Does climate sensitivity depend on the cause of the change?
Can a response to a forcing wait and then bounce up after a period of inertness?
Does the existence of an 11-year time-scale prove the existence of solar forcing?
Why does the amplitude of the secular response drop when a long-term trend is added?
These are perhaps some of the questions that we might hope to see discussed in the sequel to the sequel on solar forcing by Scafetta & West (S&W), a few of which have been discussed before here and here. (I still think those earlier studies were seriously flawed and showed a lack of scientific understanding, by the way).
This time S&W present a set of new arguments and a new set of results which are scattered all over the place. The impression from reading their paper is that the upper range (they call it ‘upper limit’) is probably more representative than the lower estimates for the solar contribution to the global mean temperature.
I think that many of their arguments, on which this impression is built, are shortsighted. For instance, they claim that certain climate reconstructions must be wrong because they give ‘unphysical’ answers. But there is another explanation too that they did not contemplate: their idealistic (one may also argue unphysical) model may also be wrong! Thus, they fail to exclude other explanations.
S&W attach the ACRIM Total Solar Irradiance (TSI) product (not the PMOD product, probably because that does not show any trend) to a TSI reconstruction (Lean 2000 TSI [see Lean, 2004], or Wang et al., 2005) in such a way that the average reconstructed TSI value over 1980-1991 corresponds with the ACRIM mean for the same period – never mind the discrepancies in trend and that such cavalier stitching of data series is one of the deadly sins in climatology (hint: the series is inhomogeneous).
One new aspect of this S&W study is the focus on ‘feedbacks’. They assume the TSI reconstruction is a proxy for the total solar influence and that CO2 is part of a solar ‘feedback’ (isotope ratios suggest the CO2 comes from deep underground reservoirs, but it’s not clear how the sun manages to dig up this carbon from deep below Earth’s surface).
S&W maintain that the climate response is greater for longer time scales (which is reasonable) as illustrated in their figure 4 (reproduced below), and assisted by the simple model illustrated in this figure, they argue that the present warming is a delayed response to past solar changes (presumably before the 1950s). But it is unclear why the temperature then flattened out and even dropped a little between 1940-1970 at the time when it really should have increased fastest. One could argue that something else also happened then, but for an unknown reason, this forcing then seemed to have a shorter relaxation time. Why such an interference would give a quicker response than a solar signal is unexplained (the response to volcanoes is fairly prompt, however).
The study by S&W has some suspicious results. When their simple ‘phenomenological thermodynamical model’ (PTM) is forced by a signal with shorter time scales (high-frequency response representing the ~11-year solar cycle), it produces weaker response than if the forcing has longer time scales (or lower frequency) – as expected. But if you add a long-term trend to the former, the amplitude of the high-frequency response diminishes further (their Figure 4, reproduced above): The amplitude of the higher frequency response in their upper panel (4mm measured in the print) had diminished by ~50% in the lower panel (2mm). This is probably because the relaxation time response has been increased between the two panels and is greater than 10 in the lower panel. The presence of a trend should not affect the amplitude of the higher frequency in such a simple linear system (see my reproduction above).
Their figure 5 (below) does not correspond with the discussion in their paper (see scanned part of the text). Again, their analysis is sloppy in the estimate of change, underestimating the observed temperature change (T(obs) in Fig 5a, the total warming is stated to be ~0.8K since 1900, but the figure suggests it is greater than 0.8K) and exaggerating the solar contribution T(sol). This way, the fraction T(sol)/T(obs) gives the impression of a more sensitive response to changes in the Sun. They then proceed to use the lower T(obs) estimate for Mann & Jones (2003) for the total temperature change (claiming 0.8K, although this is too low), but taking a solar contribution estimated from the Moberg et al. (2005) temperature with more pronounced variations (the right estimated warming should exceed 1.0K – not 0.8K as they claim). Hence the fraction of solar signal to total change T(sol)/T(obs) is spuriously inflated.
But what about GHGs if the sensitivity is so high and the relaxation time is so long? We know from laws of physics and lab measurements that the CO2 levels have been increasing and that CO2 absorb infra red radiation. In fact, the Mauna Loa observations done by infra-red gas analysers measure the absorbing properties of air samples – a pure GHG effect on a microscopic scale without feedback effects. The high climate sensitivity and long time delay suggested by S&W would be scary – imagine the GHG warming that is not yet materialised and would be in the pipeline! (Lindzen who doesn’t believe in the lagged response would indeed be surprised if this was the case!).
But S&W ignore the issue about the lack of trend in the GCR (Lockwood & Frohlich, 2007; Benestad, 2005), the fact that trends in the diurnal temperature suggest otherwise (IPCC, 2001, 2007), and that there is not a clear trend in the cloud cover. Thus, explanation (i) is not convincing.
The problem with the UV-explanation (ii) is that the stratosphere has been cooling – some of which is due to the ozone depletion. How could they have ignored that?
Finally, the paper oozes of vague but subjective and cherry-picked statements forming the impression that the climate and solar reconstructions of Mann & Jones (2003) and Lean (2000) (why not use more recent reconstructions, by the way?) respectively are less accurate than others. Apparently because these do not give the desired results.
The paper also offers some incorrect references (Kristjansson et al, 2004, do not support the notion that GCR affect the climate). Furthermore, their paper contains little physics, but is little more than a curve-fitting exercise with no cross-validation.
Thus, S&W make a number of unjustified assumptions and sweeping statements which turns it into a mere speculation. In a way, the conclusions are already given when S&W assume that the sun is the predominant cause from the outset. S&W presumes a desired conclusion when arguing that if the TSI variations are small but the temperature variations are pronounced, then this suggests greater climate sensitivity and vice versa. No surprise, their conclusion is that the sensitivity to solar changes is high. Any other conclusion would then be surprising, wouldn’t it?
If they were my students, I’d have flunked their paper.