristic time scales, but not periods.

    By the way, I find your comments are consistently well thought out and on point.

    Comment by tamino — 17 Feb 2009 @ 1:58 PM

  71. Yes, that link will do nicely Gavin. It shows that current rainfall isn’t any different to the entire 1900-1950 period. So I ask again, “rainfall decline over Southern Australia”??

    Comment by Greg — 17 Feb 2009 @ 3:06 PM

  72. Re: #71 (Greg)

    It looks like you’d rather take a simpleton’s approach — any graph that allows you to maintain a delusion — than do the work required to understand what’s really involved.

    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2008/05/30/drought-in-australia/

    Comment by tamino — 17 Feb 2009 @ 3:23 PM

  73. Yes, that link will do nicely Gavin. It shows that current rainfall isn’t any different to the entire 1900-1950 period. So I ask again, “rainfall decline over Southern Australia”??

    71. Comment by Greg — 17 February 2009 @ 3:06 PM

    Greg:

    My reading of the graph indicates that wet season rainfall has been below the long term average for the last 11 or 12 years. Moreover, the rain deficit has gotten worse in the last several years. There was another long term drought in the 1930′s as well. Evidently people living in the area look at vegetation and realize that there has been a severe drought for over 10 years.

    Comment by Bill DeMott — 17 Feb 2009 @ 4:27 PM

  74. #65

    Not the list you were looking for but certainly a topical one.

    [BBC]
    The earliest recorded Victorian bushfire was in 1851, climaxing on 6 February or ‘Black Thursday’. By 11am that day the temperature had soared to 47 degrees celsius in the shade, conditions which saw the bush burn from Barwon Heads to Mount Gambier, 10 deaths.

    ‘Red Tuesday’ – 20 January, 1898: towns were razed and several people killed as fires swept across the Otway Ranges and south and west Gippsland.

    ‘Black Sunday’ – 13 February, 1926: fires devastated the central highlands of Victoria claiming 31 lives.

    ‘Black Friday’ – 13 January, 1939: with rivers at their lowest levels for 80 years and humidity at eight per cent, 71 lives were lost to fires and the town of Noojee destroyed.

    ‘Ash Wednesday’ – 16 February, 1983: fires burned from the Dandenongs to the Otway Ranges and on to the Adelaide Hills. 73 dead

    In January 1985, at least 12 bushfires and 240 minor blazes swept across Victoria. Six people were killed and 66 injured in blazes at Maryborough, Avoca and Little River. The fire destroyed 182 homes, 400 farms and 46,000 livestock.

    In January 1997 fires raged across the Dandenong Ranges, Creswick, Heathcote, Teddywaddy and Goughs Bay. 2 died.

    Comment by wmanny — 17 Feb 2009 @ 5:28 PM

  75. When can we label weather as caused by global warming? Or maybe just “consistent with global warming”

    No weather event can ever be labeled as caused by global warming, at best only linked. Can it? Can anyone imagine if there any clear case possible?

    Even a new and unseen weather event – like a Category 6 hurricane or a super tornado or a ball-lightning storm, nothing can ever said to be caused by global warming. But instead a rare confluence of blah, blah…

    But can we say the converse? That without global warming, in a climate of 20, or 50 years ago that these events would not happen?

    In the face of fires, floods, drought, I am frustrated that there is not stronger language, perhaps simplified, that locks in the connection.

    Comment by Richard Pauli — 17 Feb 2009 @ 6:12 PM

  76. When I’ve posted at this site in the past, nobody has paid much attention to what I have had to say, perhaps because I’m not a “climate scientist”. However, it didn’t stop me then and it won’t stop me now from posting my theory.

    There has been some discussion in this thread about the Urban Heat Island (UHI) and its possible effect on wildfires. I have pointed out (don’t remember where) that such an effect could have worsened (from FI#1 to FI#2) the tornado that crossed downtown Atlanta, about a year ago.

    While temperatures in inner cities are frequently measured to be up to 5 C greater than the surroundings, someone here (#35) pointed out that the Melbourne fire occurred even when the central city temperature was lower than the suburbs.

    You also have a fire index (FFDI), but it appears to be only a calculated number, for which nobody has a good “feel”. In the north, we also have the calculated “wind chill” equivalent temperature, but even still people don’t pay as much attention to this as they do the actual temperature.

    I hypothesize that the potential for devastating wild fire is a combination not only of the dryness, number of days of high temperature without rain, etc., but also of atmospheric conditions, that have to do with the depth of the inversion layer.

    As is the case with thunderstorms in humid regions, these are may not triggered until the layer of free convection approaches the surface (see http://tornadochaser.net CAPE_Class). This tends to happen in the late afternoon.

    In a wildfire situation in a dry climate there is not enough humidity to trigger a thunderstorm, but a similar situation could quickly and greatly worsen any fire that might break out.

    Instead of just using a thermometer to measure current temperature and your FFDI, I propose that an inexpensive “wildfire potentiometer” also be constructed to supply additional information to the public.

    This would look like an “empty water tank” perhaps 20 x 20 meters in diameter. The walls on the bottom half would be opened and replaced by closely spaced airfoils (~1 wide, at a fequency of about one or two per meter of circumference), that would allow air to pass inward, and deflect the air tangentially at a uniform angle (say 45 deg. for a start). You could also put a “cone” in the center to help convert radial flow to vertical flow efficiently.

    It would be instrumented with anemometers or Pitot tubes that measure the converging wind flow velocity, as well as temperature, relative humidity and plume height rise (maybe with Doppler radar, after seeding with dust).

    It could be placed on a mild rise, mesa, or even a building (best in a city). You could also put them in the forests or other wooded areas.

    By showing a visual of this on the Telly (or whatever you call it in Australia), as well as broadcasting the FFDI, people could get a better sense of how dangerous the situation might be.

    You might need to burn something inside to get it going, initially (careful with those embers).

    Just a thought. (Oh, and you might also be interested in visiting http://vortexengine.ca)

    Comment by Jerry Toman — 17 Feb 2009 @ 6:43 PM

  77. Ike Solem : Re [64]:
    Are you suggesting that the CSIRO researchers and those from the two Australian universities who attribute the SE Australia droughts to the Indian Ocean Dipole effect , are fossil fuel lobbyists?
    Hardly—-and I don’t think David Karoly would suggest for a minute that they are.
    Those scientists made the point that ‘iconic Australian droughts’ from the past [ and some of the worst occurred long before heavy industrialisation and high CO2 emissions from burning of fossil fuels ], were caused [ according to their research], by the Indian Ocean Dipole.

    Comment by truth — 17 Feb 2009 @ 6:47 PM

  78. Yeah, look it up, it’s even in the newspapers:

    “The current Indian Ocean warming pattern is unprecedented and probably related to climate change, researchers say.

    The report found that a phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean dipole plays a dominant role in determining temperature and rainfall in south-east Australia….”

    http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2009/02/04/1233423310800.html

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 17 Feb 2009 @ 7:00 PM

  79. Earlier starts to the growing season increase the fire threat for later in summer. September 2008 was the warmest of record in the SH according to NASA.

    Trends show earlier spring thaws in the Upper Midwest.

    Comment by Pat N — 17 Feb 2009 @ 8:06 PM

  80. Oh, Ike — re #53 and #78

    To belabor the point — the stuff from the userid “truth” was just spin, a misleading excerpt from the stories reporting climate change altering the Indian Ocean dipole — leaving out the climate change part and hyping it as disproving climate change.

    Could be just copypasting stuff from CO2Sci, WCReport, WTFU, or the Swindle thingers. Not even worth checking unless someone’s desperate for cites.

    Then trying to dope-slap you with the red herring “fossil fuel lobbyist” stuff. I mean, don’t even bother with this chit.

    There’s often a germ of fact behind the distorting mirror being promoted. Look around for that, don’t reply to the bogosity as though it were information.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 17 Feb 2009 @ 8:18 PM

  81. p.p.s., for the definitionmongers, usage thus:

    Chits are a type of wargame counter that are generally not directly representational but used for the following purposes: * Tracking, being placed …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chit_(board_wargames)

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 17 Feb 2009 @ 8:20 PM

  82. Before you get too excited about WUWT posts (#45 Harold Pierce Jr), do some fact checking.

    The Mitchell Shire Council’s Minutes of 12 September 2005 clearly show that the claim that the trees were cleared for fire safety was an after the fact defense, and permission was not sought to clear them as required by the law. Opportunities to remedy the matter at lower cost were ignored.

    The Sheahans are not the innocent victims of bumbling bureacracy that they try to make themselves appear to be.

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 17 Feb 2009 @ 8:22 PM

  83. #20 Hank Roberts, dhogaza #19 and Dave Benson #18
    Before everyone piles on Joe Hunkins #15, a reading of David Karoly’s first citation (C. Lucas et al, Consultancy Report prepared for the Climate Institute of Australia by the Bushfire CRC and CSIRO, 2006) does not claim to prove that climate change has exacerbated fire danger. Please find the following quotes taken directly from the study:

    Page 49 “Is ths apparent recent increase in fire weather due to climate change or is it simply the reflection of some natural (and unforseen) interdecadal change? Unfortunately, it is not possible to answer this question unequivocally at this time.

    Page 51 ” The available data indicate that the fire seasons we have been experiencing for the last few years have been longer and in many ways stronger than any observed dating back to the 1940′s. It is not that a given day has a higher FFDI value rather, there are more VHE days and fewer low to medium FFDI days. A reasonable hypothesis for this behavior is that we are currently experiencing an upswing in fire danger due to some natural forcing with an interdecadal time scale, and that this is being exacerbated by the subtle ongoing effects of climate change.”

    Page 53 “Examining longer-term observations at eight stations, back to the early 1940′s in many cases, reveals considerable inter-decadal variability. Periods of increasing and decreasing fire weather danger are apparent in the record. The peaks of these cycles occur roughly every 20 years and the time series might suggest that we are at or near a peak, although there is no physical evidnce on which to estimate when or to what extent a decrease might occur.”

    Page 52 “Given the influence of ENSO on the climate of Australia, and particularly the southeast, understanding any changes which may occur in it’s behavior is paramount for understanding fire danger. Unfortunately, the current generation of climate models do not simulate ENSO particularly well. As noted earlier, there is a low-confidence projection that ENSO will likely stay the same. Any future changes in ENSO will likely affect the results presented here.

    My point in pulling these quotes out of the report is to illustrate that the causality of a “.6C increase in temperature over 160 years = more fires in Australia” is not exactly the slam dunk that is being portrayed on this thread. I encourage all to take the time to read the literature to get a broader understanding of the topic.
    Thanks
    William

    Comment by William — 17 Feb 2009 @ 9:19 PM

  84. It is worth knowing the level of global warming in a particular region rather than just assuming that the generally quoted 0.6 degC figure for the second half of the 20th century is applicable everywhere.

    The warming on land, globally, has been much greater:

    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/Fig.A4.lrg.gif

    And the warming in central Australia has been greater still:

    http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/silo/reg/cli_chg/trendmaps.cgi?variable=tmean&region=aus&season=0112&period=1970

    Parts of central Australia have warmed by 0.5 deg C per decade since the mid 70′s which would make these regions some 2 degrees warmer now than they were then.

    Fire hazardous conditions in Australia’s more highly forested coastal regions are generally brought about by movement of air masses from the central region, an extra two degrees of warmth adding significantly to the danger.

    Comment by Peter Martin — 17 Feb 2009 @ 9:36 PM

  85. Peter
    Why look only at the period 1970 forward in your second link? Looking at the period 1910 forward the chart indicates warming of.10-.15C per decade. That’s quite a bit different than .5C per decade.

    You may wish to take another look at your GISS link. The chart plots variations to zero anomaly. Remember that temperatures at the conclusion of the “mini ice-age” took a while to warm back up to more “normal” levels.
    Thanks
    William

    Comment by William — 17 Feb 2009 @ 10:17 PM

  86. #84 Peter
    You may wish to take another look at the GISS chart you link. It plots temperature anomalies compared to zero. Coming out of the mini ice-age in 1850 it took about 70 years to reach the zero anomaly level. .6C refers to above zero anomaly.

    I’m not sure why you selected 1970 as your starting point in the Australia temperature link but if you use all the data provided the warming falls to .10-.15C per decade. That’s quite a bit less than .5C per decade.
    Thanks
    William

    Comment by William — 17 Feb 2009 @ 10:28 PM

  87. Earlier starts to the growing season increase the fire threat for later in summer.

    There’s been some good work published here in the US regarding the fact that invasive, native cheatgrass has altered fire cycles in shrub-steppe and shortgrass prairies (first annual up, first to dry, first to burn which moves the fire season forward, leading to more frequent and hotter fires as the stuff burns hot).

    And there’s other good work showing that cheatgrass is among the invasives moving their range northward.

    And other good work showing that the growing season overall in shrub-steppe at least is trending earlier, giving cheatgrass more time to dry out and be lit by summer electrical storms.

    Just one example of how climate change is interacting with our other efforts to totally screw up native ecosystems in an unpleasant way …

    While the details are different than SE Australia, the basic way in which climate change and other human impacts on the fire ecology interact negatively perhaps are not.

    Comment by dhogaza — 17 Feb 2009 @ 10:45 PM

  88. William, 9:19pm

    > does not claim to prove
    Of course not. Science doesn’t do proof. Straw man? Or didn’t you know that? If not please ask for pointers to the explanation, it’s important for you to understand.

    > 1970
    look at the rate of CO2 increase before and after 1970. Remember the lag time (‘committed’ warming not instant).

    The 2006 paper predates, for example, these:
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/02/10/heatwave-update-and-open-letter-to-the-pm/
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/02/08/how-hot-should-it-have-really-been-over-the-last-5-years/
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/02/03/is-there-a-link-between-adelaides-heatwave-and-global-warming/

    If you look at nothing else but one picture, look at this one:
    http://bravenewclimate.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/ar4tempprob.jpg?w=448&h=258

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 17 Feb 2009 @ 10:49 PM

  89. Richard Pauli:

    “But can we say the converse? That without global warming, in a climate of 20, or 50 years ago that these events would not happen?”

    No. We cannot say the converse.

    We know that there was a super El Nino of 30 years followed by a 30 year La Nina in the sixth century AD. That event brought 30 years of rain followed by 30 years of drought. It is regarded by some researchers as one of the causes of the collapse of the Moche civilization in Peru.

    These events would have most certainly affected Australia. Our climate is intimately linked to the El Nino/La Nina cycle, particularly in the east of the continent. Our experience is the oppostite of that in Peru. An El Nino brings rain in Peru and brings dry conditions in Australia and vice versa for La Nina.

    Therefore, the current drought in Australia is by no means unprecedented.

    [Response: Don't confuse unprecedented with attributable. These are very different things. - gavin]

    Comment by Richard Steckis — 17 Feb 2009 @ 10:52 PM

  90. Hank
    The “proof” language is from Karoly’s citation so I don’t get your comment about a straw man. I Looked to Wikipedia for a definition of the scientific method:

    “Despite the existence of well-tested theories, science cannot claim absolute knowledge of nature or the behavior of the subject or of the field of study due to epistemological problems that are unavoidable and preclude the discovery or establishment of absolute truth. Unlike a mathematical proof, a scientific theory is empirical, and is always open to falsification, if new evidence is presented.
    Even the most basic and fundamental theories may turn out to be imperfect if new observations are inconsistent with them. Critical to this process is making every relevant aspect of research publicly available, which allows ongoing review and repeating of experiments and observations by multiple researchers operating independently of one another. Only by fulfilling these expectations can it be determined how reliable the experimental results are for potential use by others.”

    I think it’s great that there are so many good climate science blogs where discussions like this can be conducted, where new observations can be tested and where we can all share publicly every relevant aspect of observations and experimental results so that they can be repeated and tested for reliability.
    Thanks for including me in this discussion.
    William

    Comment by William — 17 Feb 2009 @ 11:53 PM

  91. Some more info:

    “Apparently from aerial imaging the temp was 3000c” — can anyone confirm this?

    When European settlement began, there was far less “fuel” on the forest floor due to the large number of small ground dwelling creatures such as Bilbies, Betongs, Bandicoots, etc. These creatures eat the plants and turn over the litter encouraging decay and enriching the soil. They have largly disappeared following the introduction of our dogs and cats, the clearing of habitat for cattle and the introductions of rabbits (who out-compete them) and foxes (who eat them).

    Comment by Ricki (Australia) — 18 Feb 2009 @ 12:00 AM

  92. Re: Jim Galasyn Says:
    > Thank you for this summary. I’ve been calling the Victoria fires the first climate-change disaster of the 21st century. Now I have a quick, thorough summary to link to.

    Jim, I tend to think of it as the second “What The Frak” disaster of the century. The 2003 European heat wave took around 35 000 souls: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2003_European_heat_wave; and likely would not have happened without GCC. However, if you look around Wikipedia, you’ll find a great number of heat waves in recent years (the 2006 European and North American Heat Waves, the 2007 Asian Heat Wave, the 2007 European heat wave, etc.); most of these have incurred hundreds to thousands of excess deaths. Of course, some heat waves are natural in any event, but because mortality rates are locally exponential in temperature and duration, we’re likely to see a lot more poking into the extreme red over the rest of the century.

    Comment by Stef in Canada — 18 Feb 2009 @ 12:09 AM

  93. Willaim,

    Yes its just as valid to look at the changes in Central Australian temperatures from 1910 as 1970. I had to choose something from the menu!

    I must say that the data produced by the Australian Met office is excellent. If I have one small criticism it would be that the colour coding isn’t that easy to read. There’s sixteen shades but only fifteen numerical values.

    I have interpreted the values as best that I can, but if anyone disagrees…….

    Comment by Peter Martin — 18 Feb 2009 @ 12:33 AM

  94. #5 “I’ve been calling the Victoria fires the first climate-change disaster of the 21st century.”

    I think history we disagree with you and nominate Katrina instead.

    #11 “I would so love this to be published in the Sydney Morning Herald as a riposte to Miranda Devine’s recent piece blaming the fires on “greenies”.”

    Ms Devine’s column is hardly deserving of any riposte. Let’s be clear that her role on the left-of-centre SMH is as a rightist town fool on whom we can’t vent our spleen. Surely even she does not believe she is employed as a journalist (nor half of what she writes). Yes an article like this one ought be given greater prominence in our national media, but it is too sober to share a stage with Mirands.

    Comment by James Killen — 18 Feb 2009 @ 12:48 AM

  95. Tamino, your post deals with drought (which you defined as involving both rainfall and evaporation) and a specific area (the Murray Darling basin, not Southern or even South-Eastern Australia). So I will ask for a third time, very simply, has there been any statistically significant change in long term rainfall in Southern or South-Eastern Australia? The answer is no. It has, at worst, returned to the long-term average seen between 1900-1950. This is a statement of fact. I’m not drawing any more conclusions from that, but you surely must concede that *for rainfall at least* there is no, as yet, apparent change in the climate of southern/south-eastern Australia.

    [Response: The Bureau of Meteorology in its Special Climate Statement 16 in October 2008 reports record 7-year low rainfall totals and record 12-year low rainfall totals for Victoria and Melbourne. These record low rainfall totals are also referred to in Reference 2 above. - David Karoly]

    Comment by Greg — 18 Feb 2009 @ 3:33 AM

  96. David Karoly has omitted one very important variable that of Fuel loading.I quote from FIRE CLIMATES OF AUSTRALIA: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE,Christopher Lucas
    Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre/Bushfire CRC, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

    “The MaArthur Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI) is an Australia-specific fire weather index,specifically geared toward dry sclerophyll (e.g.eucalyptus) forests with a fuel load of 12 t/ha.”

    There are reports of the fuel loading many times the 12t/ha (tonnes/hectare), one report was the fuel loading over 100 tonnes/hectare.

    We really need to understand what influence fuel loading has on extreme fires. This is more important than relating this fire to climate change.

    Comment by DJA — 18 Feb 2009 @ 3:42 AM

  97. Jerry Toman (77)
    I suggest you build one and see if it works.
    If it doesn’t, at least it will be an entertaining exercise, and can remain as a piece of modern art.

    Comment by PHE — 18 Feb 2009 @ 3:45 AM

  98. Greg, #95.

    Can we have access to the raw data and the source code/build scripts and sundry extras to validate your comment?

    Heck, just your data will do, but expect several people to demand that you provide all of them just like they ask of Eric et al.

    Comment by Mark — 18 Feb 2009 @ 6:41 AM

  99. There is a new paper accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters about south-west australia droghts:
    http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~ccumm/Ummenhofer.etal_2009_SEA.pdf
    Ummenhofer et al. claims south-west australia droughts are a conseguence of indian ocean (the lack of negative IOD precede long term droughts), warmer temperature amplified PDSI response this time.
    Maximum temperature increase probably is also a conseguence of droughts due to lack of evaporative cooling.

    Comment by gjp — 18 Feb 2009 @ 7:03 AM

  100. Congrats to David for this post. I live in Victoria Australia, and I can tell you the weather here has been hell on this earth – record breaking unprecedented heatwaves and an awful unending drought.
    I have one message for the remaining idiot climate change deniers – come here and see it. Come here and see how a state which used to be called ‘The garden state’ is now turning into a foul baking desert racked by fire.

    Up until now the debate over climate change has been between the scientists, and the tinfoil hat morons and paid shills who deny the science. But now a new phase begins. The people actually living this hell – people like me, are going to aggressively get involved, because we are sick to the back teeth with what is happening to our climate and we want to go all out to stop climate change or stop it any further.

    So bring it on deniers – you have an open, standing invitation to come and visit Victoria and see it for yourselves.

    Comment by Dave — 18 Feb 2009 @ 7:54 AM

  101. William, there’s nothing in what you quoted, nor in the whole article about a “claim to prove” — those are your words, not the author’s.

    The paper
    > does not claim to prove

    That’s true, and unremarkable. Do you understand this?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 18 Feb 2009 @ 8:01 AM

  102. Ummenhofer et al. says toward the end:

    “To summarize Fig. 3, the sign of the rainfall anomalies over southeast Australia during pure La Niña and positive IOD events is highly
    variable, whereas El Niño years consistently result in dry conditions and negative IOD years consistently in wet conditions (see also Auxiliary Fig. 1).”

    “gip” — what’s the basis in the paper for the statement you make above (7:03am)?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 18 Feb 2009 @ 8:06 AM

  103. Re: #95 (Greg)

    You started by saying (in #56)

    “Protracted drought”, “rainfall decline over Southern Australia”? Where’s that then?

    Popular delusions and the madness of crowds…

    I think you were trying to cast doubt on the reality and/or severity of drought, but now that that’s been refuted you want to make believe you were only talking about rainfall.

    And by the way, the Murray-Darling basin covers most of New South Wales and parts of South Australia and Victoria.

    You’re wrong about rainfall anyway, at least for Victoria (the subject of this post):

    http://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/vic.jpg?w=500&h=499

    http://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/vicanom.jpg?w=500&h=499

    Comment by tamino — 18 Feb 2009 @ 8:40 AM

  104. Hank #102
    You are correct. I amend my comment #83 to substitute “does not claim to answer the question whether an increase in fire weather is due to climate change” for the word “proof”.

    Thanks for the clarification!
    William

    Comment by William — 18 Feb 2009 @ 8:51 AM

  105. Re #100, nice one Dave. Its about time joe (average) got mad and started demanding the start of the new era in energy provision. Australia has a track record of love of coal and exports millions of tonnes of it each year. Get down the ports and blockade em (not very likely I know) and get them CSP power plants set up to provide your electricity on that baking rock which you do not want to be any hotter. Australia can lead the way and demand more than 5% emissions cuts, demand 55% for starters. Time to drive small(er) vehicles and hybrids to, design em and use solar and possibly wind as well.

    We all need this.

    Comment by pete best — 18 Feb 2009 @ 9:21 AM

  106. William, what do you think “answer a question” means in a science paper? Do you see something lacking in the cited paper that you think could or should be there, or that another later paper could add?
    Do you understand how the IPCC describes levels of confidence, and why?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 18 Feb 2009 @ 9:24 AM

  107. Hank Roberts: re [80]
    In defence of myself against your remarkable tirade—
    I have nothing whatever to do with those blogs or entities you list—I’m merely someone who wants to see both sides of this issue aired.
    Since the measures called for by the AGW proponents have the potential for enormous damage to economies and standards of living around the world, I would think it should be permissible to discuss all aspects of it, without being subjected to sneers and smear.
    What exactly is it in my posts that you find inconsistent with the reported findings of those scientists?
    I had not read the article in the link you provided, but taking that into account too, the statement that the Indian ocean is warmer than at any other time on record—-with the records being only a little more than 100years old, how much weight can be given to ‘unprecedented’ in the record of the preceding thousands of years.
    How can we know from such a short record, that the warming of the Indian Ocean is not part of a natural cycle?
    The quote you give—‘The current Indian Ocean warming is unprecedented, and probably related to climate change, researchers say’—is a quote from an environmental reporter—not a direct quote from the scientists—and in any case , it doesn’t mention anthropogenic climate change.
    Ike Solem did in fact liken the Indian Ocean Dipole conclusions to a ‘fossil fuel lobby response’ did he not—so why is it a red herring?

    Comment by truth — 18 Feb 2009 @ 9:37 AM

  108. Re #102 Hank Roberts

    Page 5:
    “The lack of negative IOD events thus deprives Southeast Australia of its normal rainfall quota. In addition, it is apparent from Fig. 1c that drought conditions during the Big Dry have been exacerbated by higher temperatures (Nicholls, 2004),leading to the lowest PDSI value on record (Fig. 1d).”

    Comment by gjp — 18 Feb 2009 @ 9:52 AM

  109. > both sides

    Too simple. There’s far more than “two sides” to study here.

    > 100 years ….”unprecedented” … preceding thousands of years …

    Paleo records of ocean temperatures, not the 100-year thermometer record.

    > all aspects

    Good approach.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 18 Feb 2009 @ 9:57 AM

  110. The ironically named “truth” says, “I have nothing whatever to do with those blogs or entities you list—I’m merely someone who wants to see both sides of this issue aired.”

    So, what two sides would those be. I mean we’ve got the climate scientists–you know, the ones with all the evidence on their side. What’s the other side? Those who insist on having an opinion despite having no evidence to back it up?

    It is fine to debate policy–what we do about climate change. We are all affected by this question, and so we should all have a say in the decision. On the other hand, there is no question that the decision has to be based on the best science available–and that is the consensus model of Earth’s climate, of which anthropogenic causation of the current warming epoch is an inescapable conclusion.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 18 Feb 2009 @ 10:35 AM

  111. “I have nothing whatever to do with those blogs or entities you list—I’m merely someone who wants to see both sides of this issue aired.” – “truth”

    Yeah, yeah. The scientific issues have been and are being fully aired in the peer-reviewed literature, and the overwhelming majority of relevant experts agree that anthropogenic climate change is real, and requires urgent action. There is plenty of room for public and political debate on what that action should be – but at this stage, arguing about whether anthropogenic climate change is real and requires a radical response, is just as irresponsible, obscurantist and dangerous as arguing that smoking is unrelated to cancer, or HIV to AIDS.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 18 Feb 2009 @ 10:39 AM

  112. truth wrote:

    “I’m merely someone who wants to see both sides of this issue aired.”

    It must be nice to have such an Olympian perspective.

    I’m merely someone who wants to see some effective action taken to preserve the civilization of which I am a part, in the face of the well-characterized and credible threat of AGW.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 18 Feb 2009 @ 11:19 AM

  113. I’ll bite my tongue…, let the pep rally continue…

    Comment by Rod B — 18 Feb 2009 @ 11:31 AM

  114. Re: 96, DJA said … “We really need to understand what influence fuel loading has on extreme fires. This is more important than relating this fire to climate change”.

    However in #87 dhogaza had already showed how … “climate change is interacting with our other efforts to totally screw up native ecosystems in an unpleasant way …”.

    Fires in the Boundary Waters in northern MN and Canada are no doubt related to climate change, link below.

    http://www.alumni.umn.edu/Lee_Frelich_discusses_the_Boundary_Waters.html

    Related:

    http://www.mnforsustain.org/climate_snowmelt_dewpoints_minnesota_neuman.htm

    Comment by Pat N — 18 Feb 2009 @ 12:09 PM

  115. Re 107… (too funny that, I can’t resist…)

    Since the measures called for by the AGW proponents have the potential for enormous damage to economies

    Now who is doing “enormous damage to economies” nowadays?

    Comment by Florifulgurator — 18 Feb 2009 @ 12:33 PM

  116. Re: #97

    “I suggest you build one…”

    What is your offer for me to come there and oversee the selection of location, as well as the design and construction of the facility?

    In addition to a work visa, I’ll need about a $5 M budget, an agency sponsorship (e.g., University, State government), permits, etc.

    Of course, I would need support for this project from distinguished Australian engineers and climate scientists, as well.

    How many of you are willing to “go out on a limb” in support of this idea? Not many, I suppose, due to the “risk aversion” mentality that prevails just about everywhere, even in the face of the probability of catastrophic consequences which would accrue by doing nothing.

    I enjoy “modern art” as much as the next guy, o ye of little faith.

    Comment by Jerry Toman — 18 Feb 2009 @ 12:41 PM

  117. #111 Nick
    Although I empathize with the ferocity with which you hold your opinions, I take issue with your statement that “.. arguing about whether anthropogenic climate change is real and requires a radical response, is just as irresponsible as.. ”

    This blog “is a commentary site on climate science” and IMHO your statement seems unscientific. “Unlike a mathematical proof, a scientific theory is empirical, and is always open to falsification, if new evidence is presented. Even the most basic and fundamental theories may turn out to be imperfect if new observations are inconsistent with them.” (from the Wikipedia definition of Scientific method).

    If we are to believe your statement, then the “science” and study of our climate is over and there is no longer a purpose for a blog such as Real Climate to exist unless we agree to limit the discussion to how to implement policy based on a scientific certainty that we no longer have to study.

    I’m open to the possibility that there are new observations to include, new processes to understand, old processes to understand better and new ways to look at information that yield conclusions different than what I understand today. The imperfections found in theories today can be the basis for their replacement by new theories in the future.
    Thanks
    William

    Comment by William — 18 Feb 2009 @ 1:12 PM

  118. Rod B. says “I’ll bite my tongue…, let the pep rally continue…”

    No, by all means, Rod, if you have something substantive to say about the science, contribute.

    No?

    Oh well.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 18 Feb 2009 @ 1:37 PM

  119. William thanks for the quotes from the Karoly Gov summary. His analysis there seems extremely well reasoned to me.

    David Karoly could you characterize the AGW causality link for the benefit of commenters here who (clearly and wrongly) want to assign “most” of the cause of these fires to AGW, which is unsupportable by any reasonable interpretation of the data.

    Hank you keep noting the shifting of the mean temperature picture as if it strongly suggests some sort of causality here. It does not. Although David is noting a possible small connection to AGW (reasonable assertion), several commenters seem to assign a high causal value to AGW, which is unsupported by anything referenced here and certainly not supported by Karoly’s (excellent) analysis of the situation for the Australian Government.

    Ray you seem to think the underbrush is more important than the trees. True underbrush often creates conditions for starting the ire but my understanding is that in Australia’s catastrophic case we’d consider the trees – a vastly larger source of fuel – more important in terms of how much damage was done.

    JCH you maintain that the source of ignition is NOT important, even in cases of arson? AGW > Arson as cause here really strains credulity unless your point is simply the obvious one – that overall dryness conditions matter. Still, it seems like others here you want AGW to top many lists of causal factors when in fact it AGW is generally at most a small contribution to other causal factors. Clearly that’s the case here if Karoly’s analysis is to be respected as it should be.

    Comment by Joe Hunkins — 18 Feb 2009 @ 1:45 PM

  120. Most southern hemisphere plant species face extinction

    MOST southern hemisphere plants – except for weeds – will not be able to adapt to rapid climate change, a study of more than 11,000 species suggests.

    Researchers, including the Sydney botanist Peter Weston, traced the history of plants that live in a range of different habitats including bogs, alpine regions, rainforests and arid environments.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 18 Feb 2009 @ 1:57 PM

  121. re 107 ironic “truth”: I think what you’re talking about is “teaching controversy”, not actually discussing interpretation of agreed facts. “Teaching controversy” is how “Intelligent Design” advocates operate in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence; they’ve learned that making noise can substitute for lack of facts. More on this topic here:
    http://www.re-discovery.org/

    Comment by Doug Bostrom — 18 Feb 2009 @ 2:15 PM

  122. #41 dhogaza + #114 Pat N
    You stated earlier:
    “Cheatgrass (from the eastern European steppes). US. Sigh. Though it wasn’t brought in to improve grazing (rather, to “cheat” seed and grain shipments). But it has altered the fire ecology of much of the Western US immensely. More frequent, earlier, hotter burns than anything on the prairie co-evolved with.”

    So it’s possible that an invasive species explains fire ecology in the Western USA rather than climate change? We can say for certain that converting tens of millions of acres of Midwestern prairie into cropland eliminated the 5-10 year cycle of prairie fires. Can anyone comment on what that change in habitat may have had on climate?

    Comment by William — 18 Feb 2009 @ 2:17 PM

  123. The conditions prior to these fires were basically the same as 1939. There was a blocking pressure system in the Tasman Sea and a strong monsoonal system in the north (Cairns had over 600mm that January). This causes higher than normal temps as heat is pushed from Qld down to the south-east (this also happened in the March heatwave last year). Add a cool front beginning to push through and you have a strengthening of winds which exacerbated the problem. In 1851, close to 25% of Vic was burnt out (5m hectares), well before AGW.

    Comment by Ian George — 18 Feb 2009 @ 3:01 PM

  124. “So it’s possible that an invasive species explains fire ecology in the Western USA rather than climate change?” – William

    Another fine instance of the inability to understand the possibility of multiple causation.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 18 Feb 2009 @ 3:15 PM

  125. > rather than climate change?

    It’s not that simple, William. Multiple factors, different levels of confidence attributable to them.

    Don’t make the mistake of thinking there is “an AGW theory” and going down the “therefore it can always be falsified” trail. Nobody here wants to retype the huge amount of discussion already put into that. You can look it up. Spencer Weart’s book (first link under Science) should clear that confusion up.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 18 Feb 2009 @ 3:15 PM

  126. well before AGW.

    AGW isn’t going to cause some new kind of weather to be created.

    Comment by duBois — 18 Feb 2009 @ 3:33 PM

  127. The first of a couple of response…

    Here is the time series of annual FFDI for central Victoria http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3614/3290577179_3779ac75f0.jpg?v=0 . There are issues with early wind data etc. The recent increase is due to a combination of the most severe drought on record and the highest temperatures on record. Also note that the 2008/09 numbers still have 5 months to go. The trend is pretty obvious – and this is not likely to be affected by an UHI effects.

    Comment by david — 18 Feb 2009 @ 4:04 PM

  128. Re: #122

    Earlier spring thaws should not be ignored in efforts to understand fire ecology in the Western USA and Upper Midwest. See link to Westerling, A. L., et al., 2006 and my link in #114).

    Comment by Pat N — 18 Feb 2009 @ 4:06 PM

  129. Land clearing in SE Australia since the 1800s can explain the low humidity, increased wind speed and extreme temperatures that helped make these bushfires so intense…why no mention of this David? Why the narrow focus on CO2?

    From the ABC opinion page
    Land clearing helps explain heatwave
    Fri Feb 13, 2009 12:22pm AEDT

    Global warming activists have been quick to blame the extreme weather conditions that helped turn Victoria’s bushfires into a fire storm solely on increased levels of carbon dioxide.

    This simplistic argument has been shown to be false by research at the University of Queensland led by Dr Clive McAlpine, that demonstrates that 150 years of land clearing has added to the warming and drying of eastern Australia leading to increases in temperature and decreasing humidity. Australian native vegetation holds more moisture than broadacre crops and improved pastures, and this moisture evaporates and recycles back as rainfall and also raises humidity.

    It also reflects less shortwave solar radiation into space, and this process keeps the surface temperature cooler and aids cloud formation. As high pressure systems slowly pass the southern part of the continent over summer the air they draw down from the north, over cleared land, has been getting hotter and dryer and helps explain this summer’s heat wave that probably made these bushfires more intense than those of Black Friday in 1939 and Ash Wednesday in 1983.

    Land clearing can explain the low humidity, increased wind speed and extreme temperatures…why no mention of this David?

    Reducing the chances of future extreme weather events then does not solely depend on reducing CO2 emissions but in restoring vegetation to critical parts of New South Wales and Queensland. Use of CO2 as a scapegoat for extreme weather events has blinded us from looking for the real influences on regional climate systems.

    Any comments David?
    McAlpine’s modelled temperature changes based on land use changes account for virtually all warming in SE Australia since 1950 leaving little room for CO2…have we over played the role of CO2?

    McAlpine’s paper available via
    http://www.omc.uq.edu.au/news/documents/ModellingImpactsVegetationCover.pdf

    [Response: David can answer for himself, but, really, what kind of strawman argument are you putting forward here? 'CO2' is not even mentioned above, let alone 'solely' blamed for everything. This knee-jerk transformation of any statement that says climate change is possibly a factor in X, to the accusation that environmentalists claim that X is definitely and exclusively caused by increases in CO2, is as sophmoric as it is predictable. If you want a serious discussion about the potential for land use change to impact climate, then by all means let's discuss it (though frankly it is still anthropogenic climate change). But starting off from the premise that it must be anything (anything!) except CO2 is just stupid. - gavin]

    Comment by MarcH — 18 Feb 2009 @ 4:15 PM

  130. #125 Hank
    You stated “Don’t make the mistake of thinking there is an AGW theory”. I think you may have mis-spoken, AGW is a theory and one that may turn out to be falsified. I’m open to the possibility and enjoy participating in these blogs in order to keep up with the science. I’ve seen comments that refer to me as a denialist which is confusing. I would not deny that humans have impacted the environment and climate of this planet. We may only disagree as a matter of “degree” as to the how and how much or whether a particular study makes conclusions that can and should be questioned.

    Nick #124
    I understand multiple causality just fine. I don’t understand how it seems to be ignored whenever the word climate gets mentioned. I’m open to hear a reasoned discussion of the multiple causalities involving forest fires in the Western USA if you wish to start there.
    Thanks for the discussion!

    [Response: Calling anthropogenic climate change a "theory" is at best a stretch, and at worst just wrong. There are elements of it that are indeed theoretical in nature. For example, that greenhouse gases have a warming influence on the atmosphere might be called a theory, one that in fact has stood up quite well to scrutiny. That we are increasing greenhouse gas concentrations through fossil fuel burning is not a 'theory', its an observation. That this should have a warming influence on the planet is thus a combination of the theory of how greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere, with the observation that we are increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. "AGW" therefore combines attributes which are indeed 'theoretical' in nature, and others which are merely phenomenological. As such, it is not a 'theory' in the standard sense of the term. For an analogy, there is a 'theory of gravity' but there is not a 'theory-of-gravity-making-apples-fall'. -mike]

    William

    Comment by William — 18 Feb 2009 @ 4:22 PM

  131. Ray, right. I bit my tongue because I didn’t have anything substantive to say about the science. ;-) Thanks for the encouragement.

    Comment by Rod B — 18 Feb 2009 @ 4:39 PM

  132. Several mentions here of “fuel load”, the smokescreen of choice of denialists down to and including the very oxymoronically named Ms Devine. Fuel loads become higher in drought because of a lack of decay which would normally break down what in a garden we would call mulch and feed the nutrients into the soil. This cycle is a vital part of maintaining forest ecosystems, and adding extensive prescribed burning to a forest already under stress from drought is going to cause irreversible damage to these ecosystems. Damage that will ironically cause them to become even more fire prone (http://www.blognow.com.au/mrpickwick/84979/Fire_and_Australian_Society.html and http://www.blognow.com.au/mrpickwick/36297/Will_prescribed_burning_prevent_bushfires.html). People pushing this “reduce fuel load” line have a political agenda which is not in the interests of the people of Victoria. Which wants to maintain the denial of climate change as long as possible, and exploit the forests.

    Comment by David Horton — 18 Feb 2009 @ 4:41 PM

  133. Here’s an idea re clearing out dried plant life that could be fuel in a dangerous wildfire. How about clearing it & turning it into cellulosic biofuel. Controlled burning of it may not only be dangerous, but also would add GHGs to the atmosphere.

    Here’s something about recent break-through in cellulosic biofuel: http://features.csmonitor.com/environment/2009/02/13/the-%E2%80%98holy-grail%E2%80%99-of-biofuels-now-in-sight/

    I know Hank says we can’t run the entire world on (non-harmful) biofuels, but every little bit helps, including just driving less.

    And there is the issue of the nutrients needed for the soil, and I still haven’t heard one way or the other, whether the remainder of cellulosic biofuels might be a good soil amendment, tho the article addresses the issue of needing to leave plants there for the soil, depending on how much the soil might be depleted or healthy already.

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 18 Feb 2009 @ 5:41 PM

  134. #122: “So it’s possible that an invasive species explains fire ecology in the Western USA rather than climate change? We can say for certain that converting tens of millions of acres of Midwestern prairie into cropland eliminated the 5-10 year cycle of prairie fires. Can anyone comment on what that change in habitat may have had on climate?”

    No, it’s ONE contributing factor among many, not an “either/or” issue, and is so only in those areas where cheatgrass is common–generally the more arid parts of the west. Large forested areas are unaffected. As to mid-western croplands, the changes you mention also contributed to large reductions in soil carbon, which are much lower on intensive ag lands than prairies. Further, a good chunk of the mid-west was converted from forest to ag, not prairie to ag, with huge carbon losses. As to your question, yes, there is a good body of literature on the effects of land use change on local/regional climate. Gordon Bonan at NCAR has published extensively on the topic.

    Comment by Jim Bouldin — 18 Feb 2009 @ 5:43 PM

  135. I understand multiple causality just fine. I don’t understand how it seems to be ignored whenever the word climate gets mentioned. I’m open to hear a reasoned discussion of the multiple causalities involving forest fires in the Western USA if you wish to start there.

    Which is why you quote mined the part of my comment which mentioned cheatgrass alone, leaving out my comments on how climate change is interacting with the ecology of this invasive species to further change the timing and frequency of western USA rangelands.

    The whole point of my comment was about multiple causality.

    Quote mining is a sin.

    Comment by dhogaza — 18 Feb 2009 @ 5:44 PM

  136. an informed comment on fuel loads

    http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/fire-risk-will-never-be-eliminated-20090217-8a99.html

    “Research indicates that the relative effect of weather on fire behaviour is magnified under conditions of very high and extreme fire danger (above a rating of 25). Fires in extreme conditions (above a rating of 50) can develop their own weather, including winds of tornado strength. Weather becomes the dominant process governing the rapidity of spread and intensity. This can lead to a considerable underestimation of the intensity of fire produced by a particular amount of fuel.”

    “The theory of risk mitigation by fuel treatment is based on definitions of “safe” or “controllable” levels of fuel derived from this limited knowledge base. Formal, operational models that allow us to accurately predict what will happen at a fire danger rating of 50, let alone 150, do not exist.”

    “On a scale of zero to 10, where 10 equates to the level of risk achieved by doing nothing and zero equates to concrete, our efforts result in a ranking of 9½. If we were to double our effort, the rating might be reduced to nine. Doubling our effort would require doubling expenditure. Halving risk to a rating of five or less would require an increase of an order of magnitude or more in treatment, at a commensurate cost. Our ability to maintain such a level of spending in the long-term is questionable.”

    “This overview reflects the nature of our environments: the rate at which vegetation grows and the occurrence of severe weather. Occasional, major fires are a longstanding part of our ecological furniture, with their imprint hard-wired into the lifecycles of our biota. If we are to live in these environments we must do so on the understanding that we will not eliminate risk.”

    Comment by jt — 18 Feb 2009 @ 5:52 PM

  137. re: Cheatgrass, invasive species, bad trees

    I recommend a nice presentation, with many good maps and graphs by U of Toronto researchers Rowan Sage and Heather Coiner Global Change and Invasive Plants in Canada, of which half is about the Northward progress of kudzu towards Canada, and the rest about bioinvasives in general, including cheatgrass.

    Conclusion: kudzu could survive in Canada in less than 20 years.

    [Of course, it's already in NorthEast Australia too, since it got brought there, just as it was brought to the US South.]

    Kudzu is one of those things, like:
    - the beetles that are expected to kill every lodgepole pine in Colorado, and are right now chewing their way through British Columbia and into Alberta.
    - mosquitoes

    Whose Northward range stops where there are coldspells of specific durations of low temperatures. Having warmer nights and winters, and less deep or less frequent coldspells [classic AGW signature], lets them expand poleward. Nobody wants more [kudzu, pine beetles, mosquitoes], even if they might like warmer weather. Kudzu has the added impetus (along with poison ivy) of responding especially well to rising CO2.

    =====
    People argue endlessly about the effects of AGW on relatively low-frequency events, i.e., where the effect is to shift a distribution, and it is not always easy to extract signal from noise convincingly enough for people unused to thinking in distributions.

    On the other hand, the biological evidence, like showing widespread range extensions poleward for things *no one* wants there is very hard to wish away, although people try. Likewise, the movement of the equator-side boundary of desired crops poleward is hard to ignore if, for example, you have a vineyard or sugar maple trees. Canada may be happy at the poleward extension of those two zones; California and Vermont aren’t.

    In particular, such evidence clearly has little or nothing to do with UHI, statistics of interpolation, uncertainty levels, skill of models, exact measurements of hurricane strength, frequency and intensity of (relatively) rare events like the worst hurricanes and worst forest fires.

    If we knew *nothing* else, if there were no GISS or Hadley or satellites, to know it’s warming, it should be enough to know that plants and animals are mostly moving uphill and poleward, when they can, with flying species like birds and insects in the lead, and slow ones like trees behind.

    See IPCC AR4 WG II, Chapter 1, starting with Tables 1.8 and 1.9, or current thread at Brave New Climate.

    [Wish for RC: maybe a (guest?) post on this topic, with a few good maps,

    ===
    My sympathy for SW Australia, a place where I've enjoyed many trips....
    However, returning to invasive species, I'd gladly give Oz some California redwoods [relatively fire-resistant, maybe growable around Canberra?] if we could also send back all the eucalyptus that now grow here in CA. That is one nasty kind of tree.

    Comment by John Mashey — 18 Feb 2009 @ 5:55 PM

  138. #132: David, the issue is more complex than that. I don’t know what Victorians “are saying” about fuel loads, but fire reduction, drought, productivity, and fire regime are related in a number of different ways. Generally, increased fuel loads in fire-prone areas ARE a serious issue, contributing to changes in fire regimes and effects. By no means does that mean that climate change is not important also. It’s effects are just made worse by the increased fuel available to burn.

    Comment by Jim Bouldin — 18 Feb 2009 @ 6:01 PM

  139. Gavin says “If you want a serious discussion about the potential for land use change to impact climate, then by all means let’s discuss it (though frankly it is still anthropogenic climate change).”

    Attribution of the numerous factors that affected this summer’s heat wave in SE Australia that contributed to the extreme fire conditions is of great import from a policy perspective. A reduction in CO2 output may reduce the potential for future extreme weather events, however if done in the absence of addressing land use changes and probably more importantly undertaking systematic fuel reduction burns around settled areas it will not do a great deal.

    In regard to actually doing something practical, restoring areas of native vegetation in parts of NSW and QLD is much more achieveable over the next 2 decades than keeping atmospheric CO2 below 450 ppm.

    Any comment DK?

    Comment by MarcH — 18 Feb 2009 @ 6:26 PM

  140. Lynn Vincentnathan (133) — If biomass, any biomass, can be collected for anaerobic digestion, the output of the digester consists of:

    (1) solids for soil amendments;

    (2) pure water, purer than almost all natural sources;

    (3) biogasse, about 65–70% CH4 with the rest almost all CO2.

    The biogasse can be burned to generate electricity or separated into biomethane (of high enough quality to introduce into natural gas pipelines or used in CNG vehicles) and the acid gas component, almost pure CO2. If the sulfer is scrubbed from the acid gas, the result is a (mostly) CO2 product with industrial uses. Or else figure out a way to sequester it.

    There is nothing new in any of the above. The usual problem is the high cost of centralizing the biomass.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 18 Feb 2009 @ 6:28 PM

  141. As a follow up to Dr. Mann’s insightful comment to #130, “AGW” is a unifying concept that emerges as a consequence of the multiple physical aspects of the climate system and the perturbations that cause it to change.

    In this sense AGW follows from the physics of radiative transfer, fluid dynamics, the physics of evapotranspiration and albedo impacts that comes with land use, etc. Not only do such physics manifest themselves into what we call “AGW,” but it depends also on the trajectories of what we actually do (how much deforestation or CO2 do we decide to emit). AGW is not an organizing principle of climate in the sense that gravitational force is proportional to the product of two objects mass divided by the square of their distances. I’m not sure if there’s any significant meaning to “AGW theory” as there is “theory of gravity” in the sense that the former doesn’t intrinsically make predictions or have a fundamental explanatory focus.

    Rather, the predictive power for what to expect as CO2 concentrations increase over time comes from the paleoclimate record, theoretical expectations, modeling effort or some combination of these (which are in themselves fundamentally rooted in climate behavior). AGW is just what we call all this bundle of theories and observations for convenience.

    When we see the globe warming as a consequence of the physical laws (or “theories”) that’s what we call global warming (duh) and the “A” is simply a qualifer that attribution has been done. “Falsifying AGW theory” sounds something like “falsifying the theory of summer and winter.” These things are just names and observations; the physical significance (and what can be modified) is the causes, or the combinations of these causes and how they behave in time.

    Comment by Chris Colose — 18 Feb 2009 @ 7:00 PM

  142. #139:

    Both local and global mitigation efforts are needed, as the effectiveness of local solutions will be constrained, in many cases, by the effectiveness of mitigation at the larger scale. And restoring land cover to forested vegetation is not necessarily either easy or quick. I fully agree that efforts need to be made at the local scale though.

    #136:

    Paragraph starting “On a scale of zero to 10,…”: lot of questionable generalizations and numbers there. And although precise knowledge of the relationship between fuel structure and extreme weather may be lacking, there is often good knowledge of historical fire regimes and/or events in relation to either climate or specific weather events, to provide guidance.

    Comment by Jim Bouldin — 18 Feb 2009 @ 7:14 PM

  143. Marc H 129:

    It makes sense that land clearing will have altered s-e Australian climates to some degree. I’d love to see some research that quantifies this.

    However, the Cape Otway and Wilson’s Promontory lighthouse meteorological station temperature datasets show warming that is in broadly line with stations in inland Victoria. These stations receive most of their weather from over the ocean to the south west, so the rising temperatures that they exhibit are unlikely to be due to land clearance alone.

    (Of course, to nail this down more definitively, it would be necessary to separate out the data from days with north and north-east prevailing winds. If all days with prevailing winds from the south showed no warming and visa versa, then it would suggest that all the warming is due to something happening over the land rather than a more general phenomonon.)

    Comment by Craig Allen — 18 Feb 2009 @ 8:12 PM

  144. William, The theory is of Earth’s climate. CO2, as a well mixed, long-lived greenhouse gas plays an important role in that theory. That humans are warming the planet by increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is an inescapable consequence of the theory–as well as an observed fact.

    Rod, Snark when you don’t have anything to back it up with begets snark. We are here to learn or we are wasting our time.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 18 Feb 2009 @ 8:46 PM

  145. Joe Hunkins, Underbrush can serve as kindling. So can litter from the trees. If it’s dry enough, it’ll burn. I grew up in Colorado. In the summer time, about August, you didn’t dare have a campfire sometimes for fear of the whole forest going up in flames. The point is the fire doesn’t usually start in the trees unless there’s a lightning strike. Even then it’s usually understory or litter that gets it going. Once it’s going, though, it doesn’t matter. The flames will jump crown to crown

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 18 Feb 2009 @ 8:52 PM

  146. One of the biggest reasons for the loss of life in this disaster has nothing to do with climate change. It was illegal for homeowners to fell trees around their homes to create a fire break. Creating such an area could have saved many hundreds of lives. A fellow Kiwi and her Ozzy husband did, illegally, create this fire break and their house and the lives of their family were saved. It was the insane policies of the Victorian government that allowed this disaster to occur. One which they quickly chose to ignore after the tragedy when they instructed families to create such a fire break.

    Fires have always occurred in Australia and ascribing this specific fire to climate change seems tenuous at best. Especially since it was common practice among aborigines before white settlers arrived to create controlled fires to reduce the chances of these kinds of larger fires occurring.

    Comment by Steve — 18 Feb 2009 @ 9:52 PM

  147. John Mashey @#137,love your work, but please don’t send any more Californian pines to Australia: plantations of mature Pinus radiata (known in Aus. as Monterey Pine) on Canberra’s western margins, helped deliver the flames into a number of suburbs.

    Earth Observatory has posted satellite imagery of the Murrindindi-Kinglake fires which shows the damage caused by the windshift from NW to SSW driving the fire up out of the forested southern gullies northward onto Kinglake’s semi-rural plateau. A critical windshift.

    Comment by Nick — 18 Feb 2009 @ 10:08 PM

  148. JCH you maintain that the source of ignition is NOT important, even in cases of arson? AGW > Arson as cause here really strains credulity unless your point is simply the obvious one – that overall dryness conditions matter.

    The arsonists could not cause the near-perfect conditions that allowed the disastrous fires in SE Australia to happen. Since the conditions that allowed for the fires to happen are indifferent to the source of ignition, the causes of the conditions trump the cause of the ignition. AGW is in the list of potential causes of the conditions.

    I suppose Chicago’s Lomborgs could have argued for rebuilding their city just as it was before the fire as the cow did it.

    Comment by JCH — 18 Feb 2009 @ 11:10 PM

  149. “truth” writes:

    Since the measures called for by the AGW proponents have the potential for enormous damage to economies and standards of living around the world,

    Who says? You?

    I think conservation and switching to renewable sources of energy will help the economy, not hurt it. And I think doing nothing about global warming will hurt the economy far more than any mitigation effort possibly could.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 19 Feb 2009 @ 5:37 AM

  150. Lynn V (133) – collecting up the leaf litter and turning into biofuel. That’s a good idea, rake the ground clear. I’m sure the benefits will outweigh the impact on the natural woodland habitat and its species. Now of course, we have to be careful how to collect it. We can’t use mechanical rakers, vaccum cleaners or trucks, as the added CO2 emissions would surely outweigh the benefit in this case. Using horse power could cause the same methane prblem as cows. We’d have to rake it up by hand. Is 21 million Australians enough to manage this? They’ll need to ramp up the birth rate. But then..

    Comment by PHE — 19 Feb 2009 @ 8:07 AM

  151. It is interesting to watch the gyrations denialists resort to in order divert attention from the central point of the post: Climate change predicts increased fire susceptibility precisely in those places where it has occurred–e.g. Southwest Oz, California, etc. True, no single fire can be attributed to climate change, just as no single cancer can be attributed to smoking. Trends, though, are a different matter, and climate science has excelled in predicting trends. The denialists…not so much.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 19 Feb 2009 @ 8:32 AM

  152. Florifulgurator: re [ 115]
    I replied to your question—without any of the sneering and venom that has been directed at me for having the temerity to ask a few questions and put a different view.
    But my reply was not posted.
    My post was just the facts of the economic crisis.
    [edit]

    [Response: This is not the place for a partisan argument over the current crisis. It's definitely OT. - gavin]

    Comment by truth — 19 Feb 2009 @ 9:28 AM

  153. > collecting up the leaf litter … rake the ground clear

    That was done by hand for a long time — many centuries — in Germany’s parklike forests, and I recall thought that the “waldsterben” forest dieoff might be related to that very long term, very meticulous removal of so much material. One factor among many.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 19 Feb 2009 @ 11:22 AM

  154. This is a most useful article followed by some interesting comments. Amongst other things it illustrates the fallacy in the argument which dismisses all past evidence based on single events as “weather” and therefore irrelevant in discussions about climate. This is well known to professionals but not to the lay public. Another example was the European heat wave in 2003 which was 5.4 standard deviations away from the expected value obtained from pre-global warming condtions.

    I very much like Tamino’s approach to teaching this subject which clearly separates observations from the underlying science and which therefore treats the former as pure data with trends, noise and standard deviations rather than ‘weather’ which is tied up with the science and which I suspect has more than one definition.

    The denialosphere are busy arguing that you cannot disregard a cold spell here while focussing on a heat wave there. The answer is contained in the standard deviations (as in Tamino), probability and also in this article and in Hank’s 3rd. link at #88 and the link to Grace released by SARDI therein.

    [Re: #40,43,48,65,75]

    Comment by Geoff Wexler — 19 Feb 2009 @ 11:22 AM

  155. That was done by hand for a long time — many centuries — in Germany’s parklike forests, and I recall thought that the “waldsterben” forest dieoff might be related to that very long term, very meticulous removal of so much material. One factor among many.

    Not sure about forest dieoff, but it’s one aspect of German forestry not adopted by foresters here, and it’s a major reason why the biodiversity of German forests sucks so bad.

    Comment by dhogaza — 19 Feb 2009 @ 11:51 AM

  156. Re Chris Colose @141: Indeed, the only thing A in AGW “theory” is the source of the rise in CO2. For AGW “theory” to be falsified everything we know about the non-anthropogenic greenhouse effect will have to be falsified as well. That means the “skeptics” will have to explain exactly why most of Earth’s surface is not locked in ice and permafrost, or at least why the natural greenhouse effect stops working well before atmospheric CO2 reaches 387 ppmv.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 19 Feb 2009 @ 12:02 PM

  157. re: #147 Nick
    Don’t worry, I proposed sending *redwoods*, which are not Monterey pines. I wouldn’t send the latter, we don’t want the ones we have here. IN our town, they are a discouraged type of tree.

    Comment by John Mashey — 19 Feb 2009 @ 12:31 PM

  158. Jim Eager (156) says

    For AGW “theory” to be falsified everything we know about the non-anthropogenic greenhouse effect will have to be falsified as well. That means the “skeptics” will have to explain exactly why most of Earth’s surface is not locked in ice and permafrost, or at least why the natural greenhouse effect stops working well before atmospheric CO2 reaches 387 ppmv.

    Most skeptics do not try to falsify everything behind AGW. (The fringe that do don’t count.) We are skeptical about certain aspects of the “theory” or on the degree of effect from some aspects. We have zero obligation to explain what you said. The “proponents” on the other hand need a bit more than a large standard deviation of the temperature in Podunk two years ago. (Some, but not all, do have…)

    Comment by Rod B — 19 Feb 2009 @ 1:16 PM

  159. Ray – I’ve no beef on underbrush’s important role here and after looking into it I may have overstated the role of the trees in these fires above – not clear on that yet.

    Ray when you state AGW appears to be a great fire prediction tool are you just talking about IPCC and other general statements or has this been tested?

    It seems folks here are suggesting that despite many other seemingly large factors (e.g. arson) AGW is the ‘straw that fired up the camels back’. I still see no good reason or data to support this sort of “AGW warming is what crossed the fire threshold” contention – that conclusion seems contrived to me though if a study supporting what Ray says exists it would suggest otherwise. Tamino’s ‘Australia’ post does not address this directly unless I’m missing his key point entirely – that is always possible of course.

    Barton Paul: And I think doing nothing about global warming will hurt the economy far more than any mitigation effort possibly could.

    Of course you can think whatever you like, but truth’s claim above is much more in line with most of the published research and expert opinion. There is a lot of economics work on this topic that suggests moderate mitigation is optimal rather than massive mitigation. Solomon at Yale, IMO, offers some of the best insight about this topic.

    Comment by Joe Hunkins — 19 Feb 2009 @ 2:25 PM

  160. > redwoods
    Here ya go, good climate for them:
    http://www.burkesbackyard.com.au/print.php?id=1736

    Chuckle. You should see N. Ca. where I do restoration in my hobby hours.

    Want something worse than Monterey pine?

    We have knobcone pine.

    http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/pinatt/all.html

    Fast growing, soft wood, only releases seeds during fires. No commercial use whatsoever, as I understand, except making kitchen matches. Diamond Match Company is, I think, the only market. Great for that — light, soft, burns well. Not much market any longer though.

    It replaces everything where we have forest fires, seeding like mad right after the flames pass, and when that next generation thick on the ground comes to burn, it burns hot enough to burn the topsoil off right down into the gravel layer.

    I take kids camping on my restoration site, point it out, and teach them the old skills of saw and hatchet and when they get tall enough will teach them to swing an axe. Amazing how few opportunities there are these days for kids to go chop down trees.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 19 Feb 2009 @ 3:04 PM

  161. Hank, I’m not sure why you dislike a native species like the knobcone pine. After all, it often is found on serpentine sites on which few other tree species do well. It requires fire to regenerate, and if fires occur too frequently, chaparral will take over instead.

    No, I don’t have one in my yard (which is not serpentine), but I do have a dawn redwood which is doing quite well. :-)

    Comment by Jim Eaton — 19 Feb 2009 @ 6:21 PM

  162. Re the response to Marc H [129]:
    To suggest that there are other impacts on the earth over the last 60-100 years that , along with possible natural cycles , should be considered as causes of whatever warming there is now—is not to be ‘stupid’—and is not to have the premise that it must be anything but CO2.
    It’s just to say that a great deal has happened to the earth during that time besides CO2 emissions—and maybe the warming has more to do with those impacts.
    There have been billions of human beings added to the population, with all the individual impacts they bring—their land use changes—farming animals, land-clearing etc.
    There has been an enormous amount of deforestation—– incredible building programmes, turning rural areas into built-up environments—-massive amounts of concrete.
    And lets be real—–of course these impacts are anthropogenic, but we all know that when the warming is labelled ‘anthropogenic’ by the AGW proponents, they’re talking about CO2.
    Marc H’s comments are very rational and reasonably stated.
    Why is it that these very considerable impacts on the earth in the time-frame we’re looking at, are just dismissed and ridiculed—the only acceptable response —the only one that avoids a put-down or vitriolic attack, being one that unquestioningly attributes warming to CO2?
    This seems especially puzzling, when we know, from reading about the various elements and influences that are involved in the climate picture— [and the IPCC and other climate science bodies and researchers regularly say this]—- that there is so much that is still unknown about many of the processes involved—in the oceans and the way they process CO2, cloud science, solar insolation etc.
    The demands of the CO2 response , brings with it, for individual countries, economic impacts that make it enormously more difficult to mitigate the other impacts—and will also necessarily restrict research into the whole climate picture—-and into renewables.

    Comment by truth — 19 Feb 2009 @ 7:36 PM

  163. pete best (#105)

    nice one Dave. Its about time joe (average) got mad and started demanding the start of the new era in energy provision. Australia has a track record of love of coal

    I’m running for Greens in the 2009 Queensland state election and I thought one of the really hard problems the state had to deal with was balancing the budget if coal royalties went away. I started digging for the figures, which turned out to be pretty hard to find, but here they are.

    Qld state budget summary, 2007-8 revenues: $32,276M

    Coal royalites: year ended June 2008 $1,034.8M.

    Tell me if I have my calculation of coal royalties = 3.2% of state revenues wrong. This number is so unbelievable with all the fuss made about how critical coal is to the state budget that it has to be a mistake. Maybe some of the climate science and physics PhDs here can help me. My computer science PhD is obviously not good enough to make sense of this :(

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 19 Feb 2009 @ 8:51 PM

  164. Re Redwoods to Australia: You might want to send Giant Sequoia rather than Coast Redwood, as it tolerates much drier conditions. Specimens do well in Northern Nevada, which I’m told is a similar climate to that part of Australia.

    Comment by James — 19 Feb 2009 @ 10:20 PM

  165. David writes:

    The usual problem is the high cost of centralizing the biomass.

    What, it costs so much to centralize the biomass called “Food” and “Garbage” that no one can afford to eat or send their trash to the dump?

    Once again, gloom-and-doom stands in the way of what is so simple that Americans are both obese and filling landfills as fast as possible.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 19 Feb 2009 @ 11:11 PM

  166. > knobcone

    Actually I’m very hopeful someone will come up with a use for the stuff. It’s just that in doing forest fire restoration it’s a nasty weedy fast-growing tree that can make the _second_ fire far worse than the first one. In a mature patchy forest, it only finds good opportunities on serpentine or after spot fires. But in contemporary Dep’t of Agriculture/ OHV / eroded forest land, it can take over many places because they lost their foot of topsoil since a century ago. It’s just as fire adapted as cheatgrass or medusahead. Nasty because of the fact that it follows _people_. Like rats or kudzu. Lovely creatures in their niches in an established ecosystem. Trouble when they accompany human devastation because they like those conditions.
    A six year old with a bowsaw can take down a 15-year-old knobcone that’s 15 or 20′ high, it’s soft wood, easy to cut.

    There’s a grant opportunity here:
    http://www.fs.fed.us/woodybiomass/opportunities.shtml

    “… woody biomass utilization grant applications for 2009. This nationally competitive grant program seeks applicants that can demonstrate an increased use of woody biomass from forest restoration and hazardous fuels projects on National Forest System lands where little or no capacity to economically use this low value material exists. Visit the TMU 2009 Woody Biomass Grants web page
    http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/tmu/grant-2009/index.html
    for more information and the complete application package.”

    Think about it. You could “economically use” this stuff for biochar and get both fuel and carbon credits out of it, maybe.

    Anyone? Pass the word ….

    (No personal connection to this, except it’s a pestiferous tree for the little bit of restoration I’m doing and the forest is full of it for miles and miles, wherever there was a fire in the past 50 years.)

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 19 Feb 2009 @ 11:20 PM

  167. Rod B writes:

    Most skeptics do not try to falsify everything behind AGW. (The fringe that do don’t count.) We are skeptical about certain aspects of the “theory” or on the degree of effect from some aspects. We have zero obligation to explain what you said. The “proponents” on the other hand need a bit more than a large standard deviation of the temperature in Podunk two years ago. (Some, but not all, do have…)

    The SCIENCE is rock solid. Anyone who disputes the SCIENCE doesn’t know what a greenhouse gas is or how they work.

    I think — just my opinion — that the only outstanding areas for genuine skepticism are

    1). How much of “climate” is that big ball of fire? I think this will be answered by SC24. However, even if that big ball of fire has an impact, the process is just put off by some number of years, not avoided completely.

    2). How realistic are CO2 level projections? This gets back to ‘fossil fuels are only going to get more expensive as time goes on” and the impact of that on the economy. Is ‘BAU’ possible without destroying the economy (not that it’s all that healthy at the moment)?

    Bottom line is that if CO2 ppm goes to some huge number, and SC20-something returns to normal, we’re basically screwed.

    (reCaptcha sez: “Krewe Ma-”. Yes, it is Mardi Gras time of year.)

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 19 Feb 2009 @ 11:21 PM

  168. re: #162 James
    I didn’t specify redwood type, but I did say Canberra, specifically because most of the times I visited, it was often cool and foggy, consistent with Oceanic climate, specifically Koppen Cfb.

    San Francisco has a similar temperature & total rainfall range (but no rain in summer, hence Csb). I think there are many parts of the CA coastal mountains whose climate isn’t so different from Canberra’s. Canberra’s rainfall is ~90% of Portola Valley, coast redwoods grow right here, although they definitely want the fog in the summer for moisture. They grow better slightly uphill from here. Of course, all this is confused by the microclimates around here, via which redwoods grow in one canyon, but not in the next.

    But yes, in many areas of Oz, if redwoods could grow there, Giant Sequoias might be better. Of course, given the sad history of importing *anything* to Australia, even redwoods might not be a good idea…

    Comment by John Mashey — 20 Feb 2009 @ 12:15 AM

  169. Specimens do well in Northern Nevada, which I’m told is a similar climate to that part of Australia.

    Regardless of whether or not introduction of another potentially invasive species makes sense, northern Nevada gets friggin’ cold in winter – minus 20C, 30C, 40C etc – where exactly in Australia do similar winter conditons occur?

    Comment by dhogaza — 20 Feb 2009 @ 12:34 AM

  170. Oops. Dang, that’s an “Eastern Forests” grant. Keep looking …

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 20 Feb 2009 @ 12:50 AM

  171. dhogaza Says (20 February 2009 at 12:34 AM):

    “…northern Nevada gets friggin’ cold in winter – minus 20C, 30C, 40C etc…”

    It does? Funny, I’ve lived here 30 years or so, and don’t think I’ve ever seen it below 0F (-17C), and that’s rare. A typical winter here might see nighttime lows in mid-20s (-10C).

    As to importation or not, much as I like growing more-or-less native plants, it seems that as the climate shifts, the choice will be increasingly between introducing new types of plants that can cope with the changed climate, or not having much of anything grow at all.

    Comment by James — 20 Feb 2009 @ 2:37 AM

  172. Phillip
    Good luck in QLD, you’ll need it!
    You may also want to find out how much tax revenue was paid by the Coal companies and the workers… It’s more than the Royalties.

    Is there much prospect for hot rock geothermal over there (I’m in WA) I nkow the state Govt here will be charging a royalty for energy produced from hot dry rock geothermal, so it may be a way to balance out the loss of coal?

    Comment by Nathan — 20 Feb 2009 @ 6:09 AM

  173. Furry- (167) what I contend is that some — maybe even most — of the science is what you call ROCK SOLID; other aspects or parts are not. Your examples are a case in point, though I probably would not classify CO2 projections a part of the science per se. One part that I contend is loose (and have done so in RC a number of times) is the marginal increase in forcing from a marginal increase in CO2. Another example (though somewhat related) is the degree and process of band spreading in CO2′s radiation absorption as its concentration increases.

    Comment by Rod B — 20 Feb 2009 @ 1:06 PM

  174. Re Rod @158: “We have zero obligation to explain what you said.”

    Then there is zero obligation for anyone to take any of your objections seriously, Rod.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 20 Feb 2009 @ 1:51 PM

  175. From mike’s inline response to William (#130 above):

    “AGW” therefore combines attributes which are indeed ‘theoretical’ in nature, and others which are merely phenomenological. As such, it is not a ‘theory’ in the standard sense of the term. For an analogy, there is a ‘theory of gravity’ but there is not a ‘theory-of-gravity-making-apples-fall’. -mike

    I like to use the analogy of plate tectonics. Plate tectonics is a fairly complicated theory about global-scale processes. The theory as a whole can’t be tested in the lab in the classical “experimental” sense, so evidence for it has to be deduced from observations and from computer models.

    Likewise, climate change due to radiative forcing from greenhouse gases is a fairly complicated theory about global-scale processes. While we can measure things like CO2 absorption spectra in the lab, the theory as a whole involves ocean-atmosphere exchanges, cloud feedbacks, etc., which can mostly only be observed in-situ or deduced from models.

    The phenomenon of the Himalayas being forced up by the collision of India and Asia is a real-world phenomenon that illustrates the theory of plate tectonics in action. Likewise, the phenomenon of modern global warming via anthropogenic CO2 (and CH4, and CFC) emissions is a real-world phenomenon that illustrates the broader theory of the relationship between atmospheric gases and climate. Other specific “instantiations” of this abstract theory can be seen by looking at Venus’s atmosphere, or at other points in the Earth’s history (the PETM, etc.)

    Unfortunately there isn’t a really good, snappy name (analogous to “plate tectonics”) for the overall theory of “radiative forcing of a planetary climate by atmospheric gases”, at least not any that I find satisfactory (the “Greenhouse Effect” isn’t great, because the analogy of a greenhouse doesn’t really describe what happens here).

    Comment by J — 20 Feb 2009 @ 3:13 PM

  176. The southern sea ice also seems to be in free-fall –

    http://www.nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/images/daily_images/S_timeseries.png

    Comment by Brian Brademeyer — 20 Feb 2009 @ 4:20 PM

  177. FurryCatHerder (165) — Unfortunately it is indeed the case that biomass collection costs are high enough to prevent (so far) competing with coal on anything but the smallest scale. If the biomass is already centralized, nut shells for example, then the costs of transportation to a nearby coal-fired electric generator are small enough that some co-firing is being done. My example is near St. Louis.

    Another example is wastes from forestry operations. I know of two 100% wood fired electric generating stations in the U.S. The one about 200 km from here generates 57 MW, not much.

    A largely untapped potential is in municipal waste management where an anaerobic digester is a most excellant idea. I only know of two such in the U.S. which are generating useable energy, one electricity and the other biomethane.

    [reCAPTCHA agrees this is a good direction by entoning "decades thrust".]

    Comment by David B. Benson — 20 Feb 2009 @ 4:43 PM

  178. Googling I see that Elko’s average minimum in December is 13F. That’s -10C as an average minimum, so certainly colder (as well as warmer) nights aren’t going to be uncommon. The coldest temperature recorded in Elko is -41C.

    OK, guess I should’ve said “-10C, -20C, -30C even -40C” … rather than “-20C, …”

    Still friggin’ cold by my standards.

    Now, can you find me a place in Australia that has an average minimum temp of -10C for a winter month?

    Comment by dhogaza — 20 Feb 2009 @ 5:41 PM

  179. Thanks a lot for that David. One factor that the FFDI does not consider adequately is the role of long-term heatwaves. Protracted high temperatures certainly raise the KBDI which in turn affects the Drought Index and has an influence on the overall FFDI, but I believe that the direct impact of a heat wave on live fuel moistures has a profound influence on fire behaviour, particularly in tall complex forests.

    Although I have no direct figures to examine for E. regnans, accumulated high temperatures certainly play a role in accelerated drying of Eucalypts in my own study area just as they have been found to do in a range of other species and sites internationally. A dry vegetation profile means reduced ignition delay times (time taken for a plant to catch fire), which in turn facilitate the spread of flame both upward into the crowns and horizontally in a faster rate of spread.

    Initial modelling suggests that if the heat wave was able to drop the moisture content of Eucalypts to the point of severe moisture stress, the rate of spread for the same FFDI may be up to 6 times faster following a heat wave. If we are expecting more such heatwaves with climate change then I expect more record-breaking rates of spread. There is also the possibility of a positive feedback in fire frequency & intensity for areas that produce dense regrowth.

    Comment by Phil Zylstra — 20 Feb 2009 @ 6:24 PM

  180. Rod B. says “One part that I contend is loose (and have done so in RC a number of times) is the marginal increase in forcing from a marginal increase in CO2. Another example (though somewhat related) is the degree and process of band spreading in CO2’s radiation absorption as its concentration increases.”

    Once you understand this portion of the science, come back to us and tell us if you still think it is uncertain. Rod, we KNOW that you don’t understand this yet. We’re the ones who have been trying to explain it to you. It is not eash physics, granted, but to equate YOUR understanding with that of folks who do this for a living doesn’t wash.

    Or, if you are convinced that you have some insight that a hundred years of physicists have missed, outline the basis for your doubts.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 20 Feb 2009 @ 8:05 PM

  181. > southern sea ice
    NSIDC says they’re having trouble with the sensors and not to rely on the charts — see their main page for the info. I think they’ve removed the links to those imagery on their own page until they get that sorted out. Direct links right now go to unreliable pictures.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 20 Feb 2009 @ 11:07 PM

  182. > redwoods, rainfall
    John, turns out redwoods, being social organisms, harvest water from fog quite well. It’s called “occult precipitation” apparently.
    There’s predictable argument over whether clearcutting, by halting that process, also interferes with reestablishment of redwoods. Likely applied worldwide. Forest service papers say there’s just as much groundwater after clearcutting, but I have my doubts they account for the groundwater not used by the trees that were logged.

    Eos Trans. AGU, 87(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract B14A-03 INVITED
    TI: Occult precipitation and plants: its consequences for individuals and ecosystems
    AU: * Dawson, T E
    AF: U.C. Berkeley, Department of Integrative Biology

    AB: Fog, dew and cloud water inputs, aptly termed, –occult precipitation” … we now know that plants inhabiting a wide range of ecosystem types from the coastal California redwood forests and grasslands, to the Brazilian Cerrado (savanna), the Chilean community types are utilizing fog, dew and cloud water. Hydrogen and oxygen stable isotope analysis have revealed that both fog drip into the rooting zone and direct foliar-uptake of occult precipitation can occu

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 20 Feb 2009 @ 11:15 PM

  183. dhogaza Says (20 February 2009 at 5:41 PM)

    “Googling I see that Elko’s average minimum in December is 13F. That’s -10C as an average minimum…”

    OK, my fault for using a localism. To Nevadans, Elko is in Northeastern Nevada, while “Northern Nevada” means the area around Reno & Carson City. I don’t find anything in a quick search that gives lowest minimum, but here’s average lows in Reno: http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/cgi-bin/cliMONtmnt.pl?nvreno Much warmer than further east, and you might notice a considerable warming trend as well. Of course since the temps are taken at the airport, a good part of that might be heat island effect, but even well outside the urban area, the warming has been apparent just in the time I’ve lived here.

    “Still friggin’ cold by my standards.”

    Well, I guess standards differ :-) By mine, it’s almost subtropical. I’ll often ski in just a pair of sweats – my down jackets & wool sweaters haven’t been out of the closet in a long while.

    “Now, can you find me a place in Australia that has an average minimum temp of -10C for a winter month?”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowy_Mountains Doesn’t have numbers, but if the snow sticks around, it’d have to have an average minimum below 0C, no?

    Comment by James — 20 Feb 2009 @ 11:53 PM

  184. truth:

    there is so much that is still unknown about many of the processes involved—in the oceans and the way they process CO2, cloud science, solar insolation etc.

    which means we can assume that any changes we make to the system will be harmless because we don’t know for certain what their effects will be, i.e. what we don’t know can’t hurt us.

    The demands of the CO2 response , brings with it, for individual countries, economic impacts that make it enormously more difficult to mitigate the other impacts

    What an alarmist attitude.

    Comment by Chris O'Neill — 21 Feb 2009 @ 1:24 AM

  185. re: #182 Hank
    Thanks for the new term, “occult precipitation” (actually, what we need here is some “magic precipitation”)

    Yes, that’s why we have a few redwoods on our property, and a block or two downhill, but not much further, as oaks become more frequent. During the summer, there are often days where morning fog comes down from the mountains and stops about a mile down the road towards Palo Alto. The microclimates may not be quite as sharp-edged as SanFrancisco, where there are “foggy blocks”, but you can still guess where there might be redwoods by watching the fog.

    Comment by John Mashey — 21 Feb 2009 @ 3:22 AM

  186. Re: redwoods in Canberra:
    The climate is too dry- there’s actually a stand out by the airport that was planted in the mid 20th century- scraggly, half dead, and not recovering well from a fire a few years ago. They are an occasional street tree, but many lost their crowns in the 2004 or 2005 summer.

    As for the northern hot dry winds, if the Diamantina is flooded more often, will that make them less dry, even if they are still hot?

    Last August, Thedbo top station had a mean low of -6, and Charlottes Pass had -7, with the lowest overnight temperature -15.

    Comment by Lab Lemming — 21 Feb 2009 @ 6:29 AM

  187. Thanks for this article.

    That Saturday I sat sweltering at home in Melbourne in the afternoon and kept an eye on the BOM site for the expected cold front. In the early afternoon I noticed the Bunyip and later the Kilmore fires appear on the radar (they look like storms but I knew otherwise).

    The wife came home about 4pm and we were due to drive to Wangarata (sic). I pointed out the fires, of which there was only scant reports on the news and said we had better hold off until the wind change because that would blow the fire to the NE rather than the SE. Between 5pm and 5:13 the temprature at nearby Morarabin airport dropped a full 15 deg celcius as the strong hot NW winds flipped to strong cool SW winds. We set off on our trip.

    I lived in Victoria for almost 50yrs and witnessed the ash wednesday and the ’69 fires up close and personal but I have never seen anything like the plume of smoke I saw as we drove out of Melbourne. I was later to learn that it was 15km high and was creating it’s own lightning and wind, more like a volcanic eruption that a bushfire. As we approached Kilmore around 8-9pm we were diverted off the Hume hwy and through the township, things got dark, quiet and very “spooky” but we got past the detour. An hour later we were at our destination glued to the T.V. reports that Kilmore was now isolated and surrounded by fire.

    Some other first hand accounts I read during that week reported engine blocks melting and a man who escaped but was badly burnt because his windsceen melted onto him as he sheltered under a blanket and the fire front roared over his car at 125km/hr. The immense speed and heat meant that very few people escaped with serious burns, as one doctor put it people either lived or were cremated on the spot.

    I cannot fathom the peculiar insanity of the arsonist(s) but that is because insanity has no explaination. However I do have a very ugly explaination for this seditious piece of anti-science hatred in the Sydney Morning Herald that lay the blame on the very people who fortold of such a disater in the 2007 report mentioned in your article and wrote “…it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.”.

    Note I have linked to the mediawatch report on the article because I refuse to click another SMH link until this woman is either sacked or brought before a court using the sedition laws that were drafted to curb radical Islamic hate mongers. I have written to both the SMH and Ms Devine stating my position and urge concerned readers of realclimate to take the time to do likewise.

    Comment by Alan — 21 Feb 2009 @ 7:31 AM

  188. Re 185–right–there is so much unknown about many of the processes involved–in the national economies and the way they process mitigation costs, opportunity costs, offsetting benefits, etc.

    More selective skepticism. Ignorance relative to climate means “all’s well,” ignorance relative to adaptation/mitigation economics means “we don’t dare.”

    I so resent the efforts of those whose brief it is to protract or exaggerate the ignorance.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 21 Feb 2009 @ 8:41 AM

  189. truth writes:

    The demands of the CO2 response , brings with it, for individual countries, economic impacts that make it enormously more difficult to mitigate the other impacts—and will also necessarily restrict research into the whole climate picture—-and into renewables.

    I think Chris’s “What an alarmist attitude” response doesn’t begin to do justice to how wrong your comments are.

    For developed countries, the “response” can be performed on equipment replacement timeframes. This model of “replace existing, working coal plants with solar!” is, I think, wrong-headed. 2008 broke records for new wind and solar power installations in the developed world. For the developing world, distributed renewable generation (DRG) makes sense because many parts of the developing world don’t have a reliable grid to be concerned about breaking with DRG in the first place. Instead of megawatt diesel generators, wind and solar DRG is a very viable alternative — and it’s already being done in very small scales right now (okay, right 3 years ago). The problems, by and large, are not financial, but financing. The present economic environment makes that difficult, but it also presents opportunities for long term savings, which are more appealing in a down economic environment than a robust one.

    Turning back to the topic, biomass based generation provides an environmentally friendly solution to excessive fuel load which exists today. Bush wildfires waste potential fuel for human use and any solution (such as wood-gas production) which can capture the excess fuel load and convert it into a managed source of energy is a win-win.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 21 Feb 2009 @ 9:42 AM

  190. The ironically named “truth” claims “It’s just to say that a great deal has happened to the earth during that time besides CO2 emissions—and maybe the warming has more to do with those impacts.”

    Your position is utterly unscientific because 1)you propose no credible mechanism by which these changes would cause global impacts (especially in places where there is minimal human habitation–e.g. the polar regions) and 2)you propose no mechanism whereby the known contribution of CO2 to warming should magically cease at 280 ppmv (or ~287 Kelvin). Mechanisms matter. The consensus view has a mechanism. The fact that you don’t like the implications of that mechanism is not sufficient reason to abandon science.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 21 Feb 2009 @ 10:56 AM

  191. Jim Eager (174), I don’t and can’t lay any obligation on anybody to take any of my comments in any particular way. And try as you might, you can’t either.

    Comment by Rod B — 21 Feb 2009 @ 1:35 PM

  192. Ray (180), No one has ever completely explained the inherent physics behind why some gases have a linear marginal forcing rate, others have a log rate, still others a function of the square root; or why CO2 (a log function rate at current concentrations) is a function of the concentration to the 5.35th power, or why that exponential changes from time to time. All that is explained is numerical controlled lab observations with a physics hypothesis. This is reasonable to use in climatology as it seems in the right direction, and is all we have. But it ain’t “solid physics”, in the meaning FurryCH implied, no matter how loud and often you proclaim it to be.

    Comment by Rod B — 21 Feb 2009 @ 1:56 PM

  193. I’m amazed (though not perplexed) how you guys (FurryCatHerder, Kevin M., Chris O’Neill, at al) change people’s meanings and turn your head to some realities because (I guess) you fear it somehow attacks your dogma. “there is… much… unknown about many of the processes… ” says — now listen carefully — there is much unknown about many of the processes. There is nothing alarmist there; nothing about being daring or macho; nothing about concluding that we should do nothing; nothing about all’s well. Recognizing ignorance is not an attempt to either “protract” or “exaggerate” it. Proclaiming that ignorance doesn’t exist because you want to do this or that or believe this or that is blind faith.

    Comment by Rod B — 21 Feb 2009 @ 2:33 PM

  194. PS to be fair, some are in part looking at the situation through rose-colored glasses and confident in their easy solution.. They disagree (and are wrong IMO), but that aspect can’t be called “blind faith”.

    Comment by Rod B — 21 Feb 2009 @ 2:39 PM

  195. Even if you ‘explain the inherent physics’ for any single molecule across the whole range of temperatures and pressures, you’ll only have begun. Next come interaction effects with two different molecules. Some may ‘cling’ at some orientations and more efficiently transfer energy when they interact for example.

    We have to remember all the cute little ball and stick models are just models; what’s there is a fuzzy cloud of probabilities interacting with others.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 21 Feb 2009 @ 3:40 PM

  196. PS, Rod, when you drop comments like “nobody has completely explained ….” some folks don’t yet recognize you’re again fishing for people’s goats to add to your collection.

    Using red herrings as goat-bait gets people who mistake those remarks for comments on the science by someone who doesn’t understand it.

    Omniscience is a mental illness, not the culmination of scientific work.

    PS, for anyone claiming to have “completely explained” something, do remember this. It’s curable, I’m assured:
    http://www.dresdencodak.com/cartoons/dc_060.html

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 21 Feb 2009 @ 4:19 PM

  197. Rod,

    I’m having a hard time understanding your problem with my saying the science is solid.

    The basic physics — CO2 molecules convert shortwave radiation to longwave radiation, which is more readily trapped in the atmosphere — is very simple. If you don’t understand that part, you’re not going to understand the rest.

    Quarreling about exponents and functions and all that other stuff doesn’t invalidate the basic nature of a molecule of CO2. Different gases absorb light at different wavelengths. The more a gas absorbs in the infrared, the more heat it traps. CO2 is a particularly efficient infrared “trap”, if you will. Because it traps infrared so effectively, even low quality heat energy is kept within the atmosphere by CO2.

    If you can find a way that the previous paragraph doesn’t imply that rising CO2 concentrations result in more trapped heat energy, you’ll have disproven CO2 induced climate change.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 21 Feb 2009 @ 4:25 PM

  198. Human population doubles.
    Fish population declines far faster.
    http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=108149
    http://afs.allenpress.com/perlserv/?request=get-abstract&doi=10.1577%2F1548-8675(1994)014%3C0237%3AHDACSO%3E2.3.CO%3B2&ct=1

    Dave, do you foresee a diet of krill paste and a human population of twelve billion?

    “While the data show that ocean ecosystems still hold great ability to rebound, the current global trend projects the collapse of all species of wild seafood that are currently fished by the year 2050 (collapse is defined as 90 percent depletion)….”

    And we’re already on the 3rd or 4th tier of species “currently fished” — anyone remember when mature large cod, tuna, salmon and other top level fish were the main seafood found? Days long gone.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 21 Feb 2009 @ 5:03 PM

  199. Rod B., you post #192 is a prime example of why I say you haven’t understood the physics. First, the 5.35 is a coefficient determined by a fit. It is not an exponent of the logarithm. I simply do not understand why you persist in this interpretation. Have you read Ray Pierrehumbert’s Climate book, Chapter 4? It gives a pretty clear discussion of the radiative physics. Basically, the logarithmic dependence arises from the shape of the line in its wings. The reason you don’t have a logarithmic dependence in, say, CH4 is because the concentration is small enough that added CH4 still has a significant probability of absorbing in its peak. Please look over Raypierre’s explanation. It will keep you from posting drivel.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 21 Feb 2009 @ 5:12 PM

  200. Re 189′s comments on biomass burning and fuel loads: we need to be aware that the whole Miranda Devine argument suggesting that fuels can simply and easily be ‘removed’ has no broadscale basis. There are a range of case studies from various parts of the world showing reduced fire intensity in the few years following the introduction of prescribed fire, but there are very definite limits that need to be recognised.

    1) prescribed fire only has this effect for a limited time period. This ranges from 2 to 5 years on flat ground, and for less than a year on steeper slopes where most of the fire risk is located.
    2) the studies are very limited in their scope. While they reflect a broad and weak trend, there are forest types that respond to fire with a flush of fast-burning grasses in the first year and dense shrub & lignotuber regrowth in following years. Fuel ‘removal’ is not a panacea but a tool that suits the ecology of certain areas only.
    3) Fuel reduced areas provide reduction in fire intensity only under milder conditions. It is a fallacy to suggest that they would have made an iota of difference in the Victorian fires.

    These factors considered, let me make the point that the fuel is the forest, not just some component of it. If biomass harvesting is to provide some fuel reduction value relevant to the fires we are currently discussing, it will be by removing the forest itself. We cannot maintain forest as a carbon sink (as well as for all of its other ecosystem functions and biodiversity), while removing it for fuel reduction/energy production. Biomass burning needs to be a forestry operation separate to the management of the areas we’re discussing.

    While we have the bush we will have the fires, and while our temperatures increase we will have more of these and more severe. We cannot engineer this reality to suit our polluting lyfestyles. We’re sleeping in the bed we’ve made and we must adapt to this reality.

    Comment by Phil Zylstra — 21 Feb 2009 @ 5:13 PM

  201. Hank Roberts wrote in 195:

    Even if you ‘explain the inherent physics’ for any single molecule across the whole range of temperatures and pressures, you’ll only have begun. Next come interaction effects with two different molecules. Some may ‘cling’ at some orientations and more efficiently transfer energy when they interact for example.

    In principle however this is reducible to quantum statistical mechanics, and certainly to varying degrees of approximation physicists can explain the experimental values — just as quantum statistical mechanics has been used to explain the properties of water — when given a sufficiently powerful supercomputer.

    *

    Rod B. wrote in 192:

    Ray (180), No one has ever completely explained the inherent physics behind why some gases have a linear marginal forcing rate, others have a log rate, still others a function of the square root; or why CO2 (a log function rate at current concentrations)…

    You might want to check out some of the earlier posts at this point.

    For example:

    … However, calculation of the radiative forcing is again a job for the line-by-line codes that take into account atmospheric profiles of temperature, water vapour and aerosols. The most up-to-date calculations for the trace gases are by Myhre et al (1998) and those are the ones used in IPCC TAR and AR4.

    These calculations can be condensed into simplified fits to the data, such as the oft-used formula for CO2: RF = 5.35 ln(CO2/CO2_orig) (see Table 6.2 in IPCC TAR for the others). The logarithmic form comes from the fact that some particular lines are already saturated and that the increase in forcing depends on the ‘wings’ (see this post for more details). Forcings for lower concentration gases (such as CFCs) are linear in concentration. The calculations in Myhre et al use representative profiles for different latitudes, but different assumptions about clouds, their properties and the spatial heterogeneity mean that the global mean forcing is uncertain by about 10%. Thus the RF for a doubling of CO2 is likely 3.7±0.4 W/m2 – the same order of magnitude as an increase of solar forcing by 2%.

    6 August 2007
    The CO2 problem in 6 easy steps
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/08/the-co2-problem-in-6-easy-steps/

    At low pressures absorption is taking place at the peak of the absorption band. This is where you get your forcing as a linear function of concentration. At moderate pressures the absorption takes place primarily along the slope between the peak and the and the wings. This is where forcing is proportional to the square root of the concentration. At higher pressures additional absorption takes place principally in the wings — and this is where forcing is roughly proportional to the logarithm of the concentration.

    If this really does interest you, you might want to check out:

    Sunday, July 08, 2007
    High Pressure Limit. . . .
    http://rabett.blogspot.com/2007/07/high-pressure-limit.html

    *

    Rod B. wrote in 192:

    … is a function of the concentration to the 5.35th power

    … I believe that is the radiative forcing which is a function of the concentration — and it is derivable from line-by-line calculations over the atmospheric column. It is when you get to climate sensitivity (with feedbacks as well as forcings) that things get more complicated and scientists have to lean more heavily upon empirical results — such as what they get from extensive paleoclimatological studies — that taken together strongly suggest climate sensitivity is approximately 3 C per doubling of CO2.

    In any case, I think what Ray wrote in 180:

    Once you understand this portion of the science, come back to us and tell us if you still think it is uncertain. Rod, we KNOW that you don’t understand this yet. We’re the ones who have been trying to explain it to you. It is not eash physics, granted, but to equate YOUR understanding with that of folks who do this for a living doesn’t wash.

    … stands. You and I don’t understand this anywhere near as much as the people who do it for a living. But it is pretty clear to me that when they claim that they are confident regarding their calculations involving radiative forcing and a little less confident when it comes to feedback, they are probably right. So perhaps we can set this aside for the time being (perhaps placing spontaneously decaying states of molecular excitation right next to leaping tree frogs) and focus on the factors affecting bushfires — which may be a little easier for us to understand — at least without any advanced physics degrees.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 21 Feb 2009 @ 8:14 PM

  202. It seems that by the time we have proof of climate change and its effects, that most people will accept, it will be far too late to do anything about. Personally it appears obvious that even with drastic immediate action by the global community, there will still be extreme effects of climate change. If the Australian and other governments approach this issue with their current lack of balls then we are all totally screwed. Action unlike that ever seen, putting aside big business and their greedy short term dollar hungry focus, is absolutely required if there is any hope!!!

    Comment by Ben — 21 Feb 2009 @ 10:36 PM

  203. From:http://www.climateinstitute.org.au/images/stories/bushfire/fullreport.pdf

    Bushfires are an inevitable occurrence in Australia. With more than 800 endemic species, Australian vegetation is dominated by fire-adapted eucalypts. Fire is most common over the tropical savannas of the north, where some parts of the land burn on an annual basis. However, the southeast, where the majority of the population resides, is susceptible to large wildfires that threaten life and property.

    The “natural” order of yearly, risk-reducing bushfires is still in place in northern savannah zones partly due to the influence of aboriginal traditions, which dictate that fires need to be started purposefully and regularly to retain the sustainable “Australian-ness” of the countryside.

    Most fire experts agree that yearly burns in Victoria (Large-scale Land clearing of fire-breaks are a smokeless alternative) as they had occurred for tens of thousands of years before white man arrived would mean risk of loss of buildings and innocent humans to reduced to a negligible figure.

    So to put into perspective the related climate induced risk since 1788 –

    Risk increase allocation due to white man’s changes in land use in affected areas 99%

    Risk increase allocation due to Anthropogenic Global Warming 1%

    Comment by Marco Parigi — 21 Feb 2009 @ 10:43 PM

  204. [edit] This article is written by one man and covers a range of extremely complex topics. It is a largely naive simplistic view. There is enough rubbsih published on “climate change” and I would ask that people who wish to write on this topic please make sure you know what you are talking about. You ask the question, “did climate change cause these fires” and answer “no” to a different question “did climate change start these fires”. To either of these questions the answer is wrong. I have discussed this article and issue with many collegues and will give a brief list of areas that are extremely obvious to anyone with common sence.
    1)Climate change affects the… climate, therefore climate factors that started the fire, like lightning may have occured as a result of climate change. Obviously lightning occurs without climate change but the lightning that occured on that day to cause those fires may not have occured if it wasn’t for climate change and its affects on that days weather. This is the case for all climate related causes of the fires.
    2)Climate change may have caused the heat spells or just increased their severity and length, therefore causing the fire fuel to be more volatile. If it was not for this volatile fuel the fires may not have started. For example lightning striking on damp or wet fuel may not have resulted in a fire.
    3)Arsonists have different reasons for lighting fires. Without the extreme temperatures and dry fuel it is possible that an arsonist would be less compelled to light a fire as the results would be insufficient. Without climate change and the resulting extreme fire danger the arsonists may not have been compelled sufficiently to light the fires and therefore climate change may have even had an indirect cause of fires in this area.

    The points above are mearly brief areas where the above author clearly does not understand. Although the points are not by any means conclusive, they defenitely leave open the possability that climate change did cause atleast some of the bushfires. [edit - be polite]

    Comment by Dr H Harly — 21 Feb 2009 @ 11:07 PM

  205. The article is very good, but will fall on deaf ears. Those who deny climate change do so not because they don’t believe in it, but they ‘don’t want to believe’ in it.
    In other words, no amount of science or evidence will change their minds.
    Those who put forward ‘hoax’ theories do so because they are willing to do or say anything before they will admit that they were wrong.
    There has even been a theory put forward by the “Catch the fie ministries” that the bush fires are an act of revenge by God, to punish Australians for allowing abortion.

    Softly, softly, catch a monkey.

    Comment by Graham — 21 Feb 2009 @ 11:38 PM

  206. http://www.bom.gov.au/bmrc/wefor/projects/fire_wx_workshop_jun_05/08gould.pdf

    When you compare what Karoly has to say, with this document prepared by Dr Gould of the Bush Fire CRC and presented at a conference with the BOM and the CSIRO.

    For instance Karoly doesn’t say that the Fire Indices do not include the very important variables of:
    1. Fuel Load
    2. Risk of ignition
    3. Fire controllability- based upon the historical performance of a well equipped brigade.
    4. Value of the assets at risk

    But the rating assessment is defined as an expert assessment of the difficulty of suppression of a fire burning under the rated conditions of Low, Medium, High, Very High and Extreme.

    One would have to say that if this is the case, then the rating assessment is not very useful at all, other than as a general warning to the public at large.

    But it would be even worse if one added to the list the multiplying parameters of terrain, and the possibility of lightning strikes in the area, and their likely impact under the conditions being assessed.

    It seems to me that rather the bothering trying to skirt around whether or not AGW is to blame, a bit more thought and homework is required into the basic management regimes involved in bush fire prediction and control, absent the role of arson of course.

    Comment by Malcolm Hill — 21 Feb 2009 @ 11:45 PM

  207. MacArthur’s FFDI is based on a fuel loading of 12 tonnes /hectare. MacArthur goes on to say that for every doubling of fuel load the fire INTENSITY increases 4 fold. Some fuel loadings in the fire area were higher than 50 tonnes per hectare. this means that the fire INTENSITY was MORE than 16 times HIGHER than that which MacArthur used in his FFDI. I suggest we really need to understand more about fuel loading together and in combination with FFDI to realistically issue bushfire warnings in the future.
    I suggest that this research is far more important than trying to link the fires to global warming.

    Comment by DJA — 22 Feb 2009 @ 1:32 AM

  208. Marco Parigi in 203 referred to the natural order of fire being the indigenous burning that is practiced in the northern savannahs of Australia, suggesting that were we to burn frequently in this way 99% of fires would be prevented. I feel it necessary to point out here that the Arnhem land people are only a small part of the 700 Aboriginal nations in Australia, and that the Victorian fires were not burning in tropical savannah.

    Aboriginal people were/are not unintelligent as our Australian fire myth implies. Management for Savannah is very different than management for Spinnifex, Mulga, Stringybark, tall Ash or sub-Alpine country. In mountain forests for instance, Indigenous burning was focused on small discrete stands close to camping/hunting areas or travel routes. Broadscale fire as we practice it today was unheard of and invoked serious penalties as the fire was outside of the control of practitioners.

    It was a brave move to try and put a statistic to the relative influences of climate change and fuel management, but unfortunately it has been shown conclusively that as the FFDI increases, the role of fuel in the equation becomes very minimal. As I have described earlier at 179, the particular role of climate change here was even more pronounced. Sorry, but this is definitely a climatic matter!

    Comment by Phil Zylstra — 22 Feb 2009 @ 1:58 AM

  209. In GCM radiative models, constructs such as the idea that a doubling of CO2 produces a forcing = ln (2^5.35) are not actually used. High clouds are not given specific instructions to warm, low clouds to cool, or for methane to produce a “larger forcing” per incremental change in absorber concentration. Rather, it is necessary to model radiative transfer explicitly and with the spectral resolution to account for band overlaps between clouds and various greenhouse gases. Also, it is necessary to determine the individual component contributions of individual greenhouse gases to the total 33 K greenhouse effect– reported for instance in Kiehl and Trenberth 1997. Line-by-line radiative transfer work is necessary because of the number of absoprtion lines and corresponding broadening which precludes simple formulas and hand-done analysis (the broadening of absorption lines is very important since one needs to consider a finite interval of wavelength; there would be no effect on radiative transfer if there were nothing but indiviudal lines of zero width scattered throughout the spectrum).

    The absorption of outgoing longwave radiation for CO2 and water vapor follow in a logarithmic function, and thus it is the fractional changes in concentration (not the absolute changes) which matter for climate change. The physics behind this effect has to do with band saturation as others have correctly stated. For CO2 the absorption coefficient in the principal band decays exponentially from the center.

    This is the reason why methane is often stated to have “20-30 times the potency of CO2,” a statement which has more to do with its current atmsopheric concentrations than some natural property of the gas itself. An apples-to-apples comparison would show that CO2 is actually a much more effective greenhouse gas at Earth-like concentrations. In fact, if methane were measured at 380 ppmv and CO2 at 2 ppmv, the same statement would be said about CO2 being much more powerful than methane.

    This forcing relation documented in Myhre et al 1998 applies specifically to current Earth-like conditions and would not be applicable to other planetary situations, where forcing would be different. The log relation goes away at very high concentrations as well, possibly at concentrations which allegedly accumulated at the end-snowball.

    Comment by Chris Colose — 22 Feb 2009 @ 4:17 AM

  210. Rod writes, for the Nth time, where N increases without bound:

    CO2 (a log function rate at current concentrations) is a function of the concentration to the 5.35th power

    The 5.35 is a proportionality constant, Rod, not an exponent. The equation is

    RF = 5.35 ln (CO2 / CO2o)

    It’s true that this is mathematically equivalent to

    exp(RF) = (CO2 / CO2o) ** 5.35

    but what the heck quantity is exp(RF)???

    The mere fact that you can rearrange an equation so that a coefficient becomes an exponent doesn’t make that rearrangement reasonable in physical terms.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 22 Feb 2009 @ 5:56 AM

  211. Rod B:

    I’m amazed (though not perplexed) how you guys (FurryCatHerder, Kevin M., Chris O’Neill, at al) change people’s meanings and turn your head to some realities because (I guess) you fear it somehow attacks your dogma. “there is… much… unknown about many of the processes… ” says — now listen carefully — there is much unknown about many of the processes. There is nothing alarmist there;

    Why don’t you take your own advice and carefully read what I wrote (#184) so that you don’t get confused between the two points. First point:

    truth:

    “there is so much that is still unknown about many of the processes involved—in the oceans and the way they process CO2, cloud science, solar insolation etc.”

    which means we can assume that any changes we make to the system will be harmless because we don’t know for certain what their effects will be, i.e. what we don’t know can’t hurt us.

    Second point:

    “The demands of the CO2 response , brings with it, for individual countries, economic impacts that make it enormously more difficult to mitigate the other impacts”

    What an alarmist attitude.

    The point about much being unknown was in the first point. The point about alarmism was in the second point. You have confused the two points. The change in meaning was made by your own confusion. Go back and read it again and ask specific questions if you want to.

    Comment by Chris O\\\\\\\'Neill — 22 Feb 2009 @ 7:42 AM

  212. Malcolm Hill:

    For instance Karoly doesn’t say that the Fire Indices do not include the very important variables of:
    1. Fuel Load
    2. Risk of ignition
    3. Fire controllability- based upon the historical performance of a well equipped brigade.
    4. Value of the assets at risk

    I wouldn’t expect weather dependent fire indices to depend on highly localized variables. Karoly’s reference 1 does point out how the fuel load required for an ‘uncontrollable’ fire (3,500 kW/m) varies with FDDI. Those forests at Kinglake were nice and wet and growing rapidly right through until the end of December so the only way an uncontrollable fire could have been prevented in the weather of the 7th of February was by having a burn-off after the growing season immediately before the height of summer (early January). It is just not practical to burn the entire forest area of Victoria every year so it is not practical to prevent the risk of uncontrollable fire in weather conditions such as those of the 7th of February. The risk of uncontrollable fire can be practically reduced for less severe weather conditions however.

    As far as global warming goes, the fact remains that the FDDI increases by 3.4% or thereabouts for every 1 degree C of temperature increase (Karoly’s reference 1). You might say that 3.4%/deg C is not much but it’s not nothing either. The unavoidable fact is that warming increases fire danger, unless you can show that warming necessarily reduces one of the other factors.

    Comment by Chris O\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'Neill — 22 Feb 2009 @ 8:42 AM

  213. RodB, I was pointing out what I perceive as contradictory in “truth’s” post: an over-emphasis on the unknown in the climate science relevant to GHGs, and complete certainty as to the terrible economic effects of any mitigation effort. (The latter completely unsupported within the post, BTW.) I went back and read it again after reading your post, and I have to say, it still looked the same to me.

    I don’t think that this “asymmetry of skepticism” is accidental–there appears to be an all-too-familiar agenda at work. Deny, obfuscate, and above all, delay.

    I reiterate my emotional reaction: frustration. The time for effective mitigation is wasting.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 22 Feb 2009 @ 8:47 AM

  214. Malcom,” this is, after all a site about climate change; is it so strange that the post deals with the portion of the issue relevant to climate change?

    Fire brigade competency is certainly important, but not what (I dare say) most of us come here to read about.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 22 Feb 2009 @ 8:56 AM

  215. Oops, sorry for the busted HTML in 207. Note to self: *always* preview.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 22 Feb 2009 @ 8:57 AM

  216. Firstly, my thanks to all those at RealClimate.org for not getting paid whilst trying to bring some semblance of reality to an often confused debate. And my thanks to all those who have posted the wide variety of related info.
    I am not a climate scientist so am unable to add much to it all. However, as a student of soil and botany for almost 6 decades I would like to clear up a few misconceptions concerning these related areas.
    The increase in eucalypt forest cover IS anthropogenic (Aboriginals are no less human than white men), the dominant species until about 50-40,000 yrs was the casuarina (not well fire adapted), the arrival and spread of humans needing food changed all that. Unfortunately, fire, whilst useful, is a crude tool, in the wrong place at the wrong time, leads to soil erosion, depleted soils allow the proliferation of other species -including many eucalypts, not only fire tolerant but poor soil tolerant as well -it’s not just down to fire tolerance/adaptation. Another point to note is that not all eucalypts are fire adapted, some species when left to their own devices, actually create rain forests, whilst I can’t point to neat scientific graphs produced from high tech satelites, I have seen large numbers of photographs and read the journals of settlers and know that much of southern Victoria had thousands of square kilometres of temperate rainforest, largely eucalypt (you only get a 100 mtr high canopy when you have adequate rainfall to support it, euc. regnans appropriately named). Also, if any of you wanted to don a decent pair of boots and go for a walk, dig a few holes, you would discover that southern Victoria did not have annual burns, in fact if my hole digging is anything to go by it was a rare occurrence. And if the eroded embankment 300mtrs from this computer is anything to go by, there were NO bushfires here EVER (my bit of Gippsland) until about 80 yrs ago; I can smell the ‘Prom’ burning as i write. So the following quote is not accurate
    “Most fire experts agree that yearly burns in Victoria (Large-scale Land clearing of fire-breaks are a smokeless alternative) as they had occurred for tens of thousands of years before white man arrived”
    I would also like to mention that large scale land clearing was government edict for 150 yrs and a large part of the reason we have the problems today, whilst it may be a smokeless alternative, it leads to massive soil erosion, allowing the introduction of many pest species and fire tolerant eucs whilst speeding the drying of the micro climate. Also, another problem with controlled burns are the windows of opportunity for this are often quite short and at short notice -and cost cash wary govmnts Money which they have to spend in areas where there are very few votes.
    One of the problems with many introduced species, e.g. exotic grasses (read northern hemisphere, also govmnt edict) is that once dry (and these species are not drought tolerant, thereby drying faster) they burn far better than native grasses, accelerating fire spread -native grasses are not good for beef or sheep and make a damnably poor bowling green. However we are now at a point where annual burns are neccesity, as recommended by a recent govmnt panel, and then completely ignored by the govmnt that set it up !!! No, I dont want to get political but generally humans only produce intoxicated clowns for leaders (Intoxicated ? well read SciAm on that one).
    I could go on for ages yet, human stewardship of most of the planet has been a total cock-up, but as for AGW ? it started with the first sizzling steak and has only got progressively worse (do the math its easy). Ya want proof ? dont look at the clouds, go dig a hole, after all, the answer lies in the soil.

    Comment by Bruce — 22 Feb 2009 @ 10:33 AM

  217. Good to see that a number of posters here haven’t bought the “prescribed burning stops bushfires and it’s ok because Aborigines did it” forester ideology (see http://www.blognow.com.au/mrpickwick/128862/The_worst_of_times.html). A throwaway comment on one (just one) news bulletin a few days ago noted that the massive and unstoppable Wilson’s Prom fire is burning through an area that also suffered a massive bushfire (not “prescribed burn”) just three years ago. This kind of information is rarely made available. To repeat what I said at #38 above – there is no evidence that Aborigines used fire to modify the forest, and they certainly did nothing like prescribed burning. If they had done there would have been massive extinctions of plants and small animals over the last 50,000 years, plants and animals that are still there. Two extended discussions are found here http://www.blognow.com.au/mrpickwick/Fire/ and http://www.blognow.com.au/mrpickwick/History_Conquerors/ .

    Comment by David Horton — 22 Feb 2009 @ 4:08 PM

  218. Hank (196), my assertion stems directly from Ray’s clear implication that “we” know all there is to know of the science, then chided me for presumably just not listening as it was explained. My assertion is that “we” do not know the complete science (the part in my example) as you also implied in your post 195. Fishing for goats and red herrings have no connection what-so-ever.

    Comment by Rod B — 22 Feb 2009 @ 4:37 PM

  219. FurryCatHerder (198), I meant all of the science is not solid. Some, maybe even most, as you point out, is very solid.

    Comment by Rod B — 22 Feb 2009 @ 4:46 PM

  220. Ray (199), you say “…5.35 is a coefficient determined by a fit.” I said, “…is numerical controlled lab observations…” Same thing. There is no fundemental theory of physics where you can derive the 5.35. You can only get it with model or lab experiments and trying to make it fit your observations, as you said.

    The other is an inane argument. I’ll briefly throw out some sophomore algebra: (N)log(X) = log(XN). But if you want to use only the former and ignore the latter, I don’t suppose it makes any difference — O.K. with me.

    Comment by Rod B — 22 Feb 2009 @ 4:59 PM

  221. > clear implication

    In other words, it’s not there but you see it anyhow.
    This is the problem I’m trying to point out. It sets people off.
    You know it does. It distracts from the topic and gets people to retype stuff they’ve typed in reply to you over and over. Why?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 22 Feb 2009 @ 6:11 PM

  222. Rod, The logarithmic dependence does in fact come from the theory. Only the coefficient is determined. If this bothers you, then I’m afraid you’d have a bone to pick with about 95% of physics. Most of the time all the physics gives you is the form of the equation, and you have to get the proportionality constant from data.
    Examples:
    Relativity tells you the speed of light is a constant. However, you have to measure it to determine it’s value.
    Theory tells you that radiant energy scales as the 4th power of the temperature, but you have to measure the Stefan-Boltzmann constant.
    Lev Landau was the master at coming up with dependencies based on dimensional analysis and basic physics–but you always had to determine the proportionality constant.
    My point is that there’s nothing at all unusual here–it’s standard procedure in physics, and if you have a problem with it, it is because you don’t understand how physics works. I’ll give you a hint: it ain’t geometry, where you come up with proofs based on a few axioms. Measurement and fitting data are a part of the game.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 22 Feb 2009 @ 8:45 PM

  223. Just had a quick chance to re-read the names of these postings and would like to point out that we have a Monty Python problem arising. My post #216 is from a completely different Bruce to post #33. (sorry about that)

    Comment by Bruce (2) — 22 Feb 2009 @ 9:09 PM

  224. Nathan (#172): Hot rock geothermal is a hot (sorry) prospect in Queensland. Geodynamics has a project in the state at Cooper Basin, which has the potential to generate 10GW, over 74% of Queensland’s projected power demand by 2015/16. I guess this is why the Qld government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on “clean coal” and billions on coal infrastructure, while leaving Geodynamics to find their money from private sources.

    They have two big start-up costs: raising the capital for building the plant itself, and the cost of long-haul power lines (the are on the border with South Australia, which means, for those who don’t know the country, we are dealing with distances in the order of 1,000km).

    Why you would neglect to put government money into the one project that could solve the base load problem for clean energy I do not know.

    I’ll have to ask that question a few times now the election’s been officially called (for 21 March; for the non-Australians: we don’t have fixed terms, and the state premiers and federal prime minister have the prerogative to call early elections).

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 22 Feb 2009 @ 10:05 PM

  225. #216 However we are now at a point where annual burns are neccesity, as recommended by a recent govmnt panel, and then completely ignored by the govmnt that set it up

    #217 Wilson’s Prom fire is burning through an area that also suffered a massive bushfire (not “prescribed burn”) just three years ago

    It is fairly clear that fuel load is cumulative, year by year, and that enough fuel can grow in a year to dangerous (but not catastrophic) levels. Yearly burns would still have some risks of property loss each time, and very unpopular smoke issues. The clearing of land around ones own home have saved some houses where the rest in the street were completely wiped out. These people broke the law and paid hefty fines at the time. I re-iterate that it is the Anthropogenic poor land use management that has increased the risk to life and property the most, and Anthropogenic Global Warming is a convenient whipping boy so that we can spread the blame to everyone else on Earth.

    Comment by Marco Parigi — 22 Feb 2009 @ 11:32 PM

  226. Timothy Chase (201), you actually concurred with my assertion rather than refuted it. I inferred from your post that your were justifying the use of the mathematical constructs. I said and agree with that. The scientists have looked at this diligently and have come up with the best numerical answer so far possible; and, I agree, they have to run with that until some improvements or tweaks come along. All perfectly reasonable from a scientific viewpoint. But it is not “solid physics” ala a = F/m.

    You’re correct: I do not fully understand this aspect of the science, but this is a non sequitur. I can understand the folks that have worked with it alot maybe believing in its unassailable robustness; but that doesn’t mean per se that that belief is correct.

    Comment by Rod B — 22 Feb 2009 @ 11:40 PM

  227. Rod,

    It’s the science that is rock solid which says that rising CO2 levels is a bad idea. The science that is kind of mushy at the moment mostly deals with what the climate will be like, not that the climate will be different and more energetic. Whether or not the different, more energetic climate is a good idea is a value judgment and likely depends on where one lives …

    Now, does the mushy science make a difference? I dunno, and given what I believe about other areas of life, my thoughts are that reducing fossil fuel consumption is a very important objective at this point in human existence. I can imagine there are parts of the planet that would benefit from whatever climate changes are in the pipeline. But I can also imagine that no one is going to benefit if we don’t shift from the dwindling supply of fossil fuels to something with a longer lifetime, so I don’t concern myself with the issue — I just tell people to conserve energy, switch to renewables, and get away from anything involving dinosaurs or prehistoric swamps.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 22 Feb 2009 @ 11:42 PM

  228. PS: Timothy Chase, you are right that this has grown too big for this threads britches, and probably won’t get resolved anyway.

    Comment by Rod B — 22 Feb 2009 @ 11:55 PM

  229. Following a fire, you get brush growing up. It grows up particularly in the shade of the surviving trees where there’s some protection from sun and some extra moisture, both brought up by the deep roots of the surviving tree and from some condensation around it, some dew collected that drips around it and so on. The _next_ fire is the one that runs through at ground level until it reaches the brush grown up around those trees and climbs the “fire ladder” into the treetop while heating it to death around the base with radiant heat. It’s the _second_ fire that’s often the more thoroughly destructive one.

    The effort involved _after_ a fire includes controlling regrowth, removing fire ladder brush and dead and fallen wood, and otherwise making sure the _next_ fire will burn through gently at ground level between the trees, and without heating up the living treetrunks and bushes enough to kill them off.

    On my own hobby restoration site our second fire, started by lightning, worked out pretty well on the areas we’d prepared for it; surrounding areas left to recover naturally from the earlier fire were toast because of brusha nd fire ladders. On mys ite, any place that a dead trunk had been left within a foot or so of a live tree, the live tree got heat damage. A dead trunk more than a foot away would burn out without badly hurting a living tree next to it.

    A dry tree on the ground, remember, is not a _point_ source, it’s a _linear_ source, so the heat radiation from it doesn’t fall off as the inverse square of the distance.

    That’s the same reason a typical long freight train can be heard for such a long time coming and going, even from a long way away — again it’s a linear source (of sound) rather than a point source.

    Basically saying — one fire isn’t enough. You need a fire regime, a fire pattern, a fire plan. It _will_ burn again. Prepare it.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 23 Feb 2009 @ 12:30 AM

  230. You’re correct: I do not fully understand this aspect of the science, but this is a non sequitur. I can understand the folks that have worked with it alot maybe believing in its unassailable robustness; but that doesn’t mean per se that that belief is correct.

    Shorter Rob:

    I don’t understand the science, but I’m sure they’re wrong.

    Common denialist ploy, be it climate science denialism, or evolutionary biology denialism.

    It’s always the same …

    Comment by dhogaza — 23 Feb 2009 @ 12:33 AM

  231. Ray,

    actually the S-B constant is derivable. It’s actually a bunch of constants (speed of light, planck’s constant, pi, and a bunch of other terms which I don’t have memorized) which is all conveniently grouped together into “sigma.” They emerge from spectrally integrating Planck’s law.

    Your overall point is valid and I don’t know what Rod is arguing exactly. The behavior of radiation absorption as a function of concentration is well understood and is rooted in both theory and experiment; it’s not going away anytime soon, sorry.

    Comment by Chris Colose — 23 Feb 2009 @ 1:03 AM

  232. Rod B wrote in 226:

    Timothy Chase (201), you actually concurred with my assertion rather than refuted it. I inferred from your post…

    Would this be similar to the “clear implication” which Hank analyzes in 221 with,

    In other words, it’s not there but you see it anyhow.

    Rod, when I respond to someone, I try as a matter of habit to quote what they said that I am responding to and hyperlinking to their comment so that people can read the whole enchilada if they want to. This way people can see for themselves whether I am misreading what was said and check to see just how much of the comment I actually responded to. You on the otherhand are engaging in a fair amount of interpretation — and people are having problems with how you have interpretted what they said. I do as well.

    *

    When you state in 226:

    The scientists have looked at this diligently and have come up with the best numerical answer so far possible; and, I agree, they have to run with that until some improvements or tweaks come along. All perfectly reasonable from a scientific viewpoint. But it is not “solid physics” ala a = F/m.

    … this makes no sense to me if you are speaking of the radiation transfer theory since the quantum mechanics which forms the foundation for our understanding of radiation transfer theory is the most exacting and solid physics available to humanity. This makes very little sense if you are speaking of line-by-line calculations over the atmospheric column since, once one has analyzed the atmospheric constituents in that column, their distribution, temperature and pressure, this simply reduces to a physics problem to be solved with well-established physics. And this makes only some sense if you are speaking of feedbacks which I mentioned as requiring appeal to paleoclimatology — since you hadn’t gotten as far as feedbacks but were trying to claim that our understanding of greenhouse gas forcings is niether strong nor robust.

    *

    Rod B wrote in 226:

    You’re correct: I do not fully understand this aspect of the science, but this is a non sequitur. I can understand the folks that have worked with it alot maybe believing in its unassailable robustness; but that doesn’t mean per se that that belief is correct.

    No, in a cartesian sense according to cartesian standards, their belief isn’t “necessarily” correct. But fortunately the scientific method left Descartes’ “Six Meditations” behind centuries ago.

    Rod, physicists are always putting error bars and ranges of uncertainty on their statements, whether they are speaking about physical constants, complex sets of calculations which require the use of supercomputers or what have you. As such we know that many and perhaps nearly all statements are ultimately approximations. However, saying that they are approximations doesn’t make them any less strong or robust. When you give your example of a solid statement with a = F/m, I presume you are recalling that principle of Newtonian mechanics. Well, if so, that is an approximation — which breaks down as one approaches the speed of light, the quantum scale, or strong gravitational fields. But it is certainly more than sufficient to guide us under a very wide set of circumstances.

    *

    In any case, I notice that Hank’s question of “Why?” in 221 still lacks a response.

    *

    Captcha Fortune Cookie:
    Special waving

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 23 Feb 2009 @ 2:06 AM

  233. Re. Marco Parigi in 225. The published literature shows that mature Alpine Ash accumulates 6 t/Ha in the first year after fire. I don’t have the figures for Mountain Ash but these larger trees accumulate litter even faster. If we apply the McArthur model (which gave us the FFDIs)to the Marysville/Kingslake area, factor in the FFDI of approximately 150 and an average slope of about 20 degrees, 1 year’s fuel accumulation gives us 60 metre flames and a rate of spread of 4.5 km/h. I’d still call that catastrophic, and possibly even more so if everyone living in the area believed the line that because it had all burnt last year they didn’t need to worry.

    Tom Griffith’s definitive work on Mountain Ash “Forests of Ash” summarises at one point: “The magnificent Mountain Ash forests that exist today are also products of history with a distinctive ecology, and they resist some of the generalisations about rainforests on the one hand, and dry forests on the other. They have little resistance to fire. Their regeneration is precarious. They were not burnt lightly and regularly by Aborigines. Holocaust fires are endemic. Vast areas of Mountain Ash were cleared by settlers, and other areas were denuded by repeated fire.”

    Less than 2 centuries ago, European settlers encountered what may have been the tallest forests on earth. We’ve destroyed most of them by either cutting them down or burning them too often. The science you’re quoting says that even annual burning wouldn’t have prevented what happened, but you’re suggesting that we consider it. More frequent burning wouldn’t fix the fire problem, it would destroy the last of the Mountain Ash, and you suggest that this is better land management. Why don’t we just not build houses where we know they’re going to burn down?

    Comment by Phil Zylstra — 23 Feb 2009 @ 6:36 AM

  234. Rod B., The logarithmic dependence of CO2 forcing is exactly analogous to F=ma–the theory tells you acceleration should be proportional to net applied force, but you still have to measure the proportionality constant, that is, the mass. You seem to be suspicious of anything that isn’t linear.
    Do you at least appreciate the irony in you saying that you don’t understand the physics, but that you think it is incorrect. OK, what is the alternative to logarithmic dependence? And what is the alternative to determing proportionality constants empirically. Isn’t science about theoretically guided empiricism? How is this different?

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 23 Feb 2009 @ 8:18 AM

  235. This question is for Ray Pierrehumbert:
    Does the Southern hemisphere not currently receive significantly more solar radiation than the Northern hemisphere?

    The Earth’s orbit is eccentric, and its tilt causes a multi-decadal oscillation in the balance of energy between hemispheres — that’s not in question.

    But where are we in this cycle right now? Does the SH currently receive direct sunlight at perihelion or aphelion, or somewhere in between?

    Which phenomenon dominates the amount of solar energy reaching Earth: proximity to the Sun, or orbital angular velocity?

    Do climate models include this rather important parameter, which directly impacts the total amount of solar insolation at any given date, at any given point on Earth?

    Comment by John Olson — 23 Feb 2009 @ 8:35 AM

  236. John Olson,
    Yes, Earth is closer to the Sun during the Southern Summer/Northern Winter. This effect is included in the models. However it is not a huge effect.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 23 Feb 2009 @ 11:12 AM

  237. re: John Olson #235.

    Does the difference in solar radiation explain the difference?

    Orbital mechanics already answer the rest of your questions and they ARE included. Why do you think they would be left out? Because this would then prove AGW wrong? Well if that were the truth, don’t you think some of the scientists who don’t believe in AGW would have pointed it out now?

    Would you consider that if the opponents of an idea haven’t thought of such a thing that maybe that thing doesn’t exist? And so the change in insolation IS included in models?

    Just possibly??

    Comment by Mark — 23 Feb 2009 @ 11:32 AM

  238. Marco, nobody is trying to downplay the other factors that may be important in fire control. But this is a climate blog, so you should logically expect that we will talk about climate. (What else might we talk about–frogs? ;-) )

    And there is good reason to think that AGW is part of the picture in this tragic story, including peer-reviewed studies from around the world studying just that link. (See here, here and here.)

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 23 Feb 2009 @ 11:35 AM

  239. Chris, #231. However, how is Plank’s constant arrived at? And the speed of light, etc.

    It’s sophistry to make it an issue, since only one (pi) of the constants are theoretically derived under current knowledge of physics.

    Comment by Mark — 23 Feb 2009 @ 11:36 AM

  240. Chris, #231. However, how is Plank’s constant arrived at? And the speed of light, etc.

    It’s sophistry to make it an issue, since only one (pi) of the constants are theoretically derived under current knowledge of physics.

    Mark, Ray had written in 222:

    Theory tells you that radiant energy scales as the 4th power of the temperature, but you have to measure the Stefan-Boltzmann constant.

    We know however that:

    The value of the Stefan–Boltzmann constant is derivable as well as experimentally determinable.

    Stefan–Boltzmann constant
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stefan–Boltzmann_constant

    … so when Chris Colose writes in 231:

    Ray, actually the S-B constant is derivable. It’s actually a bunch of constants (speed of light, planck’s constant, pi, and a bunch of other terms which I don’t have memorized) which is all conveniently grouped together into “sigma.” They emerge from spectrally integrating Planck’s law.

    … he is correct.

    Moreover, he does not seem to think it is that great an issue since he states in 231:

    Your overall point is valid and I don’t know what Rod is arguing exactly. The behavior of radiation absorption as a function of concentration is well understood and is rooted in both theory and experiment; it’s not going away anytime soon, sorry.

    … so he is in no way engaged in the sort of sophistry that you accuse him of. But he is making the point that our understanding of black body radiation is well-grounded in quantum theory — which would seem relevant to the discussion with Rob.

    However, when you state that only one of the constants from which the Stephan-Boltzmann constant is derived is itself derivable (namely, pi), I myself am not exactly sure what to make of this. What units should Newton’s gravitational constant be derivable in terms of? And what of Planck’s constant? The speed of light? Are we speaking in terms of the English system, the Metric system, etc.. These systems of measurement are at least in part accidents of human history. Why should the numerical values of the universal constants be derivable in terms of accidents of human history?

    A universal measurement system may however set the gravitational constant, speed of light and Planck’s constant all equal to 1. And in that case you are speaking of natural units — Planck-Wheeler units of…

    length = 1.6163×10−35 m
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_length

    time = 5.39124(27) x 10-44 s
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_time

    mass = 2.17645(16) × 10-8 kg
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_mass

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 23 Feb 2009 @ 1:15 PM

  241. Marco Parigi:

    It is fairly clear that fuel load is cumulative, year by year, and that enough fuel can grow in a year to dangerous (but not catastrophic) levels.

    Karoly’s reference 1 specifies an “uncontrollable” fire as generating 3,500 kW/m and it has a graph (Figure 1) showing the amount of fuel loading required for an uncontrollable fire at differing Forest Fire Danger Indices. At an FDDI of 100, only 5 t/ha or 0.5 kg/sqm of fuel load is needed for an uncontrollable fire. Documents such as this one suggest that other forest types easily produce more than 0.5 kg/sqm of fuel load in one year so preventing uncontrollable fires in FDDIs of 100 or more (such as occurred on the 7th of February) would require burn-offs every year.

    The clearing of land around ones own home have saved some houses where the rest in the street were completely wiped out.

    Most of the houses saved were saved by good house design alongside firefighting.

    Anthropogenic Global Warming is a convenient whipping boy so that we can spread the blame to everyone else on Earth.

    Houses need to be able to be defendable regardless of the factors causing bushfires. Nevertheless, I’d guess that uncontrollable bushfires will always be undesirable for one reason or another. It’s just a simple fact that increased temperature increases the risk of uncontrollable fire. Anything else is a strawman.

    Comment by Chris O\\\'Neill — 23 Feb 2009 @ 1:32 PM

  242. Tim, 240, but you have to make those length determinations et al by measuring. Unlike pi, you can’t find a reason for the plank length/time/mass to be those reasons. They are apparently arbitrary and we have no theory as to WHY the planck length is that length. Or planck time of that duration. Just that they are.

    So Simon saying “ah, but we just get those numbers from other constants” isn’t really saying anything that is different in phenomena from what Ray said.

    One University Lab work was to use a photometer and a diffraction grid to determine what value Stephan’s constant was.

    Measuring the value of Planck’s constant was I think outside the ability of an undergrad course in physics.

    Comment by Mark — 23 Feb 2009 @ 3:31 PM

  243. Fascinating debate. Most of the science is way over my head, but hey! When Australia is abandoned sometime round 2050 (or maybe sooner) because it will no longer be habitable – much like the Empty Quarter in Saudi today – climate deniers will still be arguing about the interpretation of the scientific data. It won’t make any difference on the ground, though.

    Comment by Michel Z — 23 Feb 2009 @ 4:21 PM

  244. Mark wrote in 242:

    Tim, 240, but you have to make those length determinations et al by measuring. Unlike pi, you can’t find a reason for the plank length/time/mass to be those reasons. They are apparently arbitrary and we have no theory as to WHY the planck length is that length. Or planck time of that duration. Just that they are.

    They aren’t arbitrary. Planck-Wheeler units are natural units. And as far as I can see, it isn’t meaningful to ask why the Planck length is the length that it is. If you understand how it is defined (i.e., in terms of a black hole where the mass is equivilent to the energy the magnitude of which is equal to the minumum uncertainty in energy for a duration equal to the time that it takes for light in a vacuum to travel a distance equal to the radius of the black hole), then that is all that is required to understand what it is.

    But to understand it as it stands in relation to a human (and largely arbitrary) system of measurement will of course require more. Yes, one has then to perform physical measurements. It is afterall a physical constant, one that has a dimensionality (i.e., length), unlike the affine constant, and it is not at all comparable to those mathematical constants which we may call “pure numbers.” Numbers like e (the base of the natural logarithm, which may be defined by means of an infinite sum or infinite product), pi (the circumference of a circle divided by the diameter — which may also be defined in terms of an infinite sum), or phi (the ratio of the golden mean — one half of the sum of one and the square root of five).

    Mark wrote in 242:

    So Simon saying “ah, but we just get those numbers from other constants” isn’t really saying anything that is different in phenomena from what Ray said.

    I thought we were speaking of what was said by Chris Colose.

    And actually it is saying something different — insofar as it reduces the number of free parameters which are required to describe the laws of physics which govern our world. Furthermore (as I pointed out previously in 240) it suggests that our understanding of black body radiation is largely something which may be derived in terms of quantum mechanics — and it is in fact derivable from the quantum statistical mechanics — as the union of quantum mechanics and thermodynamics. Ray said that it was measurable. Chris said that it is measurable but also derivable — meaning that you can derive it from other physical constants — and implying a deeper theoretical unity between the study of black body radiation and quantum statistical mechanics.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 23 Feb 2009 @ 5:03 PM

  245. Marco #225
    Whilst I consider that bush fire prevention/mitigation is wandering a bit from the original thread, it goes beyond recent Victorian problems (e.g. Spain, Italy, Greece, California, Brazil et al). Housing design, construction and maintenance were proven to be the main problems in property loss after examination of the ’83 bush fires. A properly designed, built and maintained timber structure is more fireproof than a poorly built brick/stone equivalent. Do the soffit boards fit properly ? What sort of glazing ? On raised buildings, are the stumped areas properly sheilded ? Does the shape of the structure funnell the prevailing winds to vent a stray ember ? As a bush fire will increase wind strength locally, I bet no one bothered to fit structural wind extras (legally only required within 30kms of Bass Strait) onto their homes as regulations dont require it in most of the bush fire areas. Also good odds that most of the places that went up were built pre ’98 and had cheap/poor glazing structure and design.
    You can clear all shrubbery for 100 mtrs from the structure and if you havent cleaned your gutters the place will still go up like a torch.
    As to the smoke problems from controlled burns, not nice I agree, however it is a tiny fraction of the social and fiscal cost of fire/weed control.
    As to fining offenders, most of coastal Vic. has regs against taking out trees, but a chainsaw at 5 a.m. will increase the property value 20 G’s by 7 a.m. and the fine might come to 5 G’s -if you get caught, the neighbours will hear/see nothing, the resulting erosion wont be noticed for a decade -and then the whole community will pay to fix the problem; what’s known as a nice little earner.
    Also botanical knowledge is sadly lacking amongst most of the population and that includes a number of the farming community; not far from here I can take you to paddocks where the farmer has cultivated wind breaks with shrubbery that is considered a noxious weed by the Ag board, is fire prone and near state forest !
    Thanks to #241 for reference, went bush walking amongst the sequoia there as a lad, will be a good read, however nth Calif has different rainfall patterns and has somewhat diff attitude to timber theft, the only place where I’ve seen forest rangers with flak jackets and automatics !
    As for ACC/AGW, when you think of all the zillions of little things that humans thoughtlessly do every day that detrimentally affect the planet, bad bush fires are just the beginning. This whole climate thing is a bit more complex and corrupt than most people (including me) realise.
    There are two things that are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the universe (thank you Albert).
    My apologies to all those that want to keep this strictly on climate.

    Comment by Bruce (2) — 24 Feb 2009 @ 1:10 AM

  246. These might have been previously unrecorded extreme fire danger days, but the main reason for the severity and death toll of these (and other fires) should be searched for elsewhere: no fire without fuel. This link will point you in the right direction:
    http://fhsarchives.wordpress.com/2009/02/10/historian-stephen-j-pyne-on-the-australian-fires/
    Under similar, or worst fire weather (the ciclone Alby event), Western Australia has avoided these tragedies thanks to an active fire management policy.

    Comment by Paulo — 24 Feb 2009 @ 5:15 AM

  247. “Do climate models include this rather important parameter, which directly impacts the total amount of solar insolation at any given date, at any given point on Earth?” – John Olson

    John, do you realise quite how insulting this question is? Do you really think climate modellers are a bunch of complete ignoramuses? That even if they were, none of the solar physicists they talk to would have pointed out this elementary fact? Why don’t you stop wasting everyone’s time?

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 24 Feb 2009 @ 7:11 AM

  248. Tim 244. OK, so why is the Planck length that exact length. What way could that value be ascertained that the planck length is that length. Pi can be calculated from geometry. What leads you to the actual value of the planck length. The thing that, if you had small enough fingers you could say “it’s [this] big”?

    I would be very welcome to hear from you what calculation will give you the length of the planck length in this universe.

    So would the Nobel Prize team for Science.

    You still have to measure something rather than derive the value (like you can with Pi) from principles.

    Comment by Mark — 24 Feb 2009 @ 10:55 AM

  249. Mark, Planck units emerge from the values of certain fundamental constants–e.g. h, c, G, etc. They turn out to be natural scales on which to discuss some physical phenomena–especially the Planck length and time. See
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_units

    My bad on the S-B constant–which started this descent into off-topicness.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 24 Feb 2009 @ 11:39 AM

  250. Yes, Ray. and h, c G are all measured. They don’t fall out of “the way things MUST be”.

    I’ve not said that using the plank length is not a natural unit to use. Never had and have no pigging clue where everyone keeps yibbering on about how they are natural units to use.

    All I’m saying is that they have to be measured and are at the moment of current understanding, not “the way things MUST be” but merely “the way things are”. Pi, in a euclidian geometrical formulation MUST be the value it is.

    h? Well, it could be something else. Not much different else we would have noticed something or not even had anything stable.

    Same with c. Just a number that is what the speed of light in a vacuum actually is.

    And on “these are natural units”, please. Do you measure your height in planck lengths? Your time to travel to work in planck times? The amount of garlic put in your meal in planck masses? The speed of your motorcar in units of c? No? Then they aren’t natural units. They are CONVENIENT units for certain problems.

    And they must be measured.

    That h turns out to be what it is, or G is the value it is may turn out naturally from something in the standard model or the energy of the Higgs boson. But at the moment, there’s nothing that we can do to find these figures than measure something that relates to it and calculate.

    And, please, stop telling me they are natural units. Convenient units and this is the VERY FIRST TIME I’ve said anything about that expression. Leave it.

    Comment by Mark — 24 Feb 2009 @ 12:50 PM

  251. Mark, I would disagree that h, c G, etc. are any less fundamental than pi. As to the term “natural units,” it merely means that the equations simplify if these units are used.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 24 Feb 2009 @ 1:31 PM

  252. Ray, I’m not saying they aren’t fundamental either.

    I’m saying that, according to physics today, there is no reason why G takes precisely that value. The value we get for G is entirely measured.

    Can you stop telling me things I haven’t said were false and act as if I were unable to grasp the concept of scale sizes or fundamental constants.

    Comment by Mark — 24 Feb 2009 @ 2:10 PM

  253. Just in case anyone needs it, down this thread a ways you’ll find the calculation for planck’s constant in the furlong/firkin/fortnight system:

    http://www.physicsforums.com/archive/index.php/t-179681.html

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 24 Feb 2009 @ 4:09 PM

  254. Mark, the difficulty at this moment I believe was essentialized right here where you write in 250:

    Same with c. Just a number that is what the speed of light in a vacuum actually is.

    As I have pointed out more than once, c (the speed of light) is not a pure number. It has dimensionality, namely, that of speed, or LT-1.

    So if you attempt to measure c, you must specify the standard of measurement that you are using to measure that speed. Will it be miles per second? Then you are speaking of (roughly) 186,272. Are you speaking of meters per second? Then you are speaking of 299,792,458. Two very different numbers — because they aren’t pure numbers but pure numbers multiplied by a standard of measurement existing along a specific dimension of measurement.

    The speed of light isn’t 186,272. The speed of light is 186,272 miles per second. The speed of light isn’t 299,792,458. The speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second. More or less. But in either case it is a mistake to drop the unit of measurement, for without the unit of measurement the number becomes meaningless as a measure of what it is measuring.

    *

    Now if you see this, can you see why it is in all likelyhood impossible for us to ever explain why the speed of light has the value that it has?

    We measure the speed of light in terms of a human system of measurement. But the speed of light is something that exists independently of that human system of measurement and is universal. Nothing with rest mass can travel at the speed of light, and nothing without rest mass can travel at any speed other than the speed of light. And as far as we can tell, this has been true since the beginning of our universe. As such it is a truly universal constant. Likewise, Planck’s constant and the gravitational constant are universal. Even pure energy traveling at the speed of light will have an equivilent mass and consequently a gravitational field to which G applies.

    But let’s keep things simple and focus on the speed of light.

    Now how would you explain the value of the speed of light?

    I don’t have a problem with measuring the speed of light in the English system or the Metric system. But you can’t explain the value of the speed of light except by reference to something or some things of the appropriate dimensionality — so that the speed of light could be measured in terms of ratio when compared against something else. And it would have to be something universal, indepedent of human history. Planck distance? Planck time? Well, perhaps. But why two different units of different dimensionality when you already have something of the appropriate dimensionality? Namely, the speed of light itself.

    However, maybe there is something that has the appropriate dimensionality and is equally universal. Could you explain the speed of light in terms of that? Well, yes. Perhaps the speed of light is twice the speed of… Well, no, there really isn’t anything else, no other speed at least.

    So in terms of theory, it would seem that the speed of light represents something truly fundamental, something which can be used in explanations, theories, etc., but cannot itself be explained, not in terms of its numerical value at least. We can measure it using our standards or systems of measurement, but when we do so, that is actually saying more about our standards and systems than it is about the speed of light itself.

    *

    Now would it make any difference to the world if the speed of light were twice what it currently is?

    In all likelyhood, it would not. Since the speed of light isn’t simply the speed of a single particle, but is a universal limit which applies to all particles, doubling the speed of light would be equivilent to doubling the speed of all processes in the universe, or alternatively, halving all durations. But as anything that we might measure things in relation to also exists within the universe, it will be similarly affected — and none of the ratios will change. Have you ever wondered what would happen if everything were suddenly become twice as large as before? The answer of course is, “Nothing at all.”

    As was pointed out in the link that Ray gave us:

    [An] important lesson we learn from the way that pure numbers like α define the world is what it really means for worlds to be different. The pure number we call the fine structure constant and denote by α is a combination of the electron charge, e, the speed of light, c, and Planck’s constant, h. At first we might be tempted to think that a world in which the speed of light was slower would be a different world. But this would be a mistake. If c, h, and e were all changed so that the values they have in metric (or any other) units were different when we looked them up in our tables of physical constants, but the value of α remained the same, this new world would be observationally indistinguishable from our world. The only thing that counts in the definition of worlds are the values of the dimensionless constants of Nature. If all masses were doubled in value [including the Planck mass mP] you cannot tell because all the pure numbers defined by the ratios of any pair of masses are unchanged.
    – Barrow 2002

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_units

    Anyway, I hope this helps.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 25 Feb 2009 @ 2:18 AM

  255. Paulo (246), you are right – no fuel without fires. The difficulty is that especially for these conditions, the forest is the fuel. If you want to remove the fuel you have to remove the forest. It’s not valid to compare dry Western Australian forest on flat ground to steep, tall Mountain Ash. There’s just a lot more forest there, and when it dries out due to unprecedented climatic extremes, it’s all available as fuel. These fires ripped through logged, regularly burnt Forestry land. The entire argument that “more burning off would have stopped the fires but greens prevented that happening” is painfully irrelevant and completely misguided.

    Comment by Phil — 25 Feb 2009 @ 3:35 AM

  256. Phil (255),
    Yes, I am aware of the differences between forests in WA and SE (could see them last August). However, understorey fuel structure in the Dandenongs did not seem different from the jarrah forest in WA. Note that the forest is the fuel only when fuel accumulation in the surface, near-surface, elevated and bark fuel layers (to use the oz terminology)exceeds a given thresold. To achieve fuel management on an adequate spatial scale is probably more difficult in steep terrain and moister forest, but this is a different issue …

    Comment by Paulo — 25 Feb 2009 @ 6:33 AM

  257. Tim 254. And your essay said what?

    Yes, a speed is a velocity and has dimensionality. Do you think I managed to get through physics with astrophysics degree without learning of this element?

    And you still have to measure it. there is no reason why it happens to be this figure.

    Your later rambling seems to be saying the same thing.

    So why the heck did you post all that crud? Why did you include such startling revelations that by changing the units you get simpler equations because your proportionality constants become one ***and mathematical convention*** says you can leave them out if they are multipliers of 1.

    Whoo. I never knew.

    Just like I never knew the SPEED OF LIGHT was, like, a velocity, man!

    Such revelations.

    Did you think I didn’t know??? Why?

    Now, please, tell me how you could get the velocity of light from first principles?

    If not, then as I have said EVERY SINGLE BLEEDING TIME ***you have to measure it***.

    Which takes us back to the ORIGINAL POINT that saying “you have to ***measure*** stephan’s constant to get the radiative transfer rates” is the same bleeding phenomenological result as “you have to ***measure*** planck’c constant and multiply by some figures you can calculate from first principles to get the radiative transfer rates”.

    And which is easier to find an experiment that returns stephan’s constant: measuring intensity values of a black body with a photometer and diffraction system or find a way to measure planck’s constant directly?

    You tell me.

    Comment by Mark — 25 Feb 2009 @ 9:20 AM

  258. Mark, you write in 257:

    Now, please, tell me how you could get the velocity of light from first principles?

    You don’t get or “derive” the speed of light from first principles — because the speed of light is a first principle. That is what it means for something to be “fundamental.” And when you measure the speed of light, this is actually telling you about how your (largely arbitrary) system of measurement stands in relation to world, not about the world itself — which simply is what it is. And it makes no sense to speak of how the universe would be different if the speed of light were different from what it is, say twice or half as fast — because the universe that would result would be for all intents and purposes the same.

    If you don’t feel like reading as much as I wrote in 254, perhaps you could read just the short paragraph by English cosmologist John Barrow that I quote at the end. However, at this point I am finished.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 25 Feb 2009 @ 10:51 AM

  259. 258.

    Good.

    So you know. I know.

    Now did I never say you COULD derive from first principles?

    No.

    Now why are you telling me you can’t derive it from first principles?

    Any reason?

    Any at all?

    I never said you could. I said you had to measure.

    So now it looks like you were going:

    Me: you have to measure light speed. You can’t derive from first principles.

    Tim: No, mark you have it wrong. (you can’t derive light speed from first principles) (

    Comment by Mark — 25 Feb 2009 @ 12:06 PM

  260. Ray, Stefan’s constant can be derived; even the speed of light can be derived in a sense. In any case the fact that it is log dependent certainly could be based on radiation absorption theory though it is directly derived only for certain ranges that have been analyzed. Theory does not say exactly where it changes for linear to log to square root dependency. (In fact different people will say different sequences.) SEcondly (though more pertinent to my assertion) the fact that the constant is empirically derived based on strictly lab observations has no credibility (for a “strong” science) just because other physical or chemical properties are empirical. The latter have been derived 10 ways from Sunday over very long periods. More illustrative, that the constant changes significantly over a few years because the observations are different is not in the least characteristic of a “strong” science, let alone “…the most exacting and solid physics available to humanity..” as Timothy Chase hyperbolizes in an otherwise decent post (232). Ray, believe your baby has no blemishes if you wish; perfectly acceptable — but not true.

    Hitting logs and exponents once more (though it’s getting tiresome — to me and I’m sure for everybody else), where do the units “bel” come from a LOG(I/Io)? We just made them up — for convenience and clarity; like the watts/meter-squared in today’s 5.35.

    (My units comment pales compared to Timpthy’s, Mark’s and Ray’s discussion: just trying to keep it short and simple.)

    Finally, before it gets totally lost in the shuffle, recall I am not totally refuting this part of the science. There are strong indicators that it might at least be in the ballpark, at least for some concentrations and/or gases. I’m addressing only the so-called “degree of strength”.

    FCH, I’m addressing only one part of the science here.

    I’d like to explain imply and infer to Hank, but this topic is already way out of control. Everyone is upset… because maybe my karma ran over your dogma???

    Comment by Rod B — 25 Feb 2009 @ 12:40 PM

  261. Ah Paulo! (256) A man that knows the Aussie fire science, I think I have you now. I suspect you also saw some Adelaide country when you were last down under.

    If you have a copy of the Project Vesta report handy, have a look at the graphs for shrub height (fig 3.8) and ROS (fig. 6.6) against time since fire. They have only fit a curve to the McCorkhill data for shrub height because the DeeVee data has an opposite trend. Whereas McCorkhill shrubs continue to grow up to 15 years or more, Dee Vee shrubs grow up to about 6 years then begin to senesce so that the 20 year shrub height is the same as the 2 year height. Shrub height is the main fuel predictor used for flame height, but the correlation matrix in the appendix shows that it is also the strongest predictor for ROS. Accordingly, the Dee Vee data shows that ROS does not continue to increase with fuel age as it does at the McCorkhill site, but it either does not change or at some wind speeds has a marked decrease after 6 years. Basically, the longer McCorkhill forests go without fire, the greater the flame height and ROS produced – exactly as we would expect. On the other hand, the forest at Dee Vee has a maximum ROS and flame height 6 years after fire. From this point on it becomes less flammable. Both are Jarrah forests, but due to the ecology of the understorey the fuel dynamics are quite opposite. I suggest that both sites require different fuel management.

    You mentioned that you thought the “understorey fuel structure in the Dandenongs did not seem different from the jarrah forest in WA”. I suggest that since there can be such variance within the Jarrah forest itself, might not the Mountain Ash be quite different again? Consider these points:

    1) Long unburnt Mountain Ash has a rainforest understorey. Burning the forest produces an immediate flush of Bracken ferns which provide a near surface fuel score of 4 in the year after being burnt.
    2) The understorey in Ash is typically composed of thicker leaved, high moisture content plants with very little dead material, especially in older growth forests. No matter how dense this understorey, these characteristics mean that it can never be ranked higher than a “moderate” elevated fuel score.
    3) The dense canopy and high rainfall of Ash forests mean that surface & NS fuels have a very high moisture content most of the time.

    Now, considering these factors, in most years it will be very difficult to get a fire going at all because the fuel is wet. In the heat of summer the low fuels will dry out and allow a fire to spread through the bracken or heavy surface litter, but more often than not it will not ignite the shrubs or midstorey due to the fact that the thick leaves and high moisture of the plants gives them a very long ignition delay time. By contrast, fires in Jarrah forest will spread far more readily duel to the drier litter & NS fuels, and the fine leaved shrubs with their high dead component will catch fire quickly.

    If we now impose the extreme climatic conditions experienced in the Marysville/Kinglake area, we not only have very dry surface litter & bracken, but the shrubs, midstorey & canopy are very dry and therefore have much shorter ignition delay times. The fuel ladder to the canopy is complete.

    Apply this to fuel management. You said “the forest is the fuel only when fuel accumulation in the surface, near-surface, elevated and bark fuel layers (to use the oz terminology)exceeds a given thresold”. That threshold varies widely depending on the conditions. Under most conditions there would not be enough fuel to ignite the higher fuel strata in an Ash forest even at a full surface fuel load of about 30 t/Ha; it’s just too wet. Under the conditions experienced recently however, there needs only to be a very small amount of fuel to produce a flame that will ignite the highly moisture stressed vegetation. The reality is that burning Mountain Ash without killing the trees reduces surface fuels for a very short period while greatly increasing the NS fuels (Bracken) from year 1 onward. It does not affect the midstorey but does produce a (temporarily) shorter and more dense understorey.

    Contrasting fire in a recently burnt Mountain Ash forest with fire in a long-unburnt forest: there is a greater flame height/ROS in recently burnt forest under less severe conditions due to the Bracken. The lower shrub layer is closer to the flame and catches fire more readily; being more dense it allows flame spread more easily from plant to plant and increases the ROS yet again. Flames from plants burning in close proximity merge and produce much larger flames, igniting the midstorey and thereby the canopy more easily. In short, recently burnt Ash forest is more flammable than long-unburnt – probably one of the reasons the Aboriginal people never burnt it.

    Just to make this clear – I am not suggesting that prescribed fire is a bad idea. I am saying that as illustrated by the differences in the fuel dynamics at Dee Vee & McCorkhill, fire is good management in some environments but not others. I don’t believe that it is good management in Mountain Ash forests (although I’m happy to be corrected by evidence), and I don’t think the current craze in Australia of telling the land managers that they could have saved 200+ lives if they had burnt the Ash more often is justified.

    If you’re interested, have a look at http://www.bushfirecrc.com/publications/B_Zylstra.pdf for a rough overview of the effect of plant moisture on forest flammability.

    Comment by Phil — 25 Feb 2009 @ 7:16 PM

  262. The entire argument that “more burning off would have stopped the fires but greens prevented that happening” is painfully irrelevant and completely misguided.

    I do think that that particular sound-bite is overly simplistic, but I think there is some irony and hypocracy exposed if you look at green policy as a whole.

    Two other points:

    * Greens support the idea of offsets for planting trees – but if these trees are in a fire prone area the carbon stored, rather than being sequestered will be released in an uncontrolled way in the next bushfire or burnoff.

    * Logging of trees for furniture/ building /paper tends to lock away the carbon in houses or landfill more effectively, in a market-friendly way than leaving them where they are, yet both logging and the liberal use of timber are frowned upon by the greens.

    Comment by Marco Parigi — 25 Feb 2009 @ 8:17 PM

  263. Prof Karoly refers to the “high quality rural site” of Laverton near Melbourne. Andrew Watkins in comments compares it to Melbourne to disount the UHI effect for Melbourne city.
    AFAIK the recording station for Laverton is at the aerodrome. The Laverton aerodrome may have been surrounded by farmland when earlier records were set. Today it is quite different. It has been developed as a training college with several additional buildings on the aerodrome itself. It has medium density housing to the east, an 8-lane freeway to the south. To the north east is an industrial area including a steel mill and a chemical plant. The temperature record was set when a strong North wind was blowing. Directly north of the aerodrome is a sports field but north of that is a large scale quarry and associated concrete products manufacturing. (and a prison). Please comment if any of these facts are wrong.

    Comment by Richard Hill — 25 Feb 2009 @ 9:48 PM

  264. #262 Marco Parigi Says:

    “* Logging of trees for furniture/ building /paper tends to lock away the carbon in houses or landfill more effectively, in a market-friendly way than leaving them where they are, yet both logging and the liberal use of timber are frowned upon by the greens.”

    Yes, if the trees end up being for furniture/ building /paper are preserved for a very, very long time, this carbon is being sequestered. But if these products are allowed to burn or decay, the carbon is released to the atmosphere.

    Also, contemporary logging uses fossil fuels to cut, mill, and transport wood products. Slash and other non-commercial parts of the trees are left to rot (and release CO2).

    If the trees being logged are part of an old-growth forest, there are further problems. The prime method of logging is by clear cutting (or euphemisms for essentially the same thing). The slash is burned (releasing CO2), and the replanted forest is what is called an even-aged stand (often of only one specie of tree), These plantations are highly susceptible to fire, which destroys the young forest and releases even more CO2.

    Of course, there is the other issue of the loss of biodiversity resulting from the destruction of ancient forests. Old-growth forests tend to be the most fire resistant stands of trees. Logging healthy forests is not the answer.

    However, global warming is causing a massive die-off of forests in British Columbia and parts of the Rocky Mountains. Milling some of these trees into products likely to last a very long time, and replanting with trees likely to survive in the changing climate might be a good strategy.

    The wizard Captcha says, “argue particular.”

    Comment by Jim Eaton — 26 Feb 2009 @ 1:31 AM

  265. Marco I think you do injustice to Green policies.
    Where exactly are they hypocritical or ironic?

    Your point 1:
    The entire tree doesn’t burn to ash, so the carbon isn’t actually all released. Tree death may occur in very hot fires, but Australian trees are adapted to fire generally and do survive. The quick regrowth by Eucalypts following fires will also get to sequestering the carbon again.

    Point 2
    Green policy is opposing logging in old growth forests. They are in fact promoting the use of plantations and the liberal use of wood. The interesting thing is that most if the initial opposition to logging in old growth wasn’t to stop furniture being made but rather to prevent the wood being used for paper pulp. Most timber is actually cut for woodchips to make paper. It was a very low quality product.

    Comment by Nathan — 26 Feb 2009 @ 2:15 AM

  266. RE #262 “there is some irony and hypocracy exposed if you look at green policy as a whole.”

    The problem with the words “green policy” indeed with the word “greenie” is who exactly are we talking about? The Australian Green Party supports sustainable logging of native species and controlled burning. It supports carbon credits for trees but I doubt they mean pine plantations.

    There was a lot of FUD in the news about greenies stopping people from clearing brush, not the least of which was the guy who was fined $100K for “clearing trees” – search for “shehan” here. All this finger pointing misses the point entirely, we here in the SE of Oz have entered a new realatity.

    Notes: See my post above. I have lived in Vic for 50yrs, I’m an ex-sawmiller, life-long “greenie” and have no connection to the Green Party.

    Comment by Alan of Oz — 26 Feb 2009 @ 3:50 AM

  267. Phil,

    Thanks for the detailed explanation. However,I think you were too selective on the VESTA findings you mention. Different fuel layers behave differently with time in the 2 sites, but the overall hazard keeps growing with fuel age at both sites (Fig. 3.12).
    I now understand better the fire environment in the mountain ash, but if fire will promote Bracken fern, it means that an aerated NS dead layer will be available to burn on dry winter days and thus will turn prescribed fire easier to carry out. In our Portuguese forests bracken often seems to moderate fire spread in summer (moisture contents >150%, when shrubs have live moistures of 60-90%) and help prescribed fire in winter when it dries and collapses. What you say about flammability vs. live fuel moisture makes sense, and in Europe many lab studies have been conducted on this since the 70s, but field studies have never, anywhere in the world, succeeded to relate rate of spread and live moisture content. So, it might be that you are placing too much emphasis on the role of living tissues moisture.

    Comment by Paulo — 26 Feb 2009 @ 4:48 AM

  268. RodB, 260.

    Nope, it’s form is taken from theory. Derived as accurate for the explanation of reality that is radiative theory on corpuscular light. the quantum nature of light and well grounded statistical theory.

    Varies as T to the fourth power.

    This being mathematics is provable as a correct proportionality for any wavelength from infinity to infinitesimal.

    Not restricted to any wavelength range.

    Did you do *any* physics at school? They never said there that this proportionality was only over a certain range, so you didn’t get it there. Did you take it any further on so as to know the derivation yourself? If you had, you would know that there is no limit to the proportionality function in wavelength.

    Stephan’s constant cannot be derived except by virtue of saying it’s proportional to another number that cannot be derived (so the derivability is commutative: the value of stephan’s constant is defined by your ability to measure rather than your ability to calculate).

    Although Ray and Tim seem to disagree with the statement “Stephan’s constant must be measured” this isn’t correct.

    Comment by Mark — 26 Feb 2009 @ 4:51 AM

  269. RodB says in 260: FCH, I’m addressing only one part of the science here.

    So you’re only PARTLY lying by omission.

    Does that make it alright?

    Theory DOES say where a proportionality based on infinitesimal changes changes to a proportionality based on large changes.

    SHM is based on that fact: at small angular deflections, the restoring force on a pendulum is linearly proportional to the angular displacement. Theory showing where this is no longer the case is defined by the Taylor Series Expansion of Sin(theta).

    Theory DOES say where the proportionality fails to hold. It depends on how inaccurate the system measured or dependent on the simplification must be to be measurably different.

    Comment by Mark — 26 Feb 2009 @ 4:57 AM

  270. Phil (261) – good summary of the fallacy of prescribed burning ash forests to reduce fire. But the same arguments, though different in detail, apply to prescribed burning in all forest types. That is, the effect of frequent burning perversely (because of changes in soil moisture content and understorey shrubs – often including weed invasion) may result in more fire prone habitats. And in addition, and it needs to keep being said, frequent burning is damaging in the short term to all the components of the ecosystem except perhaps the trees and the large macropods (the two components always trumpeted by fire managers and the media), and in the long term the trees will suffer too. Fire managers are not ecologists, and that fact is going to be the cause of great damage to Australian ecosystems if the fire managers get their way with the help of populist politicians.

    Comment by David Horton — 26 Feb 2009 @ 5:45 AM

  271. Marco, I think what’s frowned on by the greens is clear-cutting huge swaths of forest, no matter how much carbon it sequesters.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 26 Feb 2009 @ 6:02 AM

  272. Great summary. Just wanted to say (as others have) that a fairly small (say 1 degree) increase in average temperatures has a much more extreme impact on the probability of high temperatures – doubling or tripling the probability of greater than 40 degree temperatures with low humidity (according to the Centre for Climate Change research here in Australia).

    Also, the flashpoint of eucalyptus oil is 49 degrees celcius – so getting close to that matters a lot in the context of whether a fire starts racing through the countryside.

    Comment by Penguin unearthed — 26 Feb 2009 @ 6:25 AM

  273. I think there is some irony and hypocracy exposed if you look at green policy as a whole

    Looks like someone’s main interest in posting here is an anti-greens campaign.

    Comment by Chris O\'Neill — 26 Feb 2009 @ 6:37 AM

  274. Marco (262), I have to agree that my sentence taken out of context sounds a little overly enthusiastic, so let’s keep the context eh? I wrote that specifically about Black Saturday, and have backed it up in previous posts. I say that it is irrelevant because the land burnt was predominantly forestry and not conservation land, and I say that it is misguided because if you do the science (see 233 & 261), more burning off could not have stopped those fires. I don’t say burning off doesn’t assist the control of any fires anywhere, just that it wouldn’t have saved the 210 lives on Feb 7. You’re welcome to disagree, but if you do I ask that you go beyond words like “hypocracy” and just show where my science is wrong.

    As for the other points, I’m not actually talking about “greens” as a political party but in the broad sense of people that care about the environment. But some very brief thoughts –

    1) I don’t agree with planting out trees for carbon or timber in a way that will connect fire paths with villages etc. Burning trees however does not increase CO2 long-term because the regrowth takes it back up again. The amount stored is about the total biomass of forest, which is larger if more area is planted out (for sequestration or for forestry). Fires produce only temporary fluctuations in the balance.

    2) I agree that using timber products stores carbon, however the issue is the same. If forests are being cleared faster than they are being planted or regrowing, then there is a loss of carbon from the forests. The amount stored in buildings/furniture etc needs to equal the biomass lost to break even – does it? I don’t know any figures so I don’t argue either way, however I am aware of a lot of places that used to be forest in my area but were logged and not replanted or regenerated. These may be the exceptions, but if they’re not then I’d say the Greens are right. Check the figures and satisfy your own conscience, I honestly don’t know.

    Comment by Phil Zylstra — 26 Feb 2009 @ 7:29 AM

  275. Rod B., At this point, you are merely embarassing yourself. Yes, the S-B constant can be derived. That wasn’t a good example. The speed of light, c, cannot. Nor can h, G, the electromagnetic coupling and on and on. There is a reason why physics is an empirical science. Hell, Rod, even aspects of mathematics are empirical.
    The contribution of an increase in ghg becomes logarithmic with it’s main effect is to increase absorption in the tails of the distribution. The only ambiguity is where you consider the tails to begin. With CO2, there is an additional ambiguity–the fact that CO2 stays well mixed at high altitudes where the main line absorption is not saturated. This is all well understood by scientists, if not by you. There is zero basis for skepticism of the consensus position based on the radiative physics. Moreover, if the forcing due to CO2 were wrong, you couldn’t explain why Earth is not a snowball. There is only one argument that makes any sense from a physical standpoint–that there is some negative feedback that counters CO2 forcing at temperatures above ~285 K. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism for such a negative feedback, no evidence favoring it and evidence from paleoclimate against it.

    Rod, why should we take your skepticism seriously when it is so clear that you don’t understand the science?

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 26 Feb 2009 @ 8:48 AM

  276. #130 Mike.
    First of all, thanks for your response to my comment. It did help narrow my thinking as to what exactly the focus of these conversations are really about. It was pointed out to me that Nasa’s glossary has it’s own definition of theory: (http://earthobservatory.nasa.g…../?mode=all )
    “An explanation for some phenomenon that is based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning”.
    Another blogger also pointed out to me the following line of reasoning: “If we can’t call AGW a theory, can we call it “an explanation for detectable enhanced warming of the earth’s surface as a result of ghg’s added by man? We could name things like “the theory apples suspended in air fall toward the earth as a result of the force of gravity”. But no one is going to because they aren’t important enough to foster much discussion. The proposed “explanation for detectable enhanced warming of the earth’s surface as a result of ghg’s added by man” is discussed. So, it’s been given a name: AGW.”

    I agree that there is no dispute in the scientific community that adding CO2 to the atmosphere will increase temperature. What is disputed is how much temperature will increase giving differing levels of CO2 and do we really understand all of the other processes such as clouds and water vapor to understand their positive or negative contribution to the puzzle. In addition, it’s arguable how much the detectable enhanced warming has occurred due to other effects mankind has had on the environment such as changes in land use for over 50% of the surface of the planet or even the placement of devices used to measure temperature. I submit that the debate is a bit less settled than some would like to think.
    Thanks again for your reply!
    William

    Comment by William — 26 Feb 2009 @ 9:22 AM

  277. Marco, did you look for citations for both of the ‘points’ you state there. They’re common enough beliefs. But not truisms:

    Did you look at the pictures from Australia? They look much like those from So. California — many seem to show trees spared, amidst brush and buildings burned. Survival of the trees takes a few years to determine, and if enough fuel builds up unmanaged, yes, trees burn. With frequent gentle fires, well timed, burning in cool conditions, downhill into the wind, the fast fuel burns and spares the trees in our area. Prescribed burns do that intentionally. I’ve got a little hobby restoration that’s worked out that way for two lightning fires now, each fire improved the site by removing fast fuel while sparing the trees and native plants we’re trying to encourage. Do you have a source for your belief or observation that differs?

    And I know many people have studied what happens to wood used for furniture — on average it’s turned to waste sooner as furniture. Those cites are easy enough to find. Here for example:

    “A large fraction of municipal waste is wood, e.g., old furniture …”
    http://www.cbmjournal.com/content/3/1/1 I know you can find a good bit more studying how long carbon is tied up in living forests compared to furniture and structure. Time and termites work faster on human-modified wood.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 26 Feb 2009 @ 10:53 AM

  278. RodB, 260 I think I have found out where you get your idea that the black body theory has limited applicability in wavelength.

    Gerhard Gerlich’s self-published “paper” uses the same phraseology in its opening statements (and then uses the black body curves without saying whether they are affected by this supposed inapplicability in any of his use of it).

    Did you get it from there?

    Comment by Mark — 26 Feb 2009 @ 10:55 AM

  279. Mark wrote: “Now, please, tell me how you could get the velocity of light from first principles?”

    Timothy Chase replied: “You don’t get or ‘derive’ the speed of light from first principles — because the speed of light is a first principle.”

    This conversation is off any topic I can think of, but it seems to me that the two of you are talking past each other.

    What I understand Mark to be saying is that the value of pi follows logically from the abstract definition of “circle” and “diameter” and “circumference”. There is no need to empirically measure a bunch of actual circles to determine the value of pi. Which is fortunate, since no such thing as a perfect Euclidean circle exists in reality.

    In contrast, the value of the speed of light, while it may be a fundamental parameter of physical reality, cannot be determined logically from the abstract definition of “the universe” or “the phenomenal world”. Which is fortunate, since no such abstract definition exists. There is no “Euclidean”, purely abstract “reality” from which we can derive basic physical parameters and laws through pure logic. There is only “whatever we observe”. The speed of light can only be determined by empirical observation.

    As for Timothy Chase’s points that the speed of light can be expressed in different units of measurement, or that a universe where the speed of light and all other basic physical parameters were correspondingly different would be indistinguishable from this one, I must admit I fail to see the relevance to Mark’s fairly simple point.

    The only relevance that any of this has to climate science, as far as I can see, is perhaps to point out the fallacious “reasoning” of those who reject the empirically observed reality of anthropogenic warming because it conflicts with some abstract definition of “the universe” that they hold. An example would be those who reject AGW because “human activities are too insignificant to cause such huge changes” or some other a priori concept about “how things are”.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 26 Feb 2009 @ 1:00 PM

  280. I don’t want to give too many hits to the site since it seems to like people who claim “90% of politicians are corrupt is a fact” and that the IPCC are therefore corrupt since politicians selected them, but have a look at Jim’s postings.

    http://forum.skyatnightmagazine.com/tm.asp?m=86771&mpage=8&key=
    #158
    #273
    #281

    and Spartacus’ unsourced “650 out of 700 experts consider AGW to be wrong” in #211.

    Laughable if it weren’t people lapping this up

    Comment by Mark — 26 Feb 2009 @ 1:08 PM

  281. 279.

    So when I said “You can’t derive planck’s constant and speed of light and G and so on” what did tim mean when he said “you’re wrong mark”?

    That I was wrong to say you can’t derive them because you can’t derive them???

    And why do you think that I think you CAN derive them? Read the entire message because later on it says “you can’t”.

    Now why does that make you think that I think you CAN derive the speed of light?

    Are you running my posts through babelfish????

    Comment by Mark — 26 Feb 2009 @ 2:44 PM

  282. PS to reply to 279.

    And the reason why I started this was to point out that it was irrelevant to say that you can derive the stephan-boltzman constant because it depended on other values. Go riiiight back and read the post I originally responded to. That’s what the blokey said.

    And then, because I said you can’t derive the bits you have to put in to the S-B constant, it is irrelevant and misleading to say you can derive the S-B constant.

    And then Tim pops along and says “you’re wrong mark”.

    So I asked how you derived planck’s constant.

    Then everyone started saying stuff I knew and telling me I was wrong and then saying what I said (that they had said I was wrong about).

    Get that knee out of your eye and read.

    Comment by Mark — 26 Feb 2009 @ 2:48 PM

  283. Mark @ 281: I understand you to be saying that we can determine the value of pi using pure logic from the abstract definitions of “circle”, “diameter” and “circumference”, whereas we cannot determine the value of c using pure logic, but only through empirical measurement.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 26 Feb 2009 @ 2:54 PM

  284. The debate on quantities derived (or not): like Hanks’s teleology, “it burns!”

    Or at least glazes a lot of eyes.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 26 Feb 2009 @ 3:02 PM

  285. Paulo (267) I think we will have to talk in more detail about LFMC & ROS where we can spend some time looking at spreadsheets & equations. If you’re coming to the AFAC/CRC conference this spring I’ll look you up – if all goes well I’ll be presenting a paper there on the subject including a model which does show the role quite explicitly. Failing that there’s a slim chance I’ll be in Spain this spring and may be able to catch you then. I would value your thoughts.

    As a very brief answer for the meantime, LFMC & ROS haven’t been correlated yet because its a complex system rather than a straightforward linear one as we try to model it. If we conduct experimental burns under a range of conditions and use LFMC of shrubs as a variable we will almost certainly see no connection because it is masked by a series of bifurcations. It is for instance only 1 factor determining whether the shrubs will catch fire (the surface flame needs to be tall enough for instance, yet an increase in wind speed can tilt it), but if the shrubs don’t burn then it doesn’t matter what their moisture is, they don’t affect the fire. On the other hand, 1 species may have an LFMC of 150% and another of 90% but both could burn the same way. That’s because LFMC is 1 aspect of many in the way a plant catches fire (check the reference in my last post to you). Again, even if the shrubs are burning they will only affect ROS if the they are close enough and wind speed/slope/ignition delay time allows the flame to spread from one to the next. Averaged across all species, there’s no trend. Within 1 species it’s critical.

    As for OFH – yes, there is an increase over time at Dee Vee; but this only raises questions for me about the validity of the scoring system (with all due respect of course). If the score is increasing with time, why are the flames getting smaller and spreading slower? As far as I can see this is for 4 reasons:

    1) Surface fuels continue to increase for some time after 6 years pushing up the score, even though they have almost no correlation with the fire behaviour
    2) Shrub height decreases, reducing flame height and ROS (according to the correlation matrix), but it is not included as a variable in the score
    3) Shrubs senesce, producing more dead material which raises the score. But perhaps due to the low height of the shrubs the fresh ones were catching fire without the aid of dead material, so the amount of dead material in the elevated fuels is not relevant to Dee Vee
    4) This one’s conjecture as the report doesn’t present stats on it, but I’m prepared to take a punt that shrub height was a stronger predictor of flame height & ROS at Dee Vee than it was at McCorkhill. If it was, I’d say that the NS fuel score would be less relevant there, but as NS fuels continued to increase they also added to the total score.

    Overall, the score continued to increase at Dee Vee because it was largely based on factors that weren’t affecting the fire behaviour there. It will be interesting to chat to Jim and see if we can get some stats on point 4 out of him.

    Comment by Phil Zylstra — 26 Feb 2009 @ 4:19 PM

  286. William, you wrote:

    “… What is disputed is … do we really understand all of the other processes …”

    Can you point to your source? Did you read someone who claims there’s some dispute about whether we really understand all of the other processes?

    I am guessing you read on some blog someone claiming the scientists don’t really understand everything about all of the possible processes.

    That’s true. But who is disputing it? Did you find someone who claims it _is_ possible to understand everything about all of the possible processes, so claims the scientists aren’t doing it right?

    This may be part of the problem. Try this:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=ipcc+uncertainties

    Sorting out the good info from the bad is difficult.
    A basic course in statistics is, well, basic to this.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 26 Feb 2009 @ 4:38 PM

  287. Correct, SecularAnimist.

    Comment by Mark — 26 Feb 2009 @ 5:34 PM

  288. Schools close as Australia braces for more wildfires

    MELBOURNE, Feb 26 (AFP) Feb 26, 2009 – Hundreds of Australian schools and childcare centres will be closed Friday because of a resurgent threat from wildfires that have already killed more than 200 people, officials said. …

    Temperatures of 39 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit) are expected across the state on Friday, raising fears that the heat and wind will stoke five major fires still burning or that lightning will start new ones.

    Three schools burnt down on “Black Saturday” — February 7 — when temperatures of up to 46 C combined with high winds to raze more than 2,000 houses and kill a total of 210 people.

    “This certainly is an extreme set of circumstances. We’ve got a tinder-dry environment and existing fires. The risk is very great on Friday,” Pike said. …

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 26 Feb 2009 @ 5:49 PM

  289. William, what other processes are not understood? And are they understood well enough to consider their effect negligible?

    After all, the precise definition of the vector “down” in a gravitational field is the resultant vector addition of all the other masses in the universe, each of which contribute something to the gravitational pull I feel and gives me the sense of “down”.

    So, what is the effect of Barnard’s star (the closest one we have) on the location of “down” for me?

    Now, if you consider that this figure is probably less than the change that occurs when my blood pumps about my body, microscopically changing the local distribution of weight so very close to my centre of gravity, does it matter that I don’t understand precisely how much the force of gravity Barnard’s star has here on earth for me may not be of any great import?

    And if you have anything that is completely unknown, then it is as likely to make things worse as better. And there are potentially an infinite number of them. Since there is no reason to suspect that there is any bias to increasing or decreasing the global warming effect on earth, they add up equally.

    So half of infinity push it to a lower change of a small value. And half of infinity push it to a higher change of a small value.

    But half of infinity is still infinity.

    So the total difference is infinity plus negative infinity.

    I mean, if they are COMPLETELY unknown, this is the best guess, isn’t it.

    Comment by Mark — 26 Feb 2009 @ 6:04 PM

  290. Mark wrote in 282:

    And then, because I said you can’t derive the bits you have to put in to the S-B constant, it is irrelevant and misleading to say you can derive the S-B constant.

    And then Tim pops along and says “you’re wrong mark”.

    Mark, if you prove a theorem from a set of axioms (e.g., euclidean geometry), is it a mistake to say that you derived the theorem given the fact that the axioms themselves cannot be proven or “derived”?

    The fact is that it is generally regarded as derivable.

    Please see for example:

    The constant of proportionality σ, called the Stefan–Boltzmann constant or Stefan’s constant, is non-fundamental in the sense that it derives from other known constants of nature. The value of the constant is

    σ = 2π5k4/(15 c2h3) = 5.670400 x 10-8J s-1 m-2K-4

    where k is the Boltzmann constant, h is Planck’s constant, and c is the speed of light in a vacuum. Thus at 100 K the energy flux density is 5.67 W/m2, at 1000 K 56,700 W/m2, etc.

    Stefan–Boltzmann law
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stefan–Boltzmann_law

    … even though the constants which it is derived from are themselves not derivable.

    In fact, if one were to require that everything which something derivable were derived from were themselves derivable, one would be faced with an infinite regress — or circularity.

    Anyway, a large part of what you sought to argue for was simply that we can’t currently explain the values of dimensionful (as opposed to dimensionless) universal constants — which I agree with — but I sought to take things a step further and say that with regard to the fundamental universal constants, we will never be able to explain their values (otherwise they wouldn’t be fundamental) — and that a world in which the fundamental dimensionful universal constants were different from what they are would be observationally indistinguishable from our own.

    In any case, I don’t think the differences between us are really that great — although you could be a tad more polite in presence of honest disagreement.

    Captcha Fortune Cookie:
    deduce water

    … seems oddly appropriate

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 26 Feb 2009 @ 11:02 PM

  291. Ray, you counter my assertion of “less than a real strong science” with two “ambiguities”, one of which is exactly the same as one of my points. Secondly, there is emperical and there is empirical. The speed of light has a very precise and unchanging ever (in a vacuum) value; this empiricism is physicists just trying to measure that exact value more closely. The power of the concentration ratio (or the coefficient of the log, if you will) is not the same; it’s more a bunch of physicists looking at some lab results and saying, “let’s call it 5 and 1/2 and see if anyone salutes.” In truth it is not near that flippant; it is serious stuff and they try their best to be accurate with what they see. But that coefficient does not have an exact natural value like C, and it most likely changes with concentration ratios — as it heads for that “ambiguous” transition to linear, e.g.

    “Snowball Earth” has no relevance to my contention. All that implies is that CO2, et al, absorbs some radiative energy and indirectly can trap heat and can make things warmer. I have never disagreed with that — and this could probably be called strong science as loose as it is. But exactly how much heat is trapped under what exact conditions and to what exact degree, absolutely and marginally, is… not… a real strong science: the best you can do is make learned estimates.

    Comment by Rod B — 26 Feb 2009 @ 11:22 PM

  292. Mark (278), I don’t follow your question. Blackbody radiation is not directly related to what I am asserting.

    Comment by Rod B — 26 Feb 2009 @ 11:27 PM

  293. Correction to 290

    I should have included the word “only” in the following sentence:

    … a world in which only the fundamental dimensionful universal constants were different from what they are would be observationally indistinguishable from our own.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 27 Feb 2009 @ 12:02 AM

  294. But exactly how much heat is trapped under what exact conditions and to what exact degree, absolutely and marginally, is… not… a real strong science: the best you can do is make learned estimates.

    Learned estimates which you claim are far too high, in comparison with your unlearned denialist stubborness.

    If these learned estimates aren’t good enough, your insistence that they are wrong, without evidence, with nothing other than your personal assertion that it must be true, are surely worthless.

    Despite your continued disingenuous efforts to tell us that you have an open mind, want to learn, blah blah blah, you are nothing but an ideologically-driven denialist.

    And evolutionary biology is trucking along just fine without adopting your rejection of evolution in favor of intelligent design, too.

    Comment by dhogaza — 27 Feb 2009 @ 12:25 AM

  295. David Horton (270), thanks for your thoughts. I have to say that I don’t subscribe to either viewpoint on this; I don’t think we’ve done the sums yet. Your theory is quite valid and needs to be examined properly rather than dismissed as it has been so often; but until that is done it’s still a theory. We have to say that we know very little about the effects of prescribed fire as a whole.

    As far as the management of surface litter goes, simple maths says that the value of prescribed burning is limited to only the first few years after fire and that the steeper the country, the shorter this period of advantage. However as you say, the bigger picture is the fire ecology of a site. There are quite a few more forests than Mountain Ash that I am aware of which respond to frequent fire by producing a more dense understorey (not all though – that’s a bit of a generalisation but check my comment at http://realdirt.com.au/2009/02/24/while-the-fires-continue-to-burn/). Does this automatically mean that the bush is more of a fire threat if it has more scrub? Not necessarily. A denser understorey will make a more dangerous scenario if it catches fire, but it may also prevent grasses from growing or maintain a high moisture content in surface litter – both factors that make it harder for fires to get going at all. Where is the tipping point? That’s a question of complex modelling and I think it wise to hold our opinions until the modelling is done – now is too soon to say burning off works or burning off makes things worse. What we should be doing is identifying specific examples where we can say from good, consistent observational evidence that prescribed fire has had a positive, a neutral or a negative effect.

    I think there is currently a very unscientific atmosphere around this subject, where someone will say “prescribed burning works, here is evidence”, or “prescribed fire does not work, here’s proof”. This violates the first principles of good science. If you want to prove that prescribed fire always works should be trying your hardest to find examples where you might expect it not to, that way you can define the limits of your statement. In the same way, if you want to state that it never works, then it only takes one example of a success to prove you wrong. We need to start getting specific on this and saying “prescribed fire provides this much advantage for this long in this forest type in this terrain.” Because the argument has been so polarised, neither side has examined it adequately and we’re still arguing over something no one has an answer for. When it comes to a tool like prescribed fire which is presented to so many as the answer to Australia’s woes, I think that’s not acceptable.

    Comment by Phil Zylstra — 27 Feb 2009 @ 12:43 AM

  296. RodB says
    “I don’t follow your question. Blackbody radiation is not directly related to what I am asserting.”

    But then what does this mean:

    “based on radiation absorption theory though it is directly derived only for certain ranges that have been analyzed. ”

    ?

    what radiation theory for thermal sources does not rely on the theories and equations that define and derive the black body curve? Which, by the way, is how you can derive the S-B equation where the S-B constant is used: by integrating the black body curve.

    Or did you know that people had derived the SB constant but didn’t find out how???

    Comment by Mark — 27 Feb 2009 @ 4:07 AM

  297. Tim Chase, #290, stop talking about deriving fundamental constants. It can’t be done. They are fundamental to physics expressed in this universe and cannot be deduced from mathematics or logic like, for example, pi can be. Or the total internal angles of a triangle.

    Fundamental constants cannot be derived.

    And, unless they are dimensionless constants, the dimensional units used change the values. This may be what is confusing you and making you think they aren’t constants (so cannot be fundamental constants). Take the speed of light. The value in feet per second is higher than it is in meters per second because the foot is shorter and more of them can be covered in the same unit time.

    You can even define your unit system so that these constants are unitary themselves! Mathematics then allows you to miss out proportionality constants that are unitary.

    However, this is no different from using speed of light as a non-unitary number or an algebraic constant like, for example, “c”.

    Comment by Mark — 27 Feb 2009 @ 4:57 AM

  298. Now how did that feel? Being told what you were already told.

    Nice?

    Think what it would be like after about a dozen times.

    Now on to the new stuff Tim.

    What if string theory comes out with the speed of light being dependent on the size of the extra dimensions?

    This is no different from Newton’s First Law of motion being derivable from Shroedinger’s equations in Quantum Mechanics if you take the Newtonian equation as the average translation of the mass-energy in the force-energy field.

    This then makes something ELSE a fundamental constant and, as I’ve said that doesn’t really change the status of a fundamental constant unless and until you find something that solves the derivation of more than one element.

    NOTE: and example of how a fundamental constant can be found to fall out of a better understanding of the dimensionality of the problem is the gorce of gravity itself.

    Until then it was really just a fundamental constant that the power law of gravity wrt distance was 2. But this value of 2 could have been and has been derived as a consequence of there being an exchange particle the graviton operating in three independent directional axis. Until the force exchange particle was used as a model, there was no reason for it to be precisely 2.

    And if MOND is correct, this could be as a consequence of multiple dimensions of spacetime with all but four of those dimensions wrapped up VERY SMALL.

    Comment by Mark — 27 Feb 2009 @ 5:27 AM

  299. Thanks for all the replies on my last comment. I would like to individually reply but I will try to keep the thread simple and make a few follow up points.

    a) The “carbon accounting” of forestry/trees doesn’t factor in the “black carbon” given off from bush fires, nor the loss of soil carbon when ground cover burns off. I suspect that the bigger the fire, the more significant this carbon release. I would suspect that in the long term, fires would prevent any Victorian wilderness from having a meaningful long term absorption of carbon without human intervention to more purposefully sequester the carbon where it won’t become fuel.

    b)Most policy arguments with “Green” issues seem to use rules of thumb such as Trees=good, fire=bad, wilderness=good, farms=bad, pulpmills=bad, land-fill=bad – whereas the science is more nuanced if also a work-in-progress as far as specific policy goes.

    To take pulpmills as an example, If you take into account that when a tree is taken for a pulpmill, what grows in the tree’s place will absorb carbon quicker than the original tree, that paper fairly quickly ends up in a landfill, where it is usually buried and unlikely to release its carbon for a lot longer than bark or leaf-litter – The carbon accounting of this argument should really be taken into account. The same with furniture in a landfill. “Green waste recycling” actually encourages the carbon to stay near the surface where it is likely to make its way back into the atmosphere, sometimes even as CH4, and other green-waste recycling releases Nitrous oxide.

    I know that I don’t have citations on these things being studied, but I find it hard to believe that scientific conclusions would contradict these assertions.

    Comment by Marco Parigi — 27 Feb 2009 @ 7:21 AM

  300. Rod B., “Learned estimates”–also known as theories, are what science is about. In any case, it is pointless to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t know the difference between a power and a coefficient. If you don’t want to learn the physics, fine, stay ignorant. However, you shouldn’t expect your opinions to carry any weight.
    The ambiguities to which I refer have to do with the line shape–again an empirically measured entity. They are only ambiguous when talking about a general absorption line. It seems that where you have difficulties is with anything having to do with statistical mechanics. I would therefore recommend that you go back and rectify this shortcoming in your education. Look at the derivation of the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution–it’s no less ambiguous than the logarithmic dependence CO2 forcing.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 27 Feb 2009 @ 8:12 AM

  301. OffTopic, cause there are no open threads with an appropriately related subject:

    Collected a whole bunch of temp info from different collators, by land, sea, nh / sh, global, month and putting in the parms for January+Crutem3v and February+Crutem3v, it struck me that for the winter months, the variability of mean temperatures was much greater from 1850 through 1930-1940, after which the temps for the winter months moved in a much narrower band, with upward trend. The chart I made putting an annual line curve over a 3 month mean line over a month of year, makes that abundantly visible. So the question is: “Is there a recognized and understood reason why that is for land, 29% of the global surface!”

    Comment by Sekerob — 27 Feb 2009 @ 12:06 PM

  302. Mario, you’re telling us your opinions at length and saying that you don’t have sources for them.

    And you say that your beliefs should be used in carbon accounting. Would you like to believe some numbers as well as general handwaving?

    There is ample work done on carbon accounting already. You wish to change it simply by proclaiming you believe something different.

    You can start by going to a library. Tell the librarian you know what you believe, and you would like help finding citations to support what you believe.

    Let us know how it works out.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 27 Feb 2009 @ 12:42 PM

  303. Mario, you’re telling us your opinions at length and saying that you don’t have sources for them.

    Yes Hankio, forums are also places for opinions and should be places where prevailing thought can be challenged. My opinions are not lead by the opinions of scientists, but they are not inconsistent with the very wide range of scientific studies out there.

    I don’t need an individual scientific study to tell me that a piece of wooden furniture (or newspaper) buried in a landfill is going to lock the carbon up more than woodchip (or newspaper) used as mulch on my garden.

    I don’t like using forums to link to the matching opinions of others, I like them to be sources of new, considered thought.

    Comment by Marco Parigi — 27 Feb 2009 @ 4:29 PM

  304. Dhogaza (294), I never claimed the estimates are too high; I never claimed the learned estimates are wrong; I have never refuted evolution. But, zero for three ain’t real bad!

    Your rants might sound more credible if you removed your head from your butt, first.

    Comment by Rod B — 27 Feb 2009 @ 4:35 PM

  305. Mark, a molecule absorbibg a discrete photon into its vibration energy has virtually no connection with Planck’s blackbody radiation or the S-B constant. By happenstance the photon originated from blackbody radiation, but the molecule has no knowledge nor care about that. The emission of a photon from the vibration energy likewise is not blackbody type, has no connection with S-B constant, and has no dependence on T^4. That blackbody radiation is used to analyze the global atmospheric effect of radiation absorption and energy transfer is strictly a convenient construct with nothing to do with the actual physics of this specific type of absorption.

    Comment by Rod B — 27 Feb 2009 @ 4:51 PM

  306. Mario (I made a typo earlier, not meant to offend) — I’m sure you’re wrong about forests versus wood products, comparing carbon storage in a forest versus carbon storage by logging and building with the wood.

    You’re ‘moving the goalpost’ by comparing a wood chip in a landfill versus one on the ground, but still telling us what you want to believe. And this really has been studied seriously, you can find it.

    From a landfill we get mostly methane. From aerobic dead wood we get mostly consumption of the wood by fungi and insects. That’s what makes soil.

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=old+forest+logging+carbon+storage

    Now if you want to argue in favor of sustainable certified forestry and careful building of furniture and buildings that people will want to keep for centuries — we’re in agreement.

    And being careful about using wood only where it’s really needed, too:
    http://www.nrdc.org/land/forests/gtissue.asp

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 27 Feb 2009 @ 8:06 PM

  307. Damn this overeager spellchecker, that’s _Marco_ not Mario.
    Dictionary inspected, eviscerated, and defenestrated.
    I hate software.
    If I didn’t need it to use hardware, I’d never touch the stuff.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 27 Feb 2009 @ 8:07 PM

  308. Mark wrote in 298:

    Now how did that feel? Being told what you were already told.

    Nice?

    Think what it would be like after about a dozen times.

    I only “repeated” myself when you seemed unable to make a distinction. But I think a large part of that had to do with your getting defensive, feeling as if your intelligence were under attack. Unfortunately, when someone gets defensive they tend to make mistakes that they normally wouldn’t make.

    In any case, personally I think your intelligence is an asset. Defensiveness? Not so much. But we learn. And there may also have been points at which I simply honestly misunderstood you. If so, I apologize. Clearly there was some form of complementary schismogenesis going on, something that I would normally back away from. But I wanted to be understood — and was hoping that the discussion could become less hostile — particularly since we both seem to be on the same side.

    *

    Mark wrote in 298:

    What if string theory comes out with the speed of light being dependent on the size of the extra dimensions?

    How do you get from a dimensionality of L to a dimensionality of LT-1? And even assuming you do… Well, we will get to that in a moment.

    Mark wrote in 298:

    This is no different from Newton’s First Law of motion being derivable from Schroedinger’s equations in Quantum Mechanics if you take the Newtonian equation as the average translation of the mass-energy in the force-energy field.

    You are speaking of deriving formula of earlier theories as approximations of later theories. Not dimensionful constants, that is constants that are measured along a given dimension, which are contrasted against dimensionless constants. (I have been making the distinction between fundamental constants with dimensionality — or dimensionful constants — vs. pure numbers — or dimensionless constants — as far back as 244 and 254.)

    So let’s talk about correspondence principles. They require that the predictions of a more advanced theory coincide with the predictions of a less advanced theory over domains for which the less advanced theory is known to hold.

    Thus for example Schwartzchild was able to derive the simplest of solutions to Einstein’s field equations within Einstein’s gravitational theory — for an uncharged point mass without angular momentum — everything except for one constant. G — Newton’s gravitational constant, which he was able to solve for only by recourse to Newton’s gravitational theory. (Bergmann, Peter Gabriel, Introduction to the Theory of Relativity, Chapter 13: Rigorous Solutions, Pg.202. PB) The constant was known independently of Einstein’s gravitational theory, and its status as a fundamental constant was preserved. Insofar as General Relativity referred to Newton’s gravitational constant, it referred to it as a fundamental constant from which its own results would be derived.

    What this would roughly correspond to in your hypothetical example of somehow deriving the speed of light from the scale of a microscopic dimension would be the derivation of the scale as something unknown from the speed of light as something which is already known.

    Mark wrote in 298:

    NOTE: and example of how a fundamental constant can be found to fall out of a better understanding of the dimensionality of the problem is the gorce of gravity itself.

    Until then it was really just a fundamental constant that the power law of gravity wrt distance was 2. But this value of 2 could have been and has been derived as a consequence of there being an exchange particle the graviton operating in three independent directional axis. Until the force exchange particle was used as a model, there was no reason for it to be precisely 2.

    If you are speaking of a dimensionless constant, which clearly you are in this case as it is the exponent in the inverse square law, then you are dealing with the problem that I suggested — of attempting to explain a dimensionful constant, that is a constant which requires one or more units of measurement with which to establish its value. Changing fundamental constants results in an observationally different universe only in the case of dimensionless fundamental constants, e.g., the fine structure constant.

    If the hypothetical change in fundamental constants occurs only in dimensionful fundamental constants (e.g., doubling the speed of light), then by changing one or more units of measurement (e.g., halving the unit of time, e.g., the second) one is able to establish a correspondence to a universe in which no such change took place. This is what renders a change in the scale of dimensionful fundamental constants meaningless — the observational indistinguishability of the universe before and after such a change.

    Mark wrote in 298:

    And if MOND is correct, this could be as a consequence of multiple dimensions of spacetime with all but four of those dimensions wrapped up VERY SMALL.

    “Could be”? Irrelevant to our discussion since you are dealing with a dimensionless constant. But I wouldn’t wish to confuse people — MOND isn’t so sophisticated that it posits hidden dimensions. However, I realize that you were simply expressing that as something which hypothetically could be the case.

    Take care.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 27 Feb 2009 @ 8:18 PM

  309. Rod, again, your views on radiative physics are ill founded. You haven’t bothered to learn the subject. No one molecule’s emissions or absorptions can be considered blackbody, but in the aggregate when the matter and energy field come into equilibrium, both the emission and absorption approximate blackbody radiation. The treatment in Landau and Lifshitz is very clear. I STRONGLY recommend it. I have not found other treatments quite as clear (e.g. Pathria, Reif).
    The basic argument goes that photons do not interact with photons, so the only way a photon gas can come to equilibrium is via interactions with the surrounding matter. All the emissions and absorptions must be between available energy states (e.g. quantum processes). However, in the aggregate, when both the photons and the matter are in equilibrium, the result will be blackbody emission and absorption.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 27 Feb 2009 @ 8:45 PM

  310. Quick correction to 308 — the following sentence should contain the bolded word “not”:

    If you are speaking of a dimensionless constant, which clearly you are in this case as it is the exponent in the inverse square law, then you are NOT dealing with the problem that I suggested…

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 27 Feb 2009 @ 8:46 PM

  311. Yes, tim, 310, if I were speaking of a dimensionless constant which I was IN ONE EXAMPLE bot NOT all of it, then I am not dealing with the problem you suggested.

    However, in the cases (note plural) were I AM talking about constants with a dimensional element, I AM dealing with the problem you suggested.

    Comment by Mark — 28 Feb 2009 @ 5:11 AM

  312. Ray, 309, a key element should be mentioned for people who think RodB is on to something: in thermalisation of radiation (and hence a body being a black body) is the extreme number of collisions, absorbtions and reemissions. In the classic case of the radiating cavity, you have a large black pot with a small hole at one end and a spike on the opposite side to stop direct reflection straight out of the pot and out of the hole.

    Why?

    Because you need many, many collisions before thermalisation of energy is practically guaranteed.

    In astrophysics, this is formed by considering “optical depth”. The
    temperature (and hence also the brightness) of the sun’s photosphere depends on the temperature of the gas in the sun’s atmosphere where optical depth is 1. And, where there is enhanced absorbtion of the photon at a particular energy, this optical depth is higher up the sun’s atmosphere, where it is cooler and therefore the brightness of radiation at this level is lower.

    Astronomers call this “absorbtion spectra”.

    And it is an identical process to what happens on the earth with it’s atmosphere that is optically thick in the IR range.

    So if CO2 isn’t a greenhouse gas and CO2 cannot cause warming because of kirchoff’s law, please tell the astronomers looking at the stars that they are looking at something that doesn’t exist.

    Rod is kidding on he doesn’t know so he can keep saying “you got it wrong” because if he did know, he would be unable to say that since he could prove it right himself.

    Comment by Mark — 28 Feb 2009 @ 5:18 AM

  313. RodB, yes it does.

    Another similar photon could hit, it could collide inelastically with another element losing or gaining energy. The photon preferentially absorbed can change because of red or blue shift of the photon in the molecule’s frame of reference because it is moving with relation to the original photon emitter, making the absorbtion a spread band rather than a discrete line.

    These are all stochastic processes and if they occur frequently enough, then the spread will become wider and eventually form into the black body radiation.

    How else would the classical black body pot work? Or did you skip class that day?

    Comment by Mark — 28 Feb 2009 @ 5:22 AM

  314. Tim #308 you only repeated me too. And many others repeated me. I said they are fundamental constants and cannot be derived from logic only measured under our understanding of the universe. You then repeated that they were fundamental constants and cannot be derived from logic, only measured.

    And said “Mark, you’re wrong” yet when they then stated what should, gramatically speaking, be the counter (and hence the truth from your POV and why you said I was wrong), you said what I said.

    So if from your POV what I said was true, why did you say I lied?

    So stop talking about how these fundamental constants can be derived. You can’t. It isn’t possible.

    Comment by Mark — 28 Feb 2009 @ 5:26 AM

  315. RodB 304. You have NEVER said that there could be an underestimation of GW under the IPCC papers. You never said that warming per doubling of CO2 could be more than 5C. You ONLY ever said it could be lower than 2C.

    You ONLY take uncertainty to mean that AGW is LESS of a problem. NEVER more.

    OK, so you never said “the uncertainties must make it less of a problem” but then when you say “It could be less than 2″ and NEVER say “It could be more than 5″ then you ARE saying that the undertainties must make it less of a problem.

    Comment by Mark — 28 Feb 2009 @ 5:29 AM

  316. From a landfill we get mostly methane. From aerobic dead wood we get mostly consumption of the wood by fungi and insects. That’s what makes soil.
    Most studies that I could find on methane and landfills don’t detail the individual sources within the landfill – just that landfill is a very significant source of methane. There was another scientific article which did study the use of wood and paper and how to best to ensure the sequestration of it. I got the impression that the burial of wood/paper was, in principle, a good way to ensure long term sequestration. From a reasonable look at how our local landfill works, almost all the rotting matter was neither paper nor wood but rotting food and various other organic matter eg nappies etc. Termites wouldn’t get a look-in because of the depth and pattern of grading of the site. Other bacterial processes are another story – http://www.cbmjournal.com/content/3/1/1. “Carbon sequestration via wood burial” article indicates this is very slow. Quote:Other studies have shown that organic matter, especially wood, in landfills decomposes extremely slowly

    However, just next door to the landfill is a green-waste recycling operation. My feeling is that no matter how high or deep the pile of wood is, very little methane gets generated there (There is a fire risk from all that fuel however)

    Maybe, Hank, with your more extensive Google knowledge, you have found long term studies showing that the wood/paper, no matter how deep in the typical landfill, cannot be considered sequestered.

    The scientific study featured on Landline http://www.abc.net.au/landline/content/2008/s2490568.htm was what made me realise that as much as we know about the carbon cycle, there’s an awful lot we don’t know.

    I think there is enough citations to counter your assertion that (at least) wooden furniture in landfills gets converted to methane. Paper might be a little different, but I would be surprised if that turned out to be the case.

    I think there is also a reasonable case to bury greenwaste rather than recycling it.

    Comment by Marco Parigi — 28 Feb 2009 @ 8:19 AM

  317. > you only repeated me … and others repeated me …

    Mark, it’s not all about you.

    We’re all trying to describe the natural world.

    In particular, the natural world of bushfires-and-climate, here.

    We’re not trying to rewrite _you_.

    You’re magnificent.

    You _know_ that.

    You work with _Astrophysics_.

    But you’re often wordy, self-absorbed, and are not writing at a level readers who will inherit this world.

    Think of the children.

    Think of the topic.

    Bless your heart.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 28 Feb 2009 @ 11:41 AM

  318. Mark’s entire post in 311 consists of:

    Yes, tim, 310, if I were speaking of a dimensionless constant which I was IN ONE EXAMPLE bot NOT all of it, then I am not dealing with the problem you suggested.

    However, in the cases (note plural) were I AM talking about constants with a dimensional element, I AM dealing with the problem you suggested.

    Are you expecting me to look for signs of life in a parrot that you claim is merely pining for the fjords?

    Time for us to move on, I believe.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 28 Feb 2009 @ 12:24 PM

  319. Marco, I can chase the goalposts but it won’t help. You stated a broad general belief about the forests vs. furniture as carbon sequestration.
    I pointed out that there is a lot of study done worth reading.

    Weigh the forest, not just the trees. Consider how carbon turns over in forests — much moves through consumption by other living organisms. (There is more life in a fallen tree than a ‘live’ standing tree, as most of the wood inside a ‘live’ tree is dead.) Weigh the sawdust and waste as well as finished furniture. Count the energy consumed. Weigh the length of time the wood stays wood.

    You can make an argument for your general point of view: you look at the work being done — it’s a major area both in biology and in economics and carbon accounting is being studied in detail.

    http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/pdf2000/skog00b.pdf

    http://www.cbmjournal.com/

    This is yet another area where there is a huge amount of money at risk and a huge impetus for industry to skew the science to claim funds or claim tax credits. It’s going to take serious nitpicking attention to what gets published — ask who funded the research, who funds the publication; check the cites.

    Remember how industry works. Gotta watch closely:
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=%22sound+science%22

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 28 Feb 2009 @ 12:33 PM

  320. In response to Rod, Mark states in 315:

    OK, so you never said “the uncertainties must make it less of a problem” but then when you say “It could be less than 2″ and NEVER say “It could be more than 5″ then you ARE saying that the undertainties must make it less of a problem.

    Actually Rod’s main argument is that the issues surrounding anthropogenic global warming are debatable — because after all we clearly willing to debate them with him. However, I must admit that this is rather implicit.

    *

    Captcha Fortune Cookie:
    Federal ALLIES

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 28 Feb 2009 @ 12:39 PM

  321. Tim 320, but he NEVER argues that IPCC has underestimated the problem. Only overestimated.

    Comment by Mark — 28 Feb 2009 @ 1:43 PM

  322. HAnk, I’m not magnificent. But I never said that these things were not fundamental constants yet lots of people decided they needed to tell me that.

    Whoo for reading!

    Comment by Mark — 28 Feb 2009 @ 1:45 PM

  323. OFF TOPIC…

    There is a little piece I wrote a while back dealing with a conspiracy of silence that at least some creationists believe exists regarding evidence against evolution. I think it might be of value for us since we sometimes encounter the same sort of thing with those who are “skeptical” of climatology. However, it also deals with issues of being able to find value in what is said by others even in the face of disagreement, the differences between debate, discussion and dialogue — and the power of dialogue.

    So for anyone who might be interested:

    A conspiracy of silence
    By Timothy Chase
    http://www.bcseweb.org.uk/index.php/Main/AConspiracyOfSilence

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 28 Feb 2009 @ 2:07 PM

  324. Mark wrote in 322:

    Tim 320, but he NEVER argues that IPCC has underestimated the problem. Only overestimated.

    I am not disagreeing with you. Just bringing to the table one of my own insights — for whatever it is worth.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 28 Feb 2009 @ 2:10 PM

  325. Timothy Chase said: “Actually Rod’s main argument is that the issues surrounding anthropogenic global warming are debatable — because after all we clearly willing to debate them with him. However, I must admit that this is rather implicit.”

    This misiterpretation only arises when you misconstrue the purpose of this site being debate rather than education. There are plenty of people here who have looked into the science deeply and are willing to help educate those who want to learn. In so doing, some of us may also learn things ourselves. However, to contend that there is any serious debate about the consensus theory of Earth’s climate and therefore the inescapable conclusion that we are the cause of the current warming epoch is naive to the point of risible.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 28 Feb 2009 @ 2:56 PM

  326. Ray Ladbury wrote in 325:

    Timothy Chase said: “Actually Rod’s main argument is that the issues surrounding anthropogenic global warming are debatable — because after all we clearly willing to debate them with him. However, I must admit that this is rather implicit.”

    This misiterpretation only arises when you misconstrue the purpose of this site being debate rather than education….

    Funny — I made a similar point in comment 244 of Linking the climate-ecology attribution chain before reading yours:

    Incidentally, this is why it may be valuable to argue with someone who is being dishonest….

    The individual that you are “responding to” may already understand everything that you are explaining, but for someone else who has just wandered in or may not even post, what you say may make a real difference.

    You were first… and more succinct, though.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 28 Feb 2009 @ 4:25 PM

  327. Marco, I can chase the goalposts but it won’t help. You stated a broad general belief about the forests vs. furniture as carbon sequestration.
    I pointed out that there is a lot of study done worth reading.

    I am honestly not trying to move the goalposts. I am trying to make clear my nuance in thought – That the studies that show that there is net absorption of carbon from forest(excluding rainforest) and the planting of trees in general, cannot take into account that the place that the carbon is being stored is a place (active layer of soil upwards) where readily or accidentally (through ever-increasing fuel) and the movement of the carbon from flora to fauna back to CO2 etc. should not be considered sequestered until it safely tucked underground as coal (etc.) again.

    I am not trying to give credence to various claims being bandied about, but the more carbon a non-rain forest absorbs, the harder it is to keep it permanently locked where it is.

    Comment by Marco Parigi — 28 Feb 2009 @ 4:25 PM

  328. Marco Parigi (327) — Your last sentence does not agree with various abstracts of papers about, for instance, PNW forests.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 28 Feb 2009 @ 5:12 PM

  329. Marco, the place to watch on this is when you find that argument being used by timber companies as an argument for liquidating old growth timber. That’s the least susceptible to fire and the best for longterm carbon sequestration, and it costs nothing to leave it alone (to the extent we manage to avoid changing the climate around it, of course).

    Seriously, if you look any of this up using Google Scholar,

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=“old+growth”+carbon+sequestration

    noting year of publication and checking “cited by” articles, you’ll find some of your opinions are supportable by the published science, to some extent.

    look within that at the recent work in major journals that’s cited approvingly by science sources.

    Then — compare a Google search instead of Scholar. Look at the opinion sources and see if you detect any spin going on.

    Seriously, being aware of the published work will help you if you think the science is worthwhile.

    Example:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v455/n7210/abs/nature07276.html

    Some PR work by the timber lobby is, I think inevitable.

    “… in forests between 15 and 800 years of age, net ecosystem productivity (the net carbon balance of the forest including soils) is usually positive. Our results demonstrate that old-growth forests can continue to accumulate carbon, contrary to the long-standing view …. Old-growth forests accumulate carbon for centuries and contain large quantities of it. We expect, however, that much of this carbon, even soil carbon/9, will move back to the atmosphere if these forests are disturbed….”

    Cited by four:
    http://www.nature.com/cited/cited.html?doi=10.1038/nature07276

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 28 Feb 2009 @ 7:10 PM

  330. For those interested in the bushfire/AGW debate I’ve just had a short article accepted to the front page of slashdot. It includes this little tidbit from the DSE’s 2008 annual report;

    ‘[The DSE] achieved a planned burning program of more than 156,000 hectares, the best result for more than a decade. The planned burning of forest undergrowth is by far the most powerful management tool available…’

    Comment by Alan of Oz — 28 Feb 2009 @ 7:47 PM

  331. Marco, the place to watch on this is when you find that argument being used by timber companies as an argument for liquidating old growth timber.

    I realise this, and perhaps I wasn’t quite making myself clear about which “forests” I’m talking about. I’m talking about forests of which the current fire situation in Victoria would threaten. I used the general term “rainforest” as those old growth forests which are a low fire risk which I am not talking about. I know of their ability to squirrel away carbon without any particular human management. The fire-prone forests are a different story altogether. Intense human management across the whole spectrum of the fire-prone areas will give much better results, and, in my opinion we need not prevent productive commercial use of the wood whether it is for furniture, building or paper, as long as soil carbon, replanting and fuel management is given very high priority.

    Thank you for your persistent, thoughtful shuffling through sites also. You seem to be almost omnipresent at Realclimate over the years…

    Comment by Marco Parigi — 1 Mar 2009 @ 5:38 AM

  332. Alan I think the quote should have read -
    “The planned burning of forest undergrowth is” … by far the most damaging process to forest ecosystems, and of little benefit in fire prevention.

    Comment by David Horton — 1 Mar 2009 @ 5:40 AM

  333. Re #323
    I was attempting to point out that “bushfire expert” David Packham was peddling misinformation in the BBC article linked to in my slashdot article.

    He was quoted by the BBC as saying: “The mismanagement of the south-eastern forests of Australia over the last 30 or 40 years by excluding prescribed burning and fuel management has led to the highest fuel concentrations we have ever had in human occupation”

    I’m a computer expert not a bushfire expert but as with most complex issues I don’t think the picture is as black and white as you paint it.

    Comment by Alan of Oz — 1 Mar 2009 @ 8:03 AM

  334. Mark (315), I said to dhogaza that I never claimed the estimates are too high nor claimed the learned estimates are wrong. Why are you taking me to task for not saying or saying other stuff I didn’t say??

    Tinothy, thanks, but to clarify a wee bit, I have skepticism and doubts with some parts of the AGW thinking, not the entire theory of global warming.

    Comment by Rod B — 1 Mar 2009 @ 3:50 PM

  335. Mark, Ray: As I said in 305 while the physics of blackbody radiation and of GHG absorption of infrared radiation (at discrete frequencies) is different, the climatologists have found it much more convenient, with little loss of accuracy, to analyze emission, absorption and re-emission in successive arbitrary layers of a planar global atmosphere by using blackbody radiation estimates — with S-B constants, T^4 and all that jazz. That’s a construct — and a decidedly helpful construct — but not a description of the physics. Blackbody radiation has a virtually different source: the acceleration of charge (dipoles, ions, electrons, e.g.) form the physical movement of the real particles. The acceleration stems predominately from collisions (but not absorption, etc. — though there is some aspect of that with quantized electronic energy states) as Mark says. Blackbody radiation, resulting mainly from something akin to translation energy, does not occur, for all practical purposes, between quantum energy states ala rotation and vibration. That’s where the continuous spectrum, a base characteristic of blackbody/Planck radiation, comes from.

    Ray says, “…in the aggregate … both the emission and absorption approximate blackbody radiation.” That’s absolutely true, which is why they generate the analytical construct; the numbers are presumed (appropriately) to come out about the same. But, for the umpteenth time, the physics is not the same.

    Frankly I am totally astounded and perplexed over your stated disagreement with this, given your illustrious education and study in this very field. I can only guess that you might be reading far more into what I say than I actually do. But that is just a wild guess — I don’t really have a clue.

    The same can be said for Ray’s denial of Algebra-II. I will no longer say to you that X[ln(N)] = ln(NX) — it seems to upset you greatly, but it sure is befuddling!

    Comment by Rod B — 1 Mar 2009 @ 4:28 PM

  336. Rod B., OK, I’m all ears. ‘Splain to me how you get emission and absorption/emission by matter at frequencies other than those corresponding to quantized energy states. And if you are willing to stipulate that such absorption is not possible, then how do you get a blackbody spectrum. Enough with the refusal to learn the physics. Work it out for yourself or go back and learn it from a text book.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 1 Mar 2009 @ 7:12 PM

  337. Ray, you tell me: how DO you get, physically, continuous blackbody emission from those quantized energy states?

    Comment by Rod B — 1 Mar 2009 @ 11:35 PM

  338. 335. It’s first year degree level physics.

    Lots of collisions.

    Lots of random spreading on each collision.

    And your majot problem is that this:

    “the acceleration of charge (dipoles, ions, electrons, e.g.) form the physical movement of the real particles. ”

    Is not why you get black body radiation and not why you get line absorption. depending on what you mean, they ALL are governed by this. The line spectrum absorption is caused by resonance with the incoming radiation and, like a string at the right frequency, picks up the energy and begins to vibrate itself. Which is what happens with thermalised radiation: the electrons in the body absorb and emit by the electrons being shaken and releasing a photon because of the movement.

    Comment by Mark — 2 Mar 2009 @ 4:18 AM

  339. Try this one, Rod.
    http://www.chemie.unibas.ch/~tulej/Spectroscopy_related_aspects/Lecture7_Spec_Rel_Asp.pdf

    And then ask “why doesn’t this apply to an optically thick medium?”

    Comment by Mark — 2 Mar 2009 @ 4:55 AM

  340. RodB #334. You never said they were anything other than an overestimate.

    Like the house of commons, where you cannot call someone a liar, MPs use “The right honourable gentlemen is incorrect” or “is misrepresenting the facts”. They MEAN “he’s lying”.

    Same deal here.

    Comment by Mark — 2 Mar 2009 @ 4:59 AM

  341. Mark (340), My assertion was that the estimate is based on loose physics. I never said the estimate was too high, too low, or even incorrect. Quit looking under rocks. You clearly can find stuff I did say that you can fuss about; no need to make up things that you wished or thought I said.

    Comment by Rod B — 2 Mar 2009 @ 9:40 AM

  342. RodB, 341, but you never mention error except to say it could be lower.

    Selection bias is indicative of a bias.

    Comment by Mark — 2 Mar 2009 @ 10:06 AM

  343. Mark (338, 339), I’ll respond to your assertion in 338 with a quote taken from your reference in 339: “Electrons and ions of matter were treated as a simple harmonic oscillators (springs) subject to the driving force of applied E-M fields; matter becomes polarized by induction of electric dipoles [sic].”

    While there is emission and absorption with changes in intramolecular electronic energy levels, the overwhelming generation of blackbody type radiation is intermolecular (interparticle) collision of charges of one sort or another. The former has a role but it is insignificant for basic blackbody radiation. (Though it is significant for other things like line spectral analysis as you say.) As you also say, collisions are also responsible, in great part, for the line broadening in the emission/absorption of quantized vibration and rotation energy levels — in addition to their responsibility for the different (ala its physical source) blackbody radiation.

    Ray, a PS to my #337. We might be having a semantics problem, in that blackbody radiation is not really continuous in a pure sense: it is quantized but with the granularity like the energy of a pendulum or a baseball is quantized — teeny tiny quantum step levels, so much so you never see (nor could you ever) them in any of those ubiquitous blackbody graphs. This is an entirely different quantization from the vibration and rotation energies. Strictly speaking they are both quantized — but no where near the same physical thing.

    Comment by Rod B — 2 Mar 2009 @ 12:44 PM

  344. “While there is emission and absorption with changes in intramolecular electronic energy levels, the overwhelming generation of blackbody type radiation is intermolecular (interparticle) collision of charges of one sort or another.”

    Which is one reason why the optical thickness of a gaseous or even aqueous medium is much, MUCH less for a given physical depth through the medium.

    However, in both a gaseous and aqueous medium, the electron receiver is free to (and indeed MUST) move in response to the interception of a photon. This movement removes some of the energy from the photon and transfers it into a essentially random motion that may change its emission with respect to a set inertial frame (say, for example, the radiation source).

    Such repartitioning of energy if it occurs often enough causes the energy to be repartitioned until it appears as effectively a black body radiator.

    This DEMANDS enough collisions to happen.

    At optical wavelengths, the atmosphere is optically thin and so most of the incoming radiation doesn’t thermalise with the atmosphere. Radiation reflected rather than absorbed from the earth likewise doesn’t interact enough with the atmosphere to thermalise and so you see a “blue planet”. However, for the photons that ARE absorbed by the earth/sea/etc, the re-release is in the IR range, where the photon will encounter many, many absorbtion/reemission scenarios, each scenario repartitioning the energy such that the laws of energy flow, statistical resampling and so on mean the atmosphere is a black body.

    Re to your PS, nope, the quantisation doesn’t exist except on the planck scale, since the velocity of each emitter is distributed as per Boltzman equation and the uncertainty principle likewise causing a spread in the frequency of any “discrete” photon emission to ensure that energy is spread throughout the spectrum.

    Such a spreading of the spectrum is why a meta-stable transition of Caesium is used to determine the frequency that defines the second. Such a metastable state has less uncertainty in its emission since the time to emit is longer and so the determination of the frequency (the number of peaks divided by the time taken to emit all the energy) is more accurate *even from the POV of the quantum emitter*.

    This was all done in my first year at university. It was a long time ago (90′s) but they shouldn’t have cut THAT much out of the curriculum…

    Comment by Mark — 2 Mar 2009 @ 1:13 PM

  345. RodB, could you do two things for me:

    1) Go to your nearest University Stellar Physics department and tell them they have got it completely wrong, ‘cos line absorption doesn’t do it that way. Bring ear defenders, because the laughter may be deafening. Bring a book, pen and calculator in case they ask you what the temperature profile and constituents of the solar photosphere are in “what really happens” physics.

    2) Explain how, despite dry food being surprisingly transparent to microwave radiation, a microwave still manages to cook your food (water has a line absorption at 2.4GHz).

    The third thing I’d like you to do probably won’t get past the sensors.

    Comment by Mark — 2 Mar 2009 @ 1:54 PM

  346. Rod B. Horse Puckey! First, there are no true blackbodies–no perfect absorber/emitters. All real matter absorbs and emits with a spectrum. The closest you get is looking at a light emitted from a small cavity–that is because such an arrangement allows plenty of absorptions/emissions so that the light and matter come to equilibrium.
    Rod, this is fundamental. Physicists have understood this since the turn of the last century. Go learn it. I’ve already given you the proper references. If you don’t understand blackbody radiation, the concept of emissivity and other basic ideas, you will never understand the physics of how greenhouse gasses work. The things you have to understand are:
    1)The density of states for a photon gas.
    2)Photons are non-interacting.
    3)Absorption/emission of a photon by a material is quantized.
    4)The approach to equilibrium by a photon gas in the presence of matter.

    Do not embarrass yourself any more before you learn this. Blackbody radiation is not a special type of radiation that is not subject to quantization. It is quantized, but the lines are somewhat broadened by doppler shifting etc. to look more continuous. There are no true blackbodies.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 2 Mar 2009 @ 2:45 PM

  347. Mark (344), I might not have absorbed every detail of this post, but I agree with it, and find it pretty much in line with what I have been maintaining. To clarify one point my “teeny tiny” quantization specifically did mean Planck quantization.

    Then your 345 befuddled me. Tell them they have WHAT wrong? Or did I misread what you were trying to say in 344? Line absorption comes from the different bound electron energy levels for, predominately, the visual spectrum; and from the different vibration and rotation intramolecular energy levels for, predominately, infrared and microwave. None of that is blackbody radiation per se, even though the absorbed radiation may have originated as blackbody ala the emission from the surface of the Earth.

    The Sun’s blackbody radiation predominately comes from the collision/acceleration of free electrons and ions, of which it has a Wholelotta

    Just for the drill: dry food still has jillions of water molecules which absorb microwave radiation into their rotation energy levels which then transfers into translation energy via collision which then makes the substance hot.

    Comment by Rod B — 2 Mar 2009 @ 10:58 PM

  348. Ray (346) I’ll see your Horse Puckey and raise two BS’s. Your statement “…there are no true blackbodies…” is a red herring non sequitur that has no bearing on my contentions. When I refer to “blackbody” feel free to put in any emissivity you want. There is some detail missing, but none-the-less I agree with your four points, as stated. However you will probably never give up the ghost of, for example, believing that infrared absorption or emission in CO2 at 15um to or from a quantized vibration energy level is the same physical process that emits or absorbs Planck-type (quantized — but differently — as I said) blackbody radiation [from a body with an emissivity of ____ (fill in the blank)]. But it is not.

    Comment by Rod B — 2 Mar 2009 @ 11:16 PM

  349. RodB, how does H2O absorbtion of the 2.4GHz radiation heat your food (and therefore make it radiate like a black body in the ~80C range)?

    I mean, that would be taking a line spectra and making it a continuous one. And something that you ***KNOW*** cannot happen!

    So how can microwaves work?

    Must be a conspiracy from electronics manufacturers and waveguide makers to sell microwave ovens…

    Comment by Mark — 3 Mar 2009 @ 7:20 AM

  350. “To clarify one point my “teeny tiny” quantization specifically did mean Planck quantization.”

    But that isn’t quantisation, Rod. It’s an inherent uncertainty that is a boundary of knowledge in this universe.

    That isn’t quantisation.

    And when your CO2 absorbs 15um radiation, it is most likely to collide with something else. A collision that is very likely to be inelastic, since there is extra energy that DOESN’T BELONG THERE. And unless this other object is likely to have more or equal energy, the release of this energy means that this excited object can no longer emit 15um radiation. Maybe it will have only enough excited energy to release 30um radiation. Maybe it will change it for a different state and some extra motion (random motion being what we call “temperature” when it appears in a constituent of an ideal gas).

    This faster moving object may hit another object and pass on some of that kinetic energy to another object either as kinetic energy or as a nono-kinetic component such as a vibrational state (think “Boing!!!!”).

    This excited vibrational state may relax either through transference to other vibrational modes, releasing the energy change between these states as maybe microwave emissions (which may be absorbed by H2O) and the cascade through these vibrational states can make one 15um photon end up as 100 150um far IR photons.

    These photons may be absorbed and the combined energy may then result in an emission of instead of 15um radiation, 13.5um radiation.

    Millions of such interactions will cause the photons to partition themselves as per Boltzman distribution. Turn the number of photons into energy totals and you get, what? The Planck Black Body Radiation Curve.

    But that’s unpossible!!!!

    Well, I guess you won’t give up your delusion come hell or high water, will you. The explanation I’ve given has not been for you, it’s been for anyone else reading this and wondering “well, how *does* it happen”. You won’t change, but I can make sure the meme you want to spread dies.

    Comment by Mark — 3 Mar 2009 @ 7:31 AM

  351. And if people want to read about what equipartition of energy means, google the phrase. My five top links:

    http://www.mathpages.com/HOME/kmath606/kmath606.htm
    http://webpages.marshall.edu/~larson/c357/equi.htm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equipartition_theorem
    http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Hbase/kinetic/eqpar.html
    http://www.practicalphysics.org/go/print/Guidance_45.html?topic_id=4&guidance_id=1
    (excluding pay-for links)

    and for how this can be seen, see a google search on

    equipartition of energy rotation of a solid object
    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=tSJGiq4xUP8C&pg=PA100&lpg=PA100&dq=equipartition+of+energy+rotation+of+a+solid+object&source=bl&ots=P9HZC2O6Hp&sig=3oYr2oDbi3U28ZioQnTOP2aUCVs&hl=en&ei=By6tScGsAeDDjAeMr8ibBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=4&ct=result
    http://www.phy.duke.edu/~lee/P53/therm2.pdf

    Or even try this:

    Take an ordinary pencil.
    Lie it on a flat surface
    Spin it horizontally so that the two furthest points of the pencil are moving and the centre point is not.
    Try and do it without the pencil spinning along its longitudinal axis.

    Can’t be done because the energy needed to spin the pencil horizontally is less than the energy needed to spin it along its length. So energy will syphon off from that more energetic motion into the lesser one until the energies are equalised.

    Much the same happens with excited molecules in a gas: they will exchange energy with other molecules until the energy amongst all the degrees of freedom to place energy are equally full.

    Three of those degrees of freedom being kinetic in nature.

    And kinetic energy in a gas in bulk is called temperature.

    So more kinetic energy, higher temperature.

    Higher temperature? More black-body radiation commensurate with that temperature, same as any other material object of sufficient size.

    Comment by Mark — 3 Mar 2009 @ 8:26 AM

  352. Rod, put up or shut up. You keep contending that blackbody radiation is distinct from the absorption/emission between quantized energy states in matter. Find just one physicist who agrees with you. Or alternatively, show me how an material absorbs at an energy other than its quantized energy levels.

    I have directed you to numerous references–Kittel is another one with a good treatment. I have done the math. You haven’t. This is elementary, Rod. For your own benefit, you need to do the math or you’ll never understand how the greenhouse effect works.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 3 Mar 2009 @ 8:45 AM

  353. Mark (349), you might have read my post before shooting. As I said, microwave energy is absorbed by a H2O molecule into a higher state of its molecular rotation energy. That molecule then collides with another (of any type) molecule, transfers the high rotation energy to translation energy of the collidee. That translation energy increase manifests as higher temperature. There are of course other paths of absorption and relaxation, but this is the predominate basic one.

    And BTW, this process does in fact convert the equivalent of quantized energy (the rotation) to continuous spectrum type energy. Why you think that can not happen is beyond me. It is the basic process behind global warming.

    Comment by Rod B — 3 Mar 2009 @ 10:28 AM

  354. Ray, 352, you’re incorrect, to all intents and purposes, the energy levels absorbed by a solid are not discrete absorption spectra, since the intra-molecular energy is so loosely quantised, there is no effective quantisation level.

    Where RodB has the stick well and truly stuck up his nethers is that whilst a solid has the energy states of the lattice construction to hold this energy continua, it has no significant ability to use kinetic energy as a sink for this energy. Meanwhile, the solid or liquid phases do not have a lattice to store energy in but it DOES have a great deal of freedom to store such energy kinetically. In addiction the vibrational states are in many cases so spread in energy and so numerous within a band, it is effectively not quantised either.

    So there IS NO DIFFERENCE between the ability of a solid to partition or absorb continua and the ability of other phases of matter to do so. The mechanism, NOT THE RESULT changes on the state of matter.

    Comment by Mark — 3 Mar 2009 @ 10:46 AM

  355. Rod B Says: “As I said, microwave energy is absorbed by a H2O molecule into a higher state of its molecular rotation energy. That molecule then collides with another (of any type) molecule, transfers the high rotation energy to translation energy of the collidee.”

    And that collidee could be one excited CO2 molecule colliding with another CO2 molecule. This will then result in thermalisation of the IR radiation. Which you seem to insist cannot happen.

    Or is it only when it’s CO2 it can’t happen?

    You also have the loss of that IR can be shifter by the motion of the emitter either to a longer or shorter wavelengh. You also have the equipartition of energy meaning that the energy absorbed in the IR photon doesn’t have to come out as a photon of the same wavelength (misapplication of Kirchoff’s law: it doesn’t say it must be the same energy photon, just that emissivity is the same as absorptivity). It could be changed into a different rovibrational state, which is likely to result in emission of a less energetic photon or by absorption of extra energy of the right magnitude (inelastic collision again, or a photon impinging on the excited molecule before it can release the energy in a sympathetic photon emission.

    This is how thermalisation happens even in the absence of significant inelastic collision events.

    Comment by Mark — 3 Mar 2009 @ 12:01 PM

  356. Rod B asks:

    “And BTW, this process does in fact convert the equivalent of quantized energy (the rotation) to continuous spectrum type energy. Why you think that can not happen is beyond me. It is the basic process behind global warming.”

    So when you say:

    “While there is emission and absorption with changes in intramolecular electronic energy levels, the overwhelming generation of blackbody type radiation is intermolecular (interparticle) collision of charges of one sort or another. The former has a role but it is insignificant for basic blackbody radiation.”

    You meant what?

    Interception of energy in a resonant system such as CO2 and IR radiation is how energy is intercepted. Like with your microwave, this radiation is held on to and then passed on to other constituents and thermalised by that exchange.

    So how does line spectra absorption not have anything to do with the black body radiation of the atmosphere or earth surface?

    WHAT EXACTLY are you trying to ask/claim?

    Comment by Mark — 3 Mar 2009 @ 12:10 PM

  357. Mark, I realize that the situation is somewhat different for solids, liquids, etc. However, you still have absorption bands and forbidden energies. I’m trying not to get Rod to confused, and since absorption/emission by gasses is what is needed to understand the greenhouse effect, that is what I am concentrating on. The point I am trying to make is that the absorption/emission in blackbody radiation is exactly the same quantum process. It is not a distinct physical process, and most important, for a real material, you do not really have a continuum of absorption/radiation but a continuum convoluted with an emissivity.

    Rod, No. What happens with greenhouse warming is that you have a source of IR photons that is warm radiating into a layer that is cooler. Because the upper layer is cooler, the predominant mode of excitation is photo-absorption. The predominant mode of relaxation is collision with a cooler atom. If the upper and lower layer were equally warm, you’d be as likely to have excitation by collision, and so the net radiation absorption would be zero.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 3 Mar 2009 @ 12:14 PM

  358. Mark (351), I disagree with just a few minor points and one major point.

    All of the energy in any and all systems is quantized. Electronic, vibration, and rotation energy is quantized in relatively limited levels with comparatively massive granularity. Things like translation molecular energy, Planck emission from a heated body, and baseballs have humongous number of levels with near infinitesimal granularity — so much so that it is accurately portrayed as continuous. Electromagnetic energy is quantized but gets a little funny to picture unless you use photons as a construct.

    One can read that you are implying (though possibly not…) that the vibration and rotation energy levels are very numerous when in fact they are limited, and for all practical purposes to two or three each. If a 15um photon is absorbed into a vibration energy state and that vibration relaxes in any way, it must (in 99+% of the time) discharge exactly 100% of the energy in joules that it absorbed. You can not get a relaxation with a lot of different energy levels, let alone anything near a blackbody spectrumexcept when it relaxes through a collision and the energy is transferred to translation energy in the collidee. Jillions of these and secondary collisions will spread the energy around ala Boltzmann, as you say. There are other ways the energy can get transferred around, as you say, and this can result in a little more heterogeneous mix — it’s just not predominate.

    Other than these clarifications and your silly closing rant, I pretty much agree with what you say.

    Comment by Rod B — 3 Mar 2009 @ 12:40 PM

  359. Ray:

    It is not a distinct physical process, and most important, for a real material, you do not really have a continuum of absorption/radiation but a continuum convoluted with an emissivity.

    Convoluted or convolved?

    Comment by llewelly — 3 Mar 2009 @ 1:44 PM

  360. Ray, I’m not sure when you lost your Freshmen physics forest in the trees of post doctoral work. Planck-type black body radiation results from (gee I’m getting tire of this… as are others, probably) the acceleration of charges, predominately as a result of collisions (which include crystal vibrations for these purposes) among electrons and ions. The amount of blackbody energy emitted is strictly and solely a function of the thermal temperature of the substance, mitigated by the characteristic of the substance called emissivity (which can, as you say, by frequency dependent). The emission/absorption of vibration and rotation radiative energy is strictly a function of the physical connective intramolecular properties and the distinctly quantized energy states. Acceleration of charges have nothing to do with it other than as a very minor factor in the teeny physical movement of the molecule’s bonds and rotation. Temperature has nothing to do with it, other than as a background factor in the probability of filling one of those states.

    Not the same. (Even though one can utilize the construct of one to analyze the other. Planck blackbody radiation theory is heavily used in analyzing greenhouse gas warming, though it plays a very minor physical part itself.)

    Believe what you will. I’m done. (Hold the applause everyone!)

    Comment by Rod B — 3 Mar 2009 @ 1:45 PM

  361. Mark (355), you say, “…that collidee could be one excited CO2 molecule colliding with another CO2 molecule. This will then result in thermalisation of the IR radiation…”

    Sure. So? Where did you get I disagreed with that? Especially when I have explicitly said that here a number of times — though the collidee is not limited to CO2: it can be CO2, or much more likely N2 or O2.

    Your follow-on description is also true, though the process you discuss is a small percentage of the thermalizing process — not exactly “…how thermalisation happens…”

    356: I mean clearly and simply (and NOTHING else) that the physical/physics processes of the two radiation types are not the same, ergo they are not the same thing. See my next post to Ray (assuming it gets in…).

    Comment by Rod B — 3 Mar 2009 @ 2:09 PM

  362. Mark, I am sure you meant, above, to write “gas”:

    “… whilst a solid has the energy states of the lattice …. Meanwhile, the [gas] or liquid phases do not have a lattice ….”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Mar 2009 @ 2:13 PM

  363. Mark wrote in 354:

    Ray, 352, you’re incorrect, to all intents and purposes, the energy levels absorbed by a solid are not discrete absorption spectra, since the intra-molecular energy is so loosely quantised, there is no effective quantisation level.

    What I would emphasize is that the difference between the thermal radiation of solids, liquids and gases is a matter of degree, not kind. Solids can approximate blackbody radiation, but blackbody radiation itself is an idealization. Individual gasses at low pressures and temperatures have well-defined lines and bands, but at higher pressures and temperatures both broaden with lines bleeding into lines and bands bleeding into bands. Dusts, crystals and alloys have relatively discrete spectra. However, impurities, clustering, ions and pressure broaden these spectra. And atmospheres are composed of multiple gasses where each gas is at the same temperature. Individually, the spectra of any one gas in the atmosphere is a poor approximation for a blackbody emitter, but taken together, the atmosphere does much better.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 3 Mar 2009 @ 2:30 PM

  364. Ray (357), a belated question. I understood your description of the radiation going into cooler atmosphere. But it occurred to me: isn’t the probability of a, say, vibration energy level being filled by absorbing IR radiation proportional to e–E/kT, with T being the background temperature and E being the vibration energy level? meaning would it not be more likely to fill a vibration level the higher the background temperature is, regardless of the source of the IR? Or, what am I missing?

    Comment by Rod B — 3 Mar 2009 @ 3:34 PM

  365. 364 nope, the higher the temperature the more likely the energy level is to REMAIN filled.

    Ordinary relaxation would mean it is out of equilibrium with the surrounding medium and it is more likely that it will regain the lost energy through another source (such as a collision between it and a relatively faster moving object).

    You have the cart firmly before the horse, Rod.

    And probably deliberately too.

    Comment by Mark — 3 Mar 2009 @ 4:48 PM

  366. re: 363, yup, the RESULT is the same: energy spread amongst elements that are used to define what temperature *means*.

    Solids: the energy unbinding the solid structure (hence get a solid hot enough and it melts).

    Liquids: the random motion randomising the energy undoing the bonds between weaker bound elements not in a structured lattice (hence when it boils, you see bits boiling first: bubbles)

    Vapours: the random motion in the gaseous media constituents and for asymetric constituents (e.g. diatom and bigger), the energy that can be stored in the rotational and vibrational states.

    ALL merely ways of putting that energy somewhere else that maintains the maximum amount of entropy.

    Comment by Mark — 3 Mar 2009 @ 4:54 PM

  367. Re: 361. Nope, not in any meaningful sense: they are degrees of freedom for energy deposition and dispersal.

    And even if it weren’t, the result is still the same: energy partitioned out into measures that are statistically distributed in a manner that obeys the Boltzman law, which is the derivation (along with the quantisation of photons that stops the UV catastrophe) of the black body radiation.

    And there is no meaning to your assertion that there is a difference. There is none in the phenomenology of this system either solid or gaseous.

    If all you had to say was that, it means nothing. Merely different ways of doing the same thing (cf a monatomic gas ideal law being 2/3RT energy per molecule, and adding two more degrees of freedom changes that to 4/3RT, because where the energy goes doesn’t matter to the energy).

    PS Hank, you’re right, it should have been gas.

    Comment by Mark — 3 Mar 2009 @ 5:01 PM

  368. Rod B., Gee, given the choice between your view of blackbody radiation and that of the physics community–from Planck through Landau, Kittel…–I’m afraid I’ll have to stick with the physicists. YOU have yet to cite even one text to support your viewpoint. You have steadfastly refused to consult the references I’ve given–all standard stat mech texts.

    Re 364: The higher the temperature, the more molecules will be in higher energy states–whether that energy is kinetic, electrical, vibrational, rotational, whatever. If the molecules are in equilibrium with the radiation field, you will have proportionity between the photon number and the number of excited states.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 3 Mar 2009 @ 8:57 PM

  369. Radiation physics without math is hard.
    Or do I mean almost impossible (grin).
    Visualizing it might be possible.

    I’d like to see something done with visualizing it, like I tried above, along the lines of this:

    http://javaboutique.internet.com/BallDrop/

    That does in Java what the Exploratorium and other science museums built as wall-size hardware:

    dropping balls through a grid — produces a random distribution (and how many iterations it takes to get that nice smooth line from discrete chunky reality).

    I keep trying to imagine a way to visualize the process of high energy photons zinging through the atmosphere, hitting the ground, infrared photons radiating from the ground and then the complicated bounce-and-wiggle-and-randomization in the atmosphere (as per the attempt above).

    If I could _see_ it clearly enough, I could convince one of my Javascript-competent friends to build a picture of it, along the same lines as that one.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Mar 2009 @ 9:14 PM

  370. Ray (368 – part 2): I’m still having trouble grasping this. Why then does the vast majority of absorption by CO2 occur very close to the surface, where the temperature is about equal to source of the IR? It just sounds illogical and I can’t seem to grasp it. (Though your basic description, which generated my query, of the “hot” radiation getting absorbed by the higher altitude “cold” gases is logical.)

    (part 1): One last thing (against my better judgment): Can you describe precisely what the particles (molecules, atoms, ions, electrons) do to generate Planck style blackbody radiation? Then precisely what the particles do to emit/absorb radiation at, say, 15um?

    Comment by Rod B — 4 Mar 2009 @ 11:00 PM

  371. Because you’re making it sound awkward, Rodb (370). The vast majority of the abosbtion OF THE EARTH’S IR OUTPUT is absorbed very close to the surface. And that is then passed around back to the earth (making it warmer) and around the rest of the atmosphere (making that warmer).

    Why does that sound illogical?

    Here’s an equivalent query: blue light is only prevalent in thermal bodies around the 12,000K level. So why is our ***blue*** planet not at 12,000K?

    Why does that sound illogical?

    And your part 1 request is illogical: they are random stochastic events with multiple avenues of progression. Such a work would take dozens of pages just to STATE, never mind prove.

    Comment by Mark — 5 Mar 2009 @ 3:36 AM

  372. Rod B., OK, bear with me. Consider a bunch of photons passing through a material–start with a gas to keep the interactions simple. Either the photons can be absorbed by the gas or they cannot. Those that cannot be absorbed will pass through the gas, leaving the energy distributions for the gas and for the photons–IN THE NON-INTERACTING PORTION OF THE SPECTRUM–unchanged. With me so far?
    Now in the interacting portion of the spectrum, the photons will be absorbed, changing the energy distribution of the gas. But the energy distribution of the gas also depends on its temperature, and depending on that temperature, a certain proportion of the molecules will be in the same excited state (e.g. by collisions with other energetic molecules) corresponding to the energy of the absorbed photons. OK?
    Once the gas molecule is excited–regardless of the cause–it can relax in a number of ways. It can emit a photon with the same energy as the absorbed light. It can relax collisionally, imparting the excess energy to another atom. Which of these dominates depends on a variety of things–the dynamics of the reaction mechanism, the density of the gas, density of the photons, gas temperature… If collisional decay is more probable, you’ll have a net conversion of photons into gas thermal energy. If the gas is hot, and there are lots of collisionally excited molecules, you’ll get a net production of photons. Eventually, the interacting photons and the gas will come into thermal equilibrium–that is, they’ll have the same temperature. We’ve taken the case of a simple gas with a single excitation level and a single photon energy. However, if we have a more complicated gas, a liquid or solid, all that changes is that we have more energy levels–even energy bands, so we can take more slices out of the initial photon spectrum, and these slices can then come into thermal equilibrium (both with the gas and with themselves). If we extend this process to the IDEALIZED case where the medium is a perfect absorber (and so a perfect emitter), we cause the entire initial photon distribution to be absorbed. The energy then gets redistributed over several interactions so that photons and matter are in equilibrium at the same temperature. Do you follow?

    As to the reason why most of the IR absorption takes place close to the ground–remember, there will always be far more CO2 molecules in the ground state than the excited state–plenty of targets close to the ground, so plenty of absorption. Now if the air is the same temperature as the ground, you’ll get the same number of photons emitted as absorbed, because even though you well be relaxing via collision, you’ll also be exciting CO2 via collision, and this will be the case until you get to a cooler layer of the atmosphere. Still plenty of targets for absorbing photons. But now, there are fewer thermally excited molecules, so you’ll get fewer radiative decays and proportionally more energy going into heating the atmosphere at this layer. And so on, as long as the atmosphere continues to cool with altitude.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 5 Mar 2009 @ 9:02 AM

  373. > Planck style blackbody radiation
    Line dance, square dance, holding hands

    > specific wavelength
    Mosh pit

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Mar 2009 @ 9:38 AM

  374. Or, Rod, try this:

    http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/radioastronomy/Chapter3.pdf

    BASICS OF RADIO ASTRONOMY
    Chapter 3
    The Mechanisms of Electromagnetic Emissions

    Objectives:
    Upon completion of this chapter, you will be able to describe the difference between thermal and non-thermal radiation and give some examples of each. You will be able to distinguish between thermal and non-thermal radiation curves. You will be able to describe the significance of the 21-cm hydrogen line in radio astronomy.
    If the material in this chapter is unfamiliar to you, do not be discouraged if you don’t understand everything the first time through. Some of these concepts are a little complicated and few non-
    scientists have much awareness of them. ….

    __ReCaptcha__
    ex- annoyance

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Mar 2009 @ 9:47 AM

  375. Mark (371), that has a ring of sense to it; I’ll have to think about it.

    So, we don’t have a clue what is happening physically? Like 1) we heat something 2) a little HPFM, 3) it radiates…??? That’s nowhere near what any text describes (though the texts are more precise with molecular emission/absorption than Planck blackbody radiation).

    Comment by Rod B — 5 Mar 2009 @ 10:23 AM

  376. Rod B. says “That’s nowhere near what any text describes (though the texts are more precise with molecular emission/absorption than Planck blackbody radiation).”

    What texts, Rod? Be specific. We can’t help you unless we know where you are getting your (mis)information.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 5 Mar 2009 @ 11:33 AM

  377. RodB, 375. No, YOU don’t have a clue as to why it happens.

    Explaining it to you is futile and a waste of time. doesn’t mean there isn’t an explanation, just that this isn’t the place to put such a long piece of first-year undergraduate work and you have shown an unwillingness to educate yourself.

    Pay me £25 an hour and I’ll be a tutor for you. Should get a couple of grand out of you no worries.

    Comment by Mark — 5 Mar 2009 @ 12:14 PM

  378. Rod:
    Work through that NASA chapter (link above).
    Open yourself a blog page somewhere (else).
    Invite people to help you with it (there).
    Profit!

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Mar 2009 @ 1:43 PM

  379. Ray (372), that (too) sounds logical. I’ll have to let it soak.

    Comment by Rod B — 5 Mar 2009 @ 2:39 PM

  380. Australia?
    Bushfires-and-Climate?

    How’s it going there?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Mar 2009 @ 3:02 PM

  381. Rod B., Don’t get discouraged. Stat mech is not easy stuff. I do heartily recommend Landau and Lifshitz on the subject. Kittel is also not bad. There are lots of little subtleties at a very deep philosophical level here. Hell, even statistics and probability are not quite where mathematicians would like it to be. However, rest assured that the subject is sufficiently well understood that it is not in danger of overturning those disciplines built upon it–e.g. climate science.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 5 Mar 2009 @ 3:05 PM

  382. Hank #308
    I dropped out after the discussion shifted to the physics of greenhouse gases.
    Four fires are still burning, but cooler weather in the last week and a very little rain has helped. Containment lines weren’t broken during high winds earlier in the week, and no more houses have been lost. So that seems, touch wood, to be the worst over for now.

    But in the men time those who want to burn the bush all the time to prevent it being burnt are growing in loudness, and I fear for the Australian environment when populist politicians make demands for simplistic solutions (http://www.blognow.com.au/mrpickwick/128862/The_worst_of_times.html).

    I’m about to publish a stinging rejoinder to the burn the bush brigade. Will keep you advised. But they, with the help of conservative politicians, and big business, have succeeded in pretending that climate change induced high temperatures, strong winds, extended drought, trees dying or shedding leaves and branches under stress, are nothing to do with climate change. And demanding that the government delay even its derisory 5% CO2 reduction ETS scheme until next year, or the year after, or perhaps the year after that.

    Comment by David Horton — 5 Mar 2009 @ 4:06 PM

  383. Global concern but with special relevance for Australia:

    One of Climate Change’s Most Important Equations
    By John Fleck
    Wednesday, 04 March 2009 09:33

    In understanding the implications of climate change, a lot of attention is paid to the question of whether precipitation will rise or fall in any given region. It seems a critical question. Will it rain more here? But a more important factor tends to get short shrift – the interplay between precipitation and evaporation.

    http://www.abqjournal.com/abqnews/index.php?view=article&catid=18%3Anm-science&id=11143%3Aone-of-climate-changes-most-important-equations&option=com_content&Itemid=31

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Mar 2009 @ 9:46 PM

  384. As a student of ecology for the last 15 years and of the rudiments of bushfire for 6 years, it pains me to see how much spin and polemic is being generated in Oz at the moment. Like My sincere thanks to David Karoly for posting the original article, and to all those who debated the issues of conservation, appropriate fire regimes, planning and the costs/ benefits of fuel reduction with such diplomacy and aplomb. I’ve learnt more than I could have contributed (though I have to say much of the physics also discussed by others went way over my head). Would that the current “debate” (I use the term in its loosest sense) here in Oz was half as sober and informed as that which has gone on here. On that note (apologies for being a little O/T) I’ve sent complaints to both the Sydney Morning Herald and the Oz Press Council about Devine’s polemic, which is currently in progress, as they say. Like Alan (#187) I refuse point blank to link to Ms Devine’s article, as she and the editors of the SMH know full well that divisive articles like hers are designed to sell papers and generate website hits. She and her ilk (Andrew Bolt of The Australian for example) positively revel in the attention, be it good bad or indifferent. The pity of it is that much of the commentary is designed to stir people up, not inform or encourage debate based on facts, but ’twas ever thus.

    Comment by Steven Chamberlain — 7 Mar 2009 @ 2:01 AM

  385. Rod B.,Over at Tamino’s Open Mind blog, Lazar has a couple of posts on the Open Thread #10 (beginning @12:19 on 2 March) on first-principles calculations of warming. You might find them interesting.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 7 Mar 2009 @ 9:05 AM

  386. For those not fully up on the science, below is a link to a research project commissioned by the Climate Institute of Australia that looked at projected increases in FFDI under two CSIRO climate scenarios, hosted by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC).

    http://tinyurl.com/atvhml

    The page gives a summary of findings – if you click on the link at “title” a new window opens up:

    http://ams.confex.com/ams/7firenortheast/techprogram/paper_126843.htm

    Clicking on “Recorded presentation” brings up a web-based presentation. I realise much of what Chris Lucas is saying here will seem overly simplistic to many on this site, but for those not deeply involved in climate modelling, it’s as good an overview or background briefing as one could wish for. Particularly scary are the constant upward trends in FFDI at decadal scales, much earlier starts to the fire season and much earlier first high fire danger days. He also reinforces the point that while much of the public debate here focuses on fuel loads, what’s generally forgotten about are the weather patterns that contribute to high fire danger periods. Though this was written almost 2 years ago, some of the forecasts for future fire weather in SE Australia seem to have been borne out in the last couple of months.

    Comment by Steven Chamberlain — 7 Mar 2009 @ 5:03 PM

  387. Ray Ladbury wrote in 385:

    Rod B.,Over at Tamino’s Open Mind blog, Lazar has a couple of posts on the Open Thread #10 (beginning @12:19 on 2 March) on first-principles calculations of warming. You might find them interesting.

    Lazar’s “A first principles derivation of the enhanced GHG effect…” entry is at:
    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2009/01/31/open-thread-10/#comment-29240.

    Actually I believe the entire discussion as it relates to Svante Arrhenius and the history of thought regarding greenhouse gases (complete with a link to the original paper on carbonic acid) is well worth a look.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 7 Mar 2009 @ 5:36 PM

  388. Apart from the climate physics there is a psychological issue. There are about 6 billion people in the world. 5 billion of them have an IQ of 115 or less. That means that most of this article and discussion is incomprehensible to 5 out of every 6 people on planet earth. I am being generous it is probably more like 98% cannot understand the science and maths. The physics and statistical analysis is too hard. Just look at the comments from those that think a bit of northern hemisphere snow disproves AGW. The 5 will always out vote the 1.

    I despair for the future because nothing will be done until the taps run dry and the supermarkets run out of food and then it will be too late. If you think I am wrong just look at the crap that our politicians spout everyday. Penny Wong talks of delaying the Carbon Trading scheme to save jobs. The best Rudd can do is a non target of 5% reduction. The state of Victoria could massively reduce emissions just by switching electricity generation from brown coal to natural gas. The gas is sitting under the ocean right next to the current coal stations. Will this happen? No, too many vested interests and short sighted politicians. Nothing is done except endless talk and debate about useless carbon trading.

    The only future now is Geo-Engineering, it is too late for reductions when the politicians, and those who vote for them, have so far achieved nothing but a steadily increasing CO2 level.

    As for the fires, they came to within 15km of my house, then the wind changed. My family was lucky. It does not matter what caused the fires, this fire was very different because of the conditions on the day. These same conditions will recur at much more frequent intervals. Climate change is not in the future, it is outside the window, in front of those willing to look.

    Comment by GregE — 11 Mar 2009 @ 7:33 AM

  389. When temperatures exceed previous maximums by 2.5 to 3 C over a large area – as occurred in Victoria on Feb 7 – I struggle to believe that an “anthropogenic contribution to mean maximum temperature increases of about 0.6°C” is the explanation.

    One would expect that the temperature distribution would be shifted upward by 0.6C, which is probably the reasoning underlting the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report estimates of the increase in extreme fire danger days. For a 100 year event the maximum would be 0.5 to 1 C above previous records (given the 150 year history).

    I suspect that something non-linear is happening in the tails of the temperature distribution that we don’t fully understand.

    Comment by Bruce Tabor — 15 Mar 2009 @ 5:46 AM

  390. Bruce says “When temperatures exceed previous maximums by 2.5 to 3 C over a large area – as occurred in Victoria on Feb 7 – I struggle to believe that an “anthropogenic contribution to mean maximum temperature increases of about 0.6°C” is the explanation.”

    Why?

    One standard deviation or more from the mean in a normal distribution is about 33% of the time going to happen. Two standard deviations about 6% of the time. Three would be 0.1%. (IIRC). If the mean has moved 0.6C higher, what was three SD away from the mean has increased in its chances by maybe as much as 60x.

    So why do you believe that explanation is not sufficient?

    Comment by Mark — 15 Mar 2009 @ 6:24 AM

  391. Greg E. says, “The only future now is Geo-Engineering…”

    Great, so what do you propose. I don’t know of a single geoengineering technique that is ready for prime time. Iron fertilization–shown not to be effective. CCS–not ready. Sulfate aerosols–not only no, but hell no.

    You are presuming that 5/6 of the population is not only incapable of understanding climate change, but is also incapable of acting in their own interest or caring whether their children survive. You presume democracy cannot work…and yet it does, better than any other system of government.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 15 Mar 2009 @ 7:08 AM

  392. Hi Mark (#390),
    A full treatment of this problem belongs to the statistics of extreme value theory. To avoid this complication I’ll keep it simple.

    Assume that the maximum temperature of a predefined region in a year follows a normal distribution, or indeed any distribution with a known mean and variance. In any one year the chance of getting a one in one hundred year maximum (about 2.3 standard deviations above the mean maximum for a normal distribution) is 1%. As temperature records exist for 150 years or so, the existing maximum recorded temperature in that region will be a reasonable approximation to that “100 year event”.

    Now assume the effect of global warming is to shift the temperature distribution up by 0.6 C. If the effect is linear, one would expect the distribution of maximum temperatures to also be shifted upward by 0.6 C. For our predefined region our new 100 year event will be 0.6 C above the old one, as the whole distribution has shifted up 0.6 C.

    There are several problems with this reasoning. Most importantly our region is not predefined. A large part of Victoria was drawn to our attention simply because of the extreme weather. (And adjacent regions are of course correlated.) Here in Sydney only 800 km away no records were set, although it was very hot on one day when the Victorian weather finally moved north. Climate change is not required to produce new records somewhere in the world quite frequently, especially if that “somewhere” is geographically constrained.

    Other problems relate to the distinctly non-normal behaviour of extreme value distributions.

    However it is my intuitive feel that to produce huge jumps over previous records over a large area suggests an altered weather regime, not just a linear contribution from AGW to the existing climate. The fact that the extreme heat was preceded by a record breaking dry period seems to support this (but this could also be correlated with the extreme heat). The effect of this may be to broaden the “extreme value distribution” making such events more likely. Or it may be the “extreme value distribution” has been shifted by more than 0.6 C.

    I may be wrong. There is no rigorous analysis underpinning my intuition.

    Comment by Bruce Tabor — 15 Mar 2009 @ 10:26 PM

  393. Ray Ladbury Says:
    You are presuming that 5/6 of the population is not only incapable of understanding climate change

    I did not say that they could not understand climate change, I said they cannot understand the Physics and Mathematics – the proof. Perhaps I was a little extreme in my grammar. Eventually even the most ardent naysayer will be able to see it.

    I hope your assessment of democracy is true and the people demand action from recalcitrant politicians. I will believe it when Bob Brown is PM with a majority in both houses.

    As for Geo-Engineering I still think it is the only answer. What form that Geo-Engineering will take no one yet knows, but at least there are plenty of people willing to work on it. We need a carbon neutral world in the long term, but first the future has to be secured. With China and India rapidly expanding, and the rest of the world dithering, CO2 keeps going up, not down, not even a slowing increase. In a recent article in New Scientist the author postulated a real danger is a single nation or even wealthy individual deciding to go it alone with unforeseen consequences. But then getting the whole world to agree to anything is almost impossible.

    Unfortunately we are living in interesting times.

    To the other discussion on the distribution assessment of “anthropogenic contribution to mean maximum temperature increases of about 0.6°C”. The 0.6 degrees is an average, there is no assumption that it is globally uniform, in fact my reading of the models is quite the opposite. Some places get hotter, some may even get colder in the short term. Weather patterns are altered, changing climate in many ways in many places. The whole world distribution may be moved up a small amount of 0.6 so far, but that does not mean individual areas will not be much greater (eg Victoria), and others barely changed.

    Comment by GregE — 16 Mar 2009 @ 3:19 AM

  394. “However it is my intuitive feel that to produce huge jumps over previous records over a large area suggests an altered weather regime”

    Is quite a bit different from

    “I struggle to believe that an “anthropogenic contribution to mean maximum temperature increases of about 0.6°C” is the explanation.”

    And you still have “gut feeling” which, along with 50p, will get you a mars bar at most shops. You admit that at the end, but you should be starting off with that, not ending with it. It is, after all, central to your explanation.

    Comment by Mark — 16 Mar 2009 @ 3:42 AM

  395. Bruce Tabor, While Extreme temperatures clearly follow an extreme value distribution, the physics tells us that the temperature cannot be unlimited, so the particular EV distribution is the Weibull. We know that for the Weibull, standard deviation is proportional to mean, so as the mean rises, the distribution becomes broader. The problem with extreme value distributions is that samples are necessarily sparse–you only get one yearly maximum and there is by definition only one all-time maximum. Kind of hard to do statistics. Also, keep in mind that 0.6°C is only a global mean. Local increases can be quite a bit higher. I’d say we don’t have much evidence to support our being in a “new regime” just yet.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 16 Mar 2009 @ 7:38 AM

  396. Greg E., I think we’ll have no choice but to rely on geo-engineering. I also think it will be quite awhile before geoengineering will be ready for prime time. Conservation and mitigations like forestry and terra preta sequestration are the only games in town for the present.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 16 Mar 2009 @ 7:40 AM

  397. Hi Ray (395),
    Usually Weibull distributions are used to model minima rather than maxima (eg time to failure, where failure time is the minimum of a number of components each modeled by normally distributed failure times).

    For the example I gave (a normal parent distribution) the relevant EVD is the Gumbel, the variance of which is not affected by translation of the underlying parent distribution.

    The “new regime” I was speculating on is one local to this region of Australia. My argument is not rigorous, it’s just a gut feeling based on my experience as a statistician (which doesn’t include work in extreme value theory). Records weren’t just broken, they were smashed.

    Comment by Bruce Tabor — 17 Mar 2009 @ 1:34 AM

  398. I know I’m very late but I just HAD to vent my spleen at one of the most annoying assertions the deniers like “Truth” (Ha!) make:

    “Since the measures called for by the AGW proponents have the potential for enormous damage to economies and standards of living around the world”

    This is a massive lie. Standards of living do seem to be correlated to CO2 emissions but negatively! For example, if you look at The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Quality of Life index for 2005, you find that the US is 13th on the list, but only ONE of the first 12 countries has higher per capita CO2 emissions as of 2004 and that is Luxembourg! Of course total output from Luxembourg is orders of magnitude smaller than the US.

    The truth is, the countries with the HIGHEST Quality of Life have some of the LOWEST CO2 emissions of the industrialised world.

    Funny that!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions_per_capita
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality-of-life_index

    Comment by Karmakaze — 18 Mar 2009 @ 6:13 PM

  399. Global warming 37 percent to blame for droughts: scientist

    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Global warming is more than a third to blame for a major drop in rainfall that includes a decade-long drought in Australia and a lengthy dry spell in the United States, a scientist said on Wednesday.

    Peter Baines of Melbourne University in Australia analyzed global rainfall observations, sea surface temperature data as well as a reconstruction of how the atmosphere has behaved over the past 50 years to reveal rainfall winners and losers.

    What he found was an underlying trend where rainfall over the past 15 years or so has been steadily decreasing, with global warming 37 percent responsible for the drop. …

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 25 Mar 2009 @ 9:47 AM

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Close this window.

0.973 Powered by WordPress