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Ocean Circulation: New evidence (Yes), slowdown (No)

Filed under: — gavin @ 31 October 2006

Sometimes journalists are so focused on a particular story that they ‘hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest’. There was a perfect example of this last week in the Guardian reporting from the RAPID Climate Change conference in Birmingham (UK) which I was attending. The conference, whose theme was observations, modelling and paleo-climate related to the Thermohaline and Meridional overturning circulation (MOC) in the North Atlantic, could have been expected to attract media attention (particularly in the Europe) and indeed it did. However, the Guardian story, which started “Scientists have uncovered more evidence for a dramatic weakening in the vast ocean current that gives Britain its relatively balmy climate” was in complete opposition to the actual evidence presented and I wasn’t the only person to notice. How could the reporting be so wrong?
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Rasslin’ swamp gas

Filed under: — david @ 30 October 2006

In the early 1990’s, in defiance of IPCC projections, the methane concentration in the atmosphere abruptly stopped rising, and has remained nearly constant since then. Methane is a crouching tiger in the carbon cycle, with potentially enough available as hydrates and from peats to really clobber the Earth’s heat budget. The big question is, will atmospheric methane start rising again? More »

Global cooling, again

Filed under: — group @ 27 October 2006

The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in / Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin /A nuclear error, but I have no fear /’Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river (chorus from London’s Calling, by Strummer/Jones, 1979).

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New Google search function

Filed under: — group @ 24 October 2006

It can be easy to find climate science information on the web, but that information ranges from the excellent to the atrocious – and it can often be hard to tell them apart without some prior expertise. Wouldn’t it be great if someone could vet the information beforehand so that you had some confidence that it wasn’t completely bogus? Well, you need wait no longer!

Some of you may have already noticed that we have updated our search facility to use a new service from Google Co-op which is being launched today. The idea is that the search is restricted to domains and pages that have passed some kind of quality control. RealClimate is one of the demo sites of the new technology and we have started off with a selection of sites (IPCC, goverment labs, research institutes etc. – as well as RealClimate itself of course!) that we know provide quality information about climate science. As we get used to this service, we will be adding sites and pages that we feel are up to the mark. Suggestions for sites that we might not yet have found or have overlooked, will of course be welcome.

Eventually, we hope to have a service that could be an essential resource for the interested public, journalists, and possibly even scientists, that would give a higher quality level of information than is possible now. Let us know if this ends up being useful to you and if you have any suggestions for improving the service.

Taking Cosmic Rays for a spin

Filed under: — gavin @ 16 October 2006 - (Español)

In 1859, John Tyndall’s laboratory experiments showed that water vapour and carbon dioxide absorb infra-red radiation and that they could therefore affect the climate of the Earth. As soon as his paper was published (1861) in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, he put out a press release for the London newspapers explaining that this result implied that all past climate changes were now understood and all future climate changes could be predicted simply from a knowledge of the concentrations of these ‘greenhouse’ gases…

Fast forward to 2006: Svensmark and colleagues’ laboratory experiments show that highly ionizing radiation can create ultra-small aerosol particles. As soon as the paper is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, they put out a press release for the world’s newspapers explaining that this result implied that all past climate changes were now understood and all future climate changes could be predicted simply from a knowledge of the intensity of these ‘cosmic rays’….

History repeating itself? Well, not exactly. Tyndall actually restricted himself to describing his experiments and simply linking it to the work of Fourier a few decades earlier. It took more than another century before the credible quantitative estimates of these effects and their influence on past and possibly future climate were made, along with good enough observations of the gases to know that they have (and continue) to change significantly. However, Svensmark and colleagues, not wanting to wait for the credible quantitative results to come in, instead short circuited all of that tedious follow-up work, scaling up to realistic conditions, theoretical and modelling studies demonstrating that their effect was indeed viable, and simply declared in their press materials that the team had ‘discovered that cosmic rays play a big part in the everyday weather’ and ‘brings to a climax a scientific quest that has lasted two centuries’. Nobel prizes all round then.

Alas! if only it were that simple….

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